5 Things I Love About Kampala…but probably shouldn't

I have just returned to Kampala after a month in the States.  A lot has happened here while I’ve been gone that I should have been writing about.  The bombings, the African Union Summit, the deportation of thousands of Rwandan refugees…all important, timely, newsworthy things.  However, the wonderful feeling of homecoming I experienced coming off the plane has put me in a philosophical mood, and I have decided to focus on the timeless things rather than the timely things.

In that spirit, here are the ­­­five things I love about Kampala but probably shouldn’t:

The Driving.  C’mon, let’s face it.  When another car is in your way, it is really cool to be able to just drive up on the sidewalk to get around it.

The Corruption. Yes, corruption is probably the number one problem holding Africa back today.  However, (he says sheepishly), there are times that it is really convenient.  Like if you should just happen to come out of the airport parking lot and neglect to go all the way around the traffic circle before heading for the exit.  I figure it balances out all the times I get pulled over for absolutely no reason at all.

Driving a big ol’ dirty diesel 4×4 without really feeling guilty.  As an environmentalist, if I was still living in the U.S. I could never allow myself to drive the car I drive here.  I just couldn’t justify the emissions or the low gas mileage, and I love feeling superior to those people driving Cadillac Escalades on Los Angeles streets that have never seen a flake of snow.  At the same time, I will admit to being a bit of a closet car-guy.  I like trucks, and learned to drive a stick-shift off-road at the age of 11 in the deserts of California, while undoubtedly doing irreparable damage to thousands of years of cryptobiotic soil development.  Of course I feel guilty about that now, and see good gas-mileage as the measure of all that is holy.  Here in Kampala, though, the equation is different.  This is one of those wonderful places where you sometimes need four-wheel-drive just to get around the urban core.  My Pajero has a trailer hitch that rests a good two feet off the ground when it is level, but there have been several times recently that I have gotten it hung up on the edges of potholes in the Industrial Zone, Kisimente, Bugolobi and, believe it or not, Kololo.  I hope the city never fixes them, or I might need to get a more responsible car.

The Pollution and Burning Trash. Strange, right?  How could anyone possibly love that smell?  Well, here’s the thing.  Scent is the sense most connected to memory, and every time I emerge from the purified, sterilized air of an airplane into the raw, honest air of a developing world city, I feel like I am stepping out into every place I have ever traveled to.  It stirs up a feeling of adventure in me that sends me right to the nearest world map.

The Humidity. It just makes my hair nice and bouncy.  ‘Nuff said.

There.  Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I’ll try to make my next post a bit more enriching.  I hope you love the place where you live, too.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

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17 Responses to 5 Things I Love About Kampala…but probably shouldn't

  1. Josie says:

    Loved reading this!! Made me feel a little Uganda-homesick! I learned to drive in UG, and was the most “Ugandan” Muzungu driver ever. The BFL girls once told me that I was a way crazier driver than Devin – I took it as a compliment!

  2. jennifer says:

    FREAK!
    Miss ya already. Glad it feels nice to be back.

  3. Michael Brady says:

    This was a good one. Sorry, have to disagree on the smell (but agree with everything else).
    MB

  4. raphe says:

    This is why your driving, Mark, makes the top 40 list!!

  5. Wolfgang says:

    Welcome back to pollution, potholes and all the rest you so eloquently wrote about …
    W.

  6. Celina says:

    Nice! I will definitely always remember driving with you in Kampala and through the sugar cane fields!

    Thanks for all your posts – I am glad to stay connected to Kampala and Uganda if mainly by reading about it from you. 🙂

    Take care Mark!

  7. phiona says:

    Hi! I don’t know if you meant this tongue in cheek or whatever. I just came across this blog searching for something else. And as a Ugandan I have to say I found this post quite condescending. These congratulatory comments from your expat buddies are also rather grating. Hope you’re enjoying your stay.

    • Mark D. Jordahl says:

      Hi Phiona,

      I’m sorry to hear that you felt this post is condescending. It certainly wasn’t intended that way and was, of course, written tongue-in-cheek. Believe it or not, it really was inspired by a great feeling of homecoming.

      Humor often doesn’t translate cross-culturally. If you look at the title, this post was about the things I probably shouldn’t love about Kampala. I have written in many other posts about the things that I love about Uganda that I should, and do, love.

      And, really, while I am sorry that you didn’t like the way I wrote about these things, are any of them inaccurate? I’m sure you have received the mass e-mails with the subject “Submarine testing in Kampala” with the photos of cars nearly drowning in the potholes that are sent around by Ugandans.

      I understand the sensitivity about the news out of Africa so often being negative, but I think you will find that, overall, my blog is pretty balanced and fair. I have a number of Ugandan readers who keep me on my toes when I stray.

      You may be happy to hear that I no longer live in Uganda but, after years of involvement there, it will always feel like a home to me.

      Thanks for your thoughts,
      Mark

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