Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The Royal Prince

This is an extract from my African travel blog, where you can read all of my adventures in Uganda.

It’s been a long few days of ups and downs and very strange experiences.

Thursday, D took me for a wonderful, romantic meal at the Ethiopian restaurant. The food was out of this world, and we drank wine by candlelight in a wonderful setting. It was like a miniature traditional hut built for two. We arrived there riding duo on a moto. You can do that here - fit two passengers on elongated motos. Quite romantic.

On Friday, D introduced me to his cousin (technically Steve & E’s younger brother – family associations are complicated here) Benji, who is studying here. He was the only one of his immediate family to remain in Uganda, until E returned. He’s a really lovely kid, about nineteen, and easy to get on with. We went to Ciao Ciao’s, which is an Italian ice-cream parlour down the road from our hotel, and gorged ourselves on wonderful sweet goo.

Then we went to the National Museum, which is where things started to go a bit wrong. The editor of the magazine D’s writing for is in Kampala. D wanted to drop off some articles, but the arrangements were pretty rushed. He left Benji and I to wander around the museum on our own, before coming to hurry us up. I was a bit miffed by that. Then he piled Benji and I into a taxi that his friend was driving, without telling us where we were going, and buggered off into town to find his editor.

We ended up arriving at this huuuuge, very expensive complex: The Speke Resort & Commonwealth Hotel at Munyonyo. It’s massive, and completely luxurious. But I was rather angry because he hadn’t told me anything about where we were going. He just assumed it’s somewhere I’d want to go. If he’d told me there would be a swimming pool, I would have taken my costume. If he’d told me there were horses, I would have worn trousers. As it was, Benji and I just sat there spending a small, unnecessary fortune on lunch at the restaurant. As nice as Benji is, I felt like I was Childminder in Chief for the afternoon.

D had said he’d meet us there. By the time it got to four o’clock I texted him and he replied that he was still doing stuff in town for a while. Benji and I walked down the road to find taxis. After paying his fare home, I asked mine to drop me off at the Wine Garage down the road from our hotel.

I was not in the best of moods. I’d seen this place on the way for ice-cream, and knew it would make everything better. You don’t get much wine in Rwanda. Here, you get wine, whisky, all sorts. I sat myself down with The Kite Runner (fantastic) and ordered a couple of glasses of yummy red wine.

I was completely relaxed, engrossed in my book, the sun had finally set - when Benji turns up.

Errr... hi again? 

D had sent him to chaperone me!! He doesn’t like the thought of me out by myself, so thought I would be much happier putting down my book, and my glass of wine, and waiting patiently for him under the protection of his young cousin.

I was very polite, but also quite direct, and explained to Benji that I was enjoying a little time on my own and that I was sorry D had made him come all that way back to Muyenga again. Benji is a lovely, but very quiet, young man. He understood, no harm done. I was livid with D, though. It took me another glass or two of wine to return to that peaceful calm I had found before. A couple of hours later, D suddenly appeared at the table. He stayed for all of 20 minutes, then had to go and see someone in town. I walked home. I guess you can imagine the storm clouds building lol

He came back with food, but all was not forgiven. I was angry. I had thought that getting out of Kigali would mean I’d actually get to see something of him.

The next day, I’d come to a decision. It’s my holiday. My first one in six months, and my last until September, when Dad comes out. I was perfectly determined to enjoy myself. D went out for his morning two hour stroll, so I packed up my swimming costume and trousers, and headed back to the Speke resort by moto.

I cannot express how gutted I had been to see the horses and not to be able to ride them because I was wearing a skirt. I have missed horses sooooooooo much. The only person who owns horses in Rwanda is a very rich French woman with no intention of opening a public stable. I’d been dreaming about riding ever since seeing them the day before. The smell of horses took me right back to childhood lol

Speke Resort Horses

I rolled up to the gates of the resort. The guards pulled us over and told us to wait. I looked around, a little confused, to see the President of Uganda arrive in a convoy! We’d literally got there two minutes before he did! So, now I’ve seen the presidents of Uganda and Rwanda :)

There was heavy security at the complex. I had to go through two beep machines, with armed security everywhere. The stables were open, though. I booked a horse for two o’clock, then installed myself at the restaurant for food and cold drinks. Which is when my mum called and we had a lovely long chat. Perfect timing.

