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Published: October 20th 2008
We sit in a bus from Kampala bound for Masindi in North Uganda, but this bus is not moving. Oh no, quite the opposite - the bus is actually stuck in deep mud on some dirt road in the middle of nowhere, and it has been stuck for about an hour. A flash storm sends sheets of rain our way as Uganda does during its wet season. The aisles are filled with produce, boxes, and people, and the floor of the bus, now Lake Crisco, is covered in oil leaking from one of said boxes. A baby cries and people shout. The Israeli couple we are traveling with sits a row in front of me, moans, and whines. The Canadian couple we are traveling with sits a row behind me, puts their faces in their hands, and pretend to read books. The Bohemian Indian dude, Kabir, we picked up at the car park in Kampala remains calm, likely silently chanting or praying to Gods unknown to us normal folk. Australian Will and I sit and starve together. I cut the back of my thigh on a rusty armrest.
The actual journey time from Kampala to Masindi is supposed to take
3 hours. We arrive at the bus station at 8:30AM where the two couples proceed to bicker about which of two buses to take. Our bus, Wrong Bus does not fill up and pull out of Kampala until noon. It is now 4PM, with only at most two hours of sunlight left, and we are stuck on some sinking mud road in the middle of Bumfuck Nowhere, Uganda, because for some reason even after being warned our driver decides to take a detour and use more challenging, shitty dirt roads to get to Masindi instead. After an hour or so of sitting still and going nowhere, we see a matatu or two being pushed at 30 degree angles through the mud and past our bus along the ditches on the side of the road. We decide to get off and try to hire a matatu to take us the rest of the way to Masindi. While snapping some ridiculous pictures to document that vehicles can actually drive in these conditions, I start to wonder if I am at risk for tetanus. Awesome.
After a lot more idling, couples flipping out, etc, we find ourselves on our way in a
matatu. I shouldn't really call it a matatu however, because it is in fact just a simple death trap. This thing is actually falling apart at the seams and even on normal dry roads keeps your ass tightened. Now drive it at 70 kph on actual mud slides which somehow still manage to hold all the pothole formations intact. It is as slippery as a sorority girl in jello yet somehow still keeps our entire bodies jerking side-to-side to nearly boob level. I am worried I might actually bite off my tongue with any of the jerks that snap my jaws together. Do you ever actually start thinking about what would come through the windows, where your head would split, who would be the most fucked should the vehicle flip? Well I do here. The Israeli couple now behind me are yelling at the top of their lungs every explative only to see the driver turn around, wave, and smile. It is hell, but really I can't feel too much in danger because at least I'm not one of the villagers walking along these roads. Also after x amount of time in Africa, you learn to just relax by default
as there isn't much you can do about it anyways. What happens, happens. It's Africa.
Here in Uganda, and in Africa as a whole, transportation really tests you as a person. You learn your limits, only it doesn't matter if you learn your limits as you can't really adhere to them - you don't have a choice! You eventually come to terms with the ridiculous safety standards, or lack of, in all modes of transportation. Airlines bar South African Airways are constantly in the news, 22 people died Sunday in a matatu crash to Jinja (the same transport to the same village I took last week), boda-boda taxis and without a helmet... my mother would shit herself. Furthermore, being dropped in the middle of a boda ride (of course in the middle of nowhere) because "gas is finish" is also something I've visited a few times here in Kampala already. I try to let it roll off my back. I would try to describe a boda boda ride through central Kampala at rush hour but I just don't think words would do it justice. I shall wait for when I can post a video I took on a ride
It's a good thing I didn't see this flyer until late in my time here in Uganda or perhaps I would have never been able to leave the hostel: Public Transport in Uganda: Be Aware, Be very Aware! Matatu
A matatu operates along a fixed route, stopping anywhere along the way to pick up or drop off passengers.
Matatus are one of the primary contributors to the increasingly unsafe road conditions in Uganda.
-Overloading of passengers
-Driving above the speed limits
-Swerving between traffic
-Disregard for other motorists and traffic laws
-Driving on pavements
-Diving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
"They are almost always in poor condition, recklessly driven and without insurance cover or a licensed driver and don't value their lives."
If you choose to use Matatus: Wear a seat belt, Tell driver to slow down, Get out if you don't feel safe, Avoid overloaded taxis Boda Boda
A boda boda is typically a 'Honda 50' and is often in poor condition with no helmet for its passengers.
Although they are a cheap and quick form of transport, Boda Bodas are renowned for their reckless
-Riding through red lights (check)
-Riding too fast (check)
-Riding on wrong side of the road (double check)
-Riding on sidewalks and road islands (check)
-Often bike is in bad repair (check)
-Swerving in between traffic (definition of Boda Boda)
-Complete disregard for other motorists (goes without saying)
"Jonathan has been working in Kampala for 6 months. He was 24 and recently married. He was on his way to work on the back of a boda boda and was hit by a speeding matatu. He died minutes later at the scene."
If you choose to use Boda Bodas: Wear a helmet (they don't have any), Choose a bike in good condition, Tell the driver to slow down (he'll laugh at me), One passendger per bike (but then it's so much cheaper!!)
It's quite funny to see this so officially written on an actual flyer, because the reality is that these two forms of transport are basically your only means around Kampala and many other Ugandan towns.
Before I leave Kampala I meet Sue for lunch at Masala (highly recommended Indian place if you are ever here- try the Masala dosas...) and she literally just
comes from the police station. "Why were you at the police station, Sue?" The driver of one of the vehicles we rent out hit a woman walking on the side of a rural road, her entire head had to be stitched from front to back and her arm is completely broken. "Bummer..." Yeah, I also went to the hospital last night to see her. We had to pay her hospital fees. The vehicle is still with the police though, I must go back after lunch...
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