This morning I ventured into the city centre of Kampala with three other MAF women. We were on a hunt for some fabric, and knew the best place to buy it would be away from the comparatively sedate streets of the district of Makindye where we live, and into the hive of activity that is central Kampala.
We left early to avoid the traffic, as much as is possible in this city, and made our steady way to a car park, ready for our foray into the ever-shifting river of humanity. It’s not polite to take photos of people without their permission, and not entirely safe to whip out a phone or camera to take a string of shots of life here, so a description will have to suffice.
Outside the relative safety of the supermarket carpark began the press of people. So many walk the streets that it’s hard to avoid collisions. Heavy packages are carried on heads, and a hissing sound is the sign that you need to move swiftly out of the way or be knocked from their path. Merchants proffer their wares from stalls laid out on the pavements, leaving only a narrow channel for shoppers and passers by to tread, without stepping into the road. That’s sometimes the only option, where there are boda bodas and taxis to contend with. On several streets a small but smelly channel separates pavement from road, its odour telling what an unsuspecting foot might find, should it slip into the slop.
You can find anything in Kampala. The pavement stalls boasted everything from individual sweets to packs of pencils to shoes to fresh food. Behind them were the shops; clothes shops and luggage shops and fabric shops and so much more. There are often many establishments all selling the same thing and all on the same street here, and so we headed for the fabric centre and delved into a market, with shop after shop offering decorative and bright fabrics, dresses, shirts and skirts.
Today that wasn’t what we were after. Seeking directions to a shop selling upholstery yielded no answers, and so we started to explore, trusting surreptitious glances at Google Maps to send us in the right direction. Our faith (or sense of direction) was misplaced, and soon we found ourselves at a busy intersection, no closer to our destination. A stream of bodas passed by, horns blaring. We turned swiftly away and retraced our steps, eager to be away from the site of any potential disturbance.
Between us and our destination loomed the great taxi park of Kampala. “We’ll cross it,” said one of our intrepid party, and so we started to thread our way through the slowly moving vehicles. It felt like nothing so much as a giant, and ever changing, maze constructed from the iconic white and blue matatus. At times we held our breath and dove through tiny gaps, only to emerge on the other side with no path forward. The steps leading out of the fray were our guide, and we hurried together to escape the sprawling madness, and the calls of destinations all across Kampala and Uganda, should we have wished for a ride.
Finding our way across the park felt like a great victory, and we paused to take a stealthy photo and catch our breath, before moving on to a shop holding the perfect fabric. Then it was a surprisingly quick dash back to the car; our roundabout journey had taken us the long way around the centre. If we’d taken the right turn we’d have been there in moments. In the relative cool of the car we made our way back out through the traffic, and on to our homes.
To say Kampala is a bustling city would be a dramatic understatement. There is so much life here. I am still learning my way around the many different areas, but it is wonderful to see the living organism that is this city weave its way around me, its residents always ready to greet me with a smile, and a cry of “Hello Muzungu!”