Oct, 2019 back to Mar, 2007: (nothing)
I came to Uganda alone, and so for Valentine's day I did not have dinner with a special someone. Instead, I met up with my Canadian friends Chris and Chelsea (and their Ugandan friend Grace, a guy almost our age) and we got drunk. The night was nothing extraordinary by Ugandan standards; but it makes a good opportunity for me to talk about the city lifestyle.
By day, Kampala is fairly quiet. Traffic is daunting, and beyond that the streets are peppered with various people sauntering from one place to another (people saunter here; walking takes too much energy, I suppose), matatus (more on that soon), and stalls selling cell phone airtime or water or various other useful/useless things.
Transit through Kampala comes in three varieties:
- First, what we know as taxis are known here as specials: special-hires. The prices are wildly negotiable; in general, a non-gullible mzungu (or group of mzungus) can get a ten-minute drive for about 6000Ush, or USD$4. (A mzungu is a white person: like me!)
- Next, there are the matatus. These are big vans which hold 14 passengers, a driver, and an assistant. A matatu will lie in wait at a busy street corner until full, at which point it will drive to its destination (with a few stops along the way for passengers to disembark). To find the right matatu, one can simply start yelling out a destination: various drivers will point the passenger to the correct mutatu. (This makes taxi parks, with their 30 or so mutatus, fantastic fun.) The cost from downtown Kampala to Mulago hospital is 600Ush, or USD$0.50.
- Finally, there are the boda-bodas. These are motorcycles with seats on the back for one passenger. Passengers are not given helmets. Traffic laws being what they are (are there any?), the drivers do quite a bit of weaving, squeezing between cars, hugging the curb, etc. Best of all, women are expected to sit with both legs on the same side. This form of transit is the cheapest option, at something like 150Ush. I have not gathered up the nerve to ride one, but I might use one at some point for a short distance, just to say I've done it.
Some things are so easy to get used to, I've practically forgotten them already:
- Cold showers (or on a good day, wildly-varying-temperature showers)
- Bugs (though I haven't had a cockroach in my room yet)
- The smell
- New food
- Boiling or buying water
- Crossing the street through terrifying traffic
- Saying a friendly hello to a guard walking down the street with an AK-47 in his hand
- Haggling for a better deal on just about every purchase
- Tipping more frugally (and often not at all)
- Frequent power outages
And one thing I will never get used to:
- People drive on the left side of the road
Disclaimer: I know little about political science. I only know what I read and pick up through conversation and reflection. With that in mind, here's my take on Ugandan politics.
The most obvious and striking realization is that western systems do not work here. Look to Iraq for inspiration: with divided peoples, political parties align themselves into groups which are in a constant power struggle.
Uganda is home to seven kingdoms (or tribes). Here, all people are very open to any form of religion; one's real allegiance is to one's kingdom. Kampala (the capital, where I am staying, and by far the largest city) is home predominantly to Buganda. If all decisions are made by the Buganda, naturally the other kingdoms will get jealous. And in Africa, jealousy leads to political unrest: a mild term for very real violence.
When Uganda became independent in 1962, a party system was implanted (inspired by Britain). Milton Obote and Idi Amin both came to power by overthrowing the previous government through violence (as did the other short-lived rulers up until 1986). All usurpers believed (rightly) the government was favouring its kingdom and that their own kingdoms' needs were not being served. Hence, political unrest.
By popular demand:
Yesterday we visited Uganda Christian University: specifically, Dr. Jean Chamberlain, a Canadian who founded Save the Mothers. At the school, they train Ugandans of varying disciplines. The idea is that these students will return to their jobs with a more enlightened perspective and a capacity to make a difference. I was impressed by the beauty of the school, the variety of students in the Save the Mothers lecture room we visited, and the devotion of Jean Chamberlain and her family. There is a lot of progress to be made here; and with enough effort, the situation will change.
I also got my first experience riding in the front seat of a van on the way back to Kampala. The drivers here are insane! Our driver was incredibly aware of his position on the road, avoiding the curb, bikers and other cars by surely no more than a few centimetres. Not to mention the enormous potholes. A seatbelt is a necessity.
Traffic here is interesting. Everybody drives on the left side of the road, and there are no stop signs. Drivers are all extremely aggressive. Most interesting, though, is the apparent lack of any rules whatsoever. No speed limits, stop signs, right-of-way, crosswalks, etc. For the most part, this seems to work okay.
Internet is very slow, so I won't bother trying to upload a load of pictures. Instead, I'll put three:
Me with some important people in Makarere University
St. Stephen's Hospital, from behind, while bouncing away on the bumpy dirt road
Kampala. I'm still bad at orientation, but I think this picture faces Mulago hill.
My trip to Uganda started off on the wrong foot.
My last day of London saw me start off at the Globe (with a wonderful tour), then walk all over the city, passing by the Inns of Court and a piece of London Wall (a relic from Roman times). I eventually made my way back to the hostel, picking up a steak and kidney pie from a vendor in the Underground station on the way.
Then came the flights. Long story short: after a terrible lamb dinner on my flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi, I began to feel slightly ill. This was my first time in a 747, and I was acutely aware of the very low bathroom-to-passenger ratio. Worse, most seats were not equipped with vomit bags; but luckily, I found one in the nick of time.
