Monthly Archives: November 2015

ON A PERSONAL NOTE – EARY DAYS

© Stephanie Helber, 2014

“Argh,” I awoke suddenly in the dark. Something was trying to rip out my left ear drum. “Jesus,” I moaned, clutching my ear. The Gypsy Queen woke up.

“What’s wrong?” she asked worryingly.

 

 

“My ear,” I winced. It was turning into a helluva weekend. First the stomach bug that had me running to the bathroom every 20 minutes and now this. By the time the sun rose I was in agony. GQ took the initiative and looked up the nearest ENT specialist. We hopped on a boda-boda (well, GQ hopped. I staggered) and waited 40 minutes to be treated in the Mbale clinic.

“You have an inner ear infection,” announced the doctor. “I will give you three injections for immediate relief and treatment.”

Injections? What the..? “Why injections?” I countered through the pain.

I’m not a fan of pharmaceutical medicine. I don’t get sick very often and when I do I usually prescribe myself whatever solution nature provides. Usually swallow sliced up raw garlic (natural anti-biotic) and drink lemon-honey-ginger tea. It might take a bit longer to recover but my body’s stronger for it by not using pharmaceuticals.

“One will treat the infection, the other is a painkiller and the third is a steroid to bring down the inflammation.”

I despise painkillers. They trick you into thinking there is no pain by numbing the affected area. But they don’t take the pain away. So while you’ve numbed the pain, any action you do could affect the injury\infection worse and you wouldn’t know it – because you’ve numbed the pain.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), I’ve had my fair share of pain. A traumatic treatment of my severe sinus issues in my early twenties has given me the ability to tolerate pain on a level that would have Guntanamo Bay prisoners (hi NSA) confess to killing Tweety Bird.

And if that wasn’t enough, it was an ENT specialist that had given me that trauma and ability to suffer that amount of pain.

“I don’t want painkillers,” I grunted.

“Please, mister, it will ease the pain for you –” the doctor tried to reason with me. GQ also tried to convince me otherwise.

“No painkillers,” I seeped through clenched teeth. “Just fix me up.”

In my state, I wasn’t exactly friendly with the doctor. In fact I was quite hostile but this was coming from the trauma I had received a decade and a bit before. Memories were returning in a flash flood. It was the only time in my life that I had threatened to kill another human being (the doctor treating me) and meant it.

I’ll save you the gory bits for the memoirs but let’s just say that what he inflicted on me had me screaming at a level that cleared out the waiting room in the hospital. I don’t blame the doctor when he then demanded that we go from the clinic to the hospital where, “I will feel safer in the environment there as I’m currently not comfortable in this situation,” he said.

I copped some words from GQ about how I antagonised the good doctor and created that environment. But it was hard to put into words what I was going through and not just because of the pain I was in, but the memories that were consuming me were putting me in a hateful state against this institution that represented that specific traumatic event.

At the hospital we waited on the bench and were summoned into the room within fifteen minutes. It was full of nurses and interns all surrounding me.

I had managed to scoff a bit at the ridiculousness of the situation, that somehow, I had managed to make this doctor feel so unsafe that he needed a room full of people that might need – should it come to it – subdue me. I had no intention of pouncing on anyone. Even if what I was projecting was animosity towards everything these people represented, it wasn’t personal. I know these folks are out to heal me but some things can’t be erased.

GQ sat with me and held my right hand as my left was chosen for the injections. I can handle needles. It wouldn’t be the first jab I’d receive. But it was the first time that I was getting injected in the vein on the top of my wrist, right where the hand and joint meet. I managed to convince the doc that I didn’t want or need the painkiller injection. The antibiotic stab was a standard needle pain. My head hung low. I stared at the floor knowing that I was about to go through some serious shit on a personal, emotional level. I had no idea how destroyed I would be by the end of it.

When the doc began with the last injection, the steroids, he had to do it in the slowest way possible.

“This will hurt a bit,” he warned before inserting the needle.

I clenched.

“Breathe,” GQ reminded me, encouraging me with words. If it wasn’t for her, bad things would probably have happened – mainly to that doctor who had nothing but good intentions.

The pain the slow injection caused consumed me. It opened up the dam that blocked the traumatic past cracking it wide open, flooding the valley of the now with memories I had suppressed for more than a decade. My head collapsed on GQ’s shoulder and I let the tears flow.

I hadn’t cried from physical or emotional pain for more than ten years and it was all coming out now. I’ve always sought for a way to be able to open those tear ducts, to cleanse myself but I could never find it. I was lost but I certainly didn’t want to be found like this. It released a lot. I felt lighter. Slightly weaker at the knees but emotionally, I was lighter. I had dealt with that past trauma and came out on top, stronger (but for that moment, not at the knees).

GQ apologised for not seeing it my point of view.

“It’s OK,” I mumbled, head down. “You could never know.” I thanked her profoundly. She’s always there when I’m in need of medical assistance. Saying the right words – not just to me but to the presiding staff taking care of me. Without her I’d be a mess surrounded by the dead bodies of medical staff.

But that emotional ride I involuntarily hopped on had exhausted me. I couldn’t even raise my head to the world even though the medicine took immediate effect. I sat silently on the boda-boda back to Sukali and lay quietly in bed for the rest of the day, slowly recovering, smoking cannabis, the only thing that actually takes away the pain.

Doesn’t numb it. It takes it away. So much so that the next day we all climbed up to Wanale Waterfalls in the rain.

The lesson? Face your past if you want release. Face it, embrace it, forgive it and then pack it away because it’s done and dealt with.

And only then can you move forward.

Oh, and avoid ear infections.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Uganda | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

HITCH HIKING IN UGANDA – PART VII

© Unbound Ether Photography, 2015

© Unbound Ether Photography, 2015

“Two rides,” I said to the Gypsy Queen. “I predict two rides to Mbale.”

After a loving and warm night with Ruganzu, Grace and the kids, we were dropped off at the bypass on the road towards Jinja by Ruganzu where we parted ways.

Our first ride was on a truck driven by, Charles, a Kenyan heading to Nairobi via Busia, the main border town on Uganda’s side of the sphere. He wasn’t a fan of Ugandans. Or South Sudanese. In fact, he didn’t much like people but something,

“Told me to stop for you.”

He dropped us off at the turnoff for Busia. From there we hitched another ride on another truck that was also on the way to Kenya only this one was going via Tororo, where I had first entered Uganda.

The turnoff he dropped us at was exactly that – a complete turn off.

“It appears to be that we are in the middle of an African version of Fuckville,” I commented.

The only signs of life were the four boda-bodas and two matatus chilling in the shade. I knew we would be harassed but usually I answer their want of taking us somewhere with,

“It’s OK. We’re waiting for friends,” and the matter is left.

But put two idiots in a round room and tell them to find the corner, you kinda get the feel for what we had to deal with in Fuckville. And it wasn’t enough that they tried to get us to ride with them or get in their matatus (who always have the uncanny timing of stopping and harassing right when a convoy of four potential rides fly past), there’s always one that thinks he’s helping us out by trying to stop a vehicle for us.

