Good Friday in Kampala

Kampala Travel Blog

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For someone whose previous experience of Africa as a continent was Namibia and occasional trips overland into South Africa, Uganda is a bit of a culture shock. Everything here gives the impression of being unabashedly itself, each and every person, situation and fault accepted and incorporated into the Ugandan acceptance of 'what is'. The potholes in the roads, even in the richest parts of Kampala, are sometimes deep enough to lift two 4x4 wheels off of the ground, so the rich buy bigger and stronger Landrovers and the average Ugandan simply resigns him or herself to destroying the suspension on their crummy little Peugots. Half of the buildings are a vivid hot-pink, advertising the cellphone company Zain, and the other half are decorated with adverts for paint, Bic biros, or baby formula. Street hawkers crouch by baskets of bananas or little metal pots where they cook plantain and cassava, children scream 'Mzungu!' [white person!] with joy and excitement. The children are strange creatures, full of motion and energy, the girls invariably with a younger sibling clinging to their backs, their arms crossed behind them to support the infant who is sometimes not much smaller than themselves. When they wave, some of them shake their bodies and hold their arms still, others push at the air like they're giving it a high-five. Some just have joyful convulsions. It's the same with the adults; I've been in Kampala on and off for eight weeks now, and though at first I was tentative walking around now I've gotten used to the boda-boda (motorbike) drivers calling for me, the locals asking after my health before they've said 'hello', the hawkers who have two prices for everything, the ordinary price and the mzungu price. It's a unique experience for someone from the UK, and it took me a while to understand how I appear to them. My pale white skin (because I never tan, a legacy from Celtic ancestors) simply gives the boda drivers a target, someone to momentarily direct their energy at. I've never been pestered as long as I clearly say, 'No, thank you, not today.' And as for the locals talking to me as though they know me, they're genuinely interested in my entire life story. It reminds me vaguely of rural Scotland, and I've learnt to respond the way they expect; I'm flattered, friendly and equally interested in hearing the story they have. Often their English isn't great, but they want to show off the grasp of the language they do have. 'Hellohowareyou?' is a common refrain, and they get a little confused if you answer with anything other than 'Iamfinehowareyou?'. At the NGO I'm working at (an Ugandan-run gorilla-conservation organisation) the man who drives me home every day, Kakande, obviously doesn't understand a word I say, but always says my name with genuine affection because I smile at him and talk with a cheerful note in my voice, very unlike their previous mzungu intern, a lady with a sour disposition and no patience for African humour, which I love. Everyone finds such impossible joy in little jokes, laughing as though it's punctuation in their long, poetic conversations. I love the way that Ugandans talk, the pressure they place on unusual syllables, extending and shifting their words into unlikely combinations. They speak with an inate elegance of language, unhurriedly and always listening intently to your response. Even the young men, hitting on me relentlessly as they drive me to work on their motorcycles or as I walk to the supermarket, are unfailingly polite and charming, and delighted when you banter with them instead of just storming past with a sour expression.

Though I dearly love Uganda, I'm getting traveller's sickness which comes from sitting still too long. I miss my partner and my family and I know that the only way to get over this momentary lull in my enthusiasm is to get going again. It was originally my intent to spend the rest of my time in Africa in Uganda, working for this NGO, but I know now I'd go crazy, so I impulsively booked myself onto an overland trip. I want the company of other travellers, to see the gorillas in Rwanda and go back to Victoria Falls, which I last saw from the Zimbabwean side when I was ten years old. However, now I don't know what to do when I get to Zambia on the 16th of May; come back to Uganda and catch my return flight, or buy a flight direct to London out of Joberg and spend some time in Windhoek, where I grew up and where many of my friends still are? I've never been impulsive or irresponsible in my life; the oldest child of an expat family, I've always been in charge, always been expected to be mature. I had a wonderful childhood and a relatively pain-free adolescence in the UK, but I'm eighteen now and my single rebellion remains the one which seemed most natural and simple at the time; falling in love with my girlfriend. The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that I want to blow another thousand pounds of my savings and do everything I've always wanted to do. I've got three years of being responsible ahead of me. I want a brief period of being a rebel.

So, the week ahead. I might go into work on Easter Monday, just because I'll be bored otherwise, and I might make that my deadline for making a decision about my travels in May. Next Saturday I'm going to a Ugandan wedding, which I'm itching to write about, and then on Monday I'll catch a bus to Kigali.

Merry met, merry part, and merry met again,

xxx Stella
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Kampala Hostels review
Staying in the dorms, very cheap - Ush12,000 per night without linen, and a good way to meet people. Not the fanciest of accommodation but definitely … read entire review
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photo by: loanna