Saturday, November 16, 2013

“Welcome to Uganda, everyone is very excited to have you here!”

I arrived in Uganda safe and sound this evening. My flight from Joburg to Entebbe International Airport, the only international airport in the country, was about an hour and a half late, but I made it nonetheless. I started to worry a bit while waiting for my luggage as my bag was the VERY LAST off the plane, but the good thing was by the time I exited the airport the crowd had dispersed.

It is interesting to travel through Africa and see the different airports. Some are practically brand new with all the bells, whistles and technology you can imagine. Others are little more than wooden shacks where everything is done by hand. The Victoria Falls International Airport which hosts the #1 tourist attraction in Sub-Saharan Africa leaves a lot to be desired. There they don’t have carts or baggage carousels, so they use a lot of baggage handlers to move all the luggage manually from the planes to the teeny-tiny arrivals hall (about the size of my parents’ living room) where travelers wait to attack the second they see a bag they think is theirs. I would rate Uganda’s airport as one of the better ones in Africa.

The guide, Tobas (I think ?), who is taking me on my weekend getaway met me at the airport and delivered me to my hotel for the evening. Tomorrow he will be driving me and my new friend, Catherine, whom I have yet to meet face-to-face, 10 hours into the Bwindi Impenetrable Rain Forest to go trekking for gorillas.

On the ride from the airport to my hotel Tobas told me, “Welcome to Uganda, everyone is very excited to have you here!” Everyone? Really? I’m guessing “everyone” is excited to have me here because the small fortune I paid for this excursion is giving a nice boost to the local economy. But, it turns out, his greeting was genuine. He continued on to explain, “I understand when you get back from the gorilla trekking you will be teaching at Makerere University. They are very excited about that.”

Generally when I travel I try to visit other universities with hospitality and tourism programs. I figure it gives me the opportunity to see how other programs work, potentially form relationships for study abroad programs and recruit graduate students who might be looking to come to the U.S. And since I like to reciprocate when someone agrees to host me, I always offer to guest lecture if they are interested. When I was in Kenya in September I spent a day at the University of Nairobi and taught a class there.

But I was surprised Tobas knew about my guest lecturing at Makerere because I hadn’t told anyone at the safari company about it. I was put in touch with someone at Makerere by the professor with whom I co-teach at UB. We emailed back and forth several times and I agreed to do a one hour lecture on the American tourist market in Africa. Shortly after we set a day and time, he emailed me back and told me there was a lot of interest in my visit; he was hoping I could spend a second, full day, doing more lectures to larger groups. I was surprised there was “so much interest” but I enjoy visiting other schools, so I was happy to do it. Upon hearing that Tobas was aware of this arrangement I guess there must be “interest.”

So, how did Tobas learn about my upcoming visit to Makerere? It turns out the owner of the safari company is a tourism professor there. And due to the relationship between the professor, the safari company and the Ugandan Tour Operators Association, my visit it advertised as a public lecture. I certainly don’t mind, but I guess it does put a little pressure on me. Of course, I could look at it from the opposite perspective; I wanted to make sure I had some tourism experiences here in Uganda before I spoke. So if I was the professor/safari company owner I would definitely want to make sure the American visitor had a good experience.

Regardless, Tobas seems to be a good guy; I think I am in good hands. If nothing else “everyone is very excited” that I’m here, so it sounds like this will be a great trip.

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