The Travelling Trooper Makes Some New Friends And Climbs the Gadaffi Mosque

I was left to my own devices the next day because Bryan had to work all day. Thankfully, Meriam had left a long list of suggestions for things to do in Kampala. The first thing I decided to do was jump straight into the madness of the Owino Market.

Now, I’ve been to markets before. They’re loud, chaotic, full of scammers, and full of fascinating things to ogle. But I’ve never seen a market like this. People here mainly sell second-hand things. If you ever lost a shirt doing laundry or something, there’s a good chance you might find it here. You can find everything from shirts to shoes, bags, jeans, you name it. And though it looks chaotic, there is actually some sort of order in place; you just have to decipher it for yourself by exploring.

Most people have their own shops, but many on the outskirts just lay all their swag haphazardly on the floor. If you want to buy a pair of shoes, you have to dig through the pile to find a matching pair.

Of course, being the only mzungu probably within a radius of 3 kilometres, I was quite a popular guy that morning. Everybody wanted to be my friend. Also, being the only mzungu within a 3 kilometre radius, I decided flashing my phone around to record video and take photos probably wasn’t the smartest idea. I just walked around and enjoyed the madness.

After getting lost in the maze of the market, I eventually found my way out and headed towards lunch. Meriam recommended a place called Uhuru. I had some awesome pilau rice and chicken.

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Next up was the craft market. Oh, the craft market. I went in thinking I’d just buy a fridge magnet, and I walked out with a long canvas that proved to be a bit too long for my travel backpack, a beautiful set of coasters, and a gorgeous wood-carved traditional board game Choro. It’s similar to a game I learned from Fatima waaaaaaay back in Dublin. My backpack is slowly becoming full with equal parts clothing and equal parts art pieces.

The last stop for the day was supposed to be the Gadaffi Mosque, but then something funny happened that changed the entire course of my stay in Uganda. I was walking down this insane street, when this guy walks up beside me. I can tell he’s trying to keep pace with me and trying to get my attention, but I just keep going, minding my own business.

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Then he introduces himself. His name is William. He seems friendly enough. William is a musician. He plays in a reggae band. He claims music saved his life. (REALLY?!) He’s also a music teacher. Once I tell him I’m a teacher as well, he invites me to watch his students perform later in the afternoon. Sure, why not?

We part ways, and I continue towards the mosque.

Then the rain hits.

I headed towards the nearest building, which happened to be a small, one-room museum dedicated to the history of the Baganda tribe. There was a guy painting by the door. I leave him alone and walk around the room looking at the black and white photos. Pictures of the Queen of England visiting, pictures of other old white people signing various documents, pictures of such and such greeting whatshisface. Pretty boring stuff.

Then the painter introduces himself. His name is Alan. We start talking, and it turns out Alan wants to start up a website so he can sell his artwork online and use the profits to build simple homes for people in the slums. I figured, I could help him with that! WordPress to the rescue! So we exchanged info, and I promised to hit him up later when I got some Wi-Fi. (This would prove to be quite the challenge in Uganda.)

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The rain finally let up, and I went to the mosque, which was just next door. I paid for a tour so I could go up to the top of the mosque, where Meriam said I could get a great view of the city. My tour guide was Twaha.

Twaha informed me that the reason the mosque is named the Gaddafii Mosque is because he’s the one who commissioned it as a gift to the Muslim population of Uganda. The mosque is ten years old. It was renamed the National Mosque after Gaddafi’s death in 2013.

Work on the mosque initially started in the 1970’s, when Uganda got its first Muslim president. However, after he was overthrown, work on the mosque stopped. It wasn’t until decades later, when an Imam approached Gaddafi about helping Uganda out, that work started up again. Twaha claims that the reason the Imam approached Gaddafi was because they knew that if the task of constructing a mosque was assigned to a Ugandan, their innate corruption would lead them to steal all the money. Twaha claims that Ugandans just can’t be trusted with money. (He then later went on to try to sell me on one of his tours. Not the best approach, my friend.)

With 2:00 quickly approaching, I parted ways with Twaha, hopped on a boda boda motorbike taxi, and headed for William’s school. Once there, I met Olive, a friend of his. Olive had come by just to say hi to her childhood chum, since she was in the area. Olive and I started chatting while William got his students ready, and we quickly became pals. She asked to meet the next day to give me a shirt as a gift. I wasn’t about to say no to a free gift, so I agreed. Then she ran off to check on her baby at home.

The music class was a lot of fun. The kids performed the National Anthem, “When the Saints Go Marching In,” as well as a bunch of songs I didn’t recognize.

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Afterwards, William invited me to come by a music studio the following day to check out his reggae band’s rehearsal. It was a small consolation for the fact that I was going to miss their actual show while I went to visit Jinja a few days later.

William helped me secure a boda boda back to Bunga before heading home himself. This was my first time riding a boda boda at rush hour. Now here’s the thing about boda bodas: They play by their own rules. First of all, just like tuk tuks in Thailand, they will try to scam you out of every possible cent they can. (Though at the end of the day, you end up haggling for a difference of 60 cents or so.)

The bigger issue with boda bodas, though, is that they don’t value their lives, let alone yours. These guys will drive on the wrong side of the street, facing an oncoming Mack truck, before moving back into their lane and slithering around cars waiting to turn or cars waiting on a traffic light. They’ll cut each other off and curse at each other. They will drive on the sidewalk. They will squeeze in between two cars in a space so tight that all you can do is squeeze your legs in, close your eyes, and hold your breath. They will do anything they possibly can in order to keep moving. They’re crazy. They’re also a lot of fun–especially at rush hour. It’s practically an extreme sport.

I arrived back at Charlotte and Peter’s in one piece and lived to fight another day.

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