Idi Amin. That is who I thought of as soon as I thought of Uganda. I mean, I had seen the film Last King of Scotland. Apart from it having a McDonald’s, I didn’t really know much more about the place. I hadn’t read up on it because I hadn’t known for sure we’d be going there; until our dramas at the Mozambique border forced an abrupt itinerary change it had previously been only an outside chance.
Arriving by air, via Nairobi, it immediately became apparent to us that it was significantly more sophisticated than what we’d become used to over the previous month or two. There were good quality gutters and road signs, heaps of them. Sam noticed the new font on the signs as we headed for an overnight stay at the local backpackers. Not much gets past that little black duck.
Entebbe, a quaint and wealthy small city, was an hour on the minibus from the thumping, pumping capital, Kampala. On exiting the surprisingly clean and uncrowded minibus, we were besieged by that organism that rules Kampala, the boda boda; the motorbike taxi driver.
The term boda boda derived from a time when smuggling from Kenya was mostly done by motorbikes, which were able to avoid the border crossings more easily than larger vehicles. The bikes soon became known as boda, a mutation of border, which evolved into boda boda.
Tens of thousands of them swarm the city’s streets or wait languidly on sidewalks for customers. A couple of mzungu like us, looking like Tintin and the Captain out of Tintin In The Congo, were juicy fruit waiting to be plucked.
What the heck, it was a lot cheaper than a taxi trip to our hostel, Red Chilli Hideaway, a large backpackers on the edge of the city, twenty minutes drive away. The two of us scooted on the backs of the bikes, large packs between driver and handle bar, small packs on our backs, clinging tightly to the drivers’ waists as we swerved amongst the bee swarm, dodging trucks, minibuses and cars in the maelstrom.
Sam turned towards me as we approached Red Chilli.
‘Where is the DS?’
Oh no! I had asked him to put it in his pocket as we had got onto the minibus. I knew straight away it must have fallen out of his pocket in the bus, probably not helped by his often having his feet up on the seat to support his poor core muscle tone. There was no way we were going to get it back.
After a frantic search through pockets and bags, it was confirmed it was MIA. I thought Sam’s head would explode, but he was remarkably calm. I agreed to make the futile trip back into the bus station to look for it; I was doing it more to show Sam I realised this was a big deal, rather than actually putting up much hope of retrieval. I was feeling somewhat guilty; I should have been more careful with his ‘Precious’.
We caught a cab to the central bus station, which was around the corner from where we had been dropped an hour or so earlier. 500 or so minibuses were crammed into the square; honking, budging, inching along in the stir and sway of the currents of the square. Moses, our cab driver, who was based at Red Chilli, led us through the maze of buses to the central ‘office’, a collection of eateries and squatteries and do-nothing-eries that looked like a island village in a sea of minibuses.
It was not the sort of place you normally see a tall white guy with gangly long-haired teenager. We attracted a crowd, all talking in Buganda. They smiled, laughed and gossiped behind their hands, peering at us with curiosity.
Then, through Moses’ translation, I let them know that a reward of 100,000 shillings (about $50) was being offered for the return of the DS. The mood changed from idle curiosity to excitement. A buzz rippled out across the crowd; at least the word was getting out. It was more likely the mislaid DS was picked up by a passenger, but if the conductor or driver had found it, well, you never know. We left a contact number just in case.
Moses led his people, parting the minibus sea back to the cab, and we drove back to Red Chilli. I continued to watch Sam closely. He seemed calm, too calm. Did he hold out too much false hope? Did he not fully understand the DS was most likely gone? He had a smaller version in reserve, but this didn’t have all the hours and hours of games he had played over recent months stored on it. I don’t really understand DS’s, but I think that’s how it works.
I took it easy on Sam that day. The Red Chilli facilities and WiFi were impressive; Mike and Lenneke, the young Dutch travellers we’d met in Malawi,* had teed us up that this was the place to make your Ugandan base. I let Sam chill on the internet while I spent most of the afternoon at the reception desk organising accommodation and trips into the countryside over the next few weeks. A calendar, a map and a modicum of patience. I thought to myself maybe I should be getting Sam more involved in this sort of activity; but not today, not DS-day.
* And with whom Juliette was now travelling to Victoria Falls with, having extended her African stay by a week.