Thursday, July 28, 2011

Some Things Are Certain

                Many things are very different when you change countries, cultures, and capitals.  Because of all these widespread and sometimes unsettling differences it is comforting to see what aspects of humanity transcend silly things like languages, races, and national borders.  From what I’ve seen there are three things that are pretty universal.

                Smiles open other people up.  There is a lot of tension in the world.  People are angry and suspicious of other’s motives and are predisposed to be untrusting.  That’s where smiles come in.  I feel that a genuine, heartfelt smile that shows up all the way in your eyes is one of the best ways to open up a dialogue even if you aren’t speaking the same language.  Smiles say in every language “Hey!  Wanna be friends?”  Smiles go a long way to dissolving tensions and can remind everyone that we are all in this crazy world together.

                Music and dancing.  Who doesn’t like music?  I know people are baffled by other’s choices in what they choose to call music, but everyone likes a good beat.  And dancing.  Whether you’ve got skills or not, it is just fun to get your groove on.  I think that music speaks to everyone on a basic, human level that is beyond understanding.

                Children are the same everywhere.  Despite the diversity of ideas that surround how to “properly” raise a child and what morals are important to imprint upon them, young children are remarkably similar across cultural divides.  They want to play, they want to know about everything, they want to be seen, they want to be loved.  It is nice to know that however much we all change, we all began life with the same basic motives.

                You know what combines all three of these fantastic things???  That’s right!! CAMP SONGS!!  People singing, dancing, and smiling as they entertain children.  They’re wonderful, they’re fun, they’re certain to be a hit.  One Saturday I accompanied a fellow intern to a group meeting for the caregivers of children who are HIV positive.  The meeting is just for the caregivers but the kids come too because there is nowhere else for them to go.  Our mission was to entertain/occupy the roughly 70 kids for about four hours.  Ha!  And they call this work :)

                We started slowly with some easy songs they could sing along with and maybe understand, then we realized that they weren’t understanding the words anyways so we switched to songs that were more fun and expressive even though they had a few more made up words.  “Princess Pat”, “Going to Kentucky”, “Tarzan”, and “Little Sally Walker” all made an appearance among other favorites.  Ask your nearest camp acquaintance for a rendition of these if you don’t already know them.  The kids loved them!!  The more I acted like an idiot, the louder they sang between the giggles.  Their approximations to what the words were as well as their dance moves were a textbook definition of joy.

                Being the size I am basically places me squarely in the role of a conveniently mobile jungle gym.  Whether I am here playing with orphans or at home causing trouble with my adorable nieces and nephew, my greatest child-interaction talent stems from the fact that if they can climb me they’ll be much taller than the other kids.  Individually, the children here are shy and reserved around the giant muzungu.  However, they travel in packs.  The mob mentality takes over and my height advantage counts for nothing against 30 squealing children.  But they are just so darn cute!!  They have this very effective group hug maneuver which almost guarantees that I’ll end up on the ground amidst a laughing pile of children who just barely missed being crushed.  

                These children are looking at a lifetime of battling a chronic disease that will cause far-reaching problems in every aspect of their lives.  However, for at least four hours they weren’t HIV positive children.  They were just children.  The same kind we have in the States.  Children that laugh when they are flipped, cry when the fall, tell jokes that don’t make any sense, ask multiple questions without taking a breath, and whose joyful smiles and certainty of their own specialness make any day or situation infinitely better.  Some things are certain.
                What is certain in your life?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rwanda: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

