Thursday, May 27, 2010

May 24, 2010—To Mbale

Today was a very interesting day. It started with an orientation at TASO and ended with a child sitting on my lap for 5 hours on a jam-packed bus. We woke up early and got ready for our orientation and the TASO Teaching Center in Kampala. Our special hire driver, Ram, wasn’t entirely sure where it was, but he knew the general direction, so off we set, 10 minutes behind schedule. After asking a few people for directions, we made it. Naturally, Ram thought it was going to be much farther than it was, so he grossly overcharged us (even after admitting he thought that the center was father out of town—special hires charged based on distance).
At TASO, we met Martha who explained the history of the organization and its operational structure. With her, we drank some tea and ate some raw maize (I wasn’t a big fan). Afterwards, she was able to negotiate a better deal for us for the ride home and make arrangements to have Ram ensure that we made it onto the bus safely.

Once home, we quickly packed our bags (it felt like we were fleeing from something we were moving so fast, though I guess in a way we were because we both were so anxious to get to Mbale). In the meantime, Ram found out what time the bus left for us and secured another driver to help him get us there. Nrupa and I exchanged the rest of our US currency for Ugandan shillings, wolfed down some lunch, checked out of the hotel, and piled into the back of the car with half of our bags on top of us.

The bus park was insane!!! When we pulled in, men swarmed the car. Despite the overcharging, Ram really came through for us in the end. He told us not to talk to anyone at the bus park and secured seats for us. He negotiated prices so that we each only had to pay Ush10000 ($5) for the bus from Kampala to Mbale. If we had taken a special hire, this would have cost between Ush250000 – 300000 total ($125-150), so the bus was a very good bargain. And it was definitely bargain travel, even on what we’ve repeatedly heard is the most reputable and luxurious bus line…

We were told we had two seats at the very back of the bus, but when I got on and headed for the back, I did not see two seats. There was a large woman on the end, two kids, and three men filling up the six seats in the back row. The bus employee behind me, however, assured me that there were in fact two available seats, so I kept heading back. The woman by the window pulled one child into her lap, squished the other next to her, and told me to “extend, extend,” which it turns out means to scoot closer to her, until our thighs were nuzzled up against one another and her second child was half sitting on her lap and half on mine. I managed to shove my laptop bag in between my feet as Nrupa slid into a space half the size of one butt cheek. So there we were, smushed into our seats with Nrupa’s backpack, laptop and half of a child on our laps. We were ready for a fun 5 hours.

Thankfully about 1.5 hours outside of Mbale some passengers got off the bus, making more room in our row as two men switched to now vacant seats. With our laps and legs free we were able to stretch out a bit and actually enjoy the ride a bit. Of course, the child who had been sitting on my lap and grown quite fond of me, so 30 minutes after I put her in her own seat, she climbed right back into my lap.

Finally, over five long hours later, we reached Mbale. Peter, one of our new best friends from TASO, met us at the bus line’s office (usually the buses go to a bus park, but after dark they go to the offices instead). Thankfully Peter was waiting for us because the crowds were again overwhelming. Boys of all ages were offering to help us with our luggage or get us a car, and when we refused they would simply stand next to us waiting and staring.

We again piled all of are stuff into a car and drove around the block the to supermarket so that we could get a few quick necessities since there was nothing at our house. We then went home, oh sweet, wonderful home. As much as we begrudge the department, it was nice to not have to worry about finding lodging. Peter left us to get settled for a bit (he lives just down the road), then came back about an hour later to take us to dinner. We had a mediocre meal at Mbale Resort, where we should also be able to access free wifi and a pool, and talked about life in Mbale. Peter has lived here his entire life; he even got his bachelors degree in Mbale, so he was a good person to give us our introduction.

After dinner, Peter walked us back home and Nrupa and I attempted to settle in a bit more. Some of the lights don’t work (though thankfully we have electricity), so we broke out our flashlights and thoroughly explored. The most important discovery we made was how amazingly comfortable our living room furniture is; we will definitely be spending a lot of time reading and relaxing there.

Finally, we met our night guard, Tom, who sits in a shack right next to our front gate within our property. The house is very secure and I’m not sure we need a night guard, especially because I feel guilty for making him spend his nights in a tiny, tin shack in our yard rather than with his family, but Nrupa pointed out that he’s getting paid which he might not otherwise be, so that’s good. It still feels kind of wrong though. We peeked in there today (Tuesday) and he only has some cardboard and a tiny blanket covered by a bed net to lie on. Nrupa and I were thinking about putting our extra mattress in there and getting him a new flashlight, just to make it a bit more comfortable, but we don’t know if that’s possible since someone next semester might need the mattress. Maybe we can get a cheap one in town…

We eventually made it to bed around 1am, thoroughly exhausted from the days’ adventures and ready to begin our orientation to TASO Mbale in the morning.

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