Friday, July 1, 2011

Travel in Uganda

A couple of days ago I got a letter out of the blue from Derek, a Washington father worried about his son who is off to Uganda. Food was a major concern. We exchanged a coupe of mails and here is what came out of it.

Jerry, do you have any Uganda guidelines you have sent out about what to eat and what not to eat for westerners who don't want to get sick or distressed stomachs? .... some kind of "DON'T EAT THIS IN UGANDA".

Immediately after my son gets back to the USA from this 3 week trip, he plans an extremely rigorous climb of a very high mountain in Wyoming and I am worried that he might get sick from eating strange foods and drinks in Uganda and have difficulty in Wyoming or even in Uganda.

Now it seems that I have to go too because my wife wants to make sure it is a safe trip.

So, we fly there July 1 and go away into bush driving from Kampala on the 7th and return to the USA around the 23rd or so.

You would know best what is safe there.

I asked Derek how he had tracked me down and he said that he had read my book The Trouble With Lions: A Glasgow Vet in Africa and found me on Google.

Here is some of what I wrote back.

On food, we ate almost anything and did well. Wonderful fruit everywhere.

When Derek and Seth get to Uganda one of the most spectacular things they will see are the wonderful fruit and veg stalls alongside the roads. Common fruits in the right season include mangoes, avacado, watermelons and jackfruit. In some parts of the country delicious pineapples are abundant.
Here they are piled in Kampala ready for distribution.
These ones are set in a customised frame in the town of Mbarara.vThey are so much better than the ones in our local supermarkets that we have given up buying them here.

I also gave them a few food tips.

“If you are lucky enough to stop at a roadside stall that sells grilled green bananas (matooke), tasty (very tasty) chapatis and a variety of meats you should make sure the meat is cooked through. My favourite is "chicken-on-a-stick." It's delicious but the vendors, usually young people, will mob the vehicle with several sticks each. Choose one person and ignore the others. Then go back to the charcoal brazier and insist that the chosen piece of meat be cut to the bone to show if it is cooked through. If not (likely) then it should be put back on the heat and carefully watched. Once done it can be thoroughly enjoyed.”

“French fries are called chips. On potatoes in general, if you ask for potatoes you will get sweet potatoes. If you want potatoes as we know them ask for Irish.”

Another thing that I was asked for was an emergency medical supplies list advisable for self drives in the extreme back country. Of course I could not do much here as I am not a physician, but I did reply briefly as follows:

“On meds, you should seek advice from a physician. We only had one surprise in 8 years. We had all the usual things, antibiotics, antihistamines, ointments, headache stuff, diarrhea stuff, band aids, etc., etc. We did not have laxatives. As you may have read in my book The Trouble With Lions one very uncomfortable student said to my wife "I would do anything for a fleet enema right now." She had not passed stool for 3 days!

On a final note the family will travel connected. Here is what Derek wrote
“I am thinking of getting a USB data modem from *both* of the two cell carriers in that country, and then plugging them both into my router, which will default over to the best connection at all times, unless you feel that one carrier is so clearly superior to the other that there isn't a need for that.

I'll want a good connection to data so I can GPS drive with Google Earth data displayed on the laptop.”

Here is my reply.

“I'm sure that the Internet over a laptop has improved a lot in the two years since I was there. Good luck with it. Here, Jen Curragh is on the phone with her family in Manitoba and we are in the middle of Queen Elizabeth NP at least 40 km from the nearest town. The cell phone service is way superior to ours here and much, much cheaper. For one thing you don't pay extra for incoming calls or texting, which we do here. I consider this an absolute rip-off and have written to our local provider to tell them. Got me nowhere of course.”

Folks in UG use texting a massive amount.

One funny story about cell phones.
I delivered a lecture at the vet college & asked a colleague whether it would be okay to ask the audience to urn off their phones. "No way," he said. "They go to church to hear a message from God, but if the phone rings they take that message right away!'

So, if you plan to travel in that part of the world make sure you are fully vaccinated, make sure you have good mosquito nets and make sure you get started on malaria prophylaxis before you travel. As for food, if you are sensible it will be the least of your worries and you will no doubt have some very pleasant surprises.


Diane said...

I have never really worried about what foods I eat around the world, and certainly not in Africa. Never had a problem yet. You are right about taking malaria treatment that is one thing you certainly do not need to pick up. Not funny..... I am surprised you mentioned vaccinations but maybe there are rules for different areas. The last set of vaccinations I had was in 1953!! Diane

Jerry Haigh said...

I'm not sure when you last traveled abroad, especially to Africa, but there are a few vacciantions that we make sure to have before leaving Canada. For vets and vet students we mad sure that everyone was fully vaccinated against rabies. We ensure that we are up-to-date with tetanus vaccinations and we also make sure that we are current with hepatitis. In some parts of Africa it is certainly neccesary to be vaccinated against yellow fever and tehre are a few countries that will not let you enter unless you can prove this one with a certificate. The simplest answer is to check with a national medical advisory website like the CDC one in the USA. That will always give the most current information and advice.