The free ride

June 5, 2009

May 30, 2009

When the director of Fractal’s NGO asked us to go along to an introduction in a village 30 km east of M-town located in southwestern Uganda, we hesitantly said “yes.”  Unable to refuse the free ride to the foothills of Mount Elgon, we told ourselves that it would be a polite gesture to attend–to show support to the director’s wife Agnetia, the maid of honor–even though we were still burned out from the last time and needed time to recuperate from all the sitting.

Clad in the kansu adorned with the $35 sport jacket and dress pants and in the gomesi that my neighbor helped me wear, Fractal and I accompanied the director and his friend in Agnetia’s air conditioned white Toyota Corona.  Half an hour into the voyage, the director decided that he wasn’t adept in driving his wife’s car and asked his friend to drive.  After we swapped drivers, we passed our first sight of professional East African cyclists racing on their Ugandanized bikes–a blend of parts from other mountain and road bikes.

As we proceeded at the speed of 121.7km/hr in a zone where the speed limit was 80 km/hr ( so we don’t collide with the roosters, pedestrians, and goats that speckled the landscape), we were stopped by the friendly Ugandan patrol.  On seeing the two buzungu on the passenger seats, the female traffic patrol officer commenced on a tirade on the dangers of speedy driving and the importance of following Ugandan laws.

When the officer asked for the drivers’ license of the friend, the friend subserviently replied that he didn’t have his license since he wasn’t planning to drive, but proposed to drive since the director wasn’t feeling well.   After much coaxing, she relented and decided not to give the 50,000 ush ($25) ticket for driving without the license.  When the officer threatened to give a speeding ticket of 100,000 ush($50 est), the director and  the friend told her they learned their lesson and tucked a folded 10,000 ush ($5) between her fingers.  Soon afterwards we resumed our journey at speeds of 120 km/hr.

The topography dotted with velvet green foothills of Mt. Elgon, the matooke plantations and  the few remaining mahogany (that weren’t chopped down for timber possibly to design furniture for European and American markets, or for the increasing domestic need for firewood and charcoal) resembled the continental divide of Costa Rica’s San Luis.  The cooler climate made the gomesi more bearable.  After we passed the bustling municipality (one step short of registering as a city) of M-town, we turned off onto a dirt road with hardened mud tire tracks and crept into a remote village where having electricity would be a distant dream.  After about forty-five minutes of the bumpy ride, the dirt road gave way to a narrower mud road that led us to one of the homes of the district judge, Agnetia’s father.

As we walked towards the concrete house that sat behind a mostly manicured lawn, I asked the director how one greets in Lugisu, the local language spoken in the slopes of Mount Elgon.  The director, a musoga–a Lusoga speaker, said he was a muzungu like us in these parts.  After a satisfactory snack of a chappati, a sliver of fatty meat–I placed on Fractal’s aluminum tray–and Fanta we hiked a hill to Katherine’s (Agnetia’s friend) introduction ceremony.

After we arrived at our destination three hours late, we waited patiently in a line with the groom’s side awaiting permission from the bride’s folks, who were waiting for couple of hours, to enter through the ribboned arch gate.  During the ten-minute wait, I took pictures of the uninvited spectators, mostly children, who gathered around the tents to watch the betrothal.

After we were seated right up front next to the groom, we watched tweens and teens wrapped in six-yard striped kanga, East African counterpart of the pareo, sway and dance their way to the middle of the yard. Escorted by her bridesmaids, the bride pranced to the audience’s view in her glittering gomesi to greet her beloved and his family.  After the greetings, the elders took a forty-five minute break to discuss the dowry, the bride price that the groom gives to the bride’s family.  Following the lengthy deliberation, the groom’s folks presented the bride with numerous gifts.  The kneeling bride and the standing groom exchanged rings after she accepted the cargo of goods.  The bride and the groom cut a cake with cemented white icing cake and hugged each other, the only physical display of affection during the entire ceremony.

After the short two-hour ceremony, we were soon ushered into a kerosene lantern-lit room reserved for close family members and friends to eat dinner.  Like many other Ugandans who show disbelief when they hear that I don’t eat meat,  and ask whether I eat chicken, Agnetia apologetically handed me a bowl of steamed matooke and an oily bean soup.  Outfitted with a headlamp to help maneuver the beans through the oil in dim lighting, I scooped small spoonfuls of matooke and beans with REI’s Light my Fire spoons we brought along.  With our stomachs full of matooke, we finally met the newly betrothed a few minutes before we departed from the modest home.

Swinging the headlamp to provide lighting for people behind me, we traversed our way down the trecherous muddy hill and gradually trekked our way down to the front yard of Agnetia’s ancestral home.  The director and his wife jokingly told us that it was too early to return home and they were taking us dancing before they dropped us off at our home at one in the morning.  We sincerely thanked them for the ride.  Craving for more mountain air, we waved them goodbye and were glad the free ride was worthwhile.

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2 Responses to “The free ride”

  1. hasse Halley said

    Wow, what a night…Oh what a night. Time seems of no importance so different from America.

  2. hasse Halley said

    PS: there is no such thing as a free ride or a free lunch.

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