               I feel like the last posts were posted too close together and entirely too long.  Sorry for the inundation, I’ll restrain myself in the future.
                Like I have said, Uganda is conveniently centrally located.  My friend and I took advantage of this fact and traveled to Rwanda for a nice weekend out of the country.  We wanted to maximize time in the beautiful country of Rwanda and minimize both costs and time off work.  Done and done.  After a 10 hour overnight public bus ride we were deposited at 6:15 am local time, bleary eyed and disorientated in the Kigali bus park.  I have to say it felt a little sketchy to be crossing international borders in the mountains and the dark at 4am, but hey they said it was official.
                Let me tell you folks, Rwanda has got its act together.  For an African country it is remarkably well planned, paved, and put together.  Since we were on a tight schedule we got right down to business looking for the tourism bureau to purchase some much needed mountain hiking permits.  One of the main tourist attractions in Rwanda is gorilla trekking where you go out with a group of guides and other trekkers and hopefully get to see mountain gorillas in their natural habitats.  Pretty cool.  Really popular.  Last year over 18,000 people paid the $500 USD just for the permits.  That is a lot of money for just one year in a relatively small country.  Understandably the government doesn’t want you hiking near gorillas and seeing one without paying for it so we had to buy permits just to summit one of the nearby mountains.  We got the permit and assurance that if we could make it to the office camp then the trekking company would have 4x4 cars ready to take us to the mountain base camp.
                We spent the rest of the morning and afternoon touring Kigali.  Tragically, in 1994 Rwanda was torn apart by tribal genocide that left 1 million people dead after a horrific 100 days of unimaginable violence.  The end of July marks the end of the national mourning in remembrance of loved ones lost and the national tragedy.  As such there were lots of tributes going on at many of memorial sites left to honor those who sadly lost their lives and we visited several of them.  While this atrocity is not being covered up there is definitely an initiative to remember and honor the dark past while searching and reaching for a brighter future.
                After a depressing and reflective morning we boarded another bus to take us to up into the mountain range.  Another 3 and a half hours on a cramped bus gave us plenty of time to enjoy the natural beauty that Rwanda boasts.  The motto of Rwanda is “Country of 1000 Hills” it is aptly named.  At the end of the twisty bumpy ride we were safely in Munsaze, the mountain town closest to our starting site for the morning hike.  We didn’t know where we were going to stay in Munsaze, I still need to develop my planning skills, so we decided on the very first one proposed by a “marketing specialist” who was standing by the bus stop.  It worked out well and the hostel, whose name I didn’t ever get, was clean and plenty comfortable after 40 hours with no sleep.
                The next morning we were up before dawn to get to the site on time.  On paper the official languages of Rwanda are French then English finally followed by Kinyarwanda, the native language.  My traveling partner is fluent in French and I have English pretty much down pat but that helped very little.  We know absolutely no Kinyarwanda and that became painfully obvious as we tried to check out.  Eventually we just handed over our key and hopped on some waiting motorbikes for a cold early morning ride to the office base.  When we got to the office we got to meet dozens of excited people ready for their encounter with the gorillas.  They we all geared up and the energy was palpable, even so early in the morning.
                When we presented our permits to the office the manager explained the rundown of the day and then asked to be introduced to the driver that we had hired to take us up the mountain.  Huh?  We had definitely been told no transport was necessary passed our getting to office and we did not have the money to hire a driver for all day.  What to do?  Put on some smiles and pathetic eyes and hope a fellow hiker with a driver would take pity on us.  Luckily people who are willing to get up early and pay to hike a mountain are, in my experience, categorically nice people.  We hitched a ride with two men from Mali who work with UNICEF and we were off.  The roads in Rwanda are pretty well paved except for those leading up to the mountains.  We were treated to an “African Massage” which is basically just being thrown side to side in the back of a truck.  At one point our truck ran aground with a terrible noise and we walked the rest of the way while the driver got himself unstuck.
