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Driving from Jinja to Acholi Land

Post was a bit delayed because there aren’t many internet cafes up north!

After taking a weekend break from meetings to raft with some friends at the source of the Nile, Monday morning we met our driver and the 4×4 we rented to drive North, the area where we hope to identify new change agents among the victims of war violence. The driver estimated it would take three or four hours to get there, and the distance was “over 200 kilometers.” (Key word: over.)

Welcome to the concept of African Time. As our co-worker Marlene explains to us, time is “kinda flexible.” I shouldn’t be surprised when my frisbee teammate tells me he’ll be there in five minutes and shows up half an hour later. I’ve grown wary of trusting estimates like that. Once, Marlene told me that if we left for a field visit at 9, we would return by 2. “The bus is 2 hours, and then it takes thirty minutes in a car to get to the village,” she explained. Doing some quick math, I deduced if we finished by 2, we would spend exactly zero minutes at the site. So, with a knowing smile, I accepted her time estimate, and shared her amusement when we missed dinner at 6pm.

African Time prevails in Rwanda, and apparently Uganda as well. We had estimates of three or six hours for the 200+ or 350 km trip to Gulu. We would be flexible. After three hours, Christina and I pulled out our laptops to type some reports, and as we approached hour four… POP. Metal grinded on pavement and our driver Joseph expertly maneuvered the car to the side of the road. The back tire had blown out, the entire tread peeling off in protest of the 100+ ºF temperatures and the friction on even hotter pavement. We weren’t very surprised, given four straight hours on the road. According to the estimates we were almost there. But alas, across the road from our lopsided vehicle loomed an ominous sign: “Gulu 250 km.”

“Joseph, is that sign right? How far to Gulu?”

“Very far. What did the sign say?” Then, “Yes, that sounds right.”

“I thought you said 200 km… What were we doing for the last four hours?” Christina nudged me and I stopped myself, sharing her  defeated laugh. Thirty minutes later we were underway. I called our Gulu contact to reschedule our afternoon meeting. “No problem!” she said. “Don’t hurry! Just call when you arrive.” We were meeting on African Time, which was good since our journey took seven hours, including the tire blow-out, a lunch stop to bargain for some mangoes, and the traffic (a big problem in Uganda, especially where two major roads meet). And, like she suggested, we didn’t hurry. She was doing some business in town when we arrived— the system works when everyone is on it.


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