We headed to Gulu yesterday for our second seminar. It took six hours, because we had more tire problems. This time, we didn’t have a leaking tire – which now seems tame – but a tread blowout. It sounded like firecrackers as the tread tore off the tire.
The roads in Uganda are very bad. The ones that are paved have frequent speed bumps that a small car could not navigate. Perhaps more common is dirt roads, which have potholes and bumps everywhere. The roads can be so dusty it’s like driving in a blizzard.
The roads are also very narrow. We often pull over into the grass beside the road to let a semi truck (known here as a lorry) pass. I end up closing my eyes when we drive through the countryside to avoid tensing up and gasping every time we play chicken with semis and boda-bodas (motorcycles).
There are speed limits on some roads, but these are ignored by everyone. Even traffic police don’t give speeding tickets, so there is no reason to obey the posted signs. Even our drivers – driving safe and “slow” (a subjective word) because we are easily frightened foreigners – sometimes go 100kph in a 45kph zone (basically, going 60mph in a 25mph zone).
Our journeys are also slowed by the new addition of car checks. Because of the bombing in Kampala last week, police are implementing extra security strategies. Our car was examined on our way into the mall parking lot (on our way to lunch) and several times on the highway to Gulu.
At the mall for lunch, we were also subjected to security checks as we were walking through. One security guard demanded to see inside my purse, then promptly blushed and waved me through when he saw my spare tampons. At the next check, the female guard wasn’t nearly so shy, and rummaged around in my bag to find gum and a water bottle as well, before looking disappointed and waving me on.
If the newspapers are to be believed, the people of Uganda are exercising caution in light of the events by staying home instead of going out. However, there seems to be little to no threat of a copycat event, so I am not particularly concerned.
The Ugandan president has made statements to imply that he is considering going to war with Somalia (where Al Shabaab is based). It is unfortunate that an entire country is blamed for the actions of a tiny group of criminals. I sincerely hope that the Ugandan politicians find another way of dealing with the threat to their national security.