Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Our First Bus Ride In Uganda



Bleary-eyed morning beneath my mosquito net. Where am I? Oh yeah...the hotel...Entebbe...we leave for Soroti today on the bus. My watch says 5:00 am. The cultural shift is slow. All this traveling has left me numb. 15 hour drive from Cape Town to Johannesburg, a night at the Midrand YWAM base, six hour flight to Entebbe, another night here in the hotel...

Last night we went to the hotel restaurant to get dinner. I had an orange Fanta. Orange Fanta = foreign country to me. Only, I just saw they've reintroduced it in Canada. In plastic bottles though. Not glass. Glass-bottled orange Fanta = foreign country.

And I had my first taste of a staple Ugandan dish (which I grew to love later). Matoke. Boiled, mashed, green bananas with a gray peanut sauce. It turned my stomach. I helped Josine eat her fries and stuck to my Fanta. When the waiter came back and saw the barely touched food, his face fell and so did my heart. I tried to explain that the traveling, the exhaustion, the heat, all made it difficult to eat. But it was no use. I crushed him. Oh God! I made my first cultural blunder in this country and wanted to crawl under the table. Spoiled North American child I am!

I open my guitar case to retrieve the swath of fabric that was extra protection for my guitar but will now be wrapped around me for the next leg of our journey. We girls can't be traipsing around in trousers. Noooooo....Trousers = hussy here. The fabric is from a trip I took to Togo once. It's blue and white tie-dyed and actually extremely comfortable. I'm already getting the hang of this. Like riding a bike and I think back to those days in West Africa...sigh...Uganda is a lot like Benin and Togo, except they speak English here. Yippee! So many memories, emotions, heightened senses are seeping back into me, like a comforting hot bath after a long, hard day. I feel my shoulders relaxing, my anxiety receding as I breathe in this humid morning air. At least for now, in this bleary-eyed morning, I am peaceful.

I join some of the other girls downstairs in the restaurant for our complimentary breakfast but I can't eat anything. It is far too early for food. The sky is still dark. I see coffee and make a beeline for it. Oh! Thank God for coffee!! There is also a cloudy white juice some of the girls are drinking. Pineapple they tell me, also bleary-eyed. Yum! I sit down content to sip my coffee and thirstily chug this amazing juice. I finish half the enormous glass before Paula looks at me and asks, "You know the bus we're taking doesn't have a toilet right?" Doesn't have a toilet? It's too early to think. Like the ignition of an old frozen car not wanting to turn over on a cold winter morning, my mind has trouble computing. But slowly it makes the connect between my empty coffee cup, the half-drunk glass of juice and the face of the girl who has shared this important little fact with me half an empty glass too late! Six or seven hours on a bus and no toilet? Surely they will stop for who can possibly hold it that long? Paula shrugs when I share this common sense out loud. "Maybe" she says unconvincingly. She's been to Uganda before. She knows how it works.

I start to panic. I'm the type of person everyone hates road-tripping with. The type of person who must go to the bathroom twice before the movie starts and directly after. I have a pretty intense case of 'hamster bladder.' I probably stopped us every two or three hours on the drive from Cape Town to Joburg. This is not good. I try to calm myself with positive self-talk. You'll be fine Nicole. Don't worry. The bus will stop. It has to!

Our taxi has arrived to take us to the bus station in Kampala, a 45 minute drive. I look at my unfinished juice with contempt and dash to the hotel toilet, willing all liquid out of my body. It's all I can do now. This is it. The journey begins and despite this minor anxiety, I am actually thrilled. Africa!

We get to the station and are reunited with one of our students who had left a month earlier to visit Rwanda. It is so good to see her! I'm so happy to know she is safe and we are together, that I barely notice the rickety, orange-dust-coated bus we are loading our luggage onto. I'm happy to point out, the windows open so at least we will get a breeze.

I have fallen asleep due to the perpetual movement of being on the road several hours and the sun beating down on us. Tabea and Lucinda are also dozing next to me. The bus had to take a detour earlier because of road construction. According to a German girl we met on the bus who does this all the time, this will delay us another hour or two. Guh! I wake up to the familiar uncomfortable, burning sensation that my body gives me when it needs relief. Oh no little bladder. Not now! Oh God! I pray. I am actually praying now for a miracle; a supernatural enlarging of my bladder! I manage to ignore it another hour, distracting myself with the beautiful scenery outside. Banana and mango trees, mud hut villages, children waving as we pass...

Lucinda and I look at eachother knowingly. She probably also drank that gorgeous pineapple juice this morning, unaware we would be denied basic facilities on our bus. I am laughing inside. How will this play out? By this time, we don't care. A bush on the side of the road is all we're asking for. We are at bursting point and desperate. We discuss our options: find a cup or a bottle? Pray for a miracle like I have been already? Pee our pants? Make the extremely packed bus full of locals stop just for us white girls?

Lucinda gets up and grabs the arm of the conductor hastily. I don't hear what she says but the conductor speaks to the driver and a few minutes later, we have pulled over. Oh sweet Lord! Thank you! Thank you! Lucinda and I literally jump over luggage, chickens, and small children already hiking up our skirts as we disembark. Imagine if we had been wearing trousers!! Josine has taken this golden opportunity to join us. I don't look at the bus as I crouch in the too short grass. I pretend it's not there or I'll have shy pee and this is NOT a time for my pee to have stage fright! I know everyone on the bus is lobbying for a glimpse of the three white asses on the side of the road. We'll be a topic of conversation for days under the mango trees! I don't care! This is sweet relief! The three of us are laughing at eachother and the absurdity of the situation as we're crouched down with skirts hiked up. This will also become a great story we will tell over and over. "Remember our first bus ride in Uganda...?"

We quickly jump back on the bus, not wanting to aggravate the travelers by taking up their time. The rest of our team is snickering at us but we smile back triumphantly.

The rest of the ride goes by without incident. I lay my head against the window, smile contentedly, and wisely decline a sip of water from Tabea's bottle.

After this adventure, I learned to not drink a drop of any liquid from the night before a bus journey until arriving at our destination. Worked everytime!

1 comment:

Chase said...

this is a fantastic story, it takes me back.......