here, there, everywhere

Oot and Aboot in Kampala

In Africa, Uganda on January 11, 2017 at 8:02 pm

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Monkeys on Lake Victoria, Entebbe

In between the road trips to the north and a few free moments of chilling out in the apartment, I also saw a lot of Kampala and neighbouring Entebbe.  Too much to write here so the following is just a snapshot of time well spent in a fantastic city.

Everything is congested, the city teems with people, vehicles, and dust.  There are usually 12 things heading for the same spot at any given time – cars, bikes, motorbikes, pedestrians; the victor comes out on top in a battle of the wills, but everyone gets to where they’re going eventually.  You walk through the covered second-hand market where shoes pile from floor to rafter and people sit in the limited free space they can find.  Riding public transit means first finding your taxi among the mass of vehicles then squishing yourself between them to get into the packed one you want.

South of Kampala is the town of Entebbe.  The airport is here and so is a university, beaches, restaurants, and anything else you need for a good time.  We spent part of the morning hanging out on the shores of Lake Victoria and then came back in the evening to enjoy the sunset from a lakeside bar.  After the sun went down very few lights came on.  I thought this was weird and had to use my sense of touch to find my drink on the table.  At one point I turned around to look at the street light 50 metres away and saw what looked like snow swarming the light.  No clue what that was and then immediately opened my phone to receive a text.  Two seconds later my phone, hands, and head were swarmed by the same phenomena which turned out to be lake flies.  They are totally harmless but love the light which means they hang out around any they can find, in the thousands.  I shut the phone, they went away.  Then I needed to go to the bathroom which I had to find and use in the dark.  There was a blue light above the sink which looked to be stuffed with something until I realized it was hundreds of the flies congregating above the drain.  Because of these things the home value in that area is less than what you would think.

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One of the fastest and cheapest ways to get around the city is to take the motorcycle taxi known as a boda boda.  Everyone warned me they were dangerous but that just made me want to try them more.  Sure enough, my first ride had me hooked in about 5 seconds and I was more than willing to use them for the rest of the trip.  I was only one passenger but I saw up to 4 people plus luggage on others.  Only the driver wears a helmet and sometimes never.  Everyone has a story to tell about falling off, getting launched, or some kind of injury, but fortunately I only experienced absolute joy for all of my rides.

There was lots of eating to be had in different establishments and I got to see some of the best and some of the unusual.  A friend of a friend treated me to a lovely lunch on one of the hills above the city where we could enjoy a beautiful setting and a breeze to keep it cool in the afternoon heat.  On another evening Lil Bro took me to what looked like an abandoned gravel parking lot.  You sit on plastic patio chairs in the dark and wait for the waiter or waitress to find you and take your order before bringing a plastic pitcher and basin to wash your hands.  Minutes later a whole bbq’d chicken is delivered to your table with drinks and you sit under the stars and street lights with about 50 other people enjoying what chicken should taste like.  This was by far one of the best gourmet experiences of the trip.

It wouldn’t be a complete trip in a Westerner’s eyes without visiting one of the slums in the city.  Lil Bro hooked us up with a friend who knew his way around a few of the neighbourhoods so we jumped on boda bodas to go down to the one where they filmed the movie “Queen of Katwe” (even though it wasn’t actually Katwe).  I’ve been in other slums around the world but this one really challenged me to rethink how we in the West view these places.  We approach them from a place of pity and judgment: ‘these poor people with little to no resources live in the worst places’.  But being there and looking at it without the editorializing of World Vision commercials made me feel ashamed for this view.  Yes it is dirty and yes it is poor.  The kids run around in torn and dirty clothes, and there is definitely evidence of alcoholism in some of the homes and establishments.  So many issues and few resources to improve them.  But we assume these places are terrible because they don’t have our air conditioning and clean streets and closets full of clothes and garages full of toys; we think everyone wants what we have.  But maybe our standard of ‘good’ needs to be rethought.  Most certainly there are intelligent and well-educated people living here and there is a lot of humanity and dignity on display.  When I see kids laughing and deriving happiness out of the dirt and old tires, I can’t help turning the judgment back on myself and my world of materialism.  I’ve got good things in my life but that doesn’t mean everyone else wants the same thing.  Maybe they are content with family close by and a roof over their head no matter how poor.  Something to think about…

On my last night in Kampala I went to my friend’s sister’s house but I will call her ‘my’ sister because my friend’s family became my family.  I was now in possession of 2 sisters and a brother (Lil Bro) and all the offspring that comes along with them.  Big Sis had a baby girl while I was there and to link our families together gave the little one my last name for her middle name, so I headed over to meet my namesake and spend some quality time with her.  What can I say except that she’s perfect and totally looks like me.  Welcome to this world, little one, can’t wait to watch you grow and spend more time with you.

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My namesake

And finally, in case you’re wondering if the city is beautiful, the answer is yes, in every way.  Despite the poor quality of the roads, the endless dust, and the jam packed streets, it is vibrant, lively, parties like there’s no tomorrow, and the people embrace you as one of their own.  Would I go back?  A thousand times yes, and hopefully sooner than later.

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  1. Awesome! Reading this is like using another set of eyes to see my own world. An interesting insight into your own too.

    It’s easy to overlook the daily delights that make life worth living if we get trapped in our own settings and never stop to appreciate the beauty, joy right here right now. Sometimes those on the sidelines will point you to the lager picture.

    Love it!

  2. Love reading your blog… this was a fantastic read!

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