Kampala’s hidden attractions
By: Elisha Mayallah - he Arusha Times
Visiting a foreign country and trying to make yourself understood in a language that you have only a weak grasp of is like trying to breathe underwater. You keep sputtering, you're speechless half the time, and your vocabulary shrinks to a tiny web of words that doesn’t do justice to what you're trying to say. But more than battling with the language, you battle with the foreign culture.
It all started with an early flight from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. I landed at Entebbe International Airport and wondered about in Kampala's hidden attractions.
I was in Kampala because of earning a fully paid holiday and had no prior plans of what to do or where to stay. Armed with a few hundred shillings I set off with enthusiasm to explore the capital.
At Entebbe International Airport, the immigration officer asked me if I were a journalist. It had never crossed my mind whether journalists are a threat to the authorities and I was not quite sure how to reply. I resisted the urge to linger on the question and simply avoided a direct answer by talking a lot about the East African Community. I mentioned that I came from a town that hosts its headquarters. That lightened things up a little and the officer engaged me in a Swahili conversation. I was able to obtain a one-
As I was walking towards the departure lounge, I noticed that a fellow passenger from the Kenya Airways flight was one of the people with whom I recently rode on a small aircraft that flew us into Serengeti National Park. "Ssebo, it is amazing you are always everywhere?" he mused. "Thanks. You too," I responded. A few minutes later we were in his car heading to Kampala.
The tarred road from Entebbe to Kampala gave way to a stunning landscape that undulates in a united ribbon of villages. It looked like I saw the same shops time and again as we motored along. The roar of traffic plying the route penetrated my ears.
As we entered Kampala, views of the hills connected us with the air and light, and many women in their traditional Baganda dresses went about their errands pleasurably.
Passing through the city, shops, offices and businesses offered me a chance to appreciate the chatting culture combined with a rich history and recent infusion of investments. Here one may quietly consider the reason behind this positive development – peace and stability.
"Unlike you people, we enjoy no Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Stone town in Zanzibar or Mount Kilimanjaro – all of which make Tanzania a preferable destination and authentic," said my newly found friend as I checked in at The Diplomat Hotel in Muyenga, where he suggested I stay.
Muyenga is an upmarket suburb in Kampala dotted with posh houses and drinking establishments. The famous Half London and Capital Pub are found in Kabalagala.
Kampala was originally built on seven glorious fertile hills, which, coupled with an amazing horizon, provide a beautiful background to the city. Kampala's definition, its living history, points of identity and orientation are evident in the land.
With its coffee and matooke [edible green bananas], Kampala is a city where you can walk the sprawling streets, rubbing shoulders with bodaboda [motor] cyclist and their clients.
In my apartment, I sat on the couch in the living room flipping through the Kampala city book, which helped me plan my adventures. Visiting the Tanzania High Commission was the first thing I intended to do. I didn’t make it but opted to call them. "Karibu sana" the telephone operator said as she hung up the phone.
A visit to the source of River Nile turned out to be the focus of my getaway, after doing the rounds in the city. Jinja, located 80 kilometres away, was the perfect place to admire and view it. The River Nile passes through Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Sudan, DRC, Kenya, Tanzania, Egypt and Uganda, flowing out of Lake Victoria at Jinja to begin its epic and life-giving journey across half the continent.
For centuries the source of the longest river in the world was a mystery that baffled indigenous people and explorers. It was the myth of the nearly 7,000 kilometre long river that brought the first European explorers to Lake Victoria.
I arrived in Jinja the following morning. With the locals the day started long before the sun had risen with masses of women and men milling about. As I looked at the vast expanse of water and luxuriant vegetation, my anxiety lifted. It was such an exciting moment in my life.
The exclusivity of the river is what draws visitors to Jinja, I realized. The quality of the guides was exceptional, no matter what language was spoken. The guide knew it all and had everything in control as he calmly briefed us.
Jinja, the second largest city in Uganda, is a major commercial centre. While primarily an industrial town, it’s also a good place to explore the central part of the country, surrounded by prime agricultural land with extensive sugar cane and tea plantations.
Uganda has an amazing history and many tourists' attractions, but after my trip, I concluded that the source of River Nile is one of the best spots to visit.