"And now, I'd like us to pray for the journey ahead," said the conductor standing in the aisle of the bus, his eyes searching the crammed, stationary vehicle for any takers.
You have to hand it to Ugandans. They sure know how to make you feel safe and comfortable ahead of a five-hour journey.
I'd boarded the Post Bus, which not only delivers mail but people to various parts of the country, in Kampala at 8am that morning at...The Post Office.
I was bound for Gulu, northern Uganda. But with the prayer session, during which a male passenger asked God on everyone's behalf to keep an eye on the "good mechanical condition of the bus" and the talk on "last-minute passengers" who came on the vehicle "just to rob people", I could have been forgiven for doubting whether I'd make it to my destination in one piece with my backpack.
Luckily I'd travelled on my maiden journey to Gulu town on the Post Bus, and had lived to tell the tale.
That trip had been interesting. I'd arrived late to The Post Office that April morning. Result? A seat up the front behind the driver.
I was very excited. Would I see the postcard to Mum that I'd dispatched earlier in the week? I was quite curious, given the scores of times I'd been accosted by locals, complete strangers, on the street or had random phone calls requesting pen pals from overseas, about how many deliveries I would get to see. The Ugandans obviously loved to write. I'd received a huge request for pen pals while in the country (the number two request was probably pens. Well, it did make sense).
At one stage I'd contemplated whether I should launch my own pen friend scheme. My friends and I had gone through a pen friend craze when I was in year six, signing up to an international people-finding service. Once we'd taken advantage of a special offer - 'buy four friends and get the fifth for free'.
After my first journey on the Post Bus to Gulu, I decided my plan might work. The bus seemed to stop off at every village along the way up north.
Despite all the interruptions the trip was comfortable, if not largely uneventful, apart from the offerings on the side of the road. These were mainly 'meat on a stick' (pieces of meat on barbeque skewers) and plantain (a staple food in Uganda which looked like banana but was longer, thicker and starchier) wrapped up in notebook paper.
My time up north on Palm Sunday was anything but dull. On the way back from visiting a family in a village I was offered "edible rat" . No sooner had I turned it down when our vehicle got a flat tyre, just as a storm was also brewing. I wished I hadn't declined the local dish.
When our driver unsuccessfully failed to call us a lift back to Gulu town, we were forced (DISCLAIMER: Mum do not read this) to grab a ride with some strangers, locals, one of them called David, in a van, squatting on large sacks in the back. To this day I don't know what they contained.
I didn't get to know David that much. I didn't get to know David's Sister at all, but that hasn't stopped her from phoning me every other day, coincidentally asking for pen pals. Memo to self: always give a fake number to randoms, especially those who pick you up on the side of the road. I'm thankful for the lift, though.
The trip back to Kampala from Gulu was just as joyful. Many of the passengers I was sitting near had feathers and wings.
Some chickens were bought by bus passengers just as we were leaving Gulu. Others were purchased along the route to the Ugandan capital. At one stage a chook went soaring over my head as it was passed in from the roadside through the window to a woman on the back seat in a black plastic bag.
"That's a nice pet you have," I said to the lady. She gave me a knowing look which said that the animal might end up as Easter Sunday lunch.
Possibly aware of its fate, it sat there for most of the journey on its best behaviour, until the end when it broke free and walked over to my foot where it stayed for the remainder of the trip.
Sadly, I didn't meet any friendly fowls on my second trip to Gulu from Kampala.
I did however bump into some friendly locals and mzungus (white people) later in the Coffee Hut, which appeared to be the expat's number one choice of café in the town.
One American girl studying at Columbia University who had been in Gulu working with NGOs enlightened me about her world, helping me pass time during a ferocious thunderstorm on the Friday afternoon after I'd arrived.
"There's the ones who come in (at Coffee Hut) and sit down... and do spreadsheets... and you can tell their starting them up (NGOs)," she explained.
"They're the MONGOS, the ones who have their own NGOs. My Own NGO."
I hadn't heard of this term before, but was later informed by a former work colleague there was a book about aid work which contained a "fair amount on MONGOS".
After my brief introduction to the NGO world I decided to take a break, check out the Ugandan high street and indulge in some window-shopping. Only there weren't any windows. Many of the clothes were being sold on the side of the road on long, thick wooden racks.
There was the ubiquitous Obama plastic bag on sale for 3,000 Ugandan shillings ($1.22USD) Despite it being an election year, no one had snapped it up. In another shop I was ecstatic to discover a pair of Michael Kors heels on sale for 15,000 shillings (about $1.21USD). They appeared to be genuine.
Just as I was wondering how all these treasures got to Africa and what else there was, I saw it. Further down the road on the bottom shelf, along with scores of other t-shirts and opposite local tailors sewing on machines, was a purple t-shirt with the image of the world's most famous teenager emblazoned on the front. The asking price was 3,000 Ugandan shillings.
"Do you know who that man is?" asked the female seller, a completely bewildered look on her face, pointing towards Justin Bieber's face.
"No idea," I replied quickly, certain I was pulling off acting skills worthy of an Oscar.
I'd been told that the people of Gulu had their fair share of MONGOs. Should I introduce them to Justin Bieber?
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