After my first month of exotic but basic living on the shores of Lake Bunyonyi I was ready for a deeper dive into Ugandan life. I’d occasionally visited the nearby town of Kabale for my supermarket needs or a change of environment, but I wanted to explore a bit. As someone who is used to living in Nairobi, one of Africa’s biggest and most important cities, I was wondering where Kampala, Uganda’s capital, would be situated on the line between upcountry mountain lake and African metropolis.
The first dramatic contrast presented itself before I even left Kabale. Instead of stepping into a comfortable car like I did when I first arrived in Uganda, I had to squeeze myself into the bus front seat without enough space to even stretch my legs. Whereas a special hire provides you with plenty of space and secures you of a smooth trip, a bus takes easily twice the time to reach your destination. Apart from the obvious speed limits that come with bigger vehicles, you also have to consider various stops at markets and bus stands for breaks, where people socialise and snack for up to 30 minutes. This makes the journey extra tiring, especially since you have no idea how long you will have to wait every time the bus pulls over.
Another thing that you notice while on route, is the difference in scenery and climate. Leaving early in the morning from Kabale Town, you need more than one layer of clothing to withstand the cold. You feel like you are on a boat, floating through the hills with limited sight due to the fog.
As time passes, the landscape flattens more and more, allowing you to see far and wide, helped by a bright sun. The morning cold from Kabale slowly disappears and the bus fills up with warm air which leaves you wondering why you didn’t go for a window seat when you boarded.
Approaching Kampala, the roads get busier. Instead of occasionally passing a few cars, you are now submerged in traffic. Something that strikes me is the number of ‘low’ houses everywhere around me. I expected high buildings and big apartment blocks, but most of what I have seen in Kampala so far are single houses, built around each other.
Once the bus enters town, you immediately become aware that you’ve left a small town like Kabale and arrived in a big city. Traffic is so dense we barely move anymore and big corporate buildings start popping up on every corner.
Everyday life in the city is not comparable to that at the lake or its neighboring town. The options for restaurants are endless in Kampala, with a wide variety of different food and many international chains available within walking distance, wherever you are. The contrast with Kabale couldn’t be greater, where I usually visited the same two restaurants if I wanted to eat outside of Edirisa.
Kampala also allows you to use mobile money without any issues, whereas most shops in Kabale don’t have this option or it is ‘temporarily’ out of use, leaving you to struggle with cash if you want to avoid expensive (foreign) bank processing fees.
If you didn’t know, you might think that you arrived in a new country. The people approach foreigners in a more ‘normal’ way, without the amazement you might encounter at Lake Bunyonyi. They also speak different languages, which made my agandi kind of useless. There is more multiculturalism and you’ll find more different nationalities working together. Even between Ugandans there are more differences because of all the various tribes with their own habits coming together in the big city. I found that most people in Kabale or Bunyonyi are part of the Bakiga tribal culture.
One parallel between Kampala and a small town like Kabale is a resemblance in domestic neighbourhoods. You can find a modest, simple area of houses, directly next to a very fancy residence, or several big houses which seem entirely out of place. It seems as if they were supposed to be build in a rich environment, surrounded by other villas. Yet, for some reason, they got displaced and are now located in an area that doesn’t match their luxury.
Kampala was a great new experience for me. Seeing Uganda from another angle made me realise that this country is not just the beauty and serenity of Lake Bunyonyi, and I can’t wait to explore other faces of the Pearl of Africa.
photo by Ciril Jazbec