“The Red Chilli, Fred, and Evelyn” by Bob Wood
Please go here to access Mr. Woods’ and Angelina’s Uganda / Rwanda 2015 Summer Travel series.
I absolutely loved Uganda. Loved it with all my soul! Rwanda was a much needed breather after bouncing through Uganda for ten days….but Uganda warts and all, at least for me, was preferable.
…and almost everything that Rwanda is not.
Rwanda was ordered; Uganda chaos. Traffic lights in Rwanda mattered; not so in Uganda. The sidewalks were free of impromptu businesses in the Rwandan capital of Kigali; every square inch of concrete in Kampala features a new capitalist venture. Vegatables for sale. Beds for sale. Peanuts and kitchen goods and matoke and dresses and haircuts – everything’s got a price. And that price is always negotiable. Cops aplenty in Kigali, many toting automatic weapons, are virtually non existent in Kampala. French to English. Concrete sidewalks to dirt. Illegal plastic bags to litter everywhere. And the motorcycle taxis… the modas, the bodas, in Uganda I steered clear of; I don’t ride roller coasters and I value my life. In Rwanda we lived on those things. So, it made it sense that after we flew into Entebbe from Egypt and taxied the forty-five minutes to the Ugandan capital at four in the morning– that we were scheduled into a youth hostel. Chaotic sleeping arrangements in a country of confusion.
Normally, I run from youth hostels….
They used to be an option – about thirty years ago. And they still work for energetic college kids looking to save a buck, young ones who want to white water raft, find friends, share stories, chase lions, and jump to their next adventure; all while basking in the glory of their “five bucks a night” bunk beds and community showers. I’m 58 years old and get cranky around all that energy. Angelina, to her credit is mature beyond her years. She loathes youth hostels – white people sharing white people stories headed on out on more white people adventures. But we needed someplace to plant ourselves, and the Red Chilli is Trip Advisors #1 spot to sleep in Kampala so we rolled the dice. And they came up seven…
Normally hostels, pile you all over one another. The Chilli however stretches out; they’ve got lots of room. Separate wings down multiple hallways, in various directions, for a couple of levels – it allows breathing space. . An upstairs restaurant and bar, a downstairs lounge with an outdoor patio, provides respite from the college hubbub. And the wi-fi’s actually fairly fast. Accessible wifi in Uganda; who would of thunk? A hundred meters down the lawn from the back patio a huge swimming pool centers a second restaurant and second patio that features really good wood fired pizza. Back at the main restaurant, the kitchen hums til 9:00 PM – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – and drumroll please – they take VISA. That means – breakfast, lunch, dinner, rooms, Nile Beer, T-shirts, pad locks, bug spray – everything but the pizza can go on the card.
Sleeping arrangements were good too. The rooms, dorm styled or suite, are basic but clean. They’ve got mosquito netting, screened windows, ceiling fans, clothing cabinets, and easy access to common showers and bathrooms. One thing that really impressed me about the Chilli was how hard staff worked to keep those bathrooms clean. Every morning, and periodically throughout the day, workers were scrubbing the floors and the showers and sinks. The whole place sparkled…and that’s not something I ever considered hostel material.
Normally, the big draw for any youth hostel is that it sends you off on exciting adventures. Trips get posted all over a common bulletin board; kids hook up and head off into the wilds. Red Chilli is no exception. Busloads of American and European students were constantly launched from the parking lot . Regularly reserved tour postings for white water rafting or for one of multiple safaris, at one of Uganda’s multiple national parks, provided guides and transport, on-site lodging and food. Hell, they even made up Ugandan sack lunches to go.
Thirty years ago – maybe. But not now. Me and Angelina opted instead to hang out three days in Kampala with Fred. Fred is officially the transportation director at the Chilli – unofficially he’s a tour guide, city guide, airport taxi man – anything that has to do with four wheels at the Chili goes through Fred. He picked us up at the airport on day one (A Red Chili luxury since Entenbe is forty five minutes from the capital) …and he never left our Kampala side.
