Our Journey Back to Uganda - Part 1
By Marisa Notier
The Notier Notes
Our Sunday Scoop
As with everything here in Africa, it was quite the adventure journeying from Kenya back to Uganda. In order to travel across the border, we had to first get a negative Covid PCR test that would be good for three days. Considering it would take a couple days to get to the Ugandan border from where we were living in Kenya, we had to time things just right.
We had done a similar procedure when moving from Uganda to Kenya six months ago, and I remember getting that swab up my nose, and thinking that it was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life. I could taste blood afterwards, and my nose (more like my brain) hurt for days. I whimpered a bit while the nurse was doing it, and she said, "It does not hurt. I am the most gentle!"
Luckily, this time was not nearly as bad. So yeah, that first nurse was NOT the most gentle.
We had heard that the test would be ready in three days, and when we tried to confirm this, the doctor said, "It takes 24 hours to get the results." We were wonderfully surprised.
"24 hours!" Tim exclaimed. "That's great!"
But the doctor soon dashed all our hopes when he clarified, "Yes, 24 business hours."
Our shoulders slumped back down in disappointment. "Right, so three days," Tim said. The doctor nodded.
This was just another moment of slight miscommunication that happens on a daily basis to us. Most people we meet here in Africa speak English quite well, but they seem to have their own terminology for things that we just don't understand.
Like we'd suspected, we collected our negative test results after three days, and said goodbye to our neighbors and the kitties (goodbye Marco and Dora!). And we headed off toward Uganda.
After six months of practically going nowhere on the motorcycle, it felt glorious to pack it all up and get on the road again. There's nothing like the winds of pure freedom rushing through your jacket.
Despite a short rain storm, the first day's ride was perfect. We were greeted with lovely views of Mt. Kenya's jagged pinnacle in the morning, and our descent and rise through the Great Rift Valley was gorgeous. Since it's the start of the big rainy season here, everything was lush and green, and we had a very special surprise of seeing some rhinos along the way! You never know what you're going to find on a drive through Kenya!
We stopped for a picnic lunch at a forested area beside the road where a young man came up to us on his motorcycle. He introduced himself as James, and said, "I knew I had to greet you because I have never seen a white person before! Just in the movies and TV shows, and you look like you should be in a TV show!"
I kept thinking, how is it possible you've never seen a white person before? Actually, in all my travels, no one has ever said this to me. I've been asked if I knew Brad Pitt or Michael Jordan, as if all Americans live down the street from them, but this was a first for me.
We expressed our excitement of meeting James as well, and Tim gave him a U.S. quarter as a keepsake. By this time, a group of James' friends had come over to see these strange foreigners, and James ran to his companions shouting, "I got a coin from America!" It was a lunch I will always remember.
We stayed that night at a hotel that was part of a church, and because it was Saturday, the church band was practicing for their Sunday assembly. Drumming, tambourine rattling, and lots and lots of choral singing filled the air. The music felt as African as could be, but also had a hint of American Gospel to it. And as Tim and I stood outside the church listening, unable to stop ourselves from tapping our feet and swaying to the rhythms, I thought about how this was most likely going to be our final month in Africa before we went back home. And I felt that Africa was giving us a special little farewell.
And then we got to the border the next day. And it felt more like Africa was giving us the finger.
All border crossings are an inconvenience at best, and a nightmare at worst. And it just so happens that African borders tend to weigh heavily on the nightmarish side.
There's a general rule of life that it will always be a million degrees at the border, and of course you'll be walking around in all your riding gear for hours, people will be following you and hassling you to exchange money with them or use their "fixer" services, and all the while you have to keep an eye on your motorcycle, your passport, your money... And then there's the actual immigration formalities part, and during Covid times, all the rules change so often that it's a miracle anyone ever gets through.
When we had extended our Kenyan visa in Nairobi, they told us we didn't need our documents endorsed because they had done away with that procedure during the pandemic. We pleaded with them just to give us an official looking stamp since we were already there, but they refused, assuring us we would have no problems at the border.
Well guess what... we had problems.
It was quite an ordeal, and that was just the visa part. Then we had to import our motorcycle into Uganda, and the guy didn't want to give us the same 30 day TIP we had received the first time we'd entered the country. He insisted that we had to use our carnet, but we preferred to be let in on a TIP because the only time we'd ever used our carnet, they filed a claim against us and attempted to collect the value of the motorcycle... if this is sounding like gibberish to you, just know that it was a high-stress situation involving expensive documents while being at the mercy of government officials who would rather be playing on their phones rather than talking to us.
Tim's patience level is... well, lower than mine. And after he would plead with the officials to stamp him and the motorcycle into the country with no prevail, he would send in the big guns - me. I'd apologize for not having the paperwork delivered the way that they insisted it had to be, even though their own government said otherwise. It took about four hours of playing an ignorant damsel in distress, until they just gave in and let us through into Uganda. We were ecstatic, but were mentally and physically exhausted, and didn't know where we would stay that night after such a long day.
We were accustomed to the rise and falls of emotions. From the "Look over there! It's a rhino!" to the heat and frustrations of borders. But the beauty and wonder always outweigh the negatives.
Next week we will cover even more peaks and valleys of what Uganda had in store for us. So stay tuned!
I hope you've found yourself safe and well these past two weeks, and I'll see you next Sunday with Part 2 of our journey back to Uganda.
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