Victory Community Gardens, Kabale
Victory Community Gardens, Kabale
March 4, 2006
From Uganda to Tanzania in 30 hours flat!
We arose at 4 a.m. to a lovely spread of fruit, bread, eggs and coffee/tea, prepared the night before by our friends at Town Centre Guest House, Benson, Josam and Allen. The water in the thermos was still hot and we were enjoying our early morning tea when we were jarred by the trumpeting of a bus horn. We grabbed our bags and scrambled downstairs to board the bus. As we collected other bleary-eyed passengers around town, we were assailed by Uganda’s version of MTV. A rap artist was spitting out some cacophonous tune, while women were being splayed out across pool tables and assuming a variety of seductive poses. Thankfully, this show was soon replaced by a far more inoffensive Ugandan soap opera and finally the TV was turned off altogether. We rolled into Kampala about six hours later and were dropped off on a busy downtown sidewalk. While we were collecting our packs, a couple of well-dressed women urged us to hurry along, that the area was riddled with pick-pockets. We thought we were all in the line-up when I noticed that Peter was missing. He was still waiting to retrieve his walking sticks. I could see the tops of his sticks protruding from his backpack, but couldn’t see him in the thick crowds. He finally emerged a little shaken. Someone had unlatched his outer straps and had tried to remove his shoes that were secured to the outside of his backpack and were trying to get into the main compartment of his backpack. He managed to grab his shoes and re-secure his backpack and we pushed our way through the combat zone to join the others. Some friendly shop owners got us on the right track to our next destination, the Scandinavia bus office, by telling us to ask for Christ the King Church, not Scandinavia, as the church is the central Catholic cathedral for the capital and everyone knows where it is. With these directions, we weaved our way through downtown Kampala and found our way to the bus office. Agnes, the clerk I had talked to on the phone yesterday, was waiting for us and greeted us enthusiastically and booked our passage to Arusha. In the meantime, I went over to Christ the King to ask them about St. Joseph parish, the parish where the child that my friends Kathy and Reinhold Baron have sponsored for several years lives. After trying to reach the parish or Capuchin friars, who run the project, I left my parcel with the office to deliver in my and Kathy and Reinhold’s behalf. At 1:15 p.m. we departed and spent the next 18 hours enroute to Tanzania. A few hours into the trip we crossed back into Kenya and had our first run-in with the law! The immigration officer on duty ushered us into the office and interrogated us about our Kenyan visa, reprimanding us for not getting a replacement visa when our passports were stolen in Nairobi. He then informed us that we would have to pay for another set of visas! We protested and were directed to proceed to the next office to discuss the matter with his supervisor. In the next office was a man behind a desk and a woman sitting informally in a chair in front of the desk. We began to address the man behind the desk until the woman perfunctorily told us to address her only. She reiterated that we needed a replacement visa, that the police abstract was not sufficient to prove our legal arrival in Kenya. At this point, I poured on the sweet talk and told her we couldn’t afford to pay these fees again, that we were robbed in her country and we would hope she would make every effort to assist us in our plight. She pondered this outpouring and you could see her attitude visibly change. Not only did we not have to pay anything but she became a staunch advocate and even wrote a note to the next immigration officer we were going to encounter at the Tanzanian border! Saved by resourcefulness yet again! We arrived at the border at 4:30 a.m. and sailed across Kenyan immigration without incident. At Tanzanian immigration, however, we were the last to be released as we had to wait for the visa officer to arrive, disheveled from having been arisen at such an ungodly hour to process our request. Thankfully, the bus waited and a few hours later we arrived in Arusha. We landed a hotel and immediately set off for the Catholic Church indicated on our map as it was Sunday morning which turned out to be St. Theresa’s.
February 27-March3: Victory Community Gardens, Kabale, Uganda
We spent the week working at the community gardens and facilitating workshops about land-use planning, sustainable gardening techniques and strategies, media and community relations and volunteer management. The following news release summarizes the events of the week.
KABALE - This week, February 27 through March 3,
The long-awaited long rains began on our first day of work, just as we were heading to the garden site located on the steep slope of one of the surrounding mountains. During the heaviest deluges, we sought refuge in a small shop and later at a primary school near the gardens. The young children at the school were, as you might imagine, very distracted by the unexpected visit of these peculiar muzungus (white people). They were in the middle of a math lesson but, when the lesson was suspended due to deafening rain, the children gave in to their curiosity altogether, their eyes alive with inquisitiveness. Every time we took a picture and our flashes flashed, the whole group shrieked with delight. Steve and I visited with a couple of children, helping them with their math problems. We were dismayed to see that many only had a stub of a pencil and realized why pens and pencils are so coveted by children throughout East Africa. They are indeed a precious commodity.
When the rain finally subsided, we gathered outside the school to meet the volunteer crew of a dozen committed and hard-working women. During the course of the week, they were delighted when we remembered their names and interacted with them, though we were unable to speak each other’s languages. During our brief interlude at the gardens, we actually built one long bed and several terraced beds and planted onions and carrots. That afternoon, we met with Pastors Edward, Johnson, and Frank, whose faith communities are part of the community gardens project, to hammer out the itinerary for the next week. While Marcia, who is a master gardener and long-term volunteer at Food for Lane County’s Grassroots Gardens in Eugene, directed activities at the garden site, Steve, Carrol and I presented workshops on a variety of subjects including volunteer recruitment and retention; media relations (how to write a news release, develop a promotional plan and solicit the media); and land-use planning (how to develop a site map and long-range land-use plan). Over the course of the week, about 30 people from the community gardens project and a variety of other community-based organizations, including several HIV-AIDS programs, participated in the seminar series, hosted by Victory Community Gardens. With the help of very adept translators, we were able to brainstorm, facilitate small and large group processes, and share a tremendous amount of information. The highlights included a small group session on volunteer retention, a media panel discussion, critiquing each other’s draft news releases, and participating in a lively, weight-scale, decision-making process to decide what crops to plant in the gardens. All this information was compiled into a manual that we presented to Pastor Edward to share with the community on the last day of the seminar.
