Sunday, November 12, 2006

Entebbe Arrival

One of my bags is missing when I arrive in Entebbe airport. As I am heading upcountry, it seems best to wait a day to see if it arrives, as promised, the following a day. It gives me a day at My Favourite Guest House, a restful stop where I may run across biologists doing chimpanzee research on the Sese Islands or mission pilots. Trumpet flowers cascade over the wall and a pair of turacos adorn the trees. It is also an opportunity to reverse some jet lag so I head to what used to be the flagship of the Uganda Hotels for a swim.

The Lake Victoria, since renamed the Windsor Victoria, has been renovated. I lived here for three months in 1985 after a couple of coups which almost destroyed it. It was so decrepit that long term guests painted their own rooms and bought their own curtains. We also supplied our own “extras”, such as butter, milk and sugar, for meals. But when the electricity worked, wall sockets still accepted dual voltage plugs. Water had to be hauled and plugs were missing but you could use the spacious bathtub and sink if you had a drain stopper. It felt a bit like living in an embassy after all the services were cut off.

I wander around the buildings lost in reverie. I kept a piece of bright patterned African jinja cloth, the sturdy local cotton used for school uniforms, from that period for years and wonder where it is now. Recalling this vibrant piece of colourful material tugs out of hiding other visual memories and I am able to reconstruct the room and people of that time in great detail. If memories are lodged in muscle, I wonder what mechanism it is that sets loose such a cascading sequence from a single strong visual image.

Later I head to the zoo which has also been renovated, restored and updated to focus on preservation of threatened and endangered species such as the whale-headed stork and white rhino.

We pick up the delayed bag at 9 pm the next night and head for Kampala so we can start off in the morrow, 20 miles closer to our destination. Availability of less expensive hotels in Kampala also factors into the decision. I stay in the Rubaga Guest House. The car also sleeps here, as Ugandans say, because there is a locked metal gate and guard.

We drive by Rubaga Cathedral on our way out of t
own. Huge crowds streaming up the hill to the cathedral remind me it is Sunday. Kampala is surrounded by seven hills, well, seven larger hills. Missionaries claimed the best views, so Rubaga, the Roman Catholic cathedral is on one, Namirembe, the Church of Uganda protestant cathedral, is on another and the Kisubi Mosque sits atop a third. All lovely buildings with grand views.

It is a four hour drive to Mbarara through the lush countryside adjacent to Lake Victoria with lots to see. Once we have left the congestion of city traffic in Kampala behind, I am suffused with gladness to be here. Although wiped out by jetlag, I cannot close my eyes.

Just outside of Kampala, on the way to Masaka, the capital of the Baganda tribe, the Kiganda drum makers are clustered in small jerry-built structures near the road. Pleased to show you their wares and the process of making them, they specialize in Kiganda drums, a tall one called engalabi covered on the top with monitor lizard skin and the elegant engoma made from cow hide. Engoma come in all sizes, some of the biggest reside in the cathedrals in Kampala. Tiny souvenir drums are available but their business here is making the real McCoy with full-bodied sound.

We pass the wayside markets with matooke (cooking banana), charcoal, tomatoes, papaya, onions, beans, watermelon, avocados, potatoes and sweet bananas. At first glance to an outsider like me, the markets all seem similar, some bigger, some smaller but all seem full of the same stuff. The drivers know better. We get a phone call enroute from one of our colleagues asking us to pick up yams. I quickly agree.

But the driver says, "Yams, not possible. We have passed the place where we can get good yams."

There are several Muslim towns enroute to Mbarara. I wouldn’t ordinarily notice that they were predominantly Muslim but today is the day before Eid il Fitre, the big celebration at the end of Ramadan. In Malaysia it is celebrated with elaborate sweets and freshly-squeezed juices and here in Uganda with meat. So the Muslim towns along our route all have busy meat markets with plenty of business today.

It begins briefly to rain. Ugandans say there is a wet season and a rainy season or short rains and long rains. This ensures plenty of rain and several excellent growing seasons here along the edge of Lake Victoria. The wonderful thing about the rain is that it usually doesn’t hang around for long. It soon stops and the sun comes out. Although Uganda straddles the equator, because it is about 3500 feet above sea level with the moderating influence of Lake Victoria, the weather is like an English country garden most of the time.

"Kulika yo. Naway kulika" Welcome back, the driver and I greet each other when we arrive at the Guest House. It feels great to be here in what Winston Churchill called, the Pearl of Africa.

Photos: flowers, turaco, whaleheaded stock, white rhino,Rubaga Cathedral, drum maker in shop, meat market before Eid, and lad with banana leaf rain hat.



Blogger Roy said...

Great pix! Thank you for the narrative on Entebbe...

4:22 PM  
Anonymous Ruth said...

I am glad you share the colours and joys of African culture.To many people, Entebbe represents the place where a military operation was carried out to free hostages, but your photos and writing describe a beautiful place I would like to visit.

5:11 PM  
Blogger Shinga said...

Fascinating and involving, as ever.

Regards - Shinga

6:12 PM  
Blogger Borneo Breezes said...

Roy- nice to have you drop by.

Ruth- There are a number of ghosts here but they have been defanged, but the extent to which they affected the economy lingers.

Shinga, Thanks

2:14 AM  

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