Uganda - October 28, 2010

The sense of smell is amazing.  It’s something we take for granted, but every once in a while you smell something that totally transports you.  That’s how I immediately felt when I stepped through the plane door onto the tarmac in Uganda.   My jet lagged body may have known I had finally arrived, but it wasn’t until I smelled the smoke that my mind computed that I was back in Africa.  I can’t say that I have ever smelled it exactly before.  It wasn’t familiar from Liberia.  It wasn’t putrid like in Haiti. It didn’t remind me of a snowy Colorado mountain evening like it does every time I smell chimney smoke in autumn.  It reminded me of Africa.  Like I had been here to this exact same spot before.  Like every stereotype we harbor of bush men and lions and elephants was right in front of me.  Like I had just walked into every diorama of Africa in every museum I visited as a kid.   Kampala is often clouded in smoke.  Most of the time it is not an unpleasant smell, mostly just burning leaves and grass…but sometimes it’s annoying…especially when know you are inhaling someone’s dirty burning trash.  That first night, though, it was the former and it was an amazing intro to this new and exciting place.

…then the first thing I see on the drive out of the airport is a guy on a motorcycle wearing a Denver Broncos jacket …seriously, what are the odds, lol.  Actually, I didn’t even see the guy or the motorcycle, they both blended into bitch black night.  All I saw was the white emblem and blue jacket, illuminated in my dim headlights.  I thought I was hallucinating.  Just goes to show how small the world can be sometimes.

You may remember my comments from Haiti on how it seemed just like Liberia.  I must say that Uganda is totally distinct and not at all like the other two.  It’s not as colorful.  I don’t mean that in a negative way, it’s just that, at least in the parts of town I’ve been too, there are not really many street vendors or people wearing what is obviously donated clothing.  In Haiti and Liberia there were lots of obscenely bright colors, rainbow beach umbrellas, and lots of random clothes like Hooters T-Shirts.  I haven’t seen much of that here…Broncos jacket notwithstanding.  I can definitely feel that Uganda, or at least Kampala, is more economically prosperous, relatively speaking. 

Kampala is a pretty big city with some decent sized sky scrapers and a much more functional and organized infrastructure.  That’s not to say that many roads aren’t terrible or that traffic still isn’t insanely crazy.  There still don’t appear to be many traffic rules and I can honestly say that I have never seen cars and motorcycles get so close to each other, literally millimeters apart…my driver even hit a motorcycle one day, not a full on collision, but he didn’t even notice that he was starting to drive over the guys leg until I started screaming at him…there was just such a mass of vehicles in the traffic circle, maybe two or three cars thick plus like 10 bikes in what could only be a one lane road.  Then there are these totally random and asinine speed bumps.  In the neighborhood around our house, the pavement is nonexistent.  It was probably laid 50 years ago and has never been maintained since.  It is really more like a series of off-road tracks.  There are millions of pot holes and little streams and tons of mud, but then, on the parts of the road that you can actually drive more than 5 miles an hour, there are these lame speed bumps, two or three of them only like 10 meters apart.   It’s probably the one and only thing here that drives me crazy.  Otherwise I think Kampala is paradise.  The weather is amazing, the food is great…we’re going for Japanese tomorrow night…and the people are friendly and welcoming.  I love our local staff and have been trying to learn some of the local language.  So far I know that I’m a Mzungu (white person).

There are very few people here carrying stuff on their heads.  I think it is more of a rural thing than an urban one, or maybe it’s just not something they do here.  Anyway, I have replaced my obsession with taking pictures of head carriers to taking pictures of the crazy things people carry on boda bodas.  These are the motorcycle taxis that are swarming the city.  They are crazy…driving everywhere and anywhere, between cars, up on the sides of the road…wherever they can go and avoid the traffic jams.  I’ve seen guys carrying big chairs and wooden furniture and huge bushels of fruit, I saw a guy riding on the back with his bicycle turned upside down in his lap, I saw a lady riding side saddle on the back holding her little toddler with one arm and holding onto the side of the bike with her other arm. Then the driver had a huge bushel of fruit in his lap.  Sadly I wasn’t able to get a picture in time.

Last weekend I went on a quick 3 day jaunt to New York City for a family reunion.  It was a shock to go from Kampala, which feels very earthy and is basically all wide open and lush green and reddish, muddy brown…to NYC, which felt like a 100 story tall, gray concrete box with a huge superpower light bulb stuck in the side.  Not to say that I don’t love New York.  I had a fantastic time and it was nice to have anything you could possibly want at your fingertips…but I must say, as far as cities go, I’m very happy to be back here in Kampala. 

Anyway, that’s all for now.  Thanks for reading!