BEFORE COVID-19: African American teen experiences Uganda
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2020/04/before-covid-19-african-american-teen-experiences-uganda/
(This is the second of two stories UCU Partners is featuring about American teens living in Uganda.)
By Douglas Olum and Patty Huston-Holm
At 1 a.m. on a Tuesday, 14-year-old Jada Nicole Just climbs out of her Charleston, S.C., bed to begin school – on-line and facilitated from Uganda, Africa, where it’s seven hours later. From her laptop, she takes her first class focused on the Bible and beamed out from Heritage International School, Kampala, where the time is 8 a.m. Except for COVID-19, Jada would be there with new friends from around the world.
“We literally had days to pack up and get back to the States,” her mom, Ladavia, said of the coronavirus exit she did with Jada and two younger daughters in March 2020.
The night before the flight out from Entebbe was bittersweet as Jada had a goodbye sleepover with Heritage school friends from Finland, Kenya and Uganda. She was excited to return home to her life in South Carolina and to her friends, her dad and her dog there, but had grown to love much about Uganda. Experiences with African food, wildlife and even getting around chaotic streets are opportunities that few American teenagers receive or are even bold enough to try.
In the summer of 2019, Jada, then age 13, left South Carolina for her first trip to Africa. Her mom received a Fulbright opportunity to teach and lead pharmacy-related projects through Uganda Christian University’s School of Medicine. With anxious uncertainty, the girls went along. They made Uganda home and were comfortably settled in their school when they learned they needed to leave. With almost six months left, Ladavia’s Fulbright was suspended by a U.S. Embassy directive, forcing their exit from Uganda.
Jada is still processing her time in Uganda. She recalls her first long trip – nearly 7,500 miles over two days – to East Africa. She had never before been overseas.
There was a stop in Brussels, which was her first time in Europe. Next, there was a landing in the dark at the Entebbe airport, followed by a car trip with a flat tire and two hours to fix it in darkness before arriving at a small Ntinda apartment in northeastern Kampala with no water pressure for showers. While exhausted, sleep did not come easily as there was a first encounter with nighttime Uganda mosquitoes. The sometimes-malaria-carrying insects were surprisingly smaller but nevertheless more frightening than the ones in South Carolina.
Daylight revealed disorganized traffic jams with motorcycles over dusty roads, cars and taxis with seemingly no driver guidelines, women carrying bananas in baskets on their heads, cows and goats without enclosures, skinny wandering dogs and dirty pelicans eating from piles of trash. While observing these stark contrasts to the landscape and more-orderly life in Charleston, Jada and her family discovered there also were American-like places such as Café Javas with cheeseburgers and salads and Acacia Mall with its ice cream, book stores and a movie theatre.
Trips to the zoo allowed an up-close look at ostriches and zebras. Game parks enabled the family to see lions, primates, giraffes and hippos in their natural habitat. There was a chase by Uganda’s national bird, the Crested Crane, and a frightening but unforgettable, nighttime trip across the Nile while hippos moved dangerously close by their tiny boat. Monkeys of different species roamed the trees seemingly everywhere.
“Sometimes, we picked jack fruit from a tree in our compound,” Jada recalled. “We didn’t need to ask permission. It was just there, very sweet and good.” Other regular foods were beans, rice, samosas and an egg-like treat called rolex.
Despite the time difference, the teenager kept in touch with Charleston friends via social media when there was a connection and electricity. Uganda power outages sometimes necessitated earlier bedtimes and subsequent earlier wake times to finish homework before school each day.
The weather in Kampala was surprisingly similar to that in South Carolina except that despite Uganda’s location on the equator, the air was cooler. The friendliness of the Uganda culture was another pleasant surprise.
“People here don’t take offense when you stare at them; they smile back a lot,” she said. “And for the first time as an African American, I was living in a culture where everybody looked like me. They just didn’t speak like me.”
Uganda has many tribal languages with the most common around the capital city being Luganda.
After getting over the nervousness that comes with starting high school in another country, Jada feels very prepared as she approaches her sophomore year in the United States. She’s become particularly fond of French, a language that is taught at Heritage beginning in kindergarten. But her favorite subject there was Physics. She has also grown in appreciation of her home in the United States.
“Although we can’t travel much now because of virus restrictions, I value that we have roads with no pot holes, and I’m not so picky about what I eat here,” she said.
Will she go back to Uganda?
“Not soon,” Jada said. “But, yes, I want to go back some day.”
To support Uganda Christian University programs, students, activities and services, go to www.ugandapartners.org and click on the “donate” button, or contact UCU Partners Executive Director, Mark Bartels, at email@example.com.
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