Everywhere we went today, I had to cover up something: my head my shoulders, my trousers, my identity. We toured the Gadhaffi Mosque, where Lisa and I had to cover our heads and bodies, as well as the Baha’i Temple and the King’s Palace.
Lisa looked a lot better in hijab than I did. You don’t know complicated, urgent logistics until you’ve tried to use a toilet like this:
While your bottom half is wearing jeans and a tightly wrapped covering:
And they make you take off your shoes for the bathroom, because it’s technically inside the mosque. Let’s just say it was a good thing they had foot washing stations.
Our tour of the city was led by Walter, an elfin, cornrowed friend of a friend who lives here. We got to stir the pot at the Baha’i Temple as the man prattled on about equality and I asked him about homosexuality. He pointed out that some rights aren’t good ones. We disagreed, politely. Later, Walter warned us we shouldn’t mention our opinion of Gadhaffi at the mosque, since many muslims went there to weep when he was killed. A friend to Ugandan muslims, apparently.
Kampala seems to have a bigger class divide than I remember from my first visit or two, with a much more visible upper middle class than there was even three years ago. Big fancy wedding parties all over the place, taking photos and stuffing little boys into suits.
Thumping disco music coming from everywhere, amplified football games, Ugandans eating in fancy restaurants. Huge nightlife. “If you’re a party animal, move to Kampala,” said Walter. “Never mind New York City.”
Right next to the King’s Palace, which we visited at the end of the day (and also had to cover our trousers for), slums, muck and garbage to pick our way through as the guide took us to see where Amin imprisoned and tortured people before he threw their bodies to the crocodiles. An unexpectedly gruesome end to the tour.
I’m remembering what it is to be here, the noise and smog and unbearable exhaust of the city, warm humidity and glare and rain and chill tangoing together in the same hour, chickens and goats in the muddy city streets, a man bringing us computers for the project at the hotel, which we paid cash for.
The faces of Joel and Elinah, as we gave them the computers. Soft-spoken, laconic Ugandan speech, enormous grins. Why I’m here in this complicated place.