After this experience I think I'm one step closer to being a true African. I took an eleven hour bus trip from Kigali to Kampala, all while riding on the floor. To be more specific, I was sitting on the engine cover, slowly cooking along the way.
I've never had trouble finding a seat on a bus here in East Africa but today when I showed up for the last buses to Kampala they were all full. Then a confident man strolled up asking if I was heading to Kampala and then motioning for me to follow him. Along the way he said something about Kampala Coach being the best bus and having air conditioning. For a few seconds I almost believed this sales pitch aimed at naive muzungus. I think what he meant by air conditioning was that the windows opened. Arriving at the ticket window I learned that the bus was full but that I should stick around just in case they conductor would be willing to give me a seat meant for one of the bus staff. When the bus came, however, they insisted that there were no seats and absolutely no way that I could come along. Not really sure what to do, I stood around for awhile contemplating my options while the bus prepared to leave. I figured I would need to find transport to the Uganda border and then spend another night in Kabale before getting the bus back to Kampala the next day.
Just before they left, the conductor told me to hop on the bus and he would take me to the border where I could look for another bus. I sat down on the engine cover feeling the heat immediately. While trying to get comfortable I asked myself if I would be able to sit in this position all the way to Kampala. When the conductor leaned over and asked if I was going to Kampala or only to the border, I said I would go as far as they would take me.
I spent the rest of the day trying to be comfortable. Sometimes I laid back on my backpack, feeling the heat rising through my body. Others I just sat there and stared at the bus full of people who must have thought I was the craziest muzungu they had ever seen. I couldn't really drink my water because the engine had heated that up as well. Since time estimates over here are never accurate, I don't know why I even still watch time as though I actually know when we are going to arrive. It took us more than two hours past our estimated time of arrival but the worst part is that is always impossible to know along the way how much longer it is truly going to take. This seems to make the bus trips take even longer.
As we approached Kampala, the men seated around me came to life, leaning forward and straining to see something outside the bus. Repositioning myself to see from their perspective, I noticed that there were small but consistent brush fires along the road. At first I thought it was maybe just the best place that people could think of to burn up some brush. Then I spotted a burnt out car turned sideways in the road and the reality began to sink in. My beloved Kampala, a seeming base of East African stability, had broken out in a violent riot that day. Taking a little extra precaution than normal, I hired a taxi for the ride back to my hostel rather than a much cheaper but less secure boda boda. As to what actually happened in Kampala, I'll have to write soon…