Mayor Wilfried Vicktor traded snow for greenery, cold for tropical warmth, and raccoons for monkeys from Dec. 21 to Jan. 16 when he visited Uganda and Kenya.
Luckily for Vicktor, he did not take any flak as Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson did when he took a vacation in mid-December.
“I felt kind of bad leaving when it was snowing but the trip was booked three months before, so I had no way to bail,” said Vicktor. “I purposely took the break over Christmas and New Year’s because things slowed down a little bit.”
Vicktor visited friends, volunteered at an orphanage and learned a lot about Africa. At the Amani Baby Cottage, in Jinja, Uganda, Vicktor did painting, maintenance and yard work.
“Many of them are orphans. Others are from families that can’t afford to keep the kids right now,” said Vicktor. “The baby cottage will raise the kids until the family can afford to properly care for the kids.”
Vicktor said the Christian-run orphanage feeds and cares for about 48 children aged zero to six. Asked whether this was a mission trip, Vicktor said this was “just people helping,” adding that the orphanage accepts all children.
Vicktor learned about this opportunity from a friend, based in Uganda, who Vicktor has known for about 20 years.
“She has invited a few of her friends over the years to come for a visit,” said Vicktor. “I was one of those and I thought, before she moves back, maybe it’s a good idea for me to pop out.”
Vicktor enjoyed the “intense friendliness” of people and also felt very safe.
“The level of poverty there is beyond Western comprehension,” said Vicktor. “Yet, I walked home to my guesthouse I was staying at every night.
“Quite frankly, I think walking home at 11 at night in Vancouver would be a spookier experience.”
Vicktor noticed a few challenges facing Ugandans. Many still suffer from malaria, despite there being a cure, and some people did not even have shoes, leading to problems from bugs eating their feet.
Recent droughts have also made life hard for farmers. For workers, Vicktor also felt that not having a minimum wage also creates poor working conditions.
“To pay someone between $1 and 50 cents a day for 16 hours work … we live in a world that shouldn’t allow that,” said Vicktor, who argued that corruption stymied change.
Vicktor also spent five days in Kenya, visiting friends of his friend, who ran a private school.
“It was a little shocking for me because the amount of hardship in that community was something I’ve never seen,” said Vicktor. “For people under 30, 65 per cent have AIDS.”
Vicktor also had challenges himself including a 13-hour time difference, and jet lag. On the way back, had to travel from Entebbe, Uganda, then Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, then Dublin, Toronto and finally to Vancouver.
“Getting there wasn’t really that bad, I think coming back is a little different,” said Vicktor. “The airfare isn’t super cheap either.”
The tropical heat of Uganda and Kenya also felt hot to Vicktor, although he said he expected it to feel worse.
“It’s funny, I didn’t even get any colour while I was over there,” said Vicktor.
In his 45 years, this marks his first time away from home during Christmas and New Year’s.
“I still like snow for Christmas,” said Vicktor.