Thursday, June 08, 2006

Ian and Alex in Kampala

June 7, 2006

Today was a long day, but a good one. I arrived in Entebbe last night, and
quickly gathered my bags and got a taxi to the Jane Goodall Institute, where I
was met by Emma, a confused Australian volunteer who had no idea who I was. She
was quite used to unusual guests, so helped me find a mattress and a mosquito
net without many questions. The power was out, so it was all a bit surreal. I
was pretty wiped out after a couple of long flights, separated by a mad dash in
the airport in Amsterdam, thanks to a two hour delay leaving Boston. So, I
crashed almost immediately.

I was woken by honking outside the gate at 6:30. Alex had arrived in a taxi.
After announcing that he was hungry, he dropped off his bags, and headed back
out with the taxi driver to find some food. He returned two hours later, laden
with sandwiches and cakes. By that time, most of the people in the house had
woken up, and I had introduced myself. It turns out that they had actually been
expecting me, which made me feel a little better about intruding.

We spent an hour eating our sandwiches and organizing our gear, and then headed
to Kampala in the taxi. I felt great! I’ve said it so many times before, but
it’s so difficult to describe the feeling of returning to Africa. It felt so
familiar, yet so foreign. I know I’ll never really be a true part of this
culture, but I love being an observer. I couldn’t help smiling when I first saw
a car passing a minivan passing a truck. People everywhere, bikes loaded with
jerry cans of water, goats, deep red soil, woodsmoke, heat and noise.

The drive to Kampala took about an hour. The traffic was horrendous, and it took
quite some time for the taxi driver to maneuver through the crowds of cars,
bicycles, trucks and buses. We suddenly turned off of a busy street into a
narrow alley, and then into an even narrower one. Several guys sitting on the
curb helped guide the driver in, but it would have been a lot more helpful if
they had moved out of the way! A couple of honks of the horn summoned a guard
who opened a big iron gate into a tiny courtyard. It was the back entrance of
the hotel, but it certainly didn’t look like it. But, sure enough, we walked up
a back staircase into a nice lobby, and booked our room. The power was out, but
they assured us that it would come back on soon, and it did.

The rest of the day was spent in search of our research clearance. A slightly
harrowing boda boda (motorcycle taxi) ride took us to the Uganda Wildlife
Authority, where we picked up our permission letters. Everything would have
been smooth except for the fact that we both needed to extend the dates that we
planned to be in the forest. The research officer wanted us to write official
letters requesting these changes, so we decided to come back when his boss was
there to plead our case. We drank a couple of beers and returned two hours
later, and after much begging, managed to get what we wanted. Then we headed
across town to Uganda House, a 13 storey building that housed the Uganda
Commission for Science and Technology, or so we thought. The power was out, so
the elevators weren’t working, and as we dragged ourselves up to the 10th
floor, Alex joked, “They’ve probably moved their offices”. Ha ha. Sure enough,
when we got there, there was a sign saying that UNCST was now in another
building, several blocks away.

By this time, it was getting close to 5:00, so we hustled around trying to find
the new offices. After a couple of false starts, we finally found it, and
submitted our requests for clearance. We’ll return tomorrow.

So, not exactly the glamorous African Experience that many people might expect,
but pretty typical for the start of a field season.