“Just go, rafikiki,” I strained, my attempt at remaining calm slowly wavering. “We don’t need your help.”

Eventually the two idiots left and before long a car pulled up heading directly to Mbale.

“Missed by one ride,” I said, referring to my morning’s prediction of two rides. We rode with Ouja who was heading to Mbale for a meeting.

“I work for Child Fund,” he said. “We are working in 39 countries. Maybe you can promote us?” he asked after we shared our Footsteps Through Africa adventure.

“We try to target the lesser known NGOs,” I said politically. “If you’re in 39 countries, you don’t need our promotional abilities.”

He laughed as we hit Mbale, taking the detours due to the broken bridges, watching the waterfalls cascading off the foothills of Mt Elgon, standing at 14,177 feet (4,321 meters). We couldn’t see past the foothills due to the cloud cover but you could feel that something large that nature had created was in there.

Somewhere.

Sukali Hostel is just on the outskirts of the centre of Mbale town. From our room we could see Wanale Falls and the plateau that rises up to Elgon’s peak. We were met by Moses, the manager and that evening after a lovely dinner of spaghetti and a drop of whiskey, we called it a night.

Early the next morning, before the sun was even up, something came knocking on my stomach’s door.

‘Dude, we gotta go,’ it said.

“Gimme a minute,” I responded and headed to the bathroom – an action that would repeat itself throughout the day. In fact that evening I spent 40 minutes in the bathroom. I could barely eat or even drink, forcing myself to take on H2O.

By Sunday afternoon I was a bit better and by the evening I was a little worse.

Shit, and not just figuratively.

“If I’m better tomorrow, we can hike up to the waterfalls,” I suggested after my last run.

Nabifo, the owner and mutual friend of Ruganzu’s, had arrived on Sunday and was keen to hike with us. Just a week prior she had hosted Mbale’s TEDX talk with a strong turnout.

That night, although slightly weaker, my stomach felt settled. I attributed it to the whiskey.

“It looked like the glass wasn’t dry,” GQ had said. “And the tap water here isn’t very good for consumption.”

So I finally swore off all consumption of alcohol. It had taken its toll on me – health-wise. Besides, being an Australian I’ve drunken enough for two lifetimes.

But it was the next day that would render me void of a want to live.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Uganda | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

HITCH HIKING IN UGANDA – PART VI

Mr Rubbs’ driver dropped us on the Kisoro-Kabale road at the carwash. Sure, sounds exotic, a fun place with scantly-clad folk on rollerskates sipping on chocolate milkshakes with Rose Royce’s, At The Carwash playing in the background with everyone groovin’ to it, suds of soap floating all around.

Well in Africa a carwash is any parking spot you find by the nearest water outlet – be it a lake, river, brook or flash flood puddle. Bodas and cars will park, drivers or whoever gets the coin, whip out scrubbers, soap and wash their vehicle with the determination of removing every speck of oil, grease and dirt.

From the serenity of Lake Bunyonyi that was spread out before us, we hiked around a curve. On our left was a fast-flowing brook. Too our right, rising green hills of terrace farms. And on the road?

Nothing.

Nothing but the asphalt used to tar it.

We were about to set up to make a little video when a Landcruiser came ‘round the bend. It was a flatbed fitting three in the single-cabin – places that were taken up by the driver, Herbert and his two companions.

“If you don’t mind sitting in the back,” he said.

Being it quite the desolate road and with rain about to hit us, the Gypsy Queen and I piled into the back. Herbert drove like one who knows the windy, hilly roads of a rural area – fast. We held on for dear life as our driver tested his brakes about a meter before the speed humps. Rain started to pound us as we drove into it. Luckily, Herbert was going fast enough that the cabin protected us from the wet – until he stopped in a small hillside village to inform us that,

“I wish I could give you some protection from the rain but I don’t have.”

“It’s fine, mate,” I said through the rain drops.

“Just keep driving and we’ll be OK,” added GQ.

He got back in behind the wheel and sped us off. All we could do was hold on tight and watch the entertainment the front seat was providing – the two companions dancing along to the music being blasted from the radio.

About forty minutes later we were dropped in Kabale where a street vendor thought that throwing a live grasshopper at me would scare me. I picked it up and threw it back. We walked to the service station on the outskirts of town. After an hour and a toilet break, a truck pulled over.

“I’m reaching Kampala but I can drop you in Mbarara,” offered Izu.

We took him on and his woes.

“Today I lost both my brothers,” he said mournfully. “I am on the way to Kampala to claim the bodies and arrange the burial.”

“Where are you coming from?” I asked gently.

“Congo,” he said.

“How do you stay awake?”

“I take alcohol.”

I blinked and stared at GQ. “Did he just say he takes alcohol to stay awake?” I whispered to her. She nodded.

I turned back to our driver. “What kind?”

“UG,” he said and pointed at the small plastic soda bottle filled halfway with the clear liquid of the local gin.

Izu was completely sober and was one of the better drives we rode with in Uganda. Yet here he was, sipping on pure grain alcohol to stay awake.

“If I don’t drink, I cannot drive. It helps me function,” he said.

Well I’ll be an apple’s core.

Our aim was to reach Masindi via the back roads but the Universe had other plans for us. While we had passed through Mbarara on the way to Western Uganda our then driver, Peter, informed us of a place we might be able to barter for the night.

As it was just before sunset we asked our drunk (yet sober… how?) driver to drop us at Mazizu Gardens. James, the owner, accepted our barter of music for food and bed and allowed us to pitch a tent at the bottom of his garden.

The manager, Anna, upon seeing the Gypsy Queen, exclaimed, “Are you Indian?”

“Yes I am,” she said proudly.

“I love Indians,” Anna gasped. “I love Indian movies.”

While they traded Bollywood names I sussed out the place. A living-room feel as most local bars have in Africa, the highway rest-stop was empty of clients.

“You’ll let me know when to play?” I said after we ate a meal of rice and beef stew.

“Yes,” said Anna.

GQ and I retired to our tent to chill out when, at around 19:00, James came down to visit.

“I cannot let you stay in the tent. It will rain,” he said.

“We have a rain cover,” GQ indicated our fly.

“No, take a room. You don’t pay. We are happy to help.”

We looked at each other and said our thanks as we began to pack everything up. At 20:30 GQ had passed out on the bed. I stayed awake until 22:00 when music was heard being blasted from the bar area but no one came to collect me for playing. In the morning we thanked James and hit the road.

“Weird,” I said aloud.

“What?” GQ asked.

It was a grey-covered day with drizzles of rain. “We didn’t actually barter anything,” I scratched my head looking up and down the road. We were by a speed hump with plenty of room for cars to stop. But none did. I was staring at the map we had and walked across the road to confirm the road with the driver sitting in a large, tinted SUV.

After a quick chat I returned to GQ. “What did he say?” she asked.

I sighed. “When the driver struggles to figure out how to open his own electronic window, you know the guy barely has a clue about the roads.”

