This summer I explored a part of the world both comfortingly familiar and yet delightfully alien to me. My trip took me into the horn of Africa, and for six weeks I visited Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya. The purposes were manifold: to perfect my Kiswahili, the unifying language of much of East Africa and the only indigenous language which is spoken in the African Union; to explore the three millennia of history starting from the great kingdom of Aksum, whose kings were in contact with the Rome in the fourth century; to further old partnerships and friendships within my Alma Mater’s partner school in the Northwest of Uganda.
All these three and more left me enriched and imbued with an ever-greatening love for this part of the world, and my trip opened many possibilities for further development both academically and personally. The subject of King Ezana’s relationship with the Roman Empire of Constantius II in the mid 350s could very well blossom into and extremely interesting dissertation, which would combine my degree of Classical Studies with my enthusiasm for African culture. Thus will my joint passions be reconciled.
I spent a Sunday singing with the Cathedral Choir of St. Paul’s Church atop Namirembe Hill in Kampala, a delightful combination of the English prayerbook service of Matins sung in the local language, Luganda, entailing lots of “Mutendereze Mukama”s and “Emirembe N’emirembe”s. This and my links with Ikoba Girls School are ongoing partnerships and friendships which I actively seek to maintain.
Logistically travel in the region is a headache. Locales can at a moment’s notice become impossible to drive through and this teaches one to know when and how to rearrange plans. Our drive down to Harar in the east of Ethiopia was marred by ongoing conflict between the Ethiopian government and the Oromo tribe. Similarly we had to propone our voyage across Lake Victoria to the Ssese Islands due to the boat not having life vests. This situation was made worse by the fact that it was a public holiday, meaning that we had to wait six hours to find somebody willing to take us. Patience is a virtue which I become very good at exercising.
The trip can best be summed up by examining my journey on the British built railway from Nairobi to Mombasa, whose 500km took twenty-two hours. How many more travellers will get such a special experience is a real mute point – a new standard gauge railway line is being built literally alongside, and but seven days after returning home I read that the current train, complete with its old EARH monogramed cutlery had been taken out of service, probably forever. East Africa is changing fast, and one has to scramble to experience it in its greatness before it all but disappears.