That time I lived in Kampala and failed to see the mosque

I came to Uganda to… do what? Get to know “real”, “authentic” Africa? See wild animals? Eat “exotic” food? Enjoy living without a smartphone? Travel the whole country?

Everyone has his or her own expectations before going abroad, especially before going to live there for a longer period. Those ideas are a little bit less blurry when you have already spent a little bit of time in the country; at least you think you sort of know what to expect. And when you also worked for a Goethe-Institut before, you believe to have an idea of how things work.

Well, let me tell you, you have no real idea. Visiting a place for a few weeks is a completely different story than living there for 5 months. And of course Goethe is NOT the same everywhere …
So I didn’t find “authentic Africa” – whatever that is supposed to be – but I found myself within a vibrant, lively, loud, dirty, beautiful city full of contrasts, full of very different people and very different places… and of course full of boda-boda’s  (Maybe that is the only thing I really knew before I came… although I could not imagine how natural it feels to take motorbike taxis everywhere after just a few weeks – and even survive 5 months of moving around like that.)
There are lots of things I brought which I didn’t – or hardly – use. (Such as big amounts of sun screen. Or hiking boots. Or a money belt.) There are other things that I didn’t bring but would have used – like my smartphone (“Oh you don’t have Whatsapp..?”), nicer clothes (people in Kampala like dressing up) and chocolate (you get almost everything in Kampala… but sometimes not quite like you need it).

Then there are the things I brought and used very much – like my laptop. (Yes, I carried it to work every single day. On a boda. Like I heard from former interns. Not a problem.) A jacket (yes, it’s often sunny but it does get cold riding on the boda in the morning/evening). A big candle and a torch (oh yes, there are power cuts.) A DKB Visa card (hardly ever had a problem to get money from a Stanbic or Barclays ATM).

But above all there are so many things that I take with me. Not just – but also – souvenirs, specially designed and crafted leather sandals, coffee or paintings as gifts from artists that I worked with. What weighs and matters much more is the number of precious moments; surprises (e.g. how it really is possible to eat a rolex every second day); insights (about (falsely expected) cultural differences, about yourself etc.); challenges that turn into learning experiences; new friendships.

