On to Uganda

The morning was bright and clear and cool. I had packed for Mombasa and Buja and didn't really have much in the way of warm things but Hakuna Matata, I was not staying very long.  We saw the hosts off on their errand to pick up a fresh traveling mzungu and started getting me ready for my trip. As a very last thought, Mama Gladys instructed Nancy to boil a few eggs and pack me some traveling food.  Patrick had been assigned the task of accompanying me to the bus. He is a very good natured boy.  He and I had gotten acquainted when, at my request, he hiked with me up to the top of the rock outcropping above the village the day before, and I liked him. Patrick said we needed two hours to get to Eldoret, and knowing the flexibility of Bus schedules anywhere in the world, but especially here, I wanted to be at the station by 3 at the latest, so I figured we should leave by One.  

About 10:30 Gladys phoned Nancy. Someone she knew had called and told her that the through bus might not be running tonight, and that I should be prepared for changes. Having well placed informants is part of the job of a well run household, and I was grateful, but not terribly concerned. I finished loading my pack and told Patrick that I thought we should just go ahead and set off.  Nancy wanted me to eat lunch before I left, but she hadn't started cooking it. I am not in a mood to wait. Nancy hands me two hard boiled eggs, a bread roll and two crisp apples. Always good to start a trip with apples in your pocket.

It was about 11:am when we went out through the gate taking leaving of Nancy and her helper. Housewives and children throughout the village wished me well as if I had been there a month not two days. Patrick shouldered my big pack, which at 35 lbs I can carry comfortably but I knew I would get weary of it soon enough and was glad of his help. We walked up the the village square and hired THREE piki-piki (small moto taxis) one for me, one for Patrick and one for my pack. Lumakunda village sits about two kilometers above the main road, when I say above, I mean that on a rainy day we could have sledded down.  When we reach the tarmac, I look right, the Uganda border is less than an hour away Kampala is that way. Left, and Eldoret is slightly farther back towards Nairobi. My allergy sets in, and I think about just catching the next matatu to the border, but I have my ticket and my good sense, and I get ready to move to the rear. 

We catch the next Matatu which like all good Matatus has a name "God is One."  It is just good juju to have a name, most of them acknowledge God in some way. They are 10 or 12 seat Toyota vans and frequently seat 16 or more, plus baggage, produce and livestock. They come equipped with a driver and a catcher/stuffer. In town the catcher's job is to convince people to choose his bus over all the other obviously inferior buses, and to fill it to capacity as quickly as possible. He collects the fees (100 ks) and packs the sardines. The same job exists on the Tokyo subway, but those guys wear white gloves. 

The bus looks full to me, 12 seats, 17 people and 3 chickens, but an old Baba is squeezed over and I am given a seat. Patrick stands, backside to the door leaning over two seated people - which is usually the catcher's position. Our catcher leaves the door open and hangs on the outside of the bus. We are off!  Matatus stop for everything. We stop at least once in every one of the 60 kilometers. At stops where we gain or loose a passenger the catcher shuffles people. I am eventually shifted up to the seat of honor in the front by the driver. Patrick eventually gets a seat with the chickens. He gives no thought to complaint. My bag is somewhere in the boot, although how the boot can have any space is beyond me.  Ninety minutes later we are in Eldoret, left off at the lot which is home to all the buses.  Patrick shoulders my bag and weaves off between the buses and people and cheerfully commands me not to lose him. All the catchers try and catch us, but we are set on bigger hooks.  Away from Matatu land and a block up the road and we are at the tidy small office of Kampala Coach Ltd.

Our informant was correct. "The 5pm through bus is not traveling today, ma'am, but since you are here in such good time, we can put you on the 2 or 3pm bus to Kampala. - What? you prefer to go sooner rather than later? Very well Ma'am the 2pm bus it is."

Patrick is concerned about my transfer in Kampala. "Do not worry a bit - Ma'am. You will arrive by 10pm and almost immediately you will be put of the 11pm bus going south to Kigali. It will be an easy and quick transfer. You will actually arrive earlier than you would have on the through bus. Our Agents in Kampala will help you with everything. Kampala Coach Ltd is the finest bus service in the region, we are known for our luxury and tender care."  Patrick looks mildly concerned. The man is laying it on a bit thick - even by local standards of thickness. Stuff that thick is always a cause for concern.

But in 15 minutes it is announced that the bus has arrived "Behind the office" which turns out to be a block away on the next street.  It is greyhound sized and red and shiny. I am impressed. Patrick sees my bus into the big boot and makes sure that I know which locker. He sees me all the way onto the bus, and converses with the driver, who says that really, the transfer should be no problem.  Patrick knows that Mama Gladys will quiz him on my status and when it comes to it, he seems a little concerned about sending me off solo. I give him my best, No worries, kid, chat up and then pray a blessing on him, give him my spare Kenyan shillings that I now won't need, and send him off. He goes as far as the street corner to wait and watch until the bus leaves.  A woman who heard me pray, changes seats and says "I will sit by you."  By 2:30 we are off. 

My seatmate is a youngish widow with one young son. We discuss American TV preachers which are all syndicated and all the rage in Africa. Joyce Meyers is HUGE. The widow wants to know what I think of Joel Osteen. I explain my discomfort with his salary, but acknowledge that he is not likely a crook or faker like some of them. She thinks that his wife looks "Proud - haughty - a woman can see this in another woman." I tell her that this is indeed Victoria's rep. We agree that John Hagee yells too much, and preaches fear. "I like hope- better" - I agree. She wants to know what I think about life after death. "Where are the souls?" I give her Jesus to the thief on the cross. She has seen spiritualists who charge money to talk to the dead. It turns out that she is worried about her husband. I encourage her to communicate with him through Jesus -"He never loses track of anyone, and doesn't charge a fee." When she departs two hours later just before the border she thanks me for the conversation. "So nice to talk with someone about the things of God."

We make the Ugandan border about 5:30 pm. A Kenyan exit stamp, then a good long walk - Then a Ugandan visa for $50.  Same price for a night's transit or a month's stay. I am hoping that it will turn out to be about $5 an hour, but I end up getting a lot more bang for my buck.  We wait for our bus to arrive through the barriers. I turn down multiple chances to change some money into Ugandan shillings but I can't see the need for it, and all I have is a stack of $100  bills, and I KNOW I can't possibly spend $100 before morning. I am hungry. I eat an egg, an apple and the bread roll. A small boy is selling bananas. I wish I had some small money to increase my provisions- he would happily take my Kenyan shillings. But a Ben Franklin would not just buy the bananas, it would probably buy the boy. I think about using my wiles to get one of the nice businessmen on the bus to buy me some bananas, but I am just not that desperate - yet. I wave the boy off. "But really Ma'am, they are full of potassium!" I compliment his marketing skills, and tell him they also have a lot of Vitamin B - he nods and files this info away.

Our bus rolls through about 6:00. And they give it a final customs check. Our driver and conductor look nervous. They ask me to bring my bag up from the boot as they lockers will be sealed once they are checked.  We wait. And then we wait some more. Finally a team of inspectors show up and give our bus a body cavity check from stem to stern. They go through the bus itself and look at every passengers luggage. They herd us all off the bus and check it again. Everyone is nervous.  Our conductor says this usually takes 10 minutes. He denies knowing why the concern. They hold us for two hours. Then they let us go. It is 8pm and dark. Off to Kampala.

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