The horse riding was out of this world. USH 35,000, which is around £10, for an hour’s private hack. The guide was called Bosco, which was easy to remember as it’s our driver’s name at VSO. He rode a dark coffee mare called Prancer, and I had a grey called Candle in the Wind. Such a nice guy to ride out with, but very unlike anywhere else I’ve ridden in my life. It had been a long time since I was last on a horse – not since Wales. The horses were incredibly calm, with gentle temperaments, but also went for it when you asked. You didn’t have to work hard - no encouragement needed.

The weirdest thing were the roads we went on. They were churned-up mud paths, shot through with deep furrows. The first time we broke into canter, I almost crapped myself. I’d never been at speed like that along roads like those - I was convinced we’d break a leg or something, but the horses were so completely sure-footed and didn’t stumble once. As soon as my confidence was up, I relaxed and enjoyed it. I only held off canter when there were people along the road. It didn’t bother Bosco, but I felt a bit nervous about it with young kids running after us to shout ‘mzungu’ (which is something I haven’t experienced so much here, a lot less than Rwanda). We went along the main road a bit. Again, the horses were so relaxed, even though the driving here is completely mental. It was such a wonderful experience. Managed to get a good canter going.

I returned drenched in sweat. It was a very hot day. I got to meet the first horse born in Uganda – Silver Queen. They’re breeding them successfully at the resort now. I just wanted to bundle a few up and take them back to Kigali with me. I miss horses so much.

I thought about the pool, but it was expensive (about £5) so I started walking around the complex to the exit. I was going to go home and throw myself in a cold shower, but somehow confused myself and did a big loop back to the pool, which I took as a sign. So, I paid my money and went in. 

We’re not just talking a pool. We’re talking a pool. It’s huge. It’s over twice the size of the Olympic Pool (don’t laugh – it’s called the ‘Olympic Pool,' not the ‘Olympic-sized pool’) at Nyarutarama in Kigali. There are even seats so that you can sit in the water and drink your drink. I’d never done that before, so decided I really ought to. I supped my coke and then slipped off my seat and went for a swim.

Speke Resort Pool

I made a really good friend there. His name’s Jeff, and he runs a security firm in Uganda with a branch in Rwanda. We chilled out and chatted for ages, then had a swim – which turned competitive. I beat him by a hair’s breadth the length of the pool - about 50 metres. Between that and the horses, I was absolutely shattered lol We swapped numbers and hopefully next time he’s in Kigali he’ll give me a bell and we can go party.

I’d spent the entire day there, and was completely relaxed. It was a glorious day. Horses, swimming pools, amazing food... exactly what a holiday should be. D sent me one text saying that I could have waited for him to get back from his walk, but I’d already waited an hour and a half. I wasn’t even sure whether he was coming back. He’d said that he didn’t want to come to the resort, he just wanted to order me a taxi so that he knew I’d get there safe. Well, I’m a modern moto woman, I’m perfectly capable of getting myself there in one piece thank you very much.

Ahem. By the time I arrived home, I had a splitting headache starting from the sun and dehydration, so crashed out on the bed and dozed for a while. D got back about 20 minutes after I did. I’d forgotten, but he reminded me, that there was a party.

I forced myself to get dolled up to meet his friends. The party was a house party just down the road. I quickly clocked I was the oldest person there, but they were nice people. One of D’s mates, a guy called Jetstone, was really chatty. There was free drink, and the most wonderful home cooked food. It was real back-street urban Uganda. Then, half an hour after we got there, having just eaten their food, D says "Come on, let’s go. I’ll take you home." - "Take me home?"

Of course, he was going back to the party after!

"Okay, so why am I leaving?"

No straight answer.

"D, in my culture, if a bloke did that to a girl, she’d assume he was going back to chat up some other bird."

