“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.
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?”
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.
“Kampala,” I sighed.
“Just take the boda-boda –”
“Do you know where the bus stops?”
“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.”