Moments from a trip to Africa

Published December 1, 2002

The major airport in Uganda is at Entebbe, half an hour from the capital, Kampala. Driving along the highway to the city, I?m struck by the huge number of people walking alongside the road, pedalling bicycles (sometimes with women riding sidesaddle, babies riding on the handlebars) or riding small motorcycles. It?s just before midnight and the road is filled with people. All sorts of shops are still open. A man sits in a barber?s chair getting a trim. Small convenience stores ? kiosks, really ? pubs and pool halls are all doing a brisk business, their doors thrown open to the cool night air. The driver comments to me that he understands Toronto is ?always moving.? I think of the 24-hour home improvement stores and supermarkets near my home and smile at the parallels.

Ugandans boast a country that values education. At a dinner with 10 Church of Uganda staff members, conversation turns to the differences between what one has studied and where one works. The theory was that few people end up in the line of work they studied for. We go around the table revealing what we studied; the Ugandans, all working in the church?s planning, development and rehabilitation unit, held such varied (and usually multiple) degrees as economics, social work, education, math, physics. I am humbled but not surprised to realize that I, with my single bachelor degree in journalism, have the least formal education at the table.
Like any meeting in the Western world, the civilized tenor of an African church gathering is occasionally shattered by the trill of a cell phone. A meeting of the Anglican Church of Tanzania?s development partnership working group had at least four different phones go off in the first hour. The co-chair finally asked cell owners to switch off their phones, or face having to buy everyone a soda at the next break. The next phone to ring played a peppy version of Amazing Grace.
Having just had my passport and visa checked as I prepare to leave Dar es Salaam, en route to Johannesburg, I note an airport official hurriedly ushering a group of three men to the front of the customs queue. I scan the trio to determine just who gets this kind of treatment. Turns out the men are soccer referees.
In Dar es Salaam airport, I eagerly seek out the Tanzanite Lounge for business class passengers. In one of those strange but true travel mysteries, we are flying business class as it is cheaper than economy class when combined with another flight within Africa. This is my first time in Africa and most definitely my first time flying business class.

I find the red carpeted stairs leading to the lounge hilarious, but the crowning touch is the ornate carved wood entrance. I feel like we are entering the palace of a maharaja.


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