You can wear your safari khakis, sturdy hiking boots and wide-brimmed hat on the busy city streets of Kampala, Uganda but you’re bound to draw attention to yourself. In my case, my bright red hair, blue eyes and freckle-prone Irish skin reveal me as an outsider, a visitor, a tourist. With my camera bag slung diagonally across my chest, and my dSLR Canon sinking comfortable in my hands, I’m immediately in my element.
Whether I’m shooting the striped and spotted fur of wild game and the vast, cloud-covered African landscapes, or the central market, graffiti, traffic jams and billboards of the city, it seems as though I disappear behind the camera. I excuse myself from society, in a way. I check out, retreat inward, bring the camera to my right eye, and see what I can see. The camera allows me to check back in as an observer and as an artist, rather than as a participant.
Do I miss out – on making human connection? Perhaps. But I see so much more when I’m photographing, and I see it in an entirely different way. I see everything I wouldn’t if I were hastily rushing past. When I’m stationary for a little while, 5 minutes or 5 hours, I get to look deeper. That’s a different kind of connection with a place, and its people. It’s visually immersive, even emotionally immersive, this slowing down.
So, what do I see?
Laborers, working hard at their craft, whether that’s dressmaking, ditch digging, taxi driving or shop keeping. I see a commercial market that is lively and colorful, loud with the smell of exotic spices and made fragrant by the sounds of music, conversational chatter, and jovial shouting. I see a transportation system that seems. . . just crazy, to an outsider’s untrained eye. I see bota bota (motor scooters) serving as 2-wheeled taxis that carry everything from businesswomen in dress clothes to a family of 4 with young children, from backpackers to men transporting 8-ft. stalks of sugarcane, and from children on their way to school to someone relocating a wooden casket.
Note: We spoke to a young hotel greeter and concierge, who met us at the Kigali airport, and ensured that we met up with our driver and made it to 2000 Hotel. He’d attended school in Kampala but had now returned home to Rwanda. The traffic, he explained, truly was a crazy mess. It wasn’t my imagination and it wasn’t my naïve tourist vision that made it seem that way. I wasn’t simply ignorant of the “Rules of the Road.” These “rules,” he explained, were mostly suggestive.
With my camera I see that the people of Kampala aren’t that different from us – they drink Coca-Cola and they get a new bicycle for their birthday; they love to shop and they have fresh produce to sell; they are careless in traffic when they are late for work and they are in a hurry to get home after a long day at the office, behind a cash register or standing for long hours at the barber shop.
I’m uncertain whether the gentleman in the image above knows about the long-standing rivalry between The Ohio Sate University and that state up north (*ichigan), but I refrain from shouting “O-H” out of my car’s window. That doesn’t go over well at home either!
Alternately, my camera shows just how different Ugandan city life is from what I’ve experienced in the streets of Chicago, Milwaukee and Columbus. Streets are swept manually, by women with loosely tied brooms, during rush hour traffic. Vendors approach cars and busses, selling bananas, limes, roasted corn and dried tea leaves. Large birds – Marabou Storks, with long legs and a face only a mother could love – hang out in the treetops, and swoop in circles overhead, visible from the 7th floor of our nearby hotel.
The images I create help me to remember where I’ve been. The lessons I learn along the way help me to determine where I’m going. There are more photos than I have time to edit or share, and there are more memories than I’ll ever freely recall. The wanderlust I nourish grows, and will drive me to take the next trip, and the next, and the next.
Join me on my next adventure,
Bird’s Eye View of Kampala’s city streets, shot from the 7th floor of the Boulevard Suites hotel by Videographer Craig Clark: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxxNClKQw7I&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR0aWse8GAW54hxXSLc7Zo2T0bVrtFjk91NjSp47OUzZ7C6vm506IJk4Gy4
Marabou Storks: https://uganda365.com/marabou-stork/
2000 Hotel, Kigali, Rwanda: https://www.hotels.com/ho560117/2000-hotel-downtown-kigali-kigali-rwanda/?rffrid=sem.hcom.US.bing.003.00.04.s.kwrd=c.82394832453984.1318315261605301.369278979.0.dat-2334194466302424:loc-190.94711..0.CMmIh_eh9eUCFcGygQodEHUOfQ.ds&PSRC=G21&gclid=CMmIh_eh9eUCFcGygQodEHUOfQ&gclsrc=ds
Boulevard Suites, Kampala, Uganda: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g293841-d13383409-Reviews-Kampala_Boulevard_Suites-Kampala_Central_Region.html