I have been driven around many big cities through the years: Tirana, Kiev, Beijing, Shenyang, Accra and Addis Ababa, but there is NOTHING like Kampala. I know enough now to trust my driver and know that I will not get in an accident, no one ever does (except that small one in Accra, but that doesn’t count it was hardly a scrape). I know that there are unwritten rules, 2 lanes turn into 4 lanes, honking in a constant and there is never space between cars. I know I may be sharing the road with herds of goats or cows. There are a few things about Kampala though that make it different.
First, you drive on the “wrong” side of the road and the “wrong” side of the car. This takes some getting used to and finally when I feel settled, we turn and I panic thinking we are on the wrong side of the road… which we are not.
Second, Boda Boda’s (motorcycles). There seems to be more of these than cars and they are constantly weaving through traffic. The drivers often have 2 passengers behind them and if it is a women in a skirt, she usually sits side saddle. These Boda Boda’s also carry packages. Large ones, piles of boxes, or ladders, really anything.
Third, bicycles. Usually people are not riding them, but using them as a wheelbarrow. On Sunday we saw someone loading a large television on the back of their bike. Yesterday I saw a bike carrying a large load of lumber. People don’t ride the bike, but push it through the city.
Fourth, signage. There are signs, billboards and advertisements everywhere. Painted on buildings, stretched over the entire road and all alongside the road. Most of them are huge. Many are for coke and other drinks, alcohol and SIM cards. There are some for family planning, HIV testing, credit cards, and radio stations. There was a building we passed today that had spray painted on it: “This building is not for sale”. Another building stated “Business, call 12345678 (whatever the number was)” It did not indicate what kind of business it was.
Fifth, color. The soil here is a very orangish red. Which means the streets and sidewalks are also that color. The people (who are everywhere) wear bright colorful clothes, even the police officers have stark white uniforms. The buildings are painted bright colors, the furniture and supplies that are being sold are always outside the store and always colorful. The aforementioned billboards are very bright and colorful. And the trees! They are unstoppable, palm trees first of all, and then all the other trees with green leaves and bright flowers. It is rainy season and the rain makes everything more vibrant.
Sixth, hills. Kampala is the city of “7 hills”. This means you are either going up or going down. It also provides amazing views of the city. When you are on top of a hill you can look for miles and see almost the entire city. When you are at the bottom, you look up and see lush green hills with homes scatter through them. The roads are curvy as well, so you it is rare you feel like you are in a huge concrete jungle of buildings and traffic.
This city is not necessarily better than any other, each has it’s own unique character, but Kampala, it is powerful in its vibrancy.