The roads in Uganda suck. Constituents in my old supervisorial district in California used to complain to me about potholes, but frankly, they never met potholes like these. There is not now and never has been pavement on most of these roads. Nothing but slick red clay. Rain makes most of the roads I’ve seen in Uganda all but impassable this time of year. Roller derby-esque, motorcycles, cars, buses, and trucks dart in and out of traffic, beeping their horns, jockeying for position on these roads.
Uganda’s roads are vital pathways for commerce and pathways to tragedy. One of the leading ways to die here is in a traffic accident. We come upon one on the expressway between Entebbe and Kampala. I don’t know what happened, but I suspect that the driver of a boda boda, the ubiquitous motorcycles for hire that transport one, two, and sometimes three passengers, went off the road. A body lies alongside the expressway covered by a blanket, and I’m reminded that our bus is not necessarily a safe zone.
These roads carry us through parts of Entebbe and Kampala that contain pockets of despair. Alongside them, men and women loiter, mostly in groups of their own gender, in front of brightly-painted dress shops, parts shops, and food stands. Mothers dawdle infants on their hips and pull recalcitrant toddlers by the hand. Steers and goats graze along the roadside tethered on slim ropes and chickens pace in cages, awaiting Ugandan stewpots.
Hope seems in short supply here. There’s so much, so, so much, to learn here. I’d like to get out and talk to people and take photos, but Roots-Africa coordinators Elly and Denis tell me it’s not safe. Criminals are opportunistic along these roads, and my phone shouts come and get me, they say. I try to take photos from inside the bus, but the windows are dirty and cracked in places.
How I would love to be invisible and wander among the people, but my skin color and height make me the first one people notice. And being a white American here and being noticed are not necessarily desirable. The US State Department advises travelers to avoid Uganda because of the potential for terrorism and thievery. There are tweets about a “peaceful economic protest” here on the day we leave, and my friend Timothea Workman, here last week to see the gorillas in the north, lost her phone to a thief who wrested it from her as she was driving to the airport with her window open.
Today we visit the Parliament, the Agriculture Committee, and the US Embassy. Afterward I am going to visit my new friend, Dr. Margaret Sakaggya, a woman who has been deeply involved in Human Rights for many years. Among many questions I intend to ask is how, in the face of so many challenges – many of which I’ve not yet touched upon – how do they still hope? Still work for change?
To a much lesser degree in the US, we also have challenges, though not quite like these. I was perusing Twitter this morning. Many of our challenges seem to be political, and I’ve become cynical and discouraged. Or maybe it just seems that way because that’s my world in Idaho.
So what is my takeaway so far? Perhaps if I’ve learned anything, it’s that some Ugandans still have hope, And if they do, I can too. So I’ll try. Harder.