Post by new contributor Lindsay Clark of Nomadderwhere.
The first mission of the day was to make it to the city, as the locals do, wandering up weaving lames and jumping garbage heaps until Entebbe road appeared, in all its smoggy splendor. On the way, I began to re-experience the wonder of being a walking spectacle, the extreme and never-before-seen minority, an Average Jane celebrity.
Children ran around in circles, announcing to their kin the presence of the “mzungu” in their midst. If I responded to their screams, waves, or salutations, huge smiles formed on their faces before they darted home to giggle behind their working mothers.
The taxis: one driver, one screamer, and a 14 passenger bus that almost always breaches the legal limit of riders. They get you from A to B, though you may be sitting on someone’s lap. These services are offered at a wonderfully reasonable price: 20 minutes of bouncing around Kampala for 30 cents.
Kampala is the result of a tribal collision and explosion, a city smashed with basic homes and millions of people breathing in a nicely concentrated formula of oxygen and diesel exhaust. Not many people own cars, so it’s a bit of a mystery as to why the air is opaque. It’s deceiving, but everyone is always on the move, which is why the population calls for the organized chaos of the taxi parks.
They all crowd and congregate like hungry coy fish, drivers jumping for passengers and squeezing through openings not big enough for their cars. You could find a ride to anywhere and meanwhile purchase peanuts, beer, scrunchies, and hair extensions while waiting in your seat by an open window.
Of course, where there are people, there are people selling crap – the biggest taxi park bumping butts with the biggest mad house market. Massive bags of rice and spices, washing soaps and appliances, second hand clothes and dried sardine heaps, and about forty men with wedding proposals for my very eligible hand.
I grasped my bag, half hidden under my shirt, and skillfully maneuvered away from the forceful arms trying to grab my attention. Weaving through the roughly covered maze of stalls, I had to laugh at the exclamations people would shout: “Hey Mzungu!”, “Marry me?”, “Come come you buy something!”, “Lips!”. Paul loved the show as well.
It was all a pulsating whirlwind erupting around me. I had to step back and get a hold on where I was. We climbed a closed up shopping center to view the sudden wash of rain that swept the littered streets and nearby music festival in sight. The city was impressive, in a shocking way, as I couldn’t believe such a tattered place existed. The essence of “shambles,” but it was mysteriously hypnotizing nonetheless.
From a cathedral on a nearby hill, the improved view gave me a sight more removed and peaceful, where I could finally see the urban rain forest at arm’s length. It was a smoggy mess, a sore on the terrestrial crust, but viewing the palms and rolling lushness with raw sugar cane sweetness tossing in my mouth made me find a twang of admiration for the basic nature of Kampala’s exhausted inhabitants. I had a strong desire to stop time and paint the most complex picture of each tiny moment that were cultural time-bomb slaps in the face. This is Africa.
Meals of plantains by candlelight and chapatis by rooster crows hugged my stomach with simple fulfilling pleasures only possibly by my mental smiles, thankful I was seeing such a real experience. Authenticity, my friends; there’s no substitute.
My last day in Kampala was all about family. We strolled to Paul’s aunt’s home on a nearby hill where I got my first real chicken coop experience. Given it wasn’t in the back of a truck after hitchhiking in the countryside, but it still satiated an odd desire to see feathers fly.
I fed little piggies palm leaves and stepped over coffee beans drying on the ground. Baby goats chased each other and dove under the full utters of the mother, only until Paul wrangled one for a quick pet of its soft cowlicked coat.
Just then, Paul’s niece came running down the red dirt road from school and joined us for the jaunt back to his abode. We all ate a quick bite of potatoes and avocado before I had to skidaddle. I introduced the young eyes of Latisha to the world of photography and let her snap it around the family compound. She was so quiet, but after sharing a smashed airplane Mars bar and clicking the camera shutter, she was glittering.
As I left Masajja for Jinja town, a shower smoothed the rough appearance of Kampala and left the bright red dirt and clean green lushness vibrating in my enamored eyes. Uganda was already a glowing memory and in Kampala nonetheless.
Have you couchsurfed in a foreign country? Leave a comment and let us know if your experience was good or bad.