Going to Uganda in a Pandemic
Every trip has its challenges, and this one was no exception. First of all, there is a pandemic of COVID-19. Thankfully, I’ve had access to the vaccine and am an FVP (fully-vaccinated person). I’m deeply grateful that I can claim that status, as where I’m going, very few people can.
Because of COVID, I had to get permission from the organization I’m going to work with on this trip. They want to be very careful, so asked me to complete a “risk-assessment” document. I completed this, listing all the countries I wanted to visit. Apparently, a different risk assessment needs to be done for each county, so whether the recipient of my completed assessment didn’t notice the listing of multiple countries, or just didn’t pass that information along to HR, I don’t know. At any rate, when it came to getting approval for my flight, there was a problem.
While I had continually asked for permission for three countries, I only got permission for one country. Of course, by the time this decision was made, I had already booked a ticket, which then had to be changed. The change cost almost half the amount of the original, but did present a few extra problems.
My first problem was not too serious. I was hoping to take 2 computers to people in South Sudan and do a week-long workshop with them. One of those participants is planning to come to Uganda, so I can give her both computers to take home.
The next problem was a bit more challenging. I was taking what turned out to be 33 lbs of stuff for someone in Kenya. He wasn’t supposed to give me that much, but he got carried away. Thankfully, Ben was going from Rwanda to Kenya, so he could take it.
However, since I was scheduled to go to South Sudan, I had agreed to take a bunch of seeds (like kale, cabbage and the like) for someone. However, I was no longer going to either South Sudan or Kenya, so Ben had to take that as well. There was a total of 35 lbs of stuff for this guy. As checked baggage limits are 50lbs, that didn’t leave a lot of space, but Ben didn’t need a lot for 3 weeks. Guys can get away with that.
Then Ben’s sister started ordering things for herself for Ben to bring. Her stuff weighed in at 49 lbs. In addition, she had ordered a guitar that Ben had to hand carry. He was “over that” before we left the house. Needless to say, we had to have 3 pieces of luggage checked in, and the third piece cost $200. We are charging the various owners a portion of that cost.
As I was trying to pack all this stuff, I also had to fit in 4 live peanut plants for the “seed” guy. After putting them out in the sun and giving them a good drink, I packed them in a ziplock bag with a wet bunch of paper towels. I tried to pack some protection around it and hoped for the best. Ben reported that upon arrival in Rwanda, one of them looked fine but the others were looking the worse for wear.
Once Ben had left, packages started coming for me to take to Uganda – mostly books. While books are pretty easy to pack, they are VERY heavy, even paperback ones. These were mostly textbooks, so weighty in more than one sense. When I weighed in at the airport, one bag was 50.5 lbs (and the kind check in lady let that go through). The other was about 48lbs. So, at least I had gotten in all that I reasonably could.
The day before leaving, I received yet another book for the “seed guy”. I just couldn’t fit in another thing. He agreed that I could post it to his house and his wife would get it in July. Just as I had it ready to go in the mail, the postman delivered a parcel for Ben – a very heavy desk chair. He helped bring it in the house as I don’t think I could have moved it. I asked if he would take the package and save me a trip past the post office. He agreed, and there was another thing out of my house.
Then I had a sudden thought! Just as the pandemic began, Clene, Ben’s mom, had been visiting us. I gave her a bunch of flash drives for the Uganda course. My plan was to pick them up while I was in Kenya. However, I wasn’t going to Kenya. She isn’t coming to Uganda until halfway through the course, which is rather late. So, I contacted her and gave her the name of a student who will be coming, so he can bring them. Whew! I hope that gets all my “ducks in a row”!
While all the packing and planning was going on, I also needed to get a Ugandan visa. 10 days before my trip, I applied for the visa from the Embassy of Uganda. They have an e-visa option, which simplifies things (sort of). I completed the application, submitted my documents, but when I tried to pay, the credit card wouldn’t go through. I tried multiple times, and after a few days, phoned the embassy consular office. By that time, it was Friday afternoon and almost everyone had gone home. He said for me to keep trying over the weekend, and it should be fixed at least by Monday. At least there might be a person in the office who could assist me.
I tried several times over the weekend with no positive outcome. In a moment of desperation on Sunday, I went to iVisa and applied with them. It cost considerably more, but I figured their payment system would work. My first problem was they didn’t like my photo, blurry and pixilated. I sent them a better one. Then they couldn’t proceed with the application because I had started one at the embassy. I needed to cancel the embassy one before they could proceed. On Monday, I went to the embassy website to try to cancel my application, but of course could not find any way to do that. I decided to see if I could pay, and lo and behold! I could. It took 3 emails to cancel the iVisa application, but I finally managed it. Within 4 days, my Uganda visa was granted and I was one step further along the way.
Next was the COVID test. When Ben went for his, it cost $150. They are free if you are sick, but not if you are traveling. I contacted my primary care doctor, and they were only charging $57. On Thursday, before traveling on Sunday, I went for my first ever COVID test. It wasn’t too bad, based on what I’ve heard from others. They thought the results would be posted on the patient portal the next day.
The next day came, and nothing got posted. Finally, at 3:00 I decided to phone and see what was going on. The person who answered the phone checked to see if the results were out. Yes, I was negative. Well, that wasn’t a great surprise since I’m an FVP. However, the airlines don’t take my word for it. I need a piece of paper! She said she would ask someone to post it for me. They did, and I gratefully downloaded it and printed it.
Since I leave on Sunday and Ben returns on Friday, we agreed that I would leave the car for him. He took the spare key and I sent him a copy of the reservation. It was quite easy to find a place to park and then a taxi took me to the airport from the hotel parking lot. That was probably the easiest part of this journey.
At the airport, I couldn’t print my boarding passes until an agent checked my documents: visa, passport, COVID test. My bags were within the weight and size limits, so once I was rid of the two check-in bags, I felt light as a feather. I wandered up to the nearly empty security check, and was a bit surprised to find that the agent was not happy about something. The boarding pass had Leomams. For some reason, the airline adds “ms” for “miss” after the first name. Since that didn’t match my passport, it was possibly a problem. She called for her supervisor, who assured her it was fine.
I purchased a salad to eat on the plane, at least that’s when I intended to eat it. However, at the gate, the agent was very insistent that each passenger was allotted only ONE bag. Since I couldn’t figure out how to get my salad into a bag, I ate it there in the departure area. As I ate, I watched an older African couple trying to comply with the one bag limit. The lady and a handbag and another small square bag with some sort of machine in it. Her husband was explaining she could only take one, and she wasn’t having it. He pulled everything out of her handbag trying to see if he could get the machine in there. I might could have done it, but I’m not sure. Anyway, in the end, she carried on two bags. I had to smile.
And so the journey to Africa begins.
My Tales of Travel Across Africa and Europe is one of my forthcoming books. This series will likely be in it.