Diary of a Volunteer: 10 weeks, 10 lessons

Polly spent 10 weeks as a volunteer in Uganda with Restless Development on the International Citizen Service program. Here’s a little snippet of what she learnt…

Week 1: How to speak Luganda… kind of.

So, we only actually learnt a few simple words/phrases of the local language, like webale (thank you) and oli otya (how are you?), but they were so useful once we got into our communities and it really put a smile on people’s faces when we used them, even though we were probably murdering the pronunciation.

Week 2: It can RAIN in Uganda.

Unfortunately, we learnt this one the hard way. A classic story, we went into town while it was beautiful and sunny, it started pouring with rain while we were out, none of us had any of the right gear on (think floaty skirts and Birkenstocks) so we had to wait it out in the supermarket.

Week 3: The Hokey Cokey is an international hit.

We introduced some of the local children who lived in the village to the Hokey Cokey and it went down a storm. Not sure they got the words but they certainly understood the screaming and running into the middle section.

Week 4: How to make samosas.

Our host mum kindly taught us how to make samosas, as she makes them every night, to sell in her shop the next day. We wanted to learn and it helped her out so it was a win-win (ours might not have looked as professional as hers but I’m certain they tasted just as delicious).

Freshly made samosas waiting to be fried!

Week 5: Do not perform the Macarena in a country renowned for its dancing.

No matter how much people push to see a ‘British dance’ it’s just not worth it and you’ll only embarrass yourselves (unless it’s the hokey cokey, and they’re 6). We performed the macarena to a very unimpressed audience and from then on left the dancing to the experts.

Week 6: Ugandans can always fit one more person (or three) in a taxi.

The ‘maximum’ capacity in a Ugandan taxi is 14 but it’s almost impossible to find one with less than 20 people in. Every time it stops you think no way can they get another person in here, and every time they do.

4 hot and sweaty volunteers squashed in the back of a taxi.

Week 7: School graduations are whole day dance parties.

We attended just two hours of a combined primary and secondary school graduation and wow, they love to celebrate. There are speeches and dances and presents and it just keeps on going. (Some friends spent 7 hours at a kindergarten graduation, SEVEN HOURS!)

Week 8: Netball in Uganda is played with different rules.

We played as a volunteer team against a local team and lost (waa) but it should be mentioned that the rules of the game seem slightly more relaxed in Uganda, it was the only reason we lost (definitely not the fact that some of us hadn’t played netball in nearly a decade).

The (very sad) losing volunteer netball team.

Week 9: In Uganda the birthday person must be fed the first piece of birthday cake.

An odd but also sweet tradition, the birthday girl (in our case) had to nominate a friend to feed her the first piece of birthday cake before the rest of us could have a bit.

Week 10: Christmas songs in the sunshine is very strange.

Christmas songs were the soundtrack for our last morning workout (on the 13th of December) and it was a very strange experience lying back doing crunches looking up at the bright blue Ugandan sky listening to ‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas’. No, it definitely wasn’t.

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Diary of a Volunteer: 10 weeks, 10 lessons

by Polly Tucker Reading time: 2 min