He burst out laughing.

"Anyway, how does that look? Strange white girl turns up, eats their food, then fucks off. Not exactly polite."

More laughter. In his culture that’s fine, apparently.

"But you didn’t even ask me. You just said ‘right, I’m taking you home.’ You didn’t ask whether I wanted to stay or not. Why? The other girls at the party aren’t going home."

"I don’t know about the other girls at the party. I don’t know where they come from. But I know about you."

"What’s that supposed to mean?"

Apparently he’s seen their parties before and they end up drinking a lot and getting rowdy.

"Sounds like a normal teen party to me."

He dropped me off, then went back to the party. He returned at 3am. I was absolutely spitting, but pretended to be asleep. It was just beyond my ability to form words. I was scared of what I might say at that time of night and level of tiredness.

We did have a bit of a row after that. Or, rather, I rowed at him and he looked apologetic. He made me feel lonely, and I’d never been lonely on my own. It’s true, I’ve always been very good at entertaining myself. For example: horse riding, a book at the wine bar, meeting Jeff and finding random people to hang out with. I've never had a problem with that. I like my own company. As Mum says: ‘anything after that should be a bonus,’ it should add to the peace of mind and happiness I already have, not bring me down.

What can you do, huh? Is this cultural difference? Is this personal difference? I’m thinking both, but more the latter than the former. My life is so very uncomplicated. His is so very complicated. Do I care enough to give it time? Just when I’m saying ‘no,’ he’ll do something or say something that twinges. You know, that little twinge you get in the tummy when you absolutely want somebody? Hmmm. If it wasn’t for that annoying little twinge, the world would be a much simpler place. But the twinge exists. Therefore, for the time being, so does our relationship.

The next day was fun enough. D took me to a suburb to meet Moma Z, the mother of a couple of his friends. She was indeed the archetypal Moma: a large, round lady, with a headscarf and smiling eyes. He left me with her and went to catch up with his friends. Like most houses here it was a small, sparse room, with a bed and chairs. Though it was a big house because it had a separate back room with three other beds for her sons. She also fed me matoke! I’d wanted to try this because D’s always talking about missing it in Rwanda. It’s the staple food of Uganda: mashed, savoury banana - ibitoke in Kinya. She covered it in sweet nut sauce. It was delicious. Her son, Metta, came in to chat too. He's a nice guy.

Benji caught up with us there. He, me and D went into town to the Film Festival. I really enjoyed myself. We caught a few shorts and a documentary. After each screening, the film makers took questions. D attended a screening and discussion workshop on rape in the Congo. It was a really good afternoon. The National Theatre is excellent.

National Cultural Centre of Uganda

Afterwards, we ended up at a lovely bar with a fire pit. I was loving the music, and really happy, but D decided he would take me home. "No, not this time. I’m happy here. You go home if you like." - "What, and leave you here!?" - "Erm... yes." He pulled a complete sulk and begrudgingly mumbled that I could have another beer. Considering I’m paying for it, too right! 

After Benji left, I kept drinking. When D went to the loo, I set up the pool table and started playing. He came back and watched me for a minute. When I held out the cue, he took it. We played two games. I hate to admit it, but I felt a small, smug smile of satisfaction at beating him both times. Strike one for women's emancipation! Unhealthy, huh?

That night we had another argument, quite a bad one. It was over something quite fundamental. By morning I still wasn't square with it. He left early to go to a photo shoot for this magazine. He asked me to please wait for him to get back, so that we could talk about it. 

The moment he left, I packed up my bag and caught a moto.

There are certain points in your life when you realise your day could have turned out very differently. I could have stayed in my room, moped about feeling hurt and upset, waiting for him to finally decide to come home, and wasted my entire day. 

Or, I could get on with my life and have the kind of day I had...

