Transit is no-man’s land without a passport

Our driver to Entebbe airport was right on time and as it was an early morning flight, the journey was pretty much straight forward as there was hardly any traffic which Kampala roads are famous for, apart from the mad road etiquette. Hoping that my bouts of fever and visits to the toilet were not going to give cause for concern necessitating a delay to our departure, I took another swig of the herbal medicine hoping I’d finish the whole bottle before boarding given all the excitement that surrounded carrying liquids on board..made a mental note to check on it as the cap didn’t close properly, which meant I’d have a mess in my bag…

Checking that my stash of medicine in my clutch bag was still intact after the heavy dosing I was taking, I relaxed in the knowledge that my partner was on hand to take care of all that what was needed. ūüôā These are some of the perks to having a caring partner or traveling with someone that cared… The medication was a herbal mixture my nephew had obtained for me in a small bottle – it must have been good – I couldn’t feel much and soon most of the symptoms I’d had prior to taking it disappeared, replaced by sleep which was so seductive.

Part of the check-in process was somewhat of a blur but somehow, made it through to the boarding area. ¬†Looking forward to spending the remaining cash in duty free at Istanbul in transit, I checked my clutch bag which held my passport and wallet before blissfully falling asleep for the 6hr flight. Whatever was in that herbal mix I was just grateful that it did the job of keeping me “together” as opposed to becoming quite familiar with the toilet or the paper bag. ¬†Made a note to ask partner why it was that luggage tickets always got placed on my passport but sleep must have won…

Given the great discomfort in the outbound journey with Turkish airlines from London coming to Entebbe, I cannot claim to have felt anything on this first leg of the return journey to London other than welcomed sleep that hadn’t been effected from overdosing on in-flight alcohol. ¬†Mind you, it was still a case of little leg room and putting up with families that had to carry babies on their laps…Glad that I was ‘out of it’ for the greater part as the hostesses were not all that happy either. There was this old man who had two girls lapping up everything he did and another one who opted to move seats to where I was to apparently give the couple with the little baby some room to spread out…Yeap. The herbal mix was definitely worth it. ¬†The announcement that we get ready to land was a welcomed reminder. ¬†I needed the bathroom to sort out my frazzled appearance after sleeping through.

Istanbul airport is an intriguing airport…reminds me somewhat in part of Portobello market. ¬†However this romantic vision soon came to a halt when while standing in line to have my documents checked I find I don’t have my passport on me. ¬†That’s when the any drug-induced haze evaporated…because that was the unraveling of a traumatic twelve hours of my life spent at Instanbul in transit before boarding a plane back to Entebbe. It was the time when I learnt that simply being a British citizien held no water for the British consulate in Turkey who were unprepared to come to the transit area. It was the realisation that I had become a person of no nation/land that awoke my senses. ¬†This was no movie! This was a living nightmare and I was an unwilling participant.

It was then that I appreciated my motherland Uganda, that irrespective that I had become adopted by Britain, Uganda would still welcome me back and assist me in sorting all that was needed to carry on my return journey to London. That the immigration officers at Entebbe airport were more humane to the traumatic experience as opposed to the Turkish airlines officials who had left us to make the necessary and expensive communication to the British Consulate officials etc.  It was also the realisation that being honest in accounting of events did not get you any where but instead complicated matters, hence the brown envelopes which thrive so well.

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Where and when did humanity depart?

I am compelled to write this simply out of human empathy towards the injustice done by fellow humans towards each other in our everyday lives without even pausing to spare a thought of consideration for the effects of our actions.

In the early hours of Monday morning, around 3am, a pregnant female tourist from Spain sought to find directions to a public toilet within Hammersmith bus station. Now this is a bus station that is in operation 24hrs a day, 7 days a week. I am presuming the staff within this bus station are not on a voluntary basis nor positioned there as prisoners of war. They are paid to offer customer service to users of the bus services which are running through their premises. You could be pardoned for thinking this is not the case.

Yet this pregnant female tourist upon alighting at Hammersmith bus station to connect sought to use the public toilet facilities before continuing on her journey, but instead was rudely escorted to board her connecting bus. To make matters worse, the station supervisor on duty who did this to her was a fellow female. Ironically it was a male bus driver who took pity on her situation after observing her distress while on board and stopped the bus for her to find a suitable place to relieve herself.

Now I know there often is office politics in most work settings, but seriously when persons lose the ability to carry out a service they are in a paid position to do, it really gets my goat! Irrespective of how tired the supervisor may/may not have been, when did her humanity depart from her soul?

I implore Transport for London executives to please look in to the customer care service of your staff on ground because it is really leaving much to be desired for the general public who pay to use your amenities/services and instead are left frustrated on many levels. The lack of access to public toilet facilities is a poor show to visitors who come to London but also it encourages anti-social acts when persons seek to relieve themselves on streets etc… which can result into public health issues.

What happened to this woman at Hammersmith bus station was completely unacceptable and should not be allowed to be the norm.

