Uganda – 15/16 September 2007

Up to Manchester on the train, bereft of mobile phone (at home) and housekeys (in the safekeeping of a trusted individual), it was faintly reminiscent of being a teenager (younger readers – in my day, we didn’t have mobile phones – we kept a small amount of money on us and remembered people’s phone numbers…). Thus I was most glad to see my sister waiting for me in the car park of Manchester Piccadilly.
The Boy bounded over shortly afterwards, having just moved into halls and we went off to Sainsburys to kit him out with his first serious shopping expedition. He seemed to survive this rather brutal mothering experience (strict instructions on how to tell whether meat is cooked through properly, advice on what is worth spending money on and which items are just as good in their ‘sainsburys basics’ options) and we dropped him off at his halls after dinner.
The minicab came at 3.45am in the morning and took us to Manchester airport. I’m not sure whether I am more disturbed that the bars/pubs in the airport are open at 4am or that they seemed to be doing a lot of business at that hour (as we were passed by people drunkenly singing on the travelator). As usual, I set off the security scanner. 4am is not the best time for me to be taking my shoes off – my fine motor skills decline with lack of sleep.
Plane to Amsterdam was half full. Sky was relatively clear – I saw the Wash as we flew over the East of England – really rather square (not that this should be a surprise to me, having watched weather reports for quarter of a century).
Schipol is the Clapham Junction of the airport world. 10 minutes after landing we were finally allowed to exit the plane. We had a little time before the main flight to Entebbe so we wandered off to find coffee and breakfast (mental brownie points awarded to self for remembering to bring some Euros). We knew we were in Europe from the fog of cigarette smoke surrounding the eating areas. Yuk. All conversations were interrupted by tannoy announcements every 2-3 minutes by a very strict sounding lady requesting that Passengers X,Y,Z proceed immediately to Gate X,Y,Z otherwise their luggage would be taken off the plane.
Yet more hand baggage security checking and ditching of water and we were allowed into a holding area before boarding the flight. Most impressed with KLM. This was my first long-haul flight and the biggest plane (2/4/2) I had flown on. The wings were enormous and the G-force on taking off quite something to behold. I spent the next 8 hours developing square eyes by watching:
Ocean’s Thirteen (diverting, but not as good as 11 or 12)
2 Weeks Notice (seen before, still amusing)
Pirates of the Caribbean 3 (I managed to fall asleep during this one, only to wake up and find out that Keira Knightly appeared to have usurped Chow-Yun Fat as captain of one of the ships. In any other film I would probably have tried to watch it again to work out how this might have happened, but I feel no desire so to do in this instance).
That took up most of the flight. I sat next to two Polish ladies going out to visit their brother (an RC priest working with orphaned children) and trying to communicate how to complete the arrivals card (they spoke no English, I no Polish and they only had a few phrases of Polish-English on a sheet of A4).
Entebbe airport was quite a change from Schipol. It reminded me more of the Hamburg airport which Ryanair use – everything seemed to be contained within a small marquee/warehouse (it become clearer at the end of the holiday that this was a temporary construction, probably due to CHOGM – of which, more later).
In the absence of a queue for non-residents who had already purchased a Visa, we were directed to classify ourselves as East Africans, and we passed through security (such as it was) v.quickly. We saw the first of the CHOGM posters:

“Are you ready for CHOGM?” (what’s CHOGM, you ask? Well – here are some clues:

“Her Majesty the Queen,
53 Heads of State
6,500 Civil Servants”

or

“1.6 billion pairs of eyes on Uganda”)

Yes – it’s the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting which is being held in Uganda in November 2007. Therefore, just as Entebbe got a fresh lick of paint around the time that F last visited Uganda, Uganda (and Kampala in particular) is now getting spruced up for HMQ to visit in November. This manifested itself in a number of ways during our visit to Uganda. The airport is having a marble floor laid, major hotels in Entebbe and Kampala seem to be having ‘rehabilitation’ works. Most roads around Kampala have roadworks, most pavements around Parliament Avenue are being ripped up and mended, flowers are being planted by the roads.

We were picked up from the airport by a special hire driver from Red Chillis in Kampala and spent the next hour acquainting ourselves with the peculiarities of Ugandan driving, namely:
1. Always drive as fast as possible
2. Overtake at the last minute, and only when you have got sufficiently close enough to the vehicle in front to be almost touching (it makes tailgating look cautious)
3. Flash your lights repeatedly at the vehicle in front if they refuse to accede to 4. Your unspoken request to pull over so that they can overtake)
5. Don’t use your lights unless it is pitch black
6. Don’t use your indicator other than as a signal to vehicles behind that that is where the side of your vehicle is
7. Slow down almost to a stop to deal with the frequent road humps, and don’t drive straight over them – instead, swing out into the road (often to the other side) and drive across them at an angle

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