There was a weird vibe in the air. For some reason, tension was building up between us. We were snapping at each other for no reason at all. As no vehicles stopped for us I suggested, “We hike through the town and try on the outskirts. It’ll be easier to avoid the boda-bodas.” GQ agreed and we headed down the road.

There was definitely something about the atmosphere of the place. A shift in the energy field. We said, “Jebaleko,” to the locals with a smile but for the first time since I’ve hit the African continent, no one was responding. Instead we were receiving dirty looks.

Ahead of us, a motorbike with a milk churn strapped on its passenger seat suddenly slid out of control and crashed on the road. Unharmed, the driver got up and a local assisted him. I picked up a piece of motorbike and handed it to him.

A car then stopped for us heading to Kampala. After the usual greetings the driver popped the boot. I was just about to throw in my big pack when the tinted backdoor opened.

“You said you don’t use money?” said the passenger, relaying our answer to the driver who threw the car into gear and drove off, the boot still open, my backpack on one shoulder.

“What the fuck?” I said aloud.

GQ stared at me and blinked. “Imagine if you had put your bag in,” she said.

There was something strange about this place. It was starting to feel like a town in a Stephen King novel. We kept hiking. For a small town it seemed that every car that passed was a taxi. With some of the questions we were being asked, it seemed to be a place low on the IQ demands as one fella proved when he pulled up beside us.

“Come, let’s go. You only pay five thousand,” he said.

“We don’t use money,” I said through clenched teeth as the first five times of telling him that hadn’t gone through his skull.

“How many are you?” the driver then asked.

I had to stop and turn towards him to see if he was for real. “How many do you see?” I asked, GQ hiked on to avoid the conversation.

“Two of you? OK, let’s go. You pay only three thousand.”

There’s a point where you start to just ignore people, especially the stupid ones, otherwise your liable to slap some sense into someone. And I didn’t want that kind of responsibility. We passed by a sign that named the town Bihalrwe. As soon as we passed it the energy shifted. Birds began to sing. The sky cleared up. And when GQ laughed I knew we were back in the good energy field.

“That was weird, aye?” I said to her.

“Yeah, there’s definitely some weird energy going on back there,” she concurred.

A bakkie pulled up behind us. Abraham offered us to sit in the open tray. “I have a tarp to give you in case it rains,” he handed over the blue waterproof material. Already a good vibe, we explained to him the road we were seeking.

“I know it,” he said. “I can drop you there.”

An hour later GQ and I were upgraded to the cabin after Abraham had dropped off a few passengers. She turned to me and said, “I think we passed the road.”

I looked at the map and looked at our surroundings to get a bearing. Yup, we were definitely passed the road and were well on our way to Kampala.

“Why don’t we do this,” she suggested, “let’s head to Kampala, stay the night at Ruganzu’s, then head up to Mbale, from there we’ll head down to Jinja and do the art installation. We skip Masindi. We’re back in January. Maybe we can go then.

What do you think?”

Thinking.

My visa clock was running. GQ, being a Kenyan resident, didn’t have a ticking clock. “I guess we can go to the rhino sanctuary then, if they’ll still have us,” I pondered. “OK, let’s go to Kampala.”

We called up Ruganzu who was more than happy to have us. Settled on a direction, Abraham inspired our vibe by buying us grilled chicken maryland on a skewer hawked off by hawkers surrounding the car like a mob at the backstage of a concert.

“Your husband is beautiful,” exclaimed one hawker.

“What did he say?” I raised an eyebrow.

“He said you are beautiful,” GQ laughed. She turned to him. “What about me? Am I not beautiful?”

“You are,” he said. “But your husband is a very beautiful man.”

Abraham was collecting some delegates from the Entebbe airport. But his last passenger, Moses (the front seat being occupied by Abraham and Moses. Yes, yes.), was getting dropped in Kampala where we parted ways and made our way to the University where Ruganzu was teaching.

I talked with his friend, Frida, over the phone. She had, via one of Ruganzu’s posts on Facebook, invited GQ and I to spend some time at her hostel in Mbale, Sukali. I explained our barter and she agreed on it.

That night we cooked an impressive dinner for Grace, Ruganzu and Freddy. In the middle of the night, Freddy had a bad dream and crawled from his crib into our bed. Snoring lightly as the pigs competed with the rooster over who gets to bring up the sun.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Uganda | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

FOOTSTEPS THROUGH AFRICA

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“Excuse me,” one of the administrators entered the ranger’s office I was sat in. “There is a Jo to meet you.”

Jo? I searched my brain. Unlike Google, I came up with nothing. “Who is Jo?” I asked her as I followed her across the grass.

“He says he knows you,” she said, leading me to the restaurant of the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary where at the bar stood a tall South African with dreadlocks.

“Are you Jo?” I asked.

“Yes,” he grinned, sticking his hand out. “I’m Erin’s boyfriend. I was told to buy you a beer. So which beer do you want?”

I blinked. Well, this is a first.

Erin was a Canadian I’d met in Kilifi, Kenya. She’d told me how she and her partner had started an NGO in Uganda. And the global village just shrank a little more.

“Howzit, bru?” I said, connecting the dots. “I’ve just quit alcohol for medical reasons but I appreciate the offer.”

We sat down to chat and by the end of the hour Jo had invited the Gypsy Queen and myself to become his NGO’s first volunteers.

“We need to get the word out, bru,” he said. “If you want to barter a small paragraph –”

“Stop,” I stopped him. He blinked. “I don’t do paragraphs. I write.”

He grinned. “You’ll stay at my friend’s lodge, you’ll get food, take you hiking to waterfalls,” Jo was selling it well.

“I’m there,” I grinned. “We can do a little video for you too.”

13 rides and a party at the cop shop (which could have ended up in the holding cell) the Gypsy Queen and I had finally arrived at the rolling green hills of Rubuguri, a small, picturesque village deep in the heart of the Kisoro district in western Uganda. Beyond its surrounding hills lies Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, where Uganda’s endangered mountain gorilla population reside. It was here that we met Gordon and Ben, Jo’s two right-hand men that were to take care of us for the week we were volunteering. We were bedded in Wagtail Eco Lodge, owned by Mr Rubbs.

“He’s the local mayor,” Jo had told us.

A crafty politician he was immediately taken by us and offered us to stay for, “Two months. We make business together. We make money.”

I tried to explain our non-monetary ways but it fell on deaf ears.ck8a7035

Footsteps Through Africa had begun back in April, 2015. In the seven months since it started up they managed to get a donation of 22,000 books from the USA and have about 22 kids sponsored. They’ve started up a community library and another one in the village boarding school.

Quite an impressive accomplishment for such a short period of time and more so for an NGO that has no corporate financial backing.

“In June next year I’d like to hitch hike through Africa,” Jo had told me back at Ziwa. “Raise awareness, raise funds, find remote villages off the beaten track and see what Footsteps can do for them.”

