A Weekend in Kampala

My time here in Kampala is brief, but having already spent one day in this city, I’ve taken a liking to this dusty, crowded, noisy city, whose name originates from the British having termed it a “Kamp (Camp) of Impalas,” as large numbers of impalas inhabited its forests and land

Yesterday, I arrived in Kampala on a taxi (note: African taxis are basically shared cars the size of a typical mini-van, but often squeezing 16-20 people in one). I managed to score a seat by the window in the front row, but the joy that accompanied this was short-lived. About 30 minutes into the ride, I noticed camera shutter sounds… The middle-aged Indian man sitting directly next to me was taking pictures of me. And he didn’t take 1, but at least 10 throughout. I didn’t want to make a scene or attract any more attention that was already there, for being the only foreigner on the taxi, so I just turned away, put my earphones in, and listened to my music on blast. Minutes later, I noticed him posting the pictures of me on facebook (what the hell?!). But the harassment didn’t stop there… He wrote me a note on his phone asking for my e-mail, my number, and my address, and continued to nudge me and try to hold the phone in front of the both of us so that I would read it. I probably should’ve said something from the very beginning, so that this would not have ensued for another 2 hours. Instead, I chose to ignore him and positioned my body facing away from him.

Of course, had this happened to me in the States, I would have said something expressing my disinterest (and slight disgust). But it’s something about being a foreigner that shaped my behavior this way. I felt violated, helpless, and victim to this foreign country (as this was not the first occurrence), and it was frustrating. Eventually, we reached our destination in Kampala, and I was so relieved to get away from this guy, who then turned to verbal means — he asked me for my information and where I was going, and I gave perhaps the most reinforced “no” I have given in my life, and walked away. In the back of my mind I was scared he would follow me, but thankfully, he did not. This has to be one of my least favorite things about traveling alone (as a female, too) in a foreign country.

I took a boda, and then a taxi to the apartment I would be renting for 2 nights in Kampala, complete with fridge, toilet, sink, and overhead shower — luxuries in Uganda that I so missed. From there, I met up with Zulaika from Kampala Walk Tours, who showed me and two other tourists from Holland, around the city of Kampala — something I would not have been able to do for my horrible direction skills, but even more so, for the crazy rules of the road (or lack thereof) in which pedestrians are expected to hop along the road, avoiding the cars and bodas whirling past at 30 mph. Despite there being a good amount of foreigners and “mzungus” in Kampala, the three of us tourists still received a great deal of attention, especially as we navigated our way through the market. I was called “China” so much that when somebody finally called me “Koreana,” I paused to greet the Ugandan who said it, haha! The guy from Holland, tall and white, with a scruffy beard and hair, was constantly referred to as “Jesus” by the Ugandans. That was actually hilarious, as I could’ve seen the resemblance as well. Finally the 4 hour walking tour ended at the Gaddafi/National Mosque, where I wore a burka for the first time. The mosque was beautiful and had a tower from which you could see every side of Kampala, as the city was built around the mosque on all sides.


Behind me you see the taxi park in Kampala (characterized by the Ugandans as “organized chaos”)


The hustle and bustle of the market, which sold everything from cow hooves, to secondhand clothes, to tents and sleeping bags.


View of one side of Kampala from the Gadaffi Mosque tower!

Because I’m running out of money, I’ve been laying low in Kampala today– visiting a couple cafes — of course, complete with nonfunctional wifi and a fly drowning in my chai latte — maybe doing a little more shopping and sightseeing, and resting for my early return to Iganga tomorrow morning. I certainly wish I had more time here, but hopefully I will have the chance to come back another weekend. Kampala has such a rich history, embedded in its complicated power struggles with the British, its culture, and its people.

I can’t believe it’s already August — I feel like I say that at the beginning of every new month, but something in particular about the coming of August 1st really took me by surprise — not in a good or bad way, but in a I-wish-I-could-freeze-time kind of way. What’s happening this August, you ask?

  1. I turn 21 (I’m actually not looking forward to my birthday this year; I feel like there’s something sacred about being 20. Don’t ask me why…)
  2. I begin my senior year at Berkeley
  3. A certain anniversary with a certain someone 🙂
  4. And… my return to the States

Despite thinking that I would be feeling very excited to go home, at this point, I feel more regret at not being able to stay longer. I’m not yet halfway in my stay here, yet I feel like I wish I could spend more time here, particularly with UDHA as the work days pass so quickly. So much so that I even asked myself for a fraction of a moment if I should take the semester off and stay. Of course, I won’t be doing that, but I think it would have been nice. I already feel nostalgia for Uganda — its beautiful land, culture, and people, and as much as I know that the next 3 weeks here will fly by, I really hope that they don’t…


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