Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Kampala Jam

Malaria-ridden Lobu came running up the street at 11:30 pm to escort me safely home. All the boda-boda men had long since said good night. The taxi dropped me at Kennedy stage after six and a half hours of carefully negotiating a way home.

Rush hour traffic can mean the difference of more than an hour when it comes to riding the taxi home. Among about 100 people, I began my journey at Entebbe stage around 5:00 pm – typically just beating rush hour. I did wonder why such an unusual number of people were waiting. Now that I noticed, no taxis were on the street. Curious. I initially attributed the change to the first day market vendors were not allowed to be on the street. Perhaps the taxis had new rules too.

Really, take a look at the other blog post photo. This place is crazy empty.
After 30 minutes of waiting and seeing no taxis pass by I called Thomas, my Kampala boda man, and asked him to take me to the taxi park where I would hitch a ride home. The park…the very one I showed in photos in the last blog post…was empty save all the people. No taxis on the roads, no taxis in the park, no jam to be seen anywhere.

From a perch in the third story Indigo Lounge, where I took the previous photos, Thomas and I watched people trample one another for the few taxis that did arrive. Once it made sense to check Entebbe stage again, Thomas took me back and we found even more people waiting. Under cover of darkness, one man said, “I’ll give you 10,000 if this taxi moves from here to there [about 1 foot].” Thomas refused to leave me at the stage and instead we headed to a nearby bar for a game of pool (I stink at pool).

A view from the bar overlooking Nakasero Market. Dead empty.
Moments after we stepped inside the rain poured down; it rained…and gushed, and thundered, and lighteninged. I sat perched on the countertop of the bar and looked out over Nakasero Market from the safety of an open bar covered by a metal roof. I was keenly aware that I was a mzungu in a local bar – not a place where you’d typically find mzungu. The roads, typically crowded with taxis, were empty save the occasional body hunkered down under a too-small awning. An hour or so later a few taxis passed through and the rain lightened up a bit. Thomas took me back to Entebbe stage where I boarded a taxi for the low, low price of 6,000.

Thomas asked around and learned that the traffic was not moving. He came back to the taxi and asked if he could take me to Kibuye (spelling? Sounds like chi-boo-yea) stage. No complaint from me. Taking the outskirt streets, we finally reached Kibuye and found that stage also contained masses of people waiting for taxis. Pressing further down Entebbe Road we found nothing but blockages, long lines, and chaos. We did find the source of the problem – a water main break in Zana. Dirt covered the road but it was now passable.

A few taxis were dropping people and when we asked if I could board they were saying no. Not sure why. We kept checking. Finally, just past Lubowa, one taxi allowed me to board for 3,000. We reached Namulanda with relative ease…six and a half hours after the journey began. An adventure to remember for my last night in Uganda (sniffle). What I will remember most is the kindness of these two men – Thomas and Gabriel – who were determined that I arrive home safely.