Kampala at Night

I love Kampala at night. I adore the low lights, which almost give it a romantic ambiance. It may not be brightly lit like the really big and rich cities, but the low lights give it a unique characteristic. I know a time will come when ‘development’ will happen and wipe away the beauty, and I think I’ll cry. If I had the power, I’d try to preserve this feature of the city, to keep the street food vendors and vegetable sellers on the pavements, with their shielded tadoobas (paraffin candles) and their low wattage bulbs and make-shift lamp shades.

A man grilling chicken in Bweyogerere. The area comes alive at night, with all sorts of street foods, vegetables, fruits, being sold beside pirated DVDs. Often, you’ll find groups of people watching an old TV set smack in the middle of the street.

Every time I walk the streets in the night, I want to capture the beauty, maybe to preserve it for a time when such sights will be rare, but mostly because I enjoy freezing such moments in time. I’ve sadly never been able to capture what exactly I feel. Maybe I need a very good lens and a lot of patience, but then, I think you can never experience real life in a photo. Sound is essential in bringing the streets to life and you can’t put that in a photo; the chaos of traffic, taxi touts yelling for passengers, hawkers chanting and singing, an ambulance screaming as it races by, or maybe some big man’s sirens demanding a right of way. And then, there are the megaphones with recorded jingos playing over and over again, annoyingly. Sometimes, these jingos come to me even when I’m nowhere near a street (kyama ogule enganto za bakyala origino… or maybe… simu, mpya, doubline line, mtwalo satu ne kitundu wano ku motooka). You know how you can’t get those really terrible tunes out of your mind? That’s how sometimes these jingos nag me.

A butcher selling meat, late into the night, in Bweyogerere.

If I were to use video, I still wouldn’t capture the smell of dust mixed with that of petrol fumes and that of roasting meat, nor would I capture the warm air and the feel of bodies all around me. I guess we have to wait for 5-dimensional capture gadgets before we can truly preserve life in images.

In Nakawa market, the glowing candles, some shielded from the wind using polythene bags, give an ambiance usually associated with romance. Here you can get very cheap vegetables and fruits. But be aware, eat them within two days. They don’t last long. I think people in this market sell fruits and veggies that have been discarded from shoprite or capital shoppers, but are still good enough to eat. I maybe wrong.

I love walking through Nakawa market, with the bodaboda bikes parked besides tomatoes and mangoes, the dust, the fumes from cars stuck in endless jam, the throngs of people rushing home after work, and these women (and a few men) sitting quietly on the pavements, candlelights dancing in front of them, gently calling out to passers-by to buy cheap vegetables, their voices almost muted by the chaos of the streets.

I took this photo in Kiwanga, near Bweyogerere, at around 11pm on 22nd December 2017. I could not resist capturing the image of this woman selling roasted corn by a dusty roadside. There was music blasting out of a nearby bar, while from across the street the noise of a premier league football game – I think Arsenal vs Liverpool. Somehow, this picture captured the mood of the Christmas season; it depicts loneliness and the search for warmth, the struggle for survival and the awareness that Santa won’t be coming because she has no chimney…. the look of happiness even as celebrations already begun all around her. And somehow, she is wearing Santa’s colors, so maybe she is the real Santa 🙂
Sunset over the Kampala skyline, as seen from the industrial area.
A young woman has arrived too early for an event, a music concert which would be full of twenty-something wanna-be middle class people, so she sits alone and goes through her phone.
Kamwokya with Bukoto in the background. This suburb has an interesting history in Kampala. The houses in the foreground were at the periphery of the foreigner’s zones in colonial Kampala. Indians (or Asians) lived here. African’s lived across the road, while whites lived in Kololo, out of shot to the left of the picture.
Nakawa. A woman sells mangoes by the roadside.
Nsenene. Every year starting from about September, Kampala goes crazy with locusts, a delicacy. The way they are trapped seems like a scene from a sci-fi story, the bright lights, the corrugated iron-sheets, and frantic people scrambling to fill containers with the insects. They never know where the insects come from, they just know they will come. Makes you think of aliens, in a way.
Just a few minutes drive from the city center, and yet this looks like its a rural area. This is one of the most fascinating things about Kampala, finding the village right in the middle of the city 🙂


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