Friday, July 10, 2009

The Road to Goma, Part 1: Mbarara to Bunagana

"You may pay if you want to, but you don't have to. It's up to you."

It was the first time I'd ever been asked for a bribe, and the police officer sure was nice about it. I was sitting in a small metal hut in Bunagana, Uganda, a few feet from the DRC border. I had spent the previous five hours driving across the hilly, dusty roads of western Uganda learning how to drive a stick shift and drive on the left-hand side of the road. It was easier than I had expected, though putting it into first was still tricky - quite a few locals got a chuckle out of watching the mzungu sputter out of a petrol station or a stop sign.

But now at the border I was at the final stage in a journey of emotions. When I had set out from Mbarara towards Kabale, I was moving fast, feeling the wind on my arm, and loving the trip. But after Kabale, I became less sure of the way. Excitment gave way to apprehension the longer it took to get to the border. I was afraid I was lost. But I finally reached Kisoro, and shortly after that Bunagana. I had arrived at the border.

My fear was not completely gone however because I still had to cross the border, meet a friend, then travel several hours south to Goma. And my fears were not relieved - my paperwork was not in order, and it took several hours to make it so (special thanks to Melissa, who emailed the documents. And special thanks to Zain, whose wireless internet made it possible to recieve them. Technology can be pretty amazing, even in east Africa). By the time I actually crossed the border, it was too late to drive to Goma before dark. And so my friend Bizi from HEAL Africa drove us to Rungumba and the abandoned Baptist missionary outpost that was to be our lodging for the night.

Click here to see a Flickr map of the trip from Mbarara to Goma.

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