Home Isn't Home Anymore

Part 2 of 3: My Paradise...or Not 

Mama and baby monkey at sunrise

We decided on public transport from Entebbe airport to the Capital city, Kampala. Now, a cab is always the preferred choice and is affordable but my then fiancĂ© (now husband) was determined to experience the real Uganda, seeing as he’d previously travelled in the relative luxury of a company car during his trips to Uganda. I was game. Public transport meant taking a cab from Entebbe airport to the main Entebbe bus terminal (an huge dusty car lot teeming with thousands of white 14 passenger minibuses and offering no shelter whatsoever from the glaring sun), sitting in the sweltering vehicle waiting for the 12 other passengers and figuring out how our heavy luggage would fit in the vehicle’s shoebox-size boot. Our laps provided the required extra boot space.

We arrived in the City to the usual African bustle; the functional chaos that can only be downtown Kampala. The heavens looked dark and ominous and you really don’t want them to open when stuck in downtown Kampala. We decided against further public transport and hailed a cab to my cousin’s place. The cab driver read haste in my gesticulations, looked down at my luggage and sniffed us out. He looked past my shoulder and spied the white man trying hard to be inconspicuous. He put two and two together and came up with a price quote that meant four to him, but ten to us. There was a muzungu (white man) in the background and that meant loads of disposable, probably unwanted green dollars (the enviable color of every white man in Uganda, regardless of nationality). He sought to relieve us of our green burden. I tried haggling, but he was rock unmovable and even found it slightly amusing, from the little smack on his face. The next one I talked to asked an even steeper price, so we retraced our footsteps and reconnected with our smacker. Welcome home!  

Our journey for the day wasn’t done yet. We still had 500km to travel that night to Mbarara, for a friend’s wedding the next day.

It’d been raining heavily for the better part of two hours and my cousin offered to drop us off at the bus terminal.  We were welcomed by a red muddy goo that instantly swallowed our shoes and a bevy of young men, each trying to wrest our luggage out of our hands. They each promised to lead us to the bus with the best fare and which just so happened to be leaving right now. My fiancĂ© seemed panicked but knew the drill – whatever happens, don’t let go of the luggage. I failed to go with the flow – which I'd normally have done. I was exasperated and flaming. I had intermittent fleeting thoughts about personal space and how rude and intrusive the whole set up was. I could feel the onset of a massive headache. Not to worry though, I knew how this worked - stand still and wait for the furor to die. Then, get onto the bus with the highest number of seated passengers. It’ll be the first to leave. We paid our fare, got onto the right bus and sat for two hours, watching other buses leave. Every time an authentic passenger got onto our bus, an already seated passenger got off. It’d been filled with dummy passengers! We arrived past midnight, tired and hungry but relieved to be in one piece. Our bus driver had had a penchant for overtaking in blind corners and that was nerve-wrecking stuff.

After the wedding, we toured Mbarara, my birthplace.

The house I grew up in, the school I went to, the golf course from where my brother and I used to pick golf balls and burn them to see what was inside.  The tree whose magical branch my brother, I and a couple of neighborhood kids would gently lower and turn into a one-point see-saw and which had been great fun until my brother lost his grip and hung upside down by what was left of his shorts (he got a good hiding for ruining a good pair of shorts). We paid a somber visit to my mother’s and brother’s graves and crossed the river in which I almost drowned (my oldest brother had promised I’d know how to swim as soon as I jumped into the river. Him and his friends had to rescue me. Our mum never got to know).

I saved the fruit market for last. A treat. It is a collection of rows of tinny wooden shops selling everything on earth, arranged to enclose a large rectangular space filled with wooden stalls groaning under the weight of all manner of succulent fruit and gleaming vegetables. We were enveloped by the joyous sound of raucous laughter from the vendors and traders tinged with intense bargaining matches. We observed the magic of shirtless, muscular men lugging sacks of maize (corn) flour heavier than their body weight. Even the catcalls from the meat and fish vendors weren’t as bad as I remembered. My childhood gave me a warm hug. I could have just floated around and never left. I took out my camera to capture this glorious moment and just like that, my dream was snuffed out. I took a photo of an interesting and eccentrically dressed man. One vendor drew the man’s attention to the tourists and our presumed intention of making big bucks from his photo. According to her (the vendor), it was only fair he got a cut. A few more joined in to take up his case. I pretended to not know what the hell they were on about (Uganda has many indigenous languages) and we made a quick getaway. At the market exit, we stopped to buy grasshoppers, a local delicacy and a favourite of mine. My 
husband took some quick photos as I haggled but then, the woman whose grasshopper layout we’d ignored on account of the insects looking very dead (fresh is live) wasn’t happy. She started mumbling about human rights and compensation for the photos we’d taken of her. She looked pretty harmless, but a small crowd of idle people was starting to notice her ramblings. We hurried away. There’s always that one crazy person in a crowd. Seriously, what the hell happened to African warmth?
The rest of our trip/visit to the South Western part of Uganda went smoothly and provided great enjoyment. It was then time to go back to the capital and unknown to us, to more pissants. Hard to deal with stuff because, this time, friends were involved...

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Part 3 of 3: Yes, I've Changed

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