An internship at the GZK is anything but boring, keeps you busy – sometimes very very busy – with a great variety of tasks. Apart from the regular monthly events that are to be promoted, prepared and organized, I was involved with two bigger projects, implying quite some responsibility. One of them was the LaBa! Arts Festival 2014, the biggest event that the Goethe-Zentrum Kampala organizes throughout the year. The festival was for the first time organized on two days with two different approaches which resulted in a very interesting yet very exhausting weekend. Despite a lack of sleep and numerous stressful moments, LaBa! was definitely one of the highlights during my internship. Apart from generally helping out, I had a certain job: I was assigned with the stage coordination for the evening program on both nights; this I was happy about as it got me in touch with the musicians and made me feel like I’m contributing something important to the whole event. After the first night on the Kisementi Parking Lot went very smoothly, I was optimistic for the second day, taking place in my very neighborhood in Nsambya… which was a completely different experience. With some musicians showing up the VERY last minute, others yelling at me after they got cut off on stage, a lost guitar and a backstage area that was constantly invaded by children running around, this evening included quite a few challenges – obviously it didn’t help that I was increasingly exhausted towards the end.
It seemed like a miracle that everything did work out well in the end, people were happy with the event and I took away a valuable experience which included the feeling of working in a very supportive and committed team.
Another project that I personally decided to be part of aside from my internship was the German speaking theatre group. This year it was going to stage an adaption of “Pension Schöller”, a German comedy from 1890. On my very first day at the GZK, I heard about the idea and immediately was interested in joining – Attending the weekly rehearsals leading up to the performance, I assisted the two directors Mirjam Gille and Kamila Krygier with preparing the group, consisting of students of German at the Makerere University and of the GZK and members of the German community in Kampala. Although we weren’t always optimistic and the weather was seriously challenging us a few times, it was a lot of fun and the play was eventually performed twice successfully in the garden of the GZK. Hopefully this wonderful project, initiated by Mirjam Gille and two former interns, will be continued in the future…
And then there was… the “Sadolin MabARTi Challenge” – “my own” project which stands out looking back on my time at the GZK, probably the most rewarding experience as something I was part of from beginning till end. The project took place for the second time and it enabled a number of contemporary Ugandan artists to create a painting on “mabaati” (iron) sheets all over Kampala with the opportunity of winning cash prizes and a group exhibition. I was excited about the job as I could identify with the task and liked the idea of supporting the presence of art in public space and encouraging artists to work within a new environment while contributing to the beautification of the city. I was involved from the beginning, went to the meetings with our sponsor Sadolin (a learning experience itself… ), coordinated between jury, organizers, advertising agency and artists, organized the jury selection of our participating artists. Throughout the challenge, I remained the main contact person for the participants. This caused me some very busy week(end)s when I organized the photo documentation of the paintings and learned what it means to be available for the needs and concerns of almost 30 artists at the same time…. But also, as a nice side effect, saw very different faces of Kampala that I hadn’t known before. Lots of unpredictable situations, different personalities, time issues, and other small challenges made it a multifaceted and challenging job. It wasn’t finished with the end of the challenge period – together with the four winners we installed a group exhibition, displaying more of their works. The opening, including a musical intervention by Ugandan musician Kaz Kasozi, felt like a nice topping and rounded up the whole project.
Working with the artists was the best part of the project as they paid me a lot of appreciation for my work and it gave me the chance to get to know the artistic scene of Kampala. It turned out to be a very successful project with very diverse and wonderful results that will hopefully remain a while to be seen all over the city.
In the end, even though it didn’t really resemble my expectations, I had an amazing time in Kampala. After 10 days of being in the city, I expressed my concerns about not having been on top of the mosque yet – to the amusement of my colleagues. Well, after 5 months I had to face the truth: I actually never made it to the top of the mosque. And I didn’t care. The fact that I have the feeling I made VERY good use of my time with plenty of valuable moments – even if a lot of it is related to work and much less to any “must-sees” – maybe shows how much I’m taking away from this time. I definitely learned a lot and changed in certain regards, and I realized this means much more to me than having done a lot of sight-seeing. I am thankful for having been able to spend a period of my life in this city, actually being able to call it home for a while.
So: Webale nnyo Kampala and Ugandan German Cultural Society, for many great memories. I will miss you a lot and hope I will see you again soon.


(Pictures taken by Martin Lukongo, Abdanger Photography and Lena Fritsch.)

The Street Theatre and Circus group on tour “Walk in Wonder World” or “Mango, Mango, Mango!”

