Ossibye otyanno bassebo ne banyabbo (Good afternoon Gentlemen and Ladies),
Today we have class at Makerere University (the main university in Kampala), and THEY HAVE [FREE] WIRELESS INTERNET! This is highly exciting. Conveniently I had written a blog post at home earlier and now I am able to post it without missing the lecture. The blogs aren’t keeping up with my life anymore, since there are interesting things to tell after each passing day, but such is life, eh?
So as I mentioned, I am now living with my homestay family and attending classes. I guess you could say I am getting into the swing of Ugandan life. It’s still going well, but is fairly exhausting. My alarm goes off every morning at 6:00 (and this is usually after the rooster outside my window has been crowing for about an hour, but I’m getting better at sleeping through that. Yes, my host family keeps chickens. I guess they are a cheap source of eggs, because a lot of the families here do that. I also suspect there may be fewer chickens in the yard as time goes on…). Anyway, so I wake up at 6 and walk to the taxi stop with my aunt. We ride downtown together, and then I transfer to another taxi and take that to the SIT headquarters (where we have class). I usually arrive at school between 8 and 9, depending on traffic, and our school day ends between 4 and 6, depending on the day. Then I take 2 taxis again and arrive home between 7 and 8. I shower, eat dinner/visit with my host family a little, then go to bed. I think this is a fairly typical schedule for a Kampala resident.
I have a lot of respect for the Ugandan people who do this every day, every week, every month, for years. And then I am really curious to see what life is like in the more rural areas, because city life is supposed to be “easier,” and I would not characterize it as easy. The problem is that Kampala has a massive infrastructure problem. There are too few roads that are too narrow to accommodate the number of vehicles that drive on them. They also are covered with the biggest potholes I have ever seen (one of my teachers told us that sometimes people will plant trees in the potholes as a way of making fun of the government!), and in some instances, there are just sections of road missing, which obviously slows things down. I have yet to experience a drive in which we do not hit at least one bumper-to-bumper traffic jam. Sometimes the traffic does not move at all for 40 minutes. Because of the traffic, nearly everyone in Kampala has a commute of 1-2 hours each way to work or school. Though I can’t tell how far my house is from school, I suspect that it would only take about 30 minutes to drive there with no traffic. But I still have to leave 2 hours before class starts to arrive on time. It’s a little ridiculous. At times I just want to laugh out loud about how absurd the transportation system is, but you all won’t be able to fully appreciate the absurdity until I tell you about the taxis.
Now when I first heard that taxis were the most common form of transportation here, I thought that was pretty strange, and possibly untrue. But it is indeed true. It’s just that taxis are quite different here than the taxis in the U.S.. They seem to me like sort of a combination of busses and cabs. They are blue and white vans that can seat up to 14 people, plus the driver and the conductor, but sometimes they cram up to 16 or 17 people in. Certain taxis go to certain places, but they stop to drop people off/pick people up as they go.
There are some designated taxi stops, called “stages,” but you can get on or off a taxi anywhere (if there isn’t a shoulder in which to pull over, the driver will pull up onto the curb or grass). Before you get on the taxi, you have to ask the conductor if it is going where you need to go, and how much it will cost (to avoid getting a mzungu price later). Then you are sort of at the mercy of the conductor/driver. Sometimes they say they are going where you need to go and they actually aren’t, and sometimes they decide that the taxi is stopping a few blocks from where they said it was going. So that’s always interesting, haha.
Then there are two “taxi parks,” where hundreds of taxis are parked at any time. They are divided by the destinations of the taxis; and you have to weave between all the taxis, crowds of people, and hawkers who are selling everything from belts to cell phone minutes to candy to find the right taxi. The trick is to find a taxi that is almost full (11 or 12 people in it already) so you don’t have to sit in the hot taxi while it fills up. Also desirable is a seat by the window, so you have control over opening it and getting a breeze flowing through the taxi while you’re driving. A taxi ride costs between 500 and 1000 shillings, which equates to about $.25-$.50. It’s a very reasonable price, but as perhaps you can tell, it’s also not the most pleasant experience.
That said, I don’t mind them that much. It’s an interesting cultural experience, and it is seriously amusing sometimes. I could write a lot more about taxis, but I’m running out of computer battery, and the power is out at the university, so I can’t charge it (I’m getting used to power outages now, because they happen fairly frequently).
Hope all is well in the States! ~CMK