24 January 2014

Back in Bunia (Part 1)

Honestly, I had fully intended to post this a while ago – like more than a month ago, when I actually got back – but…I’m really lazy. And then the post kept getting longer and longer as I kept writing but neglecting to edit. As is quite obvious from the typos and other assorted errors that plague my posts, editing is my least favourite part of writing. At any rate, my scattered, haphazard thoughts from the past month-plus have now been collected and edited and will be posted in digestible chunks.

I finally find myself once again in Bunia. I think a large part of the reason I go home so little while living abroad is the flights. They are horrifying. This last time around, I spent more than a day (30+ hours, if you’re counting on planes each way, not including the time in airports or on runways. Not to mention the delays and aborted flights and multiple de-icings and emergency trains and whatnot. So it was something of a relief to finally be able to unpack my (increasingly heavy) bag and know I’ll be sleeping in the same bed for a while. Somehow, magically, the bed in question actually seems comfortable. I think the plane time made me forget how luscious my bed at home is. It didn’t do anything for the pillows, though. Nothing can save the pillows.

In my first full day back in Africa (I was in Uganda, not Congo, at least not yet), I managed to buy pirated DVDs of varying quality (Thor was unwatchable, but Strike Back was excellent, so my man candy quotient worked out okay), rode a boda boda (not recommended. And I did try to avoid it – I do not have a death wish – but it was damn near impossible to get directions from anyone in Kampala. Where is X? Oh, it is too far. You must take a boda boda. Okay, fine, but saying I didn’t? No, no. It is too too far. Almost never is it actually that far. Do they just think that Americans are incapable of walking? Potentially), and grabbed a communal taxi back to Entebbe (perhaps not overtly recommended, but also not discouraged, if only for the price. It cost about a dollar, where a private cab for the same distance costs 30 bucks). The boda boda ride was…exciting. We wove so tightly in and out of traffic that my knees brushed cars and, somewhat more disturbingly, tires. I was amazed that my pants didn’t get ripped (same goes for my knee caps, I suppose). For not even lasting 10 minutes, it was a decidedly unnerving experience.

The lot where you catch the ‘buses’ (they’re really 15 passenger vans that carry about 20, despite the massive warning on the side that they are only approved for 14 and usually someone – an adult – is sitting on someone else’s – possibly a stranger – lap) is fascinating. It’s a massive dirt lot with the blue-stripped vehicles clustered so tightly together that it’s a wonder they can ever escape (at least a third of my journey was getting out of the lot). Dozens, if not hundreds of people were meandering through the buses with varying degrees of urgency, searching for their destination. Music spilled out of stalls and the open windows of idling busses. Goats and dogs were wandering amok, on and off leash, vendors were frying up what amounts to a sort of Ugandan doughnut or roasting peanuts, and others were hawking all manner of things from papers to bottles of water to rubber duckies (which were squeaked in my face with such ferocity that I nearly missed my bus). All of this added up to a right boisterous chaos that smells of diesel and dust and people and cooking oil. Which is perhaps not as unpleasant as one would assume.

Wooden sign posts tower above the fray, noting where the ‘stage’ is heading and listing general prices. As they will stop just about anywhere you ask, the prices are mostly helpful estimates. I was enchanted that they called themselves stages. It gave the whole endeavor an aura of old timey glamour that was totally unearned. It felt like the market scenes in Persephone or something out of the more terrestrial episodes of Farscape.

On my return to Entebbe, we were passed by the Prime Ministerial motorcade. At least, that’s what my driver told me it was. As an adopted DC-er, it was adorable – a mere three cars including the limo. And one of those three was a pickup. It hardly impeded the flow of traffic at all. One could never use this as an excuse for tardiness to a meeting or dinner date, where as in DC, ‘POTUS was on the move’ is just about as legitimate as ‘the metro broke down’. The only risk with that, of course, is that you blame him, only to find out he’s in Uruguay or something.