A tale of two cities

Kampala is two cities, One is a shiny supermarket, mall, restaurant, computer high tech, Panasonic showroom kind of place, The people there drive cars, drink wine and watch CNN. They live close to a 1st world city life, (with some rather important exceptions.)


The other lives as if they were still in the village. They have no electricity, so no fridges or TV, no running water nor flushing toilets. They work in the markets and in manual labour, cultivating their own small patches of land or selling chickens.

This last group makes up 90% of the city. This is what gives this city its remarkable flavour. Standing beside a BMW x5, there might be the bike man of 1000 brooms.  Just outside the gates of the school is a family of goats, one of whom has a pregnant belly so large and so round that Princess can’t help but emit a squeal of laughter every time we pass.

Boda Bodas carry entire families.  The sight of small, neatly uniformed young students walking out of huts and climbing onto  Boda Bodas, on the way to school is a sharp contrast to the SUVs that drop off my students at school. When I see a woman clutching a blanket wrapped baby, merely weeks old, I think back to the time I wasn’t even allowed to leave the hospital in Canada without a car seat! Here we just leave the hospital and hold the baby on a Boda Boda, ready to begin the wild ride of life right then and there, no time to waste.


In this city of two worlds there is an extraordinary presence of guns.  Often you will find yourself surrounded by 3,4 or 5 men holding very large weapons. These men have a job, they protect buildings. shops, schools, car parks; any public place actually. At the end of the day when the job is done both guard and gun climb onto the back of a Boda and go home. These guns are strangely not alarming. The people holding them seem very relaxed, certainly no one is poised and ready to shoot. It is just a fact of life and perhaps the reason that Kampala is a safe place to live. There is no sense that at any time people will be inclined towards random crime, rather, it would just be a waste of time and the 90% of this city that works hard to just to eat and live have better things to do.


The guns tend to be replaced by machetes in the country side. Men walk along the road, large potential weapon dangling from their wrist and I think how dangerous that would be in the USA.


It is a funny place. Never a dull moment and never a shortage of things to look at.  Guns, machetes, babies on motor cycles, pregnant goats, cow horns, piles of charcoal in a strange yet symbiotic relationship with gym buffed, SUV riding, handbag toting, Thai food eating city dwellers.



Filed under observations, Uganda

2 responses to “A tale of two cities

  1. angela

    i love opening up my computer to find your stories of your adventure:).
    thank you for sharing your experience with your words and your incredible photos.

  2. Pingback: A cure for the grumps. « 3limes

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