Spending Millions in Kampala

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Ajah and I sent most of the supplies in a large Land Cruiser after two days of shopping in Kampala. We shopped in box stores where you can buy anything from groceries to a printer or wine – and like every shop – the front of the store is open, so the fine red dust of Kampala touches everything. We shopped at little markets as well – the fronts as big as a phone booth – and inside they are sometimes long and narrow and other times the size of a large closet. We shopped for a bathing suit for Ajah at one of the closet-size shops. When we arrive in Gulu, our hotel has a swimming pool. We found one tiny shop that had volleyballs, soccer balls, basketballs, and a volleyball net. Last September, I searched every Game Store and Nakumatt in Kampala and not a single one had a volleyball or a net!

We bought a large office desk, a computer desk, and three office chairs. It was more than a million, but up till now, our staff has sat on plastic chairs at plastic tables. We bought a locking four-drawer file cabinet and a small safe to keep money. We found cooking pots, dishes, two large thermoses, and two big water Igloos. We bought books and supplies for the students, including large picture vocabulary charts.

It cost a couple million to register as a CBO (community based organization – nonprofit) in Uganda because our temporary location may be permanent. For one thing, this will allow us to open a business bank account, which we have been unable to do before.

We had a lovely meal for 79,000 and spent 152,000 on a new Sim card for my phone, airtime, and a new glass protector for Ajah’s phone.

What complicates the shopping is that except for the big box stores, most shops, restaurants, and small hotels do not accept credit cards – and of course a fee is added for using them. The exchange rate right now is 3400 – 3500 shillings per dollar, so $10 is 34000 UGX, $100 is 340,000, $1000 is 3,400,000. The largest Ugandan bill is 50,000 UGX.

When I changed $4700 at the Forex, they only offered me 20,000 UGX notes. That’s 17,250,000 UGX which means more than 860 dirty, wrinkled bills separated with rubber bands into a half brick of two million. Split between my backpack and purse, it’s like carrying books to class.

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