On Motherhood & Sanity

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

In Kampala. Reporting on indie movies and places to hide dead bodies

My first day in Kampala was mostly boring and I was tired. You go over the basics of the project, some of the problems, the tools. My local counterpart arrived late and the field officer generally looked like we were wasting her time and cramping her style.

We stopped for lunch and I was able to go through stuff at the local supermarket, which I love doing. A will be my guide and reference throughout this trip. She is not much older than me and beautiful, although you can tell from her face and voice that she smokes way too much. This place seems like a nice place to live. Her boys go to an international school that has 40% Ugandans and another 20% east Africans. The office and my hotel are located outside the city center, high on hill which overlooks the city and the Lake. It is very residential with large houses (referred to as compounds) and run down roads with holes you could hide a dead body in. There are things I am jealous of (fruit trees in the backyard anyone?) and others that make me really grateful that I am now based in Europe.

My hotel looks like its been taken out of an indie movie where someone gets killed towards the end. It’s a run down and very sixties labyrinth. It feels abandoned. There is no wireless and (this is rather shocking) my room does not have a plug, (not one), a detail which not even an indie director could have come up with. There’s a pool that I will never try, both for lack of time and fear, and a shirtless guy that insists on keeping his door open and greeting me every time I pass by his room.

The next morning we got straight in the car and took the road heading north, which is the main artery that connects the port of Mombasa in Kenya to Sudan. On the road we crossed the river Nile in its full glory. It’s rainy season. The river was gorgeous, full, fast and angry, but we were not allowed to photograph it, something to do with back in the days when the conflict was in full force and this was a key strategic point. Now a days there is really no ongoing conflict, and if Joseph Cony wanted to cross the river, he could easily find it’s location on the internet or the Lonely Planet guide, so not really sure what that was all about. There were some baboons further up, a small reminder that I am in Africa, the ultimate nature reserve. The river was also the border of the conflict. It never crossed south from there, which makes me wonder why all the northeners did not just cross it and get the whole thing over with, (of course, it's never that simple.)

In the car it was me, A, the too-cool-for-my-shoes officer, (who I’m warming up to), C my national counterpart, (who entertains us all with stories of Ugandan customs and culture) and another musungo visiting from headquarters. The roads were much better than I would have expected. Definitely better than the Nairobi - Mombassa part of the road which I have had the misfortune of experiencing first hand, and which I am sure is the inspiration for most speed and dodge video games.

The landscape kept reminding me more of Cambodia than of Kenya. But what shocked me most was my lack of enthusiasm. Usually when I travel I am like a puppy, sticking my head and tongue (in my case camera) out of the window, eager to smell and see everything. I felt so jaded, nothing surprised me, nothing excited me. In hind sight, it was different things that caught my attention. Like the young boys and girls, some probably no more than four years old, walking home from school, some times in groups, but some times all alone on these long empty roads. It made me think how I would feel sending Mila off to school or to fetch water for a one hour walk on her own. I also saw many people filling up lines of water bottles at water pumps (imagine the arms by the end of the day!) I guess really I was surprised and focused on different things then when I lived here before.

We did a couple of pitt stops. The first was to eat on a small restaurant frequented by truck drivers and aid workers. I had a rollex (chapatti with egg omelet rolled up) and a coke. The second stop was to have a meeting with the country director. She was on her way back to Kampala as we made our way north, so they coordinated and stopped at a small town in the middle. We pulled our pens and papers out and held a meeting by the side of the road (we considered of doing it under a tree… in a very African way indeed). It was rather surreal.

Our last stop was to exchange cars, what they call a kiss. The musungo took a car to Gulu, we took a smaller car to Lira, and our lovely van drove home. During this stop I got to see a girl not much older than Mila carrying her younger brother on her back. These things that I have seen so many times before, now that I have a reference of my own do strike me. Another mother came to sell us limes with her own child on her back. I tried to make the baby smile but she looked rather limp. It made me sad.

Overall it took us seven hours to get to our new home.

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