Saturday, May 22, 2010
My new best friend. He's cuddly. He's soft. He purrs like a maniac. Birdie.
I brought my new kitten home two days ago from Grace, a fellow volunteer's, site. Even though I'm slowly by slowly getting used to traveling in Uganda, it was still quite the experience.
I first boarded a coaster (smaller than a bus, larger than a matatu) at my site around 8:30am. Usually I show up around 9 and wait in the coaster for a half hour until it fills. It never fills up earlier than that, but for some reason, it was full very early. I was one of the last to arrive and therefore had to sit in one of the "jump seats," pull-down seats that sit in the aisle. I really do not like these seats. They are not as comfortable; the backs lean way back and you get quite the abdominal work out sitting back in one. Furthermore, since you're sitting in the aisle, you're sitting on people's luggage, sacks of food, etc, leaving you with little to no leg room and you're constantly getting up to let people exit the vehicle. My seat was on top of a large sack of matooke. My knees were to my chest and my backpack kept sliding off and bumping against the woman next to me. The kitten's basket that I purchased before I left was sitting on my lap. Not much room to move around!
The woman to my right had the cutest baby who kept running her fingers over the weave pattern on the basket, enchanted with the texture on her fingertips. Why is it that Ugandan babies are a million times cuter than most American babies? Sorry, America...Uganda's got you beat in the Baby Cuteness Contest!
While coasters and matatus usually stop several times during the journey to Kampala, letting passengers off and picking up new ones. This time, however, we only stopped once - to let a woman throw up. A shout came from the back of the bus; a man yelled to the conductor, the driver quickly pulled over and a young woman stumbled over people, bags of matooke, chickens to the door, and knelt in the grass. I felt bad for her. I knew how bad the roads are now that most of the road is torn up in construction. I took my Dramamine before the journey, she didn't.
For over half of the drive into the capital the road is dirt or gravel, the tarmac torn up in order to "improve" the roads. The rainy season is winding down and the dust and dirt on the roads is increasing. The dust chokes the breath out of you, scratches your corneas and coats your skin a lovely shade of reddish-brown. Women cover their heads with wraps, shawls, handkerchiefs, plastic bags - anything to keep their hair preserved. Men might hold a handkerchief to their noses, filtering out the dust, but otherwise they sit stoically, accepting their dusty fate. A fine dust permeates everything, sneaking into every crack and crevice. Even after several bucket baths, the water still turns russet.
We arrived in Kampala three hours later dusty, dirty and sweaty. Shannon, another Volunteer who had been taking care of Birdie for a few days until I could come pick him up, told me before I left that I could catch a matatu to Grace's site at either the New taxi park or the Old taxi park. However, after walking through the entire New taxi park, asking various vendors for the stage, dodging matatus, and squelching in mud, I realized that there wasn't a stage for Grace's site in the New taxi park; I would have to make the trek to the Old taxi park.
The two parks aren't very far apart, perhaps three or four blocks. But those are hectic, untamed three or four blocks. Special hire drivers grab at you, "where we go?" ; boda boda drivers cut you off in the street, weaving around matatus and pedestrians; vendors shout at you and hawk their goods in your face; the sidewalks are crowded with hundreds of vendors and shops, slowly walking Ugandans and boda bodas, refusing to use the streets. The streets themselves are muddy and bumper to bumper matatus near the taxi park entrances, and zooming with boda bodas and special hire cars in the blocks between. You have to walk quickly and mercifully through the crowds, pushing your way through slower groups, always on the look out for thieves.
When I finally made it to the Old taxi park, I found the matatu to Grace's site, settled in for the expected long wait for the vehicle to fill up. Contrary to my expectations, the matatu filled in minutes and we were on our way. The drive to Grace's site was less than an hour and, in true Ugandan fashion, the roads were terrible. We swerved from side to side as we dodged craters in the roads, inched our way through the ever-present rush "hour" traffic, and inhaled even more dust. I was never more glad for Dramamine. God bless the person(s) who invented that miracle cure!
The drive back to my site the next morning was less eventful. Now, with two kittens in tow (I'm looking after Shannon's kitten for a few days while she and Grace live it up in Kampala), I made my way out of Grace's site, hailing a matatu on the side of the road, navigated my way from Kampala city center to the New taxi park, found myself a window seat on a comfy coaster, held a handkerchief to my face as we bumped over the road construction and arrived safely back at site in the evening.