Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Pearl of Africa

Wow I don't think I've ever been this bad at blogging. Sorry about that. The past month and a half were crazy because my boss waa here so work was constant. We had a very succesful fundraiser, I turned 23, and socially things are much better. It was so great to play classical piano again in public! A LOT of work but I'll say it was worth it :) And my black Talbot's cocktail dress find at mtumba was also great and quite funny since everyone else was wearing $1000 dresses courtesy of our finance person.

Uganda was amazing!!!! Beautiful country and beautiful people. I didn't feel like a mzungu nearly as much and it didn't get pointed out to me everywhere I went (only on public transport). After a horrendous bus ride from Nairobi, I arrived in Jinja where I was greeted by a wonderful CS named Micheal who brought me home and introduced me to his wife and baby. Women here have no problem nursing in public. It doesn't matter if it is someone else's home, a bus, or a church, they just pull out the milk makers right then and there and this women was voluptuous in a way I rarely see. Aside from seeing 100 school children at the source of the Nile where I learned Gandhi spoke and eating a full lunch of 10 diff kinds of carbs and Nile Perch fish for under $2, the day was pretty uneventful. The night on the other hand was the first time I knew what it felt like to be in a tin roofed house while a rain storm occurred and my stomach growling of hunger. Eventually, I asserted myself and they drove me to get some food, but that definitely took some courage and I knew what it was like for many who don't have a car to rescue them and go to bed hungry.

People were so helpful, helping me find my CS's workplace in Kampala. After dropping my heavy 7 kg bag off, I found a local place for lunch where I could finally have some greens and a yogurt. IT's so nice to be able to choose for yourself what food you want. As great as it is to eat with local families, food diversity is something that I learned in Chile was really important. I ended up meeting another CS who did art with local kids and aside from a great museum with a section dedicated to music, the highlight of Kampala was the Ndaris Center where I got to see several different Ugandan tribe dances and music. I also went to my CS's grandma's house for lunch after a mega-church service with a TV-like commercial and announcement video on a big screen. I couldn't believe I was in Africa with this high tech stuff.

But my most memorable part is the wonderful family I found at Lake Kifunika campsite after a taxi sedan with 8 people in it broke down and they refused to let me get out and a boda (motorcycle) ride through the countryside (the main way to get around). Meble helped cook there but she at age 21 was also teaching tourism students aged 19 and 20 birding and debate. They invited me to go along and I have never seen such excellent birds. Hear that? That's a ... See that? That's a ... which was succeeded by confirming it in the bird book. She was right every time. I also had a very detailed guide show me every type of botany we passed and went to two Ugandan schools and taught them a song I do with Umoja Ensemble and recorded it and then decided to be silly and do Head Shoulders Knees and Toes. They loved it! I didn't go to Murchison Falls but this Bugahoma Falls was GORGEOUS (and free)!. For the next three days I was a part of their family and no one wanted me to leave and the feeling was mutual. I had originally chosen this part of Uganda to see the chimps, but sadly aside from the beauty of the park it was a waste as I could only see a black blur of fuzz 100 ft. up a tree in a nest. I did learn about them and heard them coughing and through the binoculars caught a glimpse of their face but there are no photos to document this.

The next day was hell. I woke up saying a tearful goodbye and couldn't believe how attached I got after 3 days, realizing I did not feel this same attachment in my current location after 8 months! My host arranged a ride with a courier driver who was wonderful and stopped to let me take pics of the crossing of the Equator and showing me viewpoints of Queen Elizabeth Park, but once we arrived in Mbarara that was the end of the fun. I still had another at least 3 hr bus ride and didn't know anyone at the other end. But after repetitive ATM failed attempts, a really bad connection Internet cafe and no answer at home to see if they could transfer money, I got a really bad exchange rate and forcibly exchanged a $20 blil so I'd have at least enough money to take a bus and have accommodation for the night. Yet all the buses had already left after this 2.5 hr detour so instead I went in a dala dala shoved to the window by 3 other people and my knees pressing up against the seat in front of me only stopping once for a "short call." On the way I had one of the most horrific experiences. I saw an ambulance blur past us and hit a man who instantly collapsed with blood dripping from his nose. AN AMBULANCE! Suddenly the whole town went to help the poor old man and our dala dala continued on its way. I was so scared after that.

After finally arriving in Kabale, I found out where I wanted to stay was still another 1.5 hrs but I figured the day had already been ruined and I may as well do all my traveling in one day. So I found a taxi and found out it really takes 2.5 hrs to get there so this would be in at 8:30 and the park guide was willing to meet me and help me find accommodation. Greedy greedy taxi drivers. 5 passengers wasn't enough for him (4 in the back, 1 in front) and we did not leave til an hr later when we had 7 psgers (AGAIN!). I was realizing this was a standard in uGanda and that taxis are not safer, faster, or more comfortable than a daladala in Uganda and was very thankful that taxis were not like this in Tanzania. So I began as the 4th person in the back. Yet the road was meandering every minute and I could not handle the weight of three people crushing my ribs as I was shoved even further into the door. Once one passenger left, I decided it'd be more comfortable in the front even with a gear stick where my feet should go so I switched. Taxis were the ONLY thing that made me irritated in Uganda, but I was completely peeved both times and this time muffled tears into my fleece with all the talk of the "mzungu" and knowing I was arriving in an unknown location at 10:30 at night. Thank god the guide was going to meet me there.

The next day made up for the preceding. I got to see the gorillas and not only that but had my own private tour!!!! And they actually care if you're a resident there so I got charged $25 less than the tourist rate and had wonderful accommodation with a very caring staff and excellent food. I had no idea it could get that cold, but thankfully I had packed wool socks, a Maasai shuka (blanket) and one long sleeve shirt. After a hot bucket shower and a cup of hot chocolate with a vegetable curry and chapati I bathed in the sun and reflected on the amazingness that was the gorillas! They were so BIG and one shook an entire tree branch at me but they told me not to run away as they were testing who was friend and who was enemy. When he rolled on his back and farted, I realized just how human they really were. No one has stressed how difficult gorilla trekking is though so I will attempt. Bush as high as you, going up and down grass tufts, through thorny trees, and only with a walking stick to guide you. I was VERY thankful for my rain pants! And I saw Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. BEAUTIFUL area! Then it was boda boda to the border which I presented my passport and walked right across into the Land of Thousand Hills: Rwanda.

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