I have just returned to Kampala after a month in the States. A lot has happened here while I’ve been gone that I should have been writing about. The bombings, the African Union Summit, the deportation of thousands of Rwandan refugees…all important, timely, newsworthy things. However, the wonderful feeling of homecoming I experienced coming off the plane has put me in a philosophical mood, and I have decided to focus on the timeless things rather than the timely things.
In that spirit, here are the five things I love about Kampala but probably shouldn’t:
The Driving. C’mon, let’s face it. When another car is in your way, it is really cool to be able to just drive up on the sidewalk to get around it.
The Corruption. Yes, corruption is probably the number one problem holding Africa back today. However, (he says sheepishly), there are times that it is really convenient. Like if you should just happen to come out of the airport parking lot and neglect to go all the way around the traffic circle before heading for the exit. I figure it balances out all the times I get pulled over for absolutely no reason at all.
Driving a big ol’ dirty diesel 4×4 without really feeling guilty. As an environmentalist, if I was still living in the U.S. I could never allow myself to drive the car I drive here. I just couldn’t justify the emissions or the low gas mileage, and I love feeling superior to those people driving Cadillac Escalades on Los Angeles streets that have never seen a flake of snow. At the same time, I will admit to being a bit of a closet car-guy. I like trucks, and learned to drive a stick-shift off-road at the age of 11 in the deserts of California, while undoubtedly doing irreparable damage to thousands of years of cryptobiotic soil development. Of course I feel guilty about that now, and see good gas-mileage as the measure of all that is holy. Here in Kampala, though, the equation is different. This is one of those wonderful places where you sometimes need four-wheel-drive just to get around the urban core. My Pajero has a trailer hitch that rests a good two feet off the ground when it is level, but there have been several times recently that I have gotten it hung up on the edges of potholes in the Industrial Zone, Kisimente, Bugolobi and, believe it or not, Kololo. I hope the city never fixes them, or I might need to get a more responsible car.
The Pollution and Burning Trash. Strange, right? How could anyone possibly love that smell? Well, here’s the thing. Scent is the sense most connected to memory, and every time I emerge from the purified, sterilized air of an airplane into the raw, honest air of a developing world city, I feel like I am stepping out into every place I have ever traveled to. It stirs up a feeling of adventure in me that sends me right to the nearest world map.
The Humidity. It just makes my hair nice and bouncy. ‘Nuff said.
There. Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I’ll try to make my next post a bit more enriching. I hope you love the place where you live, too.
Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala