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True Travel Tales - The Buganda in Uganda Don't Play!

UGANDA | Sunday, 19 December 2010 | Views [3241]

I spent 9 weeks in Bulenga, Uganda and volunteered at an orphanage most afternoons. Here are some of the kids I worked with who went through the same fears I did during the riot!

What happened? Tell us your tale.

Not just a Volunteer Project

While spending 9 weeks volunteering with Global Volunteer Network in a small village outside the capital city of Uganda, I managed to make it into Kampala fairly frequently to meet friends, drink coffee that wasn't shredded beans mixed with water, and just enjoy the chaos that is the capital!

In August of 2010, I was unaware of the tension surrounding the King of Buganda, a region around Kampala and the official government headed by Museveni. The smear campaign and scare tactics used in the U.S to sway voters and followers is not accepted in Uganda. Tension was high with the elected leaders unhappy at the allegiance of so many people to their “King.”

I hopped off the Matatu (a name for a standard van that comfortably fits 12 but in Uganda holds no less than 20) and jumped on a boda-boda to go to the only cafe I knew with decent internet speed to meet with my volunteer coordinator and update my blog. Soon after jumping on the back of a boda I get a weird sensation; I look to my left and notice over a dozen Ugandans running. I had been in Uganda for over 6 weeks already and knew this-Ugandans don’t run. I quickly glanced to my right and saw the same thing. Something was wrong. Asking the boda driver to tell me what’s wrong, he only states, “Uh oh. Even me I don’t know!” This is where I get nervous.

Less than a minute later I realize I’m in some serious riots with bottles, rocks and anything handy being thrown. I see people yelling and sprinting away from a side-street which I later find out was the scene of some serious tear-gassing.

My driver seems panicked which certainly doesn’t help me. I’ve never felt what I would call, “safe” on the back of these accident inducers but it’s never been worse. Nearly falling off several times and having the side of my leg brush other matatus stuck in traffic, boda-bodas and every other vehicle are frantically trying to escape.

As luck would have it, I managed to hop on the back of one of the most insane drivers I met and with singed pantlegs and a few nicks to the bike, he gets me towards the business section (read: rich expats with security galore) where it’s business as usual.

I take a break for a few hours and watch the tv in the cafe where literally within minutes of sipping a coffee there are people being beaten and several shot.

I’ve had enough but..there’s the act of getting home. The manager of the shop indicates that I will be escorted by one of the waiters; now THAT is service! For over 10x what I would pay to get back to my village on any other day I am taken by private car through burning tires, road blockades, the national militia and even a giant Coca-Cola vehicle completely burned out with glass bottles everywhere.

I was so caught up in the moment I didn’t realize the situation I was in until later while reading the news and listening to the villagers recount their stories. It may have been awful but I consider myself VERY lucky!

What was the outcome of the event?

The King's Decision

I lived, others didn’t. The King of Buganda stepped up and called off his trip into the area that had threatened to deny him entry. Had he insisted, his loyal followers numbering into the thousands would have felt obligated to resort to violence. The King chose peace over power. My kind of guy!

What advice would you give to other travellers to avoid or survive the situation?

1. Stay informed: Read the paper, check the international news and most importantly, talk to villagers and locals! This event made BBC World News Headlines but was glossed. Many newsworthy events go unreported (good and bad) so be sure to be aware of your local environment!

2. Stay calm: The best way to get out of a situation is to be clear-headed enough to gather information and go over it. As a foreigner, being a hyperactive or slobbering mess may not get you the support you need. After speaking with the staff in the cafe, I realized the location I was going to try to escape and stay the night in a hostel would actually be the worst place to go-that’s where the riot was escalating!

Safety Advice From World Nomads

Great advice there. In volatile areas it is especially important to keep up with what is happening in the area - politics, crime, uprisings, protests. The information you arm yourself with allows you to make better informed decisions on where (not) to go!

Related Articles:

True Travel Tales - Pesky Parasite

True Travel Tales - Jail in Bogota, Colombia

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Tags: advice, buganda, king, news, riot, uganda, volunteer


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