Dispatches from Uganda: A 72-Hour Day

Map of Uganda

Editor's Note: A water quality and public health research project in Uganda has the full attention of an interdisciplinary group — including USD faculty members, students, President James T. Harris and his wife, Mary — all of whom are excited to show what it means to make a difference in the world. Ryan T. Blystone, editor of the USD News Center, is in Uganda to document the trip.

My first day of 2020 concluded on January 3.

For me, it began when my parents came to San Diego to see me off. We hugged, they wept and told me they love me as Chemistry Professor James Bolender met us. Then, he and I headed to an empty TSA area a few minutes after 7 a.m.

Once we checked through, we relaxed at the Peet’s Coffee and Tea in Terminal 2. We were soon joined by Nursing Professor, Dr. Martha Fuller, and Allison Bryden, a nursing student. Small talk gave way to the first of four flights for all of us: San Diego->Los Angeles->Amsterdam->Kigali, Rwanda->Entebbe, Uganda.

USD Uganda Trip: January 2020

Time became a blur between leaving San Diego and arriving at our final stop at 1:30 a.m. on Friday (Uganda is 11 hours ahead of San Diego), when we checked into our hotel rooms in Kampala, Uganda’s Olive Gardens Bistro and Cafe and Hotel. 

To back up, I found the best way to pass the time on the plane — when not sleeping or eating delicious meals on our KLM (Dutch Airlines) flights or stretching our legs — it was a chance to meet new people onboard.

Hands down, for me, the coolest person I met in transit was Saleemah E. Knight, an adjunct dance professor from USC who specializes in jazz and dance history. She was onboard the LAX-Amsterdam flight; I asked the typical icebreaker: What takes you to Amsterdam? The answer for her (and most others) was that it wasn’t the final stop.

I told her that I am on a 20-day trip to Uganda to document a water quality project run by Dr. Bolender and multiple partners around the world in hopes of starting a serious water purification project that could be sustained by Ugandans.

After expressing her support for this water project, she explained to me that her next flight would take her to Russia to work and teach dancers there. I thought how cool it was, given the tremendous tradition that Russia has had in the area of dance, that she had this incredible opportunity. 

My other thought was, ‘Hmm, I should introduce her to my goddaughter Clara, who turns 13 on January 4 (Happy Birthday, Clara!) and is a budding dancer.’ Knight told me she’s been dancing since age 3. Among her professional credits are performing in the Broadway version of The Lion King and with musical artists such as Beyoncé and Chris Brown.

Going back to my seat, I chatted up my seat mates on either side of me. One was going on to Belgium, back home after successful business meetings in Los Angeles involving a social media project. The other was going to Amsterdam as part of a long holiday that would continue on to Prague and other places. I wished him well as we parted ways.

The stop in Amsterdam seemed to be a launching point for many. But for us, it was a brief stop, as our plane to get to the last legs of our trip left in 30 minutes. We got to the gate, got on the early January 2 plane to Uganda, but were left wondering if it had been enough time for our luggage to make the connection.

Unfortunately, we were right. An email by KLM told us so upon our arrival in Entebbe. We filled out paperwork and plan to return to the airport later today (January 3 here), to retrieve our stuff; KLM only does one flight each day from Amsterdam to Kigali/Entebbe.

I’m confident of its arrival; after all, it’s out of my hands and I wouldn’t dream of letting a little inconvenience dampen this trip. I fully realize that I’m already getting to do something extraordinary here. Nothing is going to deter me from achieving it. Especially not a delayed suitcase.

Upon arrival, I got my introduction to a few of Dr. Bolender’s valuable connections in Uganda. Waiting for us was a one-woman cheering section: Carol, wearing a shirt calling herself a ‘hug dealer.’ She, her two trusted drivers and her joyful laugh were ready to take us to the Olive Gardens in Kampala for the first of three nights.

Good night all. This first day of 2020 has lasted 72 hours; so there’s no wonder it’s been eventful! I look forward to bringing you more as the days unfold.

— Ryan T. Blystone