We boarded the bus at 7:30 a.m. A transport bus for the Ugandan Postal Service, we were just a portion of the parcels that were to make their way to Kabale and Lake Bunyoni. In fact, many of the packages were destined for other locales, forcing the living, breathing cargo to tolerate stops long (and irritating) enough to remove large boxes, bags and envelopes, but too short to hop off for a real pit stop.
I had asked Freddy if we had scheduled rest stops, and his answer was a muttled “yes.” I then proceeded to be taken in by the charm of buying water and food from my open window at each brief stop we made. High above the clamoring vendors, whose hands reached up to purvey their goods to the one-story-high bus dwellers, I pointed to grilled matooke, cold water and g-nuts. The child-like excitement that I felt at embarking on an exciting trip overshadowed the rational adult in me who knew better than to down 3 bottles of water within the first 1.5 of our 8+ hour journey. I slowly learned that we would not be getting any official rest stops. The bottles of water were slowly imposing on the button of my low-riding pants.
When we first pulled away from the curb at the Kampala main post office, the bus was half full. Freddy assured me, though, that soon enough, the bus would be overflowing. He predicted well. By 2 hours into the bumpy, lurching bus ride, the vehicle was brimming with people. Every seat had at least one occupant and the aisle was teeming with life as the extra people squeezed their way into the aisle. Body heat and aroma quickly filtered their ways over my skin and olfactory senses. Freddy was perched in the aisle seat, next to my less-than-ideal window seat, and found that a young school girl was swaying back and forth next to him, standing rather precariously in the aisle with her elderly grandmother. He deftly plucked her up and resoundingly plunked her into his lap. In that first moment, I was rather irked–real estate was precious and I was losing it, rapidly. However, I quickly came to my softer senses as she endeared herself to me with her artless smile and infectious giggle.
As we drove, I had my video camera out and was shooting the landscape and scenery along the way. I was very keen to get footage of the vendors at our various food stops, and was excited the first time we pulled into a village and I saw sticks of goat meat coming prancing into my view finder. However, my delight was not shared by those folks outside of the bus. As soon as one of the vendors spotted me, I got my first confirmation that “the finger” does, in fact, mean the same thing to Africans as it does to Americans. I also got a nice, resounding “Fuck you.”
Ahh, yes, the Muzungu with the video camera. I could only imagine that they felt like I saw them simply as spectacle, no different than the animals I would most certainly shoot on my upcoming safari. But, I’m a filmmaker and must maintain a thick skin. Accordingly, I did not just put my camera away. I pushed on, only to receive more jeers and sneers. I decided, that in the interest of my health, I would put the camera away; I plotted to move it more discreetly over the throngs outside the bus at our next food stop.
That did not work either. Every time I eeked the camera over the lip of my windowsill, I would elicit an ugly snarl or a slap of a bodiless hand. Again, I did a quick assessment of the situation, and realized that their ire and potential violence were not a good trade off for 10 seconds of mediocre video footage. I shut the camera off and put it away.
It was around this time that the conductor of the bus came over to me and informed me that I was not allowed to shoot the passengers nor the interior of the bus (something I had been doing since the outset of our trip). It seemed that whatever footage I had gathered thus far was all the footage I would reap until we arrived in Kabale.
To add insult to injury, my new young friend was anxious to see the world, and sitting in my lap was the best way to do that–for about 1 minute. Her squirming and worming and pushing to see out the open window only succeeded in pressing down on my over-full bladder. Because we had no common verbal language, I resorted to that talk of the body: I deftly swept her off my lap and back onto Freddy’s. She gave me a pretty perplexed, somewhat sad-sack face, but I wasn’t moved. I was in pain. Fortunately, only an hour or so later, she and her guardian disembarked. Freddy gave me even better news: we were on track to arrive at Kabale within the hour. Thank goodness.
Our arrival in Kabale was uneventful. We found a hole-in-the-wall inn and I quickly located the toilets. After meeting Robert, our local liaison to the Batwa tribes in the hills of southwestern Uganda, we took a private car to the docks of Lake Bunyoni and boarded a motor boat that took us to the tip of a peninsula in the center of the lake. Robert has a homestead on the water there and we arrived to a hardy dinner, kind new friends a mosquito-free bedtime.
Up Next: Our First Day of Meeting the Batwa and Shooting the Video
Posted By Juliet Hutchings
Posted Oct 31st, 2008