adventures in busia

date: 3 january, 2010.
location: border crossing, busia (uganda to kenya)
time: around 7p
status: epic

it had been a long day.
and all i wanted was a shower and some water.
but this was still a long time in coming.

what possessed me to set my my cellphone alarm-clock tone to the speaking clock, i have no idea.
it had never really bothered me until this very morning, though, and i was pondering my sanity as she spoke to me in her randomly-pausing-computer voice, “its time to get up, it. is. two. thirty. a.m…its time to get up…”

bishop dropped we two travelers at the bus at 3a.
and we were on our way south by 330.
i wish that i could tell you that the ride was smooth, and timely.
but it wasn’t.
this is the bush we’re talking about here, and road travel takes at least twice as long as it “should” when the roads are dirt, corrugated beyond recognition from the massive world-food-program lorrys (semis) and generally unattended to.

also, it was cold.
the man in front of us left his window all the way open for most of the journey and we were unprepared for the chill in the air with one fleece between the two of us. we huddled together fighting for warmth and slept/prayed to keep the reality of the fear we should be in for traveling in such a manner away.

but we reached. in one piece.
busia.
a town that probably wouldn’t exist to its extent if it weren’t a popular border crossing from uganda to kenya.
i had been through this border twice before, but always on a bus continuing on into kenya. this time, however, our gateway bus was staying in uganda.

we were deposited onto the street a few kilometers from the border.
two backpacks, two girls, two extra bags, one guide book, three healthy feet and one broken-booted-foot, and a heap of gumption.

being resourceful, i asked the conductor of the bus “which way to the border.”
now, being two white girls in east-africa, we tend to draw attention to ourselves without even trying.
and sometimes this means that people are a little overly helpful.
this is one of those sometimes.

a woman who works for the bus company was put in charge of us–and she was pushy–so we stuck with her.

she REALLY wanted us to get on bicycle-bodas (you sit on the back, the boy on the front pedals you where you want to go). but i REALLY HATE bicycle bodas, especially with luggage. (this is one of the quickest ways for me to feel fat. put me on a bicycle boda. then not only do i feel fat, but i feel guilty for making this poor person work so hard to take me somewhere i could probably have walked…)

not to mention that mel had never ridden a bicycle boda. and its actually not all too easy (i dont’ think) until you get the hang of someone else cycling you along, especially with a pack. and, oh yes, a broken foot. this wasn’t an option.

i stressed this over and over and over to our guide, who just wasn’t buying it.
but then, saving grace, she mentioned that she needed to help this other woman change some money, and that she too needed to change some ugandan shilings to kenyan shillings.
i leaped on that chance, “ME TOO.”

this worked like a charm (and was true) and we were able to walk away from the bicycle bodas.
as we walked to where we were going to change money, i made sure to stress to our helper that bicycle bodas were a really bad idea for us. probably over-stressing the broken foot, but i’m shameless, what can i say.

we changed money, kind of shadily, in a back-ally sort of setting, from a man who just had massive wads of cash. (he did the math in his head. i checked it on my phone’s calculator. he was perfectly right. dang.)

it seemed that the point of NO BICYCLE BODAS finally hit home. as we finished changing money, we were lead to a stage of motorcycle bodas. i remember my first boda ride. i was petrified. (kampala city traffic, sitting side-saddle in a skirt, hanging on for dear life.) and therefore had sympathy for mel’s first boda ride. a shared denominator of both of our first boda experiences-we were given about 3 seconds to get used to the idea. and we both came through unscathed.

we kept asking and asking how far it was to the border, and “can’t we just walk there?” and kept being told, “ah, but it is so far!”
so as we settled on taking bodas and mel was ascending her boda i stepped around to confront her driver.

i looked him directly in the eyes and said in my best listen-to-me-or-else voice, “pole. pole. or no money. money. got me?”
his eyes the size of saucers, he nodded vigorously. to drive the point home i pointed to mel’s booted-foot and said, “broken. if you hurt, no. money.” more vigorous nodding.

what ensued after this interaction was the slowest and most civilized boda experience i have ever had.
delight.
all bodas were paid, and all were happy.

we crossed the border.
and different story for a different day, involving cutting in line, not standing in line and making our own line…

after our passports were stamped and we were walking into kenya to find more bodas to take us to our hotel i noticed something about our guide. she seemed to know a lot of people. yes, she crosses this border a lot (she works for gateway bus company and lives in kenya… running this route a lot) but the. uh. types of people she seemed to know struck me as. shady. i mean, interesting. lots of shady, i mean, interesting, men.

apparently, our the hotel we had chosen from the lonely planet book didn’t exist anymore. (this happened to us several times on this trip. time to update, lp, hardcore. be looking for my email soon…) so, being ever-so-kind our helper took us to one that she knew.

thus began the look-at-the-room-before-saying-yes game that we played all through our travels. (a good game to play, by the way. you can always ask for another room or just say “NO”.) it was a nice room. the step up into the bathroom was a good 2 feet up (one step…very tall) but, it was nice enough, so we said, “okay.”

