East Africa Day 17 – Uganda (Kampala)

A day out in Kampala!  Went for my customary long stroll.  Up William Street and around Nakasero Hill, the bottom of the valley where I was staying –  chaotic and milling with all kinds of rough and ready types, electronic shops, dirty unkempt malls, and street sellers galore, delivery trucks, pavement stalls.  The top-end is all nice hotels, leafy grounds and nice restaurants.

I walked down Kampala Road, which was heaving with people and buzzing with noise and activity.  I was a sole white face in a sea of African people, and I felt there was real discovery and adventure to be had….I felt like Nicholas from Last King of Scotland must have felt – that buzz of excitement and curiosity.  I went to a small street-side restaurant and ordered a chicken tikka wrap with a coke.  As I was eating and reading, I noticed a filthy hand quickly come into my field of vision and grab my coke.  Thinking that perhaps the waiters here should try to be more hygienic, I looked up to see a homeless woman in rags who hadn’t washed for months, and she looked right at me as she put the coke to her dry lips and downed it in one, before putting it back on the table.  I said nothing, and felt slightly uneasy.  I thought it perhaps not a good idea to eat at roadside.

From here, I took a long walk down and up the hills to where I could see the towering minaret of the Kibuli Mosque on Kibuli Hill.  When I eventually got there, I began to stroll into the grounds, when I heard security shout ‘Oi!  Muzungu!’  Meaning ‘Oi! Foreigner’ (white person).  I find it rather coarse to be called by this, but I guess I did stand out as such!  I walked over.  Seemed I needed a guard to accompany me.  I was led into the huge prayer hall, where 7,000 people can pray.  I find the inside of mosques very peaceful, simple, and striking in their lack of religious imagery.  There is no human form of Allah here.  I daresay I prefer these buildings to churches, which I find pretentious, haunting and sinister.

From here we climbed up the narrow, spirally staircase to the top of the minaret.  The views from the top here over Kampala were superb from all sides.  Here, the layout of the city was visible, its hills, its narrow, snaking roads, crawling with traffic and people, its lack of recreational space, its small shack buildings, and the ugly construction of many taller buildings, indicating change was happening in Kampala.  The biggest building was the soon-to-be-completed Hilton Hotel, surely a signal that Kampala was moving up in the world.

As the man spoke, he opened his hand to show he was holding 2 grasshoppers.  ‘They are fighting’, he smiled.  He had held them close together, close enough so they could attack each other.  One of them had already eaten the eyes of the other, and seemed to be slowly devouring it with its sharp pincers. It was like something from a horror movie.  The manb seemed amused.  ‘This one very strong’ he said, happily.  ‘Soon, many come to Kampala.  We can eat them.’  My stomach churned, and we went back down to the bottom.  I paid him a whopping 20,000 UGSh for his guidance to the top of the minaret and back, then I hopped on a boda-boda (motorbike taxi) to Kasubi tombs, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Here, I saw the traditional houses with huge, thatched roofs, lined with bark cloth.  The site was originally built in 1882 as the palace of Muteera I, and became a tomb after he died.  Around the main shrine and tombs are smaller round thatched-roof houses where families and widows of famous Kabaka lived, and royal family members are buried out the back.  I bought a bark cloth painting direct from the artist, and then hopped back on the bike to the Uganda Museum.  It’s a forlorn place, and of very little interest, though I learnt a little about the brewing process of banana beer.  I went from here to the Independence Monument, behind which was a lovely park, where huge cranes swoop in and strut around menacingly, beaks half-open in permanent jest.  They are the bully-birds of Kampala.  They can’t be killed, their meat is poison, and they are pretty aggressive.  I sat down but before long was joined by a young man who said he was a student.  I left when he began talking about the cost of his school fees…..still, in the middle of the urban chaos, in the middle of this steamy African metropolis, this is a peaceful place.

I walked over to MamaMia pizzeria for the most delicious cappuccino ever.  Refreshed, I walked back to the hotel, got changed, and headed out once again into the night.  This time, I ate at Rock Garden’s restaurant and enjoyed a delicious garlic calamari, and a lovely spaghetti napolitana with a bottle of refreshing Club beer and a glass of house red.  After this, I went to Rock Garden pub, and ordered a brandy on the rocks.  England were playing, and it was nice to watch a game for once, despite the constant attention of bar girls, who are pretty persistent in Africa.  They were all smiles, and very very forward.  England won 3-0.

Author: Neil

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