It's funny how often you are reminded how much your parents rock. They always know what to do in every situation, and know what to say to put things into perspective. For instance, last night talking to my parents made me far less homesick, and put a smile back onto my face, after such a stressful evening being left in Jinja. From across the world they were able to cheer me up in just a few minutes! Parents also think of everything. For example, they packed me a couple of heavy boxes of granola bars, and that was probably the most valuable piece of luggage that I brought! The Clif Bars served as my breakfast before class each morning, and helped me to avoid the hallucinations that often come along with taking one's Malaria pills without food. I wish I had brought more, as they've also been the perfect snack when food is not readily available.
This morning, we woke up at the Backpacker's resort, and I opened my door to find a monkey running across the lawn! It is a really lovely place, overlooking Lake Victoria, and has all of the basic necessities. The facilities were just like the communal bathrooms at most campsites, except there was no hot water. Absolutely no hot water - it was as ice cold as can be! Surprisingly though, aside from the squeals coming from each stall as girls, including myself, tried to wash our hair, the shower was quite refreshing!
It's now old news, but the drive was gorgeous once again. I understand why they call Uganda the "Pearl of Africa" as it's simply stunning! There was lush greenery on the drive, and through to Kaliro it was tarmac, so very comfortable indeed. There was fresh air blowing through the windows, with the occasional smell of fried chapattis and roasted plantains on the sides of the road. They looked delicious, and I asked Moses if we could stop on the way back to try some!
We arrived in Kaliro far sooner than we had expected, and I immediately got chills. My dad's family was from here, and although I had heard stories and seen a few pictures, it was hard to believe that I was actually there. Kaliro is a small town, with a fairly small central street running through it. The old Jamat Khane has now been converted into a mosque, but it was still pretty magnificent.
We arrived in Kampala at a reasonable time, but were absolutely shocked by the rush hour traffic! It was an absolute nightmare, and it took us about an hour to navigate through a small part of the city. I had called Mukhisaheb (the leader of the congregation in Kampala) in the afternoon to let him know I was coming to Kampala in the evening, and he was incredibly kind. He told me to let him know which hotel we were staying at once we arrived, gave me some names of hotels to check out, and then said that he would send a driver from the Kampala JK transport committee to pick me up. Jamie and I decided that we would hang out at the Kampala Serena tonight, getting some work done in the luxurious atmosphere, so we thought that the driver could drop him off to the Serena, while I quickly went to prayers, before getting dropped back off to the Serena. However, plans don't always work out, especially if you don't have reservations at a place to stay! Moses took us to a hotel, which was out of price range, so we ventured back into the traffic, with a mission to arrive at a Lonely Planet-recommended budget hotel, in the city centre. It took us about 25 minutes to drive one block down the road to the hotel, and I saw that Khane time was nearing, so I called Mukhisaheb to let him know I'd be staying there. Moses then dropped us off, and we said goodbye. It seems as though there are many budget travellers in East Africa presently, so the place was completely full. I texted Mukhisaheb, and although he was already at Khane, he assured me that the driver was on his way to pick us up, and that Jamie could come too, and that they would help us find a place to stay after prayers.
We sat at a cafe for a little while before a member of the transport committee, named Shiraz, and the driver, Mohammed, arrived to pick us up. Of course, it took forever to make it through the traffic, and unfortunately by the time we arrived at Khane, the official prayers were over! It was an incredible building though, and Shiraz Uncle urged me to go inside to check it out and say my own silent prayers, before meeting the leaders of the congregation. Mohammed took Jamie to the Khane canteen (it's so cool that this Jamat Khane has a canteen!) and introduced him to some young Ismailis who bought him some food and sat down with him.
The Khane grounds were gorgeous. The main building itself is a masterpiece, built in the 1960's and a pride of the entire city. It is surrounded by numerous adjacent buildings, including a gymnasium, a school for religious classes, a conference centre for institutional work, a canteen, a social hall, and a library! These are all surrounded by a huge garden, with lots of benches and walkways for people to spend time in when they need a break from the hectic nature of the city. I am not going to lie, I'm quite jealous of the members of the congregation here, who get to attend such a wonderful house of prayer on a regular basis! I'm really glad that I was able to come here and see it though. :)
Mukhisaheb then came to meet us, and he and Mukhianima took us to an Indian restaurant that sells famous Pani Puris. I had told Mukhianima that we had been eating a lot of rice and beans all trip, and she wanted to treat us to something very different. We ate so much, and it was all very delicious! We had some lovely conversations, and before leaving, they bought us some sweets, which were also amazing. They then dropped us off to the hotel, and brought a package for me to bring to their daughter in Oakville. I might have to buy an extra suitcase, as I had not packed lightly initially, but with this parcel, my shopping, and the reality that it's always harder to pack as compactly as one does when heading away somewhere, it's going to be super difficult to get all of this home!
It was the least I could do though, as they were such lovely people, taking such great care of us, and demonstrated how fortunate we are to have access to a generous jamat worldwide. What a wonderful day overall: so many new experiences, such wonderfully kind people, and such a lucky opportunity to visit my dad's birthplace!