Getting from A to B – Days 69 and 70

Posted on May 12, 2012


There are no official public taxis in Biiso that go to Masindi, even though it’s a major town. The local people here get around by using cars that masquerade as buses. And what I mean by that, is that if you decide to take one, you will be one of 9 people squeezed into a busted up, rusty car with a suspension that drags along the road due to the weight. Yesterday I had to get to Masindi to meet a police officer and my field assistant, Moses. I had been promised an interview with a pit-sawyer inside jail that I have waited over 4 weeks for. My appointment was at 3pm and I thought why not make a day of it and get there early to use the plug sockets in one of the cafes to do a bit of work on the lap top.

When I walked up to the “stage” I felt like a vulnerable lamb as I was quickly surrounded by a pack of wolves.

“Maadaam, maadaam – where you going? You wanna go Masindi?” inquired one.

“Muzugnu you want special hire? 80 Shillings Masindi I take you,” barked another.

I looked at their beady eyes lighting up at the thought of getting business: “Not on your life mate,” I thought to myself.

“You first come here, you want fish, I buy for you? You try Muchomo?” asked another man.

“Gimme 5,000 Muzungu,” laughed a fourth.

They are totally oblivious to how intimidating it can be for a lone stranger to experience having so many pushy locals focussed on you.

I turned one way and then another shaking my head. I could feel myself tensing up.

“GO AWAY! YOU ARE DISTURBING ME!!” I said blurted out sternly.

The circle broke up and the men began to move away sheepishly.

I looked with dismay at the display of junk-on-wheels caked in mud and dead bugs. Your chariot awaits you, I thought.

Bloody hell Asha, I doubt any of these have MOT. My American yummy friend would be absolutely s****ing a brick if she saw what I was going to get into. There were four of us in the back. Five really if you count the obese Mamma whose breast size makes Katie Price look flat chested. In the front, not one or even two, but three kids around age 10. One was jammed into the driver’s seat along with the driver himself.

“Dear God, thank Christ he’s not fully grown yet so his feet can’t touch the pedals,” I thought. The other was straddling the hand-brake, which obviously never gets used here.

As I got in reluctantly, I was thinking of all the other possibilities and there really were none.

“You go in first,” I said to another woman. “I want the window seat.”

I looked at the inside of the car door. There was NO DOOR HANDLE. It had been hollowed out to reveal a metal carcass. I pulled at a piece of metal wire, nothing, no movement at all.

“HEY DRIVER,” I yelled. “How the hell am I supposed to get out if we have an accident?”

“It opens outside,” he remarked as though I was being precious and unreasonable.

“You open the window half way down! I want to be able to reach the handle from the outside,” I commanded.

He lowered the window, slammed the door and that’s when I began praying. The drive itself wasn’t all that bad. He was forced to go slow because of the weight he was carrying. I dunno how much Mamma weighed but I could swear not all of the wheels were touching the ground on my side. The driver also can’t bomb it down the roads as they aren’t tarmacked.

I have never been so relieved to get out of a car. The smell for the hour and half was revolting. Fish mixed with very, very, bad body odour. There is never an excuse for bad hygiene. Thank God for the open window. I arrived in Masindi covered in red dust my hair had morphed into Ronald MacDonald. Great start to the day.

I did quite a lot while I was waiting for Moses and when he finally arrived, it was so lovely to see him. He grinned broadly at me. He had made an effort to look smart for our meeting. I looked at his feet.

“ABARI!!” I said breaking into a smile and squeezing his hand. “Ooooow check you out, proper shoes too, you look smart.”

“Ah-ha no gum boots, no forest,” he smiled back.

So we waited for police man plod with all the other usual suspects on the bench outside. I filled Moses in on what I’d discovered this week. Our man eventually showed up and then announced he couldn’t help me. I was left severely cheesed off and disappointed. Why he couldn’t tell me this on the phone and save both of us the schlep in, is beyond me? Turns out I just have to ask the prison guards directly. I looked at my watch it was gone 4.30pm.

“Moses twende, we have to hurry.”

We started walking fast. “Left, right, left, I dunno if you’ve been told…..”

“Aye you are walking very fast,” said Moses bouncing into a jog.

“London walking, I’m not in the forest. This is normal.”

We arrived at the gate five minutes before closing and were greeted by a man named Corporal Alfred. I hope to learn more about his personal story next week, he knows quite a lot about conservation issues. He says he used to work for the Ugandan Wildlife Authority.

He has told us to return next week during visiting hours and he’d try to find us someone. It’s not like the UK, here you just have to cross your fingers and hope someone wants to open a door.

“I want to sign the visitors’ book. So you have a record of me being here, and I don’t then have to explain this again next week. Will you be here?” I said picking up the biro left on the desk and crouching over the book.

“Yes Maadaam, you come and bring him with you again with the Budongo ID and then there’s no problem,” he replied.

When we stepped back outside into the bright sunlight, I leaned over to Moses and whispered: “Is he looking for a bribe?”

“Who him? Nah I don’t think, he is genuine.”

We walked up to the usual rendez vous point for Moses’ ride back to camp and an hour later some of the Budongo crew pulled up in the pick-up truck after finishing their shopping. I ran over excited to see my mates. Nancy and Herbert came bounding out and both gave me an almighty hug. It’s only been four days but it feels like a lifetime since I have seen them. We spent a brief three minutes catching up and vowed to meet up next week for a proper natter. They say they have missed me too, which is nice to hear.

The journey back was less stressful as I called a “special hire”. I’m not made of money but there was no way I was travelling back solo along lonely roads in the dark. Elias is the guy everyone in camp uses. I like three things about him.

  • He is ALWAYS punctual – in fact he is usually 15 minutes early
  • He charges a fair price
  • His car is clean and not a heap of junk.

By the time I got back it was 8.30pm and the sun had gone, it was worth spending the money to feel safe. As the car pulled up and I stepped out the girls at the B&B came running out of reception wailing:

“Asha Asha welcome back! We were worried for you, we didn’t think you were coming back. You must give us your number!”

Good point, I hadn’t thought about that and I was touched they were concerned. We have now swapped digits. Always good someone knows what I’m up to.

Today I have come to Kinyara. It’s taken another dodgy vehicle to bring me to Kabango and then I’ve had to walk 40-minutes along the sugar plantations. I’ve come to the club the Budongo lot usually frequent on a Sunday. The surroundings here are lovely and I know the staff well. I’ve had the entire place to myself for the last 4 hours and a family with 6 kids have only just arrived and jumped into the swimming pool. I’m looking forward to my early dinner, spicy pork which should arrive any moment now and then I’ll catch the last few rays of sun before heading back to my digs. As I’ve done all my work for the last few days and managed to blog, I might watch a bit of telly tonight. The girls always watch a terrible soap opera called Beautiful but Unlucky. I think it’s Mexican and it’s dubbed, should be hilarious viewing.