Monday, November 29, 2010

The other side of Kampala

Looking back at all of the picturesque scenes I’ve posted about, I’m realizing that I am keeping from you the other side of Kampala; the city center. I mentioned how Entebbe was different because you can breathe there. I don’t have pictures of downtown Kampala because it’s not very safe to be waving around an expensive electronic in most areas, but I’d still like to elaborate.
The first week here was my week of orientation. It was this week that I was very well ‘oriented’ to the smog-filled, pest-ridden, death-smelling experience that I have unfortunately come to associate with the city center in Kampala.
Traffic: People don’t stay on their side of the road, and there is constant passing between pedestrians, bicycles, boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis), cars, taxi vans and buses. All sharing the same unpaved road. There are no lanes painted, much less stop lights. Horns are the soundtrack to the city’s two taxi parks, which our guide distinguishes as “the two most chaotic taxi parks in Africa.” The roads are so bumpy from the potholes I have nearly hit the ceiling in vans multiple times, using all of the foot or so clearance between my head and the naked metal roof. Navigation is also a nightmare, since there is no actual route for any of the taxis or buses, and the road signs are all covered with advertisements, mostly for political candidates for the upcoming presidential election. The most common perpetrator of this guiltless, overbearing self-endorsement is by the current president, Musseveni, who many say will find his way to power whether fair democratic elections allow it, or not.
Sanitation: There is none. People (of both genders) pee on the side of the road. This is socially acceptable here because if you aren’t at home there is just literally no place else to go. So, this is what the pot holes fill with. The roads, sidewalks, even insides of stores are covered in garbage. There is no collection for waste here. People burn their trash in piles on the grass in front of their homes. When it rains, and it rains often, the entire city is a mud pit. All of this happens around and within the city’s many outdoor markets. Shavings from vegetables fall into the isles of the average Ugandan’s outdoor grocery, and continues to flow down with the accompanying brown mystery fluids. Flies are everywhere. This part really is just like the ‘save the children’ commercials.
Like I said, people usually call Mzungu or something like that but they are relatively friendly. There are a lot of bums, but overall I don’t feel any more harassed than I do walking downtown in Cincinnati.
There's really no way to describe it without photos, or a video, or something. But this is one part of Uganda I will not miss. The funny part is, to get basically anywhere that’s a driving distance, you have to go into the taxi park first. Like I said there are no routes. Busses go more according to villages. They go between the villages and the city center, and the means to getting to and around those villages is always different. It’s not ideal for planners or people who like to be in control of… anything. But for them, it works. And I’m slowly but surely getting a little more comfortable with the way things work for them here.


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