Gordon and Ben showed us the community library in the building where an 80-year-old mzee (term of respect for the senior) greeted us daily. Even though he looked more like he might be scraping 60. When we visited the school the kids were let out and what was supposed to be a playful afternoon soon became a mini-riot as the kids screamed and reached out to us like we were candy. Some kids even touched my legs, having never come across a non-African before.

img_7033For the week we were there, it rained every day. It rained when Gordon and Ben took us on a hike up the hills, passed terrace farms and all the way to the Bwindi forest, through the woods where mushrooms scattered the forest floors. Through the mist the area was infamous for.

It rained when we hiked to the waterfalls and the caves the next day. It rained so heavily that we took shelter in a nearby hut, trying to dry our clothes, succeeding in burning a hole in my camera bag. We eventually turned back to the village and tried again the next day that appeared sunnier.

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It still rained on us for a bit as we finally made it to the waterfall.

Gordon also trains the local kids in athletics at the village football field which also doubles as the cows feeding grounds. When it rains it triples as the local swimming pool. One sunny afternoon with a break in the rains, I found myself playing football with the kids. I played barefoot, sliding on every attempt to get the ball, the locals laughing hysterically until I scored a Maradona inspired goal (but without the Hand of God).

Which, turns out, didn’t count.

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“That is my bar,” Gordon indicated to the sign that read, ‘The Cave’.

He showed us his humble establishment and the Gypsy Queen latched onto a wall. “If you want, I can do some string art here for you.”

After explaining what string art was he agreed to get the wool and nails. GQ and I then proceeded to spend our last day making what would become The Cave Mandala.

To inspire our work, we shared a bottle of Old Monk rum that GQ had brought from India. By evening, when we had finished, I had whipped out Ol’ Red and had Gordon, Ben and everyone within earshot dancing to my tunes. We retired to Wagtail lodge where, while cooking dinner, I continued to play as the staff suddenly turned the kitchen into a dance hall.

There are thousands of NGOs in Africa. Some are dodgy that just want money and don’t care about community impact like the one that is already in Rubuguri who shall remain unnamed. In the six years its been present in the district, the community has seen no contribution from its presence.

In the seven months that Footsteps Through Africa have operated here, lives have changed for the better. Children are getting an education, life’s doors of opportunity are and will open up for them. 22,000 books? Some libraries in the Western world could only dream of having such a collection.

The Rubuguri community has had a positive impact thanks to Jo and Erin’s Footsteps Through Africa. Volunteering is available by contacting Jo or Erin at https://www.facebook.com/footstepsthroughafrica/

 

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Conservation, Uganda | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

PARTY AT THE COP SHOP

“Sounds like a party in there,” I smiled at the female officer at the desk. I was referring to the noise coming from the holding cells.

“They are suspects celebrating the primary elections we just had,” she said, smiling back.

Gypsy Queen and I explained our want of pitching our tent somewhere safe and the officer passed the word around. The station chief wasn’t there yet but having made contact with him over the phone we were told that, “He won’t allow you to pitch a tent here. It is not safe due to the primary elections.”

Across the road I spied the silhouette of a church. I’ve never slept in a church and I figured that they couldn’t refuse our request to pitch our tent on their grass. The female officer hiked over on our behalf and came back saying, “The reverend says it is not safe to pitch there.”

“Listen,” I began and told how I’ve been sleeping in, “Police stations from Namibia all the way to Kenya. Never had a problem. We just want to pitch our tent and go to sleep.”

An hour later an officer in a white uniform said we could sleep in the traffic police office. “Even me, I’m sleeping here tonight.”

The room had two desks and floor space for a snail. There were colourful and highly graphic images on the wall of horrific accidents and what a human body looks like after its been run over.

The Gypsy Queen looked at me. “Lovely,” she said.

“We’d really just rather pitch our tent,” I said to the officer.

Ten minutes later the station chief appeared with an entourage of officers. One was in full riot gear and the only officer I’ve ever met who didn’t smile. He looked at us as though we were political prisoners.

“How can you travel without money?” he questioned, pointing fingers accusingly. “I have been in Kampala and have dealt with foreigners but never heard of this travel method.”

He simply couldn’t get it through his thick, riot helmet that our lifestyle was real and able.

“I play music in exchange for food and bed,” I explained for the umpteenth time, frustrated, tired and just craving sleep.

“Prove that you are a musician,” demanded the station chief.

I sighed and pulled out Ol’ Red. As I tuned her we were suddenly surrounded by 15 cops. I looked over at the Gypsy Queen. “What should I play?” I asked. As she pondered it hit me. “Folsom Prison Blues?”

She laughed. “The irony will be lost on them.”

I ripped out a country-rock version of Johnny Cash’s classic which had everyone staring at me with one officer even dancing a bit. Our riot-geared interrogator still wasn’t convinced and demanded to see our passports. Neither he nor the station chief could understand how the Gypsy Queen’s Canadian passport could have been issued in Kenya when in fact, she was originally from India.

“If you went to Australia,” I explained with extreme patience, “and your passport expired, you would then go to the Ugandan embassy to renew it. On the passport it will say, ‘Issued in Australia’. OK?”

He nodded as the riot-gear officer demanded we call Ruganzu in Kampala to prove our existence.

“We don’t have a phone,” I said.

He almost fainted from shock. “How do you communicate?” he asked menacingly.

“Internet,” the Gypsy Queen said and I hoped we weren’t going to have to explain the ways of the world-wide-web.

He continued to interrogate us and even demanded that we call GQ’s parents in India.

“I do not want to bother them,” she said, maintaining an impressive calmness about her. “It is very late over there now.”

“So nobody knows you are here?” his shifty eyes narrowed, a dodgy scheming happening behind them making me jump in with,

“My website has a vast audience. There are more than a thousand people around the world who know exactly where we are.” I stared him down. He was about to say something I probably would have ignored when his commanding officer told him and two other cops trying to intimidate us to get in the car and respond to a call.

After they left I approached the officer. “Listen, its late, we just want to put up our tent and go to sleep. In the morning, we are gone before the sun comes up. Please?”

The officer smiled. He looked at one of his goons. “Search their bags thoroughly, then they can go to sleep in the traffic police office,” he said before he headed off to cool down the post-election celebrations in town. “And keep their passports with Major. They can collect them in the morning.”

If there’s one thing I hate, is handing over my passport. Especially to police. Especially to police in a country run by a dictator.

“Who is Major?” I asked around. A small man in a black leather jacket wearing a police beret smiled at me. “What’s your name?” I asked him.

“Major,” he smiled. “You just call me Major.”

The whole scene was beginning to feel like something out of a bad movie in which our heroes end up thrown in an African jail. I wouldn’t have minded having our bags searched as we had nothing to hide.

Well, except for a small joint. The Gypsy Queen was hiding it, I just didn’t know where. So just when we thought our long day was over, here we were, getting our bags thoroughly searched at 22:30. Knowing what could happen, adrenaline was rushing through me. I was wide awake now.

“Look,” I said, exhausted already from the emotional torment these cops were putting us through. “We just want to get some sleep and go in the morning. You searching our bags is gonna take an hour.”

