Balance has two meanings here in Uganda. The first is an expression used by people who want change after handing over money, “My balance please?”
The second is the universal meaning of the word, a state of equilibrium.
On Sunday night I experienced both meanings of the word very liberally. At 6pm I was due to meet Dr Lawrence in an area of Kampala called Ntinda. He was taking me to see traditional African dancers called the Ndere Troupe. This area is familiar to me as it was one of the first districts I was forced to discover against a ticking clock. I remember in April the panic of racing across the city centre to try to find the Ugandan National Council of Science and Technology new offices (they have finally updated their website address!) to get an official letter confirming my research so that immigration would extend my visa before the office closed for the weekend. This time round I was confident I could make it there without any difficulty.
At 1740 my matatu pulled into the centre. Bingo, I had plenty of time to find the Ndere Centre on Kisasi Road. My friend Richard had told me that it was close to the centre and I would easily be able to walk it. But I missed the sign post to the centre which was straight ahead because a large lorry was parked in front of it. So not knowing which way to go I asked the conductor.
“It is very far, you cannot foot it,” he said, “I’ll put you on another taxi, follow me.”
“But it’s meant to be in Ntinda, my friend said it’s close,” I protested puzzled and jogging to keep up with him.
Who was I to argue, he’s the local right? Who knew there are TWO Kisasi Roads, one in Ntinda and one in Bukomo. Sod’s Law I was carted off in the wrong direction. To make matters worse I was put into a taxi manned by a conductor who was the perfect A**hole on my last night. Yes he deserves a capital ‘A’ because his attitude sucked!!!
True to form he tried to charge me a Muzungu price which I refused to hand over and in turn he refused to let me out and went miles past my drop off point. The driver brought the vehicle to a screeching halt after I yelled “STAGE!” (the official word used for an unofficial bus stop). We both stood up, our chins tucked into our necks as there wasn’t much headroom to stand fully, eyeball to eyeball screaming at each other in a packed taxi.
It wasn’t about the money, it was the principal and for that reason only I was going to give him hell. I have had it up to here with the two price system, it’s insulting. Disappointingly no one fought my corner and in the end I threw the crumpled note at him calling him every name under the sun. When I got off I was lost and close to tears, but I pulled myself together and got on with the ridiculous journey back.
By the time I made it to the Ndere Centre I was hot, flustered and not at all in a state of equilibrium. Dr Lawrence apologised for the ignoramus and ordered some Africa tea while I off loaded. Thankfully I didn’t miss much as the show had begun late. So I settled back and tried to forget the incident.
The Ndere Troupe are made up of incredibly agile young men and women. They perform traditional African dances from different tribes all over Uganda and they were amazing. The highlight of the show came towards the end of the programme where not just the women but the men too showed perfect poise. The men had to carry very heavy drums on their heads which they played while they jumped around and danced.
In a separate dance the women were shaking their shoulders and hips while they carried more than five clay pots stacked on top of their heads. I have never in my life seen such balance! The whole show was four hours long with lots of colourful costumes; a very entertaining compere and all done in a beautiful outdoor setting. By the end of the evening my balance had thankfully returned, just in time for my departure out of the big smoke.