The Nairobi-Entebbe flight was shorter and so less horrible. It was well-equipped with vomit bags, which I made use of.
- Most of today I spent without a map or even the Tube. I just... walked. And it was awesome. I started by crossing London Bridge (which, thankfully, wasn't falling down). Before I knew it, I was at The Monument, and there were signs pointing to London Tower. I went on the beefeater tour (which was awesome), stared at the insane crown jewels, and explored the White Tower.
- Then I meandered over to St. Paul's Cathedral. All I can say is, wow. At risk of sounding like a hippie: that place has an amazing energy. (It makes me really keen to see the Sistene Chapel, to tell the truth....) The Whispering Dome thing was very cool; I found the sheer size and detail of the construction far more impressive than the fact that you can whisper to someone on the other side. I went up to the top, which was very cool... but the dome was the coolest part. After, I went down to the ground floor and listened to a choir practice (while staring up at the awesomeness of the dome some more). I meandered through the crypt, as well, but I didn't pay attention.
- Then I walked across the Millenium Bridge and proceeded down the south side of the Thames all the way to Westminster bridge (which I crossed). The bridge itself is undergoing renovations, which removed some of the view of Parliament, but I saw plenty from the south side of the Thames.
- St. James Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens: while waiting for the Changing of the Guards, I went a-walkin'. It was very pretty. There's a gimmick statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, which made me feel tourist-y. I was impressed, though, with how closely the real Kensington Gardens matched the picture I imagined while reading the original Peter Pan.
- Changing of the Guard: I am a tourist. Crammed in with other tourists. A bunch of people in fluffy (and Canadian!) hats play five Andrew Lloyd Weber songs, Abba, and a few more bouncy tunes. All rather silly, ceremonial, and fun.
- Westminster Abbey: beautiful! I particularly loved Poets' Corner. While exploring, a priest noticed the flag on my backpack and pointed out to me a plaque commemorating John A. Macdonald. How cool! I'm glad I have a flag of Canada on my backpack! (Yes, that is a thank-you to those responsible.)
- Science Museum: this place is truly awesome. There was a special exhibit on the history of the steam engine (of which the English were pretty much the sole contributors). There was also a long, wide passage which let you "walk through time": starting at around 1700, and walking forward into the present: every few feet, a few new items. Also, there was a complete Difference Engine! (The Difference Engine was a gargantuan predecessor to the modern concept of a computer. It was never completed, but the people at the Science Museum used Babbage's original design schematics, overcame hurdles, and built the entire thing. About 100 years after the fact. It's huge, and it works!)
- Leicester Square (or, as I had written on my to-visit list, "Lester Square"): Very cool. I particularly love how the movie theatres are fashioned after real theatres: each theatre only displays one movie, the outside plastered with critics' acclaim. Of course, the sheer quantity of real theatre in the area makes it rather undesireable to watch a movie.
- History Boys: A beautiful play. I got tickets last-minute and thoroughly enjoyed it. On three sides, I was surrounded by a flock of Californian students who were studying for a semester in London. They were all studying theatre. They were most impressed with how watching the play goes so much faster than reading the script. Personally, I was more interested in the theme of differing approaches to taboo subjects (illustrated most clearly by the Holocaust discussion, with several allusions scattered throughout the rest of the play). But hey, whatever floats your boat. (And to think: in an alternate reality I'd have moved to California by now. Sheesh.)
My next destination is the lovely country of Uganda. I will be staying in the capital, Kampala. My vague ambition is to help out with my computer skills while taking in the sights and gaining a new appreciation for life.
You can keep up with my adventures on my blog. I'll be starting off by spending most of next week in London. After that, I plan on living the next three months in Uganda. After that, maybe some backpacking through Europe. And after that, well... I wouldn't want to ruin the surprise, would I?
Jan, 2007 back to Nov, 2006: (nothing)
Fate will impel me to conform.
When I feel I might be bested,
I'll think, as I follow the swarm,
There is madness in my method.
Oct, 2006 back to Sep, 2006: (nothing)
As I am wont to do, I neglected to blog over the past two weeks of my internship. A Cole's Notes version follows:
- Intern Cruise: Google offered all its interns and their hosts a cruise in the San Francisco bay. Free. There are some pictures in my Bay Cruise photo album. The neatest part (which I didn't manage to photograph) was that there were fireworks over the bay that night. I don't know why. They made for a spectacular view.
- Redwoods: a few of us went to Muir Woods and saw the enormous trees. The truly enormous trees like to hang out farther north, but we were quite in awe of the enormity of these slightly less enormous trees nonetheless. See more in my Muir Woods photo album.
- Lombard Street: On the way back from the redwoods, we drove up the scariest street ever. It's in San Francisco. It has to be experienced to be believed; the closest most of my readers will get, though, is by flipping through my Lombard Street photo album.
- Plane Ride: Nothing to report. Immediately after dropping my luggage in my apartment, I went to an Irish pub. It didn't have a live DJ or a disco ball; instead, it had a live band and pleasant company. Canadian Irish pubs are better than Californian Irish pubs.
I am now home. Since I'm not in California any more, I don't have much to write on the topic. Thus ends a chapter in my life. Now's a good time to hit pause and grab a beer.