The trip to northern Uganda
It is six o’clock while I wander through the streets of Kampala in search for the right bus. Several times I am offered help by little boys and grown-up men. “Where do you go?” “Muzungu muzungu I take you there” “My name is Ben and I’m your guide, jangu.” I thank them politely and continue my search on my own.
It is only six o’clock, the streets are still empty, slowly the people are waking up, making their way to the shops, the market or the matatu station. The station is full with white busses, blue stripes, 12 seats and at the back religious reminders “help me God” “God is great” and motivational speeches “Catch me if you can”. The conductors fill the matatue as much as they can. 12 seats doesn’t mean 12 people. I’m not going with the matatue, I’m searching for the big busses. “A bus schedule? Lady you mean you want to know when the bus leaves?” He roars and laughs, thinking my questions is hilarious. “The bus leaves when it’s full of course.”
I found the bus and nestled in a nice seat in front of the bus. I like to have a view. One hour passes, two hours pass… Kampala has awoken. Street vendors walk with their goods on their heads and in their hands, bus in bus out. The bus station is a good place to sell goods. People cannot get empty handed to the villages, they come from the city, they are rich. Baskets, radios, glasses, chickens, pineapples and even a goat is sold and pushed inside the bus. Perfume, toys and even medicine are sold.
Finally the bus moves. After 15 minutes we stop at the gasstation, the driver had forgotten to fill up the bus. I’m sweating on the plastic seats of the bus, it smells of sweat and chickens, the sun starts to heat up the bus and I can’t open a window. Men lighten a sigaret next to the bus, not caring about the fact that we are at a gasstation.
On the way we stop at the big towns where people run towards us while holding up their goods. Water, liver, chicken, apples, chips, sinas, pineapple, jackfruit. They hit against the bus, shouting and showing their products. Five shilling for some liver and three shilling for a bottle of water. I give the man twenty shilling. He runs away and after a while comes back with change. The lady behind me is less fortunate. The buss drives away whereas the boy she bought the goods from is still searching for change. He runs after the bus but can’t catch up. The lady shouts at the bus driver, angry that he had cost her three shilling.
The view is one I see a lot along the road. Men turning pieces of chicken or liver on the barbecue, women sitting behind the counter in the small shops, children running behind an old tire or chasing a dog. When a bus comes everyone runs around, taking all their goods from the shops, the stands or the barbecue and trying to sell it to the travellers. When the bus drives off tranquility returns, people sit down and wait until the next bus.
We just passed Masindi, the road gets worse. The asphalt road has stopped, huge holes makes it difficult for the driver to manouvre the big bus through them, the scenery gets wilder and the road dustier. The bus driver seems to be in a hurry. Just when he pushes the gas a man with child on a bike falls right in front of the bus. The driver immediately turns the steering wheel, in the bus we hold on to whatever we can, women are screaming, chickens fly through the bus, bags fall on our heads. The driver curses and when the bus is back on the road the men in the bus walk to the front to tell the driver that we nearly hit the guy and how the guy could be so stupid. As if the driver did not see it.
When we finally reach Gulu it starts to rain. Within no-time the water is pouring out of the sky. The bus is leaking where I sit so I have to hold a water bottle up to not get soaked. Gulu is a town up north, tormented by the LRA. Women were raped and killed, children upducted and enslaved to fight a war that wasn’t theirs, men were killed or tortured. Cycling meant losing your legs, talking meant losing your lips and when you were strong they would cut of your hand. Now Gulu is a peaceful town, growing enormously. Wherever I look I see cafés, bars, restaurants, banks, radio stations and aid centres.
“We go no further” says the bus driver to me “I can’t get the bus full but here you have fifteen shillings so you can go by matatue” There is no other way so I accept his offer and get out of the bus. Kitgum is only two hours away but for now it doesn’t seem like I’m going anywhere in the next two hours.