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.)


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