Tag Archives: bus


Nasser LaneArmed 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. Continue reading

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The sequel [2016]

“DJ are you ready? DJ are you ready? DJ are you ready?” [Crowds cheer. Repeat.]

Saturday evening, Kampala. A good test of acceptance: the booming shouting drumming from across the road cannot be fought, just absorbed.

* * *

Semi-surprised to be back in Uganda so soon after last time; not quite believing it until I landed, again, into the open green lakeside calm of Entebbe and was driven, again, alongside the still-under-construction highway to Kampala.

The familiarity makes much of it easy: knowing who to call for airport lifts (Godfrey), which part of the city to stay in (Kololo), how to get phone and internet credit (MTN shop in Acacia Mall). Even where to find a yoga class (just up the road, though watch out for the mosquitoes). It makes much of it less lonely, knowing there are a few people in this city who are more than contacts, maybe friends now. Continue reading

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The teacher

Non-adults are also welcome

Non-adults are also welcome

Vincent travels about four hours by bus each way to teach an adult literacy class, getting little more than his expenses paid. He’s been doing this for over a year. Continue reading

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On day 12


At Makerere University

Everything ran late, of course; the boys didn’t ask any questions; and we spent about four hours on I don’t know how many buses. But I think it was worth it.

First, we had to get the filming done – by now though, I can delegate most of it to the students, who get to practise focusing and close-ups while the schoolkids wiggle their little hips yet again to that same school song, grimacing worriedly at the camera because all the teachers keep commanding them to SMILE!

Next, to Makerere Art Gallery, inside the wonderfully peaceful grounds of one of the oldest universities in Africa. Continue reading

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Blissfully uneventful

Family portrait

Landing was just the beginning.

It’s not only Kigoma’s runway that’s not paved; most roads in the region – far from any big city and close to the borders with stricken Burundi and DR Congo – are rough roads.

Driving from village to village, thick clouds of dust swell with every passing vehicle, turning the roadside vegetation orange-brown. We narrowly miss a dog, a goat, and a huge lizard that runs across the road; a bird is less fortunate. One afternoon, in Kigoma town, a man has collapsed in the middle of a main road: he tries to get up, but fails. Malaria? Something else? Just drunk, it turns out.

When I buy my bus ticket for the return journey towards Dar, I get a seat number that’s next to one of two armed guards. My colleagues had been joking all week about what we do when we meet the bandits.
Continue reading

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Status anxiety

I met up with a guy called Ian, who’s travelling the circumference of Africa, when he passed through Dar on Friday. I was intrigued as to how someone could spend a whole year, alone, on public transport. He said he was happy to meet up with someone who wouldn’t end a friendly conversation by trying to sell him something or by asking for money.

That’s one of the saddest things about being here. You go from being a normal nobody back home to someone important: someone with money. And you’re aware of it all the time: In the expat neighbourhoods, where the waiting staff, the guards, the cleaners, the taxi drivers are all Africans and who, we happily tell ourselves, earn a good wage from us as customers or employers. In the poorer parts of town, where a white person is more of a novelty, and where kids with bad teeth or polio cripples ask for money and market sellers give you extra attention because you’ll be spending big bucks. Continue reading

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To Kampala

Where's my bus?

Welcome to Uganda: Land of weapons and wild motorcyclists. Actually, they call it the Pearl of Africa, but I think my version is more accurate.

I didn’t get too close to any arms – though did notice the hostel security guard was brandishing a rifle, and signs outside bars stating “No weapons”. The actual security checks might be fairly low-key – a token gesture rather than a serious check, and largely a result of the 2010 terrorist attacks in which over 70 were killed. But it’s still a bit disconcerting when you’ve come from a peaceful place like Tanzania. (That said, driving through Kagera region in NW Tanzania today, my colleague announced cheerfully: “this is bandit country”….) Continue reading

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On the road

‘Is sleeping one of your interests?’, Amani enquired politely. My neighbour on the 5.45am DAR-MWANZA bus came out with the oddest questions. The boyish, earnest 19 year-old wasn’t making much headway on his half of a novel, the yellowed pages of a torn-up paperback less interesting than the mzungu beside him. ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ ‘When is your birthday?’ ‘Do you like business?’

And so the 17 hours passed, faster than you’d think, me dozing till Amani ‘s voice would enter the fog of my fragmented dreams (‘Anna, are you sleeping again?’), or listening to his plans to start a business, or doing the Kiswahili quizzes on his smartphone. Continue reading

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God willing

The Swiss or Virgo part of me is struggling to adapt to the last minute, Mungu akipenda/Inshallah (if God wills it) uncertainty of making plans here. I’m trying to get to Zanzibar in a few hours for the Sauti za Busara festival but still don’t know if I can get ferry tickets nor if I’ll actually be let off the boat at the other side. Zanzibar belongs to the United Republic of Tanzania, but has semiautonomous status (electing its own president and parliament), meaning those arriving from the mainland need to show their passport. Unfortunately mine disappeared several weeks ago in a black hole of bureaucracy (Belgian embassy to Tanzanian foreign office to home office…) while I wait for a residence permit. Meanwhile, I’m trying to organise a trip to the north-west of Tanzania and Uganda for next week, but with nothing confirmed yet and no tickets bought, only Mungu/Allah knows if I’ll actually make it there. Continue reading

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Inevitable: not giving a s**t

Public transport - only for locals and idealists?

The other day I asked an expat who’s been in Africa 20 years or more what made newcomers like me stand out. “People who’ve just arrived will refuse to let Africans carry their bags for them”, he said. “Once you’ve been here a while, you hand them over immediately.” Clearly I’ve been hanging out in the wrong places – no one ever offers to help me with my bags, though surprisingly a fellow passenger paid my bus fare yesterday (I accepted gracefully).

Actually, taking public transport or walking seems also to brand you as being new to the continent. Experienced mzungus tend to abandon any ambitions of mixing with the locals in favour of the more practical, cooler, and safer option of driving. Walking home from the office, stubbornly sweating in the afternoon heat, I half-envy, half-disdain their monster 4x4s swishing past and coating me in another layer of city dust. But apparently I give myself away above all in what I say. Most recently: I’ve been trying to find a photographer at work and had hoped to hire a local. A Kenyan-English resident I met here was highly sceptical I’d find anyone professional enough. She quoted her Dad: “When you come to Africa, you go through three phases: first phase, Africans can do no wrong; second, Africans can do no right; third, you don’t give a s**t either way”. Continue reading

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