We had just ridden a mammoth day and were quite tired. We had really enjoyed a break on Lake Bunyonyi, so we stayed an extra day than we had planned. The result is that we had to try and ride from Kabale to Kampala in just a day, a bit further than normal but manageable. However, about 30km into the day, Anneen got a flat tyre. This was our first flat, which is amazing since we had already ridden 18,000km. We managed to get it fixed but lost a little time. We pressed on trying to get to Kampala before dark. Passing a monument marking the equator, I quickly stopped for about 120 seconds, just enough time to take a picture. The sun was beginning to set so there wasn’t much time to spare. Arriving in Kampala we had missed our goal, it was already dark. Anneen spotted a guesthouse named “Plan B Guesthouse”. We laughed but decided to stick to plan A. We don’t usually book ahead but this time we had booked at a backpackers because we had to have a package posted to us from South Africa. We had managed to cross 2 borders without anyone complaining about the lack of a number plate on Anneen’s bike but decided it needed to be replaced. Unfortunately after trying in both Tanzania and Rwanda this meant shipping from South Africa. As we got closer to the center of Kampala the traffic got pretty knarly, compounded by the darkness. Luckily we managed to navigate the busy town without incident and arrived at our planned stop for the night.
The capital itself is busy and chaotic, quite different from Kigali in Rwanda. Boda boda (motorcycle taxis’) are abundant, to the point where it’s difficult to know where to look. I remember learning my observations when I learnt to ride a bike at age 16, but this was ridiculous. The next day we got onto our primary task in Kampala, acquiring a visa for South Sudan. We had our letter of invitation from Isis South Sudan, our passports, photographs and money. In theory all you need to get a visa. We listened to all the applicants going through the process and getting told, “Come back on Thursday to collect your visa”. Unfortunately after filling in the paper work they sprung a surprise on us, they wanted to see the company / organization registration document for Iris. We knew this would probably mean coming back tomorrow. So we sent an email to Iris and got the response the following morning. Heading back they seemed happy with the paperwork and responded, “Come back on Monday to collect your visa”. Monday? It seems the embassy is closed in Friday through to Sunday. Unfortunately this was going to push back our arrival in South Sudan.
With our new gained free time in Kampala I got some editing done that was hanging over me. We also did a day trip to Jinja, which turned into an impromptu over night trip. In Jinja we saw the source of the Nile, well one of the sources. Is it really possible to locate the source of a river (queue Top Gear)? In Kampala we also took the opportunity to replace the headlight bulb on my bike which only had brights and not dipped lights. There was a mechanic at the entrance to the backpacker which seemed to be making a living servicing bikes belonging to expats. The locals all have Chinese 125cc bikes, but here there were quite a few bigger bikes. Whiles chatting to the mechanic we met another customer, an American. It turned out he was a missionary, so we decided to mention our project. As we head further north we’re trying to be more careful about talking about our project as in some places it would not be well received. After hearing about our project he told us about a Muslim background believer he knew that he thought would be keen to talk to us. He summarized his story, which was quite something. It involved fleeing his home country due to the conflict in Dafur, and then also having to flee Egypt because of his conversion. We exchanged contact details and planned to try to get in touch.
Monday came around and we reclaimed our passports with the additional visa. South Sudan is currently in civil war. After gaining independence only a few years ago the various tribes in the country began to compete for power. There are many rebel groups operating in the country, including the LRA (although it is thought that they are currently in the DRC). Before we had applied for the visa we had sought advice from Iris regarding security. We had been given advise about a safe route and that reassured us. While applying for the visa and confided in God, “If it is unsafe then prevent us from getting the visa”. But now I stood with visa in hand ready to head north. We looked back over the email from Iris. They advised against going to the capital and using the main route. There were known bandits and regular issues. But there was an alternative road to Yei that only required riding 80km within South Sudan.
