Idi Amin. Milton Obote. The Luweero Triangle. Deepest, darkest Africa. These are the things that many people think of when they hear the word “Uganda.” There is a tingle of fear that accompanies the name.
This isn’t the Uganda I know. The Uganda I know is a biological and cultural crossroads at the heart of Africa. This is the place where the vast Congolese rainforest meets the open savannas of East Africa, and where the Nilotic tribes of the north meet the Bantu tribes of the south. This is the home of the legendary Mountains of the Moon, where year-round glaciers exist on the equator, and the source of the River Nile where it spills from Lake Victoria. Over one thousand species of birds take refuge in this small country, as well as over half the world’s remaining mountain gorillas.
The allure of adventure has drawn westerners here since the earliest explorations by John Hanning Speke, Henry Morton Stanley, Samuel Baker and Emin Pasha. Ernest Hemminway crashed his plane here – twice – and Teddy Roosevelt came here on a hunting safari with his son to stock the Natural History Museum in Washington D.C. Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart came here to film parts of The African Queen, and Winston Churchill was so inspired by its beauty that he dubbed it “The Pearl of Africa.”
The physical beauty of Uganda is perhaps only surpassed by the warmth of its people. Almost as if in compensation for a difficult past, bright smiles and the phrase “you are most welcome” greet you around every turn. There is no simple word for “hello” in any of the 56 local languages. Every greeting is the opening of a conversation, and you are never too busy to ask about the health of another person’s family.
I know I am lucky to live in Uganda right now. I take my 4-year-old son on safari every chance I get, as I realize that his children might never get to see an elephant in the wild, or hear the roar of a lion in the night.