New friends and no hangover – Day 48/49

Posted on April 21, 2012


This morning I got back to my hostel at 0340. Yes, Tanna had been on the town san alcohol. Rehydrated from four bottles of water, a ginger beer and two pineapple juices, I had met some people at the Red Chilli hostel who had cajoled me into coming out. After the day I had, I needed the downtime. This has got to be a first I thought as I turned the key in the lock to my door. Usually my partner in crime Mama Afrika is guiding me towards my bed where I pass out fully clothed with contact lenses in.

My new friends are mature students from Westminster University (age bracket mid-late 30s possibly a tad older, hard to tell) working with an NGO which supports HIV children. Some of the photographs they’ve taken of the kids they’re working with are wonderful, they are offering advice and support to the charity on how best to secure funding from donors and to come up with good business strategies as part of their Master’s course. They are a bunch of internationals – a Russian from outside St Petersburg; an Indian from Kerala; an American from Seattle; an Albanian and a Brit – they all live and work in London. Like me, most of them have had a career in another area (ex-banker; former tourism guide; businessman can’t remember the other two) and are getting their MBA to branch into something else or to complement the skills they already have to further their career choices. Now I must stress I am a pretty good judge of character and I would NEVER put myself in any sort of danger, especially in a city I don’t know, with a bunch of strangers. I am cynical to the core and am wary of new people regardless of what sex. But my new friends are all blokes. All but two are married and one has three kids. There was no hidden agenda, they invited me out, no pressure, said if I felt like company it would be good to have me along. I announced The Northerner’s existence early in the conversation and not once did I feel uncomfortable. As a lone traveller you do crave company, but a lot of the guests I’ve seen have so far been really young and immature. The “Westminster Boys” were perfect gentlemen, intelligent, funny, well-travelled and they really looked after me last night. They reminded me of some of The Northerner’s friends, who treat me respectfully at all times and one of the lads. These guys weren’t out to pick up women, or score, they wanted a night out to see what Kampala nightlife was like and to sink a few beers in a different location other than the reception bar of Red Chilli.  I remained on the wagon (determined to see this challenge through), and they were on the right side of squiffy, not larger louts, perhaps that’s the age.

During the course of the evening I was able to have a quality conversation with each of them above the blaring music. We discussed food and wine in great detail (the America, who has vowed to take his wife to J Sheekys’ on his return to the UK after my recommendation); UK politics; football (yes even with my limited knowledge), Eastern Europe, India; journalism and phone hacking; life in the forest and how to avoid being eaten by a lion; African culture and their work with HIV patients. It was great to engage in articulate debate, I love meeting new people and they really are great guys. We have promised to stay in touch and will try to meet up back home, once our dissertations are out-of-the-way.

So my evening, began with a superb dinner at Haandi, an Indian restaurant (there are two branches in London) off Kampala Road in the city centre, I had a chance to suss out my options, I decided I would go to Kabalagala and hang out with them. The Westminster Boys have a ­­specific driver which was provided by the NGO who takes them around, so we were dropped off in a luxury people carrier – I felt like a VIP – in Uganda most of the cars are falling apart. This area is south of the city, surrounded by industrial estates, we pulled up along a road which is back to back with bars and clubs/pubs. Reminded me of Malia in Greece in the early 90s. The place we went to was called The Capital Pub.

Blimey – where do I start? What an experience, filled with locals as well as few Muzungus and Indians who all have the obligatory thick moustache.  As you enter the joint it looks like a regular bar, done up with a rock-theme. There are a few old slot machines and a pool table, dark wood everywhere has bright teal-coloured walls. Then out the back is where the action happens. A circular bar in the middle of the courtyard is where people congregate to dance. Scantily clad mannequins decorate the walls, but to be fair they were wearing more than some of the women. The attire is strictly hot pants, the shortest skirt possible or tight, tight cut-off jeans, high heels, low-cut tops and showing as much flesh as possible, each one trying to stand out from the other. I must have looked like I’d come from church: knee-length shift dress, high neck line, sleeves, footless tights and flip-flops, perfect smart dinner attire, totally incongruous to this place.

