If anyone were to describe Kampala as a “sleepy city” it would be easy to misunderstand what they meant. What they are really saying is that this city has insomnia so of course its inhabitants are sleepy. During the day the capital of Uganda is seriously busy—totally abuzz with the activities necessary to create the feeling one is a member of a hive. The traffic: horrendous. The infrastructure: atrocious. The environment: totally polluted. The people: the warmest and friendliest you’ll find anywhere. The poverty: some of the worst I’ve seen. But it is at night that city experiences a new and different energy. The vibe is “we got through this day…let’s party!” Let’s party until late.
We arrived at the airport during the evening rush hour with a fairly long drive to the city center and it seemed to take forever. Upon arrival at the hotel I got my first taste of the “security measures” that exist everywhere. We were stopped by uniformed guards some distance from the hotel entrance, and commanded to exit the vehicle while it was searched. While that was happening we had to go through airport-type security ourselves (belt off, empty pockets, step through the metal detector, set it off, body wand…you know the drill). We then piled back into the car for the last few feet of the drive. Once we reached the lobby entrance once again we had to go through the airport security farce. Incredible, and in my opinion, totally useless. Even I, just a mediocre terrorist really, was able to come up with several ways to totally circumvent this process.
While we were in Kampala two nights, in reality we only had one full day to explore as we had an ungodly early flight out the following day. (Speaking of goofy airport arrival and departure times; this part of the world can be the goofiest). To make the most of the short amount of time we had to explore this vibrant and bustling place, we arranged ahead of time of be met by a guide to lead us on a walking tour of the central part of the city. This turned out to be a great way to tackle this difficult city.
Zulaika, a pretty, cosmopolitan, energetic, and educated young woman met us promptly at the hotel at the arranged time. I felt confident she was not carrying a gun as she would have be subjected to the same security that we were the night before. It turned out to be a great day and I know that we would have never been able to cover as much ground on our own. I do have a confession to make though. The walk is long and difficult for those of us that are not accustomed to the uneven walking surfaces (true sidewalks are rare), the heat, and the navigation through claustrophobia-inducing crowds. We completed the last couple stops of the tour using taxis. Zulaika proved her worth by negotiating prices since it seems that there is one price for locals and a much different one for Joan and me. We would step into the shadows while Zulaika did her thing. It was fun to watch the drivers’ faces when he realized he had been duped. It was fun to finally be on the other side of the duping I’ll have to admit.
The following is a photo blog to give you a visual sense of my day in Kampala. Attach a gas mask to a diesel exhaust and don headphones playing music accompanied by honking horns and hawking peddlers and you can almost have the full experience. I love it! I wasn’t looking for a bucolic village when I came to Kampala. I wasn’t disappointed.