„The things are packed, everybody is on board and off we go.” On Friday 7th June at 9 a.m. the group of the project “Street Theatre and Circus”, a cooperation of the Goethe-Zentrum Kampala/ Ugandan German Cultural Society and In Movement – Art for social change, started their one-week tour through Uganda. The journey first took us north of the country, to the cities Lira and Gulu and then to the west, to Masaka. As main responsible for the organizational part of the project I would like to share some personal impressions of this week, that I experienced with the ten children, the facilitators Ife, Patrick and Lukas, the founder of the Girl Be Project Remy, the photographer Oscar and our bus driver Mr. John.
Before the tour the facilitators together with the ten children created the street theatre and circus play “Walk in Wonder World” in three intensive rehearsal weeks. Therefore dramatic, acrobatic, and circus elements were used. In the first week the theme of “Wonder World” was approached through theatre educative methods, basic elements of acrobatics were learned and the children presented the skills they already had. The practical work on developing the play “Walk in Wonder World” started in the second week. Our “Wonder Players” learned how to present themselves on stage, and the different circus numbers of the play were worked out and put together in a script, written by Lukas Geschwind. The third week the group spent on polishing up details and completing the play of 40 minutes that now contained dance, acrobatics, somersaulting, juggling and clowning. In addition to that costumes and face paint were chosen and a portable stage construction was built. The musical accompaniment was taken over by the facilitators themselves: Ife supported with vocals, Patrick through drumming und Lukas played the Ukulele and the Melodica.
Soon it was clear that the tour through Uganda was almost like a tour through “Wonder World”. On the way to our first stop we crossed the bubbling Nile and drove by an ape family on whose sight the whole bus got excited. The children come from difficult backgrounds and were not able to attend school this semester, because they could not afford the school fees. They live in deprived areas of Kampala and hardly have the chance to leave the city and to escape the traffic, the smog and the dust. Through the theatre educational work on the theme “Wonder World”, it was revealed that all of them imagine this place as a green oasis with trees, water, animals, clean air and fresh fruits. In travelling through Uganda they got the opportunity to get to know better their country with the incredibly nice nature and the abundance of species and they had the chance to exchange with people of different areas in Uganda and through that to make new friends.
After a little detour in the direction of Gulu („Oh we go to Lira first!“) our bus driver Mr. John brought us safely to our first stop, the Ngetta Parish, a bit outside of Lira town. It is a wonderful place where we were hosted for three nights. On the big grassy space between the two dorms and the kitchen there is a huge mango tree with countless ripe fruits which became a highlight for the children on this tour. Two little pigs and some chicken were wandering around and the air was fresh and clean. Here we met our contact person Sibylle Mani from the Justice and Peace Commission who organised the accommodation and also the shows and the workshop. On the first evening of the tour the boys of the group already had a performance at the “Lango Night”, a monthly event for young upcoming artists from Lira and surroundings. The next day during breakfast they excitedly told the girls who had stayed home about their performance. („We got to perform in a club!“). We spent the next morning at the organisation Child Restoration Outreach (CRO) that aims to reintegrate street children into the society. There our facilitators gave workshops to the themes dance, poetry, acrobatics and juggling. The children of the “Wonder World” group supported the facilitators actively. An afternoon at the pool was thereafter honestly earned. Although none of the “Wonder Girls and Boys” is able to swim, we all had a lot of fun while playing in the water. After the refreshment there was a football game with the students of the John Bosco Technical School. After dinner the children were invited to show them some parts of the play „Walk in Wonder World“, which was to be seen in full length at the market place in Lira the next day.
As we arrived there on Sunday with our tour bus the theatre group from Lira already was awaiting us with roaring music from a bad sound system and announcements with an overdriven microphone that were welcoming us as guests from Kampala. Because of the aesthetical understanding of the people on the market being obviously different from mine, soon a big crowed was gathered. While we were setting up our mobile stage the music was turned down and the poetic, theatrical and acrobatic journey through “Wonder World” began. For some time our “Wonder Players” led the audience into a world where waterfalls flow upwards, where you can talk to animals and that is full of surprises and wonders.
On Monday morning, after taking a group picture with Sibylle, who was a great supporter to us, we continued our journey to Gulu. There Ben Porter welcomed us at his Recreation Project. The project contains ropes courses in a forest and uses outdoor adventure excursions to pass trust, self-confidence and hope to children. Our young theatre and circus artists got the chance to spend a night in a tent in the forest for the first time. After checking out our campsite we continued straight to the venue of the next “Walk in Wonder World”, the Remand Centre, a prison for youth. The performance was scheduled for 3 p.m. but some of the children only came back from school at 5 p.m.. The remaining time was used for some theatre educational games together with the boys of the Remand Centre. This was a great experience, for everyone that was participating.
As we came back to our campsite after the performance, the “Wonder Girls and Boys” had time to try the ropes course, climbing walls and other equipment of the outdoor adventure trial of the Recreation Centre. After that we had a nice typical Ugandan dinner with rice, sweet potatoes, beans and kalo, which is a dark mash of millet. As I woke up the next day some of the children already were up to take advantage of the adventure trail for one last time. After Ife provided us with some rolex, a Ugandan specialty of chapatti and egg, for breakfast we jumped on the bus to go on the long ride to Masaka. At 8 p.m. we were warmly welcomed by Phillip Ssentamu in the house of his mother. Phillip is the director of the Byana St. Mary Hill Primary School and Orphanage, were our children were invited to show their „Walk in Wonder World“ the next day. As we arrived at the school on Wednesday morning, Phillip was showing us around the school and led us among other things to the hut of a barkcloth maker. Barkcloth is a material that is produced out of rind with a traditional method. In addition to that we were even allowed to take some of the sugar cane which is grown by the school. After our children were transformed into “Wonder Players” through costumes and face painting the children of the school welcomed us with wonderful songs and dances. The energy, shown by the students while doing their performance also was taken over by our children, who then presented one of their nicest performances. After the show the “Wonder Players” were again asked to play a football game, but this time against the teachers of the school. Before we said goodbye Oscar of course had to take the obligatory good bye picture.
The last evening of the tour we spent together at Phillip’s mother’s house, watching the “Puss-in-Boots”. At the next morning there was even some time to print some t-shirts, with the material Remy had brought with her. After that we set off to the last performance in the village of the WeaverBirds Arts Camp by the artist Collin Sekajugo. Before the show we were offered a little tour through the camp with its wonderful location on top of a hill and its view over the surrounding moor where artworks of different artists are exhibited. When Mr. John drove us back to Kampala after the performance the mood was of course a bit melancholic. But in the same time we were looking forward to welcome again our families and friends that had stayed home. One day after the return of our successful tour we met again as the entire group for the last time having cake and tea. One day later Lukas had to fly back to Germany.

