Uganda - through dust tinted spectacles

By Frances Green from Monmouth

Last updated at 17:44 09 June 2008

The red dust flew up from the minibus wheels and literally gave us 'rose tinted glasses' throughout our journey. The whole journey from Kanpala to Soroti and back was shrouded in red dust. So was our luggage.

Beyond the dust though lay verdant countryside. Someone said if you plant a stick in Uganda you'll have a tree by morning. The piles of pineapples and bananas at the road side stalls and the cassava plants drying in the sun were proof that there was abundant food despite the poverty.

Kampala is a busy city with heavy traffic and a mass of roadside stalls selling everything from meat to coffins. Eventually after passing tea and sugar cane plantations (which are encroaching on the rainforest) we reached Jinja and the source of the Nile.

From our balcony at the Sunset Hotel we could see the trains trundling over the bridge across the river, the Nile Brewery and the Nike factory. As darkness fell fishermen came out in boats with lanterns, maybe catching Nile perch for our supper.

The source itself is unremarkable as the Owen Falls Dam has created a lake where it once was, but you feel you ought to see it while you're there. It's not the sort of place you might pass too often.


Jinja itself has the look of a wild west town without John Wayne and the horses. People ply their trade on the long main street. You can buy meat, roasted sweetcorn, fabrics for sewing, vegetables, craft items, or have a dress made. The town suffered under the Amin years but is on the map as a tourist town for it is here that you can shoot the rapids on the Nile or go bungee jumping perhaps. I didn't – but I could have done if I so desired!

We were heading further north and in our boneshaker minibus we next stopped at Mbale. The town has some substantial buildings, some remaining from the colonial era and the rather gracious Mount Elgon Hotel definitely has the feeling of an earlier time.

Thatched huts in the garden provide shade for diners who can gaze out on Mount Elgon while they eat and plan their trip to the Sipi Falls. We look, we plan but we must press on to Soroti.

As we jolt along the corrugated roads, criss-crossing the railway line, we can see the countryside change. Now there is rolling grassland and the number of herds of cattle tended by loan boys increases.

Eventually, we reach the bridge which was swept away in last Octobers floods, drive through the rutted mud and finally arrive in Soroti. Passing a taxi rank under a tree, bicycle taxis that is, we lurch onto the track past the prison and into the compound which will be our base for the next few days.

Dust apart, our most vivid memory is of the people. 'You are welcome, most welcome' they say as they greet us and you feel they mean it.

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