That's right, while the Coronavirus makes its rampage around the world, we are in Uganda. The US State Department has just emailed me their last alert notifying any US citizens still in Uganda that there may be one final “care lift" flight out that will head back to the USA. This would be our last chance out, and our last chance to get home. It sounds dire and certainly scary, and the situation in the world is dire and scary, but after weighing all of our options, we have decided to stay in Uganda.
This has not been an easy choice, as it seems that finding a perfect “safe haven" no longer is a reality for us, or anyone for that matter. But I will try to convey in this post a sense of what life is like here in Uganda, and what our reasons are for staying. Plus, we'll give you a little tour of our new home.
How bad is it in Uganda?
Amazingly, Uganda and most of Sub-Saharan Africa (except maybe South Africa) has not been hit hard yet with the Coronavirus. As of today, Uganda has had 33 confirmed cases and nearly all of these have been from people who were immediately quarantined after flying in from other countries. So far, three of these cases were from one Ugandan transmitting the virus to his family members. But besides that, it has not spread within the country itself.
That we know of.
Will it be contained to these isolated cases? Well, it's nice to be optimistic, but if there's any indication from other countries of what this virus will do, the realistic answer would be it will probably spread.
So now the real question is how will Uganda handle an outbreak?
Life in Uganda Today
As of today (March 31), Uganda is on a 14-day lock-down. The reason for this is because three of the institutionally quarantined travelers who tested positive for Coronavirus escaped a few days ago and interacted with the public. Therefore, all non-essential movement and most person-to-person contact will be suspended for two weeks in order to locate any new cases before this virus spreads.
Yesterday, life here continued more or less normally. Most people still went to work, and there was still plenty of traffic in the streets. Some things had been closed, such as schools and religious centers, the tourist industry had dried up, large social gatherings had been canceled, and the little mototaxis that zip around town had been forbidden. But besides that, daily life went on.
But today, things are supposed to change. No more driving around, even in private vehicles. No more going to work if you are not part of the allowed emergency and essential professions, and even if you are, you are supposed to camp and live next to your place of work for 14 days without going home. Unfortunately, I don't know how easy it will be to implement such social distancing and lock-down techniques here. This is a country where many people are used to living close together, sometimes with whole families staying in one room, and moving around is essential for many people to get their daily rice and bread.
But we will see. I believe if this country puts their mind to it, they can do anything for 14 days. But if it needs to be longer... there is no financial safety-net here big enough to support all the people that will need basic supplies without their jobs and without movement. So let's keep our fingers crossed for the people of Uganda.
The Ugandan Response
This Coronavirus pandemic has not been easy for any government, but I'm actually quite impressed with Uganda's response. For not having a lot of resources to begin with, I think they've done a great job of coherently informing the public of every case and every step they make. They've implemented the use of the newest technology to locate the contacts of confirmed cases, they've categorized people according to their potential risk of having the virus, and they've tested and followed up on everyone they can.
This is not Uganda's first time dealing with viral epidemics, and they have some good systems already in place from last year's ebola outbreak. I'm glad to see that the Ministry of Health, the president, and the government as a whole have taken this pandemic very seriously, and it appears like they are doing their best to keep the Ugandan people safe from the virus.
President Museveni has made many speeches to the nation about the situation, and he seems to be a respected and reassuring presence here. He speaks clearly and simply, and he does it all with a touch of humor. Also, the advice he gives is from scientists and specialists, as he's working hard to put into practice all the latest suggestions. He is also not afraid to administer harsh and economically-damaging measures in order to quell the spread of Coronavirus.
I hope that all of these precautions and measures work. We will see.
The Pros of Staying in Uganda
Besides Uganda having evaded a major outbreak so far, there are some real advantages for us staying here. Financially, it makes a lot of sense since life here is very cheap compared to life in the States, not to mention the cost of getting us (and the motorcycle?) back to the US.
But also we don't really have a home in the US to return to, since we quit our jobs and sold everything to travel the world on our motorcycle. This means that if we were to fly back, not only would we be taking a big risk of getting the Coronavirus on the several flights required to get us to Chicago (one of which is through NYC), but we'd have to stay with family and friends once there. Therefore, we'd risk infecting them, and this would be a nightmare situation for us.
The truth is, as far as prevention goes, it's much safer for us and everyone else if we stay here where we have a wonderful house to live in that we really never need to leave.
The Cons of Staying in Uganda
There are two very bad scenarios that could happen by staying here, but they are both unlikely. If we were to get the virus and need hospitalization, the health care system here is not up to Western standards. I don't even know how many ventilators are in Uganda, but I've heard three. I've also heard zero. Either way, it's not enough. It's almost laughable in a very sad, depressing way.
But there's no place on the planet right now that has enough ventilators, so like I said before, finding that perfect “safe haven" that will be able to care for and hospitalize everyone who needs it is almost non-existent at this point.
The other apocalyptic scenario that could happen here is if a lot of people die, and others are going hungry and are angry and need someone to blame, they may take it out on mzungus (white people). They already call this virus the mzungu corona.
But I see the chance of this happening on a large scale to be slim. We have found the Ugandan people to be extremely welcoming and understanding. Plus, the place we are at is well guarded with high fences all around, and the staff here are wonderful.
Welcome to our new home!
Thus, Tim and I are going to be here in Uganda for the long-haul. How long will that be? We don't know. But it will probably be a while.
So in the meantime, let me introduce you to our new home.
We are living in a house that is connected to a hotel on the outskirts of Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. The hotel has a few live-in staff members, including the chef of the restaurant, the bartender, the gardener, and some 24-hr guards. So not only do we have our own kitchen that we've stocked up, but there's a restaurant and bar here as well (there's even a couple of pool tables).
The property is huge and has lots of lawn space for going for a jog, doing exercises, or morning yoga, or simply reading in the shade of the banana trees. It's pretty nice, I have to admit.
The hotel is closed, but there are a few other foreigners living on the grounds, including two other motorcycle travelers: Leo, our Cuban/American friend who we were traveling with before the borders closed, and Braden, a Canadian who's been traveling through Africa on a GS650. There's also Lucy from the UK, but unfortunately for us, she will be taking the last flight back home this week.
Despite being on the equator, the weather here is perfect every day. The sun is bright and hot, but the daily thunderstorms come to cool everything off. The plants and trees are vibrant and green from all the rains, and there are lots of interesting and exotic birds that hang out in the gardens.
But I think my favorite part of the place is Tom, the Red-Tailed Monkey with white whiskers. He's a wild monkey that steals bananas and guavas from our trees, but of course he's so cute, everyone just lets him.
We made some runs to the mall a week ago to purchase a few anti-boredom necessities before the shops closed, such as three guitars (Tim is teaching Leo and Lucy) and an old Nintendo set with over 400 terrible games. With the addition of a deck of cards, a few dice for Farkle, and Leo's portable speaker, we've actually had a lot of fun here.
At the moment, no one is going in and out of the complex unless it's for an essential purchase, and we try to have one person buy everything for everyone. Besides that, we stay here doing our best to enjoy and entertain ourselves, and I'm trying not watch the news every moment of the day because it makes me crazy. But that is the basic summery of our life in Uganda.
I truly hope that everyone out there is healthy and doing well. Please keep us updated on how you are doing through facebook or by commenting here.
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