Kampala is the most populated city in Uganda and, therefore, very crowded. This is painfully obvious during rush-hour traffic. And, to get to JRS Kampala from the hotel and back, we had to cross the city in this traffic, so we spent a lot of time on the bus.
These bus rides have been challenging for me. Last summer, I was a participant in Creighton’s Peru FLPA in which students live and study in the urban poverty of Lima. It is a service learning program, so we served at various service sites in the community. To get back from service sites and overnights with our host families, we took the public bus (M1). And, despite some surprised looks from other bus riders, it was a way to delve into the reality in which these Peruvians were made to live and an act of solidarity.
In Uganda, riding public transportation is not an option for us. We are hauling around large, expensive camera equipment and working under a time crunch to get all the footage we need to assemble a documentary film when we get back to Omaha. So, I get it. However, we still see public transportation on our route in addition to many other vehicles, motorcycles, bikes, people walking, and children selling stuff on the streets.
The ease and comfort of our commute compared to most residents of Kampala is unsettling for me. This is magnified by broken, wordless interactions across windowpanes as I make eye contact with riders on the vans used for public transport. These vans are usually packed as full as possible (and then some) and sit lower to the ground than the bus I ride. This creates a physical hierarchy in which I am situated higher than the bus riders using public transport and, therefore, looking down on them.
And the eye contact is pretty unbearable, but I will not let myself look away. Under the circumstances, looking – and gently smiling – is the only way (that I can think of) to recognize the fellow human being in the vehicle beside me and dignify their life as of equal worth and value to my own. And, as our respective vehicles chug along, I feel like an onlooker in a landscape of hardship and suffering from which I am undeservedly spared.
But, on a positive note, today I had my best interaction from the bus so far. We visited the home of a South Sudanese refugee named Lewi that we interviewed yesterday. After getting some establishing shots outside his home, I played soccer with his sons. We started with passing but quickly transitioned to headers. The goal was to get as many consecutive headers. Our highest was an impressive three headers! Before you judge our soccer skills, you should know that we played on a very slanted ground next to a brick wall with a toddler at our feet.
We left after getting B-roll, and, as we drove away, the family stood outside their home and waved goodbye. When Lewi’s son spotted me through the windowpane past Tim (sitting between me and the window), he stuck his chin out farther and grinned harder so that the rest of the skin on his face tightened. To see each other better, I had to duck under Tim’s waving arm, and he had to duck under his dad’s waving arm. I made a silly face at him, and he made a silly face back. And, in that moment, the glass of the windowpane seemingly dissolved so that it no longer was a barrier. And I was grateful for its opacity that allowed me to connect to my new friend a moment longer.
It’s no coincidence that my best interaction from the bus only happened after I left the bus and met (and played soccer with) the person on the other side of the windowpane.