Thursday, September 4, 2008

Fun Facts and Ugandan Traffic

“oli otya” (olyo-tia) – how are you?
Response: “gyendi “ (jen-dee)- I am there.

So far in Uganda we have stayed at a hotel in the capital. We have walked around for hours each day, bargained at markets, and eaten goat and samosa. The city streets are insanely crowded!!! It is fun and exciting … but sometimes you cant even move, and the sidewalks can be dangerous. You have to watch where you are stepping in places so that you don’t fall into the sewage system or a manhole or get run over by a boda boda (motorcycle). Shops and vendors line the streets. Kampala has no ground level offices along the streets (save when you get to a nicer area where embassies and parliament are)—it is all commercial. People do live behind some of the shops though.

We just found out who our homestay families are!!! I am living with a princess and a software engineer!!! Just like my family at home! (except my host mom comes from real royalty). I have not met them yet. I have been told that they have around 6 kids, and they live in Kisaasa. Their names are Christina and Henry Tukke. Streets in the suburbs and most city streets are not named… so I don’t have an address at home. I am so excited for Sunday when we get to move in with them!!!

When we Americans walk through the streets people yell “Muzungu!” which means “white person” at us. It is not a slam or anything, they generally love us. Most Ugandans so far think that we are tourists, and their faces brighten so much if we greet them back in Luganda. They love talking to us and if we ever have questions or get lost, someone will kindly stop what they are doing to show us the way or to take us there themselves. People here are generally extremely friendly and welcoming to everybody.
Yesterday we had a “drop off” where we had to walk about the city. Two other Muzungus and I were researching internet cafes and newspapers. People at the primary school who were practicing their traditional and tribal dance performances started yelling “Mazungu!” and invited us to come watch them perform a ritual marriage dance and an Acholi dance from the north. The singing and drumming was so powerful and their dancing so energetic that it was hard to just sit and watch (My lack of booty shaking skills would have been a riot to them I am sure). I also had my first taste of bargaining from the market for my cell phone and purse.

Other interesting facts: My boogers here are black. The streets are covered in dirt (and trash,) and the huge number of diesel engines pollutes the air considerably. My throat burns after walking around for a long period of time.

Uganda—like Ohio—has lots of birds. Uganda’s birds--unlike Ohio’s—are 4 feet tall storks. They are huge, nasty, ugly birds who scavenge for trash and seem unafraid of humans. They are also toxic to eat.

Uganda has an endless supply of bananas. Most Ugandans eat “matooke” at every meal. Matooke is boiled and mashed bananas. It doesn’t taste too much like bananas, and it is very bland but good. They also have so many abundant and cheap varieties of tropical fruit, and I will certainly miss passionfruit juice back in the states. It is incredible.

Now I am going to tell you about another exciting part of Kampala life: the traffic!
The traffic here is unbelievable compared to what we have in the states. It is absolutely amazing. On our way to the city from the airport, I thought we almost got into a couple of car accidents. It turns out that we didn’t… that the drivers know exactly what they are doing.
First of all… Ugandan traffic is not organized like American traffic. And I don’t mean that it is dissimilarly organized… I mean that it lacks almost any form of organization. Only the main roads in the capital city have names… all other directions are given by landmarks… [ex) I live in this village on the Western side of the road that is behind two churches.] Only a couple traffic lights are in the city and these are usually turned off. Speed limit signs do not exist. (I think I have seen one road sign so far and it was a ‘no entrance‘)Cars travel on the left side of the road… but of course I have been in a line of cars surrounded on both sides by oncoming traffic. Taxis (Toyota Hiaces filled with 16 people), motorcycles, pedestrians, animals, bicycles, beggers and peddlers all share the road way, and pedestrians do not have the right of way. Motorcylces, walkers, and bikes maneuver through all “lanes.” I have heard that hurried taxis drive on the sidewalk. It is an absolute free-for-all. Cars do not stop and wait to cross the road… they move into the roadway perpendicular to oncoming traffic, right in front of oncoming cars, and pull in front of other drivers. The more energetic driver makes it first. When you keep in mind that Kampala is a huge, extremely crowded city and that the roads are COMPLETELY PACKED, the traffic seems like madness. It is. What we consider “bumper to bumper traffic” in America is a complete joke once you have seen the truth that phrase holds here.

The amazing thing is… I have not seen a single accident. Probably most cars have scratched bumpers, but they are so used to driving this way, that they are very good. All drivers must be at least 18 years old and have taken drivers education classes. They are aggressive drivers, but at the same time, they are all extremely calm and patient. Sometimes the cars make it into the spot they want immediately, and sometimes they block traffic for a few seconds… but no one seems angered. Unfortunately a huge number of motorcyclists and some pedestrians are not always lucky. (don’t worry I am not allowed on motorcycles for that reason).
It is also interesting that our advisor has come to the states 3 times and is absolutely mortified of our driving. She says that we have so many road signs that she can barely concentrate on driving. Also, she says it is hard for her to waste so much time waiting… for lights, stop signs, etc. Drivers do not wait more than a couple seconds here for anything.

So far life in the bustling capital has been very exciting!!!


Mrs. D. said...

Hi Alex- it's Dom's sister, Laura. We love your blog! I was cracking up reading your latest entry. We can't wait for the next one. Take care! We're thinking of you!

BILL said...




Kevin Mertens said...

It sounds like things are going wonderfully for you Alex! I am glad to know that your boogers are black haha. I can almost taste the passion fruit juice from here...almost. Don't be afraid to join in those dances, you will have the time of your life for sure! Smile!
~Kevin Mertens

Sarah said...

ALEX bott!!! it sounds amazing thus far. and i also almost texted you the other day and sadly realized your somewhat out of contact. =( I went to the pet store at the mall the other day on the way back from visiting a vet office. I took out a min pinscher and played with it and thought of you!!!

i look forward to reading more!! bye for now muzungu!

Anonymous said...

You are living with a princess??? How randooooooo...I love it! We miss you dearly.

A lot of funny things have happened in this room, namely, today, Emily ripped up my chore list and accused me of being unfair. But as she learned, she was wrong! Hahah!

Also, Sarah is drunk. Melissa is studious.

I miss you I miss you I miss you! Keep up having the wonderful experiences.