Portraits from Kampala’s Owino Market

The first thing to greet you when arriving at Owino Market is cacophonous noise. Buses, trucks, minibuses and motorcycle taxis, or boda-bodas as they are known, swarm around the outside of this vast and sprawling market, spewing fumes and exhibiting a reckless disregard for life. It is a scene full of blaring horns and music. In a city where the streets are chaotically packed with people and life, and frequently gridlocked with traffic (a phenomenon known locally as ‘the jam’), Owino Market still comes as an assault on the senses – all of them.

Owino Market, Kampala, Uganda, Africa

Owino Market, Kampala, Uganda, Africa

Vendor, Owino Market, Kampala, Uganda, Africa

Vendor, Owino Market, Kampala, Uganda, Africa

Vendor, Owino Market, Kampala, Uganda, Africa

Vendor, Owino Market, Kampala, Uganda, Africa

Owino is the biggest market in Kampala. Some estimates claim that as many as 500,000 vendors work in the market, selling pretty much everything there is to sell on planet earth. A walk through even a small section of the market is fascinating and disturbing: the noise, smells and colours of the market are disorienting and overwhelming. It is also a lot of fun, especially trying not to be ‘mzungued’ while haggling over the price of fruit. Owino doesn’t get too many mzungus (the Bantu word for white people), so you’re pretty conspicuous amongst the stalls – prices rise accordingly.

Owino Market, Kampala, Uganda, Africa

Owino Market, Kampala, Uganda, Africa

Vendor, Owino Market, Kampala, Uganda, Africa

Vendor, Owino Market, Kampala, Uganda, Africa

Fish vendor, Owino Market, Kampala, Uganda, Africa

Fish vendor, Owino Market, Kampala, Uganda, Africa

Fish, Owino Market, Kampala, Uganda, Africa

Fish, Owino Market, Kampala, Uganda, Africa

Being something of a novelty, people tend to be friendly, warning you about pickpockets and, since it is virtually impossible to get your bearings, helping out with directions. After picking up a few essentials – a process which takes much longer than it should – I headed back outside into the gridlocked streets and jumped on a boda-boda back to the hotel. These fearless motorbike taxis are the only way to get from A to B at certain times of day. The white knuckle experience, weaving in-between minivans, trucks and buses while trying to hold on to a bag full of bananas and avocados, is an obligatory introduction to the city.

Vendor, Owino Market, Kampala, Uganda, Africa

Vendor, Owino Market, Kampala, Uganda, Africa

Young woman in the market, Kampala, Uganda, Africa

Young woman in the market, Kampala, Uganda, Africa

Avocados, Owino Market, Kampala, Uganda, Africa

Avocados, Owino Market, Kampala, Uganda, Africa

More terrifying than even a boda-boda journey, is the sight of the really ugly scavenger birds, Marabou Storks. These birds can be seen all over the city, scavenging off human left overs and carrion. There were a number of them around Owino, waiting to pick up any scraps of food left over. They are very large and quite sinister to look at, which is one of the reasons they have acquired the name, the Undertaker Bird…

Marabou Stork, or Undertaker Bird, Owino Market, Kampala, Uganda, Africa

Marabou Stork, or Undertaker Bird, Owino Market, Kampala, Uganda, Africa

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