I started off in town, looking for a bookshop, but ended up getting totally lost and wandering around in circles. My first time un-chaperoned in town. It was crazy hectic and wore me down pretty quick. I was still in a fragile mood, so I ended up picking a book from a street seller and heading to the Post Office. I was trying to get to the Royal Tombs, but the moto drivers all looked blank. I didn’t have a guide book, but D had mentioned something about Tourist Info at the Post Office. Kampala doesn’t have a Tourist Information Bureau, unfortunately, but I eventually found someone who helped me by writing down where I needed to go: Kasubi.

Kasubi by rajarajaraja

I took a moto there and paid my entrance fee. The guide who came to show me around was this nice young guy of twenty, very studious and knowledgeable about his subject. We went into the huge grass building and sat on the mats by the tombs of the previous three Kings (Kabakas) and first president of Uganda. He explained all about their lives, and the stuffed leopard, which was a pet of the first king. 

Stuffed Leopard

Then he taught me to play omweso, a game a lot like mankala (play mancala snails here!) but with a bigger board. Apparently, if anyone can beat the King they get a piece of land in Uganda lol

The King of Uganda was reinstated in 1993, and my guide is his nephew. His grandfather, who brought him up, is the son of Kabaka Daudi Cwa, brother to Mutesa II (the first President). He’s a Prince of Uganda. He’s also an impressive artist. I bought a painting of a virgin dance ceremony that he did on Ugandan bark cloth – it’s beautiful. My souvenir.

I didn’t really feel like going home and waiting for D, but I couldn’t think of much else to do, and was running low on money. Joseph, my guide, asked me where I was going. I said I didn’t know, so he produced the East Africa Guidebook and showed me a few options.

"Would you let me show you?" he asked.

And so began a most fantastic day. We started with a brisk walk, about a mile or so, up to Namirembe Cathedral, an impressive building overlooking the whole of Kampala. As we were leaving, we bumped into someone he knew. He shook hands with me and reiterated that this was a Prince of Buganda lol It was hot. We rested in the shade and admired the view. Then we walked down the hill to the parliamentary building, and I got to walk around inside Parliament and see where everyone sits.

Next, we went to the Magistrates’ Court. Again, I got to look in the courts and talk to a few law students. The judicial process works very similarly to England, and the courts look pretty much the same.

This was en route to the Palace. On the way, we stopped to look at a giant Galapagos Tortoise in the garden of a guesthouse. It was huuuge, and munching away on jack fruit.

We grabbed lunch on the way to the Palace, which was spectacular, but not open as it’s under renovation, after years of war and the exile of the King. We walked around the grounds and looked at the Kabaka’s fire, which burns outside the palace for the entire reign of a monarch. When the king dies, Bugandans say ‘the fire has been extinguished.’

We sat outside the Royal Palace after that, and ate sugarcane - something else I’d wanted to do and never done before. To me, sugar comes in bags. I’d never seen the raw material before, and it was delicious, like white bark that you chew to get the water out.

Kibuli Mosque

Next, we took a moto to Kibuli Mosque. I’d seen it from the palace, and asked what it was. It started raining heavily on the way there. When we got there we were drenched, but he bought us towels and we sat and dried off whilst waiting for the rain to pass. When it finally did, we went into the Mosque with a boy guiding us. It was my first time in a Mosque. I remember Religious Education in school, where I went to a Buddhist Shrine, but not a Mosque. We took our shoes off at the door, then a lady gave me a scarf to cover my head with and we climbed right up the main tower. You really could see all of Kampala in a huge panoramic spread. I like heights, but that was a little overwhelming.

We continued our tour of the religious buildings of Kampala with the Catholic Church at Rubaga. Finally, we took a looong moto drive out to the Baha’i Temple towards Kira. By the time we got there, it was closed. The building itself is beautiful, set in very green and tree-lined grounds.

I was all touristed out by the end. It had been a wonderful day. Joseph took me back to town and found me a moto. We agreed to meet again today at some point. He’s never been to Kigali. I’ve offered to return the favour, and he's offered the use of his car and driver if I’d like to go anywhere else. I’m here for such a short time now, I probably won’t use them. He’s such a very charming young man, with impeccable manners that put me to shame! He insisted on carrying my bag, and walking on the outside of the road so that I was protected from the cars. I didn’t feel worthy of such chivalry lol He’s passionate about African History, so there was lots to talk about. It really was a wonderful day.