                At the base of the Bisoke Mountain we were equipped with walking sticks and several harrowing stories as to how this peak was the hardest climb offered. Not comforting.  Anyway our intrepid group of 12 set off with high hopes and lots of energy.  We had 2 Malians, 1 Liberian, 2 Canadians, 1 Belgian, 4 Germans, 1 English, 1 American; a veritable United Nations ready to conquer a mountain.  We had several guides with us and seemed to acquire more the higher we went.  At one point we were joined by soldiers in full camouflage carrying rifles.  Our guide told us they were there to protect us from the animals that lived in the mountains.  He very clearly said elephants and buffalos but I remain skeptical that such large animals could live in the mountains.  Also, I didn’t see any. That proves their non-residence.
                The climb was exhausting!  A war of attrition was waged; Bisoke mountain and gravity versus all of us.  As the mountain wreaked havoc on our precious supplies of energy and muscular abilities we countered with a stalwart dedication on achieving its summit despite its 3711 meter elevation.  It was like four hours going up the down escalator except with much better scenery.  While other mountain paths wind back and forth providing switchbacks to make the ascent easier, Rwandans have not adopted this policy yet.  Their paths went straight up through trees, vines, little rivers, and lots of mud.  At one of the rest points we were very close to the burial place for Dian Fossey, an American who lived and worked in the mountains with the gorillas for 18 years.  As we climbed higher and higher the mists of the mountains were easy to see sweeping in and closing us off from each other.  It was amazing!  We finally reached the tippity top and got to take in the beauty of the lake there.  The lake fills in the crater formed by inactive Bisoke volcano.  I was making contingency plans on what to do if these sleeping giants decided to go all Vesuvius on us, but thankfully they weren’t needed.  The mists were so thick on the top of the mountain that you couldn’t see where we started from or even each other at times.
                One hill down, just 999 to go.  Time to descend and get on with the rest of our day. You might think that going down a mountain would be much easier than going up.  If so, you would be wrong in terms of Bisoke.  The crazy steep paths we took up were just as treacherous going down and we fell lots of times amassing bruises and scrapes to add to our tired muscles.  We took more breaks on the way down and the total descent took about 3 hours from peak to base camp.  The wonderful guys from UNICEF offered us a ride all the way back to Kigali since they had the extra space and we gratefully accepted.
                The trip back was an adventure.  After weaving our way back through the villages and being accosted by lots of children who were entirely too close to the truck, we made it to the real road and started making time.  Then our driver randomly stopped, got out, and crawled under the truck.  He got back in and calmly told us that we had punctured a hole in our gas tank, we were leaking fuel, and would have to stop and get it repaired.  The men at the service station fixed the gas tank in about 30 minutes and we were back on our way.  About a half an hour later two cars flew around us on a sharp curve and then were promptly in an accident and almost drove off the side of the mountain.  We stopped to make sure everyone was alright and then continued on as we saw they had everything covered.  An hour later we were pulled over by the police.  Apparently our driver is a pretty sweet talker because we were back on our way in a few minutes.  We finally made it back to Kigali and checked into our hostel for the night after what was an exhausting day in many respects. 
                The next morning we hopped back on our friend the Kigali-Kampala bus and settled in for our 10 hour ride back to home.  The Jaguar Bus Company, if you are ever in the area and are in need of transportation, runs amazingly on time.  We got back to Kampala around 6:45pm just in time for a nice boda boda ride through the rain to get us home.  Not bad for a weekend :)

