Saturday, May 23, 2015

Enkuto Eratukura #5: When The Road Rises To Meet You

Pretending to write something in my journal and getting a dusty backside for it.
Friday 3rd April 2015 - 11.45pm

This was the day of the big road journey. After some careful consideration involving an emergency meeting with Kevin and Raj at WMSF, it was decided that that we should push on to Kabale as soon as possible due to the terror threat warning issued by the US Embassy in Kampala and the subsequent assassination of Judge Kagezi. 

Despite arranging for breakfast at 7.45am, we only managed to depart Entebbe Backpackers at 9.30am. Some expert faffing around was one of the principle reasons for our tardiness, but the cooking and eating seeming to be a slow process exacerbated this.

Whilst the final faffing was going on, Jas organised the repacking of the back two rows of Brian’s Coaster bus with our luggage and we headed off in the direction of Kabale via Kampala.

As always on the Entebbe-Kampala road, wherever there was the most minute confluence of roads the traffic ground to a halt. Larger traffic and more patient drivers waited in line whilst matatu buses tried going around the outside, the inside and would probably have tried going over the roofs of other vehicles if they could. All this just added to our slow progress.

After passing over the mothballed railway line in the middle of Kampala, where small market traders have long since replaced trains, we turned left onto the Masaka road.

As we slogged our way through further traffic, a siren came from behind. We pulled over to the side of the road as a convoy of government cars, tooled-up paramilitary police and motorcycle outriders passed by.

“Who was that?” I asked. “A government official?”

“Sure,” Brian replied. “It was the Prime Minister.”

“Really?”

“Yes. I saw him in the third vehicle.”

Once we were clear of the suburbs, the road opened up a little and the settlements became sparser and less built-up; the three-storied buildings of the city traded for the smaller single-storied structures of the country.

Our first proper stop was on the Equator. Here we allowed the students to stretch their legs a little; some went shopping for crafts and gifts for those back home. I took the opportunity to pose for a picture on the Equator roundel – sat facing southwards with my journal in my hands, much to Suweyda’s bemusement. 

With some food and drink supplies on board, we departed after an hour of respite from a bus seat.

Not long after bypassing Masaka, we stopped for a toilet break. A public toilet in a village is clearly a potentially lucrative business and I’m pursued by the caretaker for 200 shillings whilst I’m in the middle of my own business. I pointed the slightly over-zealous man in the direction of Tash who paid for everyone. 

In the meantime, an ever-increasing crowd of children had emerged to witness the bus full of bazungu, bahindi and Somalis using the toilet. With the hyperactivity of the local children reaching silly levels we boarded the bus to cheers as if we were a visiting football team.


The journey progressed smoothly along the road as we headed towards Jas’ old family home in Mbarara. Here we picked up Brian’s son and nephew from the rain-soaked high street, surrounded by the buzzing of boda-bodas fitted with special umbrellas.

After Mbarara the road was in a major state of disrepair, and, because of the intensifying rain, the going was very slow.

The bus banged and bounced its way along the road, occasionally slowing as the tarmac came and went.

We cleared a narrow section of the road and started to make some faster progress over the potholed, but as yet unsurfaced new road when Brian pulled over to the side of the road.

He got out of the bus and looked under the nearside wheel-arch. After a few minutes he came back around to the driver’s seat.

“Everything okay? All Good?” I asked, sensing the inevitable.

“It’s not good,” he replied. “We have lost the air filter.”

I’m no expert, but I guessed correctly that this was something connected to the exhaust system.

Brian hopped back out of the driver’s seat and hailed the first boda-boda he saw.

Time passed slowly as a murky dusk started to fall over this bit of anonymous road in the middle of nowhere in particular. The inevitable requests for a trip to the toilet, a cigarette, chocolate and all manner of other things started to appear.

After just under an hour, he returned.

“Did you find it?” I inquired.

“No, but I have a solution,” Brian responded, and, armed with some form of black builders tarpaulin and two bits of rubber tubing, he set about fixing the gap in the exhaust.

After a relatively short time, we were ready to move once more. By now it was dark but our pain wasn’t over yet.

Not much further down the road we noticed a stationary queue of traffic in the distance; a snake of red tail lights in damp blackness. A figure outside on the road muttered, in Luganda, to Brian that a truck had slipped on the wet mud and was now blocking both carriageways.

It took around 45 minutes for a group of guys with shovels and torches to dig the truck out of the hole, but this still left it floundering on one side of the road, sinking ever lower in the mud as its wheels tried to find purchase. The oncoming queue of traffic saw its chance and like a predatory anaconda started weaving truculently through the gap. We could only sit and wait as an unending stream of headlights came towards us.


When we got to Ntungamo we stopped at a petrol station for a toilet break and a morale-boosting pile of Cadbury’s chocolate.

Ntungamo was our last major hurdle. The time was now 8.30pm and we had plenty of travelling left to do, but the roads were smooth and peaceful; our only company seemed to be Congolese trucks and the occasional car.

Not far outside of the town, the road became akin to the inspiration for The Beatles’ song about a ‘Long and Winding Road’. Jas made the joke; the audience were too young to laugh.

Morale stayed amazingly high, all things considered, and the group continued to sing all the way to Kabale, with Khadija showcasing her hidden vocal skills and latent potential to become Algeria’s first country music superstar.

At the sight of Taufiq Islamic School on the edge of Kabale, we knew we’d made it at last. The clock read 11.00pm. This indicated a late dinner, but at least a comfy bed to lie down in.

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