I took this snap out the window of the post bus in Uganda. It was 2011 and I was heading north to Gulu to work with the amazing organization Krochet Kids.
The post bus is a neat little transport system. To ride from Kampala to Gulu, you pay 20,000 shillings (which equates to about $7 or somewhere around there, it’s been a few years for me) and ride in a motor coach while the mail is carried in the luggage compartment. Basically, the passengers pay to deliver the mail through Uganda. When you think about that system, it’s really smart. The post bus also tends to be one of the safer bus systems – although this doesn’t always say much.
At 7 a.m., you pull up to the main post office in Kampala on Juba Road. You let the resident dog sniff your bags, you wait in a line of people until they decide to finally open the doors and then you rush for a seat while the conductor yells at you to hurry up and get seated. They turn on a Nollywood movie (Nigerian Hollywood) or blast incredibly loud but uplifting African tunes like Bracket’s ‘Yori Yori’ or during my year, the infamous ‘Ashawo’.
If all is right in the world, the jams in Kampala have not yet started to accumulate and the bus will make it relatively unstopped until the last market and roundabout that leads out of Kampala and down Gulu Highway.
Seven hours of what feels like teetering break neck speeds, blasting the horn to push cars out-of-the-way, stopping at small village post stands, tossing chickens into the undercarriage, buying chapati out of the window, counting baboons, crossing over the Nile, and wishing you had taken advantage of the bathroom at the Murchison Falls stop, takes you to the last major town in Uganda before you venture in to South Sudan.
The air is more dry, the roads are more dusty, the vegetation is more sparse, the buildings more quaint and the hills of Kampala are down to small inclines. The post bus drops you at the Gulu post office. From there, you can hail a bodaboda (motorcycle taxi) or just foot it to wherever you need to be.
In 2011, I had an iPhone for no purpose other than snapping photos and waiting three hours or a YouTube video to upload on slow wifi only to accidentally disconnect (we’ve all been there…am I right?). I couldn’t get it unlocked to use it as an actual phone and found myself falling in love with having an old Nokia punch button mobile with no bells and whistles. Yup, one day I will tell about the two years I ditched my smart phone and how much I loved it. Then, I will tell you about the day I got a new smart phone…and how much I love it (and the three that have come since then).
Anyway, I digress. When you’re on the post bus, it’s such an experience. The countryside of Uganda is breathtaking. It’s unspoiled and abundant. You will see African parrots flying in between the heavy leaves of a banana plantation, baboons playing leapfrog near the bridge that covers the raging Nile, fog lifting from the fertile soil and casting the hills in such a grand mystery that you wonder if a Silverback may pop out at any moment. They won’t, they’re quite far over the West, but my imagination always runs rampant with thoughts of what I would love to see.
Basically, when I travel, I hold my phone to the window (at a slight angle to avoid distortion) and snap away. When I get off whatever mode of transport I’m on, in whatever city I’m in, headed to whatever final destination I’m looking for, I spend the first hour or so thumbing through what pops up in those photos I didn’t know I actually took.
When I saw this stunner, I just stared. Gulu was the seat of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) and has experienced some horrific events. In the few months I called it home, we had an epidemic of newborn sacrifices and there is also the relatively well-known trade in humans – sexual and ‘orphans’. Unfortunately, children don’t always get a chance for a basic life in areas that were torn apart, where people are desperate for hope, and where that hope comes in selling them – to someone’s pleasure for a meal or to someone’s dorm so they can be purchased for thousands more at a later time with a sad story about being an orphan.
Defilement can mean so many things – destroying a sacred place, polluting a location, or destroying the sanctity of a person. To randomly catch this sign with this sweet school child behind it in the distance was almost an omen of what my five years working in Uganda would be dealing with.
The children that would come in and out of my school or in and out of my life would leave a lasting impression. I remember their faces the best – even if they were just a fluke in a passing photo as I careened down the road like an out of control red rocket carrying a few stray pieces of mail.
Also published on Medium.