Monday, July 18, 2011

No Excuses

          Astute observers have noted that I have been “Leaving on a Jet Plane” for quite some time.  While there were several long flights, the delay in posts was not due to them.  It turns out that I am even worse at keeping a blog up to date than I am at most things.  Who knew that was possible?  Anyway, I hope the following posts are a placating rush of updates for those of you who have been on the edge of your seat waiting for me to give some kind of evidence of my alive-ness.  I am pretty sure that only applies to my mom but since she is picking me up from the airport in August (I hope) I have to keep her happy :)

           If you have any questions about anything I have written or want to know something specific about Kampala, Uganda, orphans and vulnerable children (OVC), or anything else you think I might know about (keep your expectations low, I may just Google it!) feel free to ask! 
Pace yourself, there is a lot here.  I hope you enjoy :)

The Elite Eight

The Global Health Fellows Program that I am lucky enough to work for has a lot of interns this summer.  GHFP placed people in several countries and quite a few in D.C.  The wonderful team I get to work with this summer in Uganda is eight interns strong making the alliterative title of this blog almost compulsory.  Whether we are elite or not remains to be seen; but I am convinced that the other seven are fantastic enough to compensate for one weak link so we are sticking with the name.
                While the eight of us had been communicating from the time we were selected up to leaving for our summer adventure, we’d never met one another.  The fact that we didn’t actually know each other led to me be sitting next to a fellow intern for the entire flight from Chicago to DC and not figuring out our connection until about five minutes before landing.  But we did figure it out and decided to split a cab to the hostel rather than navigate the DC metro with three months worth of luggage apiece.
                Anand, Anita, Ilan, Jacob, Karrin, Liz, and Veronica are my colleagues for the summer.  In the group we have five MPHs, two MSWs, three nurses, one midwife, a returned Peace Corps volunteer, and a medical student.  For those of you with the advanced math degrees, you’ll notice that the total is more than 8; I get to spend the summer with some really interesting and talented people :).  Our training consisted of two half days of form-completing (I am working for the government now) and attending presentations before we were whisked away to Dulles International Airport for our marathon of flights.
                After three flights, experiencing the wonderful invention of in-flight entertainment, lots of great conversations with each other as well as other interesting travelers, and a time change of 7 hours, we arrived in Entebbe, Uganda around 10:30pm.  Our coordinators had told us to expect someone from our hotel to be holding a sign in gleeful anticipation of our arrival (slightly an exaggeration, but there really was supposed to be a sign).  I had been excessively and childishly excited about having achieved a status high enough to warrant a sign, so the lack of said sign was crushing if not more than a little expected.  Travel weary and carting ridiculous amounts of luggage, we began our education in the art of bargaining.  When we finally got to the hotel that will be our home for the next three months, we crashed into our beds in anticipation of what was in store.

Where it’s at

          Kampala is the capital of Uganda, located in the northern part of the country and really close to the equator.  While it is more of an amalgamation of previous villages than a “city” as Westerners would call it, it is home to approximately 2 million people. Uganda is the “Pearl of Africa” and located centrally among the East African countries.  Uganda has borders with Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the newly minted South Sudan.  There is also a big portion of its borders that are taken up by the shores of Lake Victoria.  Lake Vicky, as she is known to her friends, is the second largest fresh water lake in the world (Lake Superior, for the win!) You shouldn’t swim in LV because there is so much schistosomiasis in the water you’d be lucky to get out without being infected.  Ugandan’s most populous tribe is the Buganda people and the most commonly spoken tribal language is Luganda.

            The eight interns with GHFP are split up among three organizations: The AIDS Support Organization (TASO), Mengo Hospital, and Meeting Point Kampala (MPK).  My co-worker Veronica and I are lucky enough to be working at Meeting Point along their wonderful staff.  Meeting Point was started years ago when AIDS was wreaking havoc in Uganda.  The founder and now Executive Director is an exceptional woman named Noelina Namukisa but everyone just calls her “Maama”.  She is most deserving of this title as she serves as a surrogate mother to dozens of orphans.  Also she gives GREAT hugs, a talent that is sadly hard to find these days.  Maama started MPK by herself after years of serving infected people in their homes while working full-time as a domestic worker and raising her eight biological children.  I don’t think she slept.

             Meeting Point’s main office is located in an area of Kampala called Namuwongo.  Recently they have also expanded to the Wakiso District so their clients don’t have to travel very far to take advantage of their services.  Both Namuwongo and Wakiso are slum areas of Kampala.  Most houses are made of wood and usually consist of one room for the whole family.  They are positioned right next to the dirt roads that cars turn into a dust storm daily.  Alongside these wooden dwellings are all kinds of shops.  Whether they are small restaurants, cash shops, or saloons they are all packed next to one another.  Their market is made up of dozens of little stands each boasting impressive pyramids of goods.  Chickens, goats, dogs, and the occasional cow wander the streets in a loose interpretation of the idea of free range livestock.  Walking through these areas is really difficult, both in a physical and emotional sense.  The clotheslines crisscross the paths between houses and years of rains have created deep wash outs that are made cross-able by whatever is nearby.  From a public health standpoint it is terrible.  Overcrowding, open sewers, unprotected communal water taps, open garbage dumps in the middle of “town”, intense pollution, living with livestock, no shoes, and lots of broken glass and sharp metal.  However, the people that live in these conditions are unquestionably the kindest people I have met in this warm and welcoming country.  Whatever they have is shared with generosity and without pause.  It is comforting to see such love and light amid such darkness.

