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Embedded Photos: 1.Kampala Intersection2.Equator3.Taxi Stand4.Kampala Hotel5-6.Taxi Park, Organized Chaos
Two Years & Twice Around the World...  

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September 8 - 16. KAMPALA "Short Stories"

Visiting the Ugandan National Bank

While I spent my days at the Red Chili bar, typing away on the computer, Rob made trips into town to stock up on money and secure some mint condition bills from the Kampala, UgandaNational Bank.  Getting the crisp sets of notes from the National Bank proved to be a long and amusing two day process.  We had already made a reconnaissance visit the bank earlier in the week and Rob had been directed to another bank entrance to reach the Department of Currency.  When he arrived at the gate they asked for identification.  When Rob didn't have any they just asked him to print his name of a scrap piece of paper and then directed him to the basement of the building.  He was told to meet with the Assistant Director of the Department of Currency but the man turned out to be otherwise occupied.  Instead, the Assistant's assistant met with Rob and provided him with a list of all notes that were available, both current and out of circulation.  Each note just cost US$1.00, payable only in US dollars, she said.  Since he was in Uganda Rob wasn't carrying a stash of US dollars which meant he had to make another trip back the following day.  He just gave her a list of the notes he wanted to purchase and was told to come back the following afternoon.  She said his order would be ready.

When Rob arrived at National Bank the next day at 1:30 they were still eating lunch.  He was asked to come back at 2:00 but the guard looked surprised when Rob showed up at 2:00 on the nose, commenting "You are back at 2:00 exactly?".  Rob waited another ten minutes before heading down to the basement.  Again he was told to meet with the Assistant Director but the man was again busy so Rob was pawned off on the Director of the Currency Department, a twenty year veteran of the department that somehow managed not to be as busy as his Assistant Director.  He wanted to be hospitable and Rob spent a good hour with the man chatting about topics that ranged from Uganda to travel in Kuala Lumpur.  When his guidebook while they talked to the director.  Finally, after exhausting several topics of conversation and observing an entire interaction where an employee was pleading for her vacation time, Rob started to feel uncomfortable.  When the director started to twiddle with his computer again Rob decided it was time to go and offered to wait in the hall so the director could get back to work.  For another hour he waited in the hall and each time the director passed by he expressed his guilt by asking the nearby staff if someone could help Rob.  All they could do was to offer him something to drink.  The Assistant Director never appeared but the Assistant's assistant eventually returned from the bank vault with Rob's money.  The Assistant Director only made an appearance to observe the money being counted out to Rob at the very end.  Then they told him that he could have paid in Ugandan Shillings!  Finally, two hours after entering, Rob left the National Bank with a stock of all available notes dating back to Ugandan independence from Britain.  Leaving the building Rob returned his visitor's badge at the gate.  He had been inside so long the guard had changed but, coincidentally, he met the originally guard later at the taxi stand.  She came all of the way over to confirm that he had returned his badge when he left the building.  She was also nice enough to help him find the right cab to get back to the hostel.  

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Death Race to the Equator

Kampala EquatorLooking for a way to enjoy some of Uganda, outside of Kampala, we did make a trip to visit the equator marker over the weekend.  The marker stood about an hour and a half from Kampala and was easily reached by a shared taxivan.  We caught a ride into town from the hostel and started our search for the right van at the chaotic old taxi park.  The order to the taxi park was baffling.  Vans were packed tightly into the large parking lot from one end to the other.  Only careful observation revealed that an exit lane existed through the middle. Snuggly parked vans would load up in their respective areas, determined by destination, and then somehow managed to filter into the steady flow of vans that were leaving the park.  The van for the equator turned out to leave from the new taxi park, an equally baffling mass of organized chaos a few blocks away.  Signs were intermittently projected above the roofline of the vans to advertise a particular area but we only managed to find the right van with the help of locals.  It was a series of ask, point, follow, ask, point, follow, until we reached the correct area.  Then we loaded into the van that was next in line to leave.  In this case it took about a half hour for the van to fill.  In the meantime salesmen prowling the narrow pathways between vans would tap on our window or lean into the door to sell everything from water and peanuts to jewelry and radios.  The van was parked at the very back of the taxi park and I couldn't imagine how we would get out but once we started to move the van carefully navigated itself past other parked vans and into the exit flow.  The parked vans readily inched forward or backward to make room.  

