Kampala is a sea of earthy reds and lush greens, exhaust fumes and beeping horns. It is a place of perpetual movement.
The chaos of the city mimics the weather patterns. The sun and heat align with the chaotic movement of people, cars, and motorcycles. When rain falls, life comes to a halt and all is strangely quiet and still. The sun is the green light, the rain is the red.
Despite Kampala’s chaotic nature, there is a paradoxical fluidity in the casual routine of peoples’ lives here. I watch as cars drive over curbs to avoid scraping against oncoming traffic, bodas (motorcycles) weave in and out and around other cars, and pedestrians cross high speed intersections with a matter-of-fact ease that only comes with years of experience. I like to imagine the rite of passage to becoming a true Kampala resident is to cross a street without getting hit by a single moving vehicle.
Everything this city does, it does in earnest and with conviction. When the sun is out, it burns into your skin. When the storm clouds gather, the city darkens, thunder roars, and raindrops fall like bullets to the ground. There is no room for hesitancy in the hustle and bustle of Kampala, even for the weather. When the day is done and the sun has decided to set, he does so with a grandiose finality as he sweeps the sky with vibrant hues of reds and oranges. He makes his exit with passion and tenacity as if he were an actor and the sky his stage — and I am his ever attentive audience.
The vibrancy of this place is reflected not only in the colors of the fruits displayed on streetside kiosks, but in the dispositions of its citizens, too. The women are strong and beautiful. They walk tall and with grace, no matter the weight they carry. Kampala’s youth, in particular, are distinct. They walk by in flashes of dazzling patterns or sleek monochromes with style to rival even the most chic areas of London or New York. I watch and admire as the youth of Kampala take the city into their own hands. They are a generation of artists and intellectuals — constantly creating and discussing. At night, they dominate the streets and bars as the chaos of the day transforms into an electric energy in the night.
Night in Kampala is neon hues and smoky smells of cooking meat. Loud music from nearby bars, passing cars, and satellite radios intermingle with one another in cacophonous disarray. The sounds of street dogs scrapping and howling in orchestral unison echo in the night. I lie in bed and listen to these sounds and wonder at the idea that a city itself could be a living thing.
The movement of Kampala, the epicentre of chaos, gradually slows as you wander outward through the winding, paved roads that stretch far over the rolling green hills of the Ugandan countryside. Here are the miles of crops and rice fields, papyrus reeds, and acacia trees. Here the roads are quiet, with only lone cyclists or slow moving cargo trucks to keep you company. On these roads, there is a vastness all around you, and the possibility that the land simply stretches into eternity crosses your mind more than once. At night, the darkness is heavy, and it is up to the headlights of passing cars to chase away the enclosing blackness.
As I take in my surroundings, I allow the commotion and chaos to imprint itself on my mind. I sink into my experiences and envelop myself in this city. My inspiration is sensitive to the triggers of the sights, smells, sounds, and people around me. Each flashing glimpse into another life brings something to life within me — a curiosity to peek into a world unlike my own.
Kampala is a city of constants — constant movement, vibrancy, and life. It is filled to the brim with people and their stories. The more I see and understand, the faster I fall in love.
Photos contributed by Rory McHarg.