My African adventure: time off in Jinja

by Sam Blackledge

FROM the remote wilderness of the BMK school in Budoma, with its limited facilities and basic living conditions, we journeyed south to Jinja on Sunday. Jinja, Uganda’s second largest city, is surrounded by rainforest and is famous for being the location of the source of the river Nile.

We are staying at Adrift, a hostel and bar popular with backpackers and adventurers, which looks out over the river. It offers days out doing adrenaline-fuelled activities such as extreme white-water rafting, speedboating, quad biking, bungee jumping and horse riding. I’m far too scared and boring for all that nonsense, so I spent my Monday morning enjoying the hot showers, the WiFi and the view…

The source of the river Nile, Jinja

In the afternoon I headed for the centre of Jinja with Kirsty, another of the volunteers working out here with EAP. We got there by boda, which is a motorbike taxi for two people, and is quite an experience. After paying your 5,000 shillings (just over £1), you clamber on behind the driver, taking care to avoid the extremely hot exhaust pipe on one side, and cling on for dear life as the boda speeds off.

As I have mentioned before, the roads in Uganda are not exactly the best, so a boda ride into town requires a certain amount of gritting your teeth, squinting your eyes and bracing as the next pothole, speedbump or uneven surface looms into view. It’s a great way to take in the sights, sounds and smells of the country, much more so than sitting in a matatu (coach taxi). We survived, and on arrival in Jinja we headed for Mzungu strip.

Mzungu strip, Jinja

Mzungu is an affectionate word for anyone who is not African, particularly tourists. Mzungu strip is the main street in Jinja, and is not unlike the South Bank in London. Every shop sells the same combination of tourist-baiting stuff, from wooden masks and traditional fabric to novelty keyrings and T-shirts bearing the slogan “I am not a Mzungu!”

The traders sit outside their shops, and when they spot a Mzungu approaching – we are fairly conspicuous with our pale skin, knee-length trousers and cameras – they say “Hello, you are welcome, go inside”. So we did. Again and again. We bought much more than we had planned to, but it’s all so cheap and the people so friendly that it’s impossible to resist.

Kirsty does some shopping on the Mzungu strip

The boda ride back was smoother than the outward journey. As I thanked my lucky stars that Kirsty had climbed on first, so she was the one left grabbing the rider’s sweaty midriff, I felt the wind in my hair and thought, “I could get used to this”.

Tomorrow promises another day of rest and relaxation – possibly with some swimming and a night out – before we return to the BMK school on Wednesday.

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