Sunday, June 28, 2009

Tombs and Traffic

Day one in Africa, and I have learned many things already. After the huge breakfast discussed in my last post we sort of hung around the house and just settled in for a while. Really, I’m glad there was no rush to go anywhere because I had a difficult enough time pulling myself out of bed at 9:30am, I’m not sure I would have been good for anything before that. I pulled out my sketchbook and practiced with my oil pastels, really just killing time while we waited for Zoe to come back from her sleepover so we could go visit the Kasubi Tombs. Zoe eventually called and said she’d be staying another night, so we went to the Tombs without her.
Now, please understand that by ‘Tombs’ what is really meant is ‘tomb’. We drove no longer than 10 minutes (during which I got my first real taste of Ugandan traffic, we will come back to this) and were admitted through a chained-off drive to a dusty red half-loop of road where we were to park. The entrance to the tombs was dramatic enough, with a large, round grass… house? Hut? Structure? That you walked through to get to the next house/hut/structure where you were to pay and meet your guide. Being as this was a sacred tomb Brenda and I were not allowed to go in wearing jeans and shorts as we were, so they lent us orange sarongs to tie on over our other clothes. I think the issue was more that we were in pants and not skirts vs. any sort of indecency (ex: entering the Vatican) because both of us had on tank tops and that didn’t seem to be a problem.
Skirts on, we met our guide and he led us out of the little area surrounded by grass fence and out into an open area that resembled a moonscape. The ground was all black and grey and gravel except for a stone path that led us to a supersized version of the previous hut/house/structure. Inside there were women in bright dresses and one or two very small children dressed similarly. I never did find out what exactly the women did but I will hazard a guess that it had something to do with the sacred-ness.
Our guide talked to us about the four kings that reined over the Kingdom of Buganda, and taught us how to play a counting game called Omweso. It’s also referred to as Bo by another tribe, but the word in Lugandu is the translation of the word ‘checked’ in English (checked as in a ‘checked shirt’, or ‘checker board’). That was fun, we watched him and William play a round and got to a reasonable understanding of the rules. While I’m here, I’d like to pick up a game board so that I can bring it home. It’s a little confusing to learn at first, but fun. They don’t call it ‘playing against one another’, here it’s referred to as ‘battle’.
After the game our guide gestured to a leopard with a richly beaded collar that had been stuffed and mounted in a glass case. The leopard was shorter than I thought it would be, its head only reached my hip, but its teeth and claws were more than enough to inflict damage. The leopard had been the pet of the second of the Kings and was named River (Mayaja) because it used to cross the rivers and bodies of water with the King when he went on journeys. The Lugandu word for river has two meanings though, apparently it is more accurately translated as ‘big water’, so ‘to travel on a river or body of water’ uses the same word as ‘over seas’. To keep the leopard tame they fed it a goat and two buckets of blood a day. I imagine just about anything would be tame if it was fed that much daily.
After its owner, the second King died, the leopard apparently went mad with grief and killed people until at last the third King had to have it killed.
We also discussed a little bit about the history of Uganda and the surrounding countries, and it didn’t take long at all before we realized our guide was very extremist. He stated quite openly that he used to hate the whites and do all sort of radical deeds to deter them coming. He then began to talk about how the British were really behind all of Africa’s problems, the issue Uganda is having with East Indian workers stealing all the work that should belong to the citizens of Uganda. Then he covered the topic of refugees from places like Somalia, and how Idiamindada (a.k.a the last king of Scotland) was the best President Uganda ever had because he united the people. Only… gah… I have certainly never heard anything good about Amin, and Brenda and Fred certainly don’t care for him because it sounds like he was charismatic but somewhat insane and very brutal. I’m not local, so my understanding is all very textbook but whoa, that was an eye opener.
Apparently tribalism is still a big problem in Africa and many of the ideas this fellow was spouting sound suspiciously like they would aggravate that. Think Europe before the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.
After the tombs we drove down to Phillip’s mom’s place and met her. The school that was rebuilt last year really is like… right in her backyard.
