As I start writing this, I’m currently in Kampala, Uganda.
I have been sent to Kampala to help out with some issues at the Embassy and to train some of the local guards on using a new piece of equipment. After going through the usual screw-up at the airport (to remind me I am still in Africa), I arrived in Entebbe. In 1976, Idi Amin gave refuge to a hijacked Air France plane at the Entebbe airport. After it landed and released only the non-Israeli passengers, the Israeli Special Forces, in a heroic move flew in and freed the passengers. The operation was a success considering the time frame used to plan and execute the rescue. Several movies were made about it. In the past decades, the Government has changed several times.
One of the reasons I was sent here, is to train about 30 local guards on a special piece of equipment used at Embassies. I love watching these people up close. The ones I taught are some of the senior guards who has been working at the Embassy for several years. I have learned to speak to them in ways they understand, which requires many hand gestures and noises. I’m normally not a noisy person (unless you ask my wife), so making sucking and blowing noises to illustrate the function of this machine tends to make me feel a bit foolish. But I prevailed.
I taught the same class last year in Kigali, and it was then I became amused by the way the guards interacted with each other. No way would that work in the States, as both males and females stood around in a group as I explained the machine, with arms on each other’s shoulders, some holding hands, and others with their heads actually resting on the shoulders of the one in front. I found it amazing and beautiful to view this innocent behavior toward each other. I have seen this interaction between Africans so many times in several countries, but only in Central Africa. Go up to the Northern part, where the African is more likely to be Muslim, or down in the South where they are more westernized, and you will not see this.
They are actually a quiet people who will provide a service with a subservient smile and nod. Very polite and always smiling, and apologetic when someone mistreats them, like the way the Europeans and Asians do at times. That itself will be another posting – how people from other countries are so arrogant. People in the United States will tell you that Americans are the worst, as if they want to find another fault with our Country, and yet they really have no idea.
Because they are quiet, many Africans view noisy people as a sign of ignorance. At least until they celebrate with music at a time to dance and show their love of life. While in Kampala, several of us went to a nearby bar that specializes in Mongolian BBQ. After a delicious and very inexpensive dinner, we headed back to the hotel. Passing through the bar, I see one of our Ethiopian Techs dancing with a hooker. We walked past and then we all stopped and said, was that Ayten? One of us walked back and stood next to him to look, since it was fairly dark there, and realized it was indeed Ayten. He is a short round man who does his best to keep up with his mind as it runs ahead of him, like a child chasing a balloon in the wind. Ayten had his eyes closed with his arms in the air, rotating his body back and forth like a witch doctor. He was totally unaware of us walking by and if he knew the hooker was dancing with him, he couldn’t care less. He just loves to dance. Below is a picture I took of Ayten with Solomon last year in Kigali. They asked me to take their picture and just as I pressed the shutter, Solomon said, “Ayten is my father”. Hence the look on Ayten’s face. I’ll let you determine who is Solomon and who is Ayten.
I have to be careful what I say to these guys, because many times a casual comment will be construed as a command. On our way to Kampala I stood in line in the terminal wondering aloud what was taking so long. Ayten took off to the counter to get to the bottom of it and I had to catch him and drag him back. “Ayten, no!”
The traffic here is not like Addis, which is both bad and bad. Motorcycles dominate the roads, all of them carrying people and goods. At an intersection they will swarm the vehicles like flies on watermelon, and if there is a break on the intersecting traffic they will take off against the traffic lights. Kinda like throwing a rock at the watermelon. I’ve seen them carrying: mattresses, furniture parts, parents with 3-4 kids, DHL boxes, chickens/goats/dogs, plastics jugs, old women sitting side-saddle and I saw a guy in back holding what appeared to be a long section of stovepipe sticking up in the air.
Forget the traffic laws. They are only for non-motorcycle vehicles. I worked with a Seabee from Kenya who told me, traffic lights in Nairobi are only obeyed if a traffic cop is present. As soon as he leaves, it’s a free for all.
While riding the shuttle to and from the airport every day, there will be venders who stand at the congested intersections to hawk their wares. I would see several of them carrying a clear bucket of what I thought was chopped up pieces of a plant. Ayten told me they were grasshoppers and tasted terrible. Terrible! He repeats things like that. “Have you tasted of them, Ayten?” “No! No! They taste terrible!” he replied. “Terrible!”
Also, along the side of the road we traveled on, I saw many pieces of furniture for sale. I mean, a lot of furniture. It took several trips to and fro, before I realized, they were actually building the furniture right there on the side of the road! And it was good looking stuff. Some upholstered, and some just wood, but nice looking stuff. – just right there on the side of the road and left it there to sell.
I’ve been through several airports overseas, but the one in Uganda was most unusual. It is the first time the officer at any passport control, actually pronounced my name correctly and casually visited with me as he did his check. Made the trip seem so much more pleasant.
Now that I’m home, I uploaded several of the best pictures I took of Kampala. I have what I call, flying shots. They are taken very quickly from a fast moving vehicle of the side of the road. Many of them turn out blurred, but those that did not are posted. Look over to the left side of the page and you will find a link to our Flickr site.