(first part by Karen, second part by Dennis)
02.06.2019 - 02.09.2019 86 °F
(written by Karen)
Before our bus departed on the 10-hour trip from Kigali to Kampala, Uganda, a man asked for everyone's attention and delivered a prayer. It must've worked because we made it there and back safely, unlike some unfortunate people who traveled on the same route a week later.
Our bus ride was mostly peaceful. We each took a window seat, opened the windows all the way, leaned our chairs back, and enjoyed the beautiful views. Dennis likes to stick his head completely out of the window. He says he experiences life more fully that way.
You know you are always going to get an eventful experience when you take public transportation. Like when the bus stops and several people hop on and try to sell you brochettes (kebabs) or milk or irons or sugarcane ... whatever. Or when children come and sit next to you, cramming three into two seats.
It was a short drive to the border, where we crossed with ease now that we have Rwanda resident ID cards and East African visas, which let us move through Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya for free.
The bus even had entertainment. During the Rwanda part of the drive, it was all religious music videos. Once we passed into Uganda, it switched to girls-shakin-their-booties music videos.
We went to Uganda because I was invited to run a solutions journalism workshop for the Media Challenge Initiative, a non-profit working "to build the next generation of journalists in Africa." The program is so cool that President Obama even recognized it.
The organization kindly put us up in a hotel, which was incredibly kind and we were grateful. But understandably, they couldn't afford the Radisson.
We checked in at night and found our hotel room to be probably 90 degrees. No AC. We turned on the fan and opened the balcony door to let in cooler air. When it came time to go to sleep, we went to close the balcony door and realized it wouldn't lock. I called the front desk. "It doesn't lock. None of them do. Don't worry. It's safe," the woman told us. Huh. All the Uber drivers roll up the car windows when they drive around here because people will reach in and steal things, but if you say so!
The next morning we were woken up by the phone ringing. I answered. "Breakfast is ready." They had told us the complimentary breakfast was served between 7:30 and 10 a.m. It was just after 8 a.m.
"OK, but we can go anytime before 10 a.m., right?"
"Yes, anytime before 10 a.m."
About two minutes later, the phone rang again. This time it was a different person.
"Breakfast is ready!"
"Yes, I know. Someone just called us. But we can go anytime before 10 a.m., right?"
"Yes, anytime before 10 a.m."
I guess they really wanted us to eat breakfast at that time. We've should have obliged because when we went down to eat an hour later, the dining area was empty and the few scraps of food leftover were cold.
Funny things — miscommunications? — like this happen on the regular in East Africa. A lot of them happened at this hotel.
After breakfast, I set out to shower, but I couldn't get the water to turn on. Again, I called the front desk.
"Hello. I'm having trouble getting the water to work in our shower."
... Ummm, what does that mean? Is someone going to come up to the room to help? A minute later the phone rang and the person on the other end told me how to get the water working. No hot water, but since our room was hot the cold water didn't feel so bad.
The hotel wasn't luxurious, but the conference was top notch. Before my presentation, we listened to a speaker talk about her experiences reporting the Rwandan genocide. She talked about the difficulty in verifying information during such a chaotic time. She mentioned the technological challenges — she typed her stories on a typewriter and ran around trying to find fax machines to send them to her editors. She talked about the lasting impact that experience had on the journalists who covered it, including herself. She said she returned to Rwanda years later and was scheduled to stay at the Hotel des Mille Collines (the hotel featured in the movie Hotel Rwanda), but she stepped inside and immediately had to turn around and leave.
In the afternoon, I taught the students about solutions journalism — rigorous reporting on how people are responding to social problems. The students were engaged and asked smart questions. At the end, one student said she thought this approach was the only way forward for her country.
We stayed one extra day, mostly so Dennis could see Kampala (I had been there last year for a research project).
(The following written by Dennis)
I had wanted to see Kampala ever since I saw the film "The Last King of Scotland" about 10 years ago and ever since Karen went there in June last summer for her work. Kampala always sounded so wild and exciting. Based on the films and on Karen's stories, I imagined a vibrant African city, full of roadside stalls selling Rolexes (burrito-like wraps), smog pumping out of cars, and strong and proud citizens. This ended up being pretty accurate. I thought it was going to be a bit crazier, but it was fun.
When you google "best things to do in Kampala," the list of items really isn't all that appealing. Karen spoke with someone at her conference on the day prior about things to do, so we came up with the following plan: start at Ggaba Beach on Lake Victoria, then head back into town and see the Kampala Old Taxi Park, then hike to the top of the Uganda National Mosque (formerly known as Gadaffi Mosque as the dictator Idi Amin was on good terms with Muammar Gadaffi) and catch a good birds-eye view of Kampala. Well...most of these were a bust.
Ggaba Beach / KK Beach is about a one-hour drive from Kampala. It's fine. The food is average to below average, the view is pretty decent, the cabanas were reasonably comfortable.
We got a taxi ride from Ggaba Beach to the Old Taxi Park, which was absolute hell. It was around 85 degrees that day and there were basically no windows in the taxi and there was no AC. It felt like 120 degrees in there. I felt cold stepping out into 85-degree weather. And the taxi park was just a circle of dirt in the middle of Kampala full of old small white buses.
And finally, as we cooled down with some milkshakes (wish I had pics of those beauties!), we realized that I could not go into the mosque as I was wearing shorts. Bummer. Oh well, let's go home and prep for the dinner and dance show at Ndere Cultural Center! ...featuring the Ndere Troupe, which was without a doubt the highlight of the day. When I listen to modern East African music and compare it to this music, I kinda wish musicians were sticking to their roots here.
The bus ride the following day was miserable. It was hot and they didn't want us to open the windows, but the AC didn't work well enough to keep the bus cool. And we took a different bus line, and the seats were smaller. But again, at least we made it home safely!
While it may sound like many aspects of the trip were a bit of a letdown, on the whole I am thrilled I was able to have the experience. I got to meet Kampala and shake the hand of that dusty, pumping, sweltering town.