September 28, 2011
If You Can Dodge Traffic (Megan Henning)
I’m currently studying in Kampala, Uganda. For those of you who have no idea where that is, it is located in Eastern Africa. If you are picturing me living in a hut riding on a giraffe to school, I regret to inform you that is not the case. Sorry to disappoint.
Instead of riding a giraffe to school and living in a hut, I live in a house with a family and currently am taking a car to school. Currently my host-dad drives me to class. Yes, lots of people have cars. Arriving in Kampala, I was a bit taken a back by the amount of smog here. There are so many cars in fact, that crossing the street has become an art form and you have to be a bit crazy to attempt it. For the first few days, my American class mates and I would always try to casually find and stalk a Ugandan so we could follow their lead on when to cross. Here are a few tips incase you ever find yourself in Kampala. If traffic is moving slowly, weave between cars. If traffic picks up again, drastically increase your pace too. Unlike in the US, pedestrians do not have the right-of-way. Instead, the driver will give a rude honk and expect you to get out of the way. Walking along the side of the road (there are not always sidewalks), drivers don’t even blink when forced to drive extremely close to you because of oncoming traffic.
Cars are not the only contributor to the problem. Kampala’s form of public transit are known as taxis, but in reality they are large 14 seater vans that follow some sort of bus-route. It costs me 500 shillings to take a taxi home from class. Never fear, this is the equivalent of about 19 cents. I have to time when I leave class well, because getting caught in a traffic jam can delay you by hours.
Finally on the road are the dreaded boda-bodas. These are small motorcycles that offer cheap transportation. Boda-boda drivers seem to be able to spot traffic lanes that don’t actually exist. They weave in and out of traffic and send hundreds to the hospital everyday. I don’t take them. I often see women in their skirts and heals sitting in some sort of side-sadle position on the back of boda-bodas, and I only hope they are holding on for dear life. Business men on boda-bodas are a common sight as well. Helmets are a rarety.
The main roads here are paved, but covered in a layer of red dirt and filled with potholes that drivers avoid, no matter how close they have to get to one another to do so. Even the sidewalks are filled with potholes. My host-dad bottoms out in his little car everyday and doesn’t even flinch. He can drive his little car on roads that most Americans probably couldn’t handle even in a giant four-wheel drive SUV.
My host-sister told me that there is one nice road in Uganda, and I’m pleased to say I’ve been on it. The Northern Bypass is a two lane highway that is pothole free. I even noticed a speed limit sign (80 km). Despite this, pedestrians line both sides of the highway, using the area that is meant for emergency stops as a sidewalk. The Northern Bypass also boasts something else: an overpass. It is the first and currently only overpass in Uganda.
Megan Henning is studying abroad in Kampala, Uganda, with SIT Study Abroad.