Learning About Happiness in Uganda

My dad and I on opposite sides

Cameron Hooyer and his father stand on opposite sides of the equator in Uganda.

Visiting Uganda was an eye-opening experience for Cameron Hooyer, 18, a freshman at the University of Utah. An Ujuzi safari that he took with his family this June was his second voyage abroad and his first trip to Africa. Whether he was in a town or out in the bush, there was always something new and exciting to see. “I seriously spent half the time we were driving leaning out the van taking pictures,” he says.

Cameron had heard a lot about Uganda from his father and other family members who lived there in the 1980s. But seeing the wildlife and experiencing the culture firsthand was a much different experience.

The family started its trip with an overnight in Entebbe, then spent three days in Queen Elizabeth National Park, a vast reserve that has several different microclimates including desert, acacia-studded savannahs and forests. There, he took a morning chimpanzee trek in a tree-lined canyon, seeing primates in the wild for the first time. “They would move around and we would try to move around with them. It was really an experience to be standing with them all around, hollering to let each other know that we were there.” He also saw other primates on the trek, including colobus monkeys and baboons.

Friendly elephants

Elephants playing in Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda. Photo by Cameron Hooyer.

Another memorable adventure was taking a boat trip on the Kazinga Channel. “We probably saw over 100 elephants right on the water. There was a little fishing village that we passed, and there were elephants right next to these fishing boats with little kids playing in them. That was amazing.”

Taking the chicks for a walk

A pair of crested cranes take their chicks for a walk. Photo by Cameron Hooyer.

From Queen Elizabeth National Park, the group went north to Murchison Falls, where they saw large game including giraffes, hippos and crocodiles. The park also proved to be a great place to see much of the country’s unique avian life. “My dad and I really like to bird, and throughout the trip that was a really great thing, because even if you’re not seeing animals, birds are everywhere, all the time. There are all these species, and the colors are just mindblowing.”

A classroom in the shade

Children attend class in the shade of a tree. Photo by Cameron Hooyer.

The family also stayed in the town of Arua, where they visited family friends and local schools and churches. A visit to a children’s Sunday school class of about 50 students made a big impression on Cameron.

“Before class started, everyone was talking, being very loud, and as soon as the teacher got up everyone was very quiet. She started teaching and everyone was interacting. I could immediately tell that all the kids really wanted to learn. Here in the United States it’s ‘Why do I have to go to school?’ and ‘I can’t believe the teacher talked for an hour.’ There, kids are just captivated and they want to learn. There were little 2-year-olds in there paying attention. That was a big culture shift for me.”

Cameron recommends that any traveler to Uganda be adventurous and try some of the local flavors, such as fresh pineapples; samosas, a savory pastry filled with chickpeas;  groundnuts, a small peanut variety used in stews and for snacking; and ugali, a porridge made of millet or corn. Lodges also offer plenty of western foods; Cameron says he liked to fill up on waffles when he wanted a taste of home.“I did a food log where I took a photograph of every meal I ate. The stuff at the lodges was amazing – better than the food I’ve had in the States.”

This girl was very proud of her corn husk doll

This girl shows off her corn husk doll. Photo by Cameron Hooyer.

Learning about Uganda made Cameron reflect on his own culture. “Obviously right off the bat it was very eye opening to realize how many physical possessions I have here in the U.S, and public utilities and services like decent buses, good roads, and drinking water,” he says. “But as I spent more time getting to know the people and their culture, I noticed that everyone there seems so much more happy than the people in the U.S., which seems backwards compared to the American way of thinking that possessions make you happier.”