Impressions

I was asked by a friend to award one thing in Uganda as the “most surreal thing I had experienced so far”.

“Most surreal” in the category of Uganda is a hard award to give singly. Everything is surreal right now. But I have to start somewhere, so let’s trace back to just after I left Entebbe airport:

The drive to Kampala was overwhelming. I stared out the window wide-eyed like a baby handed to a person they don’t recognize. We were on a highway, but it was like no highway I knew.

Road rules were incomprehensible. Right-of-way seemed to be decided by arcane rules and communication that I couldn’t see or imagine.

Buildings occupied almost every linear metre of roadside. Short, squat microbusiness centres, each with at least a half dozen kiosk-sized stores. Three-storey concrete slabs in varying states of completion and repair, some windowless and others palatial. Roughshod sheet metal and wood shacks that sold everything from cellular airtime to “hotel”.

There were no concrete dividers anywhere on this highway. Micro-busses the size of a 1960’s Volkswagen van crammed in more than a dozen people, and motorcycles loaded with impossible cargo darted between and around other vehicles. Both were ever-present, frequently pulling over and crossing lanes to deposit or take on passengers.

Vinyl-wrapped steel sentinels loomed above the wheeled chaos. These billboards seemed a hundred metres tall, brandishing posters advertising the incumbent president Yoweri Museveni, brand name carbonated brown sugar water, and cell phone networks.

Nothing was clarified or comprehensible in Kampala. Intersections seemed to mean, “slow down and force your way in”. There were no crosswalks. We stayed long enough to buy cell phones, eat a late lunch, and deliver a pair of other interns to a hostel.

Darkness coated the highway to Jinja. There were no streetlights. Some of the arcane communication between vehicles became clear. High beam headlights and turn signals spoke a language, but still not one I could understand.

By then I could hardly stay awake. Nightfall, jet lag, and thousands of inexplicable sights consumed every memory of loading into what would be my home for the next six months. Bed was a mother’s embrace, cradling a child burst out crying in a stranger’s arms.

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Home Tour

This is my home for the next six months as shown through the eye of a digital camera. I’ve been moved in here for just under two weeks at time of publication.

Amenities include attractively barred windows, fully equipped kitchen, beds, furniture, deadbolt locks (imported from Italy, apparently) on every door that require a key on both sides, television (no cable/satellite/etc), shower water heater (!), and mosquito netting. Walls, floor and ceiling are all concrete, the only wood being interior doors, shelving units, closets, and table legs.

The unit is in a compound with six other units. Compound amenities include a security guard, attractively barred front gate, neighbours with children, roughly 3.7 metre (12 foot) concrete walls with a half metre (~1.6 foot) of electric fencing or razor wire, one dog, and a very nice manager named Medi (probably spelled incorrectly…).

Check each image caption for more detail about each.

What the Hell Am I Doing…

Living in Uganda for six months seems pretty simple until the middle of a 13-hour flight from Toronto to Addis Ababa. Shortly after “The Martian” ended (neat movie, by the way), reality came screaming in as fast the aluminum cigar tube carrying me and three of my fellow IYIP interns.

Six months away from the home I’ve known for twenty-four years. Friends, family, and every creature comfort are now across an ocean on a continent thousands of kilometres away.

My heart lurched at the thought, pounding hard like the engine of an overloaded cargo freighter. An entire life is behind me in a trail of jet exhaust. I thought for a moment about how easy life at home would be.

But then, I would not have an opportunity to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Or see the sun rise over the eastern edge of Africa (sorry, no pictures). Or live and work for six months in a city on the edge of Lake Victoria, mere kilometres from the source of the Nile river. Life would be “business as usual”, and there is nothing wrong with a big helping of the unusual.