Fred is cool. Fred has a cool car; we hired him for seventy bucks for the three days; then tipped him twenty more. We hung with Fred, talked politics with Fred, ate lunch with Fred, went to the theatre with Fred, and took every bit of advice he tossed our way. Fred insisted on the Ndere Centre Cultural Theatre – it was fantastic. Ugandan dancers and musicians, from the various regions of the country, put on a Broadway quality presentation of the great kingdoms of Ugandan past. Three hours outside at night in a beautiful amphitheater, with a gigantic smorgasbord of Ugandan food, our first night was educational seminar of dance
and dress and music. Then there was Idi Amin’s torture chamber; Fred said do it. We did it. Momar Kadafi’s national mosque, Kasubi Tombs, the markets and the neighborhoods and local restaurants- if Fred said “Go” we went. With Fred. In his car. Fred was our Kampala connection. We began each day with a Fred and a cup of coffee…spent the three days bouncing around Kampala with Fred and his car…ended each night with Fred and a Nile beer at the Red Chilli lounge..
It was also at the Chilli where we were introduced to a remarkable woman. From 6:00 PM to 9:30 PM every night on the Chilli’s outdoor patio – Evelyn lays out her wares. Every night she shares a taxi the forty-five minutes from her village to the Chili. Every night she shares a taxi the forty-five minutes back home. Evelyn is spokesperson for “Arise Woman of Faith” – a CBO – a community based non-profit organization that brings together local village widows who have been affected by war, HIV, and poverty with travelers at the Chilli. The gals (a dozen or so) in her village create all sorts of handcrafts and clothes and jewelry…some of it unique and some no different than what you’ll find at the local market; all of it home made back at the village.
What you will not find at the local market; at any market– is Evelyn; Angelina insists that in a past life Evelyn must have been royalty. She certainly looked the part in purple. …to sit and talk with her for twenty minutes, to listen to her inspirational message about hard work, and camaraderie with the girls in the village, about taking on the circumstances thrown at her, a fully positive outlook on life, is enough to convince anybody that anything in this world is possible. Evelyn is not merely a business women. Although she could teach the Muskegon Chamber a few things. She’s a educator, an ambassador, not only for her group, but for her village, her country. I am absolutely sure after watching her mix with the kids from the Chilli that while they may run off to Jinja to white water raft or Murchinson Falls to follow the elephants, for many when they think of the face of Uganda – it will be Evelyn’s that will come to mind.
Arise Women of Faith has been around for ten years; it grew out Evelyn’s personal losses. Her husband was killed when her children were babies; her father when she was a child. Each of the women, her comrades, have been widowed by third world circumstance, many at the hands of Kony and the Lords Resistance Army. Each of the women have a family to raise. Each of the women work by day to create the products that Evelyn carries each night to the Red Chili. Nobody in the group is looking for a handout. This endeavor is about hard work and team work and opportunity afforded by a free market at the Chili. A percentage of every sale goes back into the group to buy product. The rest to the ladies – food, rent, school uniforms, and medicine. That group is a family life line.
Angelina and I spent a lot of time on the Red Chili porch talking with Evelyn. On our last day in country, after our tour of Rwanda, we returned to the Chili, to Fred and to Evelyn. Fred drove us to her village – we visited, we met the gals, Evelyn’s daughter and brother and friends. We filmed our interviews. Evelyn cooked us all dinner. We planned. We bought a ton of stuff .
I have a goal here (that you all can help me with) to use the interviews, to feature the goods and the photos, and find Arise Women of Faith an outlet in Muskegon. To bring product here and sell it for them. To allow people, friends, citizens , customers the opportunity to know Evelyn like we were able to. I want to break down barriers, eliminate dangerous stereotypes. My hope is that if I can introduce the right people to her – that somebody will be as inspired as Angelina and I, and open their arms and their hearts and their business to a deserving group of hard working ladies pushed by an inspirational leader.
If you have any ideas that might make this work…please let me know.
It was the Red Chilli that provided us the opportunity to know Evelyn. To know Fred.
Actually its these kinds of encounters, stuff that isn’t on the schedule, personal experiences that don’t fit Lonely Planet’s “Top Ten Things” to do in Kamapala that makes back pack travel, particularly in the developing world, certainly in sub Saharan Africa the best. Spending three days riding with a guy in his car – you get to know him and his sense of humor, his values, his life, his dreams. Visiting with a dedicated woman, fighting with her comrades through the market to overcome hardship, that we can’t even fully comprehend and watching her carry herself with absolute class, despite the poverty all around, breaking bread and sharing food and family, that’s travel.
That’s what this whole backpack thing is all about.
That’s why I love it so. A separate post on Arise Women of Faith is in the works – so please stay tuned.