Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Bakiga Window: Exploring the Backstreets

Phone networks ensure that Uganda's shops are as colourful outside as they are inside.

The backstreets of any town are always a treasure trove of hidden gems. They obscure from the casual traveller or commuter a great deal of real life - a life missed from the main road. Kabale is no exception to this rule.

It is Wednesday 20th April and the midday sun is engaged in a battle with dark rainclouds for ownership of the Kigezi skies. This morning I have been at the Taufiq Islamic School and now I am exploring some of Kabale’s backstreets alone, something I have never had chance to do before.

Upon leaving the main road, I cross an open square, past the Edirisa, and head down Nyerere Avenue. Along this street I don’t stir much curiosity in the local people and pass the Kabale Milk Centre unnoticed. Here young boys on bicycles precariously balance heavily laden milk churns on their luggage racks before riding off into the distance.

I reach Nyerere Drive Road, turn right and then right again shortly after passing by the modestly named Amazing Pub.

I find myself in a small street with a dead end. I have a look around the buildings and discover that the majority are small businesses, mainly inns, with the exception of the last building. This building advertises its services, quite simply, with a hand painted wooden sign, reading, “Male Circumcision and Dental Service.”
A limited, but interesting choice of services available at this backstreet clinic.
I am puzzled for a moment at the unusual combination of services offered by this establishment and laugh out loud to myself thinking about the conversations that may take place inside; something like, “I’ve got a problem with my upper-right wisdom tooth, left molar and my foreskin.”

After a few minutes I am aware that someone is speaking to me, having emerged from one of the shadier looking inns across this small road. Conscious of the fact I am in a dead end and no one knows my whereabouts, I start to walk back to Nyerere Avenue.

The man catches up with me. He begins telling me that he is an alcoholic and wants some money to buy a locally produced drink made from sorghum. Sympathetic as I am to anyone in such a situation, I decide that I am not willing to get myself into a dodgy situation up a sidestreet. 

Having rounded the corner, back towards the hustle and bustle of a main street, I make my escape. Whilst new friend is looking in the opposite direction, I disappear into the Amazing Pub to buy a copy of the Daily Monitor. The man carries on walking up the road into the distance.

Later, having looked at my map of Kabale, I realised what a pitifully bad job of exploring the backstreets I had done. Despite walking for felt like a long time, it would appear that I was only ever about two minutes walk from the main Kabale-Kisoro Road. Next year I must try harder.

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