I went shopping in downtown Kampala yesterday along with thousands and thousands of others! Holy cow, so this is what shopping during the Holiday Season is like? It was chaotic, crazy, and absolutely amazing!
Traffic jams, human traffic jams… it was a constant moment-to-moment multi-sensory experience on hyper drive!
There are blocks and blocks of shops. Each one is filled with two to three to four floor buildings with shops on every floor and narrow inner hallways that lead through more stores and shops that range from 5 x 3 feet to larger 10 x 12-foot rooms filled with colorful fabrics and dresses and so many things! So many patterns! So much to see!
There was a constant backdrop of sound: from the guy calling out, “Dresses, 60,000 shillings,” in the local language, so to my ears it sounded like an auctioneer; to hearing, “Mzungu, come see our shoes,” and “Mzungu, check out our dresses;” to the buzz of women talking in low voices in the interior shops; to the sound of traffic…
And the smells! Body odor, traffic exhaust, rubbish in the streets, meals of beans and posho, sweet potatoes and meat, being eaten by men and women taking a break from selling their wares to have some lunch…
We were on the hunt for lassos (shawls) to give as gifts to the “Kakas” – the grandmothers of the family, both of whom we’ll be visiting in their villages over the Christmas holiday. We were also looking for a shirt for me to wear under the “mushanana” (traditional) dress they made for me in September (I’ll wear this again on Christmas) and a few other things.
Oh, the bartering that goes on when negotiating prices! I had the joy of sitting back and watching as Annette expertly handled these conversations. There’s a fierceness on both sides about prices yet it’s also done with some fun and respect. They know this is just part of the purchasing process. It was fun to watch how they’d exchange words about price, pause, turn their attention to something else (usually me and the item in question) then return to the pricing conversation.
At one point, as we walked through a very crowded, narrow hallway, we were in the left lane of people sloping down and there were people coming up on our right. A man pushed through, coming up through our line of people, carrying 5 sacks of big heavy burlap bags on his head and in his arms. I saw him too late and got knocked to the side as he came through. The people I fell into up righted me quickly, shot dirty looks to the guy who had pushed through, and we all moved on.
I marveled at how I was able to be with the crowds and sensory input and not get overwhelmed by it all. Sure, I had a moment when I could feel the sweat dripping down my lower back as someone asked me a question I didn’t understand and I felt myself starting to get annoyed. So I took the seat that was being offered to me and took a breath and the moment of annoyance passed.
As I reflect on our afternoon adventure, I realize I wasn’t trying to block any of the sensory input or have it be quieter or less chaotic, or something different than it was. Instead, I leaned into it, receiving it all, grateful to be here, grateful to be alive, inspired, entertained and delighted by the many expressions of life that are here in this colorful capital city of Kampala.