Boda-Bodas & Rolex: The Ultimate Guide to Embracing Kampala as an Expat

This list provides a humorous and insightful perspective on the experiences of an expat living in Kampala.

Dec 4, 2023 - 01:47
Dec 4, 2023 - 01:55
Boda-Bodas & Rolex: The Ultimate Guide to Embracing Kampala as an Expat
riding on a boda

I'll never forget the time my American buddy first touched down in Kampala and tried to wrap his head around the whole boda-boda commuting scene. He looked at me and said, "Wait, we're supposed to cruise around town on that? Interesting. Apparently, my entire family and a piece of furniture can fit on one bike!"

As we all know, the expat life is a rollercoaster of firsts as you try to sync up with a new culture. Some of these firsts are a bit disheartening, like realising you can't find your favourite product at the market. Others require a bit of explaining. However, my favourites are the ones that crack you up!

Here are 25 ways to tell if your American friend has officially settled into expat life in Kampala.

This list provides a humorous and insightful perspective on the experiences of an expat living in Kampala. It captures the nuances and quirks of adapting to a new culture, and many readers who have lived or are living as expats in different places can likely relate to some of these points. The blend of cultural differences, lifestyle adjustments, and personal anecdotes creates a vivid picture of the expat experience in Kampala. It's evident that the author has embraced the challenges and unique aspects of life in Uganda's capital city, finding humour in the everyday situations that come with being an expatriate.

  1. They nonchalantly drink milk from a bag and act like it's the norm. Honestly, the whole milk-bag thing threw my friend off when he first arrived. To make matters worse, there's a 25% chance the bag might leak all over your shopping. Can we just collectively go, "Eeeeeww!"

  1. Their first getaway trip is to Jinja. Kampala is fantastic, but let's be real: the traffic can be soul-crushing. When your American buddy discovers that a weekend escape to Jinja does wonders, you know they've hit expat status.

  1. They get more texts from MTN than all their friends combined.

  2. They confidently bargain with a boda-boda driver over those "mzungu prices." At first, my friend was a total sucker for it. 20,000 shillings to go down the street? No problem! It didn't take long for him to catch on and set his own fair prices.

  1. They can finally afford a Rolex. Initially, my friend thought a Ugandan friend was offering a luxury watch. Now, he knows better. Rolexes are, without a doubt, his favourite street food—a little slice of heaven in Kampala.

  1. They've braved Owino Market and found jeans that fit like a glove. There's something about the way a Ugandan can eyeball you and know your exact jeans size. Pure talent!

  1. They buy something made of kitenge and then never wear it. In an attempt to become "American 2.0" or "Kampala American," my friend purchased loads of Kitenge accessories. In the early days, he looked like a walking kaleidoscope, and that's just not okay!

Disclaimer: He genuinely loves those vibrant African fabrics. A seasoned expat knows how to pick the perfect classy dress or accessory and rock it!

  1. They've partied at Bubbles, Big Mikes, and Cayenne until the wee hours.

  2. They understand that “Yes, pliz (please)” is an answer to everything. Example: “Richard, what time are you coming by the office today?” only to receive a text back saying, “Yesssss, pliz.” Ummm… confusing.

  1. They discover a new love language: when the neighbourhood ‘video store’ sends a boda driver with the latest episode of Game of Thrones every week.

  2. They wait half an hour to use the ATM, and the only bill size left is 10,000 UGX ($3ish). I just wanted to get out 250,000 UGX ($100ish). Don't you dare give me 25 bills to lug around in my wallet!

  1. They've cried or sweet-talked their way out of a ticket. Within months of living here, my friend accidentally turned onto an unmarked one-way street. The cop pulls him over. Cue the tears. Did he pay the bribe? That's none of your business. Let's just say no ticket was involved!

  1. “Treat yourself” now means sneaking out to KFC for a bucket of chicken. He'd never step into a KFC in the US. Nope. Never. But here, it tastes so darn good! It's not only socially acceptable; it's also known for having some of the best chicken in town.

  1. They're comfortable giving commands. “You first wait.” “You give me..."

  1. They're on a wimpy non-profit salary but can still afford someone to come daily and iron their underwear. All jokes aside, employing someone to help around the house is a blessing. It's still a bit odd since it's not common in American culture. No, they don't really iron underwear.

  1. It’s acceptable for restaurants to sell 70% of the items on their menu. No biggie!

  2. They've had something stolen in Kabalagala. A night out for Ethiopian food, dancing, and partying until the sun comes up—all for the price of a cell phone, wallet, or entire purse.

  1. They've indulged in Uganda’s version of fast food—street meat! Is there no time for a three-hour stop to eat on a road trip? Just grab some street meat! It's lukewarm on a stick, and you'll likely have indigestion for the next 24 hours. Bon appétit!

  1. The phrase “Kampala/Jinja Road anytime on Friday” sends chills up their spines. Oh, so this is what hell is like.

  1. They've had a “Real Housewives of Kampala” moment, asking their housekeeper to do menial tasks (and then having to apologise). Sorry to bring up house help again, but the whole concept is still unnatural! They've caught themselves asking their helper to do things they should be doing. Instant apology. #realhousewivesofkampala

  1. When the shirtless repairman comes wearing jean shorts, by the time he leaves, there are three more additional problems. True story. There's a cell phone photo to prove it.

  1. They drive a Rav4. 'Nuff said.

  2. They've furnished their home with finds from the side of the road. Gaba Road is like Uganda's version of the American store “Bed, Bath, and Beyond.” Wicker furniture and gaudy tapestry couches for days!

  1. They understand that de-wormers are for humans too. Wait, aren't those supposed to be for horses and other animals? Not in Kampala! Apparently, they're for humans too. These days, taking a de-worming pill is just as common as the occasional dentist appointment or changing contact lenses!

  1. They've survived some sort of tropical disease or gastrointestinal invasion. Malaria, yellow fever, or (gasp!) bilharzia Most have sat in Dr. Stockley’s office at The Surgery, waiting for those dreaded lab results. The prices they pay for camping and swimming in the Nile

Anything fun left off? Leave your “Kampala expat” comment below!

MCBRIDE, LAUREN. “25 Signs That You’re a Legit Kampala Expat.” Living in Kampala, 1 Oct. 2014,

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