           There aren’t a lot of white people that I have seen who walk in these areas of town.  Actually, only one.  Me.  The game of “One of these things is not like the others” is absurdly easy.  Even my partner from the States is originally from Liberia and doesn’t help the situation at all.  The word for white person in Luganda is “muzungu” and my anomalous presence in the slums causes lots of scratched heads and calls of “Hey muzungu!!”  The children seem particularly inquisitive, as are kids everywhere, and will follow me around in large groups that are too scared to talk to me but will shine their beautiful smiles and giggle when I make faces at them.  One little girl who really grasped the idea of rhyming started the chant of “How are you, muzungu?”  It’s really catchy and was soon joined in by many voices and followed us for quite some time as my laughing colleagues and I maneuvered through the paths.

This is how we do it

                Meeting Point has implemented so many programs in response to the multitude of needs expressed by its clients.  In my first weeks at MPK, I got to tour and work at most of these places.  While I think there are still more programs in the works, I’ll outline what MPK is up to right now.

                Cecilia and Paul Learning Centre:  The LC is a primary school that hosts about 300 students every day.  The ages range from the adorable 5 year olds in the nursery classes to the 15 year olds in the seventh grade.  Many of the students stay at the boarding house on the school grounds during the term.  The Ugandan school system is 3 months of class and then one month of vacation.  At the school they serve lunch every day and those students that board are also provided with breakfast and dinner.  Education is expensive by Ugandan standards and many of the students have sponsors that pay for their school fees.  I get to interview the older students to get an idea of their progress and their needs in order to help them better.  I have also started tutoring several of them in math.  The number of students that come grows each day.  I am hoping that they are coming out of an intense desire to learn rather than the novelty of being taught by a white girl but that may be a foregone conclusion.  Oh well, they are learning fractions and binomials either way J

                Vocational Training Centre:  The VTC is a way for older students, or those without an academic nature, to learn a profitable trade.  In a small cement house about 50 students learn either tailoring, leather work, or hairdressing.  The VTC has a great track record and many of the students that complete the leatherwork course and pass the exams are taken up in government contracts.  This is steady, reliable work the kind of which isn’t at all common in Uganda.  The tailoring girls are amazing in their skills as well.  To practice the designs they make them all out of paper so there are tons of paper shirts, every day dresses, and traditional wear all over the classroom.  When they finish their two year course, the students will all be given a sewing machine to help them earn a living.  The hairdressing girls are great fun.  When we were first visiting the VTC to be given the grand tour they plopped me down on a stool and began braiding my hair into the tiniest braids you can imagine.  Thankfully we had to go that day but not before they made me promise to return.  My return led to 3 hours of sitting still while 5 or 6 young women wrestled my hair into literally hundreds of braids. 

                Music, Dance, and Drama:  This group is made up mostly of students but also some adults from the community.  They write, produce, perform plays and dances that help raise awareness and reduce stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in the community.  Some of the younger girls have yet to realize a lost cause when they see one and are intent upon teaching me their traditional Bugandan dances.  I am pretty sure that my hips will never move like theirs but I am trying.  Every time I try they are reduced to fits of giggles which are a little embarrassing to be the subject of but at least they are laughing.

                Clinic:  Staffed by two nurses, a laboratory technician, a medicine dispensary, and a physician’s assistant, then clinic handles the medical needs of the people of area who can’t afford to go to the hospital; pretty much all of them.  All of the clinic workers are there six days a week and provide kind and comprehensive care to the community.  The clinic’s main clients are the children from the school and those children which are HIV positive.  The staff makes sure each child takes their ARV drugs daily and treat the opportunistic infections that are bound to show up because of their comprised immune systems.

                Monthly Medical Outreach:  While the clinic does great work, it isn’t accessible to potential clients that can’t travel all the way to Kampala.  The solution is to pack up and take the clinic to them.  Once a month, the staff of the clinic and the HIV testers and counselors take their show on the road and drive into the boonies to set up a clinic in the rural areas.  In a mutatu and one pickup truck we packed three large tents, lots of tables and chairs, testing equipment, a sound system, all the possible drugs we thought we’d need, and LOTS of people for a long drive out to our destination.  When we got to the host village there weren’t many people waiting for us but by the time we had everything set up there was a long line of people trying to get the medical attention they usually have to do without.  We stayed until we helped everyone, somewhere around 500 people I would estimate, with whatever complaints they came with.  After the doctors had finally seen everyone we still had to dole out the prescribed medications.  Six of us working against the failing light while everyone else packed up eventually got everyone helped.  Then it was time for a long and bumpy ride home in the jam-packed cars.  Luckily, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” was on the radio along with other classics so we got to end our day on an especially high note (haha) with a bus-wide sing along.  We worked from 5am to 9pm that day, but it was well worth it.

