How I Met my African Mama, the Smuggler: 3

Crossing the Kenyan-Uganda Border, Eldoret to Tororo Leg – September 2007

Beautiful African sunset -- my last?

Beautiful African sunset — my last?

So here I am in the precise situation I’d been trying to avoid all day: Alone in a car with a man I’ve just hired to take me to a remote border crossing as the sun starts to set. So not good.  Like everywhere in Africa the car you hire has no gas. Cab drivers take partial payment of the fare upfront to buy the gas to get you where you are going. This is standard. So my driver asks for half. I give him $40 U.S. dollars, but he can’t buy gas with US currency, so we go to exchange the money – and not at a bank.

We drive down a couple of back alleys, behind what looks like housing projects, to group of men standing outside in the muddy streets. They start coming toward the car. I’m not exactly sure what’s happening but I started yelling at the driver as soon as we turn off the main highway. No back roads! 

Thankfully, the driver also re-considers his plan for a back-alley currency exchange and gets the hell out of there. The men hit the car as we drive away. This is not a good time. This is not how an African daughter should be treated!  I literally I thought that the end was at hand. I knew the stories. People disappear in situations like this.

During the whole back-alley episode, I was frantically trying to call my friends on the Uganda side and tell them the license plate number of the car so they would at least know where to start looking for my body. Let’s just say, I’m a little stressed at this point. So we drive around town, but all the banks are closed and we finally head to the only currency-exchange center in town. The bus station. Yep, back where I started an hour later. Except now the bus is there and the passengers are embarking. I’m tempted to jump out and rejoin my bench-warming friends on the bus, but I don’t think the bus will make it to the border before dark, so I stay in the car. My driver exchanges the money I gave him, gets gas and we’re on the road. I keep looking out the window to ensure we’re following the sun and heading west. This is my GPS.

This is the real Africa.

Rah P, a popular Ugandan rapper

Rah P, a popular Ugandan rapper

It’s about a 2-3 hour drive and we’re making good time. No stopping. Not much talking either. I’m just listening to his African rap music (which I like) and stare out the window.  It is truly beautiful scenery, lush and green and we pass by a famous mountain in the valley. We also pass by some pretty poverty-stricken areas.

We approach the border a couple of hours later, and my driver is trying to get me as close as he can so I don’t have to walk through the groups of touts. They see me and there’s a bit of a frenzy, with the guys gesturing frantically and yelling at me through the window. I am fresh meat after all.  All of a sudden, my driver starts getting really nervous for me. He doesn’t want to let me out of the car without my friends to greet me. Which, in turn, makes me really nervous and I don’t want to get out of the car either. Argh! But I have to. My friends (who I’ve never met) are waiting on the other side of the border in Uganda (I think). I only need to make it about 100 yards to the first gate of the Kenyan border guard. I have no choice. I grab my bags and just walk steadily toward the border, ignoring the people yelling and grabbing at me. I get my exit stamp, then enter no-man’s land between countries.

A nice house in UgandaBelieve it or not, this was the eeriest part of the entire day — walking that strip of barren land, with twilight starting to set in. I make it to the Uganda border post. Pay an entry fee that was not specified in the book to uniformed guards watching a soccer game on TV. I’m in Uganda.  Whew!  I go to look for my Mifumi friend to pick me up. My contact’s husband was supposed to be waiting and I know he’s British, so I just assumed the one white guy waiting in the car was him. I walk up to the car (am I out of stupid mistakes, ‘cause I’m about to make another one here…). I’m pretty darn happy to see him and he seems pretty darn happy to see me.  That is until I figure out that he doesn’t know who I am and I’m about to get in his car. Really, will the drama never end?! I abruptly turn around and decide to sit on the wall to weigh my decisions, which there doesn’t appear to be many.

My Mifumi friends: Simon, Patrick, Atuki and Glynn

My Mifumi friends: Simon, Patrick, Atuki and Glynn


As I’m sitting there on the brink of crying, another car pulls up and asks if I’m Erin. Yes! He introduces himself as Glynn and says they are expecting me. He will take me to my hotel in Tororo, then we will all go out to dinner that night.

At last I am in the hands of my Mifumi friends for the next several days. My one-day odyssey is over. I’m lucky to have survived un-injured and just a little scared of the predicament I put myself in. And really, I met so many nice people along the way, who were truly trying to help me out. I think. Pretty sure anyway.


Read Parts 1 & 2:

  • How I Met my African Mama, the Smuggler: 1
  • How I Met my African Mama, the Smuggler: 2
  • This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 11th, 2009 and is filed under Africa.

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