From open sewers to beautiful flowering hedges, mangy stray dogs that sleep on sidewalks and magnificent cranes that nest in the trees of the public parks, there is good and bad to Kampala.
There are also people in every direction: well dressed business people, school children in uniform, women with babies on their backs, beggars with limbs missing, boda boda (motorcycle taxi) drivers, and people selling everything from toothbrushes to bibles on the sidewalks. With a population of 1.2 million, you certainly feel the density and stress on the city's infrastructure. It's generally loud, dirty, and congested. Traffic jams are are constant sight and horns blare everywhere you go.
Many of these people greet me when they see me coming. Today I've heard the following:
"Muzungu!(white person) Muzungu! How are you?"
"Where are you going?"
"From which country are you from?"
"Give me 500!(shillings)"
"Give me 1000!"
"You look so cute."
However, they are generally friendly and helpful. I've asked several people for directions and they generally go out of their way to assist me. I'm constantly being approached by people asking if I will, "be their friend." They try to give me their cell phone number and want to know when I'll be calling them. Today on my way to the Internet cafe, a bicycle taxi driver asked me where I was going and when I said that I didn't need a lift he said, "I love you." I'm never sure how to take those kind of compliments.
I was stuck in a traffic jam while I rode in a taxi bus this week. We sat for 30minutes without moving. The exhaust fumes can be overpowering at times. Taxi buses are 14 passenger vans that run a type of public transportation system. There is a driver and a caller- "Nysambya! Nysambya!" they call as they drive from the centre of town towards my neighbourhood looking for more passengers. In Rwanda we called these buses, "Matatus" and in Tanzania they're called, "Dala Dalas." It costs about 25 cents to ride the bus from the downtown taxi park to my neighbourhood.
An alternate form of transportation is the bodaboda. These are a fast way to get around and they will take you directly to your destination as they are often able to weave through the traffic jams. It's fun and pretty thrilling, but with no helmet and riding side saddle on the back (because usually I'm wearing a skirt) I know it's more risk than I ought to be taking. I've limited myself to two rides so far.
Kampala is safe. There are plenty of visible police and security guards. The hostel where I stay has a guard on 24 hour duty. Some of the people I've met have cautioned me to be careful with my purse, money, passport etc, but they also mention that I shouldn't be worried. "Kampala is not like Nairobi," I've heard this several times. I haven't heard any stories from the hospital about patients coming in with trauma as a result of violence or shootings.
I often find myself comparing Kampala to Kigali and I have to say that there are things that I miss about the Rwandan capital, but the more I get to know my way around Kampala, the more I like it. There is even a movie theatre and I see that some of the Christmas blockbusters are opening this week.