Well, we made it through our first day! We spent the day exploring the city, getting lost several times among the unmarked streets. It started as soon as we left our hotel and turned the wrong way down the street. Nrupa says Kampala reminds her of a less crowded India. It probably doesn't hurt that a lot of the stores and brands here, like Bata shoes, are Indian, as well as a significant portion of the population. Since I've never been to India, I've associated the city with a more chaotic version of New York. The sidewalks are filled with vendors sitting on sheets on the ground selling things like wallets, bracelets, pens, and food. In between the vendors are MTN stands selling airtime for cell phones or calls (like a pay phone but you pay a person instead of a machine).
The streets are bustling with traffic, both motorized and pedestrian, at all hours. There are very few traffic lights in the city (I think I've seen 2 or 3), vans, cars, and boda bodas (motorcycles/dirt bikes that are used as taxis) drive in all directions, squeezing through spaces and edging out other cars. Technically Ugandans drive on the left side of the road, like their former colonizers from Britain, but its often difficult to discern this from watching the traffic. As there are no traffic lights, there are also no cross walks, so pedestrians are forced to dart across the street in front of speeding traffic. Nrupa and I are still getting used to this, though she's much better at it than I am. We've begun shadowing other people, staying close to them as they cross the street. Otherwise we spend several minutes on the sidewalk waiting.
We went to this shopping center to get out of the sun for a bit. Apparently other muzungus (it means "white person," but Ugandans use it to refer to all non-Africans; its not derogatory) had the same idea because the placed was packed with tourists. There was one store there I had read about in one of my guide books called Banana Boat that sells handmade crafts from all over Africa. Another is this gigantic super market where we got some fruit (in peels) and learned that we had been getting really ripped off when buying bottled water. We bought a liter from the store for Ush650 when the hotel had been charging us Ush1000 for a 20oz bottle. Oh well. That's the fate of being a muzungu in Uganda. The Ethiopian hotel manager told us that even he gets charged higher prices despite the fact that he's African and has lived in Uganda for 7 years.
From the shopping center, we took a boda boda home. I wasn't really keen on the idea, but Nrupa was excited to do it and I figured I might as well. I'd have to at some point anyway, so why not today. So the two of us clamored up behind the driver and off we went at top speeding weaving through the rush hour traffic. With no helmets. Me at the back and Nrupa squished between me and the driver. I grasped the little handle behind me with one hand and Nrupa's waist with the other. We hit a few potholes that made me feel like I was going to fall off the end of the bike, but we made it back safely, after our driver asked a few of his fellow boda boda friends for directions.
The sun was blazing, so we took a bit of time to rest and figure out where we wanted to go to dinner. After deciding on a Ghanaian place that we though was relatively close to our hotel, we set off. Naturally, we got lost again as soon as we left the hotel and had to has no less than 5 people for directions. Unfortunately, no one really seemed to know where this place was and pointed us in vague directions. The lack of street signs didn't help our confusion. After about 45 minutes of walking and several more requests for directions, we learned that the restaurant had gone out of business--thanks Lonely Planet. Lesson for the day: call establishments before we leave to make sure they still exist. We tried retracing our steps back towards the hotel, but got lost again...of course. So, we hoped on our second boda boda and headed for home. Upon spotting a promising looking restaurant (in that it was open and people were there), we got off, paid our driver Ush1000 then he was trying to charge us (though we still overpaid him) and had ourselves some delicious rice and beans in a place with about 8 tables and a TV playing Benjamin Button. Thankfully from the restaurant we spotted the neon sign for our hotel...right across the street...so we were able to walk back.
To end the day, we had an in depth chat with the hotel night manager (Andrew) about the politics of the US and Africa, ranging from the financial crisis to evangelical Christians to homosexuality (as most Africans, he's not a fan, though it doesn't seem like he supports the bill in Uganda proposing the death penalty for homosexuals, so that's good news). Now we're off to bed to prepare for whatever craziness tomorrow holds. Perhaps the Uganda Museum...)