Kampala, chapter one

Posted: July 19, 2007 in Blog

“Elias!”

It was all I could think to shout when I was greeted outside the Entebbe airport in Uganda by a crowd of taxi drivers and others there to pick up passengers on my flight. Elias was the name of the man who had very kindly agreed to meet me at the airport. I heard my name shouted from somewhere in the crowd just before a hand shot through the bodies, grabbed mine and pulled me in, where I was greeted by Elias’s wide smile and introductions to his two friends who had come as well.

¬†When Elias had said he would meet me, my plane was scheduled to arrive at 8:15 p.m. local time. But delays in Amsterdam meant that the plane didn’t touch down in Entebbe until about 1:30 a.m., and it was 2:30 a.m. by the time I got through customs and tracked down my backpack. But despite so many delays, they still had a smile when I arrived and it was a wonderful welcome to this country and this city.

We chatted during the 40-ish minute drive into Kampala. My eyes were like dinner plates as I took in all the sights, or at least those I could see in the darkness.

¬†I arrived at the hostel here just before 3:30 a.m. and laid in my bunk for an hour or so before I could get to sleep. But I was up at 7 in the morning for a full day yesterday of wandering around the downtown markets, buying things like¬†a¬†musquito net, power adapter and air time for my mobile. Then it was off to meet someone about a place to live. The cottage, on the university campus, looks like it’ll work out great, and at $200 a month, who can complain? I’ll move in sometime in th enext week or so.

¬†I’m still getting used to the currency, though. While on campus I popped into a bar for a drink. Upon ordering a beer, the woman said “That’ll be one-seventy-five.” Me, not thinking, pulled out a 500 shilling coin and gave it to her. She held it, and looked up at me like I should be wearing a hockey helmet for my own protection.

Because the currency works on such a grand scale (1,650 shillings is equal to about $1 U.S.), the thousands often get knocked off. So “one-seventy-five” really meant “one thousand, one hundred and seventy-five.” Whoops. I walked away laughing about it. 1,175 shillings is still only about 60 cents. The trip to the university, on the far other side of the city from the hostel, cost 900 shillings, which included a bewildering, but fascinating, wander of the downtown taxi park where hundreds of taxi vans, and thousands of people, converge in one chaotic mass that somehow works.

I laid down about 9:30 last night to read, and made through probably one paragraph (granted, it was a long pargraph) before I fell asleep, to wake up 12 hours later finally feeling rested after so much chaos getting ready for this trip and the travel that brought me here. 

¬†Today I walked for hours through the streets. I was generally aimless but I hoped to find where I’ll be working, the Daily Monitor. Low and behold, I eventually found it, so that’s another thing off my to-do list.

The landscape here is fascinating. Red clay everywhere, palm trees and other trees as far as the eye can see, and monkeys! I saw my first monkeys yesterday. The people are wonderful, and the streets are a dichotomy. Beautiful buildings next door to slums. Men in suits walking by open sewers. Today I walked past a dump. At its entrance, a man in a suit was having his shoes polished while a sign next to him pointed to a children’s nursery perched on a hill overlooking the vast dump.

But this is a wonderful place, and I’m excited knowing that I have seven full months to explore it.

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