If you are like me, you will have travelled far and wide around this country on various assignments. You will also have had to book a place to spend the night, and like me, you will have found out that some lodges aren’t for the faint of heart. You will be lucky to leave without any injury or with all the property you took in. You will even be luckier to leave without having contracted a disease or picked a handful of vermin that will take you months to get rid of. Such are the challenges of those who seek services of lodges.
Often, travellers, especially those under the auspices of someone or an organisation, never know where they have been booked for a night. And so they travel far from home, only to find out they have been booked in No Name Lodge. Even before you set foot in the room, your body starts itching from the bites of imaginary bedbugs.
A place for immorality
Lodges have turned out to be places where crime, disease and sin meet human beings. The only thing that still shows the presence of a little sacredness in most of them is a Bible. These are permanent furniture. Otherwise, what takes place in these rooms can make one go blind.
As such, owners of lodges have even changed their names to avoid the bad image. In the 1980s, lodges usually carried the word “inn”. After a while, it appeared that those who stayed there were immoral. So the owners dropped the word, for “lodge”. But again, after a while, people would frown if they heard you say you had spent a few nights in a lodge so owners substituted the word with “guesthouse”. At the end of the day, it is still the same thing, and people still go to them for late night trysts.
The mattress waterproof covers, especially in lodges in the western and some parts of central region, tell the story of the kind of people who use them. Lodge managers don’t want clients’ fluids to sully the mattresses. Many travellers may not get many options but to use such beds.
Huzairuh Luzinda, an expert in hospitality management, says the biggest challenge with lodges starts with the owners.
“People establish lodges to create employment for their relatives or to get a side income. They don’t put the clients in the picture in their first plan. So you find they are family-managed. Yet professionalism is key in the success of the hospitality business,” he says.
Acquiring a disease is one thing in the lodge, losing property is another.
Lodges are places with the highest incidents of crime from prostitution to sedation to theft especially upcountry. In many cases, Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesman, Ibin Ssenkumbi, says, lodge administrators abet crime.
“Lodges and prostitutes are like smoke and fire. Where you find a bar, you will most likely locate a lodge nearby and certainly a prostitute. A man will visit a bar, meet a woman and they end up in the lodge. None knows the other’s name or record. The next thing you will hear is a crime committed and no record of the suspect,” Ssenkumbi says.
Some male travellers habitually retire to their rooms with girls of the night, who are sometimes criminals, especially in urban areas, leaving a bitter taste in their unsuspecting victims’ mouths.
Armed with chloroform, the prostitutes wait until their clients have fallen asleep after having sex. Then they sedate and undress them and take all their belongings before running away. The men only discover the crime in the morning, and most victims choose not to report to the police to avoid embarrassing themselves even more.
However, it isn’t only those that seek services from women of the night that find themselves in trouble. Even those who have come just to find lodging are also susceptible to crime.
“Sometimes criminals duplicate room keys, which they use to open the door when the visitors are away, and they steal all their property,” Ssenkumbi says.
Worse still, people have been murdered in these places, such as the 16-year-old student of St Lwanga Malongo in Buikwe District, who was killed in 2011, in Daido Wanderers Miracle Lodge.
The problems are not only faced by the clients. The owners too face several problems. James Ssekidde, an owner of a chain of lodges in the central region, says managing one is a challenging task.
“We get guests who leave after stealing bedsheets, slippers, blankets and even soap, after paying Shs15,000 for a night. Others steal property from outside and come with it into the rooms then the police storm the lodge and inconvenience other guests. Many guests caught in the confusion will never visit again,” Ssekidde says.
How lodge owners are affected
These sorts of things have left lodge managers resorting to buying cheap bedding and marking their property, including slippers. In fact, sometimes, you will find a pair with different colours and sizes in the room.
For someone like Ssekidde, the crime has taken such a toll on business, he has had to close one of his lodges, Nakato Guest House in Lubaga Division, Kampala District.
To evade compensation, many lodges run notices that say they are not liable for the visitor’s property that hasn’t been handed over to the management.
There are a few lodges, however, that meet the mark. Those in Karamoja sub-region are chiefly used by travellers, and although there aren’t many in the districts of Kotido, Moroto and Kaabong, most of them are self-contained and kept clean.
My experience in low-cost lodges around the country, especially in Bugala Island, has taught me good lessons.
Before I am off for a journey, I ensure that I have carried antibacterial drugs, soap and a mosquito repellent. When I travel back home, before I settle in my couch, I ensure that the clothes I used are fully soaked in water to drown the bugs in case I carried any.
It is one whole experience using these lodges.
