Friday, October 26, 2007

Matatu (sp?)

The second form of transportation here are the Matatu's (sp?) They are the equivalent to mini vans in the USA that are stripped on the inside and then refitted with bench seats. 4 in the back and 1 in the front. The seats are configured to seat 2 and then a flip seat beside to fit one more for a total of 3 people across. As you can already guess they don't ever sit 3 across. 4-5 normally. You Can probably guess what they smell like. If you can imagine the 4 rows of seats in the back than you can imagine the leg room, NONE. For the Ugandans who are smaller people it is usually doable, but for us taller Muzungus it is unbearable. I am 5'7 with longer than average legs and I have to pull my legs up to fit. My son Jesse, is 6'2+ with a 36 inch inseam and it is painful to watch him try to get in. One upside is that they at least have the decency to put the livestock on the roof and strap the fish to the front over the grill. It is funny to see the fish on the front. It looks like the Christmas Wreaths on the front of cars in the USA. I think it keeps the smell out of the inside and also serves as a sort of "smoking" before they get it home to fry. If it does get "smoked" in the journey it is from the diesel exhaust and dirt. Sound appetizing?

The Matatus are owned by the driver or another person who employs a driver to drive it for him. Then, we have the conductor who sits in the back and directs the driver where to stop and who to pick up as well as collecting the money. This form of taxi is what all ex-pats hate as well as the Ugandans who own their own cars.

The driver probably has not been to driving school and the roads here are a "free for all." Might does make right here. Whoever has the biggest car with the loudest horn, drives the fastest and wildest is the one who everyone gives way for. That would usually be the Matatu's. Every driver has his cheese falling off his cracker if you know what I mean.

There are no proper Matatu (bus) stops that I can find here, just people standing by the road waiting for a Matatu to stop and pick them up. There are no shoulders on the roads here so when they stop they hold up traffic. Forget them signaling that they are going to stop they just swerve at the last minute and pull to the side of the road, which is still in the lane. Forget trying to go around them when they do this because you will be staring down the front end of another car coming from the opposite direction driving in your lane. A bit scary. No, a lot scary!

We have just recently in town gotten some curbs and traffic lane lines. That doesn't mean anything to most drivers here especially the Matatu drivers. I don't know what the government was thinking besides trying to impress the queen for CHOGM when they did this because no one even knows what the lines mean. The lanes in traffic are like the seats on the bus. What was meant for 3 cars fits 5-6. Making a left turn from 3 lanes to the right is a normal occurrence, especially by the Matatus.

If you haven't gotten the picture by now, the Matatu drivers are the absolute worst because they are 1. Crazy 2. Crazy and 3. Crazy. They tried to get large double decker buses to replace the Matatus with, but the drivers and owners threatened to strike and not vote for the ruling party and they got their way. I for one would be thrilled if they went on strike, PERMANENTLY.

The other bad thing about these vehicles are that they are never up kept. They smoke so bad that if you get behind one that is smoking you will be in a black fog for miles. Forget getting around them as they will swerve to keep you behind them. They come to a hill and they will slow down to 20 miles an hour at best. On a daily basis I see all of the riders outside of a Matatu that they were riding in pushing it because it ran out of gas or died. Mostly they run out of gas. They will come into a station and put 1 gallon of gas in and then drive till it runs out and stop again. Sometimes they don't make it to the station and then you get the scene of the people pushing it. The other scene on a daily basis is a Matatu in a wreck or sideways in a drainage ditch.

The Matatus start out of town in the morning and drive into the "Taxi Parks" in the city. One is the old park and one is the new park. You can ride all the way into one of these or get dropped along the road just about anywhere in between. Half of the outlying areas are serviced by the new park and the other half by the old park. I prefer to go to the old park as the new park is scary, crowded, smelly and chaotic. I can't adequately describe what it is like there. I will have to go one day and take a photo so you can see for yourselves. When we were doing the water project here in March we had to ride the Matatus to the new park to get into town. I was thankful when we finished.

The upside to Matatu's................?????????????
They are cheap.

Until September of this year we rode on Matatus every day to get around. We are very grateful to a friend here that has loaned us his car until we can buy one of our own.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Kaci's Trip to Lake Nboru

Cape Buffalo and Zebra At Lake Nboru

Rosanna, Kaci, and Camilla Poolside at the Mihingo Lodge
Our middle daughter Kaci, had the opportunity to go to the southern part of Uganda close to the Rwandan border with friends from the UK this past week. They stayed at a lodge and did a
game drive in the park. You can see in the pictures above, Zebra, which are not in abundance here in Uganda. We were told last year that there were less than 500 in the entire county. They have brought experts in from all over the world to study the herds and find out why their numbers are decreasing.

Upside to Transportation

So in my last blog I tried to paint a good picture for you about riding the buses. The thing that I forgot to tell you was the upside to these buses. They are CHEAP! So, this is why a Muzungu (white person in Uganda) may lose their senses for a brief moment and purchase a ticket to ride on one one these buses, which once they board they ask themselves, "what was I thinking?" I have one very funny story from a friend who rode one of these buses to Rwanda. He actually was able to get in a seat, which afterwards he regretted and would have gladly exchanged it to the person standing up in the aisle.
He was packed into the seat like a sardine and the woman sitting next to him decided to raise her arms over her head and fall asleep. Not only did he have to endure the hours of snoring and stench, but the hairy arm pit and exposed breast!


