Kampala to Masaka

This morning we were able to sleep in a little as it’s something of a travel day as we will be making the 3-4 hour drive south to Masaka where we’ll be connecting with a number of social enterprises and NGOs.

Up first, though, is the Gaddafi mosque at the top of Old Kampala Hill. Started by Idi Amin during his time in power (1971-1979) and finished with funds from Gaddafi in 2006, it can hold up to 35,000 worshipers and is the National mosque of Uganda. The interior blends African, European and Arabic elements and the minaret provides a spectacular 360 degree view of Kampala. We started by properly covering our female students (pants needed to be covered by a wrap and heads covered with a scarf… the girl helping our students robe up was quite taken with Marie’s head scarf (it was purchased in Morocco for our trip into the desert). After that we removed our shoes and headed inside for a brief tour of the interior of the mosque and a reading (singing) from the Quran by our tour guide – Fatima – who quite literally has the voice of an angel… Hearing the verses of the Quran sung rather than read was quite beautiful.

After that it was time to make the short (but steep) climb to the top of the minaret and a brief history lesson by Fatima. The name of the city is apparently derived from a British camp that used to be located at the top of the hill during colonial times and from the impalas that used to roam there but the C in camp is pronounced differently so it became Kamp + Impala = Kampala). She also pointed out interesting and historical features on the surrounding hills. In all, it was a well received tour and, for most of our students, their first time in a mosque.

After the mosque we made our way to Buganda road and a craft market. We all bought a few things… for most of the kids this was their first experience with bartering and some definitely got the hang of it pretty quickly from their reports. Marie and I have been to a lot of markets and the prices at this one were definitely reasonable and the sellers very friendly. After the market we crossed the street to 1000 Cups – a local coffee shop known for their variety of coffees from around the world and their own ethically sourced Ugandan coffees. We all stocked up on beans and enjoyed some of their concoctions – Marie’s was definitely the winner… whatever it was, it tasted just like an orange creamsicle… the coffee floats were a close runner up… after the market we headed for a restaurant for a quick lunch and then hit the road to Masaka.

The ride to Masaka was long. And bumpy. And hot. We stopped briefly at a spot along the way (I forget the name) that straddles the equator to snap a few photos. Then it was back in the van to finish our journey. We arrived in Masaka about an hour later than Patrick had predicted (6:30) and as soon as we arrived Marie and I sacked out in our room (quite luxurious with a king size bed and our own toilet and shower this time) while the kids (and Craig) jumped in the pool for a quick swim. After that it was off for dinner at Frickadillen (it’s owned by the same people who own the Banda Overland Lodge where we are staying.) We had all placed our orders while we were still in Kampala so dinner was more or less ready when arrived at 8 and we all chowed down on a variety of western and local dishes. After dinner it was time for a quick debrief and discussion of the day and then back to the lodge and off to bed…

Some random observations and bits of knowledge from the past couple of days:

  • The average life expectancy in Uganda is 58 and the average age is 19 with almost 50% of the population under 14…
  • A common car wash consists of driving cars/trucks part way into a creek and tossing buckets of water at them…
  • In more than a few parts of Kampala we’ve had to make sure our windows are up and the doors are locked to avoid people reaching in and grabbing phones or bags. Given how often traffic comes to a complete standstill and how close people are riding/walking by the van, this is a wise precaution.
  • There are about 40,000 boda drivers in Kampala… so many that the government is apparently reluctant to do much to regulate them for fear of them rising up
  • Many banks apparently charge interest rates that can add up to 80% – one of the reasons micro-lenders are so important to helping lift people out of poverty
  • We haven’t seen many people smoking but apparently everybody smokes…
  • The average wage in Uganda is 2USD per day. At Sawa, the employees are paid $150USD per month and the women at Afripads are paid about $6 per day
  • Hundreds of people each day go to hospital as a result of boda accidents
  • There is a type of stork called a Marabou Stork (also known as Undertaker Birds) that are basically the garbage collectors of Kampala… they are tremendously ugly and look like pterodactyls in flight…

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