Burying our heads in the sand with regards to Namungoona Fuel tanker

Saturday 29th June 2013 brought what is possibly the worst fuel tanker to occur on Ugandan soil.

In the relative quiet of the night, residents of Namungoona, a Kampala suburb, familiar with the croaks of frogs in Lubigi marshland and occasional raving from engines of vehicles firing on the Northern Bypass, were audience to a tragic occurence. On Saturday night, it was a macabre unraveling of tragedy.
Fueltanker01

Several fatalities consisting of boda-boda riders. PHOTO BY FAISWAL KASIRYE

To me this occurrence and the ensuing reactions from all corners (accident, response or lack/limited of emergency services or first aiders etc…) did not come as a surprise. What was perhaps the redeeming fact, was the number of fatalities. ¬†This was an ‘accident’ among so many to unravel, waiting to happen.¬† It¬† is only by God’s grace and alertness that the numbers were not much higher.

Police officers check burnt motorcycles at the scene of the accident on the Northern Bypass yesterday. PHOTO BY FAISWAL KASIRYE

Police officers check burnt motorcycles at the scene of the accident on the Northern Bypass. PHOTO BY FAISWAL KASIRYE

Cars and vehicles burn in Ecatepec, Mexico

Scene of aftermath shortly after tanker exploded

At around 22.00hrs (GMT) an online status from one of my acquaintance raised the developing tragedy. Yet all the main media channels in Uganda were either preoccupied with foreign news on Obama’s Africa visit, issues in Syria, or entertainment coverage of the BET awards etc. In fact my online social network acquaintance recorded as the president being abroad in Tanzania without any indication of him flying in to check out the developing tragedy.

Prez M7 at scene of accident

President Museveni at the scene of accident at Namungoona on Monday 1st July. PHOTO BY FAISWAL KASIRYE

PHOTO BY FAISWAL KASIRYE The President soon put to rights this PR setback. ¬†Shortly not long after the tragic events, not only did he visit the accident scene, but went to the national hospital offering 5million UGX to relatives of the deceased to cover funeral costs… It was tweeted that the fuel tanker collided head on with a Toyota Ipsum before overturning and falling causing people to rush to the scene for free fuel. ¬†Most of these young boda-boda transporters had turned up to make good the flow of “free” fuel from the stricken tanker¬†are believed to be the fatalities because the fuel tanker burst ¬†into flames burning them all.¬†On count, over 30 boda-bodas were burnt during the inferno. Residents say they were carrying people who had stopped to collect the fuel tweeted¬†Sms media Uganda¬†Sunday morning.

aftermath of the explosion

aftermath of the explosion

The fact that the online community is what availed most of us far afield to learn about this tragic event is perhaps an indication of perceived priority of the government media organs on ground. Same goes to factor for the limited if not reserved response by the emergency services in the country…if at all they exist. The ensuing reaction of the public to this tragedy on a background of President Museveni’s 5million pledge to relatives of the deceased is perhaps what has prompted me to make sense of this. ¬†There is way too many questions on my part to be caught up in the emotional reactions to the tragedy that unraveled. First of all, I recall from past experience road safety and regulations in Uganda. This is simply a joke. ¬†Whereas some eye witness accounts have gone to state that the explosion occurred after the tanker went off the road, the way most road users in Uganda behave when driving is perhaps an indicator of such pending tragedies. Fact being that lack of lighting on roads at night, combined by the reckless attitude of most road users, especially those in large vehicles like lorries/trailers is a recipe for disasters such as these. ¬†I know. I almost got run off the road by a huge trailer on Bombo Road at night, the driver who even when we took recording of his driving and registration details, didn’t seem perturbed.¬†People drive recklessly to get to their destination completely oblivious to other road users – if at all, not even give a damn. Most often its persons who consider themselves more important human beings to others, that sets precedence. The response of Uganda’s emergency services to scenes of accidents is questionable…the methodology of ferrying victims to the only national hospital is almost a certifiable death sign-off. ¬†Assuming they make it and survive the limited resources met out at the national hospital. ¬†In this incident especially, persons with burns are most likely to die from secondary infections they will acquire at the hospital. Traffic police in Uganda seem to have differing priorities to their allocated job. ¬†They have bursts of action dependent on time of day or seasonal demands… most often ¬†more concerned with collecting kintu kidogo than enforcing traffic regulations.

scene of namungona post accident

Recovered boda-bodas of fatalities from the explosion

From the emotional reaction to the death toll, one could be excused for blaming poverty as the cause of the young persons who rushed to siphon fuel from the tanker. Truth be said, these persons were hoping to get free fuel that they hadn’t paid for from an unfortunate occurrence to the tanker driver. It is debatable they were willing to listen to the tanker driver warning them to stop… Yet society is excusing these victims’ actions on poverty, yet again reinforcing the conciliatory acceptance of corrupt practice that has become so endemic that most don’t even recognize it anymore when practiced. Issues then become politicized because persons have failed to take personal responsibility and ownership of their collective actions, often opting to apportion blame or scapegoating, and/or exploiting; ¬†whichever suits their perception or political affiliation. ¬†Resulting in shelving/staving off the implementation of any beneficial suggestions that could redress the causes or issues. Bottom line is – the current governance in place is to blame for failure to: empower citizens to make the appropriate choices in fighting the moral decline in society; failure to sensitize citizens¬† to have faith in the judicial and legislative system which for the greater part functions on selective mode for the elite citizens,¬† whilst exploiting the ignorance that surrounds most practice that has come to be acceptable. God really loves Uganda and it’s only when He is distracted or blinks that such tragic incidents occur.