Our van was called "I (heart) Samona Jelly", consistent with the worldwide trend of naming and decorating transport vehicles.  We didn't know if Samona Jelly was an actress, rock band, or junk food, but it sounded a lot better than the van we saw titled "Back to God".  With the way minivan drivers plowed the streets of Kampala I didn't want to be anywhere near a van that said "Back to God"!  Another amusing label was "Real men love God".  Our driver appeared to a Muslim man, with an oddly modern talisman hanging from his rear view mirror that was made out of a CD with Arabic painted on the sides.  A set of white prayer beads tied with green string also hung from the mirror.  I began to consider the somewhat fatalistic ideology of Islam and wondered if Samona Jelly would be of any help.      

Leaving the city was slow going but as soon as we hit the last round about on the outskirts of Kampala, past a few resident long horn cows, the van picked up speed.  We had been on our share of raging African buses and I thought I was getting braver but during this hour and a half ride the only thing jelly in the van were my nerves.  The road didn't help my situation.  It was a straight shot to the equator but the road was like a kind of Ugandan roller coaster, going up and down, upKampala Bus Station and down.   I relied on the uphill parts to relax my nerves but as soon as the downhill came into view I started to cringe.  In order to save on gas the driver completely gave up the van to gravity and we began to barrel down the hill like a wagon without brakes.  I was squeezed against the right window with Rob next to me and two other people stacked in like sardines on the same seat.  As the van careened past other vehicles I just tried not to look.  The window in front was initially open, a cooling element in my momentary nightmare, until a woman complained and the window was shut.  Then I added sweltering heat to my already unpleasant journey.   I was grateful when we came upon a town and speed bumps necessitated that we slow down.  We made one pee break and I almost wanted to get out and turn back.  Looking frequently at my watch, I kept craning my neck to watch for the equator marker to come into view.  Eventually we started to see advertisements for an AIDS Child sponsored Cafe at the equator and with each successive sign I grew more anxious.  We were getting closer!  Finally the van stopped, we crawled out.  On either side of the road was a white concrete circle, each was about ten feet high and said "Uganda Equator" at the top.  After an hour and half nerve shattering ride, that was it.  

As we were taking photos standing inside the big "O",  a man dressed in a brightly colored shirt crossed the street  to tell us about their services.  He worked for the small equator tourist office and informed us that for $5 we could get a signed certificate verifying our visit to Uganda's equator.  It made a nice addition to our cheesy collection of commemorative certificates from around the world so we said "yes".  Then he up sold us on the demonstration of how water circulates in different directions on either side of the equator. We went for that as well.  There was nothing else to do anyway.  The man situated a portable sink about ten feet to the north of the equator, sat a leaf in the bowl, and then slowly poured water into the sink.  The water drained in a clockwise direction.  Then he moved his sink to the other side of the equator and repeated his exercise.  The water drained in a counter-clockwise direction.  The final demonstration was on the equator itself where the water drained without moving in either direction.  Scientists say that the Coriolis effect is not strong enough to make these differences so apparent at the equator so perhaps it was just a trick but it was a convincing one. 

The area around the equator monument was pretty barren but there were a few souvenir stands and a couple of cafes.  We headed to the AIDS Children cafe that stood about 100 feet away.  It was an unexpectedly posh place for being out in the middle of nowhere, selling a variety of African art, fancy coffee drinks, and homemade pastries.  We sat on the porch and had our overpriced coffee, milking our day trip for all it was worth.  It was a relaxing place and we enjoyed the casual stares from local people passing along on their Kampala Hotelbikes. Eventually there was nothing more to do but head back to Kampala.  The man from the tourist office offered to help us flag down a bus but it was late afternoon and most were full.  I was hoping that we would snag seats on one of the full-sized buses.  They were equally as reckless as the minivans but bigger was at least a bit safer.  But, as our luck would have it, we ended up in the back of another minivan.  It didn't start out too full but it gradually loaded up on the way to Kampala.  The driver was definitely more sane than the previous one and I was tired so I just fell asleep.  Rob told me later how many close calls we had during the ride.  Ignorance was bliss!

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After five days at Red Chili's and still no visa we decided to make another lodging change.  The long rides into town were inconvenient, we were tired of being live bug food at night, and we had exhausted the restaurant menu.  We made a reconnaissance trip into Kampala before leaving with our packs and found a decent little hotel near the center of town.  It turned out to be one of the hotels that we had gone searching for on the day of the down pour, the day after we arrived in Kamapala.  It was a shame we didn't find it back then.  It wasn't much to look at from the outside but the rooms were clean, roomy, relatively quiet, secure, and offered an attached bathroom for less money than Red Chili's did with no bathroom.  We didn't have curtains in our bathroom but a rain poncho easily rectified that problem.  We were done feeling conspicuous as muzungus in Kampala and it was nice to be staying back in town.  For a small city Kampala had some nice restaurants and cafes that we had started to miss.

