6 January 2013

Uganda: Speed Dating Comes to Kampala

Speed dating can be traced back to the 1990s. A dozen of men and women would meet at a dining table and interact as a way to help shy Jewish singles meet and marry.

The gatherings became popular, thus the launch of similar events in Europe and America. On December 24, Club Galaxy, courtesy of the iwanteth.com dating site, hosted their second speed dating event.

Just like me, this was so many people's first speed dating event. ?When I reached Club Galaxy, a red-eyed bouncer questioned my presence in rather offensive, but true Luganda impressions: "N'ono azze kukwana? (Is this one also here to woo anybody?)" ?For the love of the story and my own pride, I was cautious not to blow my cover.

We were given tags with numbers and a score sheet that each person could use to assess the date they talked to. I initially thought I was late but I was surprised the place was still empty. A few people turned up later though; by 8 pm, the club was all set, complete with lights, seats, a DJ keeping the mood romantic and, above all, incredibly cheap drinks. A shot went for as low as Shs 1,000.

"Some boys can't bring themselves to talk to girls; so, we made the drinks affordable in case they needed some Dutch courage," an organizer said.

At 9pm, the girls were asked to go to the club bar, the guys would stay in their seats. When a particular song played, the girls would walk to a random guy and start a conversation. The same song would also signal the end of each five-minute dating. Doris, one of the girls I talked to, is a psychiatrist nurse in Uganda for the holidays.

"I came to meet new people and maybe find the ONE," she said.

Doris actually believed in finding true love here! We spent most of our five minutes talking about what we do. Unlike Doris, Carol specifically came for fun.

"The idea of a marathon speed dating session intrigued me, I had seen it in movies but didn't imagine it happening in Kampala," she said as she stood to go meet another stranger.

Others came for business. From where I was seated, I could hear many exchange business ideas and tips. Roland, the brain behind the do says that the last time the event took place, at least three couples hit it off. Even with a low turn up, the crowd included everyone from a stressed Kisekka market mechanic to some hot-shot lawyer.

There were more guys than the girls though. The event didn't last long; after 90 minutes, the daters were finally allowed to freely interact without time limits. It is then that two sisters complained about one of the guys.

"He told my sister he was a doctor and his name was Israel. He then came to me, communicating using sign language and sketches on a paper because he is allegedly mute and a chef with a top restaurant," she said.

Organisers believe their next gathering - scheduled for Valentine's Day - will be bigger. ?This time, they at least proved a point; Kampalans will try out anything. ?Did anyone find true love that night? Don't bet on that yet.

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