DAY 30 - Kampala, Uganda
I took it pretty easy during the day today, I guess I was physically and emotionally exhausted after my conversation with Alisa the night before. Nonetheless, in the late afternoon I decided to do a little exploring. I started making my way up the hill behind where I was staying. Fascinated by a red-brick colonial building that stood on top of the hill (which I had first spotted when I was further down in the valley), I was determined to find out more about it. The climb to the top of the hill was no easy task in the equatorial heat but the view back over the city made the effort well worth it.
Kampala is actually quite a large city (in terms of both geography and population) and is built on several rolling hills, something that had alluded me from the perspective of my lodgings down in one of the city’s valleys. In fact, Kampala has sometimes been compared with Rome as both cities are said to have been built on seven hills. While Kampala may lack some of the culture and monuments that make Rome such an amazing city, I can tell you that in that moment and from where I stood – on the top of this particular hill, looking back over the city as it lay basking in the glow of the setting sun – Kampala was as beautiful a city as any I have ever seen. It also probably helped that for the first time since I had arrived I had found a tranquil place removed from the rumble of engines and blaring of horns!
I rested on a retaining wall just underneath the red-brick building while I soaked up the view. The sun setting over the hills had me captivated and my trance was only broken when a slim, young local with a big smile named Grace interrupted me and asked (somewhat out of the blue) if I was lonely. Perhaps if he had asked me that same question yesterday I would have given him a different answer but having spoken with Alisa last night, I assured him that I was just fine. Seemingly relieved that I was feeling ok, he introduced himself and offered to give me a tour of the building above. Impressed by his forwardness and the generosity of his offer, I was happy to indulge.
Grace escorted me up the stairs that led to the red-brick building – it turns out the building is a cathedral (St Paul's) and it sits atop Namirembe Hill. On the lawn in front of the cathedral I was introduced to Elijah, who was the leader of a group called the Boys and Girls Brass Brigade. Elijah was in the middle of conducting a troop of Ugandan children of various ages who were (attempting) to play a set of battered instruments but was kind enough to pause proceedings for a minute in order to talk with me. Elijah explained that the Brigade is designed to be a way of giving street children a creative outlet for their spare time and energy. The program encourages kids of all ages and backgrounds, but especially kids who can't afford to go to school, to learn an instrument and be part of something good and productive. Elijah was an enigmatic and enthusiastic talker who spoke with considerable passion about the program, which he said he had been involved with for the over 12 years. Listening to Elijah speak, I couldn’t help but see a correlation between the intentions behind the brigade in front of me and the CYA Program at the Sir David Martin Foundation that I had been helping out with over the past few years. It was really amazing to see two communities that couldn’t be further apart or more different but which had both realised the incredible potential for music to be a positive influence for troubled youths.
Grace and I let Elijah get back to conducting the band and continued our tour. Not long after, we ran into a group of British medical students who were involved in an 8 week exchange program with the hospital attached to the cathedral. I introduced myself and they were obliging enough to invite Grace and I into their quarters for a cup of tea. We all got talking in the way that so often happens when you are travelling – over the course of a cup of tea you go from being a complete stranger to one of the gang. Before you know it, you feel like you have known everyone for years – and, as it turned out, it was someone’s birthdays and they were all heading out to celebrate. Considering that we were all now best friends, without any hesitation they asked if Grace and I wanted to come along.
So before I knew what was going on, I found myself flying down one of Kampala’s seven hills on the back of a bota-bota with Grace squished awkwardly between the driver and I. Speaking of the driver, he was an absolute maniac and he had us weaving in and out of traffic at breakneck speeds and slotting through gaps that were barely open for a nanosecond before being fiercely sealed by a merging vehicle or fellow bota-bota. Miraculously, we all arrived at our destination (a Chinese restaurant called Fong Fong) in one piece. The restaurant was a poxy expat place, which was expensive and atmosphere-less (not that I was about to say anything). Nonetheless, I still had an enjoyable dinner with my new friends and to be fair the food was pretty good. Afterwards we went in search of a place to watch the football – Manchester United and Barcelona were playing in one of the UEFA Cup semi-finals.
The gang finally settled on a place called The Steak Out which seemed like a pretty cool joint. It was busy (even though it was a Tuesday night) because of the game and everyone, expats and locals combined, was glued to the TV screen. Funnily enough though, instead of putting on the commentary from the game the bar had set up a couple of huge speakers either side of the TV which were blaring old-school hip-hop the entire time. I’m not the biggest soccer fan but I do like my sports and will watch anything as long as it is a good contest. It turned out to be a pretty exhilarating game so I found myself really getting into it by the end. I’d also had quite a few beers and was feeling a little tipsy which probably better explains my (somewhat out of character) enthusiasm. For the record, Man U ended up winning 1-0 but it was close to the very end.
After the game, I vaguely remember chewing some Ugandan law student’s ear off about how people don’t appreciate the fact that the criminal justice system has more to do with due process than it does with putting away bad guys – Errrr, I hate getting stuck talking to guys like me when they start babbling on about pretentious crap like that! Anyway, I finally said goodbye to the Brits around 1:30am before walking outside and flagging down a bota-bota to take me back to my hotel.