It was dark as I stepped off the plane onto the towering staircase that had been rolled up to the plane. Nearing 8 PM, it was already dark, and snowflakes floated in the air above the tarmac. The blast of warm, humid air on my face quickly snapped me from the illusion and reminded me that I was no longer in wintry Iowa; the flurries I saw floating in the air were not snowflakes at all, but insects drawn to the glow of lampposts.
As I make my way down the steps and into the door marked “Arrivals” at Entebbe International Airport I suddenly regret drinking that last cup of tea shortly before landing. The line through customs is long as the majority of the passengers on our flight are not Ugandan residents and must get their visas for entry, which means my trip to the bathroom will be delayed. Finally my turn comes. I hand over my customs form, pay $50, get my visa, and detour to the bathroom before heading to the baggage carosel.
I wheel my bags towards the exit, stopping at the ATM to get some Ugandan Shillings, so I can pay the taxi driver that will take me to Stan and Pam Lincoln’s. There are a couple dozen men holding placards with names of individuals and motels as I make my way outside. Finally there is one with my name. Making eye contact with the driver I smile and begin walking toward him. “Lawrence?” I ask.
We make our way through the dim parking lot to a Toyota van. Lawrence opens the door and we load my things. I almost get in on the wrong side of the vehicle. Uganda was colonized by Great Britain, so in the British style, cars have their steering wheels on the right side.
At first the road does not seem busy. Then, a few miles from the airport, things spring to life. Restaurants, motels, gas stations, and bars line the road. We pass countless open-front shops selling everything from food to clothing to cell phones to pirated DVDs. The landscape seems to repeat itself along our route in a scene that is strangely both third-world and modern. A thick, hazy smoke clouds the air and wafts it’s way into my nostrils.
Lawrence has been driving MAF staff members for years. He’s a married man with three kids. I’ve only known the man for mere minutes, but it occurs to me that I trust him with my life. While the vehicles might be British in style, the driving rules are clearly not the same here. Sure, everyone drives on the left side of the road…mostly. Other than that there don’t seem to be any rules. Right-of-way seems to be determined by one of three things: size, speed, or tenacity of the driver. Other vehicles whip around us. Most of them are trucks or SUVs, but there are several boda-bodas, or motorcycle taxis, that weave in and out of the other vehicles as well. Dozens of time we come within arm’s length of running into other travelers as we zip down the road, but the whole time Lawrence remains in control.
We arrived unscathed at the Lincoln residence. Stan is the maintenance specialist for the MAF’s east Congo program, but he and his wife Pam are based in Uganda. We honk at the gate and Pam lets us inside their walled yard. My bags unloaded, I pay Lawrence 60,000 shillings (about $28) for the hour-long ride and walk inside the house.
I chat briefly with Stan and Pam about the flight, the taxi ride, and various other things. Pam offers to heat me up some food, but first I decide to take a shower. The water is fed from an tank outside the house. City water generally fills the tank at night and it is elevated to provide the needed pressure to make it flow into the house. Before I go to wash up I’m warned of rule number one: don’t drink the water!
It feels good to be clean, and I enjoy a meal of rice topped with ground beef, a locally-available barbecue sauce, and other tasty ingredients. I sip on some bottled water and talk with Pam awhile before retiring for the night around 11 PM, exhausted from the seemingly endless flight. By this point I have had an interesting first few hours in Africa, and I’m loving it!