By Samantha Bailey
I would never have imagined that I would be spending my XXth birthday at the source of the Nile in Jinja, Uganda. Our first week in Uganda was an exhausting five days of client interaction, and by the weekend we were ready to leave Kampala for some fresh air. We decided to use the mutatos, shared 14-passenger vans, to travel to and from Jinja, a journey of about two hours each way. The mutato station was an amazing paradox of chaos and organization. Scores of mutatos crowded into the station in queues which extended out of the entrances and clogged the downtown streets. At the head of each queue, the first mutato took off for its destination as soon as it was full of passengers. We easily found the sign for Jinja and were departing the station within a few short minutes.
On the road, we watched dusty city quickly change to lush farmland, as acre after acre of plantains, teas, coffees, and sugarcane rushed past our windows. By lunchtime we were crossing the hydroelectric dam which taps into the power of the Nile and supplies a large portion of the electricity used in Uganda’s urban areas. We debarked at Jinja’s mutato station and began to wander the small town in search of a music festival that was supposed to be happening. No one had heard of it. We decided to check into our hotel and try to get some information there.
Our hotel was a lovely hideaway 8 kilometers outside of town set against some breathtaking views of the Nile. There was a cascade of white water rapids named Bujagali Falls, and we were tempted by the ads for rafting and kayaking, but we feared the parasites in the water more. Our lodging would be in one of the six-person bungalows, and the other Uganda TEM Lab team would be staying immediately next to us. My team gave me a very special birthday gift; they allowed me to stay alone in the loft while they shared the beds on the first floor.
After waiting out a quick but heavy rain storm, we called a taxi to take us back into Jinja for the alleged music festival. On the bumpy dirt road, our driver tried to pull a fast move by swerving around some slower vehicles. Instead, he bottomed out and tore his fuel line, and we rumbled to a stop in front of the few huts lining the road. There was no hope of rescue, so our resourceful driver propped up the car with a jack and got to work. Across the road, all the children in the neighborhood had gathered to shout “Mzungu” at us and mock us by pretending to hold cameras up to their eyes and snap photos. To our amazement and relief, our driver was able to tie up his fuel line with a ribbon he had found on the ground, and we made it without further incident to Jinja Town.
The other team confirmed that there was indeed a music festival, and we soon met them and went in. Ugandans of all ages and many foreigners were swarming about from demonstration to demonstration in order to see and hear the different types of local dance and music. There was one table where some men were playing a local gambling game with dice. David O’Connor decided to try his luck at the table. Although we were all supporting him, and even some of the Ugandans were rooting for him, he just couldn’t catch a break.
As the stars came out above us and the music paused for some local comedians to take the main stage, five exhausted Mzungus retreated to our fully repaired taxi for the ride back to the resort. Everyone except for a sleeping Bayo Adebiyi gathered in our bungalow for some last laughs and a birthday toast before we turned in under our mosquito nets and the sound of the rain on our roof.