Uganda, Part One

"Uganda is safe, but at a price", this was the amusing but accurate message we were told by Walter, our Boda Boda driver, as we slipped the army soldiers a few thousand shillings to 'see us on our way'. This is a country that I want to love but through various contrasting messages I'm struggling to fully understand its identity. Ideas of wealth are recurrently more central in a society where there is little and where they can see that we, the west, have comparably more.


The last point is particularly important. In a conversation with Joe we talked about the problems of aid. The aid in itself isn't generally an issue but the attitudes that change with it are what you have to be careful of. Yes, complacency and over-reliance are the two things that are most talked about but moreover, the messages that the west are promoting within the action. The message translates to false views that western societies have it all figured out and also the idea that 'wealth' is something that they are lacking and that is something that they need.


On the third day in Kampala we went for a Boda Boda trip ride around the city before getting a boat to an island on Lake Victoria. A Boda Boda is basically a motorbike which people use as a form of taxi. I would say that driving styles are similar to Vietnam except in Uganda you have the added fun of 50cm pot holes where ever you go. That's no exaggeration and some approach a metre deep, it's probably the first place where I've seen a car get stuck when in the middle of the road.


It was an interesting day which exposed us to many different aspects of Ugandan life. Our visit to the killing tunnel was one of the most haunting experiences of the trip. Under the former president Idi Amin, made famous by The Last King Of Scotland film,  over 300,000 Ugandans were tortured and murdered in this underground bunker. The bloodied hand prints and scratch marks are still on the wall as visible reminders of the horrendous conditions they died in and how they were trying everything they could to escape. The sheer numbers of his killing operation are put in perspective when you understand the reason for not simply shooting his targets was that he didn't have enough bullets in his armoury. Therefore he resorted to starvation and suffocation as two easy ways to kill his enemies. 


After driving to the lake we paddled across to the island on a highly questionable small wooden boat. We were given a machete armed guard who guided us to the peak of the island before taking us on a leisurely walk through the Ugandan bush back to our boat. On the walk we casually pointed out all the chickens that freely roamed the island, our guard told us that we were able to buy one for about 15,000 shillings (£4). Sensing a solution for lunch we negotiated which bird we wanted and were witness to our lunch being prepared from start to finish. From trapping it, cutting its head off with a machete, plucking it and then roasting it; I finally saw how some of my Sunday dinners had really been prepared. For the first time in my life I could maybe, almost, just about understand vegetarianism. 


Another key concept I have learnt over the past few days is 'Uganda time'. Similar to 'Fiji time' it involves you agreeing a time to meet someone and then adding on 3 hours to the time agreed. 3 hours is a rough average but it can extend to as far as 5 or the person not turning up at all. It keeps life interesting but it is something I won't be too sad in leaving behind.