I find it fun to get off the beaten track, or atleast avoid the tourist trail by taking local transport. So far Ive been the only non-east African on every bust Ive taken. Im also always the only person with a backpack, even on the 5 hour rides accross the country where the most people are carrying is a days worth of crops. When they do have something to carry and no bus to shuffle them to and fro, people hoist their possessions ontop of their heads, and I see people walking along the side of the roads in some of the most remote areas, at all times of day and even night.
In the mid heat of the day, its not unusual to see a 5 year old carrying something that’s probably bigger, heavier or longer than them, strolling along the side of a highway. Women carry huge reeds and stick piles on their heads, as well as buckets full of water that must weigh a ton. They carry suitcases, mattresses, upturned tables, watermelons and raw fish, some for sale and others to take home. Sometimes two share the load and carry 5 meter tree trunks on a shoulder each, to who knows where or even from where.
It seems most people walk everywhere, no matter how far, since horses, donkeys, camels, or even the wheel aren’t common labour aids. And sadly, they use the roads built for those rich enough to afford cars, buses or bikes, which proves to be quite dangerous since they usually have no sidewalks; car accidents hitting pedestrians are one of the leading causes of fatal accidents on the road.
The trees are probably being cut down for burning, since one environmental issue in Uganda is deforestation from dependency on coal. Coal is sold in bags on the side of the road, fairly cheaply, and as soon as nightfall hits, the smell of burning coals hits your nose from every direction. Families are using it to cook delicious food, boil water to drink and bathe, as a source of light and sometimes for heat.
There is amazing tilapia fish from Lake Victoria that you can buy fried as street food. Ethiopian food is also popular in Uganda and its so delicious and affordable. Local food almost always consists of matoke (mashed plantains, which they always call bananas), cassava, posho (a food staple made of maize flour) and rolex – a breakfast wrap made of eggs with a kind of chapatti bread feel. They have mini-bananas here, that are much sweeter than regular bananas, and eating them is more fun – although for one bite some get impatient to peel them, like my bus driver who just put them back, peel and all, in one big bite.
Being a former British colony, they also sell ginger beer, and the local beers are Nile Special, Bell and Club – all available for about $1USD per 500ml bottle. They apparently have Ugandan wine, which I haven’t tried in suspicion that its terrible, and a millet-based alcohol called Waragi that smells like gin.
One of the official languages here is English but not everyone is as comfortable in it as Luganda, the most widely spoken Ugandan language. But there are so many other dialects, sometimes totally unrelated, and its normal for people to speak 5 or 6 languages according to what languages nearby tribes speak.
Theres quite a Sudanese presence in Uganda, since the border they share is slowly getting safer after South Sudan declared independence from Sudan. They speak and dress quite differently, and are not to be confused with all the Indian decent locals who came to Uganda during British rule as labourers. There’s still some racist tension between the two groups, even though both are born and raised Ugandans.
Its been interesting to travel around here as a solo muzungu, and I certainly get a lot of strange stares. Sometimes people seem to think absolutely nothing at all, but just stop to stare to take in the strange sight. Other times, they’re inquisitively checking me out, from head to toe, wondering what the heck Im doing all alone, where Im from, and maybe what Im thinking. Meanwhile, Im noticing their gaze, and glancing back at the stares, wondering what they’re thinking, and I realize its just circular curiosity – we’re both just wondering what the other is thinking, equally baffled by what we’re seeing.