“30 minutes,” smiled the search-conducting officer. “Please, place your bag on the counter.”

I placed my big, Northridge Nomad 65 pack on the counter and took off the rain cover.

“Please, untie the tent,” the officer continued to grin, “and unpack it.”

For fuck’s sake, “It’ll take forever to pack it back,” I complained.

Never, in the two and a half years that I’ve been on the road, have I been searched by police whenever I’d ask to sleep in the station. Heck, I’ve never even been searched at borders. And it was times like these that I wished I had more than one pair of used underwear for the police to rummage through.

I leaned over to GQ. “Maybe you should go to the toilet?” I suggested, hoping that my meaning would be taken by her. It was.

“No, I’m OK,” she said calmly.

When my bags were repacked, the female officer stepped up. In Africa, a woman is not allowed to be searched by a man. The thing is, our female police officer flipped from the smiling, warm inviting look we were greeted with to something along the lines of the Grim Reaper about to cart off another soul.

With me, only my bags were searched. With GQ, she got the full treatment, just shy of a cavity search.

Sweating.

Nervous.

Nervous sweating.

While she was being searched, the officer who searched me began to beat two prisoners – suspects – that were sitting by the counter. He beat them with a smile on his face.

I was trying to figure out a way that, in case they found the joint, what explanation we could give.

Glaucoma?

“OK, you can go,” the female officer suddenly smiled.

I blinked as GQ gathered her bags and looked at me with, “You coming?” and headed down the hall.

“How?” I began. “I don’t… I mean, how? Where?”

She grinned. “While you were being searched I managed to grab the little pouch and sneak into my underwear. She just missed it when she patted me down.”

I breathed out long and hard. “Jesus,” I reflected on the two close calls I’ve had when it came to drugs in Africa – my arrest in Zanzibar (talked out of) and GQ’s and mine getting an attempted extortion on a rooftop in Nairobi (had to protect the would-be extortionists from GQ). But here? In the cop shop? Nothing is impossible but I’m sure we would have had some extreme difficulty to get out of this one had it gone left instead of right.

I laid out my sleeping bag, then placed our bed sheet on top, then two gamchas that the Gypsy Queen had brought from her recent trip to India, my kikoy, a cotton blanket and we covered up in my Maasai shuka.

Only three mosquitoes bothered us and, despite the unwanted adventure, we slept pretty well.

In the morning we packed up at sunrise, thanked the officers and bee-lined it to the main road in early morning mist. After 45 minutes I spotted a red-plated government car.

“They never stop,” I said to the Gypsy Queen. “But I’mma try.” I sang out for them and suddenly they pulled over.

Thomas and Eddie were conducting a census count and were happy to take us through the windy roads rolling through the greenest hills I’ve ever seen. Terraced hillsides showed where all the locals were farming their food as cows, goats and sheep lined the roadside. We were dropped off in the town of Kabale where the main road was under construction. We hiked a bit, waving off the boda-bodas and I flagged down an open-bed truck.

Turns out that no one in the area has heard of the small village of Rubuguri. We were taken about 10 K’s down the road and dropped off at the wrong turn-off. Having been corrected by the locals we hit the road with a young woman walking along with us.

“Us, we like white man. They always give us something,” she said repeatedly. I knew what she was hinting at and it was pissing me off. She had her eye on Animal. “Why don’t you give me that doll? I can give it to my son. It will make him very happy.”

“Excuse me,” I said, maintaining a forced calmness. “But the only reason you are talking to us is because all you see is the colour of our skin. You think that because we are not African than it automatically means we are walking cash machines. If you want something from me, you have to first be my friend, earn my respect and then, if I feel like it, then I will give you something. But just from asking? No –” fuckin’ “– way.

We are not white and you are not black,” I preached. “We are human. When you accept that, then we can be friends.”

She laughed, a slight embarrassment about her. Then she eyed Animal again. “Why don’t you give me that doll? I can give it to my son. It will make him very happy. White man always gives us something. Make us very happy.”

I huffed as the Gypsy Queen signaled me to ignore her and we plodded on. A car came down the road and, although it was a taxi, was gracious enough to take us to the next village where some men asked us if we were footing it.

“Yes,” GQ said and the men almost fell over themselves with laughter.

“Never gets old,” I grinned as I flagged down the oncoming AMREF Landcruiser that took us to the turnoff to Rubuguri. We had a 20 K hike before us unless a vehicle came along. Within five minutes two trucks rattled up behind us.

The blue one took us on in the open tray which we shared with four guys.

“Are you on your way to work?” GQ asked them.

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They nodded and smiled as we bounced along the red track, valleys, terraced hillsides and pine trees escorted us to where we were dropped off, 7 K’s from Rubuguri. Shaken, rattled and rolled we began to hike along the dirt track. Within 15 minutes a young American couple drove up and took us to Wagtail lodge where we met Gordon and Ben, the two guys who help Jo and Erin with the NGO Footsteps Through Africa.

We were to become their first volunteers.

 

 

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Conservation, Uganda | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

HITCH HIKING IN UGANDA – PART V

“Oh no,” Ruganzu, after being roused awake to assist in the collection of the Gypsy Queen from the bus station, passed me his phone to read the message she had just sent:

Just crossing the border now. Bus is late. Should arrive by one.

“Merde,” I said aloud. “I had a feeling.” It was nine am and we were on the bypass to reach the pick-up point where the 12-hour bus ride was expected to arrive by ten.

But now that we had a few hours to pass we ended up driving to the museum to collect more empty bottles, taking back roads that even Ruganzu had never come across before.

Kampala basically means Seven Hills, on which the city was first built on. Now it’s spread across 13. It’s a city surrounded by lush green hills, giant land marks like the Gaddafi mosque (second largest in Africa) and various high rises.

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It also has worse traffic than Nairobi, but that’s just one nomad’s opinion.

At about midday the El Niño rains exploded over Uganda’s capital providing a wet welcome for the Gypsy Queen who arrived an hour later. The streets had turned from paved roads to mini-rivers, almost demanding that we accessorise with paddles.

I hadn’t seen GQ for a while as she had been in India visiting family and friends. After squeezing her into a hug I then squeezed her into Ruganzu’s tiny yet classy Nissan and we drove off to pitch our tent in his garden.

“What happened?” I asked, as Ruganzu navigated the river-like streets of the city.

“So,” she began, “we had already left Nairobi and had been driving for two hours when the bus turned around to pick up some passengers that had arrived late on their connecting bus.”

I shook my head in the, ‘I’m-not-surprised’ kinda way. “TIA,” I grinned. The rain subsided by the time we reached Kira Town (pronounced Chira) where Ruganzu lives. I pointed out the pigs, the neighbours I had met the day before, prepared her for Freddy’s addiction to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and to Grace’s warm hospitality.

