Into Uganda

Jul 7 2015

Today I am heading north east into Uganda and a short break from Mission Rwanda work. Rwanda is a long way to come from the top of Europe not to pay a visit to friends next door. A while back, we spent some time teaching and setting up a widows' cooperative that turned into a small bank.

Next door is a day's travel away courtesy of Jaguar Coaches, one of the operators running between Kampala and Kigali. This means an early start to get over to Nyabugogo bus station, have the rucksack checked and get into a seat. The coach was built by Isuzu and re-built several times over by Africans. Inside and out, joints have been repaired and reinforcing metalwork welded onto the original superstructure. Smart new air vents with reading lights have been installed above the seats but, as with much else in Africa, they don't work.

The border crossing is at Gatuna, an hour north of Kigali. My East African Community visa, only recently introduced, seems to dispense with the usual questions about what I am doing in Rwanda. The formalities on either side of the border go surprisingly smoothly and we are soon back on the coach heading into Uganda. The last time I made this trip, an entry visa cost fifty dollars, a set of finger prints and a photograph taken by a tiny camera on the desk.

We have time to buy food and change currency before continuing east. The landscape changes immediately from steep terraced hillsides to a gently undulating plain. The road also undulates but a lot more severely. It is still being constructed and for sixty kilometres the coach vibrates violently in the heat and dust. I have a window seat and am able to slide the glass pane to let heat out or dust in as required.

By late afternoon we reach Masaka. The town itself is three kilometres away from the short length of shops and motor repair yards where I am dropped, but in usual fashion a musumgo arriving on a bus is immediately surrounded by a dozen boda bodas looking for business. For the uninitiated, a boda boda is a motorbike taxi which in Uganda is fitted with an extended seat. We have seen whole families being transported on these things. The ladies sit side-saddle. Two thousand shilings sounds a lot for a ride into town until one adjusts to the new landscape when 50p sounds a lot more reasonable.

The boy and his bike take me into town and even right up to the MTN shop where I am able to buy a new sim card for my phone and some airtime. I have lost an hour - Uganda is an hour ahead of Rwanda - and it is late afternoon. Just in time to find a room for the night and walk down the hill to the hotel we have used before. The last time I turned up here I was caked in dust and sweat. Perhaps they remember. They let me in without blinking. For the princely sum of thirty thousand shillings - even better £7.50 - I can look forward to a hot shower, running water and a bed. There is also, luxury of luxuries, a toilet.

I have one night to appreciate these comforts before heading west to Kiwangala tomorrow where I will spend the next four days without running water or a toilet. There may be a bed, but if not I have come with my sleeping bag and mosquito net.