Tuesday, 15 November 2005

First Week in Uganda

M: I have survived my first week in Kampala, Uganda. As soon as I arrived at Entebbe Airport on the 7 November 2005, I could smell the tropical air, complete with burning refuse. I said to myself, “Ah, welcome back to Africa”! Uganda is one of 10 countries in the world through which the equator passes. The equator line is about 78km south of Kampala.

Kampala – the city itself - is quite chaotic, with mototaxis (called boda-bodas), small minivan buses (called matatus – see photo in Flikr set), and SUVs clogging the disorganised streets. Rush hour lasts about 3 to 4 hours in the morning and 3 to 4 hours in the evening (4pm to about 7pm or 8pm), which means you will not make your way from one end of the city or out of the city for about 2 hours. Most people tend to live outside of the main centre, hence the congestion and bottlenecks at every intersection and roundabout. Compared to Porto-Novo (the capital of Benin), Kampala is busier and more disorderly, perhaps because there are tons more people. At first glance, there are more similarities than differences.

The soil is still as brick red as I remember it. The power gets cut off almost every day for a few hours. They call it "load shedding". This happens mostly in the evening, which I find is worse because there are no streetlights.

My bargaining skills are as good as ever! I have been trying to find local food but whenever I ask, I am always directed towards fish and chips or pizza. Indian food is quite good and popular, so is Chinese. The air is filled with dust and thick black exhaust fumes. This is compounded when you take a boda-boda. I wash my face with cleanser and yet my white towel comes out an orangeish-red. I clean the corner of eyes and blow my nose and it comes out black.

The people are quite friendly. Each child – one after the other - has to come up to me individually and say, “Hi, how are you?” Another famous quote is, “You are most welcome” to just about anything from entering a store to asking a question. People will also agree with you and say that they know where such and such a place is even though they don’t, and they will even repeat exactly what you say, as if in agreement, even though they have no idea what you are talking about.

In Luganda (the language widely spoken in Kampala), they have trouble pronouncing the letter “L”, which means, even here in East Africa, I am known as “Merani”!

My first week I stayed with a family (Jed and Daniel Stern) outside of the city centre in Ktintule. They run the NGO UConnect. They were quite generous and let me stay with them at their house until I found my own accommodations. I moved to the Faso Hotel (click here to see photo in Flikr set) near Makerere University on Saturday (12 November 2005) and will be staying here until I leave for Nairobi on the 24th December 2005 to meet up with John. The hotel is quite simple but it is nice and I feel safe. I worked them down to US$12.50 per day with breakfast and laundry included. My breakfast consists of coffee, passion-fruit juice, banana, pineapple, watermelon, omelette and bread. The people at the hotel are over-friendly and overly helpful. I like the image of being treated like a princess, but this is really too much! Honestly. The Faso Hotel is much closer to the city centre and close to where I am doing research and I can walk to most places. I spend my days working/researching out of the Refugee Law Project (you can find the link on right hand side of blog). They have someone who runs the kitchen, so I am spoiled! He brings me coffee in the morning and then for lunch I will have either an avocado, tomato, cabbage, red onion, and carrot salad with chapatti (this delicious pita-type bread) or beans with rice and a form of sweet potato.

So far I have not had a decent night of sleep. At the Stern house, I was either woken by the rooster who crows all the time, a million birds singing to each other, or club beats from a bar several blocks away. At the Faso Hotel, I am either woken by people in the hall, men cheering at the football match, the staff outside yelling at each other, the 7am phone call from reception asking what time I wanted to take my breakfast, or – because it was Sunday – a church choir.

If you click on the photo (or here), you will be directed to a set of photos using Flikr. There is a photo of the national mosque, which is in construction. Actually, it originally began under Idi Amin (1971 – 1979) and is now being funded by Colonel Gadaffi! You will also see a few photos of these crazy birds. They are huge! I think they are called Storkbill Cranes or something like that. They are everywhere! There are some photos that were taken on the roof of the Faso Hotel on Sunday (13 November 2005) and show the area around the hotel. You can also see a panorama of Kampala from the rooftop.

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