Driving around …Kampala

I think those of you ranting about drivers anywhere in London, had better avoid driving in Kampala. Yes, even here in London we have managed to get mini pot-holes in some areas in addition to appalling drivers that lead you to suspect the method of how they acquired their driver’s licence. However, driving in Kampala seems absolutely anarchic and the rules of the road there take it to another level of road rage. For the uninitiated there appears to be no rules but there are, in fact, here are some important rules for you to understand if you are to survive and enjoy the rest of what Kampala has to offer.

Pot-holes are soon to be a featured tourist attraction for most roads in and around Kampala. Kampala city is the place where pot-holes are born and bred. As a result, 4WD are common vehicles for the cross-country conditions set in a city. So far, Japanese cars appear to be the most tenacious vehicles to cope with these road conditions. Please do not punish your European vehicles by venturing out to test-drive them on these roads unless you have an account with a renown garage to nurse it back to health.

One of the most important rules to keep foremost (guided from the fact that there are no road markings), is that direction of traffic can change at any point of your journey. Be prepared to be rammed from on-coming, sideways and rear-end but in no particular order, by all things that are moving …or not. Be prepared to take the blame/abuse and payout for accidents entirely delivered upon you. Third-party insurance stickers on most vehicles is just a badge of decoration much like the indicator lights or mirror and side mirrors in place. The taxi guy who picked us up from the airport proudly proclaimed he only looked in one direction when he drove – forward.

You will be considered insane or stupid if you stop at the zebra-crossing or to give way to your right on a roundabout…but do it anyway.

Expect traffic cops to stop to check see if you can be booked for irrelevant issues other than those tail-lights or brakes which aren’t working properly.

An additionally important rule is that if the vehicle behind you is going faster than you are (especially if it is a coach or lorry), you are required to get out of the way if there is any shoulder at all upon which you can drive to let the other driver pass. If you run over a pedestrian, ram a parked vehicle or fall into an open drain/ditch on that shoulder; that¬īs your fault. If there is no shoulder then you are supposed to speed up in order to be polite and avoid being rear ended but that¬īs your election and your instincts may require you to actually slow down – it¬īs complicated.

Be aware that no lane markings exist and overtaking can come from all sides by anyone/anything happening to be on the road. In some areas, city cows and goats (literally) will insist on taking walks in the middle of the road, and when it pleases, sit down and rest. Their owners only come out at night to “demand payment” if you happen to have accidentally knocked their animals, but for the greater part, they are no where to be found. They remind me a bit of tax dogders who hide out in cemetries…that’s a story for another day.

Keep in mind that, despite the fact that there MIGHT be posted speed limits on SOME roads, there is by customary dictate, no speed limit and if you are maintaining the posted limit on most roads, you are standing still relative to most of the traffic. Also, persons who consider themselves to be VIP’s will most often ignore the rules and cut across or overtake as and how they feel necessary. Remember:DEFENSIVE DRIVING AT ALL TIMES.

Traffic cops are most active on given highways/streets and roads during pre-lunch and pre-office closing hours – possibly to raise “personal” funds accordingly. It would appear however, that most traffic cops know their routes and intended-victims. I might be wrong in suspecting that they are the actual reason for the grid-lock traffic on occasions.

The most tricky part to drive in Kampala is the Northern-by-pass roundabout near Bwaise-Kawempe where near-anarchy rules at all times of day and night. This is compounded at night when no street lighting is availed. Come to think of it, I counted 5 working street lights in Kampala city, mostly by Garden City and two sections of working traffic lights Wandegeya and Jinja-Kampala Road junction. Even then, these work on a part-time basis. Load shedding might be the cause…

Be prepared to compete with full beam lights whilst driving at night – your eyes do eventually get used to the darkness if you insist on night-time driving. The beauty and freshness of Kampala actually comes to life at night…

A full gas tank to keep your AC working is a worthy investment if you do not wish to have varying shades of colour-schemes to your interiors or your person from the dust.

To avoid cannibalisation of car parts i.e, wipers or side mirrors etc, learn the hot-spots of where not to park your vehicle. I learnt to avoid Buganda Road…Use guarded parking areas. Otherwise Kiseka Market will be re-selling you your car parts.

The experience certainly confirmed Ian Clarke’s observation when he said, “the only time Ugandans are in a hurry is when they get behind the wheel of a car.”