                Home Based Care:  Many times people with HIV/AIDS are abandoned by their families because of the stigma and misinformation that surrounds the disease.  So they have this disease, they are getting other opportunistic infections, they can’t afford their drugs, and they are alone.  This is where MPK steps in and does what I think is its most humanitarian based work.  Volunteers and staff will come to the client’s home and provide for all their needs whether it is medical care, monetary support, doing their laundry, cooking their food, cleaning their house (all of which the clients themselves are too weak to do) or just showing them love.  Sometimes the HBC workers will even live with the clients like family until they are not in need of such intensive service any longer.  All of the clients also have access to counseling care that comes monthly to their homes to see how they are doing and what needs of theirs are not being met.

                Welcome House:  The Welcome House is the orphanage run by MPK.  It is hard to pin down how many orphans are actually living there at any given point but the most consistent number is 50.  These children have been orphaned due to HIV/AIDS and were without relatives to care for them, some of them are infected as well.  Now they all live, school, and play together in an example of love and caring that is beautiful to see.  The children are full of questions and really want to play so my partner and I come visit them on Saturdays when we all have free time to just enjoy each other’s company.

                HIV Testing and Counseling:  In the month of June the HTC team would go out into different communities every Wednesday and Friday.  We would test about 250 people everyday and provide counseling and support to those who tested positive.  While incidence of HIV/AIDS in Uganda was previously down it has started to rise again as of late.  The amount of people that tested positive was much lower than the rates I saw in Zimbabwe, so that is encouraging.

                Adult Literacy:  MPK realizes that education is the key behind success.  In that vein it sponsors adult literacy courses aimed not only at helping the older generation become literate but also raising the regard for education in general.

                Wakiso Farming:  As I said before, the Learning Centre provides for the nutritional needs of 300 students once a day at least.  Even on the diet of posho (a corn meal dish roughly the consistency of thick mashed potatoes) and beans, that is a lot of food every day.  This was getting too expensive very quickly so they bought a plot of farm land where they now grow a portion of the food they need and sell the rest to the markets to offset costs.

                Microloans:  They are no real ways for Ugandan people to save up money for large investments like business.  Here it is like living paycheck to paycheck, just minus the paycheck because unemployment is so high.  Many of the MPK’s clients list their annual income as less than 150,000 Ugandan shillings a year.  The current exchange rate is 2500 Ugandan shillings to 1 US dollar.  How people manage to live on 5 dollars a month is beyond me.  MPK provides microloans to business prospects and has so far seen a lot of success in the lives of people who have benefitted thanks to the support of this program.

                All these programs do great works in the community.  Even better, MPK almost exclusively employs its clients where their skills match the job description or they can learn the work.  All of the people who tend the farm at Wakiso are clients and are now earning an honest living.

Hey! I’m walking here!!

          Traffic in Kampala is evolution in action.  Survival of the fittest.  It is an adventure everyday and although a bit confusing at first becomes second nature quickly if you need to get somewhere fast (which probably won’t happen)  Many of the boda bodas and mutatus have religious sayings on them somewhere.  I believe this speaks to the strong belief in a higher power you need to take your life into your own hands and travel in Kampala.

If you’d like to get from Point A to Point B you have several options:

Walk it out.  Safest option by far.  A definite downside to walking is that there are not many sidewalks that are actually for pedestrian use.  If there are sidewalks they are usually appropriated by boda bodas or mutatus. Clearly the government built those sidewalks with a clairvoyant understanding that they would be used by motor vehicles more often than perambulators because they are surprisingly wide and smooth.  However, most roads don’t boast sidewalks and you are forced to walk on the street.  This leads you to be hyper-aware of other things occupying your street of choice.  Honking is your friend, remember that.  If you’re walking, hear a honk, and would like to retain all your vital body parts then it is imperative that you move far to the side of the street and let whomever was kind enough to warn you of their presence pass.  If, in a fit of reckless disregard for your own personal safety, you decided not to heed the first warning then you may be warned a second time with a prolonged and more strident wail.  This usually means you should dive off the road because your possession of your limbs is about to be called into question.

