We arrive on June 14th, 2010. As our plane taxies up the tarmac I spy seven giant white letters set in the red dirt of a hillside along the airport. E-N-T-E-B-B-E.
At the arrivals gate we meet our host, a young woman named Caroline. A writer herself, she’s worked as a journalist since the age of fifteen. She carries a hand written sign with my name on it in one hand and her cell phone in the other. As soon as we make the introductions she calls our driver, a good man named Sande (pronounced Sunday), who will take us to Kampala.
Looking out at the roadside it’s hard to keep from thinking of Trinidad, where I spent a couple of years when I was very young. Or Jamaica, where my fiancee Emily and I spent some time last summer. The small brick or wooden homes, the small wood structures where folks sell fruit and sweets and a thousand other things. It’s not just the architecture, but the industry. And yet it’s not the same, of course. The worst thing a person can do is to assume a little similarity means that all things are the same. So I won’t do that.
By the time we reach Kampala the traffic has doubled, tripled, gone into quintuple overtime! There are folks like us, in private cars, people riding in vans (called matatus) and dudes on motorcycles/scooters/bikes (all called boda-bodas, they’re basically like one person taxis). Pedestrians stream in and out of traffic, crossing from one side to the next. It all reminds me of mid-town Manhattan, but it isn’t mid-town Manhattan. It’s downtown Kampala, and I’m happy to have arrived.
As we reach a roundabout a bodaboda shoots out in front of our car and Sunday laughs quietly. “You’re going to see an accident today,” he promises.
But, thankfully, we don’t.
Our hotel reminds me of the Overlook Hotel from the Shining, but in a benign way. The Grand Imperial (talk about a name with some deep implications!) isn’t that big, but it’s still majestic in that grand old sense. We get to our room and drop the bags. No time to rest, we’re too awake for that now. We get out into the city to see what we will see.