There were plenty of seats on the bus – so why does the big man always have to sit next to me? Immediately, he reclined his seat and wedged two greasy paper bags between us. “Do you even have an apple to eat?” he asked me and then proceeded to eat fried chicken from one hand and a chapatti from the other; he sprawled in every direction for 14 hours.
We drove from the coach park straight into heavy evening traffic – and the side of a car. After ten minutes of arguing and arm waving, the consensus was that the car was the one-size-fits-all-Ugandan-term: “stubborn”.
I’d woken from the only decent bit of sleep that night, at one in the morning, to have somebody in a uniform wave some banknotes right in my face.
In my effort not to get ripped off at the border, I got ripped off at the border – not so much by individuals as by the system.
Money from my British bank account was issued in Ugandan shillings at the ATM in Kampala. I changed some into Kenyan shillings for the border crossing. Much to my annoyance, I then had to purchase a single $50 note for my visa! (They wouldn’t let me pay the equivalent in either shilling). I don’t even want to think how much money I literally threw away but I didn’t have much choice: my special (work) pass ran out with my VSO placement and I needed to leave Uganda in order to reenter on a new tourist visa while my new special pass is being processed.
As the only muzungu on the bus, it was hardly surprising that the bus drove off without me while I was changing money and filling in forms at the border. “It’s ok” Dirty Dick said “we’ll get on the bikes” and he pointed to the two boys who’d just appeared on pushbikes next to him.
I hitched up my dress and lifted one buttock onto the small padded seat above the back wheel and the four of us pedalled off into the darkness of the no-man’s-land between Uganda and Kenya.
Kampala’s (in)famous boda boda motorbike taxis – that seem to swarm around Kampala like cockroaches – started here, on the border crossing between the two countries. Like them or loathe them, they provide an invaluable public transport service and we couldn’t do without them now.
A big bat swooped beneath the arc of a solitary street light as we coasted down a short slope through a lorry park. The place seemed deserted. I felt the bike wobble (or was that my *kabina?)
Crossing back into Uganda three days later, under my Ugandan name Nagawa (according to the bus ticket) I was issued with a 3 month visa which says I – travelling on a British passport – am a citizen of the USA!
*A kabina is what a lady sits on – the bigger it is, the more compliments she gets!