Casqued hornbills flew in that evening to greet the Gypsy Queen. The next two days we spent going around Kampala with Ruganzu, checking out the art classes where he teaches in the university, meeting the Norwegian girls and sleeping in our tent to the sound of pigs that would have you thinking that perhaps you’ve pitched a tent next door to a CIA torture chamber. A rooster tried – repeatedly – to tempt the sun to come out from 2 in the AM, only satisfied when the great yellow star finally rose at six.

The Gypsy Queen, being an artist herself and having brought together an art collective under the name of Osotua Creative Collective, gave Ruganzu some ideas for his eco-art studio like creating a roof-top terrace, a fire-pit with leftover tiles and other ideas.

Ruganzu is also Kampala’s TEDX Talks curator. It’s like the main TED talks only focuses on local stuff. “You guys should come and do a talk in January,” Ruganzu invited us. “You can talk about surviving without money and hitch hiking,” he said to me, “and you can explain about mandalas and string art,” he said to GQ.

We both looked at each other with raised eyebrows. “Sounds good,” I said. “Let’s dwell on it.”

“Now we go to visit Mr Kato and his treehouse,” he said.

Mr Kato is an mzee scratching his 70s. “A few years ago I decided that I want to live in my tree,” he explained why he had built a house, a chicken coup and a rabbit run in a tree, hooking up power from his earth-based house. “I love trees and I want to promote conservation.”

To do so, Mr Kato, having worked most of his life in physical labour, now sings and dances for schools and any event that will have him. He basically does a lip-sync to country song, a surprisingly popular genre in Africa, in full country get up.

© Unbound Ether Photography by Rohini Das

© Unbound Ether Photography by Rohini Das

“You play the guitar?” he noticed my six-string.

“Yeah,” I said, taking out Ol’ Red and strumming a chord. I then broke into Johnny Cash which had Mr Kato dancing in his treehouse. I played for about an hour and then GQ and I were given the grand tour. His bed was in the upstairs, a few branches branching in, wasp nests in the ceiling, geckos chasing mosquitoes on the walls.

“Respect nature and it respects you,” he preached to the choir.

The next morning, a Tuesday, Ruganzu took us to the bypass. After our parting we hiked down the escarpment to the tar road where within three minutes Paul stopped for us in his Toyota shuttle van and took us to the junction that would lead us to Masaka, about 130 K’s south.

“My friends and I have started a group called The Mountain Slayers,” he explained. “We are going to try and hike one mountain every year.”

“Where have you hiked?” I asked.

“We are starting later this year,” he said.

Twenty minutes later we were at the roundabout in Busigi on the road that leads to Masaka, the next big town on our way to the village of Rubuguri, just shy of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park – home to Uganda’s gorillas.

Within 10 minutes Emmanuel had stopped.

“No money?” he blinked in confusion as I explained our bartering ways. He was going to Masaka but said, “I’ll take you to Usiga, ten K’s down the road.”

“Sure,” I agreed and signaled to the Gypsy Queen to hop on. As the transport manager drove us in his Toyota shuttle van we chatted, telling him stories of our nomadic, bartering ways.

“Do you want a photo at the equator?” he asked.

GQ and I looked at each other. “Why not?”

He pulled into the equator town of Lukaya where we took these lovely snaps:

It must have had an effect on him as he eventually took us the full 120 K’s to Masaka and even went out of his way by a further 10 K’s to drop us off on the right road heading in the right direction to Mbarara – Uganda’s second biggest town, 110 K’s away. A car had pulled up as rain-threatening clouds leered from above.

“Where are you headed?” I asked the driver who appeared quite the business type but in a sussed way.

“Kisoro,” he replied without smiling.

The off-road village of Rubuguri lay between the two larger towns of Kisoro and Kabale. Either was about 200 K’s away and perfect for us.

“Can we go with you?” I asked. “We don’t have –” before I could finish he cut me off by holding up four fingers.

“Four thousand each,” he demanded.

“Oh,” I smiled, “we don’t use money. We exchange our art for food and bed and ask drivers for lifts.”

“No money?” the driver frowned, shook his head, put the Pajero in gear and drove off. I laughed, recalling that Pajero in Spanish means ‘wanker’, explaining to GQ the conversation I just had as I wasted no time to flag down another car.

Mark and his father, Tom, took us to their home in a small, off-road village.

“We are on our way to a burial,” explained Mark, a popular local radio news anchor. “This is the house I was born in and grew up,” he motioned to the small building set deep in the bush where we had bounced through on the rough road in his father’s Toyota shuttle van.

I leaned over to the Gypsy Queen and whispered, “Have you noticed how every ride we’ve had so far has been in the same model car?”

She looked around and suddenly concurred before she was squeezed into the back with two wide-hipped mamas and Mark’s brother in the backseat while I shared the front with Mark as his father attempted not to drive us off the road. We dropped Mark’s brother in another village and continued on before we spilled out in the middle of nowhere. Thanking Mark and his family, the Gypsy Queen said,

“Even when they dropped off Mark’s brother you’d think I’d have some room? No, no, no those mamas spread out and squeezed me even more.”

I cracked up as another Toyota shuttle van pulled over.

“I’m going to Kabale,” said the driver.

“That’s great!” I exclaimed. “We are also going to Kabale.” I took a deep breath and said, “Can we go with you?”

“How much you pay?”

Shit. “We don’t use money,” I began before the driver exclaimed in a typical high-pitched, “Ah,” shook his head and drove off.

A few minutes later, Peter pulled over in his Toyota shuttle van.

“What is with all the same model rides today?” I asked GQ as I ran to the passenger-side window.

Peter was more than happy to take us to Mbarara, he’s home town. In fact, the guy was blown away by our travel stories and could barely contain himself during the drive.

“I have a tour company,” he says as he told of his humble beginnings as a poor child with 17 siblings (yup, 17). “There wasn’t enough money to send me to school so I dropped out after my primary years and worked for my brother,” he explained. “He taught me how to drive and I got a special driving permit from the police when I was 16 and became a private taxi driver. Soon, everybody in Mbarara knew me and my business grew. Now I have my own drivers and I take tourists all over the country.”

Peter was flamboyant and wasn’t shy about it. When the good-hearted soul drove us out of his way to the other side of town so that we could continue hitching, GQ mentioned that,

“He couldn’t keep his eyes off you,” she was laughing. “I don’t know if you noticed, he was sitting side ways, staring at you. He barely even noticed that I was there.”

Peter had spoken openly about having a boyfriend in Kampala. I was curious as Uganda was infamous for its homosexuality-equals-death-penalty.

“I have 250 relatives,” Peter said proudly. “And they all support me. My mother,” he paused, hand-to-heart on his chest, “she supports me so much. I love my mother.”Before he dropped us off he gave me his card. “If you guys don’t make it, just call me. I’ll arrange for you a place to stay.”

It was just past 17:00 and if we could get a ride to the next big town of Ntungamo, I figured we’d go to the police station and ask to pitch our tent.

But as soon as we left Peter’s car with the high energy he provided,  dark clouds suddenly appeared . Soon enough we were surrounded by three matatus (taxi-buses) who just wouldn’t let us go.

