Uganda diary: The remaining days and final thoughts

3 11 2010

Bye bye.

I’ve decided to bring my Uganda diary blog posts to a close. The events I discuss are getting further and further away in my memory, and my ability to write about the sun and warmth is hindered by living in Preston, where it rains most days, and is normally a bit chilly and depressing.

Therefore, I’ve decided to write very briefly about my remaining time in Uganda. So I’ll limit each of my remaining days to two sentences (max) and a picture.

Monday 23 August

Waterfall in Bwindi Rainforest


I became quietly angry when an obese American lady on the table next to us told her guide all about how she had almost forgotten her razor (“so I wouldn’t be able to shave my legs!”), how she used alcohol-based hand sanitizer in Uganda (it didn’t matter to her that she was talking about her guide’s home country), that she “read the signs” of her guide suggesting he was ready to leave. Later that day, Emma and I went on a guided walk into the rainforest to see a beautiful waterfall, but it rained on our way back, and our clothes – including footwear – got soaked.

Tuesday 24 August

Didn't get any bus journey pictures. So here's a shot from the Rest Camp the night before. Good atmosphere.

Got up at THREE IN THE MORNING to catch the bus. I slept, drank enough water to keep myself hydrated, listened to music, had a mild argument with someone outside a toilet (it cost 200 shillings to go for a pee, so I gave him 1,000 expecting 800 change. He gave me 500. I stood my ground and got my change – it didn’t dawn on me that I stood out like a sore thumb, that I was the only white bloke in the area, that I was stood BEHIND the market and so not many people around to help if things went pear-shaped, and that the bus would be leaving soon), arrived in Kampala, was nearly killed quite a few times by buses, taxis and boda bodas, but most importantly… I didn’t vomit.

Wednesday 25 August

To be satisfied with a product isn't enough, only delight will do.

Didn’t do much. Relaxed.

Thursday 26 August

Biogas digester. There should be far more of these.

Just like Asda. But in Uganda.

Went to see a biogas digester (a brilliant idea), went to a supermarket (it was like a ‘normal’ supermarket… which was a bit odd), went to an Indian restaurant. The restaurant itself and the food it served were fantastic.

That's a waterfall (sort of) INSIDE the restaurant, but still outside.

Indian restaurant ambience (15sec shutter speed, so it was darker than this).

Friday 27 August

Bancafe. Miles better than Costa, Caffe Nero, Starbucks et al.

Went to Bancafe and bought a kilo and a half of freshly ground coffee, went to a meeting with Emma in which I contributed sod all (but one bloke had the deepest voice I’ve ever heard), went to the Banana Boat craft shop and then to the craft market. I learnt that the public toilets in the shopping centre did not provide toilet roll, but I had some tissues in my bag, so it wasn’t an issue – could’ve been though.

Saturday 28 August

Just chillin' in the Ugandan sun.

Ate barbecued goat and drank beer.

Sunday 29 August

My first viewing of Avatar was on this. (The grumpy woman was on my right.)

Got on a plane to the UK and sat next to a large old lady on the plane who was very unsociable, so I watched Avatar, which I assume is better in 3D. Arrived back home in Lancashire.

Final thoughts

Without wanting to regurgitate the generic post-Africa trip drivel, I’m afraid I’ve got to be honest (cue post-Africa ponderings). It was an incredible two weeks filled with memorable experiences, ranging for the amusing to the devastating.

I was utterly charmed by the place. I am not generalising or exaggerating when I say that every conversation started with: “Hello, how are you” – followed by a genuine smile. Sometimes, the conversations would even start with: “Hello, I am fine” which sort of rendered my reply useless: “Hello, how are you? Oh yeah you just said.”

Riding in a blue and white taxi (known as a matata – a Swahili word) was a continual near-death experience. As was crossing the road, and walking beside the road, and generally being anywhere near a road.

Does that matter? No.

