#UgandaLikeIt: Tristram Worth (Class of 2019) Shares Stories and Lessons from Memorable Darden Worldwide Course to Uganda
By Tristram Worth (Darden Class of 2019)
#UgandaLikeIt quickly became the informal theme of my Darden Worldwide Course (DWC) to Uganda. One of my witty classmates coined the moniker on our first day in Uganda as we set out on an 8-hour bus ride from Entebbe to the western city of Mbarara.
As we began our journey to Mbarara, I was excited and energetic – my mind working to take in and catalogue all the sights, sounds, and smells of a new place. None of us knew what to expect or fully understood the simply sublime experience we were about to enjoy.
For me, I wanted to return to Africa – it has been a special place for me since my brother first took me to Kenya and Tanzania as a college freshman, opening my eyes to a new part of the world. Since that first trip, I have been continuously drawn back by the spirit, resourcefulness and kindness of the people.
But the Uganda DWC was not just another trip back to the continent I so love; it was an opportunity to do something different. The class is designed to provide access and exposure to key business people, government officials, and academics while encouraging us to interact and engage with them about the professional challenges they face. But if I were to rewrite the course description, I would simply say it was an opportunity to get to know people: classmates, faculty, local Ugandans, leaders in Uganda and everyone who made our journey possible.
The unique nature of DWCs was on full display as our group toured Nile Breweries (part of SAB Miller), a production facility that has a strict “no visitors” rule but made an exception for us given our affiliation with Darden. As we walked the plant floor, we saw the concepts our first-year operations professors – Doug Thomas and Ozlem Yildiz – taught us as if it was a 3-D case on manufacturing. On its face, this alone was remarkable.
But what made this course really special to me was time we spent with the people of Uganda. After meeting with the Nile Brewery executives, they invited us to a happy hour where we talked about everything from football to education to craft beer. In talking with the Head of HR, I discovered that his family lives 100 kilometers away and he runs a honey harvesting business on the side – a common theme for the ever-entrepreneurial Ugandans. This afternoon of the program was fun, exciting, and obviously not something on most people’s itineraries when touring Eastern Africa.
My experience was more than getting to know the Ugandan people. As with any DWC, you have the opportunity to create bonds with your classmates. Our group of 28 students plus the legendary Darden Professor Mary Margaret Frank and the wonderful staff coordinator Kathryn Surchek became a close-knit family. This was partly out of necessity as we spent hours on our beloved bus, affectionately named, the “Mzungu Express,” traveling across the beautiful country of Uganda. But most of it is was because we were undertaking this adventure together – linked by our desire to explore a new part of our world. This is the beauty of travel – it is an infectious elixir of new experiences that can never be perfectly replicated, but live on as eternal memories.
In Uganda, these memories range from trying to figure out how much matoke one could really eat, dinners at Jack’s (the “Bellair Market” of Mbarara due to its location at a gas station), discussions of the “deadly” tsetse fly, seeing lions hanging out in the trees, crossing the equator (by both boat and bus), competitive volleyball games, and the infamous ‘birthday goat’ named “Mary Margaret The Goat” in remembrance of our fearless leader.
Just writing those previous sentences brings a smile to my face.
When meeting Geoffrey Bwireh, lecturer at Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST), via video message at one of our pre-departure class sessions, I could immediately tell that he is a person who cares deeply for people and was excited to show off his brilliant country. My hypothesis was immediately confirmed when he was waiting for us when we first landed (even upon an arrival at 2AM) in Uganda. He had the unenviable task of shepherding our group of 28 curious and independent students from place to place. He organized every single one of our meetings and leveraged his contacts to provide unimaginable access. All of his hard work was not forgotten, but what really struck me was when he invited our entire group to his home for the most divine, homemade goat curry. This demonstrated extraordinary hospitality that seemed common on our trip to Uganda.
Next, we had the dynamic duo of Bernard Kakuhikire, Senior Lecturer at MUST and Solomon Agum, Academic registrar and IT officer at MUST. In a country of different social constructs, these two gentlemen taught a master’s class on how to be an ally for women.
Bernard’s larger than life character is the perfect complement to his big ideas. He has taken the Ugandan entrepreneur spirit to new heights by starting and helping others start more businesses than I can count. To me, it is actually the businesses he helped others start that are most special, like the all-women grain syndicate. These women harvest and store grain in order to time the market – buy low, sell high (#MBA) – to be the economic engine of their families.
For Solomon, he impressed us all while masterfully leading a Q&A session at an all-girls secondary school (before our Darden vs Uganda volleyball game). What truly stood out, was when a young girl referenced a Ugandan official as the wife of her husband. Without missing a beat, Solomon very politely said, “I don’t believe she would like to be known ‘as the wife of.’ I think she would like to be known by her own name.” These two gentlemen are a beacon and I am still in amazement of their tireless work to improve not only their lives, but the lives of all Ugandans.
The Mzungu Express Driver
Last, but not certainly not least, our bus driver, Adam, made the aforementioned 8-hour bus ride not only bearable, but fun. Each day we seemed to find out something new about Adam: first, after a night out, we discovered that Adam had procured USB drive with 60 music videos on it so that we could continue the good times on the way home, making good use of the bus’ old TV screen. Next, we found out that our bus doubled as a safari mobile and Adam was an expert safari guide — finding three lionesses that had climbed into a tree for a morning nap and, later, a leopard that was so close it could have been hitchhiking on the side of the road. Finally, the cherry on top was when he showed up wearing a custom “Mzungu Express” shirt. After 12 days on the road, it was odd to watch Adam drive off without us, but we promised to send him a new USB with more songs for his next trip.
Ultimately, this trip was about the people. What I learned about myself, my classmates, and Uganda could never be replicated in a classroom since it was distilled from my interactions during the trip. By traveling to Uganda, my classmates and I have expanded our global views and stretched ourselves in different ways. We witnessed unfettered entrepreneurship, were treated to unbelievable hospitality, and developed relationships that were previously unimaginable. The Uganda DWC really was a once in a lifetime opportunity- and I don’t say that lightly.