• Pernille Bærendtsen


I used to fear driving in Africa. When I left Copenhagen for two years in northern Uganda in 2005, I knew I had to drive an often loaded Toyota HiLux around West Nile, including crossing the River Nile on a very crowded ferry. The first times I had to cross from Adjumani to Laropi side in mornings, my stomach tied knots hours ahead. The scene at the crossing was at times manic with people and cars pushing for securing a free spot on the ferry. We had to reverse onto the ferry while avoiding to get a tyre stuck in the gap of the floor of the ferry, nor should we splash mud on walking passengers. During the rain season, the roads turned into mud, and when the tracks dried up with the sun, the road had taken a new formation. Then there were the risks of clashing with the Nile Coach (the daily bus connecting people of West Nile and South Sudan with Kampala), which basically bended gravity; break-downs, ambushes or what not.

Fear is not a bad thing, but it can either make life impossible, or grow you stronger. We were put in situations where we had to ask ourselves questions of potential risks with high frequency. When I'd leave Adjumani for Koboko, I'd call a colleague in the other end before I left. We'd check up upon each other. In Swahili, I learnt later, you ask 'umefika' - have you arrived? (Swahili is a language and culture of constant check-ups and check-ins).

For me still, the fact that I made two years in West Nile (and am looking forward to going back in a month's time for an assignment) obviously exposed me to the typical questions of what a woman can or cannot do. (I hope you figured out what I'd answer if you'd ask). It also created a sort of baseline, and I often think 'For every time I'd board that crazy ferry crossing the Nile, and kept arriving safely', there are just so many other things not to be afraid of.

#uganda #africa #fear #driving #therivernile #ferry #woman #women

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