I can’t realistically compare Uganda to the ‘west’. Geography dictates that Africa and the western world will always be different, and that’s a good thing – just accept each place for its own merits and its faults.

One thing I did wonder about, though, is that Uganda seems to be a politically and socially stable country – but could that change?

For the generation that lived under Idi Amin’s dictatorship, post-Amin life was a relief. They no longer had to live in fear of a volatile leader (although, fighting, killing and kidnapping still occurs more often than it should in the north of the country) – their ‘normal’ lives left them feeling content. Akin to leaving the dentist after having had a filling, ‘normality’ can feel like the best the thing in the world. Without an underlying widespread relative contentment, acting as a societal safety barrier, could future generations inadvertently let the country once again fall into the hands of someone with misguided and immoral political reasoning? Could people start desiring, more and more, what western adverts tell them they want, becoming prone and vulnerable to advertising and marketing campaigns?

I haven’t got a clue. And the above questions could apply to many countries. However, I think it would be a great and irreversible shame if cultures lost sight of what makes their culture theirs, if they lose the identity and individuality.

Clearly, I’ve digressed. So, would I recommend Uganda to you? Without doubt, yes.

Here’s a model of a retarded cow.

A retarded-looking cow (I'm sure the unfortunate appearance was unintentional, though). I miss this cow, which is in Emma's kitchen.

Without wanting to regurgitate the generic post-Africa trip drivel, I’m afraid I’ve got to be honest (cue post-Africa ponderings). It was an incredible two weeks filled with memorable experiences, ranging for the amusing to the devastating. 

I was utterly charmed by the place. I am not generalising or exaggerating when I say that every conversation started with: “Hello, how are you” – followed by a genuine smile. Sometimes, the conversations would even start with: “Hello, I am fine” which sort of rendered my reply useless: “Hello, how are you? Oh yeah you just said.”

Riding in a blue and white taxi (known as a matata – a Swahili word) was a continual near-death experience. As was crossing the road, and walking beside the road, and generally being anywhere near a road.

Does that matter? No.

I can’t realistically compare Uganda and the ‘west’. Geography dictates that Africa and the western world will always be different, and that’s a good thing – just accept each place for its own merits and its faults.

One thing I did wonder about, though, is that Uganda seems to be a politically and socially stable country – but could that change?

For the generation that lived under Idi Amin’s dictatorship, post-Amin life was a relief. They no longer had to live in fear of a volatile leader (although, fighting, killing and kidnapping still occurs more often than it should in the north of the country) – their ‘normal’ lives left them feeling content. Akin to leaving the dentist after having had a filling, ‘normality’ can feel like the best the thing in the world. Without an underlying widespread relative contentment, acting as a societal safety barrier, could future generations inadvertently let the country once again fall into the hands of someone with misguided and immoral political reasoning? Could people start desiring, more and more, what western adverts tell them they want, becoming prone and vulnerable to advertising and marketing campaigns?

I haven’t got a clue. And the above questions could apply to many countries. However, I think it would be a great and irreversible shame if cultures lost sight of what makes their culture theirs, if they lose the identity and individuality.

Clearly, I’ve digressed. So, would I recommend Uganda to you? Without doubt, yes.





Uganda diary: Back to school

28 09 2010

On Thursday 19 August, I saw Buhoma Community Rest Camp for the first time without  being beneath the veil of darkness, dust and vomit from the night before. It was morning, the sun was rising from behind the mountains and, bloody hell, it was magnificently beautiful.

The ‘Bar & Restaurant’ was… hard to describe, so just look at the pictures below. Breakfast comprised toast, fruit, an omelette and tea. My first immediate observation was that the pineapple was very tasty and juicy.

After breakfast Moses arrived with his motorbike-pick-up-thingymajig. Thankfully, this time I was hydrated, it was daytime, and I felt well.