“Where are you going? Kabale? Kisoro? Let’s go. Get in.”

Get in where? Matatus are always packed with people. Baggage is tied to the roof and the way they drive I’d rather tip-toe on a high-wire across an active volcano without a safety net than ride with these guys.

I was getting pissed off and when one of the drivers called us ‘muzungo’ (which means anyone who isn’t African in appearance in a derogatory way) I unleashed a bit of tension on him.

“Do I call you African?” I pounced angrily. “Do I call you a black man? Why do you label me? If you see a yellow dog on the streets do you say, ‘Ah, look at the yellow dog’? No, you just say, ‘Look at the dog’. Stop labeling people by colour. Ask me my name and then talk to me but don’t –” fuckin’ –“call me muzungo.”

He backed off as the Gypsy Queen maintained the peace. “Don’t get angry with these guys,” she said calmly. “They can easily turn on us.”

The sun was setting behind us, covered by the dark clouds. There were more matatus and boda-boda hasslers than rides until finally, after an hour, just as I was about to suggest we call Peter and take up his invitation to crash at his place, a military Landcruiser flatbed pulled over.

Two soldiers sat in the front with big smiles and offered to take us to Ntungamo. The Gypsy Queen and I sat in the open back of the pickup and covered ourselves with a blanket as we sped the 70 K’s in darkness, a cold wind whipping about us.

We arrived slightly cold and drove past a crowd that seemed to be celebrating outside of a political office.

“Do you know where the police station is?” I asked our driver.

He shook his head, bid us good luck and drove off.

“At least it wasn’t a Toyota shuttle van,” I shrugged.

The Gypsy Queen looked at me. “Where are we spending the night?”

“Let’s find the police station,” I suggested. I caught sight of a police car and we moseyed on over. “Hi,” I grinned. “Jebaleko,” I added in Luganda.

The cops lit up at hearing me speak their language and began to direct us to the station. “It is the safest place for you to put your tent,” they assured.

Just as we were about to hike up another officer appeared, got the rundown from the driver and said to us, “Get in, we’ll take you.”

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Uganda | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

ECO-ART INTELLIGENCE

img_6870“Hey bro, where are you?” a local was friendly and generous enough to allow me to use his phone to call Gisa. We had arranged to meet at the National Theatre where I had been chatting with Jobray, a talented graffiti sketch artist.

“I’m coming in a few minutes,” Gisa had said. This was at 17:00 when we had agreed on 16:00.

 

A few minutes meant that I had at least an hour. So I sat and let my mind be blown away by Jobray’s sketch book that he carried everywhere.

“Man,” I exclaimed, “you’ve got some serious talent.”

At 19:00 I was just about to phone Gisa again when a familiar dreadlocked local turned up.

I know that guy, I thought to myself as he nodded towards me in a way that let me know that he was Gisa as I was sure we had never met before. He was tagged in a post I had made and had become an online contact until this face-to-face interaction.

“Hey bro, sorry about the delay,” he bro-hugged, introducing me to his pal, “Ruganzu Bruno,” the afro spurning local grinned and shook my hand warmly. It’s not often you come across someone in Africa who doesn’t shave his head completely, wear a weave or have dreadlocks. The afro is a look that definitely needs to spread.

“What do you do?” I asked my new friend as we headed over to his car.

“I’m an eco-artist,” he said, pausing patiently for me to follow up with the head-scratching,

“Whatta’s that mean?”

“I create art from recycled and upcycled materials,” he began to explain. “I’ve created a playground out of plastic bottles and my aim is to spread this art to communities all over.”

I then explained my philosophy and he opened his arms wide for a hug. “You and me are the same,” he grinned. We hopped in the car and I couldn’t help but feel like I’d met Gisa before. I searched my head for a memory, a recollection, a digital imprint on a brain cell that could relieve me of this feeling of de ja vu.

The topic of Zanzibar’s music festival, Sauti Sa Busara, came up and then it hit me as I slammed into the back of the passenger seat. ““Gisa,” I fished, “were you at the Sauti Sa Busara festival in Zanzibar?”

“Ya, bro,” he turned to look at my grinning face.

“I think we met there,” I said as I recalled seeing him around the four-day event and then on the ferry back to Tanzania when we actually spoke briefly.

“Yeah!” he exclaimed, recalling the same memory.

Fuck me, what a small world.

Gisa wasn’t able to host me but Ruganzu had purchased some land about 20 K’s outside of Kampala.

“You’re gonna stay with me,” he said. “I’m building a studio using bottles.”

“I’ll help,” I offered.

That night we had dinner at an Indian restaurant before Ruganzu drove us home, arriving just after midnight. In time to hear the pigs grunt and squeal in the next door piggery. In fact, the entire neighbourhood was a piggery.

Grace, Ruganzu’s lovely wife, opened the door for us. I ended up sharing the room with 4-year-old Freddy, Ruganzu’s eldest boy. Ubuntu (an ancient African word meaning,’ I am what I am because of who we all are’) being only two months old. I would quickly discover that all three men in the family are aspiring snorers.

The next morning I awoke with the help of the neighbour’s rooster and chirping birds. Expanses of green fields rolled in every direction, the view from Ruganzu’s pointing down to the valley. A Harrier Hawk landed on the brick house behind the property and startled some starlings. Casqued hornbills flew together and perched in a tall tree.

Uganda was full of them. Tall trees and Casqued hornbills.

I was shown around, Ruganzu pointing out the work done and the work to be done.

I dived in by cleaning out the space that would eventually become the studio and the next day I carried 10 sets of six bricks from one side of the property to the other. We then headed into Kampala and stopped at the National Museum where a large pile of empty glass bottles awaited our collection.

While waiting for the caretaker, we checked out the collection of former dictator, Idi Amin’s cars. A Mercedes stretch limo from the late sixties and his Rolls Royce. A 1980’s Mercedes stretch limo and a Toyota Landcruiser offered, for the humble price of 10,000 Ugandan shillings (about $4 AUD) to get you feeling like a president, being driven around the museum grounds in either car.

Only in Africa.

Later in the afternoon I cut about 15 empty 20-litre water jugs and filled them with the dirt I had just dug out to create a long step out in the field where the Ruganzu-styled statue of The Thinker sat, welcoming guests with its tree head.

That night we went out to visit Ruganzu’s friends, a couple of Norwegian girls. One was an exchange student, another had started a woman-empowering NGO and the others were volunteers. Home-made pizza was on the dinner menu and then later, after Ruganzu and I did the dishes, we headed out to Iguana, perhaps the best-known reggae bar in Kampala.

It wasn’t until four in the morning that I would see a pillow.

“Ruganzu,” I asked my new brother, “you sure your gonna wake up tomorrow in time?”

The Gypsy Queen was due to arrive in the morning and I didn’t want to keep her waiting. And Kampala was notorious for traffic.

Heavy. Traffic.

“I’ll be up, I promise you,” Ruganzu promised before snoring off to cloud nine.

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HITCH HIKING IN UGANDA – PART IV

“I’m a Lua from Liru,” Alex introduced himself. He had picked me up from the desolate road outside the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.

