The 21 Best Things About Living in Uganda

In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, I've put together a list of my favorite things about living in Uganda.  Sure, life abroad brings its own frustrations, but Uganda offers a few unique perks that you just can't get back home.  See what I mean:

1. The natural beauty - from stunning game parks teeming with wild animals to waterfalls, crater lakes, and green rolling hills, there is a reason Uganda was named the top tourist destination by Lonely Planet in 2012.  After 4 years, I still have unticked destinations on my Uganda bucket list!

2. You can fill your home with handcrafted decor at a great price - I just love searching the markets for something unique for my home.  It always feels like a scavenger hunt and you never know what goodies you may find.  I also have to hold myself back whenever I go into Banana Boat so I don't buy the whole store.

3. Kampala's restaurant scene is hard to beat - There are so many good restaurants with great atmospheres and open-air spaces, all for a fraction of the price you would pay for the same quality at home.  Choose between Indian, Italian, Persian, Lebanese, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Turkish, French, Greek, West African, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and many more.  All because of Uganda's...

4. Diversity - Uganda is the most ethnically diverse country in the world.  Not only are there expatriates from all around the globe, but Uganda itself has more than 40 ethnic groups.  This means there's opportunity to learn different languages, visit many different places of worship, and just meet all kinds of lovely people.

5. You never have to buy a new pair of shoes - There are cobblers in the street, all fine craftsmen awaiting your business, who will repair your shoddy shoes for next to nothing.  Friendly tip: those signs reading "cobra" are the guys you're looking for.

6. The purest honey and most natural peanut butter - It's so cute when you see your friends back home paying out the wazoo at fancy foods stores for natural peanut butter and unrefined honey.  Those dukkas on the street or that guy pushing a bicycle with a box on the back will sell you the real stuff, locally made and totally unrefined.

7. The randomness and laughs it brings - I've seen naked men in the middle of the road, a street preacher with an umbrella hat, and a child walking down the street in a lion costume, not to mention the ridiculously huge loads on bodas, crazy sayings on the back of matatus, misspellings on signs, and t-shirts with messages the wearer just doesn't understand.  There's always some comic relief around the next corner!

I wonder how fried emirates taste?

Who wants to see the New Years' firewax?

Who wants to see the New Years' firewax?

8. The climate - I come from a farming family, so they often ask me about the weather, but I give the same answer each time - it's warm, beautiful, and sunny.  That is, until the...

9. Rain - There really is just something about those rains down in Africa.  The rainstorms pull you into cuddle mode and you don't have to resist it because it's absolutely socially acceptable to stay at home until the rain stops.

10. You can design your own wardrobe with clothes that fit you perfectly, all while feeling good about supporting a local tailor - Browse Pinterest for inspiration, buy your own fabric, and you can have exactly what you want by working with one of Uganda's many fashion designers and tailors.

11. The mix of traditional culture and modernity - Get a feel for traditional Uganda by visiting one of the many different cultural sites, driving deep into a village, or visiting one of the many tribes still living life according to their traditional heritage - like the Karamajong, the Ik, and the Batwa, to name a few.  But when you want your fill of modern art and music or you just want to visit a fancy mall, Kampala has all you need.

An Ik woman, smoking a pipe

Acacia Mall

12. Pirated movies/TV shows - A whole season of your favorite show for less than $2?  Um...ok.

13. Boda bodas - Sure, many of us lament the presence of bodas on the road and how irresponsible they can be sometimes, but you have to confess they are quite convenient.  I've found myself in many cities at home, wanting to flag down a motorcycle and hop on the back to quickly take me to my destination.  And when you get a favored driver, it's like having a clone when he can run your errands for you!

14. Tropical fruits - pineapples, avocados, and mangoes - oh my! 

15. You get to be your own pharmacist - You get malaria back home and you're stuck in a hospital for days while the doctors freak out and eventually stick you with a bill of thousands of dollars.  When in Uganda, self-diagnosis is a beautiful thing and your wallet hardly felt that malaria treatment purchased at the pharmacy around the corner.  While you're there, pick up some sleeping pills, inhalers, and other goodies you'd give an arm and a leg for at home.

16. It's a birder's paradise - With over 1,000 species of birds in Uganda, even those who don't know a stork from a sunbird will appreciate the stunning colors flitting all around them.


17. It's so easy to grow things - Whether you love house plants, landscaping with flowers and tropical plants, or having a vegetable or herb garden, you have so many options in Uganda and it doesn't take much effort.  If I can grow things, anyone can!

18. You can afford to hire help - Provide a good job for someone and get help in your garden, your home, or with your kids.  It's win-win!

19. Handcrafted furniture made exactly how you want it - Work with a local carpenter to have your house furniture made and you can get beautiful results with some of Uganda's finest wood.  Just make sure your carpenter is using dry wood!

20. Natural skin care products - Shea butter is your skin's best friend and it's made right here in northern Uganda.  Use a natural loofah in the shower and a pumice stone for your calloused feet and soon you'll feel like you had a day at the spa.

21. Ugandans - It won't take long for you to feel welcome in Uganda - you'll literally be greeted everywhere you go with a sincere "You are welcome."  If you frequent the same grocery store or restaurants regularly, you'll likely be remembered and soon you'll be whistling the Cheers theme song as you walk down the street: Where everybody knows your name...and they're always glad you came...

What is this list missing?  If you live in Uganda, what are your favorite things?