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
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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