Brothels, Cows & Coffee

Dated: 01 April 18

As I’ve travelled up through this continent I can’t help but marvel at the generosity and welcome nature of it’s people. It has an innocence about it. Which is why I am disappointed when I happen upon the more shady side. I’ve gotten into the habit of staying in guest houses. Uganda is not conducive to wild camping; every inch is either inhabited or cultivated. The establishment in which I am resting my head offers rooms for just a few hours, or the night, which is never a good sign.

I’m convinced that it’s a bar-slash-brothel; as a former sailor you might think this is something to which I am accustomed, but it’s not my cup of tea. Firstly, I don’t know how such a small village in the arse end of nowhere can sustain such an establishment. I suppose just like in the wild west, the steady stream of coaches and trade prop up the nocturnal economy. Secondly, I will definitely be camping tomorrow night.

It is Good Friday, the start of the Easter weekend and a big day in the national calendar owing to the country being rife with Christianity. Unfortunately, it is a bad time to be a cow. Each village, which is normally quite subdued – with fruit sellers lining the street and an occasional goat for sale – has transformed into an open air abattoir and is a gruesome sight for a vegetarian such as myself to behold.

Cattle are being led from all around the villages, where with a moo in anguish they are being culled by the road side. The men quickly set to work and it is quite amazing how quickly they are strung up and then portioned. As I sit sipping my morning chai, a man walks past with a cows head on his shoulder closely followed by a friend with arms full of shins, complete with hooves attached. Every part of the animal is used from hoof to horn so, although a grizzly scene, it’s certainly not wasteful.

As I head to Kampala to stay with yet another friend of a friend, I cross the equator. I’ve done this a number of times by air and sea but never on the ground. Not surprisingly it is quite the anti-climax; a small non-photo-worthy brown sign stands limply by the roadside. Maybe when I cross again next week I can pose for an overly excited stance bridging the two hemispheres….a riveting prospect.

After what can only be described as a hectic ride into Kampala, I arrive at Nick’s. You have to keep your wits about you; one eye on the road scanning for rather large pot holes and the other for the mob of boda bodas (motor bike taxis) which close around you. Junctions are particularly interesting. Confidence is key, that and faith that other road users don’t want to kill the stupid mzungu on a bicycle. I only scalded my ankle on two exhausts, bumped into two motor bikes which stopped dead for no apparent reason and was clipped by a single wing mirror.

That evening, Nick and I meet with one of his friends, Vicky, for dinner at an expat haunt. Now, I think I am being fair when I say that is it rare that I meet someone who has visited more countries than me; I’ve done more than my fair share of travelling but as we sit sharing our pizzas I am well and truly put in my place.

If you go for dinner with a group of doctors inevitably medical chat dominates the conversation; military and its things that fly, phys (physical exercise), three letter acronyms and how bloody “essence” they are takes centre stage. It turns out dinner with employees of the Foreign Office, travel is the topic of choice; they’ve been bloody everywhere and I am jealous. Though after this year, I will give them a run for their money.

The expat life in Kampala is abundant. It’s as if I’ve been transported to Putney or Clapham on a Sunday morning; yummy mummies in immaculate sports wear sit barely touching their breakfast, sipping non-fat soy chai lattes with a light dusting of flax seeds served in eco friendly recyclable cups with their high-tech prams pushed idly to one side.

I peruse the menu, salivating at the pictures; poached eggs with hollandaise sauce, pancakes with fruit and honey and sweet potato hash with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon with a sprig of dill…all out of the question on my meagre budget. I sit and contemplate an imaginary meal; I’ve become very good at just sitting.

But as luck would have it there is a silver lining. Bizarrely, two of my favourite things are on the menu and less than the cost of a normal coffee. Vanilla ice cream with a strong expresso poured seductively over the top creating a rich creamy coffee with a stark contrast between the cold, sweet ice cream and hot, bitter coffee beneath, and a cafe bonbon, again a base of bitter coffee but this time, the treat is a thin sliver of sweet condensed milk in the bottom. From the over the top description of relatively common coffees it’s apparent that I am deprived of such treats, but I think I can stretch to just one or two.

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