Kathleen tells..


 The man along the road


We cycle from Biso via Hoima further south in the direction of Rwanda. To our right are some lakes, which separate Uganda from the Democratic Republic of Congo: Lake Albert, Lake Edward... Some time ago oil was discovered in Lake Albert. That explains the hustle and bustle along the road. When we arrived tired in Biso yesterday, we saw a brand new arrow with 'campsite'. For a moment my heart jumped. But soon we noticed the big blue closed gate and the side panels full of Chinese characters. This place was a Chinese industrial area, and the mentioned campsite was for the workers who work here day and night.


Until last year this road was a dirt road, just like all the other roads around here. But with the discovery of the oil wells and the arrival of the Chinese this changed. Many stretches have been asphalted in the meantime. On other parts we have to navigate between the excavators and road workers, because the asphalt has just been poured. Every few kilometres there is an arrow pointing to a side street, with the name of the Chinese company on it. For days the presence of the Chinese is visible in the form of asphalt and companies. The road is asphalted all the way to the border, to export the oil extracted there. 

On the facade of an old house, along the side of the road, the Ugandan flag is proudly painted next to the Chinese flag, signed: 10,000 African villagers have satellite TV thanks to China.


Trucks drive in and out, heavily loaded with building materials, raw materials, and containers. At high speed, a fat four wheel drive occasionally flies by, with an Asian on the passenger seat. And also at the roadworks many Chinese with big sunglasses and a straw hat on their heads give the instructions. 

On this same route not only the Chinese are active. Every now and then a large safari truck passes by. Often blakc or green, with a kind of fishbowl high on the loader, windows on both sides, and behind those windows about twenty westerners. Sometimes they drive in a column of three cars in a row. On the spare wheels at the back of the truck is the name of the tour operator written. Usually in English, sometimes also in German. It is tourist high season, and it is the first time since our departure in Dar es Salaam that we see dozens of tourists passing by in a short time. They probably left this morning in Murchison Falls National Park and are now on their way to Port Fortal, the next tourist destination.


And then there we are. The slow cyclists, trying to claim a spot on the verge in the middle of all this hustle and bustle. With every new hill - because it's hilly terrain here - we lose speed and climb steadily at 5 km an hour, with about ten children in our wake, giggling excitedly a bit with us. A little later on the brand new asphalt we gain speed again, fly down and leave the children behind us. Once in a while we give way to a family of monkeys running over the asphalt in front of our wheels. We slalom between the road workers, and let the safaritrucks on the non-asphalted stretches first pass before cycling on, to avoid ending up in the dust cloud they leave behind.


The people along the road wave at us from their yards with banana trees and potato plants, and we wave back. They ask where we're going, and we say 'to Hoima'. They ask how we're doing, and we ask them that too. Every now and then they ask us to give them some money. Usually that sounds teasing, because we're mzungu's. Sometimes we stop to eat a chapati or drink cola. Then people gather around our bikes and want to take a look at the map. When we leave again, the group sets out and everyone continues their activities: sweeping the yard, putting the sweet potatoes on a tarpaulin in front of the hut to dry, tinkering with the moped, fetching water with a yellow jerry can on the head, or just sitting and looking around.

While cycling here, I wonder what it is like for the man who has his stall with one bunch of bananas on the side of this road, to see all that activity pass in front of his cottage. The Chinese trucks and drastic changes in his world, the hill behind his house that is being trimmed down to collect raw materials, the Western tourists at this time of year, driving by from place A to place B without stopping. That one strange white cyclist once in a while, who passes here at a slower pace, who greets shortly, at best buying some bananas, and at the end of the day has a goal in a world far away from the man. 

I don't know what it's like for him. We won't get any further than a warm greeting, because he doesn't speak English or Swahili. His business is to have sold his ten bananas by tonight, because he's on the eve of the dry season, and then he needs money to bridge these difficult months.