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Travel and World Culture   
Travel Image: Kampala, Uganda
 Photo: Muriel Lasure
Travel Image: Kampala, Uganda
 Photo: Peeter Viisimaa
Kampala (cont.)

We woke early again to track chimpanzees at a nearby forest. There is something absorbing, enthralling about seeing animals in their natural environments. A zoo Murchison is not. It felt, especially since we were so close to the Rift Valley, that this forest and its inhabitants could have been our ancestors.

We headed back home later in the day. Home is currently a section north of Kampala called Ntinda (pronounced in-tin-da). It consists of thousands of locals living in shanties, many of whom sell various fruits and vegetables and cook chapattis on the side of dirt roads. Chapattis are a type of greasy, flour pita that can be eaten as is or filled with tomatoes and eggs. In my experience, it's important to take it easy on the chapattis unless you enjoy reading in the
bathroom. Motoku, another staple of the Ugandan diet, seems to be a mix between plantains and bananas, but bland. We dip it in freshly slaughtered goat fat for flavor.

Near our house are hundreds of kids playing soccer and dozens of little goats chasing them. Many of the children had never seen a muzungu (white person). Initially, when I would pass they come up to me and stare. They didn’t beg, ask for anything, or say a word--they just stared, some with their mouths hanging open. Eventually the children relaxed and would periodically giggle and enunciate muzungu very slowly. Think dances with wolves when Kevin Costner is riding around and all the Native American children keep coming up to him saying ‘lieu-ten-tent’.

Living here takes some adjustment. There’s no hot water (early morning showers are brutal) The power goes out every other day or so. Rolling blackouts in my native California have nothing on Uganda. It can be pretty frustrating - especially when you're cooking. But I’ve quickly come to realize that a sense of humor is essential when in Kampala or, it seems, Africa in general.

I heard a funny story recently: the Ugandan army purchased their uniforms from the Chinese. As you may already know, Ugandans are typically much bigger than the Chinese and the size differences got lost in the order. Many soldiers now wear tall boots to hide the fact that their pants only come down to their calves. Trust me, nothing strikes fear in the heart of your enemy like Capri pants.

Another consummate source of amusement for me are matatus. Matatus are dilapidated minivans taxis designed to carry about ten people but inevitably cram in as many as two-dozen. Recently I took a matatu for the two-hour ride to the source of the Nile. There were easily twenty people aboard, three babies and a couple of chickens.

As a muzungu I was offered the front seat, but I declined out of embarrassment. As a Rooster was periodically pecking my legs over the course of the next two hours it was a decision that replayed agonizingly in my head.

The matatu is run by a driver and a conductor. The conductor’s job is multifaceted: he collects the fares (just over one dollar for the 40 mile ride), packs people in, and constantly wrangles new customers who are waiting on the side of the road. The conductor uses hand signals to indicate where his matatu is going. The driver’s sole job is to drive like an absolute maniac.

Picture this: a dilapidated matatu with bald tires packed with locals, babies and chickens, going 60 MPH, in the rain, on muddy roads, overtaking petroleum trucks around blind curves. Certain death seemed imminent, but every one else just looked casual so I stifled my screams.

Luckily they can only speed in stretches, as In Kampala the drivers never keep more than a gallon of gas in the tank. The logic being, if someone tries to steal their matatu, the thief won’t get far. In the ‘specials’ (regular taxis) many drivers carry water in their trunks so if they are car jacked and thrown in the trunk, at least they won’t be thirsty. In a country where for the locals sustenance is akin to an art form, Ugandan pragmatism never ceases to amaze me.

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