Kampala on a Sunny Afternoon ….

August 1995

Last Thursday I found myself in Kampala with a bit of time for a walkabout after fighting with immigration to get my temporary pass commuted to a work permit. I eventually did get it, but trying to deal with officialdom is a bit like knitting with one needle: it’s very frustrating. Now I’m not normally the type of lady who lunches, but being in Kampala around one-o-c1ock or so is exciting because some of the hotels have the most amazing buffets with the most unusual side shows.

Generally, the show at one particular hotel consists of the most ugly creatures on the planet: Marabou Storks. These most horrid of birds have the most awful manners: they actually pee on their legs to keep themselves cool. Now many an ornithologist might think that was pretty cool but it’s a habit that I hope humans don’t catch on to. These massive birds (kaloli in Luganda) are scavengers, they’re ugly (in fact, they’re so ugly you’d wonder how their own mothers could love them), and they’re said to be mean. If one of those monsters landed on your doorstep with a baby snugly nestled in a pouch dangling from its beak, you’d send the kid back. But anyway, despite their ugliness, they’re fascinating and many of them stalk regally around the hotel grounds as if they own the place – in fact, they probably did in the not-so-far-distant past. Every tree in sight has been earmarked as a nesting place and anxious mammys and daddies take turns to ensure than their offspring make it safely beyond the shell stage of existence. Actually, even though these birds have a bad PR, they make excellent garbage collectors, a job that Kampala City Council doesn’t take at all seriously. There are skips littered all over the city with their contents overflowing. And if the Council forgets to replace a skip in the usual location, people continue to dump the garbage anyway. It’s what keeps these baby carriers alive.

But while I was contemplating one of nature’s oddest looking beasties, the most interesting thing happened. I was sitting on the hotel terrace having a delicious cup of coffee, when a bit of a stir near the entrance caught my attention. I turned around to see lots of men in dark suits and walkie talkies walking swiftly down the entrance ramp. Strange, I thought, what’s going down? Then unexpectedly, three African presidents calmly followed and into their waiting limos. Wow! Coffee and another show! I was beside myself with excitement since I have never in my life seen a person who has been on the telly, that is if you discount Sean Rafferty in Boots one wet Saturday yonks ago.

Thereafter with a few hours to spare, I decided to visit the cathedrals of Rubaga and Namirembe. Both bastions of Christianity sit atop magnificent hills overlooking the city and both are wonderful historical and architectural monuments. The Namlrembe Cathedral still calls worshipers to prayer with drums and that is a sound for sore ears in a traffic-noisy city like Kampala. Talking about calling people to worship: one of the things most exotic in my first year in Uganda was the call of the muezzin punctuating the mundane working day with reminders of the sacred. I still like being within earshot of prayer, whether the drum, the bell, or the vocal variety. But these two magnificent cathedrals stand on the sites of awful massacres and battles of the early years of Christianity in the country, and they hold the secrets of much bloody shenanigans of the past. More anon.

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