Arrival & Road Trip to Jinja
"We are now flying over Jinja in a circular pattern because we cannot land due to weather conditions. Welcome to Uganda."
I woke up to this message being broadcast by the plane's Captain and looking through the window I could not understand what he was talking about as this is what I saw:
I have hardly ever seen such a beautiful scenery from a window plane, and God know I travel a lot.
It was later confirmed that on the ground it was actually pouring rain and that is why we had to circle around a few times, not that I minded as the view was worth the wait.
Getting off the plane we were greeted by officials wearing masks and taking our temperature, all while collecting the health cards we had to fill on the plane. The threat of Ebola was present and it made me feel rather safe to see that they were monitoring it and taking precautions as to contain the disease outside the country. I have been recently to coutries way more developped than Uganda that do not take the slightest precautions.
So there I was, Uganda ! For those who cannot situate it, here is a small map to help you visualize. I was landing in Entebbe and heading out to Jinja where Hackers for Charity is based.
If you still don't lnow what I am doing in Uganda, please read this post > Uganda Bound. Now that you do know, this is the first post of the series I am planning to write about this trip, describing things as I see them and live them, and then close it off with an analysis of everything I learned and experienced.
As I was getting out of the airport, my eyes were scanning for Johnny Long (HFC Founder) as I kept thinking that if he did not make it to meet me I would be stranded in Entebbe ! But as always he never dissapoints and I see him behind the screen of his iPhone documenting my arrival.
I was pleasantly surprised that Jen (Johnny's wife) made the drive to welcome me as it is a 3 hour drive from Jinja to Entebbe. I had never met Jen before but I have to say that she is one of the nicest person's that I have ever met.
On the drive back we stopped in Kampala (Uganda's Capital) for a quick supermarket shopping spree, as in Jinja the available groceries are limited compared to the capital. I also used the opportunity to get myself a local number with 3G connectivity, and I'm pointing that out because I was also surprised by the good connectivity you can get out of a 3G line (up to 8Mbs/Down).
The drive to Jinja went by really fast as we had so much to talk about that we did not feel the time go by. Also the countryside is really beautiful and Johhny and Jen are excellent guides by now and really know their way around Uganda.
The Jinja House
My first stop was at HFC's Bed & Breakfast house, which is also the Long's family home. The pictures they have of it on their website really do not make it justice. It is an amazingly beautiful house, full of charm that made me feel like I was playing in an old movie about British colonialism. The view from the garden is of Lake Victoria. But a few pictures are worth a thousand words so:
Right next to the house there is the leather products workshop (This will be the subject of another post) and an annex that also houses some guestrooms for the Bed & Breakfast. Security is a concern, minor but still, so the house is surrounded by a wall and iron gates, and Luke is one of the guys that looks after things.
I will not post pictures of the inside of the house as it would be invading the Longs privacy, but I can tell you that it is really beautiful and has an amazing feel to it. The guestrooms are very comfortable and if you're ever around I would not stay anywhere else. Also remember that the Bed & Breakfast also helps to support the HFC foundation and the Longs in their Uganda stay.
Sleeping in the Jinja house is an amazing experience as you are rocked to sleep by wildlife noises. I have been having some of the best sleep I've had in a while here.
But enough about the house, now I would like to share the experience of the HFC Training Center.
The Training Center
I really did not know what to expect as Johnny was driving me to the training center, located not too far from the Jinja House.
As we pulled in we met Anthony, a cool guy from Philly who moved to Uganda a year ago and is now training at HFC as leading instructor.
The training center does not look like much from the outside, but once you're in you get amazed asyou would never have thought that it housed such a perfectly complete set-up. That is really great work Johnny has done !
There you have the main room where you can see students working alongside HFC staff. The computers are all networked and if you look closely you will see under tables UPS's and electrical regulators. You need those as the electrical networks are not very stable and power cuts are a regular thing here. Coming from Lebanon I was not surprised, as I have lived with those most of my life.
Going around the Center I also came across a really well provided for library, with books covering most subjects. Here is Johnny posing in front of it, it's bigger than shown in this picture but I wanted to zoom in on the Hackers For Charity certificate of incorporation, dated 2010.
Among the center's machines there are brand new Dell Latitude laptops that were donated by James Bray, they rock Dual Core i5 processors, 4 Gigs of RAM, 500 Gigs drives and running licensed Windows 8.1 OS. They have come in real handy for the advances students in the center. As with all machines in the center they are networked and locked as security is always a concern here.
I also loved the security system of the center that proudly boasts a Hackers 4 CHA login ! And yes, when I first saw it I also thought it read 'Hackers 4CHAN' :)
The time spent at the HFC Training Center was really interesting and it was humbling to see all these students really enjoying the teachings and hoping for a better future and probably getting it because of Johnny and Hackers For Charity. All I could think of was "What can I do to help ?"
If the training center and the bed & breakfast were the only things that Johnny and HFC did in Uganda, it would be enough to get my full support, but it's not. There is so much more ! My next posts will tell you about The Keep - their hang-out/restaurant/internet cafe place - where much more happens than just hanging out, the Hackerspace that is being put in motion, and the Leather Workshop where all the beautiful objects that you get to buy at Cons or online are hand-made.
That is all for now, thank you for reading and please spread the word.