Uganda Visit 2013 – Part 2
Part 2: Caffeine
As the morning haze slowly warmed and melted into the afternoon sun Emma and I pulled up in a small town just north of Kampala. We had stopped with the express intention of exchanging some US dollars at a local branch of the ubiquitous Crane Bank into the much more efficient Ugandan Shilling. The bank was a small, well air conditioned unit with a smattering of mustard brown furniture and bleached pale grey walls. A large, shiny flat screen television showing highlights of last night’s premier league games dangled above the cashier’s line-the sport is immensely popular in Uganda and, as far as I can work out, easier to watch here than it is in the UK- two cashiers were seated behind the protective glass, each dealing with clients at their own steady pace. A smallish chap was buzzing to and fro in the back room, a look of mild anxiety gripping his slightly perplexed face. His agitated movements were only heightened by the hyper relaxed state of the other staff members. The pale grey walls and small rectangular windows appeared to house an operation not unlike those found in the southern states of Europe, the slower pace and mildly laconic staff merely a representation of meteorological circumstance. When the warm sun shines, we all slow down.
I walked out of the bank feeling like a million shillings, well not quite, but given the fact that my wallet had increased by a factor of 2500 I was entitled to feel a little flush. The first coffee stop, not long after the bank, whilst quickly putting pay to my monetary fantasies, served as a much needed shot in the arm. The café was recommended Emma, a Somali run operation with well stocked fridges, a glut of helpful staff, and a small front terrace on which to enjoy their wares. As with any new country, and especially any new continent, the first time you approach a food counter you do so with trepidation; there are a number of barriers between the rookie and the successful food transaction, the road from kitchen to foreign belly is littered with traps, potential pitfalls and fraught with danger; as any traveller will attest food, above all else can be a cause for major cultural, and internal biological misunderstandings. I stared, half asleep, at the busy menu unable to narrow my spectrum of choice. Emma, probably sensing my inner turmoil, stepped up and confidently ordered the freshly made chicken pie, given my status as country novice and Emma’s directness, I thought it best to follow suit and intimated to the waitress that I would be happy if she would bring two to the table. The coffee arrived first, bought by two smartly dressed waitresses. There was a faint air of silver service as one positioned my cup at a certain angle whilst another poured from the polished jug. The manner of delivery was an altogether more pleasant experience than being cattled through Keele services after a long evening’s drive north across the M6. Pies followed shortly, heavy on the pastry but safe and filling. Coffee was delicious, nutty, extremely savoury, and unsullied by the menace of milk. Successfully filled, we jumped back in the car and edged closer to our first destination.
As we rolled into Jinja it was clear that the town was a major port for Mzungus, the East African term for those of European descent, probably an initial form of denigration, it seemed now to be used more as a social sobriquet, something to lighten the mood. Large Land Rovers rattled around the streets, shops stacked enormous collections of gift items pressed deep into the public walk ways. Hats of all shapes and sizes, cards, black and yellow football shirts worn by the national Cranes, traditional African masks, not so traditional African masks, carvings, animal paintings, and everything else you would expect for the tourist dollar. Acutely aware of the disappearing time we whizzed past the shops, restaurants and mini markets and into the Ugandan country office at Plot 63a Main Street, Jinja. With little time to find my feet I waited as Emma parked the car, in the sufficiently tight alleyway connecting the Jinja and country offices, and scurried up the dusty main road in search of a more suitable vehicle for our afternoon travails. Not five minutes later, after soaking up the surroundings, and quite disquietingly, being approached by a number of men on motorcycles-I was later to discover that these men were boda boda drivers, perhaps the quickest, cheapest and most common form of transport around Ugandan towns and cities- Emma returned and I sunk myself into the plush moulded seats of the newly acquired Toyota and we set sail for the rural villages and my first sight of an operational BT water source.