I played with the kids for a while and looked in all the classrooms. Most of them are divided in half so that there is enough room to have two grades present. Everything was very colourful, they really did a good job on it. With Lily’s done we headed up the hill to Backpackers so that I could see it and get an internet connection for a bit. There are plenty of Muzungu’s at Backpackers. Muzungu’s being the slang term used by the locals for ‘white person’. Fred, being only slightly less white than me, likes to pull it out around the house all the time, hahaha. The compound at Backpackers really was very well put together, and there were plenty of other kids my age who looked quite happy there. The fellow who runs it is ex-military and responsible for the security in that side of town, so the gate is guarded by two men in uniform, and while I only saw one gun, it was plenty intimidating on its own. Previously (when the country was less stable) apparently they had an incident where a group trying to destabilize the government threw a grenade into Backpackers because of the high concentration of foreign whites there. No deaths, but one high profile injury later and armed guards were posted.
I am definitely not in Kansas anymore.
After Backpackers we piled back in the red 1994 Toyota Previa (it lives!) and went down to pick up some meat for dinner at the local meat shop. The meat just sort of hangs in the window, out in the open, un-refrigerated. Plenty tasty though, we made it into spaghetti.
Now, back to the driving style in Africa.
Driving in Africa is like… no, there is no metaphor, driving in Africa is insane. First, they drive on the left-hand side because of the British colonial influence. The roads kind of blend in with the dirt on the sides because everything is dusty, so everything is red-ish. So now we’re on the opposite side of the road and there are no lines and no edges. Now we add traffic. Traffic is special. The bumper-to-bumper is comparable to New York city at rush hour, and the whole area reeks of diesel. No one gives anybody else an inch of space to enter traffic and pedestrians are free game, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of right-of-way law. Now between all the vans and cars and trucks transporting loads of goods put boda-bodas. If there is a two foot wide gap between cars that’s all a boda-boda (motorcycle) needs to squeak through and zip up further in the lines of vans and cars. Not a single boda-boda driver wears a helmet, and they often end up going far faster than the cars because of how much more efficiently they weave through traffic. More often than not I’d look out the window and see two or three of these boda-bodas pressed against the side of the Previa and still moving. Aiya!
SO! The roads are packed and everyone is at speed. You’d think traffic accidents were quite common. Well, not between cars. Cars just run into each other and dent and scratch. Boda-bodas however are in accidents all the time. As we were driving between the Kasubi Tombs and Lily Kindergarten and Primary I saw my first traffic accident. There isn’t really an ambulance system in Uganda because medicine is not socialized, so when a car hits a boda-boda, it’s up to the locals to deal with it. The driver usually drives off so that they can’t be held responsible, and anyone who stops is giving voluntary first aid. The first aid tends to be things like placing a blanket under the head of the person who flew farthest and hit hardest assuming they are still alive. It could also be helping someone who is injured and not at a high level of consciousness onto the back of another boda-boda to get them to a hospital. It’s surreal, driving past a scene like that. We did not get out to help as there were plenty of people there who were quite intent on helping. Also, apparently if you are in the car and you bring someone into the hospital because of an accident, the hospital will actually hold you until someone can declare that you were helping, and weren’t responsible for injuring the person.
Once you’re in the hospital the waits are supposed to be incredible. In excess of 24 hours. The motto of this story is don’t get into any medical trouble in Uganda.
The temperature is amazing though! It’s just cool enough at night that you can lay on top of your sheets and doze off, and during the days it’s hot in the sun but not in any unbearable way. The water has a kind of soil-y taste, but Brenda and Fred boil it all day on the stove before storing it in jugs in the fridge. Cleaning is done every day to keep down the dust and the tiles are deliciously cool beneath your feet. Oh, and the ants are big, I do a double-take every time I see an ant wandering around. All in all though, I’m really enjoying myself. The hospitality is incredible.
I’ll be sure to update again soon!

1 comment:

  1. And here I thought traffic in London was a nightmare... yikes!

    Make sure to dodge the boda-bodas and grenades and most-importantly, have fun! ...Okay, maybe not most-importantly... :P