About 15 minutes later, we arrived at the Buhoma Vulnerable Children’s School (I wasn’t sick). The school has 82 pupils (mostly primary school age I think), about 15 of which were orphans because they’d lost their parents to AIDS.

How to make a stove using ash and cow poo

The main reason for our visit (well, Emma and Vianney’s – my only role was to be a tourist and to take pictures) was to get the ball rolling for building a water tank, and to see a new stove being built.

The stove started life as mud, cow faeces, ash and, I think, some wood shavings. From these materials cement was made and, using handmade bricks, by the end of the day the school had a new stove (the new stove will save the school quite a lot of money when buying wood).

The resourcefulness and ability which were shown throughout the build reminded me how little I know about what’s around me. I feel proud when I manage to hang a picture frame on the wall. Could I even have thought about building a stove from materials within an acre of where I was stood? No chance.

Water bottle bricks, stoves, and posha

The other reason for our presence (well, again, Emma and Vianney’s presence – I just happened to be there) was to get water tank preparation on its way. The special thing about this water tank, though, is that it will be built with water bottles, rather than bricks.

By firmly packing them with dry soil, empty bottles become a suitable alternative to expensive bricks. As there is no recycling in the area (or indeed Uganda), but bottled-water-drinking tourists aplenty, the idea makes financial and ecological sense. (Water bottle brick fact: When full, a 500ml bottle weighs about a kilo.)

At about 2 o’ clock – about half an hour after we’d eaten our packed lunches – some ladies appeared from a room carrying bowls of food. Seems we were in for a second round of lunch.

I opted for a plantain, chicken, posha, beef, rice, avocado, and a couple of sauces. Despite looking slightly odd on the picture, it was a surprisingly nice meal. Also, if anyone says they don’t like posha (the stuff that looks deceivingly like mashed potato), they’re lying – it tastes of nothing, so it’s impossible to either like or dislike.

A cool Swiss couple

After getting back to the Rest Camp, and while the other two showered and did some reading, I decided to sit down at the bar, and found myself befriending a Swiss couple.

Herbie (cool name) and Rebecca were touring around Africa in a second-hand Land Cruiser (four litre diesel V8 – I asked). They’d arrived in South Africa (I think in Cape Town) at the beginning of April. By the end of April, they’d bought their car, fitted it with all the right gear, and then set off. They were cool, don’t argue.

In April 2011, they’ll return home.

The Sauce

After my long natter with the cool Swiss couple, it was tea time. Chicken, rice and two sauces found their way onto my plate. One was a brown nut sauce (was very nice ), the other was The Sauce…

With this particular meal it was called ‘mixed herb sauce’ – but, strangely, we were sure we’d had it the previous night with the spaghetti, but then it was called ‘tomato sauce’. This sauce would continue to haunt our meals for the rest of our stay under the pseudonyms tomato sauce, mixed herb sauce, and just sauce.

The Sauce





Uganda diary: A day of dust and dehydration – on a bus

7 09 2010

Leaving Kampala

If you’ve ever spent 12 hours sat on a bus, you’ll be able to empathise with me in this blog. If you haven’t, let me explain why it’s not something you need to rush out and experience.

I’ve never really been a massive fan of bus journeys. I enjoy travelling a lot, and I’m fairly used to getting numb buttocks after being sat in cars for hours and hours (for example, when I was six, we drove to the Czech Republic). But my first bus journey in Uganda could be described as the worst in my life.

Tuesday 18 September was my first full day in Uganda. It comprised going to Emma’s work (where there were turtles outside), buying bananas, and mentally preparing for the next day. I say preparing, I mean proverbially soiling myself.

Waking up to a nightmare

I met Wednesday 19 August 2010 when it was just four hours old. Waking up at such a time always hurts.

Just under an hour later, our taxi arrived. We shuffled outside, chucked the bags in the back, and headed to the bus park.