I want to ride my bicycle.  Lots of people here have bicycles which makes me happy.  Many of them use their bikes and their calf muscles as a way to earn a living.  Every day you can see these old rickety bikes manned by their determined riders carrying seemingly impossible loads.  30 jerry cans, stacks of lumber, mattresses, bulging sacks of coal, amazing amounts of produce, and other people regularly grace the small space behind the rider as he pits himself against hills, pot holes, and traffic.

Boda Boda, so nice you have to say it twice.  Boda bodas are small motorcycles which you can hire to take you directly to your destination.  Few drivers wear helmets and even fewer have helmets for their riders, but they are incredibly convenient.  While other schmucks are stuck twiddling their thumbs apparently endless traffic jams, you are loving life as you zip through/around/in between cars, vans, and semi trucks!!  Men sit normally on the bikes when they are passengers but women are expected to sit side saddle to be more demure.  I am more than happy to pull my “Uninformed Foreigner” card and ride normally while clinging desperately to the driver.  Riding bodas is kind of like betting against the house while gambling; you may win few times but the house is always going home with the big bucks.  In the interest of economy, people manage to fit lots of people and things onto one boda.  The most impressive examples of this that I have seen are: 4 children and one driver or the driver, 3 adults, and one loudly protesting pregnant goat.

Taxis/mutatus/combis:  A rose by any other name will still be just as crowded.  These vehicles are the lovechild of a minivan and a buses; the liger of the motorized world.  They run specific courses through the city and the surrounding area and I am 99.9% positive that there is some method to the madness but the key to understanding it is still eluding me.  All of the buses say they are licensed to hold 14 passengers but if more people are willing to pay and not willing to wait for the next combi then they can carry however many passengers are willing (read forced) to squeeze in.  These guys are the ones usually stuck in the traffic jams in the mornings.  It once took my co-worker and I two and a half hours to go somewhere in the city just because traffic was so bad.  The plus side of this waiting is you have plenty of time to strike up conversations with the fellow passengers who are sitting in your lap or read some of your book.

Private hires.  What we would call taxis in the States.  Nice to use but you miss the interactions with other people and they are too expensive for everyday use.

Levitation.  Still working on it. I’ll keep you updated

So now that you have an idea what the main players are in the traffic game of Kampala, I’d like to tell you a story to illustrate the driving prowess of the people I get to share a city with this summer:
The organization I work for here does a lot of programming in the surrounding communities.  One day I was driving back from a testing and counseling outreach in a local slum area of Wabigalo.  The way through Wabigalo is, I’m sure, the most twisty, potholed, narrow path that ever had the audacity to call itself a street.  I was really concerned about how close our little car was to all of the people who live out their lives mere feet from this road.  We eventually had to slow down because there was a lorry (a small semi-truck kind of thing) was chugging slowly through the twists.  I was shocked at the optimism evident in the driver’s attempt to navigate a street that his vehicle was patently too large to be on.  But wait, there’s more!  There was another lorry intent on the same purpose coming the other way.  Neither one could backup through the mess of turns.  So what to do?  Leave both of them until Kampala’s city government decides to widen the street to accommodate two cars comfortably?  Of course not! They’ll just go around one another.  The plan is perfect except there was nowhere for them to go.  Or so I very naively thought.  After a series of false starts, the drivers consulted the watching residents of Wabigalo who quickly complied with moving store fronts, clotheslines and A HOUSE out of the path.  Then, in a maneuver that was a slap in the face to the Pauli Exclusion Principle, they managed to scoot around one another.  I’m sure that physicists around the world felt the sting of one of their principles being shown up so easily.  No worries though, after successfully getting around the oncoming truck, the coal lorry in front of my car promptly fell of the shoulder of the road and dumped most of its cargo so we know that gravity is still holding strong.  Everyone in the truck was fine and they had their coal reloaded quickly and were on their merry way.  Impressive.