Bumpy, dusty  ride to  and from Kyangwali camp 

 Kyangwali Refugee Settlement. Photo/Courtesy

What you need to know:

Not so adventurous. We had a school project to execute at Kyangwali Refugee Settlement, but the cars and their drives were out of this world, writes Kevin Githuku.

One  Sunday in June,  my friend Apophia and I set out for a trip to Kyangwali Refugee Settlement to cover a gender-based violence journalism story.

The work is the final professional project we are expected to hand in as we await our graduation, having successfully completed four years of Bachelor of Journalism and Communication at Makerere University.

Of course, different people pitch to work in different fields and accomplish different tasks, but covering this story in this particular region was my idea, given the fact that I had been there several times.

I had been  running a certain project with my former roommate who is a refugee and resident there.

Off  we go
So, we left Kampala at about 8 am aboard Link bus that was playing all manner of traditional Ugandan music- I was listening to some of  this for the very first time, while the other I had  heard it in corridors somewhere. At some point, we even watched a whole translated film by VJ Jingo. 

The gonjas and mchomo  on  our way were almost irresistible as long as the bus made pitstops. 

So midway, a certain enthusiastic man stood up, whom I later learnt  was a pastor from a church in Mukono. 

The man preached two things. One, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and two, Hoima is a City. I had never heard a man so enthusiastic about making everyone understand that Hoima is a city like this man did. He clearly had his roots there. His preaching which was a mix of Luganda and Runyoro dialect and travellers seemed to nod at every sentence. 

In no time, we were in Hoima, so we run a few errands there and went to the taxi park. There we boarded a vehicle to Kyangwali.

For some odd reason, the most common means to get there if you are not using private means  is to use those ‘personal’  yet public cars such as the  Toyota  Wish and  Corolla. It is rare to find any  matatu or bus plying that route, unless it is from the direct Kampala route.

So, we boarded a seemingly new Toyota Wish wagon, of the so called latest UBM number plate series.

It was too comfortable that  I told my friend Apophia to make herself comfortable in the front seat.

Also, probably to enjoy the clouds of dust and a bumpy road that lay a few kilometres ahead. But, one of the operators advised against it. 

“If you seat in front, be  prepared to ride uncomfortably because that seat carries three passengers plus the driver,” he warned. 

I thought he was joking until departure time.

The  bumpy  ride
After a lengthy wait, the seven-seater vehicle was packed with 13 of us!

True to the operator’s word, the front seat, actually had four people. It was my first time to see the driver partly carrying someone on the lap  while driving at breakneck speed.

There were the rest of us in the back two rows, plus the luggage in the boot and on the roofrack.

I could literally imagine the car veering off the road and I hang but in prayer. Did I mention I observed the driver take sharp turns at a speed of about 120 Kmph? Well, there you have it.

In no time we were at the refugee camp ready to execute our mandate.

The people there were peaceful, communal and friendly. 

As a Kenyan, I had my fair share of the Kiswahili language while my friend looked on. It was predominantly Congolese’ space and we communicated, regardless. 

Our search for sources was quite effortless. I remember the next day while we were walking by a police post, we found a couple that had fought almost to death in company of  their family members to the police post. We asked how we could help. They each narrated their story in the long run.

It is unfortunate that gender-based violence(GBV) scenes are quite common in the camp, but on interacting with some of the officials, we learnt that most of the perpetrators tend to suffer mental health issues, probably due to the war they experienced in the past among other things.

So anyway, my teammate had an emergency and had to travel back to the city on the evening of that second day.

I stayed an extra day just to ensure we had everything we needed.

Last day
On my last day at the camp, I went to buy some breakfast, some big hot mandazis near our hosts’ place.

On my way back, I noticed a boutique with some jackets that I loved. On entering to check, I felt my kavera of mandazis being pulled downwards. 

I looked over my shoulder , then down, my eyes met with a young man’s. I later learnt  that he had a mental problem. I quickly tore one side of the kavera and handed over one mandazi to the boy with a smile. He returned the smile generously, and all was going on well, until he gobbled the hot  snack together with the kavera. The care taker was in time to separate the two.

We had a chat with the caretaker who doubled as the shop attendant. After my fitting session, none of the jackets was my size.

Back to Kampala
Later that afternoon, I set off for Kampala. I boarded a  rickety Toyota Corolla where the driver packed us like cabbages.  With a  number plate almost falling off, while the exhaust pipe produced fumes worse than an old diesel truck.

In no time, we had our first very much anticipated stop to cool the engine, in the middle of nowhere. It seemed the man knew his car, so he was prepared. I also later learnt he had special mechanical skills.

We made several other stops, but the last one caught my attention. It was the police. I saw the man fold a Shs50,000 note, which he cunningly handed over to the policewoman, but he still earned himself a ticket! He frowned as as he got back.

Kyangwali to Hoima, a journey that could have taken us an hour and a half took us almost four strong hours. I eventually boarded the Link bus and, I was back in Kampala by midnight. 

The winner...
The front seat, actually had four people. It was my first time to see the driver partly carrying someone on the lap  while driving at breakneck speed.

There were the rest of us in the back two rows, plus the luggage in the boot and on the roofrack.