Keeping those diseases easily contracted from lodges at bay
Dr Stuart Musisi, Masaka District Medical officer, says hygiene challenges are especially rampant in rural lodgings, especially at landing sites, where guests share bathrooms and toilets.
“However, it is very difficult to enforce the Public Health Act in lodges at landing sites because you find that a lodge can have one shared toilet for its guests but the community around it doesn’t even have a public toilet,” Dr Musisi says.
He adds, “We also thought of closing them but they are a big source of income to the sub-counties and district authorities.”
The local government charges Shs1,000 under the Local Service Tax from every guest who spends a night in any guest house around the country.
Dr Musisi says if guests are accommodated in dirty rooms, they are likely to pick scabies, skin diseases, fungal infections, and for the women, they can contract candida from sharing bathrooms. He advises that guest should carry anti-septic soap that they can use to clean the bathrooms or toilets before they use them.
“You can also carry your own bed sheets and towels to be on the safe side,” he says.
The funny and weird experiences people have had
When a bat ruined a night’s sleep
Deep in the night, I was woken up by banging on the roof and wall. I froze. I could not understand what it was. I swiftly pulled the blanket to cover my body to avoid to getting in contact with strange animals. Finally, it landed on my bed and started crawling towards my head. I didn’t take any chances. I jumped out my bed and groped in the darkness for a match box and candle to light the room. I couldn’t figure out where I had put them.
After fumbling for several minutes, I located them on the table and quickly lit a candle.
Using a stick that had been abandoned in the room, I slowly lifted the blanket and my eyes fell on a dark animal that was struggling to flee. It was a bat.
It took me more than 10 minutes to scoop it with a basin and throw it outside. That was the end of my comfortable sleep that night in a lodge on Bugala Island in Kalangala District.
The room that was littered with condoms
When President Museveni visits an upcountry town and spends a night, even the worst kept lodge gets more than enough clients.
Ask anyone who attended Martyrs Day in Namugongo, Wakiso District, or the recent passing out of police officers at Masindi Police Training School, in Masindi District in 2013.
At the function in Masindi, parents of more than 5,000 officers from different parts of the country descended on the town, booking all the rooms available. By midday, the day before the event, no room could be got. We arrived in the town in the evening. After a two-hour futile hunt for rooms, we sought the help of boda boda cyclists, who took us to a lodge that had only two vacant rooms and each room at Shs11,000 per night. Everyone in the team rushed to get hold of the keys first. “Do you want a room for a short or long (period)?” the lodge manager asked.
A colleague responded, “We want to spend a night here.”
A tour of the first room exposed us to a dozen used condoms littered on the ground.
We didn’t allow the manager to take us to the second room. We agreed that the rooms were used as a brothel.
We had to endure another two hours searching until we found a guesthouse that had fewer rooms than our numbers but which were cleaner. Though the area’s hygiene was generally awful, we happily shared. Problem is, everyone had overlooked the bathrooms.
Whoever peeped in them just turned back and yet we had just had a long, tiring journey; we had to bathe. Lights were switched off and the veranda turned into a bathroom. Though we didn’t get comfort by any standards at night, at least we woke up in the morning with our property intact.
Sharing a room with goats
Ismail Ladu Musa, a journalist, says he once went for an assignment in Lira District and was supposed to travel back to Kampala the same day. But by the time he was done with his work, he couldn’t get a bus travelling to Kampala.
“I looked for a room to spend the night in but most of them were booked. So I was taken to a guest house that still had vacant rooms. When I entered one, I found out that there were two goats with whom I was going to share the room. I just gave up and went to the mosque and spent a night there,” Ladu says.
How to keep safe in a lodge
- At night, while sleeping, ensure that the money purse is not left in the trousers. Trousers are usually targeted most by criminals who use long sticks to pick the pants through the window.
- Keep your bag containing valuables under the bed to keep someone from using a stick to pull it. In fact, you can lift one side of the bed and place one bed stand on the strip of the bag.
- Ensure that all your valuables that you keep in your pockets are kept in your shoes at night and push them below the bed. When you are about to leave the room, first get dressed and then pick one item after another from the shoes and put it in your pockets. This will help you not forget documents in the room.
- Before you accept the room, ensure that the the door and windows can be locked, and the person outside cannot open them.
- Since you are a guest and are not certain about behaviours of people who frequent a lodging place, ensure that valuables are left at the police or with the lodge manager for safe custody.
- Ensure that lights are switched off at night to stop thugs who peep into the room from figuring out where you have kept your valuables.
- Don’t just open the door when someone knocks. In some areas, criminals do that to find out whether the room is occupied, while in others, prostitutes do so, so that when you open the door, they partially strip in a bid to lure you.