My Time In Mbale

Tomorrow, Friday 11/2/18, I leave Jinja for Bundibugy but today I had enough downtime to catch you up a little on my time in Mbale.

The trip to Mbale started out kind of sketchy and it stayed sketchy all the way to Mbale. My bus to Kampala was the best bus that I’ve ever been on in Africa so of course the bus leaving is the worst bus that I’ve ever been on in Africa, and that’s saying a lot! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I say good bye to Reverend Medad, his wife and his staff at his office then the bishop, who got us lost three times, is now in charge of getting me on the right bus for Mbala.

Now getting on bus in Kampala is a trip. First, you have what, at first, seems like a hundred Africans all yelling at you in a language that is a mix of two to ten languages, or a least it seems that way. All I know is that I have no idea what they are yelling at me. It’s not really a hundred; it’s just eight or ten. Some are trying to steer you onto a bus, others want to help you with your bags, for which you will have to pay and you will pay the white guy price. Now everybody is rushing you and you’re hoping that you get on the right bus. I actually got on the WRONG BUS WITH AN AFRICAN TRAVELING WITH ME and had to stop the bus and get on another bus, so it’s a little crazy.

So here we go, 30 minutes to the bus park, yea right. I’m trying to catch a bus at around 12 and we don’t even get started until 11:45. The young man that’s driving us doesn’t know where the bus park is but my guide, the bishop that gets lost a lot, knows the way. WE ARE GOING ALL THE WAY ACROSS Kampala!!!! Oh this is going to be interesting to say the least. We are about 30 minutes in and the driver takes a left turn and the bishop looks up from his phone and says wrong way should have turned right. (Oh Lord, please get off the phone.) It takes 15 minutes to get back to where we should have taken a right. Kampala traffic makes Atlanta traffic at rush hour look like an empty parking lot. Not going to make that 12 o’clock bus now are we?

1:15 we pull into the bus park. Now a bus park is where the buses all park waiting to fill up and get on they’re way. Now, I know you’re wondering why I telling you this. Well, let me explain. At these bus parks, there are anywhere from 10 to 20 buses all trying to fill each seat before they take off. They don’t leave until the bus is full. That’s why there are all these guys trying to cram you on a bus; the bus company pays them to fill their buses as fast as possible. That’s where the 8 to 10 guys come in, now that’s 8 to 10 per bus, so yes, it’s kind of crazy at best.

So we pull in and get mobbed.  Bishop jumps out and starts yelling right along with the rest of these guys then he starts yelling at me to get out and hurry. Now there are guys yelling at a bus that’s pulling out trying to stop it and guys are grabbing at my bags yelling and pointing at the bus which is stopping, kind of, I don’t think that it ever completely stopped. Bishop is yelling, everybody is yelling at each other and at me. Now at this point I almost started to just say the heck with it and start yelling with everybody just to see what would happen. The only thing stopping me was that I could think, for all the yelling, of anything to yell. Some guy starts wanting money for my ticket and another guy is wanting money for my bags. I think and hope that I’m hearing bishop yelling for me to pay the man and get on the bus, so I pay both guys and one grabs my bags while the other guy  grabs me and we run down the bus, jump on, and I’m on my way to Mbala, I hope. Now that I’m on the bus, all the yelling stops and I grab the guy taking up money for tickets and ask the question, “Is this bus going to Mbale?” Thank you Jesus he says yes.

Now at this point, I realize that this is the worst bus that I’ve ever seen or been on. All of the seats are torn and coming apart so they’ve put clear plastic covers over them, not to protect them but try and keep them from falling apart. It’s not working very well. My seat has been bent or broken down in the front so you are slipping off your seat, especially each time you hit a bump or the driver hits the breaks. Remember the speed breakers? Oh yea, this is going to be fun. Very quickly, I discover that the driver is a perfect match for the bus.  Bishop Gogo told me to take this bus line (YA YA. No that’s for real.) this time because it was the best. Are you kidding me? What would the worst be like? Truly another, I’m-in-Christ it’s-His-story moment.

So here we go, fighting our way through Kampala traffic stop and go. Yep I’m really enjoying this seat; reminds me of a song something about “slip sliding away”. Soon I discover that I’m ill prepared for this bus trip. I had packed in a hurry and every single thing that might have made this trip more bearable was packed in one of my suitcases; no headphones, no pillow, no nothing. I would beat my head against the sear in front of me for being so stupid except that the bus driver is already doing that for me. “Slip sliding away…” I wish I could remember more of that song because that part is stuck in my head.

