Saturday, July 10, 2010

Getting There.

After nearly 20 hours of flying and 5 hours of layovers, Andi and I arrived in Entebbe to face the 20 mile drive to Kampala. You may not think 20 miles sounds like much but, as I’ve now learned, in Uganda nothing is as easy as you think it should be. I was thinking something like quick 30 min drive at the most. So when we arrived in Kampala over an hour later I really had trouble processing what I’d just experienced. And it’s been awhile since I’ve been that frightened.

Now I’m not really scared of flying but when things get rough, especially during landings, I get a little uncomfortable. So before our trip began I had only worried about the time I would be spending in the air. Luckily our first flight was the shortest and also the roughest. I was feeling pretty good when we got off the plane in Entebbe. The hard part was over. Or so I thought.

On a good day – with daylight and light traffic – the 20 mile stretch of road from Kampala to Entebbe may take 45 minutes to drive. It was night when we arrived; Friday night. That 20 miles, and the hour it took to cover it, seemed like it would never end. And as I’ve seen over the last few days, with or without daylight, driving in Uganda is not for the faint of heart.

Hectic is a good way to describe it. Everyone here is in a hurry and people pass and turn and weave in and out of traffic without warning. You’ll see lights flash and hear “hooting” (which is what honking is called here) but I could never discern the purpose of such signals. It would seem quite random to anyone used to driving in highly controlled environment – like a demolition derby – where rules are enforced and generally followed. The only traffic enforcement here that I’ve heard of is geared toward parking violations (and keeping Professor Youngblood off the road).

What I’ve just described is the average day time driving scene, and I’ve omitted all mention of the ubiquitous motorcycles and scooters, known in Uganda as “Boda-Boda’s”.

Oh Boda-Boda how I loathe thee.

Cars, vans, SUVs, and even buses will pass and turn and weave in and out and around each other, and yeah it’s a little scary. But all this is happening while dozens of Boda-Boda’s pass and weave in and out and in-between all of the other vehicles. Boda-Boda drivers are also fond of going the wrong direction – even in roundabouts – and weaving their way past cars stopped at red lights, at which time they promptly run said lights.

Again, you need to remember that this is what goes on in the middle of the day. To understand what this night drive was likefor us – what my first experience in Uganda was like – take everything I’ve just described, add hundreds of people walking within a few feet of the road, make the only visible lights from the other cars and boda-boda’s traveling way too fast on poorly maintained roads, imagine riding shotgun in a large SUV traveling at incredible speeds, and you’ll begin to get an idea of this situation.

And the only comfort offered up during this voyage came to me from the back seat, as professor Youngblood said “Aren’t you glad you’re not driving.”

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