Muireann taking photos in Uganda


Mac Cool's Uganda Letter

Photographs and Stories by Muireann Mac Cool


B l o g

Kampala the Corridor City

22 Jul 2006

Discovering the wonders of winding streets and mall corridors in Kampala.

Whenever I see someone wearing a beautiful top, bag, dress or piece of jewellery I ask her “Where did you get that? It’s gorgeous”. I usually get hit with the short but not so sweet reply of “Town”.
“Yes obviously town but where in town?” I pursue, almost frustrated. In some cases he or she will respond again saying “Town” as perhaps a polite way of avoiding saying the second hand market Owino. The odd time the person will try to give directions if the shop was in a well-known place but in most cases I’ve been told that they know the shop but not the name, or the street or exactly how they can direct me to that shop.

A suspicious mind may have believed these cagey answers to be some sad attempt at guarding their beautiful purchases from copycats. This could be the case but more often than not I do believe it is not. For we live in a corridor city full of tiny shops bursting with stalls and displays that half fill the pavements & passageways of thousands of malls. The streets are packed with signs and entrances leading into dark corridors and stairways. So many signs that you don’t see them until you stand still where you’ve been directed to go, concentrate with all your might till as if by magic the sign you wish to appears. You need a guide to this corridor city to find what you’re looking for unless you’re happy to pay the higher prices found in malls with a western layout.

The layout of buildings, shopping malls and business complexes are nearly the opposite of those found in Dublin or Europe (Though Blackrock Shopping centre and the old Ilac before the 2006 renovations were a bit higgledy piggeldy). The spacious shops are rare and seldom are the displays sparse and carefully choreographed. Shops are as much warehouses, as they are shops with ALL stock on display. Rental space is so costly and in demand that the tiniest of spaces is converted into a shop.

Kukubo, a muddy alleyway or road near Mini Price and the Taxi parks in the heart of down town Kampala is a collection of the tiniest shops you have ever seen. Mr. Mirembe sits amongst a hoard of towering stationary in a kiosk like shop no wider than a meter. When I asked for ring binders he had to climb up onto his stool to doorsill level where he pulled them from shelves well above his head. Kukubo is, by the way, the cheapest place in Kampala to buy household things so long as you know the price before you go (toilet paper is a steal).

In my search for a wedding dress I’ve been led down many a corridor that I would never have ventured down before. I’ve been pulled up stairwells into buildings that appear to have no name until you leave them and realise “ah that’s what this is called” or “So this is the Majestic Plaza I’ve been directed to all those times”. With my guides I’ve discovered wonderful bakeries,places to rent jigsaw puzzles and bridal shops among other things. I always feel really good when I find this out of the way place that does a killer cake that other people don’t know about. (I hope on my blog I can share a few of these places with you and others). Kampala is definitely a city that needs to be explored and the corridors are now calling.

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