What will be remembered the most: Mangoes of course, the fun at the pool, the football games, the night in the forest, the new gained friends, the performance in Masaka.
This week we – Ife, Lukas, Patrick, Isa, Oscar, Remy, Mr. John, Mary, Bruno, Brian, Joyce, Felix, Moses, Joan, Abdu, Angel, Yahaya – spent together as a family. We laughed, argued, played, sang and experienced a lot together. The project “Walk in Wonder World” is over but no one can take away from us the experiences and the memories.


Goodbye Uganda

The last day at the office: I would like to give a small résumé of my time at the Goethe-Zentrum Kampala/ Ugandan German Cultural Society (GZK/ UGCS) – what an awkwardly long name for what is usually referred to as the “Goethe”, “UGCS”, the “German Cultural Centre” or even, and quite inadequately, the “German school” (also a boda driver once told me the “German whatever”).  And however prestigious the Goethe bit of the name may be, it gives us the (utterly wrong) image of moneyed muzungus.

But what a great time I had at the German whatever and, more generally, in Kampala. I found great work that challenged me, and a committed team with a pregnant director who wouldn’t stop working until actually giving birth. A lot of writing, editorial work, translation and communication was at the core of my everyday life for the last couple of months, my personal highlights being clearly the management of the LaBa! Arts Festival’s music stage, of the visual arts event CAPTURING MOVEMENTS in the industrial area of Kampala, and a German-speaking theatre group featuring Höhner, Franz Schubert, and Edda Moser. With Die Karawane zieht weiter playing when multi-billionaire Claire is walking away with her servants in Dürrenmatt’s famous The Visit, I could realize that sort of grotesque idea that would clearly be laughed at as both camp and cheap in most contexts in Germany.

I learned that in Uganda everything works out in the end. I was close to a heart attack when we couldn’t even have a proper sound check on the day before the festival. I scheduled it for 5 pm, hoping the artists would come around by 6, but all of them showed up at individually chosen times between 5:30 and 9, at which point most of the earlier ones had left. This is what even Ugandans call African time, with a smile, a handclap and a strange high-frequency sigh as if fainting, but it seems many refuse to understand the sheer necessity of being on time in certain situations. We did have a beautiful show in the end with the six hours stage program finishing seven minutes late German time, of which I am massively proud. We had already started cancelling the visual arts event Capturing Movements “for unforeseen external circumstances” the night before it took place when in the very last minute a VIP friend promised to sort it out (“Let me make one more phone call.”). After two days in a number of weird offices, posh cars and police vans the event took place without anyone noticing how much trouble we had with this. And we were very happy.

Last day at the office

An internship at the German whatever is more than a full-time job. Work starts between 9 and 10 am and my flat-mate thought it appropriate to shout “you are here” when she found me smiling on our veranda at 6:30 pm last week. Also the weekends can be busy. Just for the record: I do not like the so-called Deutschsprachiger Kindersamstag. This is why I cannot believe there are so many other things worth writing about apart from work. There is a video shoot with Eric, Isa, and Ife resulting in a painful lumbago, there is our pregnant watchbitch Tilda giving birth to five living puppies despite her hunger (and us rescuing them after four of them had fallen into a latrine filled with human faeces), there is Vroni who I will always remember doing Bavarian sign-language for her deaf Iraqi refugee boyfriend on Skype, there are interviews with the most inspiring transgender woman Beyonce in a society where trans-sexuality is not even a word, there is my survival of sitting on a motorbike without a helmet, daily, in an African capital. There is an amazing safari with all those animals and pure nature that – scarily enough – seems unnaturally beautiful, a trip to Rwanda to visit a Norwegian friend, there are lonesome canoe trips on the mystical Lake Bunyonyi, a chicken underneath my bag, there are debates about marital rape with medicine students (“Once you’ve started f***, you cannot stop!”), creepy fundraising parties with a colonialist touch (to put it nicely), sleeping and money borrowing guards, acid sprinkling flies, irresponsible landlords and their dying-from-hunger brothers. There is passion fruit, rolex (roll-eggs), avocado and soy porridge, Ethiopian food and the phenomenon of me being able to invite people for dinner. There is leopard cloth and okay please, ersma, mannequins and the Nile. There is also Mark Lauren’s fitness bible, of course.

