Miniature TIgers – Japanese Woman
On our final night in Jinja, we stayed a backpacker’s lodge that was outside of town. We got caught in a massive lightning storm and got a ride to the office in town from two strangers who thought we were idiots (and rightly so) for hiding under a large tree during the downpour, but we still managed to miss the last shuttle for the day.
The young man at the front desk told us that he would drive us to the lodge in his car, but not until we played about 10 games of pool with him and his friend. He insisted that he had just learned a few weeks before, but I later learned he was the fourth-ranked billiards player in Kampala (which explained how he somehow knew how to make balls hop over other balls and still land in the pocket).
After I soundly lost multiple times, the four of us piled into his old red Volkswagen sports coupe and rumbled over the unlit, bumpy dirt roads to the lodge. Bicycle bodas and pedestrians briefly appeared in the headlights before dodging out of the way. Jimmy put on some reggae and soul, and it blasted through the speakers so that Stevie and I in the back couldn’t hear anything said in the front of the car.
On a long stretch of road, Nash slowed the car down and said something to Jimmy. Up ahead, I could see a man standing motionless on the side of the road, facing away. Jimmy turned off the music, and the car continued to slow down until it stopped just past the motionless stranger so that he was standing parallel to the backseat. I could see that he was not urinating, as I had initially assumed; he was just standing there.
“Jimmy, do you hear that?” Nash asked.
Voices were coming from far down the road, and I could see the flickering light of fires in the distance. The man on the side of the road turned around very slowly and stared vacantly into the back window at Stevie and me.
“Something…bad is happening,” Nash said, leaning forward into his dashboard to listen.
Now, while Stevie was apparently wondering whether we should have trusted these strangers, all my training told me that this was most definitely the beginning of the zombie apocalypse. And I knew we should not leave the car or the undead could get us — this man with the vacant stare included.
Fela Kuti and Afrika ’70 – Zombie
But Nash climbed out of the car and looked underneath. I was confused. Was there a zombie under us?
“Yes, Jimmy, we are leaking oil,” Nash called out.
Car trouble. The man wasn’t a zombie, just drunk perhaps, and the lights and voices ahead were just that: lights and voices. I was just as disappointed as you. Especially because we had to push the car 500 meters over the muddy roads to the lodge. The night ended with a rat crawling over my bed and me taking Xanax so I could actually fall asleep.
We spent a couple days in Jinja, a city on Lake Victoria near the source of the Nile. (It is also the home of Nile beer.) Given its geographic location and proximity to Kampala, it is a much bigger tourist draw than the West Nile, so I saw many foreigners walking up and down Main Street.
Joni Mitchell – River
We walked down to the source, at Bujagali Falls, where a young man was playing a wooden xylophone with no one around him, right next to the beginning of the world’s longest river. (My simple research tells me this instrument might be called an amadinda.) He taught me a simple song, and I ended up getting badly sunburned because I made the ridiculous mistake of not wearing sunscreen while at the equator.
White Hinterland – Icarus
On the long bus ride back down to Kampala, they were playing Ugandan soap operas and Ugandan music videos at a deafening volume. While the soap operas were entertaining enough so long as I wore my earplugs, the music videos were much more enjoyable:
I finally got a chance to see and hear the famous “Museveni’s Rap.” Museveni has been president of Uganda since 1986 and was reelected in the spring, but his campaign posters were still plastered all over Kampala and other towns. I had asked a man sitting next to me on one trip if he had voted for Museveni, and he laughed. “It doesn’t MATTER,” he answered, alluding to alleged election fraud.
So without comment, because I really would like to visit Uganda again, here’s a link to Museveni’s rap. It’s pretty catchy. Yes, sebo!
Ugandan Independence Day took place on a Sunday, and we heard there’d be a celebration at the district headquarters in Zombo. Peter drove us through the rain to Zombo (expertly avoiding getting the truck stuck on a steep hill), where hundreds were walking about a huge muddy field, at the center of which was a circle of people performing traditional Ugandan music and dancing.
As soon as we arrived, though, all attention turned to us. Children followed us silently, parting like the Red Sea when we needed to get through. The music and dancing continued and we tried to watch, but surrounding us was a distracting mass of people. At least one hundred children pressed against us from all sides, just staring and occasionally giggling to one another. I took their picture and showed it to those in the front, and the circle pressed closer.
Twin Sister – All Around And Away We Go
Stevie and I relieved some of the tension by trying to scare them (which sounds much worse than it is; trust me). We’d turn around suddenly and say “Boo!” — most would jump or run away laughing, and only a few with momentary but genuine terror on their faces.
The school is located in a Catholic mission that was founded by Italians. There was a large community church near Stevie’s residence, and I would wake every day to the sound of music at the early morning mass.
It wasn’t the usual music of Catholic mass, though. There were drums, clapping and beautiful melodies, and the congregation seemed to know how to harmonize instinctively, which gave amazing depth to the songs as they carried across the field. A woman with a high voice could be heard wailing a sustained note at least an octave above everybody else.
Music from the girls’ mass:
The girls at the secondary school had their own mass on Sunday, with the same drums and singing that lent the ceremony a distinctly African feel. Six girls in matching T-shirts danced in unison in the aisle, and everyone else sang out in strong voices. Every recitation of mass was turned into a melody (which helped me know the words). This may have been a tactic of the missionaries or may have been introduced by the people themselves, but it certainly made it the most joyful service I had ever been to.