A few days later we approached the border with South Sudan. We were told that the only tar roads in the country existed in the capital and sure enough the perfect tar road ended at the border post. After doing paper work on the Ugandan side we proceeded to the South Sudan side. The local immigration officers told us that we had to register with the authorities and pay a fee. I was unsure about whether I was being taken for a ride but paid and proceeded. Within 10m of crossing the border people in plain clothes pulled us over. I was very weary of anybody claiming to be an authority because of all the rebel activity. How do you know who you can trust and who you cannot? They wanted to search our bags, so we began to go through our belongings. We insisted that we open one bag at a time and go through things together, to avoid things disappearing. Maybe I was being difficult but after half an hour they moved us to a building. This was actually reassuring as there were at least official looking government logos on the building. Another half an hour of searching occurred. We’re still not entirely sure what they were looking for. Surprisingly the quad-copter was not a problem for them. However there was some excitement when they found a stash of A Narrow Path stickers. The manager stepped in and we were told we could go.
Leaving the border town we were weary of being on the road after dark. About 10km along the route we passed another government building. They wanted us to stop but I decided to keep riding. We had already completed our formalities, why should I give another person an opportunity to try to scam us. However another 200m down the road there was roadblock. We had to turn back but it was harmless in the end. We had just passed the border for the DRC and they wanted to check our passports. Luckily this time no bag searching, only a few questions about our belongings.
After this we proceeded on to Yei. South Sudan is our second country that drives on the right, but it’s a little different on dirt roads. You tend to drive in the middle of the road however when you encounter a vehicle coming the other way you have to remember to move over to the right rather than the left, a little confusing. Arriving there we waited for our host to come find us. Apparently a white person waiting in town for more than 5min is very suspicious and we had various ‘officials’ wanting to ask us questions. At one point I was taken to a building for further questioning. I make all the questioning sound bad, but really it makes perfect sense. The country is in civil war and there really couldn’t have been many tourists around. It’s funny how a little bit of fear affects your perception and your ability to trust people. Sometimes when you are travelling you forget how your attitude tints your experience. After this round of questioning our host found us and took us back to the Iris compound.
We spent around about a week with Iris in total. We really had a fantastic time. The base is the smallest of the 3 Iris bases we have visited and actually for both of us probably the one we enjoyed the most. We got to know all the missionaries there and many of the kids. Maybe the reason why our experience was different from other Iris bases was that there were no other visitors there. It really felt like we got to experience what life was like on the base. Sometimes on the other bases we have visited it’s tempting to mainly interact with other visitors.
Somehow in the midst of a country in turmoil the Iris base has such a sense of peace about it. It was fantastic to also see the kids really getting stuck into God there. A highlight there was worshiping with the kids during youth meeting.
Also while there we got to film some content with 2 different MBB’s, a Christian who’s brother converted from Christianity to Islam and various other people. Probably our most interesting interview was chatting to a pastor about the effects of war on the church. He really had a heart for peace making. Sudan was interesting for us because of the divide between the Arab (Islamic) north and the Buntu (Christian) south. We were really interested in how these two groups interact. We also got to meet with an Englishman who had been in South Sudan for around 20 years who answered a lot of our questions about history and politics. Right at the end of our stay we met up with a couple that are planning to resettle in a refugee camp near the border of Sudan.
This is getting a little long, I know, so I’m going to summarize the next couple of weeks after that. Please excuse the brevity. After dealing with a border official that didn’t want to let us back into Uganda, we ended up in a town called Arua. We had a contact there that worked with Scripture Union. We were really blessed with our time there. We got an opportunity to spend time with both a pastor and a sheikh who are involved with debates between Christians and Muslims. We got an opportunity to film an open-air church meeting in a local market. We also got to join Scripture Union on one of their outings to a church in a pretty remote part of north Uganda.
After Arua we went on to meet up with the contact that we’d been put in touch with via the American in Kampala. I don’t want to divulge too much about his story but it was quite an emotional story and we were blessed that he was willing to share it with us. Our film has 3 sub storylines, one of which is a scripted non-fictional story that we intend to shoot in a couple of months. We’ve already started the scripting process and █████’s testimony very closely follows the themes of the climax of that story line. This makes this interview really useful to us. We praised God that he would delay us in Kampala and set up this opportunity for us!
After this we had a couple of long days riding that led us to Kenya. We’ve had to make some calls about our trip, but more on that next time!