Ahh, to escape the relentless demands of Bundibugyo for Kampala, the big city with cappuccino, air conditioning, malls and a movie theater. Or not.
Kampala is a city of 3 million people and maybe 5 million cars, motorcycles, and buses? Seems that way, anyway. My battleground: the gnarly gridlocked streets. My objective: passport pages, dog vaccine, annual park passes, grocery shopping, and a truck tune-up. Not a glorious life-saving agenda, but mundane stuff nevertheless which needs to get done.
Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa, graced our capital with his presence for the past two days. As usual, the elite live and move at the expense of everyman. Road closures all over the city facilitate easy movement of the big dogs while every intersection chokes to stagnation. Walkers outpace cars—easily. The only way to really make progress in this situation is to hop on a "boda-boda" motorcyle. These scooter taxis weave between the clogged cars, zoom wrong-way down on-coming traffic, and jump onto sidewalks in order to speed their passengers towards their destinations. Some say that their proliferation is a reflection of the failure of the public transport system. Jonah always warned me against riding them. "You're not likely to die while riding one… only get maimed for life." That statement came after his trauma rotation in Mulago Hospital where the orthopedic service runs something akin to the civil war era practice of hacksaw amputations. So, I advise my team against riding them. Do as I say, not as I do. Today, with 2 days of errands to do in one day and my truck in the garage, I rode several miles through the horn- honking, mud-splashing, dog-eat-dog, might-makes-right, pot-holed roads of the "City-of-Seven Hills" on several—and lived to tell the tale.
My first stop- the USA Embassy. Their progressive "on-line appointment system" nearly thwarted me, but I planned a week ahead and got the last appointment available during the two days I am in Kampala. I was thankful and snatched it up. Now with our frequent RVA-related trips to Kenya and the fact that all the East African states use full-page stickers for their visas, our passport pages are eaten up in a hurry. Jennifer's passport is down to only three free pages. With a trip to Kenya and then on to Greece in May for our Triennial WHM Retreat coming up --she needs more pages. I planned ahead enough to get the appointment, but did not anticipate that I would be sent away from the embassy because Jennifer was not present to sign the application herself to GET MORE BLANK PAGES. It's not like I was trying to change her name or something…all we wanted was more blank pages. So, now we must return a day early on our way out in May, spend an extra nights lodging expense so that she can get do what? Get more blank pages. Sigh.
Next—five miles across town to the university small animal clinic where I got vaccine for our dog. I could tell by the way that they looked at me that they were prepared to refuse to give me the vaccine until I pulled out my handy-dandy collapsible cooler with a pre-frozen ice pack inside. This time the preparation resulted in achieving the desired objective. Score.
Next…the park passes. We pay a flat annual fee for special passes which allow us unlimited access to every national park in Uganda. The tricky part—I only remembered this task at midday. The application requires passport photos from each applicant. Without any of the family along, I resorted to hacking family photos from my laptop. So, back across Kampala to the guest house to grab the computer, cut and paste some head shots into a one-page 8x10 for printing, go back across town to a photo finisher, wait for the photos to print and then across town to get to the Uganda Wildlife Authority before closing. Non-traditional passports accepted, application completed, US dollars in my wallet enough. Done. Made it back across town before the garage gate closed and got our truck, now ready for another 3000 bruising kilometers before the next tune-up.
This morning these mundane errands seemed to require a Herculean effort to overcome the life-sucking traffic jams and the finger- wagging bureaucrats in pursuit of my ordinary goals. Though my spirit felt like it was ready to boil over from anger at midday, this evening I have returned to the psalms and the sacred sorrows there. It is where we see adversity acknowledged and articulated…and eventually set aside as it is put in perspective. The "vav"—the signal of the switch in gears from lamentation to worship—signifies the heart acknowledgement that everything pales to nothingness compared to the living God. Just wish I could see that big picture a little easier when I'm in the thick of it all…