The last 19 days of volunteering with Amuka Lodge had me looking forward to heading back to Uganda’s capital city as Robert, head of maintenance, gave me a lift to the road from the sanctuary.

Fifteen minutes later Alex stopped for me on his way to Kampala.

“I’m a journalist and a district councilor,” he said of his dealings. Basically, Alex was a politician.

“You know,” I began, “in the Western world, I don’t think its allowed to be a politician and a journalist.”

“I have a share in the paper so I cannot leave it,” he explained.

I, “Ah-huh,”’d and left it at that. We stopped for tea and a rolex at the same place that James, my hitch to the rhino sanctuary 19 days before, had stopped at (and I may have destroyed the religious views of his brother, Pascal).

All was peaceful until a police-assisted two-car convoy attempted to take to the air but failed to reach the 300 K’s an hour mark to actually take off. It rocketed down the middle of the narrow highway, hinting to other cars to get out of the way by forcing us off the road. Alex skillfully drove into the shoulder lane. Not on to it – in to it. A window-tinted SUV sped behind (or slip-streamed in the police car’s Mach 1 wake).

“Jesus,” I said.

“These police are the most dangerous drivers,” Alex tsked, guiding us safely back to the road.

As we neared Kampala he let me use his phone so that I might try to contact my host, Gisa. I had no idea as to where he might be in the city. The call went straight to the voice of the service provider saying that it was switched off. I tried a few more times and even Alex attempted but always the same result.

By eleven I was dropped off not far from the Gaddafi mosque, the second largest in Africa (although, why it was decided to build the second largest mosque in a country that is 84% Christian is a mystery) and as I collected my gear, five ‘parking attendants’ showed up to hassle Alex.

One of them was wearing Spike Lee framed spectacles. He was staring at my rasta-coloured bracelet on my left wrist.

“You rasta?” he asked me.

“Jah mun,” I said as I piled on my gear.

“Give me that bracelet,” he pointed at mine. “I want it. It has rasta colours.”

I straightened up and turned to him with a smile. “And what will you give me in exchange?”

“Nothing,” he laughed. “I have nothing.”

“Well, my friend,” I grinned, “you need to earn it from me. And if you cannot exchange, then you cannot get. Now,” I turned to the heavier set one of the five, “how do I reach the Central Post Office?”

“Let me get a boda-boda for you,” he said.

I stopped him before he summoned a motorbike. “I can walk.” Hearing that, the gentleman beside me let out a high-pitched, “Ah!” as though a bee had stung him. He was, indeed, shocked that I might actually utilise my legs in that crazy concept of placing one foot in front of the other, more popularly known as walking.

I turned to him with a grin. “You have legs?” I pointed to his. He nodded. “I have legs. You know what the difference is between us?”

He shook his head.

“I use mine.”

They all laughed as I headed off in the direction I eventually milked from them. The hot equatorial sun was beating down and hints of possible rain were lurking among the blue patches of sky. I hit the post office and went in to use the internet, see if I could contact Gisa via social media.

I couldn’t. His phone still didn’t ring and he wasn’t responding on Facebook.

Merde.

I figured I’d head on over to All About Uganda, the tour company that Kelley owns. She had hooked me up with the contact for the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary and she also had a record label. And her office was in the Oasis Mall that had air conditioning.

“You should come see the band tonight at Bubbles,” she invited.

“They kinda let me down last time I was there,” I said. “I just wanted to play and all they had to do was give me a drink (which they did just for my patience) and something to eat. They wanted it to go through so many channels I just gave up.”

“Understandable,” she says. “But come anyway.”

As my reason for returning to Kampala was to meet the Gypsy Queen who was joining The Nomadic Diaries in Uganda (and had much to offer in terms of barter such as photography, videography, building art installations ) and arriving Friday, my mission was too find out where the Modern Coast bus she was taking from Nairboi to Kampala was going to eventually stop as it didn’t say on her ticket.

Kelley explained that the offices of Modern Coast were located, “Just up the road,” so I left my gear with her and trekked up. There was quite a line at the ticketing windows but I noticed some guy by the Staff Only door looking at handwritten numbers in an important looking book. Not having much want to wait in line I approached him.

“Excuse me,” I said slowly with a smile (and articulately as I’ve learned that my occa Australian accent can sometimes be interpreted as anything but English), “hi, how are you? Can you write for me the exact location of the last stop for the bus from Nairobi to Kampala in Kampala?”

“The station in Nairobi?”

Sigh.

If I had spoken any slower I would have been spelling it out. I don’t know how he thought I wanted the station in Nairobi. I think I was pretty clear when I said, “Kampala.”

He pointed up the road. “Just take the boda-boda. They will know.”

“Just write the location for me, please. I’m picking my friend up on Friday.”

“Come to this office on Friday and take the boda –”

“Listen,” I avoided slapping my forehead (and his), “I’m not coming to the office because it will waste my time and yours. I don’t need a boda-boda, I need you to write for me the exact location of where the bus stops in Kampala. Please.”

“I’m very busy,” he says.

“So am I,” I retorted (I wasn’t). “But unfortunately for both of us, your website doesn’t mention anywhere where the final stop is.” I paused for a second and then said, “Do you know where it is?”

“Yes,” he says, continuing to look through his book of numbers.

“Can you write it down for me, please?”

The man next to me was telling this worker to do as I was requesting, practically begging. He repeated himself as much as I did. He even offered the guy a brochure and said to him, “Just write it for him on this.”

The worker didn’t appreciate my having started a ‘Write For Me’ posse and in the end my new recruit turned to me and said, “Ask those guys in the back. They are the drivers.”

I thanked him (which saved a slap to the worker) and went to hassle them, making a mental note to make the guy my head henchman.

“Excuse me,” I said with a smile to the three gents sitting, “hi, how are you? Can you write for me the exact location of the last stop for the bus from Nairobi to Kampala in Kampala?”

“Nairobi?” one asked.

Oi ve.

“Kampala,” I sighed.

“Just take the boda-boda –”

“Do you know where the bus stops?”

“Yes.”

“Can you write it down for me? Please?” I was ready to detonate the building.

He got up to go to the office coming out after a second. “They are writing it for you.”

“Thanks,” I breathed out. I was handed the bit of paper. I was about to walk out when the driver stopped me.

“Let me write for you the number of the place,” he said and added, “It is a Fuel Station.”

“So the bus stops in the Fuel Station?”

“Yes,” he writes down Hassan’s number.

“Thank you,” and I shook his hand.

Back at Kelley’s she let me borrow her phone in the off chance that Gisa was now reachable. He was.

“The power was out and my phone was dead,” he excused.

“No problem.” I explained where I was and he suggested I go wait at the National Theatre around the corner.

“I’m out of town but I will see you in one hour.”

Meaning I had about three hours to kill.

“What are you wearing?” he asked before we hung up.

“Orange T-shirt, mate,” I said. “You can see it from space.”

 

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Uganda | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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