Standort: / Meldung: "Ugandan Diary Part 2 - From Jinga to Kayunga"

Chris Cummins

Letters from a shrinking globe: around the day in 80 worlds.

19. 11. 2012 - 13:33

Ugandan Diary Part 2 - From Jinga to Kayunga

A dramatic cloud burst, a live concert and the best tea in the world - and a look at my white tights!

I didn’t expect to get cold in Africa.

Uganda lies on the equator. I packed factor 50 sun cream and lots of light clothes including some ludicrous white tights to protect my legs from the sun which have earned me much mockery from my fellow cyclists.

the infamous white tights

chris cummins

the infamous white tights

What I didn't pack, although I have several, was an adequate rain-jacket. When a torrential downpour started on the quiet road to Kayunga I unpacked my jacket to find it was a sort of armless poncho that blew up like a blueberry as I cycled and let the rain in.

Shivering in School

When the rain got too strong we sheltered in a dirt-floored school building along the roadside that was empty because it was Sunday. There was need to lock up these buildings, there was nothing inside.

It felt cramped and full with less than a dozen of us sheltering between its dusty walls but Alex, who has seen a lot of Ugandan schools here during his work for Link Community Development, said that between eighty and a hundred children might be taught in such a building. The only light came from a couple of small square windows on each side.

Uganda is on a high plateau and we were at an altitude of over 1000 metres. Soaked to the bone and feeling very sorry for myself I started to shiver.

african child

chris cummins

Like Being in Boy Band

Cycling through Uganda in the dry had been a joy - a bit like taking part in the Tour de France (no doping jokes please).

Everyone at the roadside cheered us on as we passed on the undulating roads. Children ran to the side of the road cheering and shouting "Mzungu! Mzungu!" It`s the East African word for white people – there was even a little dance to accompany the chant. The word apparently - and I was delighted to find out this very fitting detail - literally means "someone who roams around aimlessly".

All this screaming attention made me feel, in my multi-coloured lycra, a bit like celebrity and a bit like a novelty circus act. I was always overlooked by those casting for boy bands, sadly, but I imagine Robbie Williams knows the sensation.

The children, who were sometimes playing with the cycle inner tubes that serve as toys, also shouted "Bye! Bye!" but I think was meant to be a greeting. They were all utterly adorable.

In his brilliant Uganda novel The Last King of Scotland, Giles Foden's narrator Nicholas likens the children to "little elves". He was spot on.

children in Uganda

chris cummins

The towns that we passed through had the look of Wild West frontier towns. There would be a just one single dusty main street lined by low-rise wooden buildings with open-doors. Swinging African music blared out from some of the interiors.

Banana Bikes

In the dusty ground between the shabby buildings and the road, more green bananas were sold on shaded wooden tables and straight-backed women hawked groundnuts, which had been packed into egg-sized plastic bags and put on trays which the women carried on their heads.

I was overtaken by motorbikes which were usually heavily loaded with straw-lined sacks or massive bunches of the ubiquitous bananas. Even the ones that weren't overloaded with goods were overloaded with people. I counted four young men on one skinny moped.

Often there were just two people on the motorbikes, usually a man driving and a woman sitting serenely side-saddle, looking back and watching us pedal with a benign look of amusement.


Many of the riders and passengers waved and offered words of encouragement: "Well done!" they`d shout, although one cheeky young man asked "Why don't you get a moped?" and Richard, a primary school teacher based in Holland, passed one young guy who simply shouted out "loser!"

On the road to Luwero

chris cummins

There was no time for banter when the rain started in earnest.

I time-trialled along in my leaking, ballooning poncho with the red-stained water splashing in my face until I felt the grit on my teeth. At one point I arrived at a particularly deep puddle at the exact same time as a truck and was almost swept off my bike by the wall of sprayed water. When we reached the simple guesthouse in Kayunga I put on the woolly hat that I'd packed for the journey back to Austria.

Beer at a Brothel

In the afternoon, just as I was beginning to feel miserable, the sun came out and we walked to the shaded outside terrace of a bar on Kayunga's main street to drink beer and to soak up a bit of the town's atmosphere.

The young waitress was dressed in a tight pink-dress that showed off of the paunch of her belly. She wore a ribbon in her hair. This attire and the presence of a fierce-looking older woman who watched over the bar, suggested that beer wasn't the only thing sold here once the sun went down.

Being a Curiosity

Often in Africa you feel bad about photographing the people (we'd always ask permission, of course) but here roles were reversed. Smiling shyly, the waitress came out with a mobile phone and photographed each of us in turn and then filmed a short video of us drinking our beer. We were far from the tourist path and you got the feeling that not many white people came this way.

A Live Concert

I hadn't slept much in days, so I was slightly alarmed when a truck came past mounted with blaring amplifiers advertising a music concert organised by a local radio station that was apparently to take place in the grounds of our guest house.

But if you can't beat them, you have to join them, so I found myself queuing to get past the machine-gun touting security men in order to watch the live music.

The concert was certainly well worth the two dollar entrance fee. An elegant man dressed in golden shirt and a golden brimless African hat was cooing some melodious soulful African pop and when he left the stage he was replaced by an energetic young rapper with a black bandana. It was a jolting change of pace; the rapper jumped up and down as if the stage floor was made up of hot coals and pulled of splits in the air. It was an intoxicating if rather eccentric performance.

I don't know why there was such a high security element: the guesthouse owner had warned of "unpleasant persons" but it was the most sedate audience I have ever seen in Africa.

White chairs had been placed at the front of the stage for middle-aged dignitaries. They all stared in stony, immobile silence as the rapper skitted sideways across the stage like a over-caffeinated spider and then leaped around in his blue trousers before energetically gyrating his crotch in the direction of the genteel crowd.

I'd actually taken a couple of kids in to the concert; two eager young music fans without the cash for the entrance fee. They'd been looking at me with expectant puppy dog eyes as I queued so I couldn't resist taking them in, but now I looked down at them, worrying about what I had inadvertently exposed them to. Their eyes were like saucepans.

loading water onto bikes

chris cummins

So now it's is the morning of Day 3 and, deprived of sleep by the long concert, I'm strengthening myself with a cup of rich creamy 'african tea', a sort of chai masala in which the leaves are brewed directly in the hot milk and spiced with ginger and cardamom.

This is luxury - a spoiling. Outside the gates of the guesthouse people are laboriously collecting their day's water supplies in yellow jerry-cans from a pump at the junction of the main-road. It must be a tiresome ritual but the men and women and the pump are sharing smiles and jokes as they load the cans on to clunky Chinese bikes which are pushed up the sandy road past our guesthouse to some shacks beyond.

pushing the cans up a hill

chris cummins

There's an early morning mist but it promises to be a hot sunny day. We are headed off-road on a long ride through plantations of mango, pineapples and coffee. I can`t wait.

To be continued...