The next two minutes were too similar to the types of nightmares you get when you’re feeling ill. The ones where the dream is like reality, but you feel lost and confused; a dystopian realm which you believe to be reality.

Difference between a nightmare and real life though is that you can soon be back in your nice warm bed with a nightmare. The Kampala bus park was reality.

All my senses were attacked and overcome by the smell of soot-filled diesel fumes, the feeling of trudging across mud and avoiding puddles, saying no to all the people who appeared from between buses to carry our bags, and trying to work out, amidst the darkness and blinding headlights, which bus was ours.

How Emma knew which bus was indeed ours, I don’t know, but she got us on safely, and we had most of the bus to choose from. We chose some seats about halfway down – good seats.

We then waited for about two hours. During that time, various people got on the bus trying to sell watches, pens, handbags, torches, a football – all the stuff you need on a long bus journey.

Things start to get busy in Kampala

Leaving Kampala

After we left the bus park, and had made it out of the pothole-ridden mud road outside, we reached the tarmac and got on our way.
And then we stopped at a petrol station.

Lots of people got off to go to the toilet. I wondered whether or not to go. Should I or not, I thought. And then I decided I should. The toilet smelt how it looked – like everybody had missed the hole in the floor. I stood at the doorway and was clinically accurate with my aim. Proud with my work, I strode back to the bus and sat down again.

We stopped somewhere at around 9 or 10 for another toilet stop (handy travel tip: if it’s a number one, you are said to be ‘checking the tyres’; if it’s a number two, it’s ‘a long haul’). After scampering off to an unpeed-on hedge, I was very happy that I didn’t get stage fright (definition: when you know there’s pressure on you to pee – such as at a urinal with a queue – and you just can’t).

That was the last toilet stop of the journey.

By this stage, we had also discovered that we were in the worse seats on the bus, with me taking number one spot.

All the windows had two sliding panes of glass, meaning each passenger could decide whether or not they wanted their section opened or closed. Not me. I had no choice. There was only one pane of glass in my window.

My view

This meant it was either me or the person in front who got a window’s worth of air and dust. Wanting to avoid people thinking “selfish tourist”, I took the hit on behalf of the rest of the bus, and for the rest of the journey I was at the mercy of the person in front of me. Of the 12 hours I was sat there, 11 and a half hours were spent with me being blasted by air and, especially later on, dust.

Free exfoliation

If you want to exfoliate your face, you can spend a few quid in Boots, get yourself some exfoliating gel, get home, rub it into your face and then admire the smooth results.

Blindly following another coach overtaking a petrol tanker, with half the bus on the verge. Hello death

Eating a plantain. Like a banana-ery potato

Alternatively, you can get on a bus from Kampala to Butogota/Buhoma. For about six hours of the journey, I was blasted with fine bits of dust which continually poured from beneath the bus’s tyres as we thundered on (I received even more dust to the face when we overtook other vehicles – half of the bus on the road, the other on the dirt verge. Oh and sometimes we’d blindly follow another big vehicle going past a slower vehicle). For the other six hours of the journey, I was blasted with greater quantities of dust.

The last three or so hours in particular were bad. Why?

No tarmac

From one town onwards – the name of which I’ve since forgotten, and not that bothered about remembering – there were no tarmac roads. Seen those nice pictures on TV with the clay-like roads, y’know, the orange roads that seem to be on every nice picture of people on safari in Africa? Well it was those roads that we went on.

But on the TV they look smooth. These ones weren’t.

First of all, the bus was surrounded by a constant plume of orange dirt. A lot of this found its way onto my clothes and face, and into my eyes and nostrils.

Second, the roads were horribly bumpy. Now, farm tracks seem as smooth as velour by comparison. How my spine and sternum are still intact, I don’t know.

If we slip down there, we ain't stoppin' until we reach a tree

Finally, the edges. The edges were big and steep. Of course, they’re not the worst in the world (can go to South America for some fine examples), but enough to get me thinking of some headlines along the lines of: “British man killed in Uganda bus tragedy”.

