Owino market on a Saturday afternoon is intense.
But it’s a friendly place and there’s no need to worry about Neil – accompanying two ladies shopping.
“Eh muzungu how are you?”
“Which [Premier League] team are you?” all the vendors ask and as we head back people are still talking about ‘the muzungu from Oxford who supports Man United.’
Saturday evening leaving the Old Taxi Park is as crazy an African scene as you’re going to encounter. It’s exhausting. People call at you from all sides, traffic – bikes, boda bodas (crazy motorbike taxis) and matatus (crazy minibus taxis) – come at you from every direction simultaneously. People and vehicles groan under the collective weight of their wares and purchases.
We hold on tight to our pockets as we push through the tiny narrow rough mud paths of the makeshift market. The ground is bumpy, following the contours of the gullies where the rain forces its way through. The roof is a patchwork of overlapping canvas, cardboard and wood, everything the colour of dust. Light shines through the gaps in the wooden walls.
And much as imported second hand clothes gives people access to cheap clothes – and I mean VSOs as well as local people! – I can’t help but feel bad that we’re helping undermine the local economy. Traditional African patterns are fabulous and dress-making is cheap, but still can’t compete with Owino prices and the designer labels on sale here: NEXT, McDonalds staff uniform and ‘George at Asda.’
Everyone stares at Neil’s tattoos. Simpson is in awe “how long do they last?” he asks, his eyes wide open, rubbing Neil’s arms to see if the ink comes off.
This is one of the more visible differences between Ugandans and the British – the way strangers will touch you – but Neil doesn’t flinch. I love being part of his adventure and I love how open he is to everything.
In ten days Neil and I have covered several hundred kilometres and seen hundreds of animals. But the human safari back in Kampala – with all its smells, of animals, humans, vehicles, burning charcoal, roasted meat, sewage and everything else – is just as overwhelming.
And the dust!
And the noise!