Saturday, August 28, 2010

1st entry from in country. If Uganda is the Pearl of Africa then Kampala is the heart of the Pearl of Africa. The city is nigh undescribable for the fact that it simply has no comparable measure. Driving via bus to the center of the city, the outlying distrcits are streets jammed with shop after shop, each roughly the same size as my parents bedroom, or even their closet in some cases. All trade seems to be represented: food clothes, hardware, internet, phones, hair stylists (which upon further investigation is you a man with a beard trimmer that shaves your head regardless of what you tell him), lumber, bricks, concrete, butchers, shoes, auto repair and those are just the ones which can be judged by their signs & wares. The green of the trees and vegiation is pervasive to the point of being overwhelming, which is wonderful for a desert dweller like myself. The color is then contrasted by the iron oxide rich earth which has no end. Between earth, sky and tree, one can scarce believe the civilization that has grown to be the "4th" color which makes up the fabric of Uganda.

As the city "center" (as much as it can be called that) comes closer, more size recognizable buildings become visible. Eventually we disembark next to the parliament building and begin our stroll. I say stroll because to walk at "American" pace as our guide calls it would take all of 2 hours to find and accomplish the tasks we had been allotted 7 hours for. This area of the city is similar to most other densely metropolitan centers: trees, shrubs, sidewalks (all of which are maintained and manicured by hand) shadowed by large buildings with storefronts. One need only to walk in a given direction for the template to change. Shopping centers with what seems like an army of security guards are our first stop. And they ARE an army. They have numbers, uniforms, AK-47's and pistol grip crowd-pleaser shotguns enough to be near indistinguishable. Apart from the mercenaries, the shops may as well be the malls where I spent some of my misplaced college years. A simple jaunt down the street and you find yourself in what would remind you of the southwest: dry, dusty roads with low buildings so the sun hits more fiercely and a definite sense of the open space which typifies New Mexico. Much of the rest of the city is exactly as you would imagine a large city. There are cars, restaurants, shops bookstores, phone shops, food courts (all with armed guards).

Which brings me to the bus and taxi parks. There is an old and a new "park" for both taxi's and buses and are all truly breathtaking. Mainly because you can scarce believe this Juggernaut of chaos and movement exists (also the fumes). A good description would be a hedge maze where somewhere in it is the vehicle going to the town you want... except the hedges are made of taxi's... and they're always moving. Also, as with the Tijuana entry point, there are merchants hawking wares. But the taxi park merchants took merchant steroids to get into the merchant Olympics and are the reigning champ because they put the judge in a head lock and are force feeding him something fried for 2000 shillings.

*interesting factoid: Kampala has traffic lights; maybe about 7 of them. They are lumped in with stop signs, yield signs, speed limits, passenger capacity and lane lines under the heading "suggestions".

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