When I got back to the hotel, it was empty. D was out, but Agnes, the maid, told me that he’d been in asking for me at around six. I was glad to have some time to unwind in front of the telly, but I was hungry and all out of cash. About an hour or so later D, did come home.I met him with a smile – blame it on the twinge. He unreservedly apologised for the night before, then, my hero, he walked all the way back to Kabalagala to get chicken and chips. We had a really good night,snuggled up happy again. We talked and kissed and righted wrongs. He’s gone back to Amakula this morning. I’m chilling out, then joining him later, and maybe meeting up with Joseph there.

It’s been a strange holiday. I’ve had some absolutely amazing experiences: the horse riding and the guided royal tour lol A lesson to the wise – never stay in your room and sulk. Such adventures are just outside the door. But it’s definitely been a solo adventure. I just don’t know where D and I go from here. I’d always rather be happy on my own than coupled and glum. I’ve never had a relationship with an invisible man before, but then... well, there’s always the twinge. So I guess it ain’t completely broke - and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. One thing I’ve learned from working in Rwanda, and one trick I give away at Capacity Building, is that, often, the best thing to do is to do nothing. Sit and wait. Learn the game. There is always time to make an informed decision later.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Go Down

This is an extract from my African travel blog, where you can read all of my adventures in Uganda

Nyabugogo Bus Park

Well, I’m sitting on the lawn in the garden of a beautiful guesthouse, the G8, somewhere in the suburb of Muyenga.

It's been quite a hectic few days, but slipping into relaxation now. D and I had a mental rush to get the bus from Nyabugogo at 5:30 in the morning. I never thought about how we’d do that. I didn’t think that the motos and buses would still be asleep. His friend picked us up, but was really late, and we arrived about 5:35 – pedal to the metal. Impressive driving, but I saw my life flashing before my eyes! No seat belts and two-wheeling it around roundabouts. Made it though, and got aboard the Jaguar, which then proceeded to sit in the bus station for another half hour! The sun was rising fast by the time we pulled out of the petrol station and got on our way.

About two hours later we reached the Ugandan border.

Ugandan Border

D was in a grim mood. He doesn’t much like the crossing. Having now done it myself, I can see why. It’s not a pleasant experience at all, especially if you’re white, as they charge you $50! I also got a bit of hassle from a bored border guard who wanted to question my papers – the green card – as he appeared never to have seen one before. Not that it’s any of his business, as I’m travelling on a British passport anyway. He was a right sod.

First, you have to queue to sign out of Rwanda. Then, you have to walk about quarter of a mile, through two crossing checkpoints, to sign in to Uganda. You pay your money if you’re white or western, then get back on the bus. It’s a really subdued atmosphere and it would seriously put me off as a tourist. If I hadn’t gone with D I’d have been bricking it, with no idea where to go.

On the up-side, the scenery is lovely and Rwanda at that time in the morning is a country of white mist. It's like driving through heaven or something, with the occasional village materialising out of the clouds.
Rwandan Mist

There were plenty of crested cranes, which are the national bird of Uganda, and whole flocks of marabou storks en route. When you pass through into Uganda, the roads soon become very straight and the hills are large and sweeping so you don’t suffer the same travel sickness as a trip down South. It’s also a lot hotter, though. Sweltering, with no cloud cover.

The bus itself costs around FRW 7,000 (£7) and the journey is about eight hours. Jaguar do have an annoying habit of subjecting all passengers to Swahili soap operas at ear-splitting volume, which pissed me off quite a bit and made the long, long journey just that little bit longer.

[NB 2013: Actually, I think it was Yoruba soaps from Nigeria, which are really popular throughout most of Africa. One of the best scenes was where an irate man confronted his jealous sister-in-law shouting "My penis! You stole my penis!" then turned her into a demon.]