I can’t even differentiate between the plus side and the downside in many cases – maybe except for the constant exposure of either Ugandan English or weird English with over-the-top Southern German accents that I had personally thought existed only in very old and cartoonesquely Bavarian people – but no, everything here seems to belong on the plus side in a funny way, and to me, this comes as surprise. Goodbye, Uganda.


Discovering Ugandan Runways

At the overly sterile airport of Frankfurt, Germany, I drink my last proper coffee (which might actually be imported from Uganda) for approximately 13,000 Ugandan Shillings. Twelve hours later, I am about to land in Entebbe. I can see the city of Kampala on the right, a part of the mighty Victoria Lake on the left. The runway is the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen – little would I be surprised if there were giraffes next to the huge trees that I can see from even the window of the plane. And after coming to the house that I shall call my home for the next four months, I am already so Kampala, sitting or rather trying to hold on to the boda-boda! (My first ever experience on a motorbike was actually a bit of a drama. Being driven through the traffic jam of the capital’s rush hour, with a mini-van touching us in full speed, I was feeling like Angelina Jolie in “Salt”.)

I enter Goethe-Zentrum’s compound (where I’d start working in a few days) when the whole team is in the middle of their last minute preparations for a fashion show. And so the catwalk is the next beautiful Ugandan runway I see: colourful clothes presented by professional models (even a male one), fashion photos projected on a screen, and I am wondering: is this Uganda? For Europe with its vague phobia about everything unsafe Uganda is “this country in Africa” of civil war, poverty, malaria and worse. It seems that it can just as well be a country of fashion, sunshine, music and art.Fashion in Kampala

JAHCOUSTIX erobert Kampala

ONE LOVE war wohl das Motto des Abends, als am 11.11.2011 Jahcoustix die Buehne betrat

und uns gemeinsam mit Jackie und Jamal ein Musikerlebnis der besonderen Art bescherte.

Dieses wunderbar gelungene Abschlusskonzert liess uns allen geflossenen Schweiss vergessen

und am Ende blieb nur noch eins zu sagen: ENJOY!Bandprobe im Jahcoustix-Haus




die Crew


Jamal on stage


the crowd



Steve at work


Stage at Goethe-Zentrum Kampala




Sneak Peak – Fashionblog!

„Habt ihr eine Erlaubnis?“


„Kommt mal mit zu unserem Manager!“

Einiges an Geduld und organisatorischem Know-How verlangt uns momentan unser neues Projekt ab – der Fashionblog DressKode!

Gemeinsam mit einem Fotographen und dessen Assistenten, mit Kamera, Licht, einem Verlängerungskabel und einem Pull-Up-Banner unseres Partners African Woman, suchen wir seit einigen Tagen an den verschiedensten Orten nach dem Stil Kampalas. Die Ergebnisse dieses Projekts werden bald auf einem Blog zu sehen sein – wir sagen Bescheid, wenn es soweit ist. Hier nun erst mal ein Blick durchs Schlüsselloch.

Old Taxi Park, photos by Ragna Spargel

Garden City Mall, photos by Kibuuka Musika Oscar

The Slum Katwe , photos by Ragna Spargel

Raw Expression

Manchmal hat man das Gefühl, sich genau am richtigen Ort zu befinden. Wenn man bedenkt, wie groß die Welt und wie gering die Quadratmeteranzahl ist, in der man sich bewegt – eigentlich ziemlich erstaunlich. Aber Raw Expression, die erste abendfüllende Eventnight des Breakdance Project Uganda, erzeugte eben jene Stimmung. Epische Stunden, die von einer unglaublichen Energie getragen wurden und alle Anwesenden begeisterten.

photos by Ragna Spargel