It will be difficult for you to understand the title of this post if you’ve never experienced the roads in Uganda. Nowhere in SE Asia did I come up against such sorry excuses for roads, but I’ve heard that the situation is the same throughout much of Sub-Saharan Africa. I haven’t travelled to enough of those countries to feel comfortable making sweeping statements, so for now I’ll limit my griping to Uganda.
When I was a kid, I remember that we sometimes took a certain route home from my grandparents’ house that took us over what my parents called “the Bumpy Road.” I remember giggling and giggling as we zoomed over the road, bumping and jiggling along. When I got older, I had the opportunity to drive back over that road myself, and while it wasn’t everything I remembered it being, it was still mildly amusing. The Bumpy Road was definitely bumpier than most roads we drive on in Waukesha, WI, and I was sad when they finally paved over it. If only I could see into my future, I would never have dared laugh at the state of that road.
My parents have been here now and have seen the carnage with their own eyes, so if you don’t believe me, feel free to verify with them. The roads here are indescribably bad. Rutted, potholed, gullied, narrow, flooded, muddied, crowded, lined with people, crisscrossed with goats, pigs, chickens, and children. Some patches of road feel like I’m playing frogger, weaving back and forth (there’s a “my” side and a “your” side?) to find the spare patches of passable surface while dodging families of goats, herds of cattle, women carrying massive bundles of firewood on their heads, and the occasional monitor lizard. Other patches feel a bit more like I’m riding over a washboard. Several times, I’ve even opened my mouth to hum along and feel how the road creates a motorboat-like sound without any effort on my part. Despite all the difficulty, I’m normally great at grinning and bearing it. They are, like many things here, just part of life, and to constantly complain about them would be annoying and counterproductive. However, I spent over 15 hours on a motorcycle last week due to a busy work schedule. That’s 15 hours of bumping, weaving, swerving, bumping, sloshing through huge puddles, choking on dust, bumping, breaking suddenly, and did I mention LOTS of bumping? After such trial, I feel it’s necessary to pay homage to the damage done to my rear end. By the end of the week, I was wincing just looking at a motorcycle. Thankfully I don’t think any real damage was done, but it has made me very grateful for a slightly slower schedule this week.
So here’s to everyone, local and international alike, who brave the roads here in Northern Uganda every single day. Here’s to the adrenaline, the skillful drivers, washboard stretches, the rare paved patch that fills you with disproportionate relief, and the sheer toughness of those that live their lives on those roads day in and day out. I salute you, brave sirs and madams.
On a more serious note, a definite ceiling exists for economic growth in the region if something drastic isn’t done to address transportation infrastructure. That’s a topic for another post, though.