A piece of Finland in Uganda

By Naima Mohamud
BBC News

  • Published
A photo of the traditional Finnish saunaImage source, Ukko Liikkanen
Image caption,
Though made from eucalyptus tree, the sauna is built the traditional way like the ones in Finland

When Ukko Liikkanen and Niina Prittinen first visited Uganda in 2013, they were not thinking of swapping the polar circle for the equator.

Mr Liikkanen was born in the capital of Finnish Lapland, Rovaniemi. His wife Niina in Kokkola, in the province of Western Finland.

Now four years later the Finnish couple live in Entebbe, Uganda, permanently. They run a tour operating company, A Piece of Uganda Safaris, but there is another passion: Finnish sauna.

The couple have built a sauna in the sweltering heat of the East African country.

"[The idea for] a sauna first came in 2015," said Mr Liikkanen. "We thought, wouldn't it be nice to have a Christmas sauna, under the avocado tree?"

Image source, Ukko Liikkanen
Image caption,
Ukko Liikkanen (left) and Niina Prittinen moved to Entebbe, Uganda in 2015

With the help of a Finnish friend, they built a traditional Finnish sauna from eucalyptus trees.

Sauna is one of the rare Finnish words widely used around the world and going to the sauna is almost a religious experience for the Finns.

It is said that 99% of Finnish people go to the sauna regularly.

It was important for Mr Liikkanen to have one in Uganda too, in 29C or not.

"Even if we [Finns] went to the desert, we would still build a sauna in there," Mr Liikkanen says.

Saunas are everywhere in Finland, even in the parliament.

"Finnish politics has always been discussed in the sauna," Mr Liikkanen says.

Former Finnish President Urho Kekkonen, whom Mr Liikkanen likens to the Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, often had meetings in the sauna.

Image source, Ukko Liikkanen
Image caption,
Samuel Muzolewa would like to see a bigger sauna culture in Uganda

Samuel Muzolewa, a friend and a night guard at the Finnish couple's residence, has also been converted to the "magic of Finnish sauna".

"First time I went into this sauna, it was very hot. I had my clothes on and Ukko said I had to remove my clothes. I removed my clothes and ultimately got used to the heat. It was very relaxing. Afterwards, I felt sleepy and slept very well throughout the whole night, even though I was at work," Mr Muzolewa laughs.

He says saunas are not very common in Uganda outside of hotels.

"I told my friends but I had to Google and show them pictures of traditional Finnish saunas so they would understand what I meant," he says.

"I would like have saunas in my home district Kisoro."

That may very well become a reality soon, as Mr Liikkanen plans to carry the gospel of Finnish saunas into nearby regions.