Making a Home in Kampala

After a month in Kampala, I have to say, I’ve settled in nicely, and will be sad to say goodbye to this unique city and its people. The spring rains have begun, and as I listen to the steady beat of the rain coming down outside washing away the rich, red dust that coats everything in Uganda, I’m reminded that all things must come to an end. And with that end, comes a fresh start.

This post goes out to my friends and family who, when told I was moving to Uganda asked, “but where will you live?”, with quizzical looks on their faces. Their vision of Africa raw and dictated by National Geographic covers of tribal Africans in grass huts. As you will see, life in Kampala has been nothing of the sort.

A Short Stay 

Airbnb is genius – and it’s catching on like wildfire across the globe. Even here in Kampala, you can find several options across the city at very affordable rates. When Jay first arrived in Kampala, he lived in his organization’s “staff house” with three coworkers. We knew, if we wanted to make Kampala our home, we’d need to find our own space. Jay hit the ground working with a broker to find something, but in the meantime, we needed a place to stay in the interim when I arrived. We found a comfy, spacious home listed on airbnb owned by American expats. Centrally located near Jay’s office, cafes and markets, it was a nice introduction to Kampala. I could easily walk to the cafe to work. And the best part, we had the place essentially to ourselves while the owners were traveling for our week stay. And it only cost us $25 a night!

Finding a House

Kampala is an extremely affordable place to live; however, housing costs are a lot higher than you would expect. Most people that we asked for explanation for why that is attributed it to two things: embassy and NGO employees who have housing allowances double the actual cost of living in the city and a portion of middle and upper middle class Ugandan families, who through some form of corruption, have a large influx of cash on hand to pay higher rents. That being said, compared to Colorado, it still feels relatively affordable. As a side note: interestingly enough, the housing market in Kampala is a USD-based market rather than being based in Ugandan shillings.

By the time I arrived in Kampala, Jay had narrowed the options for homes down to the best three on the market. We opted for a home over an apartment so we could have a yard, spare bedroom and space to entertain. All of the homes we looked at had three bedrooms, three to three and half baths and were roughly around $1,500. Two of the more expensive homes were fully furnished, and the unfurnished home was $1,200. The unfurnished house was definitely our favorite, and we had been told buying and selling of furnishings is easy here because of the rapid turnover of expats. But six months seemed like a very short amount of time to put in the effort of completely furnishing a place, so we ended up choosing this place:

From a House to a Home

Even at our airbnb, one of the first things Jay and I did was unpack. It’s amazing how not having to rifle through suitcases every time you need something goes a long way in making you feel settled. We packed relatively light for our stay in Uganda, so it made it easy to unpack, pack and then unpack again in our new home. A few comforts we brought from home included: our favorite copper mugs, mixing tools, magic bullet for smoothies and grinding coffee, french press, blue tooth speaker, apple TV, sheets, yoga mat, workout accessories and that’s it.

Casa Red, which only I call it, because of it’s stunning red gate (almost every gate in Kampala is green, brown or black) sits in Forest Village in Muyenga. Only 15 years ago, the area was a swamp. There are several homes in development in our area, but other than that, it is nice, quiet neighborhood surrounded by lush vegetation that feels remote from the hustle and bustle of the city.

We have a gardener/house boy, we affectionately call him Sly (he doesn’t speak any English), who lives on the property and watches over it during the day. Our house has security cameras already, but one of our first order of business was to hire on a night guard. Abdul Sayed, has become a very welcome addition to our home. He is a man of few words, but exhibits a large heart. Of what we pay his company, Abdul takes home only $40 a month. Can you imagine living on that? I can’t. We (at Jay’s lead), supplement his income to help him live a little better. If Jay could, and trust me, he tries, he would hire as many Ugandans as he can in order to pay them good, livable wages.

Part of making a home feel like home are the little things. I try to keep fresh roses around to brighten things up. We’ve purchased a few small pieces of art from local artists. Our landlord was kind enough to bring us a patio set, where Jay drinks his coffee each morning and we sip on cocktails in the evening.

Feeling at home is also the surroundings. We have a great gym (Kash Gym) less than a quarter mile up the road from us that costs us around $3 a visit. Our favorite fruit stand is right outside, where Enid, a woman with a smile as warm as Uganda, awaits with her three-year-old daughter from sun up to sundown to sell fresh pineapple (my favorite breakfast food in Uganda!), papaya, avocados, tomatoes for just a few dollars. And just the other day, we found a hidden German biergarten tucked down a side street a five-minute walk from our house.

As you can see, Casa Red has indeed become home. But honestly, I think any of the houses we would have chosen would have worked out just as well as this one has. It just took being willing to open our hearts and make it our home, our neighborhood and our community.

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