Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Day in Kampala

This morning Lenne and Hannah and I went to Kampala. I was so happy to be seeing a new city. The sky was threatening rain, but we decided to take a chance and go anyway, and I’m glad we did.

If we want to travel anywhere outside of Noah’s Ark, we just walk to the main road, stand on the side of the road that indicates the direction we wish to go, and wait for a honking, speeding matatu (taxi driver). The matatus have no seat belts, and are always overcrowded; they do however, have these iron bars between the front seats and the back of the van, kind of similar to a police car. I assume it is to prevent the passengers from damaging the windshield in the event of an accident, though I’m not certain of its purpose.

While there are clearly rules of the road, Ugandan drivers are not so keen on following them, in my experience. For example, when we arrived in Kampala, our driver decided to plow through the center of a traffic circle, rather than going around it like everyone else. I haven’t decided which is safer, the boda boda or the matatu. I guess the matatu, but it is really the lesser of two evils in terms of safety. In terms of speed and efficiency, I’ll vote for the boda boda. To the drivers’ credit, I’ve only seen two traffic signs since I’ve been here, and one of them is a homemade sign on the compound that warns boda boda drivers that they’ll be fined if they drive any further into the compound.

The ride to Kampala (20 kilometers from here) is less than one dollar. And for that small sum, I was able to see the country a little more. I saw shops, farmers markets, the occasional truckload of chickens, women and children hauling babies on their backs and water, firewood, matookes, dried grasses, sweet potatoes, or baskets on their heads. It seems to me the most prevalent form of commerce is a small shop that sells airtime, use of mobile and land phones, and phone charging services. The next most common is probably the little stands that sell whatever fruits or vegetables were surplus in the family garden. Then I’d say it’s clothing, bed frames, groceries, paint shops, and a category we’ll call “miscellaneous.”

In Kampala we first went to the craft village, where I bought some art and other items that shall not be named, as they are Christmas gifts. I found it very hard to bargain with the shopkeepers, but luckily Hannah frequently came to my rescue. After the craft village we walked to Owino Market, which is a huge open-air market where you can buy just about anything. (Along the way, I ducked into a bakery and asked if they sold coffee much to the amusement of my travel companions, who told me I am such an American. It was worth a try, even if I was modestly ridiculed.) At the market, everyone called out to us, as always. People touched us as though we were some lucky bronze statue.

I am thankful that I am not blond-haired and blue-eyed like Lenne and Hannah, because they really got a lot of attention, especially from the Ugandan men. Everyone seemed fascinated by their hair and eye color. I was not as popular. But I didn’t mind.

We were so hungry by the time we arrived at the market, so we went first to the food stalls. (First let me describe the smell: it was a mix of sweat, sewage, and rotten meat. But luckily the smell was overwhelming at some times, hardly noticeable at others.) We went to the eating area, where you can walk past all these big pots full of dark liquids whose contents may or may not be recognizable. We found a stand with pots of pilau, some sort of curried peas, and g-nut sauce. But we left it because they did not have cabbage or greens, which we wanted. Shortly after leaving, someone grabbed my arm. Suddenly, they had cabbage. I think they bought it from another food stand. So, we ate two and a half plates of food, and drank fresh passion fruit juice.

I tried not to wonder too much about where they got the water to cook the food. I was also glad we passed the dishwashers after we ate. It was less than sanitary, I can assure you. But according to Hannah it is perfectly safe to eat there, and eight hours later, so far so good. After eating, Hannah wanted to buy these pancakes called kabalagala, which are made from flour and bananas. Apparently they were sold out, and she was disappointed – but not for long. A man caught up with us, with kabalagalas in tow. I am actually eating this pancake as I type. I can’t decide how I feel about it. It looks like a veggie burger, and has a tough edge, is really chewy and tastes like a cousin of banana bread. I don’t think I’ll chase anyone down to have another one, but it is nice to try new things.

After we stuffed ourselves we wondered through the market, where people have these tiny stalls packed with American and European clothes, probably from the Goodwill or one of those types of places. Only now they are neatly hung on a hanger, which is then attached to this iron lattice that is at least 10 feet tall. I do not have the patience to shop like this. But many people held up things they thought we would like, which was always interesting to see.

Other stalls sold watches, radios, plastic bowls and plates, silverware, food items, soap, dried beans, grains, sugar, peanut butter in plastic bags, every animal part you can imagine, eggs, fish, shoes, shoe polish, and towels. There were also these young boys running around carrying little containers of nail polish in a variety of colors; we later saw them giving pedicures to shopkeepers. We also passed people napping in their stalls, someone shoveling what I hope was mud and water but I fear was something closer to sewage, and people begging.

We bought some fruit and tomatoes, and pineapple slices. We were walking around eating the pineapple slices, and several people told us to sit down to eat. Apparently it’s not so kosher to walk around eating. After the market we tried again for coffee. We found a small bakery with a sign that said “bread, coffee and tea” so we stopped in. I asked for coffee with a little bit of milk, and got a pot of hot milk with maybe a half tablespoon of instant coffee. So, then I ordered a pot of black coffee, which was actually a pale amber color and tasted like hot water. So, I give up on coffee in Uganda. I quit. I surrender. Once again, my travel companions were slightly amused by my desperation.

We came home shortly thereafter, and had chips (AKA French fries; AKA Freedom fries) for dinner. It is Sunday after all, which means sausage, chips, and applesauce. I think tomorrow we’ll work some more on analyzing the data we collected from interviews with the villagers, and visit some health centers. The Noah’s Ark directors would like for us to also interview the Minister of Health, which should be interesting. I think I also will be chatting with the pastor here, who wants to know more about the United States.

I guess that is all for now. It’s 9 pm, and that is my bedtime here. It gets dark around 7, so 9 feels so late to me. It’s kind of nice getting up with the sun, and going to bed early. But I don’t think I’ll make a habit of it.


Rachel said...

There is definitely a bit of a theme to your writing...FOOD :)

I'll try and have all your favorite food items ready for you when you return!

ArtCricket said...

Will read all later! Gma and Pop will call you today between 1-2.
Love you and miss you!!! Have a great day. J

wanderlustjill said...

ames, your imagery is incredible. the differences are drastic. but, one of the things i find quite interesting is that even though you are across the world, there are western aspects you can't get away from, even in open markets. take "manicures", for example. i guess i never imagined the desire for pretty nails to be there. it seems to be a luxury in light of the lack of sheer necessities in uganda. after digesting the fundamental differences in which the ugandans live, i wonder if you are experiencing the sensation "we" (universal, of course) are more similar than different?

ArtCricket said...

Another interesting encounter with AFrica! Thanks for the journey through Kampala. I can tell that you are hungry for some more familiar foods and smells, though I hope when you return just a waft of a vague scent will send your thoughts back to Africa.

TAG said...

I was surprised to see a word "meat" in your blog. I thought you even hate to write a word "meat".

Brian and I were talking about food last week, and he mentioned that he missed "a hamburgar" while he was in Morocco.

So what do you miss the most? Coffee? Sushi?


Grandmere said...

I love every word of your blog. Vicarious experience for me. MUCH LOVE

AuntieC said...

My first thought when I read "the Minister of Health" was it reminded me of a character that could be in a Harry Potter book! :) I love reading your descriptions, because I see them perfectly in my mind's eye - thanks for allowing us to see Uganda through you.

Love, Auntie