Kampala – Day 46

Posted on April 18, 2012


In the last few days I’ve had a number of concerned emails from friends and relatives asking if I’m ok. The reason, I haven’t been blogging. Sadly being able to publish in my sweet spot has been hampered by bad weather (it is rainy season) which affects the internet signal and to make matters worse my dongal has also been on the blink. That’s a modem for anyone thinking anything else!

So I’m safe and well, and thanks for the messages of concern. I’m actually away from camp for six days and I’m back in the city. I made the epic bus journey yesterday to the big smoke, a name that Kampala most definitely deserves! It’s so chaotic, there are more people on motorbikes (Boda Bodas) and Matatus (small mini buses that they call taxis) than the road can possible hold. Think Bangkok meets Bombay and throw in a large measure of thick red dust and petrol fumes. I was squashed inside a Matatu (three rows of three and two in the front with the driver) watching with horror as people had near misses on bikes every 10 seconds. There are no road markings. Did you hear me? NO ROAD MARKINGS!! So it’s a free-for-all how many lanes of traffic drivers can create. I counted four and a half at one point. This city should be full of amputees. If you see the way the drivers cut each other up and dodge between buses and lorries it’s unbelievable that anyone can walk away uninjured. And being a passenger is not for the faint hearted either, I think I said “Jeeeeesus Christ!!” and cursed under my breath at least six-time today and that was just ONE journey. But there seriously is no alternative way to travel. If you’re wealthy enough you could use your own car (but would you risk driving it?). Then there’s the private taxi, but fuel is pricy and your cab fare will reflect this. But the silver lining is that a Matatu journey is as cheap as chips – cheaper in fact, usually 30p one way. It will generally pick you up and drop you off wherever you want. If you’re thinking of walking anywhere don’t bother. In London I walk everywhere. I’d rather walk the distance of three or four tube-stops than cattle-truck, especially in the summer. But today even I was tested. I wouldn’t even call what I’m breathing air. After 30 minutes you feel physically sick like you’ve drunk a litre of petrol and gargled grit. The only respite from the dirt and grime is rain. But the downpour turns pot holes into mini swimming pool, which over flow and streets become red clay rivers. So if you’re not inhaling the dirt you’ll be wearing it by the end of the day, there’s no escape.

I’m staying at Red Chilli in Bugulobi, down the road from the luxury boutique hotel I stayed in last month. In fact I looked longingly at Le Bougainville as it passed it on my journey to what can only be described as World Travellers United. This place has so many different nationalities it’s like a United Nations convention!

The reason for my trip is to extend my visa; nail a few interviews; set up others for later next month and pay various permits as well as next month’s camp fees in Butiaba. I’ve never had time to explore Kampala as I’ve only ever had a flying visit. But now I have six whole days. Although today was pretty full on.

Being the organised, anal-retentive-Londoner I am, I subscribe to the school of “To Do Lists”. Ninety-nine per cent of the time I always complete them. And today was no exception. I went to bed early yesterday to make the most of the day. It was really odd going to sleep hearing the buzz of the traffic and shrieking women in the bar rather than the Tree Hyrax which I prefer. At 0430 instead of being woken up by the hooting and barking of chimps, I had the misfortune of listening to a knuckle-dragging primate known as Larger Lout throwing up outside on the grass in front of my door. The yaking must have gone on for at least 30minutes. I felt like shouting “Don’t drink so bloody much if you can’t handle it, lightweight.” Beer is less than £1, use your imagination how many people are blotto before it’s 9pm.

So I awoke slightly bleary eyed at 0700 and had fresh ice-cold milk with my cereal. It was heavenly. It’s been 7 weeks since proper lactose and I had filter coffee. I was soooooo made up.

