Sunday, July 4, 2010

Part 1: Getting There

--I've written these two posts in advance so I can quickly stop by the Internet
office and post--

Part 1: Getting there (Entebbe and Kampala to Fort Portal)

I arrived rather late - a bit panicky because I had just lost the entry form on
the plane (found later, in use as a bookmark). My visa was accepted in seconds, and
then I was welcomed into the Entebbe Airport. The checked bags (one for
me, one for the school library) were on the carousel, and in the next minute I was
meeting up with the Boma Guesthouse driver. After waiting for a couple to negotiate lost bags,
it took only a short drive and check-in before I could move in and send a message
home on their WiFi.

The next morning, I re-packed and got into a taxi (left side of the car,
since they drive like the British). It was early enough in the morning that
traffic was running smoothly. I try to take everything in: the road, the houses
and shops along the side, the billboards advertising everything from doctors to
cement, the mobile phone company MTN's signs everywhere...

As we entered central Kampala (the capital) I see a skyline bristling with
radio antennae, the minarets of a large mosque, and a few cranes. Cars and
boda-bodas (mopeds) jostle for position on the road, and tons of people walk along the sides of the street.
At one particularly busy street corner, traffic crawls around a fountain of water
gushing ~30ft into the air. I want to use some sort of "go go gadget" and use my
civil engineering skills, but this is neither the time nor the place.

The taxi lets me off directly in front of the bus to Fort Portal. I buy a
ticket for 15000 shillings ($5-$7.50, depending on who's counting) and... well,
it's about an hour until anything happens. I sit by the window, and I'm joined by
a teacher and a charity worker (my understanding is that the charity finds
teachers for orphans). The charity guy is fascinated by my book about William
Kamkwamba, a drop-out from Malawi who built his own electric windmill from only a few diagrams
(reading the book it's even more impressive, as he describes more
inventions, hardships, and his can-do attitude). The bus takes hours to get
anywhere near Fort Portal, so we discuss a lot.

The bus ride comes with remarkable scenery and a brief look into the more
profitable businesses of Uganda. Any roadside business - fresh food,
mechanical repairs, mobile minutes - is sure to have an advantage over less accessible and less busy
ones. One exception is farms - the hardpacked red soil on our elevated road leaves
a thick red powder on nearby plants. I wonder if some net or cheap vegetation
barrier would improve things. The road is also under major construction in a few
places - there is a slowing, a detour, and we look aside into the gaping cut in
the main elevated road. Workers are installing a drainage pipe across the
bottom of the road. I assume that water pools here naturally and erodes the
elevated roadbed, so it is being guided underneath. The roadbed itself is made
with large ground rocks, then gravel, then the ubiquitous red soil packed over and
on top of it. These are similar ingredients to concrete.

At the Fort Portal side, I am picked up by Matthew from MUBFS in a waiting
taxi. We talk on the way about my trip and my project. I get to meet everyone
quickly, and then get set up in a room. The room is two bunkbeds, a fifth bed,
and a small bedside table. I am given a lower bunkbed with netting, and I store my
stuff underneath.

It's a couple of days before I realize the rest are being left empty for me.

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