Saturday, 5 May 2012

Kapture in Kampala, Part II: The Ledge of Glory

When we last left or intrepid but increasingly annoyed heroine, her visa debit card had been heartlessly snatched by a greedy ATM machine and was being held hostage until the end of the so-called "Easter Monday" holiday.  What happened next is a tale of betrayal and redemption, the story of one woman's rise from poverty and rides on escalators.  And like most stories from this part of the world, it ends with vomit on a bus.
I wasn't sure what to do with myself on Monday.  My traveling companions headed up to Jinja for two days of adventures on the Nile; I decided to try to join them on for bungee jumping if I was able to get my card back in a timely fashion.  The common sense nodule of my brain whispered at me that this was unlikely to happen.  I ruthlessly suppressed it.
With very limited funds and no real idea what to do, I went into my default travel mode: aimless walking, people-watching, and caffeine abuse.  Although, caffeine abuse usually results in the walking being aimed toward finding a public toilet.  I have to say, the restrooms at the National Theatre are pretty darn nice, at least by my low and rapidly falling standards.
After a few hours of wandering, I found The Mall.  Even now, I can only speak of it in reverently hushed and capitalized tones.  There was a food court.  There was a movie theater and a bowling alley.  There was a store devoted entirely to lamps.  There was an escalator going up.  There was an escalator going down.  And next door, there was Another Mall.
That afternoon, I was faced with the classic hero's dilemma.  I was very hungry, but also very broke.  I would smell the fried aromas of the food court tempting me, even as I stood outside the National Theatre and read a poster for the musical adaptation of Twelfth Night that was being staged that afternoon.  My food hole was empty, but so was my culture hole, and I only had enough money to satisfy one desire.  I chose culture.  Ugandan traditional dance is nothing like Rwandan traditional dance.  Rwanda is all about the arms and the feet.  Uganda is all about tying a giant piece of fur onto your booty and shaking it.
Tuesday dawned bright and clear and full of the tantalizing hope of getting my card back and going bungee jumping.  The common sense nodule of my brain still under lock and key, I headed out to Barclay's and arrived right as it opened.  I was promptly informed that the ATM fairy had not yet visited, and that I should return at two.  I decided to come back at noon.
Twelve rolled around and found me once more at the bank, where I was told that I could not be given my card because the system was down, and that I should return at two.  At two o'clock sharp, I went through security for a third time, the common sense nodule of my brain quietly being bludgeoned to death by the paranoid fear nodule of brain.  Sure enough, the system was still d own.
So I waited.  By three, paranoid fear had been replaced by indignant annoyance.  I went once more to the ATM lady's desk.  The following conversation happened:
      "Is your system still down?"
      "Yes.  But we have your card."  She holds it up for me to see.
      "But you can't give it to me."
      "No.  The system is down."
      "Why is that a problem?"
      "When the system is down, we cannot photocopy your ID."
      "Can I go out and make a photocopy?"
Twenty minutes and one more trip through security later, I had my card back.  I resolved to never use a Barclay's AT again.  Fortunately, Kampala is a city of banks, and I quickly fond a KCB that let me use my card, no strings attached.
Obviously, the only thing left to do was go spend my new-found wealth at The Mall(s).  Specifically, at the food court.  It was a good afternoon.  By the time I waddled back to the hostel, I was content with my vacation.
On Wednesday, I decided to while away the morning at the Kasubi Tombs, a museum dedicated to Uganda's still-present monarchy.  Let's just say, it's good to be king.  Later in the day, I met up with my erstwhile traveling companions.  Of course, we went to The Mall(s).  Then we went bowling in our socks.  I choose to believe that my game would have been dramatically improved with the aid of proper footwear.  To cap off the night, we ate dinner at a Korean restaurant with a dizzyingly extensive menu.  I could have eaten the tofu all night.
The only buses going to Rwanda depart at night, so we had all day Thursday to hang out in Kampala.  We went to The Malls.  Steph convinced me that I would be a fool to squander this opportunity to go to the cinema, so we headed to the matinee showing of Man on a Ledge.  The plot is only slightly more complicated than the title might suggest.  Maybe this is merely a side-effect of not having been in a movie theater for 18 months, but I can honestly say that Man on a Ledge was one of the most riveting cinematic experiences of my life.
Suddenly it was night, and after a few minor misadventures at the bus station, we boarded the 10 p.m. GAAGAA bus to Bujumbura, via Kigali.  The roads in Uganda are not as well maintained as the roads in Rwanda.  There are many potholes and no noticeable speed limits.  I went airborne at least half a dozen times.  But maybe I should have stayed in flight, because during one particularly twisty portion of road, my seatmate vomited on my shoes.
Later, when safely back in Kigali, Steph and our channeled our inner monsters in order to text our feelings about the GAAGAA bus experience:
      - "GAAGAA coach had its license revoked in January because of to many fatal crashed.   I'm not that    surprised."
     -"I'm shocked.  I guess I can't read their p-p-p-poker face."
     -"They want your psycho / your vertigo stick / Gonna bounce until your neighbor gets sick. /   Gonna  vom on you / Vom vom vom upon your shoe."
     -"Eh eh, nothing else I can say.  So sit back down where you belong / in the back of the bus / where my thighs feel numb."
There was more, but it's now been lost to eh great inbox in the sky.  In the end, we made a solemn pact never to ride GAAGAA again.  Some puns are just not worth dying for.
So that was my relaxing holiday getaway.  Maybe one day I will return to Uganda, armed with an ample supply of cash.  But until then, it's back to real life in Rwanda...


  1. This made my night/day stuck at swedish waiting for docs to tell my mom shes fine we can go home soo much better. Capitalism has its ups and downs, downs at the moment.

    Thanks kay! -luu

  2. A lady from my church who is working in Africa now also had trouble with Barclay, and posted the following status. I recognized the name in your blog, and figured I'd pass on the status in case it sheds some light:

    "Barclays in Kitale has now stolen almost $1000 from us, like they did last month from Julie Hugan Tate and Roger Tate. The deal is, you go in to withdraw money from the ATM. The ATM is empty and does not give you money. Instead you get a receipt saying "Your account will not be debited." But then the kicker....your account IS debited. And since our account is Bank of America in the US, Barclays tells them they DID give us the money and there are no discrepancies in their accounts...yeah right. Someone in Kitale is getting very rich with missionary money. I called Barclays in UK and spoke to a manager asking them to please investigate our Barclays branch here and of course they said they could not, since this is a different country. They said we need to have it investigated by the people in our branch, WHO ARE DOING THE STEALING!!!!! We will be writing a letter to Barclays here, and also giving a copy to the Kenyan CID (Criminal Investigation Department). We would like to include a list of people, dates, and amounts this has happened to here. If you or anyone you know has had this happen, please message me with details to add to our letter. Thanks. Carla Picicci, can you please get me your info from when this happened to you, too?"