I also started wondering, as we were bouncing downhill to the next corner, seeing as though there’s no such thing as an annual MOT – no legal requirement to keep vehicles in a good state – what are the brakes like? Thankfully they were good enough, and, to give him his due credit, the driver did a good job in keeping us on the road, and slowed down a lot for each bump – so well done him.

Steep drops, but at the same time breath-takingly stunning

A boda boda mob

At some time between 7 and 8pm, we arrived in Butogota. There, two of Emma’s friends, Milton and Moses, met us to take us to the Buhoma Community Rest Camp. Our transport was Moses’ motorbike/pick-up thing. Imagine a metal box (about 1.5m cubed), a wheel either side, with a motorbike bolted onto the front. Well that was what we went in.

Now, it looked very cool. The novelty value would have been excellent. However, there were some issues – it wasn’t very big, so, standing up in the back of the vehicle, I had to crouch a lot; it wasn’t very fast, taking us about an hour to reach the camp; there didn’t seem to be much suspension, and the roads got worse –not ideal.

However, what was more immediately scary was the mass of boda boda riders that surrounded me, Emma, Vianney, Milton and Moses as we were stood by the vehicle. They thought we were paying Moses and Milton to take us to the camp – we weren’t. This led to some fairly heated arguing, but, thankfully, Moses and Milton dealt with the matter calmly, and eventually the mob left us alone.

There was still one issue remaining though…

That's not a fake tan gone wrong, that's just me after 12 hours of sitting next to an open window. Also, check out those bags under my eyes. Attractive.

Dehydration

In the space of 11 hours, I’d probably drunk less than half a bottle of water – not even a small cupful. I’d had a lot towards the end of the journey, but it was too late.

The hour’s journey to the Rest Camp was incredibly physically tiring. The lack of water in my body meant I had a throbbing headache, meant I didn’t have a lot of energy so felt weak, and I felt sick.

Five minutes after arriving at the Rest Camp, I vomited behind a hedge. I considered it my peace offering to the local mosquitoes (it seemed to work. At least until I got back to Kampala, where I was bitten by a mosquito on my big toe. I’d never been bitten on a toe before, but it was bloomin’ annoying).

After taking on some water and some re-hydration stuff (at the behest of Emma) I felt much better.

Thankfully, the next few days – and indeed the rest of my time in Uganda – were much better. What’s more, with the bus journey behind me, I can now find it amusing and look at the funny aspects of it, like when people brought chickens on board, or when we spotted a cow in the back of a pick-up.

A cow in a pick-up. Enjoy





Uganda diary: Airplanes, Africa, and Parmesan legs

5 09 2010

Heathrow Terminal 5

My journey to Uganda started, rather ideally in terms of constructing an idealistic narrative, on a rather pleasant English evening on Sunday 15 August. It had been raining for weeks before, so I was fairly annoyed that it happened to be lovely weather just as I was going away for two weeks.

As mentioned in a previous blog, I left my seating on the plane to chance. I didn’t check in online. For one flight this was fine, for the other, it led to me breathing in someone else’s dead skin.

The first of my two flights took me from Manchester to Heathrow. I sat down at the end of a row of three. Not ideal, but at least I wasn’t stuck in the middle.

But then my luck changed. We were on an emergency door row, and there was nobody sat in the seats next to us. Then a stewardess asked: “Would you like to sit over there by the emergency door? We need to have a passenger to sit there. Don’t worry, you probably won’t need to do anything!”

I said yes, and I sat myself down before reading and memorising the emergency procedure, equipping myself with the knowledge of how, if the time came, I would open the emergency door and save myself and my fellow passengers.
Thankfully that disaster never happened. Unfortunately, another – albeit minor – one did.