Now we are just starting to get to the edge of Kampala and my knees are already getting sore from slamming into the seat in front of me. Anyway, we are starting to move along without stopping every few feet and I’m starting pick up a little rhythm with the whole slipping and sliding thing. Finally, we are out of Kampala and on the road to Mbale. The road to Jinja and Mbale is a major road which is usually in fair shape, just with a million speed bumps but for some reason, our bus driver decides that getting off the main road onto a dirt road that seems to run through the old market area. Calling this a dirt road is a bit of a stretch; it’s mostly just pot holes and washed out ruts, speed bumps aren’t so bad now that I think about it. After 20 minutes of feeling like I’m a bean in a child’s rattle, I guess the driver has had his fun with us so we get back on the regular road. TIA.

We finally get to Jinja which is always really cool; it’s here that the Nile river has its beginnings, on the right is Lake Victoria and on the left is the Nile river.  Now we are on our way to Mbale.  The last time I went to Mbale the road was in pretty good shape but I was in for a surprise this trip. They are working on the road so now it’s short sections, very short, of paved and then longer sections of torn up dirt. (Little did I know at the time that it was just practice for the next couple of weeks.) Finally, I’m back in what seems to be my African home, Mbale!

It’s great to be back with Bishop Gogo and Mabel. They’ve done a lot of work on their house and their compound. Yep, it’s good to be back.

I got one day of rest and then it’s on the road again, so much for time in Mbale. We are off and Bishop Gogo is doing the driving. Now I love Bishop Gogo but he needs to stick to being a bishop. I’ve renamed him Bishop slowly, slowly. The only thing that’s not passing us is the bicycles!!! And a couple of them almost did. Oh man this is going to be a long ride and as usual I’ve only got a vague idea of where we going.

I just thought that the road to Mbale was bad, it’s all relative. At first the road was pretty good but that was just teasing me into thinking that, other that going slowly, slowly, this wouldn’t be too bad. WRONG! We come to the end of the good road and now we are on a dirt road which they are making it into a much larger paved road. We are close to the Uganda/Kenya border and there is a lot of trucks going back and forth. The Chinese are building this road and it’s a trip. I think that they are having fun with making everybody miserable; to say that it’s a mess is a real understatement. Between the Chinese and the rain, it’s rainy season, on one section the road it’s just 1 inch thick mud, really, really slick mud. Thank God there weren’t any trucks or bus on this section while we were on it. There were plenty of Boda bodas which were sliding and having trouble staying upright. If one of them in front of us losses it and goes down, there is no way that we will be able to keep from running over them. New lessons on prayer.

After 2 hours of mud roads, we reach a section that is almost finished and bishop slowly, slowly, I mean Gogo, says we are here. I’ve learned that that kind of mean that you’re somewhere but not necessary where you will end up. Yep, that’s the case here. We are where we will be staying for the next three days visiting a school and churches in the area.

We do find the place that we will be staying, it’s one of the church members home, then we find where they meet for church and want to build a church building. There are a couple of houses close together. We are staying in one which is fairly new. It has just 3 rooms with a room for taking a bath. No electricity or water but it’s clean and I have a real bed; it’s an African bed but still a bed. The other houses seem to have 6-8 people staying in them.

The boss of all of this is an old lady that they call “that old lady”. She keeps everything moving in the direction that she wants it to move in. We stop to meet her, have tea and a snack, ground nuts (which are peanuts). This old woman looks like she could be over ninety so I ask her how old she is and she said 57! So I told her that she was still young and that I was the one that was old. When I told her how old I was, we all had a good laugh. For some reason she thought that that was really funny and she was still laughing as she walked away.

Setting off again, the almost finished road lasts for about a 1/4 mile before we turn off onto another dirt road headed to the school. I’m not sure how far it was to the school since I’ve found that a dirt road may seem like its 10-15 miles long but it’s actually only half of that. Distant is really hard to guess when you are just trying to not have what little of your brains you have left beat out against the roof or sides of the car.  When we stop and they say we’re here, it takes me a few minutes before I can stop my eyes from bouncing around in my head and focus enough to actually be able to see where here is. They tell me that there are about 200 students at this school but, since my eyes are still twitching and I seem to have a little double vision still, it looks more like 500 to me.

This is a school that was started by another group but now they are asking for our church to kind of take it over to help them to keep it going. It is a kindergarten through primary, which they call p7 and is like our 7th grade. Most of these kids are orphans from HIV and handicap kids with only a few local children, so they are poor and the school is struggling to stay opened. Most of the teachers are young men in their twenties teaching for almost no pay.

I had a great time with all of the kids singing and dancing, by the way, Africans of all ages LOVE to sing and dance. They kicked up a lot of dust! For me this is where my brain starts shutting down and I get a kind of mental tunnel vision, otherwise I’d just be in tears and totally useless. I also start fantasizing about winning the lottery. I have to remember that they are in God’s hands, which is far better than being in my hands even if I won the lottery. Sometimes this faith stuff gets hard and really real.

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