Uganda Cheat Sheet

This post is inspired by the “Uganda” page of Enjoy!


Our local currency is the Uganda Shilling (UGX). The exchange rate of USD:UGX is approximately 1:3,200. Today. Last week it was 3,000, in April it was 2,600. Our currency has been in free fall against the US dollar – just like all currencies. Uganda is not week, the American currency is just really strong.

Local beer costs less than $2 and comes in half litre bottles. Bell is just beer. Club has a nice bite. Nile Special will get you drunk faster. Don’t drink beer? Try the local gin, Uganda Waragi. Drink it with Krest bitter lemon or fresh passion juice.

Children are considered orphans if they have lost one or both parents. This does not mean you should adopt one and bring him to your country. Ugandans have vast family networks and they tend to take care of one another. If a family is in a bad way and signs documents waiving their rights to a particular child – don’t steal their child. Do something to help that family.

Glossary: Potatoes are called “irish”. If you must pee, you will “make a short call”. If someone says “you’ve grown fat”, it’s a compliment. Motorcyles are called “bodabodas”. A “rolex” is an omelette wrapped in a chapatti. Peanuts are called “g-nuts”. When some Ugandans speak English, they replace “l” with “r”, play becomes pray. The sooner you adapt, the better you’ll be understood.

Many cultures in Uganda have women and girls kneeling to greet. This is culture, not subjugation. Please respect this and appreciate the warm welcome. If you are female and want to return the courtesy, please do.

If you are open and relaxed Ugandans will love and welcome you. Life may be hard, but people here love good company and laughter. The Ugandan sense of humour will slay you. However, if you get frustrated, never shout at a Ugandan. They’ll just stare at you like you have 2 heads and have a laugh once you stomp off.

As a pedestrian, you do not have the right of way, get off the road! But keep eyes in the back of your head, bicycles and boda bodas don’t necessarily stick to the roads. When crossing, look both ways and find a Ugandan to shadow. It’s organized chaos out there. You’re just not used to the vibe.

Never say “hi”, always say “how are you”. You can also greet with your eyebrows, in the street. But if you are in someone’s home, make sure you have been welcomed inside and are seated properly. Then greet everyone in the room separately and politely, starting from the left.

Ugandan food is starchy, but totally filling, largely organic, and always fresh. Most food is steamed and paired with some sort of savoury soup. Not too much salt. Not too much oil. Totally inoffensive. Sandwiches, burgers, spaghetti, pizza, chips, and fried chicken are not food. They’re snacks.

Don’t bring basic school or household supplies into Uganda. Buy them here – they’re cheap, appropriate and support our economy. In fact, try not to bring anything here to be given away for free. Flooding our market with free stuff puts legitimate Ugandan business people in jeopardy. Besides, free stuff is rarely appreciated. Gifts, however, are very welcome.

If you want to sleep in a peaceful, quiet environment, Uganda is not for you. People party, dance, pray, and generally live their lives at all hours of the day and night. Either join the party (or church) or buy some earplugs. The police aren’t coming to shut it down.

It is not an easy thing to volunteer in Uganda, but it’s fun if you have the right attitude. Get excited to learn a new language, eat unfamiliar food, sing songs with amazing women, kick a football with a bunch of screaming kids.
We’ll call you “mzungu” and you’ll love it.
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Uganda Cheat Sheet

6 thoughts on “Uganda Cheat Sheet

  1. After reading this blog post I’m more homesick for Uganda tgan i I was yesterday (I was a volunteer in 2005!!!!! and still support the people I volunteered with-VOLSET )


    1. Thanks for commenting! I’d say that as long as they’re not locked to any service provider and are SIM ready, they should be ok. Ugandans are really getting into the smart phone thing. Strong battery life and adequate memory are really important. The new cheap ones flooding our market have VERY small memory, less than 2gb. Good quality second hand may have some value.

      What does your friend say?


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