Those who travel to foreign lands return home to tell the tale, so goes a Luganda saying. Besides, sharing experiences after a journey is irresistible. Not only does society demand it, but the thrill of the story is overwhelming if the listeners are available. Jude Katende was among the journalists covering the Pearl of Africa Music Awards, which were last year expanded to include Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda. He shares his experience.
SOME of us had been to Kenya countless times before, so we were not as eager as the first-timers for this leg of the journey last October. But we anxiously awaited the trip to Rwanda and Tanzania.
The first stop was Kenya’s capital. Nairobi is a fast city. The all-day chill has not slowed the city and people and businesses are brisker than in sluggish Uganda. Unlike in Uganda, where people borrow newspapers or ‘hire’ them, in Kenya it is common to see people of all ages buying and reading their own papers. This explains why one paper’s daily circulation beats all the Ugandan papers’ combined sales.
Just as busy as the newspaper stands are the shoe shiners. In Kampala, we like to leave our shoes at the shiner’s and wear lugabire (sandals made out of car tyres). In Nairobi, clients perch themselves on raised chairs and bury their faces in a magazine or newspaper as the shiner does his thing, without the client ever having to remove their shoes. This system, seen even in developed countries, is both time-saving and secure. In Uganda, stories abound of shiners fleeing with clients’ nice shoes or hiring them out for a fee.
The Kenyan capital is full of numerous showrooms full of brand new cars. Even upcountry areas like Kisumu and Nakuru have new cars on sale, while here, Kampala seems to be the only centre for showrooms with brand new cars, with the bulk of our cars on sale being reconditioned cars in bonded warehouses.
Kenya’s organisational structure speaks volumes. In Uganda, almost everybody wants a bit of Kampala and with all the vital services crammed here, Kampala looks like a big slum. Go to Nakuru, Kisumu or even Naivasha, and you will see that these towns give Kampala a run for her money.
Nairobi is fascinating; there are lots of magnificent buildings that would give ours a knock-out in an architectural design bout. Unlike in Kampala, in Nairobi there are many tall buildings with car parking space and plenty of space for further construction. Most government buildings are in the same area for easy co-ordination.
Though there are some posters on the walls, they are not as many as those that fight for attention and soil Uganda’s buildings. Nairobi has something our City Council authorities could pick a leaf from — many notice boards in busy areas.
It is not all good, however. The streets are dangerous. Daylight robberies and muggings are rampant, while carjacking is worse. The notoriety of taxi drivers is worse than in Uganda. They are boisterous, rough and abusive. You have to pay your fare almost immediately you get on board, lest you are thrown out. The only good thing about the public service vehicles is that they only stop at designated points.
It takes nearly 13 hours to travel from the Kenyan border to Dar-es-Salam. The August journey was tiring. Right from the border at Namanga to sand-filled Dar-es-Salaam, travelling by road was a hellish experience.
It got worse with the incessant police roadblocks after every three kilometres. Fatigue, coupled with our poor Swahili, only made us appear like lumpens. Our drivers, however, knew the language so they bailed us out many times, although the sight of one of them dozing at the steering wheel told us we were in danger. His driving mirror let us in on his unfortunate little siesta that sent shivers down many of our spines. “Oh, we’re going to die!” one female cried out loud. The driver heard our fears and after that fought hard to stay awake.
At first sight, Dar-es-Salaam seems to be sparsely populated, but it has a population of three million — much higher than Kampala’s two million. Nairobi has more than three million residents.
When it rains Nairobi is flooded with black muddy water; Kampala, brown mud and filth; while Dar-es-Salam is washed with sandy water. There is sand almost everywhere, as are pine-like trees and palm trees. Potatoes, cassava and fruits are planted in the sandy soils.
The Tanzanians are also sluggish people, and so the capital wakes up late and lazily works under the searing heat of the sun. It is common to see men walking bare-chested with rivulets of sweat running down their bodies. Swahili is the main language, with just a handful of locals speaking not-so-good English.
There are so many Somalis and Asians of Indian origin. There are many push and pull carts, used to ferry goods the way we use bodabodas here. They are usually loaded with avocado, bananas, and coconuts, among other goods.
Like in our Nakivubo Mews in Kampala, there are plenty of wares on the streets. Dar-es-Salaam doesn’t seem to ever run out of car spare parts because almost every street has spare parts on sale, ranging from rims to steering wheel covers and headlamps.
The city is suffocating under a large fleet of taxis. Conductors precariously hang out of the vehicles as they ply city routes calling for passengers. They are as bad as their Nairobi counterparts.
To unwind, one needs to make a trip to the Indian Ocean Coco beach with its huge expanse of white sand. People jog and play as the breeze from the ocean cools them.
So much has been said about this little central African country which is now part of the East African Community. Often described as the land of a thousand hills, its geographical landscape is similar to that of western Uganda as are its people.
Arriving in the Rwandan capital Kigali in July, we were struck by the beauty of the tall Rwandese ladies. Acting as ushers at the magnificent Intercontinental Hotel, their warm smiles lit unseen bonfires in our hearts, assuring us that we were in the right place.
After the cocktail, attended by many Rwandan artistes and businesspeople, we headed for the Nyira Rocks joint, where we were told kimansulo (strip tease dances), courtesy of a Ugandan dance group, Stingerz, reigned. However, we discovered that it was the usual Kampala nightclub comedy spiced up with karaoke sessions. The karaoke and comedy shows went on with plenty of tributes to the Ugandan PAM awards contingent. We basked in the limelight.
After Nyira Rocks, we left for Planet Club at the Kigali Business Centre building. Ugandans thirsting for waist and rib-shaking sessions took to the floor and went jiggy with Rwandan revellers. Ugandan, Kenyan and Western music ruled the night and the Ugandans formed a ring and got pretty close to the Rwandan women on the floor, who hardly left the Ugandan circle.
Rwanda is rather cold. Even when the sun is out, the mornings are chilly. The capital is a small, clean city with well-tarmacked roads. You can hardly spot a pothole, unlike in Kampala where they keep popping up as if they are in a contest. And in Kigali, where repairs have been necessary, the patching has been done neatly.
Forget the genocide. That was over 10 years ago. The people we encountered were hospitable and had picked up the pieces from the 1994 tragedy.
Luganda, Swahili, English and Kinyarwanda languages are spoken in Rwanda. Radio stations play a variety of music, but mainly Western and Ugandan hits.
Thursday morning looked like Sunday morning, suggesting business is slow here. It is common to see youths moving around with landline phones as if they were mobile phones.
For them, any place is a call centre. Their bodabodas are huge bikes of the TVS 125 and Freedom Topper type. Two passengers cannot sit on one motorcycle here, unlike in Uganda, where some even carry three passengers. Special hire taxis are available, including brand new Toyota models. The taxis bear yellow stripes and the Toyota Hiace (kamunye) is a common vehicle here. Drinks are rather pricey, with Mutzig and Primus beers ruling the bars.
Back home, musing over the beauties, buildings and roads in the four East African cities, I wondered whether home is best. Besides, it offered me the opportunity to tell the tale.
This article was first published in the Sunday Vision on 14th January, 2007
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