Uganda Day 14: Bodaboda Tour
First of all, let's just take in the fact that I have officially been here for two weeks. Two down, something like ten to go. Still very much missing the comforts of home, but at least I'm beginning to figure out how to live here.
Today was our boda tour of Kampala. Several people had told me that this would be a great experience, so I've been looking forward to it. I was supposed to be picked up at 10, but my guide called at 9:20 and said he was here, so I rushed to finish getting ready and went out to find him. By the time we actually found each other and left, I think it was nearly 10 anyway. My driver and guide for the next few hours was Apollo. Before starting the tour, we rode to Kololo to meet up with Aliana and her guide. I thought we would be joining a larger group, but it ended up being just the two of us.
Our first stop was the Baha'i Temple. It's one of only eight in the world—very fortunate for us that we just happen to be in the city with the only one in Africa. I had never heard of the Baha'i religion before. It's very universalist, essentially accepting many of the world's deities as valid messengers (I think) of one God. That includes Christ, Muhammad, Krishna, Moses, Buddha, and maybe others. I apologize if I'm misconstruing or misrepresenting anything—this is just my very limited and cursory understanding based on the explanation we received from the Baha'i "teacher" today.
The temple was at the top of a hill. We were allowed to walk up to it and step inside, but there was a ceremony taking place (excuse my ignorance of the proper term) so we had to be very quiet. We were also told not to take pictures or use our phones when we went near. Inside, a small congregation was seated and a group of them were signing, quite beautifully actually. I didn't stay inside for long, though...seemed like lots of people were staring, and I couldn't tell if it was disinterested curiosity or disdain for the intrusion.
Sticking with the religious theme, our next stop was the Gaddafi Mosque (also known as the Uganda National Mosque). This is the largest mosque in East Africa and the second-largest in Africa. It's scale was impressive, but more interesting to me was the sheer number of people that go to pray there five times a day. The gender disparity is also rather acute—women are separated, and even just to enter the mosque Aliana had to put a scarf around her face and another around her legs.
There's not much to see inside of a mosque, even one as grand as this. Far more exciting was walking up to the top of the minaret. The staircase seemed to go on forever—I think I worked off that crêpe from yesterday. The view was well worth the effort, though:
To quote Apollo, "the view is more than 360 degrees!" Made me laugh. But for real, the view is incredible up there. It was also quite windy, which felt amazing, especially since I wore jeans for this tour (in anticipation of our intrusion on several places of worship).
From there we went to Lubiri or Mengo Palace, the official residence of the King of Buganda. Buganda is one of the many traditional kingdoms of Uganda—and I won't try to explain any more than that, because I'm likely to get it wrong. Buganda was described to us today as a "nation within a nation".
But first, just before getting to the palace, we stopped at the King's Lake, a man-made lake with a really interesting story behind it...something to do with an old king's eighty-something wives. I can't quite remember and there's no Wikipedia article, so I'll leave it there.
From the lake we made our way up to the palace itself. We couldn't go inside, because it's an official residence and all—though apparently there are nine or ten others as well—but it looked nice from the outside:
Now for the really heavy stuff. Just behind the palace and a little ways down a hill, you arrive at the gate to a torture chamber used by Idi Amin. The contrast alone was unsettling—one minute you'r walking down a lovely green path, with a view of the hills of Kampala around you, and then you turn the corner and see this:
It's the kind of place that makes your skin crawl as you get closer; it adds just a hint of trepidation to your footsteps. Maybe it's just me, but from the moment we entered to the moment we left, I had this constant subtle urge to keep glancing behind me. Truly unsettling. Inside, it essentially looks like a tall hallway lined with maybe half a dozen large cells on one side, several feet off the ground. It was much darker than this picture in real life (had to pump the brightness on my phone to get it), but this is looking into one of the cells:
Our guide explained some of what went on in this place. Each cell would hold something like a hundred prisoners, most of whom were political opponents or other perceived threats to the regime. Men and women were imprisoned together. Apparently food and water were not provided. There was a sliding door over each cell, and the main entrance (in the first photo) had an electrified gate. I mentioned that the cells were all several feet off the ground in the hall—this was because they flooded the hallway with water and electrified that as well, making escape impossible. About 200,000 people died in this place under Amin. I would say it was "creepy", but I think "horrifying" is more accurate. I'm glad we saw it, but I was happy to leave.
Out of the darkness and back up the hill, we found our boda drivers and set off once again. We were both starving, so our next stop was lunch. There must be a hundred thousand people in this city making "rolex" on the side of the road. Not the watch—rolex is a common street food in Uganda, basically a chapati rolled up with eggs and some vegetables. You don't have to go far in Kampala before you pass a vendor making rolex. I'm skeptical with street food, especially in a place like this—if you follow my Snapchat, you saw where we stopped—but it was pretty good. And it was only 1500 shillings, which works out to about 58 cents Canadian. Hard to beat any kind of food at that price.
After our rolex stopover, we set out for the last part of our tour and headed downtown. This is my least favourite part of riding a boda. When you're on a road without too much congestion, it's really not bad at all. But when there's traffic it gets dicey, and when you're in the heart of downtown, it's hectic to say the least. We didn't stay for long, though. Apollo showed us the taxi park, otherwise known as "organized chaos". His words, not mine—to me it just looks like chaos.
Apollo tried to explain how the whole system functions, but I still don't understand. He also said that, because it was Sunday, it wasn't very busy. I will not be coming back on a weekday to experience the real deal. If I needed to catch a taxi here, I wouldn't even know where to start. They also stuff about twelve people into each one of those, and the thought of being stuck in an old van with no air conditioning in the sweltering heat is enough to keep me away. I think I'd pass out. There is also some serious B.O. happening in this city, just as an added bonus.
And that was our tour, for the most part. We saw a few other things that we didn't really stop for, so I don't have any pictures of them. Probably the most interesting was the "New Scottish Parliament," which is misleading, since we're in Uganda. Apparently it was designed in the style of the actual Scottish Parliament, so when Scottish people came here they recognized as much and started calling it the "new" Scottish Parliament. Funny, how things get their names.
Apollo dropped me off at home around 2:30 or 3. It felt like it should be later than that—it was a fun tour, but it was also exhausting. Since it was still so early in the afternoon, I decided to hit up La Patisserie for a few hours, which is where I've been writing this from. I figure, everything is nicer with a coffee and a pain au chocolat. I think after posting this I'll head back home and make some dinner. I also need to move my photos from the day onto my computer—I took my camera on the tour, and it wasn't so bad. I didn't take it out when we were downtown, though. Which is kind of unfortunate, because it'd probably be the most interesting part of the city to shoot. Sadly, I don't think I'll ever be comfortable enough to do that. Too much chaos, too many people, too many ways to lose a camera. But at least I can take photos in the less crazy parts of town.
Hope you've enjoyed the tour. Tomorrow is back to work, unfortunately. Not sure my days will be interesting enough to blog during the week! We will see how it goes. Thanks for reading!