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Enkuto Eratukura #4: On The Beach

When lakes in Wales are your only point of reference, Lake Victoria is an ocean.
Thursday 2nd April 2015 - 8pm

After we’d settled into Entebbe Backpackers Hostel, Tash and I went off to change money – not a simple process when the bank clerks don’t seem to like explaining the procedure.

Upon returning to the hostel there was just enough time for a shower before getting back on board Brian’s bus and setting off for Lake Victoria.

Once en route, I told Brian to head to ‘Imperial Beach’ and so he drove us the short distance to Imperial Beach Resort. When we arrived, something wasn’t quite right. If you ever ask me to remember something useful like a phone number I cannot do it; ask me to recall something visual and I usually can.

After a brief chat with an unimpressed female security guard we performed a rapid u-turn, trying to avoid letting anyone know about the mix-up, and proceeded to the different, yet remarkably similarly named Imperial Resort Beach. As soon as we arrived we knew we were where we should be. Brian and I looked at each other and laughed. We were supposed to be the experts in this scenario.

By the time we arrived the sun had done most of its setting and was covering just a small part of the beach. With Entebbe being on the north-western edge of Lake Victoria, it faces out eastwards and thus the sunset was behind us.

All along the beach there were a number of people playing with volleyballs and footballs, almost all of them local. Further in the distance, along the beach, young Ugandans were walking gingerly alongside each other, away from the gaze of adults or other prying eyes, but still not holding hands.

Our group settled on the seats near the water’s edge and immediately started dipping their feet into the lake – despite dispensing with Grigorios’ advice not to. 

I ordered drinks for everyone from a sleepy waiter and there was a sense of collective relief that we were in Uganda, with food and beds waiting for us far away from airports and aeroplane food.

Amongst the people, seemingly patrolling the beach, were flocks of awkward looking marabou storks. These birds are the complete antithesis of Uganda’s national bird, the grey crested crane. They look like a cross between vultures and sunburnt old men, and caused excitement and fear in equal measure amongst the group of students.

As I went to check on the status of the drinks order, I saw the form of a woman hiding behind a large pair of geek glasses. It was my long-time Twitter contact Evelyn Masaba who I’d had to call upon to chase the manager of our accommodation after they’d taken too long responding to my emails.

As I walked closer I saw that she was deep in discussion, to put it politely, with the security guard at the gate. She clearly wasn’t in the mood to hand over her ID card when she’d never been asked to before. Although she is shorter than both the security guard and me, she struck a certain degree of fear into both of us as she made her case.

Once the group’s drinks were finally sorted, Evelyn and I headed to the bar away from the main group and ordered Tonic water – the sense of which only dawned on me later when I remembered that a key ingredient in it is quinine, a chemical used to treat malaria.

There’s always the risk when you first meet someone in person that after the initial phatic talk and general jibber-jabber calms down, the awkwardness will creep in. Luckily this wasn’t the case.

She was an amusing character and took the time to enquire about my life in the UK, to translate the Ugandan news for me and to punctuate all of this with gentle mockery of me and my mzungu ways.

The only element of awkwardness came when she pointed out that the staff would likely compare us to all of the black women with white men sat around the grounds of the resort.

Sure enough, in various parts of the gardens and corners of the bar there were middle-aged white men sat with young Ugandan women; wine flowing and food being ignored in favour of tactile demonstrations of mutual affection. It was hard not to make certain assumptions, but equally none of my business.

After what amounted to just a brief hour, the group started to congregate ready to take the bus back to the hostel.

I walked Evelyn to her boda-boda and asked, “Surely you’re not going to take that all the way back, are you?”

“No,” she replied. This time she chose to travel back to Kampala in the relative luxury of a matatu.

I waved goodbye, boarded the bus and Brian drove us back for a much-needed night of food, Sister Act 2 and sleep.

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