fredag 23. januar 2009

Journey to Wandegeya Post Office

with a description of Ugandan road directions as a way of understanding Ugandan culture

and including an introduction to public transport in Kampala

In the end of November I receieved a parcel from home in occation of my birthday. Since all post to me needs to be sent to FOCUS Uganda I would normally recieve post from the reception at FOCUS. This time I only recieved a slip that stateded that a small parcel for me could be retrieved from Wandegeya Post Office.

A parcel slip from the ugandan post service contains information about which post office you need to visit. This spesific slip also said that I needed to pay 1000 schilling for retrieving the parcel. At the bottom of the slip it was a warnig that the post office would only store the parcel for 14 days. When I recieved the slip I was told that they couldn't retrieve the parcel for me because the post office insisted that I needed to come personally and present official legetiamation papers in order to retrieve the parcel. My first thought was that the ugandan post service is just as or even more strict than the norwegian post service when it comes to security. Wandegeya is a busy and chaotic shopping and busniss area situated at one of the major crossroads for traffic in to, going around or coming out from the city centre of Kampala. For these reasons the main roads in the area are crowded with people and cars. And from the main roads there are several minor streets branching of and continuing into the surroundings. I travel through the area every week and I have also walked through parts of Wandegeya. Still my local knowledge wasn't good enough to know where the Post office is. I therefore asked for directions and the answer I got sounded something like this: Take a taxi to Wandegeya and get of at the stage. Then you continue to walk and near Stanbic Banck, but not very near, in fact it is a distance away from Stanbic Bank there is a road to going down. Slope down and then take to the right. After a while there is some big trees and then you are near the Post office. This answer does tell something about Ugandan culture. First of all there is something like 1,5 to Wandegeya and the distance can easily be walked withing 15 to 20 minutes. People in Uganda does admit that they might be a bit lazy and that is one reason they give for why they would prefer to use a taxi for such a short distance. Before I continue I would need to explain what a taxi is. It is not the same as in Norway where you have a ordinary car with five seats and one driver which is employed in a small or big company and for which you make a order and they then drive you to the place you want to get to. Neither is it a cab as you would find it in London and which is essentially the same as in Norway except that the cars look different. A taxi is the most common form for public transport in Uganda. It is usually and that means nearly always a white Toyota Hiace where the room usually used for transporting goods is filled with seats. There is four rows with seats and the sliding door where you enter is placed on the right side of the car since you drive on the left side of the road here in Uganda. In order to get to the backrow you have to bend double as it isn't a lot of space beneath the roof. Then you ha ve to fold together the foldable seats which fill the gap between the two permanent seats in each row and the right side of the car. Thus a corridor of walking space is created when it is needed. Each taxi have both a driver in the front where there is also room for two passengers and in the back part of the taxi there is a conductor. The job of the conductor is to get more passengers to the taxi, recieve payment when people leave (and not when they enter as in a norwegian bus) and remember when and where people want to get of. The latter only happens in those rare occations where the conductor actually do a good job. And now you should know enough to continue with the story. Secondly ugandans usully add that they doesn't like to walk since there is no proper sidewalks and on edge of the road you have to compete with other people, bikes, cows, motorcycles that try to get in front of the traffic, goats and generally watch out for the cars which doesn't pay much attention to people who walk. The description for finding the correct road is also very ugandan. Most roads here doesn't have a name and among those major roads who does have a name there is very few places with a signpost that gives the name of the road. Of course the main raod in the capital and a few other roads in the inner city and other important roads have names. Generally it still remains true that roads doesn't have a name and even when it has a name it is very unlikely that people will know about or use the name. Giving directions based on buildings, shops, banks and other places with a recognisible advertisment is therefore very usual. Secondly the direction for finding the road show another part of ugandan culture. People doesn't think about distances in terms of meters or kilometers or estimates of the mentioned. Instead people use expressions far, close, near etc or if it is a long travel they will tell you how long time it takes with public or privat transport in a car, taxi or on a boda. Again there is need for explaining before continuing. A boda is a motorcycle with a driver which you can use to travel from one place to another and you need to discuss the price before you jump on. The description that our road was near but not very near Stanbic Bank in Wandegeya is therefore in a way a very presice description. «Sloping down» is also as good an ugandan expression as you can ever hear and out of the setting it was possible to understand that it meant walking down until you reach the bottom or possibly the end of the road. One thing is the same both home and here. People use left and right when they give directions. A difference is still that at home people could in some cases have been talking about north, south, west or east when they give directions or talk about different parts of a town or country. In uganda those words about directions compared to the sky is just that; words. Those words have no practical meaning or use in the ugandan culture. Ask anyone and they will not have any idea about where north, south, west or east are compared to where they are now. This may sound like an contradiction as ugandans love to talk about the part of the country where they or their parents come from and those terms are often used then. This tricked me for a long while until I finally realised that those terms are very freely used and they only know after having been through a school system where studying and drawing the map of the country play an significant part of the education of young people. People therefore have an general idea about where in the country their village is though they doesn't use directions according to the sky in their daily life. At last there is a clear description about where the post office is. It is «near the big trees.» Large and old trees are often used in road descriptions. As a matter of fact trees and espescially mango trees are more often used for road descriptions than words like left, right and distance descriptions.

In November I had already lived a few weeks in Uganda but I was still and I still do think in such a Norwegian way that I tried to get a more «detailed» description. The word detailed is set in clamps as what I really wanted was a more Norwegian style explanation. The attempt to get more information was of course futile as all nessescarry details in an ugandan setting was already provided. This meant that it was nothing else to do than to set out and try to find the post office in Wandegeya. A little more than 30 minutes later I found myself outside the post office in Wandegeya. Following the directions and making a few guesses had worked surprisingly well. Inside I went through a ritual of showing official legetiamation, siging a very large book where all details about my parcel was handwritten and paying those 1000 Schillings before I got my parcel. This search after the Wandegeya Post office is a very clera example for how road directions are given here in uganda. Secondly it also gave me an introduction to the byrocracy of the ugandan post sercvice. I later had a broader and longer exposure to the byrocracy of the ugandan post service.