Armed with my official — and pricey — press card, I set off today with Ignatius, my fixer, who’s a freelance radio journalist. (He also sells trees; most Ugandans don’t rely on one source of income.) He was an hour late for our meeting, but his friend was in an accident last night and the traffic was bad this morning and… I’m not going to argue this one.
We meet M., a Rwandan who has a few different businesses in the restaurant where he rents an outdoor barbecue: he pays a fee to the restaurant owner, then sells grilled meat to customers. Life is alright in Kampala, he can send his son to school, feed his family, but he’s worried about safety, has been threatened and intimidated and fears being forcibly returned to Rwanda. M. talks for over an hour, and I feel bewildered by the messy webs of east African politics and tribal wars, and at times confused by his explanations of who he fears and who has done what to whom.
On the street where all the print shops are, I sit with two younger refugees, Rwandan and Burundian, in a sort of workers’ cafe. The former is a graphic designer who is secretive about his status, telling people instead that he came here to look for a job (“they believe a refugee is a minor person”); the latter does odd jobs and longs for some capital to buy clothes, shoes, or potatoes or bananas he could sell.
I ask the designer if his, at least, is a full-time job. The two young men laugh out loud. There are no full time jobs here!, they say. When you get sick four days they find someone else. Luckily not many people know how to use the computer so for me, says the Rwandan, I have about a week.
And from there, grubby and sweaty I rushed to meet Grace in an airy, soothing Italian restaurant, where she tells me of her plans to move to Addis Ababa for a masters degree (and, more immediately, to go to a pool party tonight and would I like to come), and introduces me to her brother, an engineer, who is off to watch the rugby.
From there, through sluggish Saturday afternoon traffic to Anne’s house, where we eat pineapple chunks and watch her Ugandan-German son try to find the pet rabbit; and then to a beer garden where Andie shares out samples of craft beer and tells me about second wave South Sudanese refugees and the Tanzanians’ progressive naturalisation of 200,000 Burundians.
At least I have a five-hour bus journey tomorrow to soak it all in.