A conversation in Uganda

Travel Perspectives — By on September 3, 2008 at 3:44 pm

The best travel experiences are often the most unexpected and they frequently involve chance meetings with locals. Christopher Vourlias recently traveled through Uganda, where he found himself having a conversation about writing and life with a farmer. He wrote about the experience for World Hum.

They met on a local bus…

I’d met Colin a few days earlier, squished together in the back row of the Horizon bus from Kampala. We’d struck up a conversation on the outskirts of town, as I’d fiddled with my iPod and waited out the bumpy ride. Curious eyes followed my thumb as it whirled in circles, heads poking over seats and craning into the aisle, when the man by the window—lean, bookish, scratching at his wiry moustache—leaned toward me and cleared his throat. He asked about the storage capacity, and we soon got into a heated discussion about file-sharing and intellectual copyright law. This was not, I suspected, your typical conversation on the Horizon bus from Kampala.

And continued their conversation in Colin’s farmhouse…

He opened the mango juice and passed a muffin to me and asked about my travels. We talked about my long odyssey since leaving home almost two years ago. He smiled and sighed and shook his head as I described Barcelona and Beirut, London and Damascus. Then he told me about his own journey five years ago, when he quit his job as a lawyer in Kampala to travel through Africa. He went south, through Rwanda and Tanzania, making it as far as Malawi. Soon he was low on money. He grew lonely.

“It is all the same, wherever you go,” he said.

Returning to Uganda, he came west to look after his father’s farm. Life here was hard. Money was scarce; often, he had to ask his sister and an elder brother for help. The neighbors were guarded, suspicious.

“They see this house, and they think we must have so much money,” he said. Even years later, he had few people he could trust. He was bothered to see friends and neighbors hobbled by bitterness and petty grudges.

“We have a saying: nohandika ha maiise,” he said, tapping each syllable on the tabletop. “It means ‘like writing on water.’” He laughed at this, amused and resigned. “You cannot change how people are.”

Outside he showed me around the farm. It was a small plot of land; in just a few minutes we’d crossed through the brown stalks of maize, pausing to stop in the shade of a flowering tree. It was a sunny afternoon, and the heat rose from the dry grass crunching beneath our feet.

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