I sprinted down the stairs, round the corner and onto the street. Left then right, right then left I ran through the maze of streets. Eyes over my shoulder, I stopped only when certain nothing was behind me. I leant against a wall, drawing breath quickly, ready to run again. The air was still damp from the earlier downpour and as the adrenaline subsided the reality of the situation crept over me like cold hands. In retrospect, how do you end up in a situation you didn’t want to be?
Clichéd I know, but I really hadn’t seen it coming. Only four hours earlier I‘d been in a restaurant enjoying drinks and dinner with friends after a long bus journey back from Gulu where I’d been conducting dissertation research. For the last two months I’d been in Uganda working for a newspaper in a small town and carrying out this research. It had been a trip the travel guides had ill prepared me for; the drive from the airport to town was a whirl of lush vegetation and the colours from the houses made a rainbow look pale in comparison. The people I‘d encountered so far were almost friendlier than friends I had back home. Well that was until now. Scrambling for my mobile I rang one of the guys I stayed with, no answer. I rang the other, no answer again. I started shivering, in panic I’d left without my jumper. I knew they were both out drinking so tried again, this time an answer but barely audible above the sounds of music and shouting. Then it went dead. Shit, they weren’t going to be any help. The city I’d naively thought I’d begun to learn in the daytime had a menacing unfamiliarity to it under the nights sky. I was completely lost. Where were the damn boda-boda drivers when you actually needed them. Normally you couldn’t take two steps without the cities expansive army of bike drivers swarming over you like moths to a light. I cursed myself, despite having travelled extensively and what I always believed to be cautiously, I’d still wound up in this situation. Without warning a low growl interrupted my thoughts and a thin stream of light snuck around the corner; I couldn’t believe it, a boda boda. Or was it. Split second decision; hide or approach, hide or approach. I approached. All the adrenaline flooding back, ready to run again if I needed to. The figure slowed down a couple of paces ahead of me, still time to run I thought to myself. However the older man simply asked where I was headed, told me a price and set off, remarking I should be careful at this time of the night on my own. Heart still pounding, little did he know I thought to myself.
As we zipped along the narrow unfamiliar streets, passing houses shrouded in darkness, my mind was a whirl of thoughts; what if I hadn‘t ran when I had, what if I had over reacted, what if I had just jumped out of the pan and into the fire? As if answering my thoughts the overhead sky was lit with a familiar sign, the hostel was in sight. I could have cried, in fact I think I did. I thanked the driver and ran to reception, towards the brightly lit bar and the sounds of music and laughter. I was safe at last, safe thanks to the kindness of an unlikely ally, the boda-boda driver.