06 October 2009

victory is sweet, even deep in the cheap seats.


Uganda: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2892561&id=2001205&l=a8e8ff8849
Rwanda: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2892547&id=2001205&l=bc92401ce9

As the photos suggest, the trip was incredible. I've never met so many ridiculously friendly people as I did in Uganda. Even the immigration officials had enormous grins on their faces. When we stumbled into the rioting in Kampala, people went out of their way to make sure we weren't involved. Our bus driver warned us about streets to avoid, and a woman ended up walking us a kilometer out of her way to show us to a bus station we were trying to find. And this wasn't limited to saving the mzungus from chaos - on Bushara Island, a stunningly beautiful camp on Lake Bunyonyi (thanks Will for the recommendation!), the staff were equally attentive (apologizing for food being late? Inday?). Bushara was a Peace Corps Volunteer's dream - sustainable, eco-friendly camp (composting toilets!) staffed by the local community and where all profits go back into the community. Scholarships for students, orphan caregiver businesses, handicraft cooperatives, vegetable garden on the premises, dance troupes, dugout canoe trips - the works. We further proved our theory that if you're willing to make a fool of yourself, people will love you forever. Ugandan dance is not beginner-friendly. Lots of spirited leaping high into the air - exhausting. But more more free and uninhibited than most Ethiopian dances, so it was refreshing to move something besides our shoulders. We definitely felt it the next day though! We stayed in a sweet little "treehouse" (although not actually in a tree) with a balcony overlooking the lake and a gorgeous outdoor shower. Glorious. I'm going back if I ever find myself in Uganda again.

Rafting the Nile is better described in photos (we successfully navigated our way down a 12 foot waterfall!), but I'm now considering abandoning all my academic plans and getting certified as a raft guide. That would be the life, for a few years at least. One of our fellow rafters was a Kiwi working for a charity that funds, among other things, an NGO in Somaliland (not Somalia!) working on education and rehabilitation for former Islamic militants. He found my excitement rather odd, to say the least, but is putting me in touch with the directors to see about possible teaching jobs. You meet the most fascinating people wandering through Africa.

And the mountain gorillas. Yes, it's worth it. A 400-pound silverback walked within a meter of me. They're such breathtaking animals, it's easy to see how Dian Fossey ended up spending her life with them. I've never felt so poor in all my life though - we were surrounded by middle age, high-end travelers decked out in all the fancy trekking gear and wearing several thousand dollars worth of camera equipment dangling off their belts, and there we were, the backpackers in ratty clothes, staying at the ten-dollar a night hostel and fretting over the cost of hiring a car to the park entrance. I think the park staff noticed and took pity on us though, because we ended up trekking the Susa family, the largest of them all (41 members when most have 10-15) and also the family that Fossey studied. After scrambling up wet undergrowth on a 45 degree incline at 2500 meters for three hours, we walked up to a sleeping silverback, the family matriarch, and her six-month-old baby. And it just gets better - we ended up seeing at least 24 members of the family, including the playful five-year-old twins who seemed to love posing for our cameras. You're so close that a telephoto lens is actually a handicap. Incredible.

Within our group, we also had a very amusing travel companion, who apparently had "the worst shower of his life" at a $500 per night resort overlooking the volcanoes. We amused our fellow trekkers with stories of Ethiopia, which was simply beyond comprehension for most. Peter frightened them all describing how excited Karen and I got when we discovered that sliced bread abounds in Uganda (seriously - people walk around the bus station selling it! I haven't seen sliced bread in two years!). Note the number of photos we took of us eating basic grocery store food. And then there were the crisp green apples on every street corner. We had a mild breakdown in a supermarket in Entebbe trying to decided between three kinds of equally priced cheese (it took us close to ten minutes to reason it out), then a similar incident when faced with six varieties of sliced bread. We won't even discuss our reactions to finding such a glorious supermarket. Just a precursor to the odd creatures we're going to be when we come home. Consider yourself warned.

We also spent a few nights in Gisenyi, on Lake Kivu, a quiet little lake town that has actually been slightly ruined for me since I learned that it served as the HQ for the interim government/genocidaires when the rebel army captured Kigali. But it boasts a quiet lakefront beach, where we had picnics and made friends with random Rwandan wanderers who asked us for, in order, a book, lotion, and to take his photo with all of us. Plus a couple of teenage boys who proved unable to speak directly to women, diverting all their questions about Karen and I through Peter ("What book is Jessica reading? How old is Karen?"). We spent our evenings at a beach front bar enjoying the local Primus (served in 720 cl bottles!) and playing with the resident dog and her seven (!) puppies. That's an impressive litter anywhere, but to have that many survive in Africa? Wow. I had to be restrained from taking one or more home with us.

All in all, an amazing trip, riots and all. Both countries are highly recommended. Peace Corps officially booked my flight and I'll be home November 15. Crazy. New VSO volunteers arrived last week and the new PCVs arrive in Assela on Saturday (can't wait to meet you all!), so I have plenty of distractions for these final months.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Jessica, I've enjoyed all of your blogs. Your observations are always so insightful. Especially loved your pictures from Uganda and Rwanda. I wish you safe journeys on your way home. Mary Aldacushion (David's mom)