By James Bakama in Marrakech
IT was one of those trips that many will live to remember.
Right from the uncertainty of making it to the travel list; the fanfare on the chartered Ethiopian Airlines plane; the shattering defeat to the energy sapping trip back home, there was a lot that will always stick on the minds of the 153 passengers who travelled to the Moroccan city of Marrakech.
From the moment President Yoweri Museveni announced that he would not only be funding the team’s travel to Morocco but also a fans’ trip, there were all signs that there would be a scramble for places.
With virtually every Ugandan wanting to “fly”, the fans’ list kept changing almost by the minute.
FUFA and Education and Sports ministry officials were in process kept on their toes as everyone demanded for a slot.
On the eve of departure blows were almost exchanged at the federation headquarters in Mengo after some fans realized that their names had been replaced with officials from one of the big offices.
There was drama at the airport when reports trickled through State Minister in charge of primary Education Kamanda Bataringaya, who was head of delegation had in the chaotic preparations had his name removed from the travel list.
It took some tough talking from Bataringaya to be reinstated on the list. This, included a warning that the plane was going nowhere if he wasn’t aboard.
As one senior journalist put it, you could only be certain of making the trip with the plane taking off. Flight ET 8821 did eventually take off on Saturday morning, but even the departure, was after a delay.
But amidst all this, several fans, who were on their maiden flight, did everything within their means to get to grips with the unfamiliar demands of this mode of travel.
One lady when asked for a boarding pass, protested bitterly. “She interpreted this in Luganda to mean a bodingi or gomesi dress and a flat iron or passi. “Why as me for a bodingi. Is this Kwanjula.”
It was also a battle convincing others to use the lavatory for fear that they would probably fall through the plane on getting into the toilet.
But as the plane gained miles on the Entebbe-Abuja section many of these fans quickly gained confidence. They started blowing vuvuzela, drumming and singing while moving up and down the plane’s aisle.
The cabin crew was first upset by the noise but later had to get to terms with this new form clientele. By the time of arrival in Marakesh that evening, the crew was not only exchanging autographs but also accepting Uganda jerseys.
Meanwhile there was a big sigh of relief following news that the $120 that everyone had paid for a visa, local travel and stadium access would be refunded following government’s decision to take up the bill.
There was even more to celebrate to. Government also paid a $20 lunch allowance to everyone. One of the lead fans Ronald Senyondo popularly known as Obua, overwhelmed by the president’s gesture, called for another term of office for Museveni.
Besides daylight temperatures soaring to 35 degrees centigrade, Ugandans will always remember that chilly Marrakech night for Godfrey Walusimbi’s red card, Hamis Kiiza’s wasted chance and of course that eventual loss that threw Uganda out of the World Cup qualifiers.
Most of the Marrakech to Abuja return journey was quiet as the fans battling to recover from several hours of travel and the defeat, rested. The Abuja-Entebbe leg was livelier. There was a lot of signing for the $20 lunch allowance.
But for Rubaga North Member of Parliament Moses Kasibante, this came at a cost as NRM diehards like Senyondo said that by also signing for the money, the vitriolic opposition member had finally been compromised.
Kasibante, who had earlier been very vocal, suddenly fell silent. By the time the plane landed at Entebbe he was one of those very eager to quickly disembark. It had indeed been a long flight.