Is Uganda Safe? Depends.

With just a few weeks before I leave for Africa, family and friends are asking delicately if it’s safe to go there. The truth is I suspect it is. It’s hardly the wild place it was once upon a time. That said, I suppose there are still lots of things that could get you killed in Africa: accidents on the highways, wildlife in parks, Ebola, anti-American terrorists, and petty criminals among them, but I believe the promise of adventure and following after curiousity outweigh those. As the Professor is fond of saying, you can just as easily get killed right here at home.

So while I don’t think about the major things that can kill a person, I admit to giving thought to lower-tier things that could be lethal (though don’t have to be). These are the ones that probably won’t kill me but could make me wish I were dead: blood clots in my legs (from being in the air too long), severe sunburn, mosquitos, tse-tse flies, traveler’s diarrhea, and jetlag. So on the chance I encounter one or more of these, here’s a list of the precautions I’ve taken for those who are worried about me. Will they help me steer clear of harm? Maybe. But they can’t hurt.

Blood clots. I’ll get up and walk the aisles of our Qatar Airways 777 every hour or so on the cross-Atlantic 14 hour flight. I bought compression socks. I upgraded my seat to “comfort” economy all the while praying for an upgrade to business or first class but I’m not holding my breath. That’s about all I can do. At the very least I expect my long legs to be uncomfortable and the flight to be exhausting. Perhaps only a little less comfortable than I would be in regular economy.

Severe sunburn. I’m light-complected and know a thing or two about being near the equator. For one, I’ll limit exposure. Wear sun-blocking hats and clothing. And buy the strongest sunscreen they make. In Peru as a child I spent two hours on a beach. That night I was the color of the inside of a watermelon and in a strait-jacket of pain. I stayed in a dark room for several days, emerging with an egg-sized blister on my chin. Later, my skin turned black and sluffed off.

I’ve had skin cancer. I have no desire to repeat a burn or the cancer so I’m taking a large-brimmed sun hat, SPF 50 sunscreen, and clothing that blocks the sun. I frequently chant to myself “put on sunscreen before bug repellent” so I don’t forget that bug repellent can cause sunscreen to be less effective. Great. Bug repellent is another critical tool for my risk avoidance in Uganda.

Vector-borne disease. Mosquitos carry Malaria. Keeping my skin covered will help, as will wearing and pre-treating my clothing with heavy-duty deet-based repellent. I won’t wear dark blue when traveling, especially to rural, agricultural regions. For some strange reason dark blue attracts the painful bites of the tse-tse fly (which is one reason why safari clothes are khaki-colored). The World Health Organization (WHO) cautions that tse-tse flies are vectors for parasistes responsible for chronic and acute forms of human African Sleeping Sickness. Nice.

Consider this from the WHO:

In the first stage, the trypanosomes multiply in subcutaneous tissues, blood and lymph. This is also called haemo-lymphatic stage, which entails bouts of fever, headaches, enlarged lymph nodes, joint pains and itching. In the second stage the parasites cross the blood-brain barrier to infect the central nervous system. This is known as the neurological or meningo-encephalic stage. In general this is when more obvious signs and symptoms of the disease appear: changes of behaviour, confusion, sensory disturbances and poor coordination. Disturbance of the sleep cycle, which gives the disease its name, is an important feature. Without treatment, sleeping sickness is considered fatal although cases of healthy carriers have been reported.


Traveler’s Diarrhea. This nasty malady results from drinking or eating contaminated water and food. Stomach cramps and loose bowels will ruin a trip, for sure, and I’m taking both over the counter and major league remedies. If I have more than four episodes a day or severe symptoms, including a fever or blood, pus, or mucus in my stools, I’ve read that I’ll want to tap into the Azithromycin I’m bringing along. Three small bright pink tablets taken religiously are supposed to do the trick – with or without food (but not with antacids – like the Tums I’m also taking), to stop the growth of bacteria. Though my traveling companions have professed an affinity for street food and I am culinarily curious, we’ll see… When I went to Brazil I practically lived on Pringles and Coke. That’s not a lot of fun.

And finally, Jetlag. Jetlag can literally get you killed and make you wish you were dead. It’s not only a joysucker because you’re perpetually exhausted but it can cause you to be inattentive to things that can kill you (like accidents, disease, snakes, terrorists, and criminals). So because of that and because I hate being falling-down-tired on a trip and staring at my walls in the middle of the night when I get home, I was excited to learn that there’s an app for that. Timeshifter (Travel is part of your life. Jet lag doesn’t need to be.)

The premise is that when I manage my exposure to light and dark across timezones, a clock in my brain takes note of such things (called a circadian rythym). Jetlag, they say, can be minimized though not entirely eliminated. Based on neuroscience, the app will tell me when to drink coffee and expose myself to bright light, when to avoid them, and when to sleep. I begin managing my exposure two days before I leave and continue until a few days after arrival, repeating the process for the trip home.

Does it work? Ask me when I’m back. Timeshifter is free for the first trip, $9.99 per trip after that, or $24.99 for a year’s subscription. If it does work I’ll be singing its praises. Nothing ruins a good trip or its memories like exhaustion.

So you be the judge. Is Uganda safe? It depends. Maybe, maybe not. But I think the adventure is worth the risk. All I can do is try to avoid or limit it. Beyond that, I’ll just enjoy the ride.


  1. Spent 6 hours in Uganda with AK-47 up my ass and another night in bathtub avoiding gunfire

    Amos S. Eno
    207-232-0134 (c)
    View my LinkedIn Profile


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