I’m a vigilant woman and on my journey to Red Chilli yesterday I clocked the various places I intended to visit and made a mental note. Navigating by the force and relying on the directions of some wonderful Ugandan women I managed to get to the Immigration Office to hand my passport and documents in for a visa extension. Pick up is on Friday. Next stop was to Standard Chartered Bank, Speke Road branch in the city centre to pay my hefty research permit to the Ugandan National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST). I then took that receipt to the headquarters. Quick detour for a moan: The HQ has moved. That’s fine, but at least update the friggin’ website. Thankfully my project director answered his phone otherwise I would never have known where to go. Not only had it moved but it had moved miles away to an area called Ntinde which was at least 40-minutes by the clapped-out Matatu I was in. It’s a lovely area, big houses, less busy, a few nice shops. There I stopped a charming woman called Jasinter to ask for directions. She physically walked me to the door of the HQ – bless! She’s lived in this area for 7 years and works as a cook for an Indian family. She cooks them rice and chapatis but they don’t eat African food, so that’s where it stops.

Feeling rather pleased with myself that I managed to do all that by midday without the use of a map, I allowed myself some time to nosey around. First stop the supermarket to stock up on some goodies (bananas, apples, water, juice, fresh brown bread; cheese; tomatoes). The next stop was by accident, promise! I just happened to pass a shoe shop. You can take the girl out of London, but hey what can I say…? I know my friends are laughing now. So in I went and after getting very excited and trying on a few too many shoes I bought two pairs. A chic pair of sandals which has three African-looking stones that sit along the instep; and another pair are patent black peep toe, strappy and have three-inch heels. The damage? Under £40 for both – bargain I say. I know The Northerner will say to me tonight “Buy cheap, buy twice.”

Then it was back to the city centre to find Vector Control Division. They are based at the Ministry of Health, except they are not. The address on the website says so – funny that! They are on a completely different road 30-minutes’ walk, as I found out. The heavens opened and in my haste to leave early this morning I left my rainmac in my room. I arrived looking pretty soggy, I have to say, but the staff were sympathetic. After a chat with one of the lead researchers it turns out that when I go to Butiaba I may be a bit of a Billy No Mates. The camp is 5 miles from Butiaba and on site will only be a cleaner and an armed guard. I have to cook for myself, no probs, but it means three weeks to go a little stir crazy on my own when I’m not at work. Perhaps I’ll have a Jack Nicholson moment from The Shining. My field assistant lives in the village of Piida so I’ll travel to him each day. Fees sorted, I headed back to Bugulobi for my scheduled interview with the national co-ordinator of the National Forestry Authority (NFA). Rush hour now and not an empty Matatu in sight. So I tried the slow bus. These are the big orange buses that stop at set bus shelters. I spotted one and jumped aboard. Every seat was taken and there was little room to stand. I found a small space but soon realised why it was vacant. The young man next to it holding the hand rail above his head was emitting a strong scent of Body Odour (BO). I soon realised what an awful mistake that was. As the bus crawled along I craned my neck towards the open window, a thick gust of dust covered me. This was going to be a very slow journey.

The interview which was scheduled for three o’clock had to be pushed back and the officer was very accommodating. It seems they were keen to talk to me, my regional chat with the officer in Budongo caused quite a stir. Geoffrey said people are apparently “sitting up” but I’ll believe that when I see Cordia being planted in Budongo. Finally off the bus and in an air-conditioned office the interview lasted an hour and again I didn’t learn anything that I didn’t already know. But at least it’s another box ticked.

As I left the building at 1730 the rain which had subsided for an hour began again, lightly at first teasing me: “I’m not going to soak you, I’m only going to freshen you up. Wash off the grim and the dust your caked in.”

Then as I reached the junction, the rain decided a gentle clean wasn’t gone wash (pun intended!). It lashed down hard, pelting me like a condemned woman. Standing on the corner I prayed for a Matatu to come quick and fast. Five minutes, ten minutes……By the time I boarded one, I looked like I had showered fully clothed. It didn’t even drop me near my hostel, this one was going a different route – bugger! They chucked me out at the petrol station at the bottom of the hill. I then had to leg it up the road and up a steep slope. My flip-flops and feet looked like I’d had an accident at pottery class, the orange clay, slipped in and out of my toes as I tried to grip my sandals. Water streamed into my eyes, my hair stuck to the back of my neck, and a mini waterfall cascaded down my back. As I ran into the courtyard of Red Chilli and burst into reception panting madly I felt all eyes fall on me. And you know what, I didn’t care just one iota. Mission accomplished, “Today List” all ticked off.