We finally rolled into Kampala, and it is impressive – a proper city. Kigali is piddling in comparison. Every street here is lined with food vendors, amazing clothes shops, and even full-on supermarkets and skyscrapers. Wouldn’t see any of that back home.

D found us a couple of motos and we hauled our luggage onboard. Motos here are scary. Traffic here is very scary. There is absolutely no right of way policy, and motos don’t carry helmets – a sin for which I could get into a lot of trouble with VSO, but there wasn’t any other option.

We booked into a small hostel called the Jaguar (of buses fame) Hotel. The nearest and easiest place to stay on our budget. It was adequate, though the bed was a bit small for two and, more disturbingly, they had a major mosquito issue. I’m not on my prophylactics anymore - I’ve been bitten half to death. However, there was a hot shower. Although, the heat of Kampala meant that I only wanted a cold one! There's also a TV, for which the remote control was with the receptionist. The signal was so sensitive that we had to watch anything she was watching lol

It was a good enough place to put our heads down. D was eager to get out and see some people, so we got on a bus across town. I’m never too sure where he is planning on taking me. There's still a little of the African mystery syndrome about him, but we always go somewhere romantic – a slum.

Kampala Slum by inainchina
Kampala Slum by ydnastra
Kampala Slum by ficubc

[NB 2013: Go Down is situated in Naguru. Check out the Twekembe Slum Project and the slum map.]

This was my first introduction to Kampala: stagnant, rancid water; piles of trash, children with distended belly buttons playing with fire from the rubbish burn; mud huts, dereliction and extreme poverty.


This was where some of D’s old friends were hanging out, including the father of the kid that got raped by her teacher, and a couple of musicians. D told me he used to teach on the site. It's nicknamed Go Down because you have to go down the hill to get to it. He had about 40 kids, but then investors came and bought up the land for development. They apparently evicted thousands of people. There’s just a handful left now, others have founded new settlements or become completely homeless. Alicia Keys apparently visited the site some time back and helped to set up a project. 

I’d never seen anything like it.

We also caught up with another familiar face – E – who is apparently going to move to North Uganda now. Nuff said.

[NB 2013: I had given him money to come to Uganda to complete his driving license, because Ugandan drivers are apparently more trusted in Rwanda. A lot of them drive the buses. The idea was that he was doing this so that he could get a better job and contribute to his children's education. Rose and I became friends, and E, she told me, was her ex-husband. He hadn't come back from Kampala and, when we caught up with him, it appeared he had no intention of doing so.]

The next day we went for food at a bar in another area. The food here is goooood, both in the supermarkets and in the bars. It actually has flavour! We visited another township, and some more of D’s friends who he grew up with, then we went to another bar - just the two of us - and drank and talked and watched football.

Kampala is a crazy, crazy city of chaos. Driving is mental, streets are packed, it’s just totally random. D prefers the weather here, which is notably warmer, but prefers the quiet of Kigali. I agree, it’s amazing to experience this, but Kigali is homely. Although, I’d certainly take the customer service back with me. You can get food and beer here at a British pace, rather than Kigali, where you’ll get a beer between 15-20 minutes after ordering and food up to an hour or more after that.

Yesterday, I also located Barclays Bank, which is very big here, and also amazing - no comparison to Kigali. No dumb chair-hopping queue where everyone sits on chairs and moves along them one by one until you reach the counter. I managed to access my British account and took out some cash. Essentially, it’s my first holiday in six months and I intend to enjoy it. We brought enough money to get by, but I feel like being comfortable. The exchange rate here isn’t bad either – something like 3,000 USH to 1,000 FRW, so in our favour.

Hence we’ve just checked into a lovely guesthouse in a very quiet area, with a huuuge bed and no mosquitoes! Hezah. Tipety-tapping away now. Going to relax and wait for D, who has popped back to town to find a friend and pick up food.

P.S. In case you were wondering, the IT teacher agreed to keep teaching after having the exact same discussion about money with my boss, who is Deaf and took no hostages ;)

[NB 2013: Video below showing a project in Uganda's oldest slum, Kisenyi.]