Parmesan legs

I was sat next to the emergency door – I had my window seat, and I had a vast amount of legroom. This was excellent. Then another passenger asked the stewardess if he, too, could sit on the same row. She said yes. That was fine with me – there was still a seat between me and my new emergency exit-row comrade, so I had plenty of space.

We were halfway into the flight when I noticed the sunlight catching a plume of dust. This was the first time I’d noticed dust on the flight. It seemed to be coming from down and left of where I was looking.

My eyes followed the stream of dust before landing at the legs of my fellow passenger. It wasn’t dust I was breathing in. It was his dead skin.

I looked down with sufficient horror to subconsciously scrunch up my face in disgust, but it didn’t matter, my fellow passenger was too busy concentrating on ferociously scratching his flaking leg.

The amount of flakes of dead skin dropping onto his sock, shoe and floor (I’m not criticising him for having a skin condition, but the toilet on the plane was vacant) led me I instantly clutch my fist, and shove my hand against my mouth and nose. I hoped this would help limit the amount of dead skin I inhaled.

If you’re wondering what the dead skin looked like, it was as though someone had got about one and half heaped tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese, and sprinkled it on the floor. Remember that next time you have spag bol.

Eight hour flight – no parmesan legs to see. Or inhale

I got off the flight from Manchester feeling slightly ill, and considerably anxious about whom I’d sit next to on the flight. I did manage to take a look at Parmesan Legs’ ticket on the previous flight, and it didn’t say Entebbe, so I knew I wouldn’t be sat next to him.

But this didn’t mean I could relax – there was still the possibility I could sit next to someone with constantly flaking skin, or someone who smelt of BO, or who had a foul personality, or who kept needing the toilet every 15 minutes (I was on the end of the row of three, so this is why it would’ve been an issue).

Turns out I needn’t have worried. I ended up sitting next to the very lovely Amy who was travelling with about a dozen Northern Irish folk who were off to Uganda with the charity Abaana. Amy didn’t have flaky legs like my previous neighbour, so instead we talked for most of the flight. Oh, and she even gave me the leftovers from her Chicken Tikka Masala (after establishing that everyone around me had chosen Chicken Tikka Masala, I too chose this dish. This meant that if I burped, nobody would know it was me). So, the Manchester-Heathrow flight was awful, the Heathrow-Entebbe flight was excellent (if Dottie, one of the members of the Abaana group, is reading this, hello. I’m sure you’re delighted I’ve just mentioned Amy).

Hello Africa

After about seven hours of trying and failing to sleep, filling in questionnaires on the screen in front of me (four questionnaires to choose from, all the same), and talking, the sun started to find its way into the plane, bringing along some new scenery for all us British folk to look at.

Amy and I realised at this point that we were now in Africa. Neither of us had been to Africa before, so a mutual awareness that we were indeed in a completely different continent led to a few minutes’ awe, silence and thought.

Entebbe airport

After landing, we were transported by bus to the terminal (could’ve walked). Here, I spent a good 25 minutes standing in the wrong queues, wandering around and generally doing well to show myself off as a lost British tourist.

Fifty US dollars later, visa in hand, I waltzed through border control and retrieved my bag before meeting up with my cousin, Emma.

Entebbe to Kampala

The taxi journey from Entebbe to Kampala made me realise something. It was during this journey that I realised that any preconceptions, no matter how small, I had about Uganda – its society, geography and lifestyle – were to be completely shattered.

Journey from Entebbe to Kampala

An hour or so later we arrived at Emma’s house; a lovely little place.

That day we went, using a boda boda (the motorbikes which can be found even in the remotest areas which are basically taxis. No helmets, no safety gear, and, for most of my time in Uganda, riding three up. Scary at first, but fun), to a Belgian cafe, and generally chilled out.

The next two weeks would be filled with culture shocks (from the amusing to the horrific), cultural experiences, seeing some of the most majestic views and some of the grimmest, and acquiring a new understanding of the importance of drinking water on long bus journeys.

My hotel