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navigating the seven hills

For those who thought that driving in Nairobi sounded like a nightmare, we have sad news: Kampala is not any better. There is one main 40km road that connects the capital city with Entebbe, a town on the shores of Lake Victoria where the airport is located. The only time the road is not hopelessly clogged with traffic is in the dead of night, as it was when we left at 4am for our early morning return flight to Kenya. At least our first bitter taste of Ugandan traffic was sweetened by an extraordinarily pimped out taxi ride. We shared a cab from the airport with two other members of our team. The taxi that picked us up was decked out with two sunroofs and had a custom-built DVD stereo system that kept us entertained with non-stop 80’s Madonna and Michael Jackson videos while our driver dodged trucks and slow-moving minibuses in an attempt to beat the traffic.

The Eldoret and Bungoma contingents of our team had driven to Kampala, so we had two vehicles to transport all 16 of us to the fields, circus car style. The tournament was held at the International School of Uganda, located about 10km outside of Kampala off the Entebbe road. We stayed at a lodge 2km away, but it took us half an hour on Saturday to navigate the Entebbe road traffic. Then we found out that there was a back roads way to get to the school that avoided the congested main road altogether.

So on Sunday, nine of us crammed into the “mini wagon” – a station wagon with unrealized minivan aspirations – and attempted to locate this back roads shortcut. The car was clearly not designed to hold nine passengers and we weighed it down so much that the bottom would scrape every time we attempted to navigate a speed bump or an uneven stretch of dirt road. We wound up frequently stopping so that half of the passengers could get out of the car whenever we came to a particularly rough patch of road; otherwise, our friend’s vehicle might not have survived the trip.

Kampala is known as the city of seven hills, and on Sunday we got a scenic tour of most of them. It took us 45 minutes to confirm that there was indeed a shortcut to get to the fields from our hotel. Unfortunately, we had missed an unmarked turn somewhere and got horribly off track. Once we realized that we were lost, we periodically stopped to ask directions, but the fact that we were trying to get to an “international” school did not help our cause. Virtually everyone would tell us that the school we were looking for was just 1km ahead. In this way we passed an “international” bible college, and three other “international” learning institutions without getting anywhere near to the place we were actually trying to reach. At one point, we had gotten so far off track that one villager flat out told us that the road we were on led to nowhere. Thankfully, we eventually came upon a driver who was kind enough to drive out of his way to show us the right route.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Marilyn Martin #

    “The taxi that picked us up was decked out with two sunroofs and had a custom-built DVD stereo system.” When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal, West Africa, between 1967-69, we rode in “car rapides.” They were anything but rapid, and they were full of goats, chickens, and other nonhuman species. I once sat in a “taxi” that wasn’t working. The driver got out with a huge wrench, opened the hood, and proceeded to bang the engine in various spots — in anger and frustration, I thought. But the taxi started right up!

    August 15, 2011
    • Marilyn, we’d love it if you shared more of your African experiences with us if there are posts that jog your memory. There are some things that change but others that we’re sure we’ll remain the same for many more decades to come.

      August 28, 2011

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