Local Boat makers and Dairy Cows.These boats are being made for the Ugandan police for CHOGM in November.
Park and dock behind our house.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Jesse's new project

One of Jesse's school projects was to research Guinea Fowl, buy the necessary materials, build a coop and buy the birds. So, after two weeks of building and researching he finished the coop and found the birds and bought them. They are a mating pair, 4 months old. For those of you who know Jesse, he had a Quail and Chicken project in Texas and really enjoyed raising the birds. They are eating all of the bugs in our yard and fighting the dogs for rice. They make really pretty noises and are much cleaner than chickens.

Purple Chicks? This is done for two reasons. One: So the hawks leave them alone Two: So each person knows which chicks belong to them since they are left to roam and eat from whatever trash pile they can find.


Colony of bats by our house

New Format

Boats being built by our house

So, my children have told me that my blogs are boring and I have had some encouragement from several friends to really write about what life is like here and to post more pictures. I haven't done this in the past because I thought that it might scare any of you that might be thinking of coming for a visit and you might decide to stay home. Anyway, I have decided to tell you like it is and let the chips fall where they may.

This is the first in a series of the different aspects of life here in Uganda. I will start with transportation since this is the #1 complaint and source of stress for all ex-pats(ex-patriots or foreigners living here) in Uganda.

There are several modes of transport here in country.

1. Buses

2. matotos (sp?)

3. special hires

4. boda boda's

5. taxi bikes

6. your own two legs

7. your own car (which everyone aspires to)

I'll start with the buses. These are like the big Grey Hound buses for those who live in the USA. They are old, falling apart (like most everything here in country) smoke horribly and smell BAD!

They carry people long distances. For example...Kampala to Rwanda, Kampala to Sudan, Kampala to Kenya... you get the idea. Most trips are at least 4-12 hours without stopping time. You buy a ticket for these buses and that doesn't necessarily mean that you will get a seat on the bus let alone get you on the bus. No refunds. If you are lucky enough to get on the bus and get a seat you will be crammed into a space that should only be for 3 and you will share it with 6 and maybe even some livestock. The people next to you will not have bathed for days, months maybe years:) I am not exaggerating about this either. Sometimes they smell so bad you literally can't breathe. ( I find myself holding my breath a lot here) Your clothes will smell when the trip is over and they will be dirty as the other peoples clothes will rub against you......for hours. Then the other option is that they have crammed in as many people as they can fit in the seats and you will get to take the trip standing up in the aisle with all of the other people that didn't get seats. You will stand for the ENTIRE trip.

I have found myself on many occasions watching these buses driving along the very badly paved or unpaved roads at speeds that would scare most race car drivers. The buses are so top heavy that when they go around any curve it looks like the bus will come off it wheels on one side and be riding down the road on the other ones. It literally sways as it goes down the road. If you can find a SAFE vantage point to watch from, it is really quite comical. The bus will be barreling down the road and all of the natives that would normally walk in the road (at a snails pace) and make you drive around them will all of a sudden get new life and great speed and start running off of the road as far as they can get for safety. It looks like the parting of the Red Sea! You really have to get a good mental picture and it is very funny. To keep your sanity here you have to find humor in everything or you will go mad.

Next time I will talk about the other modes of transport......... Have fun viewing the new pictures posted and let me know what you think about the new format.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has called an emergency meeting to try to address Africa's failure to make progress on the Millennium Development Goals.
The eight internationally-declared goals, on reducing poverty and improving life chances, were set in 2000 for achievement by 2015.
But the UN says that halfway to the deadline, sub-Saharan Africa is unlikely to meet a single goal.
1 Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2 Achieve universal primary education
3 Promote gender equality and empower women
4 Reduce child mortality
5 Improve maternal health
6 Combat HIV/Aids, malaria, and other diseases
7 Ensure environmental sustainability
8 Develop a global partnership for development
On current form, the UN says, sub-Saharan Africa as a region will not meet any of the poverty-busting goals set to be achieved by the year 2015 - nor the benchmarks on education, health, and women's empowerment.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Maggie meets some of the locals

Maggie and Jesse meeting some of the "locals"

Ggaba Village

I've added some more pictures for you all to see and hopefully get a better understanding of what it is like here in Uganda. You can click on them to enlarge them for better viewing.
The pictures above on the left are of local children in our village going to fetch water. They carry their cans of all different sizes depending on how much they can carry. The cans are 1-4 liters each and depending on the size of the family and how much the children can carry determines how many trips they will have to take. I took this during the time of day that they would normally be in school, but these kids obviously don't attend school for lack of finances. School here is supposed to be free for primary aged children, but they have to provide their own pencils, paper, lunch and uniforms. It might as well cost these kids a million dollars, because they can't afford to buy all of those required things.
If you look at the picture above of the baby you will notice beads around his belly. This is because he has been to the witch doctor for something. The parents take their children to the witch doctors for healing, protection, blessings, etc... and they get beads of all different colors that are supposed to do whatever it is that the parent brought them to the doctor for. The people have a lot of superstitions in their culture that they truly believe and live their lives by.