Yesterday, in a fit of irony, we spent nearly eight hours searching for a map of the city in which we were searching. We eventually found that guide, and in the process we found ourselves.
No really though, after the first few hours we realized that we’d somehow ended up exactly where we’d started, and I thought “Whoo-Hoo! We found ourselves!” Not that it was ever too hairy or worrisome, but wandering (even aimful wandering) can start to get a little unnerving in a city as fast and (traffic-)lawless as downtown Kampala. Just as our nerves started to fry in the rather disdainful afternoon sun we were sent a gift not from the mid-latitudinal heavens, but instead from the enterprisingly friendly people of Kampala: a man from a travel agency we had just left—empty-handed—tracked us down from four blocks away (I think he navigated by the glow of Alex’s sunburn) to say that he had uncovered a map that previously hadn’t existed in file drawers we hadn’t seen, and that we should come “have it.” After a touch of bargaining our quest was complete, finalized in the way it seems most things are completed here in the capital of Uganda—with a real big smile on your face, and a guarded promise to come back for further business.
Rewind two days, as a pair of 747s and a 737 (which should really be named, like, a 22.5 [maximum] compared to the ’47) hauled one scrunched-up and unsmiling dude some twos of thousands of miles (some 3.2s of thousands of kilometers) from O’Hare to Entebbe International Airport. After thirty hours packed into tubes of recycled air I didn’t feel nearly as much like a V.I.P. as I assumed I would when I met the Ugandan man outside of the baggage claim who was holding a sign with my name on it. That said name was written all-caps in teal Magic Marker did not help. Though, now that I think about it, Bowie probably had a lot of signs written specifically in teal Magic Marker…
Before my dreams of superstardom were erased, my distinctly underwhelming self-esteem at the moment had already been reduced by an encounter in Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta airport not an hour prior, which constituted my first in-depth conversation with an African on their home turf. Hoping beyond hope that airport regulations would be somewhat more lax outside of the world’s biggest target (sorry ‘Murica, but you aren't the best at making friends some times), I had left my water bottles full between exiting the flight from Amsterdam and entering the final leg to Entebbe. I was pulled back from those liquid realms beyond hope by a salty young Kenyan security guard who gave me a dashing smile and pointed at my Nalgenes. Darn. I chugged what I could, chucked the rest, showed him the empty bottles, and was about to head into the waiting area when he stopped me.
“How many of these do you drink a day?” he asked, motioning at my twin vessels. He was small and thin, dressed in shabby work clothes. The concept of two full liters of water must have amused him, as many of his fellow Kenyans still live a long ways from regular clean water sources (regular of course being relative in this case).
Unfortunately, I hadn't really thought of all that when I replied, with a well-hydrated swagger,
“About four or five.”
“Oh. Sometimes I get to drink up to three glasses.”
Oh, right. Well-hydrated shame.
Walking away silently with head hung, I vowed to never let another drop of water pass my lips. I succeeded for the entire next flight, causing a dry-air dehydration that constituted the third reason I was distinctly down on life when I entered my name-card-carrier’s taxi at 11:30 p.m. in the velvet-thick night of Uganda’s loftiest point of entry.
To be continued...