The streets have no names

Verifying the third “fact” about Fr. Kees de Cock proved to be the most difficult challenge as I embarked on a hunt to discover the street bearing his name.

My first step was to conduct a Google map search of Kampala, the city where my Dad believes the street is located. I have employed Google maps on innumerable occasions to obtain a picture of a building for many of my destinations. If someone were to visit my home, for example, they would receive directions spoken over the phone and could retrieve a picture of our house to ensure arriving at the correct location. I recall with great fondness how my Dad, from the comfort of our home, was able to show his grandchildren the house where he lived in Tilburg, the Netherlands, and walk them down the street to explain the various buildings, the school he attended, the church where he was a member. As a tool it is mind boggling.

I had expected, naively perhaps, the default map view of Kampala within Google would reveal my Uncle’s street; zooming ever closer to see increasing detail, I found most of them unmarked. I systematically and methodically surveyed squares of all parts of the city, moving from the northwest corner down to the southwest, back up north, eventually to the southeast section. I could not find any street even remotely labelled in a manner to suggest it might bear Fr. Kees de Cock’s name sake.

There are roads and streets named after people: Wilson Road, Ben Mali Road, Prince Luswata Road and probably more but I am unfamiliar with the language and the history. My search also revealed large inconsistencies in what Google displays. Sections of Kampala show areas with an abundance of labels and where names are common: Oakland Lane, Mango Tree Lane, Valeria Road, Dream Home Road, Semukuutu Road, Murihira Land; and others are clearly numbered: B17, A31 C25. The roads around and within Makerere University all bear an appellation.

Street view of a section of Kampala where the streets are entitled Oakland Lane, Mango Tree Lane, Valeria Road, etc.

In numerous corners of the city, however, whole sections are untitled, showing only the curves and bends of neighbourhoods without a sense of place. The satellite view provides an overhead look at the roofs of houses and buildings, the trees and greenery, the paved and dirt roads. When you add the street view option, the limitations of Google maps to find very specific locales are revealed.

A street view of a random section of Kampala unmarked by Google or obvious signs

Any city of significance in the western world where all dead end streets, each court, and every lane way are displayed, you can locate the address of your choice; Kampala, the capital of Uganda, home to 3,280,000 people has been photographed selectively. You cannot get any more specific than major intersections; the maps are bereft of considerable detail.

Satellite and street view map from a random section of Kampala

The logic of Google maps in determining which landmarks to display can be mystifying. A search shows the location of religious buildings, schools, and municipal buildings, all which make sense for the interested. Paradoxically, Google also decided to mark “Kisa day one old chicks”, “Happy Boyz Bar” and “Ani alemesa pork joint”, examples of the obscure and curious to be found perusing maps of Kampala or those of other towns.

A search of Kamuli, thinking possibly my Dad mixed up the location, proved even more fruitless. Kamuli Road and Gabula Road, the two main thoroughfares in and out of the town (population between 15 and 54,000 depending on who is counting) are labelled; and curiously, a small artery, Temple Road, is also marked. Names of other streets do not appear to exist. Furthermore, not a single spot on the Kamuli town map and for miles around it have pictures in the street view look.

The lyrics for U2’s song, Where the Streets Have No Names, were intended to represent an ideal world where a person is recognized for themselves rather than be judged by the location of their home and street:

The lyrics were inspired by a story that Bono heard about Belfast, Northern Ireland, where a person’s religion and income were evident by the street on which they lived. He contrasted this with the anonymity he felt when visiting Ethiopia, saying: “the guy in the song recognizes this contrast and thinks about a world where there aren’t such divisions, a place where the streets have no name.

Google has turned Bono’s intention on its head. Not having a name attached to your street reflects a lower rung of the hierarchy in a world of consumers and users; and is concomitantly, emblematic of your perceived global importance.

The absence of a street bearing the name, Fr. Kees de Cock Boulevard/Road/Avenue, in itself is not evidence of its non-existence. It may not be in an area to meet Google’s standards for inclusion; it may have been an adopted name rather than an official designation. My father may have mistaken the place and instead, the street is a humble lane in Kamuli where only the major roads are marked.

Rather than dismiss his assertion, I choose to believe the street exists without seeing it, holding faith in my Dad’s repeated recollections. He was correct in the other two “facts” and therefore, likely was accurate in this claim as well; the proof is just not as easily found. I expect the street is close to my Uncle’s parish in Kamuli, known only to its inhabitants because of the enduring influence of Dikoko and the pillars he helped build. It would be populated by the ordinary people he served. Not being identified by Google maps may indeed be a badge of honour.

And if the street has no name, then it reflects Fr. Kees de Cock, because he treated everyone equally.

One thought on “The streets have no names

  1. I found this a fascinating read. With Kampala – as in many African countries, including where I live – you might find that some of the streets have had their names changed as different governments come into power. Of course I am referring to streets that were named to begin with. In my town the names of certain streets have been altered (as has the name of the town) and yet a whole range of streets are still named after the letters of the alphabet!


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