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The Heartbeat of Kampala

On one of our last days in Kampala we made a final visit to the crazy old taxi park near our hotel.  We had passed through it and around it many times but it never ceased to amaze us.  Situated on the edge of the city center, humming with chaos at all times of the day, it felt likeKampala Bus Station the heartbeat of the city. There were so many of these white minivans plowing through the streets of Kampala that traffic nearly ground to a halt at rush hour, the city's pulse slowing to a frustrating pace.  It was a nice day and the sea of white minivan roofs were lit up with the afternoon sun.  As we stood overlooking the massive parking lot, snapping some photos, an older man dressed in a green coveralls approached us.  He was probably in his 50s and was dragging a trash bag behind him; his job was to clean up trash.  He greeted us cheerfully and tried to strike up a conversation.  Ever the suspicious travelers we were cautious at first but gradually warmed to him.  He had an ulterior motive but it was well-intended.  After a few minutes of chatting he pulled a smaller plastic bag out of his big trash sack.  From inside he extracted a stack of papers and proceeded to show us some articles that he had written as well as some that had been written about him.  He claimed to have been an influential person at one time, an activist in changing Uganda after Idi Amin, and the articles seemed to confirm his story.  Now he was relegated to the very unglamorous task of cleaning his city's streets but that didn't seem to bother him.  He maintained his passion for a better Uganda and wanted to share with us what he thought needed to be done.  We agreed with him on several points. 

An important problem in Uganda, and other developing countries, is their desire to leap frog into the modern world.  In pursuing this goal they sometimes overlook the short term needs of their people.  This man was deeply concerned that his people did not get the education they needed.  He talked about the new technical colleges, designed to give Uganda a new generation of higher educated people.  The problem was that there weren't enough jobs to absorb these people and, at the same time, the more basic forms of education were being neglected.  His people needed to learn about agriculture and industries that were consistent with Uganda's economic place in the world and he was right.  He offered us some copies of his articles for our own reference and then returned his Kampala Bus Stationsmaller plastic bag to his big sack, said 'good-bye', and moved on his way.  While we were talking to the man a teenage boy approached us from behind and asked if we were being bothered, eyeing the old man suspiciously.  He was probably considered one of Kampala's more eccentric characters but we ensured the boy that we were fine.  Eccentric or not this old man was genuine and kind.  In my wildest imagination I couldn't understand what he had lived through and his perseverance was admirable. 

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We finally decided to give up on the Indian visa and head to Rwanda.  It could be difficult to get a permit for the gorillas and we didn't want our Indian visa to ruin our opportunity.  The man at the embassy told us he would keep trying to get the approval and if we returned to Kampala we might be able to get our visas then.  We bought tickets to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, from the Ugandan owned bus line, Horizon.  We saw their buses on the ride in from Nairobi and they looked considerably better than the Akamba bus we were riding.  As the woman at the counter was filling out our tickets she asked "What tribe are you from?" and then caught herself and said "What country?".   It was an interesting slip.  No matter how similar people appear in color, size and shape there is always a way to distinguish between them.  Ugandans just looked like Ugandans to me, a bit different from neighboring Kenyans or Tanzanians, but inside Uganda they were subcategorized by tribe.  I should have just said Irish-English-American Muzungu.    

ZANZIBAR Stone Town July 11 July 12-14 Nungwi July 15-18 Stone Town I: July 19-23 II: July 19-23 Paje July 23-27 Stone Town July 27-Aug 1

TANZANIA Dar Es Salaam Aug 1-3 Moshi I: Aug 3-31 II: Aug 3-31 III: Aug 3-31 Safari Circuit Aug 17 Aug 18 Aug 19 Aug 20 Aug 21 Mt. Kilimanjaro Aug 23 Aug 24 Aug 25 Aug 26 Aug 27 Aug 28

KENYA Nairobi Sept 1 Sept 2 Sept 3 Sept 4-5

UGANDA Kampala Sept 6 Sept 7-16 Kampala Short Stories

RWANDA Kigali Sept 16 Sept 17 Ruhengeri Sept 18 Sept 19 Gisenyi Sept 20 Kigali Sept 21 Sept 22

UGANDA Kampala Sept 23 Sept 24-26