I used to get very overwhelmed when going into public. In Uganda, it is sensory overload to be a muzungu on a busy street. The sensory overload coupled with fatigue and overwhelm of the new sights, smells etc. left me exhausted at the end of the day. Often, I have longed for the peace and novelty of being lost in a crowd, a nobody in the street among strangers bustling here or there.
There is the strange tightening in the chest as a street vendor demands you to purchase his meat on a stick. I don’t want it. Especially after remembering Montezuma’s revenge the last time I ate mystery meat. But he insists. What shall I do?
There are locations along the road to Jinja that are crowded with street vendors and every vehicle that slows gets mobbed by street vendors offering soda, water and all kinds of food. It always tickles my funny bone to watch from a distance. I see a large group of vendors sprinting top speed after a slowing vehicle while balancing a box of drinks a handful of meat skewers or snacks. The event looks comical, while the reality behind it could be more grave. Those who cannot run don’t get an income. Yet because I never want to be the object of attention in that situation, I have never dared to stop. If I stop, there will be 3 to 4 eager faces inside the window to my vehicle, discussing the purchase of snacks at that proximity is a bit unnerving.
Yet the situation, the funny interplay between cultures could also get quite humorous if one is willing.
I am on the way to work. Yet I hope to purchase a coffee across the street. I’m struggling to find a spot to cross. The taxi conductor sees me from across the street and decides I am a worthy client. He begins to shout at me. Yes, shout.
“You are going to Kiyunga!”
Then he runs across the street at me as bodas slow or stop in front of me also trying to gain a client. Me.
“Where are you going?” he demands.
I point and say, “I am crossing the street.” At this point I used to get annoyed by the circus I have become. But today I choose joy.
So, I look at the aging balding conductor and add, “yes, I’m only crossing the street, would you like to escort me?” I smile and muster a small laugh, so he knows I am joking with him. But he is serious, he grabs my arm and we cross the street. He is stopping other taxis and bodas in the road. I continue on my way, laughing, I thank him as I ignore 3 more boda drivers waving for my attention.