Sunday, July 8, 2007

Getting Around Kampala

Jambo! olyotya. (how are you in swahili and bugandan - as a friend mentioned to me before arriving here, there is no simple hello. It's always how are you - so if you ever say hi, the response is "fine. how are you?")

It's been a week in Kampala and so far, it's been a great experience. Every day has been different full of good things. when I first arrived at the backpacker's hostel in southwest Kampala, I was happily surprised to find a kooky building surrounded by a tree-filled oasis. Turns out the compound was once the Prime Minister's grounds. An Aussie ex-military guy with tons of personality bought the place, helped some Rwandan refugees across the border and opened a hostel. The facilities are good here and the place is always buzzing with new faces, non-profit groups at work and travellers from overseas; a great place to network between orgs and to share ideas.

i'm staying in the "round banda", a tarp and grass covered building. It's dark and damp most of the time, but otherwise, it's spacious and well suited to our needs.

My first day in Kampala city centre included a quick trip to the Old Taxi Park, a bustling chaotic pit full of people selling goods, "boda bodas" or mopeds for hire, and shared taxi vans. It's quite ingenious; post a sign to indicate the destination. wait till the 18 seater fills up, everyone pays a standard fare (or "muzungu" fare - the white/European fare sometimes) and you carpool. Without these, the city would be in gridlock, as it is already busy enough, full of traffic enough and polluted enough. The people are friendly and helpful, always eager to sell their goods but not pushy. (Funny to come from India where bargaining involves much give and take to Uganda, where a low offer is often met with a blank stare rather than a middle ground offer.)

The downtown core is a mix of old low rise concrete buildings and shiny tall towers for hotels and banks. There's lots of construction going on and it feels like the city is headed somewhere. For myself, I'd like to know where but that kind of understanding will have to wait. There are people everywhere and at all hours. Lots of street vendors who lay their wares out on the streets or on the dirt by the sides of sidewalks. I know of 1 streetlight, a new one, in Kampala. i've been told and people are still getting accustomed to using it so crossing the street can be like walking a maze here.

Of course in the city centre, it being the capital, one can find the Parliament, where I went today. It is in session tuesdays to thursdays so when I arrived there today (on a Saturday), I was asked "what are you doing here?" When i responded that I was hoping to tour the building and look around, I was met with a very puzzled face. perhaps it's not a traditional tourist thing to do to see the parliament here? I don't know. Lonely planet did not recommend this one. (the other question I was asked was "are you carrying any weapons?" when I responded no, I was allowed to pass without a bag check... hmm...)

So that's my intro and your intro to this busy city.


No comments: