Goat Racing in Kampala

When I first heard about the Royal Ascot Goat Race in Kampala, I envisioned hordes of goat herders gently prodding their contestants up a large hill. This is what I found instead:

Although I’m from Kentucky, I’ve never actually been to a horse race. However, I assume that goat racing is pretty similar. People get dressed up, wear fancy hats, place bets, and eat and drink for the entire day. Here are some more photos of the racers:

This is just their warm-up lap. They do go a little bit faster–especially when one of the goats gets frisky and tries to mount another one! They also get really distracted on the turns and tend to start eating grass when they’re bored. That’s why the guy behind them sometimes has to step in and nudge them along.

In some ways, the goat race reminded me of college. It was a largely ex-pat affair and a great way to meet new friends on my third day in Kampala. Unfortunately, a few of my newfound friends had their wallets and cell phones stolen from them throughout the day.

The pickpockets here seem to be both talented and courteous. When they steal a purse or wallet, they normally take out the money and return the bag or wallet to the owner with ID’s, credit cards, and other documents untouched. Still, I don’t want to take the chance of having things stolen, so I keep my wallet in my side pockets and disperse my cards and documents in multiple places. That way if someone does steal my wallet, I won’t lose everything at once.

On our way to the goat races, my housemates, landlord, and I traveled by matatu–ubiquitous taxi vans stuffed with passengers that are incredibly cheap. Since the goat races were on the opposite side of Kampala, we took a matatu downtown and transferred at a mindbogglingly crowded taxi park:

You can just imagine the pollution created by all these used cars from Asia and Europe. Many of the vans are over twenty years old!

On my way back from Kabala Gala, where the goat races were held, I hopped on the back of a boda boda. Taking a boda is a much faster way to weave through Kampala than a matatu: my hour-and-a-half journey on the way there was cut in half on the way back. But riding a boda for 45 minutes was probably the most frightening thing I have ever done. Although I’m usually a thrill seeker–I love roller coasters and long to go sky diving–boda accidents are quite common and the risk of dying is enormous.

You see, bodas don’t actually drive in the left lane like they’re supposed to. They squeeze through cars, matatus, and land cruisers that rarely brake for bodas. In the U.S., drivers often give one another the right of way. Here, people just take it; and the bigger your car, the better. If you’re in a Land Rover with a big metal grate on the front, you’re golden. If you’re on a boda or worse–taking a bicycle or walking–you are in constant risk of getting hit by a bigger vehicle. And when your boda driver goes right in the middle of the road, between the left lane and oncoming traffic, so that he can pass all the matatus, your risk of getting hit is perilously high.

I will definitely be using bodas to get around, but I need to buy a helmet today or tomorrow. That way, if the inevitable accident happens, I will only break a couple limbs instead of fracturing my skull. I might invest in a bicycle to make short trips nearby, but then I’ll be even lower on the hierarchy of aggressive drivers.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Goat Racing in Kampala

  1. Nakafeero F. Masia

    For sure Brian, that was a worthwhile experience! Welcome to Uganda

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