The boys called me their Mossie Repellent, every time they wanted to be left alone by aggressive women trying to pick them up they’d push me forward within eyeshot and the women would scatter. It was hilarious. By the end of the night I think each one of the boys had told at least four different women that I was their wife.

Every non-Ugandan man that enters this place alone is surrounded by half a dozen of women cavorting and gyrating in front of them within seconds, whispering in their ear and asking them to buy them a beer. These women do not want to spend money I doubt they have any on them. They want to be bought drinks and maybe go home with a man at the end of the night, perhaps start-up a short-term fling where they can benefit from nice dinners and nights out. They are persistent too, I heard one woman say to The American, “Buy me a beer and I’ll give you a blow job, no beer no love.” I almost sprayed the back of someone’s neck with water. He didn’t, and neither did any of the other guys by the way! I can’t repeat some of the other things I heard because my mum and dad read this blog!!!

The language directed at the boys was pretty explicit. After an hour it begins to get tiresome if you’re not interested in ‘pulling’. The boys also looked out for me, offering to get me a fresh bottle of water every round and they made sure I had no hassle. Although, it’s an odd role reversal here, Western women don’t get “chatted up” because local men don’t have the cash to splurge and they think they would have to buy you drinks all night. The women here are the sharks, circling and seeking out their victims and they are pretty scary. I was so glad I was not a man. The boys said I was the perfect buffer to ease the relentless hassle.

Some of the young people there were definitely out to have a good time to dance and socialise, but in the mix were hookers, hustlers and probably a few dealers. At the back of the room was one particular pool table that was reserved by an organised group who only played for big money. They barely drank, if you can call Smirnoff Ice a drink (!) This was business and they meant business. We stood around that area all night chatting eyeing the men cleaning out willing fools who thought they had a chance.  In an evening these guys make a lot of money, several hundreds of thousands of Uganda Shillings. They are not the sort of men you wanna cross. My hunch is they would probably not let you leave the club if you took their winnings fairly; I imagine you’d be forced to play again and again until the money was back in their pockets. Any arguments I reckon knee-capping or worse is on the cards.

There were definitely other people on Charlie and Kat (Somalian drug which makes people twitch like buggery) – it’s legal here. There was no trouble, and I wasn’t concerned about my safety but I made sure I clocked the all the exit points, I had two phones on me, extra airtime for an emergency and I even had my head torch with me. Most of the night I stood with my back against a wall and my bum-bag was tied tightly around me with one hand on it at all times.

It was an extraordinary night people watching, a million miles away from life in Budongo and the surrounding villages. But it was also an experience I’m glad I had and would not have had if it weren’t for the company of a few good men. I’d never go back to a place like that, but it was a good eye-opener to see a different, if not seedier side to Kampala.

At around 0300 I was flagging, I turned to the group and said I physically couldn’t drink anymore water. Two of the guys insisted on taking a cab back with me (The American and The Russian) and I was mighty relieved to hear that and have their company. Once back at Red Chilli I quickly fell fast asleep. I woke up bright and early at 0730 after only four hours kip. No hangover, remember. The boys had booked White Water Rafting and were supposed to leave the hostel at 0700. I didn’t see them this morning. I don’t envy them doing that sort of activity with a mild hangover and little sleep. I’m sure they’ll fill me in later how many times they fell in, if I bump into them back at the hostel.

I’m due to meet up with my Ugandan friend and his wife this afternoon and then some of the Ugandan students from Budongo are coming to Kampala this evening. I’ve agreed to take them out for dinner, my treat. They are not so rock ‘n’ roll so I think it will be an early night. They’ve opted for Nandos (expensive for them). Yes it is the same branch as in the UK. Ordinarily I wouldn’t be seen dead in a Nandos in the UK, what with The Northerner being a chef and all, but it’s where they want to go, so fair enough. It’ll be interesting to see their reaction when I tell them where I was till the wee hours, I’m gagging to get a local’s perspective.