Driving through Kampala early this morning was an easy ride through streets normally congested and choked with taxi vans, motorcycles, bicycles, cars, and pedestrians; all making their way somewhere and all vying for the right of way. A full moon dropped to the horizon casting a misty glow like a large street lamp in the fog.
Even at 4:30 life and activity are present. Men and women wearing reflective vests (keep Kampala clean) bend and sweep with long elegant strokes as if scything wheat. “All the bending must hurt their backs,” I suggest to Micah, who has kindly risen at this almost ungodly hour to get me to Entebbe airport on time. “They get used to it,” he chuckled. Probably thinking to himself, “These ‘mazungas’ have life so easy.”
We drove through the market section where large trucks were being offloaded, “This place never sleeps,” Micah commented. “The farmers are offloading their produce.” Small stalls line the streets and hang in tendrils from the road offering fresh fruit and vegetables neatly displayed in small colourful piles on roughly constructed wooden tables, some with tattered tarps draped overhead and others unadorned. Music blares from speakers and a man fans his freshly laid charcoal fire into a blaze.
“What’s he cooking?” I ask. “Probably sausages,” Micah replies. Taxi vans race past us ferrying the early workers into Kampala. “In an hour’s time this road will be clogged with traffic,” Micah says, meaning that his trip home will likely be a slow one. I watch a city of 4 million souls slowly and gently toss and turn as it stretches awake. Motorcycles pass laden with produce or non-identifiable bundles and I marvel at what it takes to make a meagre living here. Long hours, creative marketing, and trying to find something to build a small business to meet a need. Hairdressers cut and groom all hours of the night, their chairs close to the road in tiny shelters ablaze in the dark – usually crowded with customers and onlookers offering conversation whether welcome or not.
This is a highly social culture where people are always engaging with one another. Yes, the cellphone is just as evident and intrusive here. Nevertheless when people enter the church area for instance they greet one another with a handshake… including me…. No one would think of merely coming in and sitting down as if there was no one else present. I saw a small store offering cell phone service and charging, others fix bicycles, manufacture window frames, build wooden beds, offer garden plants and clay pots….. the possibilities are endless.
The drive is about 45 minutes today. As we approach Entebbe we pass an airfield where a flock of aircraft of all shapes and sizes huddles on the grey apron beneath bright yellow lights. “There’s a large United Nations base here,” Micah informs me, “Servicing Central Africa and providing economic stimulation for Entebbe particularly.” We’ve just skirted the shore of Lake Victoria and I can barely make out the waterline in the dim light.
Approaching the airport we navigate through a sleepy security guard and then I’m embracing Micah with thanks and a promise to stay in touch. “Thank you so much, your visit was very encouraging, I sense the Lord is doing something with us here that is good, let’s plan for another visit in two years and bring a team.” I nod my head in agreement and promise to follow up. Micah leaves me at the gate and I go through more security checks and head for the South African Airways gate. The woman greets me with a smile and examines my passport. Looking up she asks, “Do you have your yellow health certificate, everyone going to South Africa from Uganda has to have one.” “No I don’t,” I reply – wondering now what – with visions of delays etc. flashing through my mind.
“I’ll have to send you to the hospital clinic,” the lady tells me without any concern. I’m thinking it’s miles away but she invites me to leave my bag with her and go downstairs to the clinic where they will help me. I rush off in the direction given and enter a door under a large red cross. No one is visible and I wander down a hallway. “Can I help you?” a voice behind me asks. I turn to find a petite young girl in a blue nurses uniform stepping out of a side doorway. I recount my story as she leads me back to the front desk adding that I’ve recently been to India and have all the shots…. just no yellow card. She replies so softly I cannot hear what she’s saying and evidently doesn’t share my concern. “I have a plane to catch in an hour,” I tell her. She respond with a whisper and I lean over, “I can’t hear what you’re saying.”
“That will be 100,000 shillings ($30),” she says. Fortunately I have the Ugandan cash and hastily retrieve it and place the yellow/brown bills on her desk. Out comes the precious yellow card and she fills in the date and my name stating that I have received the required yellow fever shot. “Thank you very much,” I say with a smile as she hands the document to me. I don’t have time to discern whether she whispered a reply or not and I scurried off to finish checking in. “Whew, didn’t expect that,” I thought as I sat in the tired departure lounge watching two blonde little girls playing with toys (a few years ago that was Carmen and Michelle) – time also flies.
And now I’m flying high above southern Africa recounting how I got here – and it’s only 9 0’clock. We took off as the sun rose above Kampala and the plane bucked through turbulent clouds as we climbed to the cruising height. Below are cotton wool clouds and a while ago a brown snaking river slid across the landscape amidst patches of green. The plane is not full spoiling me with a row of seats to myself….. and plenty of room to talk to all of you.
Here’s to happy landings!