A Ugandan story-Pt 1

The Arrival

A group of strangers, all red-eyed and jet lagged and somewhat disoriented from 36 hrs of travel, gather their bags in Entebbe Airport. The line at the customs booth is only about 5–6 people deep. This shouldn’t take long. The air is heavy and not moving. We’re all glad to finally be at our final destination. It’s always fun to watch a group of strangers begin a journey together. Either there’s good energy or it’s a struggle to gel. I love to watch the psychological and emotional dance.

But this group is quickly locking in. There’s a kind acceptance exuded by most.

My line at customs isn’t moving. For each person that passes through the seemingly more detail oriented agent I have, 2–3 pass in the lines next to me. Grocery stores or customs, I always find myself in the longest lines it seems. I chuckle. About 45 mins pass before I finally make it through. The whole group is waiting for me at the bag scanner. A clap goes up and I bow.

It’s a group of mostly musicians and photographers who are there to teach the kids all forms of writing, playing and production so we are equipment heavy. As our bags clear the very porous security area, hosted by nonchalant agents, we are waived to the side by a lady with clipboard in hand. She moves like the boss. There’s an air of confidence as her eyes ignore yours and move over the baggage. But we know the process is fluid here. There’s no real standard; just a case by case basis. A huge group of Americans probably looks like fish in a barrel for some tax revenue!

Brad, trip leader

Brad is the group leader. He’s been her many times before. He’s a tall guy from NY with a big smile and gentle demeanor. He switches mode into master negotiator as boss lady seems to be communicating that pretty much everything we have will be taxed. I can see him explaining and explaining, pointing this way and that. “Oh no! Nope! Nooooo-That’s a personal camera. You can’t put that on the list!” The custom’s lady seemed unmoved by his explanation or plea. I leaned up against her office door, trying to listen in on the details as they pulled out books, started phone calls and exchanged pleasantries that were more strategic than authentically cordial.

The negotiations at customs

The group stood or sat on any open chair as they waited. The smell of sweat and dirt hung in the hallway. About 20 Ugandan men filled the other side. They were busy wrapping, taping and grabbing bags. Either they knew something we didn’t or they had goods of little value. She didn’t seem to mind their activity much at all. This process was going to take awhile but the group was happy to grab water and wait. Brad’s jittery leg under the table and furrowed brow sent a clear message that we didn’t need to question nor add to the tense situation.

After what felt like over an hour, the agent decided to let us leave some stuff in a locked room and it would be resolved by the next day. Oddly, this strategy yields a better result in how much you pay in duties here. Our hosts in country told us to do this. So we did.

My guy, Phillip

The sun was shining bright as we dragged 50 bags over the roughly paved road. A young man named Phillip, smile as wide as he was tall, greeted us. His joy was palpable as we walked up to the van that would take us to our final destination. This guy knew no stranger! That was immediately apparent. It was as if he injected each one of us with an energy shot the moment we stepped into the bus. “Hello, my guy!” he said as we fist bumped. Instant camaraderie and friendship. If this was going to be our local connect while here, I’m down!

The luggage was piled in no certain order through windows into another van and off we went. Almost immediately our van died. It was a quick reminder that things probably won’t go as planned this whole trip. I smiled. The bodies made the heat rise in the bus cab. You could see people nervously look at each other and loose an unsure laugh. It started and drove about 20 feet but then died again. The driver asked if we could drive with the windows open as the van didn’t seem to want to drive with the AC on. In unison we said that’d be fine! The destination was the goal not our comfort in getting there. The bus immediately fired up and off we went down the clay stained streets.

Darkness closed in as we made our way out of the city of Kampala towards Suubi and the children’s village. Traffic was heavy with a sea of small motorcycles. It was quickly obvious that there were no rules. These boda boba’s, as they call them, ran the streets here. Every sign and traffic signal was a suggestion that no one cared to abide by. It felt as if we were a snail in the middle of an ant hill. We moved slowly as they brushed the side, front and back of our bus. It was a combination of shock and awe as we admired the spectacle. The precision and anticipation in their driving was quite impressive especially since no rules applied. We were all transfixed as the river of people moved.

Boda bodas filled the streets by the thousands

A young, blonde, witty guy from CA, Luke, was sitting next to me in the very back row. Tattoos ran up his leg. A rough beard and wry smile covered his face. About 16 hours earlier, we had met in the airport in Dubai. He had a healthy dose of I-don’t-give-a-crap attitude. I liked it and I told him as much. I had mentioned to Brad months before when he invited me, that I wasn’t sure I’d fit in with the group but this guy made me feel like I’d have at least one buddy if all else failed. As we bumped along in the bus and swapped conversation and story, a hand darted in the window and grabbed his arm! His startled shout pierced the darkness of the van as he jumped from his seat. One of the boda boda drivers was just proving that not only could they drive circles around you but they could grab you too as they did it. We all had a good laugh as CA boy settled back in his seat.

That’s Luke!

Our travel had me heavy on water consumption. No one wants dehydration on a 48 hr trip. But the hour trip to Suubi from the airport had now turned into 2 hours. My bladder had told me as much but there ain’t no Wawa to stop along the way here. I willed my kidneys to stop processing as I had no idea how long I could hold it. The grit of dusty rode coated my teeth as we continued.

It was 8 pm here but the streets were still abuzz with people. Shack after shack, lined up selling goods. These were “stores” but really just people looking to make enough for tomorrow. The structures were constructed of everything and nothing. Trash burned causing me to cough repeatedly. It was overwhelming to the senses.

I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. But Kansas is boring so LET’S GOOOOO!

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I create space and experience…. and write a bit.

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