Just Kicking It in Kampala

2003 > Uganda

Don’t let the Kampala Tax Man get ya!

now that was close
Watch it, Buddy!
need a lift?
pick one, any one!
dirt poor and happy
mugging for the camera
what a job: latern-holder
not the nightlife I wanted…
Today I’m gonna take you on a little tour of Kampala, Uganda’s equatorial capital, and the fun starts even before I step out into the equatorial sun. First, as I descend the stairs of L Hotel Fiancee, I pass the security guard, sleepy from his night patrolling the front door with a metal detector and an old rifle.

He’s there mainly for show, as Kampala is quite safe, that is unless you don’t look both ways before you step out the door. Lurking just outside the safely of the stairwell, is the pure chaos that Ugandans call a road.

With people, bicycles, moped boda-bodas, cars, matatus, and the occasional truck using all aspects of the road, sidewalk, and what’s left of a median, you have to be quick to keep your head on your shoulders.

Oh, and don’t forget that they drive on the left side here. Well, they usually drive on the left side, unless a pothole, pedestrian, or baboon forces a detour into oncoming traffic.

Once on the street, I head uphill, past the massive matatu staging grounds, where they’re packed like sardines until they have enough passengers to head out on their routes, and onto the side streets filled with countless little shops.

Selling everything and anything, usually making half of it in the back room, the little stores are a cornucopia of Uganda’s and the world’s goods. I’ve watched seamstresses making new clothes while a co-worker washes and dyes old shoes, and both to be bought by a mom on her way to work.

As I follow her up the hill, a group of men converge on the crowd, asking all of us for our tax documents. Thinking it’s a scam similar to the ones I escaped in Nai-robbery, I try to slip away, and then argue fiercely when I’m caught. After I am assured that this tax policeman is for real, I show my passport and I am released.

Later I learned what that was all about. It seems that every resident of Kampala has to pay a tax to the city council, a head tax if you will, that is levied per person to support the city works. If you’re caught without your tax booklet, and you live in Kampala, you can get fined or even three months of jail time.

Past that trial, I dive into an Internet cafe, where answering emails for an hour sets me back a whole buck and I learn that the Space Shuttle disintegrated on re-entry. Saddened, I head to a little food cafe, dinning on the national dish, matoke, which is fried and mashed plantains, with fried Nile perch.

Then, its off to the bank to get out some cash, and I wait for thirty minutes while my debit card details are called in and confirmed. Leaving with a wad of cash in my pocket, for the largest Ugandan bill is about $5 USD, its off to the post office for stamps before I head back to my hotel for the mid-day nap.

Now that its afternoon, I’m out for another meal, some shopping by candlelight as the power is out again, and then I’m off to enjoy the Kampala nightlife. While not as wild as Nairobi, Kampala holds it own, and I come crawling back home around three in the morning, happy to end yet another Ugandan day with a smile.

Wanna see more pics? Then click here.