This morning, I was taking my first African shower in the apartment. As I rinsed the conditioner out of my hair, I looked down to see a tan lizard gazing up at me. I very nearly jumped out of my skin but he seemed more frightened than me! The lizard ran away and I finished my shower in peace.
We started our journey today by going to Café Javas, a diner for the monzungo (white person, tourist). I had very delicious French toast and phenomenal African tea (somewhat like a chai latte).
Next, Steve (as Professor Youngblood requested we call him) asked Tabu (our driver) to show us some neighborhoods that real Ugandans live in, not expat communities like the one we’re in. Tabu took us through the city and down a red dirt road spotted with humongous potholes and bumps. The 10mph speed felt like we were racing as we dodged boda-bodas (motorcycles) and pedestrians.
The neighborhood was “mid-poor”, as Tabu said. The residences were merely lean-tos made from cardboard, rusted sheet metal, and plywood. No sanitation services, just holes in the ground. Limited running water from wells to some of the better-off families. Children running everywhere. Men and women sitting outside their shacks with an array of fruit or clothing for sale, with signs like “sh200 Mango” – only 200 shillings (or about a dime) for a fresh mango.
Tabu took us to his sister’s house. We were not just gawking at “a” slum; we were gawking at his sister’s home. We pulled up in front of a group of women peeling plantains and we had arrived. Scratched onto her rusted sheet metal wall was the phrase “Praise Be Allah”. Stepping inside, one could see a large poster of St Mary on the wall. A small television broadcasted an African soap opera and a young woman came out from behind a curtain that divided the home into two rooms. Tabu explained she is his niece.
She was a slim, beautiful woman. She said she hoped to study finance at a university some day, after her own children don’t need her constant attention. Her daughter was a toddler in a bright flowery dress and her son was off working as a newspaper boy.
Next, we went to what one could call, “working class” area – Tabu’s own neighborhood. These were free-standing structures, though still all mashed together with people (mostly children) everywhere. We met his wife and several of his eight children. His son, Andrew, is studying to be a doctor. Sadly, doctors don’t earn enough to move out of the slums, said Tabu, unless they can get a position in a fancy monzungo clinic.
A couple of the children took a liking to me and Keith immediately. They came up and held hands with us and babbled in Bugandan. They didn’t know any English, and we didn’t know any Bugandan, but that didn’t seem to bother them. They tagged along, holding our hands, as Tabu showed us his home.
He showed us the community cooking area that used to be a café or market of sorts. A smiley woman was cooking a stew of ground nuts (peanuts), beans, and plantains. She spoke in Bugandan, with Tabu as a translator, to us and gave us a small lesson. I didn’t take much away from it besides something sounding like “balloon” meant “I’m doing well” and “kali” means “good bye”. She laughed and laughed at our butchered attempts at her language.
Next, Tabu showed us his outhouse. He used to have a real toilet with running water, he explained, until he retired and no longer could afford it. Now it’s just a pit.
He took us to the community water center. Clear water bubbled onto the ground from pipes sticking out from between the stones and young girls were filling up buckets. Though it looked clean and clear, Tabu cautioned us that we Americans would die within a day if we drank it without boiling it.
After a while, he took us back to the car and we left.
He seemed very matter-of-factly about the whole thing. He wasn’t ashamed of his home, or resentful that we live in luxury at our compound. It’s just the way things are.
Next, we went to the Royal Tomb of the Bugandan Kings. The tomb was destroyed in an act of arson earlier this year, but the historical society is still open for tours. Our tour guide, Fredrick, sat us down and told us about the history of the Buganda tribe, starting from the 1800’s. The first king to be buried at the Tombs had 84 wives and was very patriarchal. As respect to his views, they require all women to wear skirts on the site and provided me with one.
Fredrick showed us around the site. Relatives of the king live on the 64 acres, in huts. The grandmother of the king lives in the tourist part of the site, and visitors are invited to peer into her home.
There were many rules for women. Women are not allowed into the significant buildings, such as the drum building where the fanfare instruments are kept. Women are also not allowed to tend the ever-smoldering fire that represents the soul of the king.
Our last stop of the day was the Jinja Street open-air market. It was an experience that could make someone with nerves of steel claustrophobic! There were people absolutely everywhere, it was as crowded as a concert mosh pit. Vendors were selling clothing, shoes and costume jewelry. They would see us coming and hold up clothing and say it was just our size. Several young boys tried to sell Obama items to us. Lots of people shouted “monzungo!” when we approached. It’s something I’m still getting used to. I guess I’m as much of a curiosity to them as this entire country is to me!
After that, we called it a night for Tabu and his excellent driving skills and went back to the apartment. We freshened up and headed down to the fanciest, most expensive restaurant in town – where meals cost about $10 USD each.
Finally, we went to bed.