Traveling in East Africa… A Typical Journey

by Amizade Global Service-Learning

Yesterday was our big day of travel from the Karagwe district of Tanzania to Uganda’s capitol, Kampala. Travel in East Africa is typically exhilarating, scary, frustrating, and cause for great laughter all wrapped in the same journey, and rest-assured our day did not disappoint. Paul, our friend Rosie from South Africa, our friend Stephan from Germany, and I were travel partners for the majority of the day. Our host and executive director of a growing non-profit called Mavuno, Charles Bahati (Charles Luck), agreed to drive us to the TZ-UG bordertown of Mutukula. We were to hit the road at noon. Surprisingly, we were all in Charles big Toyota Hilux truck and on the road by 12:15pm. But then…. a slight noise arises from the front-left side of the car. Is it the car behind us (hopefully?) no, they pass and the sound prevails. Charles pulls off to the side of the road and Stephan, Paul, and Charles look at the tire (We are men and we’re supposed to know something about vehicle mechanics). Nothing abnormal can be seen, but Charles decides that we must seek help. We stop at a place in Kayanga, only to find out we need to go back to an auto-mechanic in Omrushaka (only 10 minutes from home).

We arrive at the mechanic’s yard and get out of the truck. They jack up the truck, take off the tire, and check the break pad. We saw the problem when we looked at our break pad versus a new break pad. Ours was worn down and the tire disc was scratching a metal piece. Habari nzuri… Good news… it’s only the break pads which is a relatively quick and inexpensive fix. They change both break pads and we’re back on the road from Omrushaka at 1:30pm.

It’s a bumpy, unpaved road to Mutukula and Charles was not the slow, easy driver he was when he first drove Paul and I to Mavuno. Charles was a man who wanted to get somewhere. I was happy to be in the back middle seat for once because my head didn’t hit anything as we bumped along while Paul and Rosie’s heads tried to dodge the sides of the car roof.

We arrived at Mutukula around 2:50pm. Charles quickly started talking with some men to obtain information on transport to Kampala. There is a big LINK bus that is comfortable and travels directly to Kampala. Charles had thought there was a 4pm bus, but this turned out not to be the case and he quickly reserved “four” seats for us in a dala-dala, a small mini-bus intended to hold 14 passengers. Disappointment and dread were upon me. Paul and I paid the 50USD to enter Uganda, sought out a free toilet (I wasn’t going to pay to pee), and returned to the dala-dala. Paul got into the far back row with Rosie and Stephan and I sat in a jump seat in front of their row. I was quickly told that was not my seat and to move to the far back row. I had forgotten where we were and thought paying for four seats meant you got four seats! So, we squished in the back row with our book bags on our laps and Paul’s knees closer to his chest than to the floor. After some maneuvering, we sat back in the most comfortable positions possible. Paul was a bit dramatic and thought his knee was going to lock up and warrant a hospital visit. But once we arrived at Masaka (a couple hours later), some people disembarked and we were able to change seats and unfold a little bit.

Going through Masaka was exciting for me, as that was my first African home-base back in 2008, and close to where the Bbossa family lives. I pointed out some fondly remembered places such as Ambience, the first African disco-tech I attended, but we were quickly through the city and on our way.

The rain began to come down about halfway through our journey, and I was wary of entering Uganda’s capitol not only at night, but during a big storm. The landscape around us changed from African Savannah to bustling city complete with many people and hundreds of little shops lit up with LED lights. We stopped at a bus station and Rosie and Stephan left to catch another vehicle to Entebbe, where Rosie would be flying from the next morning. We decided to stay on the Dala-Dala. After almost an hour of swerving/waiting in and out of traffic, including some time driving on sidewalks and shoulders, we arrived at the final bus stand where everyone got out.

Paul and I walked carefully through the bus park, cautious of small ponds of water and hurtling dala-dalas. We exited the park and looked around for a couple boda-bodas (motorcyles complete with experienced drivers). We found two and asked whether they knew the location of Verona Hotel, our intended destination, but alas, they did not. “Do you know Backpackers?” After some confusion, he answered in the affirmative, we haggled over the transport cost, and then we were off on two boda-bodas.

We swerved in between vehicles, onto sidewalks, around pedestrians, and through intersections where traffic lights were totally disregarded and a policewoman clad in white blew her whistle in an attempt to keep some sense of order. When Paul and I were side-by-side we smiled at each other thinking the same thing, “This is unreal!” We arrived at Backpacker’s, a hippie-style hostel for wazungu from all over the world, and I was finally relieved to be in a safe place I knew. We walked inside, got a bunk-bed in a 7 person room, and went to bed after talking with our boss from Amizade through G-mail chat.

Now, we are enjoying a breakfast of crepes with chocolate sauce, a big breakfast for Paul complete with eggs, sauage, toast, baked beans, bacons, banana, and pineapple, and a papaya smoothie. We cannot pay for our stay at Backpackers, so we will soon venture out in search of an ATM, and then will attempt to find the Verona Hotel where we will bring the students.

TIA… This is Africa.