The journey from Rome to Entebbe was long and I was exhausted after a series of flights and long layovers in the wee hours of the morning; but as we approached the airstrip, I saw Lake Victoria and the lush surroundings. Wow, I have finally arrived, I thought. My eyes welled up with tears out of joy and excitement, and I was thrilled with anticipation to meet Benedicta Nanyonga, who was to greet me at the airport. Yet, as I waited…and waited…and waited for my suitcase to come along on the baggage carousel, that joy and excitement began to wane. An hour or so after we landed, I realized my bag had not made the entire journey with me, and naturally disappointed, all I could do was file a lost baggage claim.
But I would not let this defeat me! As I finally exited to the waiting area, I saw Benedicta, whom I recognized from videos and photographs, holding a sign with my name on it. I walked straight to her and introduced myself. When she realized who I was, she showered me with hugs and kisses! Then another woman, Margaret, approached and presented me with a beautiful bouquet of white and orange roses. I was so touched by this welcoming.
From the airport, we drove about 35 km directly to Kinawataka, a slum in southeastern Kampala, where Kinawataka Women Initiatives (KIWOI) is based. The property serves as the workshop, office, Benedicta’s home, and an orphanage for 20 children. The children were not there because they were in school, but I met Josephine, the secretary at KIWOI. She served Benedicta, Margaret, and me a delicious lunch of beans and cooked plantain (called matoke) and I learned that the “K” in “Kinawataka” is pronounced as a “Ch.” Benedicta then gave me a tour, showing me the straw products; the awards KIWOI has received; the many news clippings of stories about her, the organization, and the strawbags; the rooms of the house; and the backyard, filled with trees, a chicken and her chicks; a cow named Benedicta, and her calf, Benedicta Jr.
It wasn’t long after lunch that Benedicta arranged for a Boda Boda (motorbike) driver who I would hire on a regular basis to transport me between KIWOI and the Red Chilli Hideaway, my home for the summer. After about a 10-minute drive, we approached a dirt road that we drove up and arrived at a guarded red metal gate. This was the entrance to Red Chilli. After checking in and paying for a full month (to obtain a 10% discount), I was shown to my room, a bit quiet and secluded. Though not very large, it is spacious enough for one person, with a table, a shelf, and a mosquito net hanging from the ceiling above the single bed. As I walked around the grounds, I noticed that this Hideaway was massive— with a number of buildings for lodgings, a tiny “plunge” pool, and goats, white monkeys, and black and white birds roaming about. (The next morning I discovered that these birds are very, very loud!) After settling into my room and unpacking a few things I had in my carry-on baggage, I went up to the restaurant/bar area, drank some soda water, used the free wi-fi, and tried not to feel so lonely, surrounded by tourists that I would likely not get to know. When I went to bed, I sprayed plenty of insect repellant all over me, the room, and the mosquito net which I carefully draped completely over the bed.
In the morning, my Boda Boda driver Julius arrived about 10 am, and I went directly to KIWOI. Our day was busy: I accompanied Benedicta to a meeting at a university business center, where she met with an advisor to discuss the development of a proposal package and business plan for a potential investor in the Netherlands. That evening, I explained the Advocacy Project model to Benedicta and proposed the idea of the quilt made of the recycled plastic straws. She said that she hadn’t fully understood the concept of the quilt project before, but now with my explanation she liked the idea and thought we should go forward with it. We thought it best to invite the women weavers who would participate to make their own design for a 1-foot x 1-foot panel that could be joined into one piece. One of the many products that KIWOI produces is a straw mat. To make a mat, several pieces of woven plastic straws need to be joined together. I think this same method can be employed for the quilt.
I also learned that Benedicta had been invited to attend a gift show in Los Angeles, CA where she could market the straw products. Over the next couple of days, I assisted Benedicta with travel bookings and preparations for this trip. This will be her first trip to the U.S., and she leaves for Los Angeles on Sunday, July 17 for 10 days!
On Wednesday I found out that my baggage finally made it to Entebbe, so in the early evening after a number of appointments, Benedicta and I went back there by hired car. It seems absurd to me in some respects that “stuff” would be so important, but I can’t overstate how happy I was to be reunited with my luggage. Finally, I could wear more than two sets of clothes, wouldn’t have to go to a clinic to get a new prescription of anti-malarial medicine, and had my special pillow with my superman pillowcase. Now, I felt as though I truly had arrived and was far better prepared to tackle the rest of the week and even the next three months.