remember at the beginning of this post when i said all i wanted was some water and a shower? and how it was a long time in coming? it was still a long time in coming. both of those things.

i mentioned that i wanted water–but the restaurant was closed already.
instead of having faith in my ability to walk somewhere to purchase water, the woman who had been helping us this entire time took my money and went to a)find water for me and b)pay our room bill. while i do appreciate hospitality and a little help now and again, i do not like being treated like i’m incompetent or unable to do things for myself. but, we managed.

she returned from somewhere with water, our change and our receipt for the hotel.
i thought that surely now i would be able to wash the dust off my body and stretch out to realign my back from sitting on that blasted bus. all. freaking. day.

but. no.

apparently it was our turn to be hospitable and share our room with this woman.
first she asked if she could take a ‘short call’ in the wash room.
sure, no problem.
upon exiting the washroom, however, she shocked us both by just lounging around on the bed.
talking about her boyfriend and how they had spent a night in this hotel before.
talking about her children-who didn’t know she was going to be coming home. (i still haven’t figured out if this was a hint for her to stay with us or what. but she mentioned the fact that they didn’t know she was coming SEVERAL times.)
talking about. lots of stuff.
after about thirty minutes i finally said, “okay, well. now. we are going to have to chase you away for now because we would like to bathe and go to bed.”

“you go bathe.”
“uh. but we really just want to sleep.”
“you go bathe one at a time and i will keep you company.”
“no.” (oops that was rude, i thought. and ‘did i really sound that forceful when i just said that?’ oops.)
short awkward silence.
“so you want to chase me away?”
“yes.” (no hesitation. what.so.ever.)
this interchange DID end amicably. i promise.
“okay.”

she then threatened. er. promised to be back the next day to help us figure out the buses.
again with the too-much-help-thing but i could NOT convince her that we would be able to figure this out on our own.
“i do this all the time.” “i know how to board a bus.” “we know where we’re going.”
no dice. she was coming back, AND she wanted to bring her toddler with her as well. awesome.

FINALLY we were on our own and able to shower and relax… only guessing what the next day would bring…

(for the dense among you, thats the “to be continued…” warning)

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some ramblings on travel and companions

one does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore.” -andre jide

some people are crippled or hampered by fear of the unknown, especially when it comes to traveling. and maybe especially so in a place like east-africa with nothing more than a backpack, travel guide, minimal local language, only a vague travel itinerary, and a few shillings in ones pocket…

“the border means more than a custom house, a passport officer, a man with a gun. over there everything is going to be different; life is never going to be the same again after your passport has been stamped.” -grahm greene

i remember when i came home from my first international trip, (i was 16? 17?) and seeing my parents. i don’t remember if it was the first thing that my mom said, but it was one of the first, but this comment struck a chord, and continues to to when i think about traveling: “you look different.” and i said, “how so?” “i don’t know… you just look different.”

i had been changed. life was never going to be the same again.

it was europe. it was during a summer holiday (10 whole days) and it was with a large group of students from my high school and our chaperones. but i was forever changed by this little jaunt to england, ireland, scotland and wales. i had the travel bug. and this travel bug became travel-sickness which has ripened over the past 10 years (oh.my.) into an incurable wanderlust leading me around the world and into interesting places.

one of my favorite benefits from this wander-lusting are people.
the people i travel with. the people we meet. (fellow travelers… the people whose places we are visiting for whatever reason) the people i observe. (massive tourist groups fascinate me in a i-want-to-study-you-anthropologically/sociologically kind of way…)

if you want to walk fast, go alone. if you want to walk far, go together. -african proverb

as an introvert, i sometimes like to travel alone.
as a lover of people and friends and relationships, sometimes i like to travel with friends.

however, i have found, that even when i travel alone–those connections of walking together are made.
a shared cab from the airport with a fellow backpacker…
a shared breakfast at the hostel with a new friend…
shared confusion over where to stand in line for the ferry…
conversations start–relationships are formed
blog address/facebook names exchanged.

come walk with us the journey is long – hymn

traveling with friends always does something interesting to the friendship.
you see a side of the person that perhaps you hadn’t before–or, if nothing else, you are exposed to the realities of the real person for longer periods of time than one would in a day-to-day interaction.

i have been lucky.
my travel companions over the years–be they old friends by the time the journey starts, or new-friends-that-feel-like-old-friends by the end of the journey–have been. well. wonderful.
i’ve never had to fight for sharing the guidebook.
never traveled with someone i didn’t trust with my belongings or my life. (a real consideration in some of my travels.)

AND i have always wanted to remain friends with whomever i had traveled with.

there really is just something about traveling together. (figuratively and literally.)

…because friendship is genuine only when you bind fast together people who cleave to [god] through the charity poured abroad in our hearts by the holy spirit who is given to us. -saint augstine:the confessions [58]