Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Getting Rolling

Day 1 in Uganda
I wake refreshed and lift the mosquito netting like a bridal veil and crawl down to my suitcase to get things for my cold shower, a baptism to Uganda.

Steve Armitage, explorer
Outside, the air is cool. I see Ally, one of the three teachers on the trip, running the perimeter. She tells me about a guy cooking his breakfast in an open air hut in an open camping area, frying eggs with one hand and working on a Macbook with the other. I can't resist going to meet him.

Steve Armitage was in the midst of his goal of riding his BMW from his home in Devon, England to all continents. He started in the UK in July of 2013 and planned to continue "until his money runs out." I ask him about the most memorable moment on his adventures thus far. He talks about riding through Ghana and people standing on the road offering him fruits for his journey. They had nothing, he recalls, but offered me anything they had to sustain me.

When I return from Uganda, I email Steve the pictures I took and discover that soon after I met him, he had a traffic collision in Zambia and severely fractured his leg. After preliminary treatment, he returned home for surgery where he is recovering. Despite many images of pins and slings around his painful looking leg, Steve is smiling. I imagine he is counting the days until he can get back on the road.
Steve Armitage's African transport

Breakfast at the Hideaway that morning is eggs and French pressed coffee, not as yummy as coffee from home, but I am glad for coffee which many of us feared we might not be able to find. In fact for the remainder of the trip, we have only bitter coffee granules to melt in hot water.

After breakfast, we head out to exchange our money at Nukumatt Oasis, a posh shopping area behind a fenced area protected by armed guards. It's clearly been designed for Western visitors or wealthy locals. We spend a small allowance we've been given on snacks for the road. I follow Tony's lead and get some yogurt and chapatis, flat, thick, flour tortillas.

Charles and our "Coaster"

For the rest of the day, we ride in an overstuffed Toyota Coaster, a large passenger van with a lot of windows. We are beginning to bond with our driver, Charles, who becomes not only our transportation but also something of a father figure. Early in the trip, the girls re-write the lyrics to NONONO's "Pumpin' Blood" to include a refrain with Charles' name as the centerpiece that we sing joyfully many times on the trip.

Kampala is bustling even though it's Sunday. The roadsides are packed with humanity: many roadside markets with potatoes stacked into neat pyramids, piles of green bananas, pineapple, towering bags of charcoal, cassava roots, sinewy meat slung over the edges of wooden stands, live chickens crowded into crates awaiting slaughter. Some pockets of men gather around metal parts and bicycles welding, repairing, and rigging transportation and cook stoves. Goats on ropes munch in tall grasses. Women mend fabrics or sit with children on grass mats. Children play with tires or sticks or walk together in small groups. Caramel colored curs wait expectantly for leftovers around open fires.

Occasionally traffic stops and vendors crowd to the windows of the Coaster to sell us mangoes, sweet sodas, roasted corn, or meat on sticks. The corn is unlike any corn we've tried before. Almost like fresh corn nuts rather than the sweet milky kernals we're used to.
Emily Ip and Ana Kyriakos enjoy some roadside roasted corn

The roads are pot-holed and narrow. We are told not to take pictures, something that is somewhat agonizing as the scene is rich. I try to memorize the images I see.

We feel Africa folding us in.

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