East Africa Day 18 – Uganda (Jinja)

Woke early after just 2 hours sleep and went to my hotel to check out.  Went for lunch with Maria, Indian food, poorly done.  Got a bus to Jinja, a buzzing town on the shores of Lake Victoria.  Needed to escape the madness of Kampala.  Arrived, had a look at Bellevue Hotel, the ‘pick of the litter’ in the budget category, according to the Lonely Planet.  Crock of shit, as expected.  Hopped on the back of a boda-boda (motorbike taxi) and went to the side of Lake Victoria instead, to Triangle Hotel, which afforded beautiful views of the lake from all its rooms.  Very impressed.  72,000 UGSh a night.  I can handle that!  As usual, the motorbike taxi guy insisted I take his number and give him a call if I wanted to go into town.  They all try and do this, to ‘own’ you whilst you’re in town, hoping to be your exclusive driver and regular source of income for a few days.  Nothing wrong with that.

Had a beer on the balcony bar overlooking the huge lake, then took a 1-hour boat ride to the source of the Nile river, very picturesque.  The walk to the boat was through a lovely little village of simple huts, milling with kids giving each other piggy backs and playing in the water next to families bathing themselves.  The ride was a lovely way to spend an hour.  Just me in a canoe with the boatman and his friend, who was

pointing out flocks of crows in the trees, and white stalks.  I saw the exact point the river begins, and noticed the sudden swift current replacing the placidness of the lake.  So it’s here the Nile, the second longest river in the world, begins its journey towards the Mediterranean through a sizeable slice of East and North Africa.

I got back to the bank of the lake and walked back through the village and to the hotel, passing through the bustling clay coloured village with its little wooden shacks, past women carrying tubs of fresh water, past a soldier with a machine gun slung over his back.  I had another beer on the balcony, a bottle of Club, and got talking to a group of Ugandans, 2 girls and a guy.  After I’d paid for all their beers, they took me out to a club called Babez on Main Street.  A grotty place, very local, with thumping afrobeat and rnb, and wire mesh around the small outside area at the entrance to stop the street urchins coming in.  The poor mites. They stood watching the well-heeled Jinja crowd drinking and dancing, pushing their skinny arms through openings in the wire mesh, asking for food or water.  Not for the first time in Africa, I didn’t feel comfortable at the sudden visible divide between rich and poor.  I was tired from my day of travel and adventure, and when you’re tired things always seem worse than they are.  I found Babez on Main Street hostile and dangerous – which of course it isn’t.  At one stage I went outside and a girl started grinding herself against me, in the manner of African girls, who like to let their asses to the talking.  “Do you know who I am?”  She eventually said, suggestively.  “Sorry, no” “I work at your hotel, Triangle Hotel.”  It was Susie, the cleaner from the hotel.  She then scrawled down her number on a serviette.  One of the girls I was with at the start, Eve, a big girl, saw this, came up to me, and demanded the piece of paper.  I gave it up meekly, and she scrutinized it for a while before slowly, for dramatic effect, ripping it up into 100 pieces.  I apologized to Susie.  Eve, who had made her intentions quite clear, ordered a ‘special hire’ taxi (basically an unlicensed, unmetered taxi, but surprisingly popular and safe with locals and expats alike) and said we were going to her place for a drink.  I was exhausted, but went along with it.  I wished I hadn’t.

Outside her house, in a quiet street and through a dark gate, I thought it looked spacious and nice – I didn’t realize that common practice in these houses is to divide them up into several ‘mini-houses’, one of which Eve rented.  It looked like a junkies den, telephone numbers scrawled on the walls, a filthy pit toilet that smelled, vodka bottles and beer caps strewn liberally on the floor, dirty plates, pots and pans piled high in the ‘kitchen’, a filthy bed and huge black ants all over the floor, the walls, the bed, the sofa…..the place was a nightmare.  I’d paid a lot of money to stay in a nice hotel, now I was in this shithole.  I’m all for adventure and cultural experiences, but there’s culture and there’s culture.  This is the kind of culture a foreigner in England would get if they visited an alcoholics council flat in a rough area of Huddersfield.  Not exactly what they ‘d imagine from England.  I wanted to leave immediately, but Eve wasn’t letting me.  She locked the door, snapped shut the padlock, and tried to hide the keys.  Her eyes were wide and she looked more than a little crazy.  “Don’t go.  Don’t go.  Don’t go.”  She repeated as I unlocked the door and walked slowly so as not to appear scared into the dark night.  But I was in the suburbs of Jinja, in the middle of Uganda, and no vehicles were passing by.  I was trapped, and it wasn’t a good idea to go traipsing around in the dark.  I went back to the house and asked Eve to call a taxi.  She did, but the guy said he’s be 20 minutes.  Maybe she didn’t tell him to come, as she was speaking in Luganda.  30 minutes went by.  45.  He never showed up.  Her phone now had no credit so I couldn’t try and phone a taxi.  My phone had no credit.  I couldn’t walk the streets alone.  I would have to stay here in this horrible little place until first light.  Eve passed out drunk, oblivious to the ants crawling over her,  so I went to the living room, which had less of an ant problem and somehow I fell asleep, a troubled sleep.  I woke at 6:30am and let myself out quietly.  Kids in green and blue uniforms were on their way to school.  The place didn’t seem bad at all in daylight, and the area was nice too.  Still, it was an unfortunate experience.  I hopped on the back of a boda-boda and went back to Triangle.  I got back at 7:30am. The hotel staff looked worried.  Perhaps they’d thought something bad had happened to me. What a disaster.  I felt sorry for Eve, living in such conditions, but she could have put in more effort with the cleaning.  I’d had a bad experience, but lived to tell the tale this time.  I had breakfast, before going to bed.

Author: Neil

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