On our last day, Marcia came in from the field and gave a workshop about lessons learned from her experiences volunteering at Grassroots Gardens in Eugene and her week at Victory Community Gardens. When she walked into the conference room dressed in authentic African attire, there was an audible exhalation of approval. Bedecked in a colorful headdress and wraps for a blouse, skirt and scarf, she was transformed from an ordinary muzungu into a stunning African beauty! They were all rapt as she relayed her gardening stories and wisdom. Over and over again, she reiterated how impressed she was by the industry and dedication of the all-women volunteer crew at the gardens. In just 5 short days, nearly the entire 1-acre plot had been terraced and many crops had been planted! We ended the series with a round-table wrap-up in which the participants discussed important issues that had been raised during the course of the week (including the proper disposal of garbage and the use of organic vs. chemical pesticides) and expressed their overwhelming gratitude to us for taking the time to visit their community and share our expertise with them and their commitment to continuing the dialogue among the community leaders gathered at the seminar this week—a very gratifying outcome for all of us! In closing, Pastor Edward asked me to help him distribute to all the participants the certificates of appreciation that Peter had created and we embraced them all and acknowledged their unique contributions during the course of the week.
Media relations in Uganda
Early in the week I taught the course on PR tactics, emphasizing how to write a news release and solicit free media. There were a remarkable number of media outlets in this small town—desks for two national newspapers and several local newspapers and radio stations. The news release we submitted about the seminar series and community gardens project got a couple of bites. We had the opportunity to be interviewed by a reporter from one of the national newspapers, New Vision, as well as a local radio station. The article in the newspaper was scheduled to be published the week after our visit! Because of these early contacts with the media, I was able to organize a media panel for my next seminar later in the week. Three local reporters from print and radio participated in the panel discussion and I was enthralled with their comments about the role of the media, what makes an effective news release and the hallmarks of a productive relationship between PR professionals/community organizers and the media in Uganda. Though many of the principles were the same, perhaps one of the most striking differences between the U.S. and a developing country, like Uganda, according to one outspoken reporter on the panel, is that the primary purpose of the media in Uganda is to inform and educate the public, to actually shape a new and better society, while it appears that in the U.S. the role of the media is to entertain. I made the point that the media in the U.S. has been subverted from its true purpose which, like Uganda, is to educate and inform and to create an unbiased forum for public dialogue. If you’re interested in the notes from this discussion, please let me know. I compiled it and it is part of the manual we prepared for Pastor Edward at the end of the educational series.
Math on the slopes
On Wednesday, while Steve and Carrol presented workshops, I spent the day working in the garden with Marcia, Susan, our interpreter, Peter and the women volunteers. We worked on perfecting our terraced raised beds, i.e. getting them as flat as possible against the steep grade, before planting cabbage and onion. Peter worked tirelessly on one particular bed in the steepest section of the garden, applying the Pythagorean Theorem to find the right angle and a lot of sweat and toil to reproduce it on the slope! It was late in the afternoon when we finally finished the day’s work and we were all tired but gratified by the day’s accomplishments. It was remarkable to see how the garden had been transformed in just a few days. We came together in prayer to give thanksgiving and in another expression of appreciation, Pastor Edward and several of the women led a round of traditional Ruchiga song and dance, lively music and foot-stomping dance!
The hills are alive with friendship
After the seminars on Thursday, I promised our friend Henry, who is a general contractor in town and who had been transporting Marcia and crew up the hill to the garden in his 4-wheel drive pick up every day, that I would take a look at his new concrete services operation and give advice about how to promote this new service. Harriett joined us and we stopped to get produce and other goods at the market. The market was a cornucopia of colorful produce. I also found what looked like fresh peanut butter but Harriett kept referring to it as g-nuts. When we finally found the nuts intact, sure enough, it was our peanuts! It turns out that there plant was at their home, which was in a picturesque spot in the hills overlooking the town, and it became clear to me that they wanted the whole family to come to their home. I asked Henry if he would go and get the rest of the family and bring them back to their lovely home. While he was gone, I sat with Harriett and their daughter, Emily, and helped peel potatoes, watched the process of deep frying the potatoes to make Africa’s famous “chips,” watched how they steam the green bananas in banana leaves, helped prepare the carrots and green beans and masala sauce, and learned about their lives. Emily took us on a tour of the garden where they were growing egg plant, Irish potatoes, maize, etc. I was introduced again to Harriett’s younger daughter and her sister’s two children that she cares for after her sister and brother-in-law died of AIDS, and the other two children she cares for because their parents are unable to take care of them properly. Harriett told me of her hope that she can find sponsors for these and other children in similar circumstances in the community.
Kabale farewells, until we meet again!
On our last day in the garden, we came to say goodbye to the team of women volunteers. All of these women are of marginal means. Many of their children looked hungry. But, they were incredibly industrious and always worked with good cheer and close-knit fellowship. As we looked out over the plot, we were amazed at how this uncultivated plot of land had been transformed into a beautifully terraced hillside in just one week and applauded all that they had accomplished. Marcia, Edward and I presented them and Enok, a cattle herder and farmer who lives nearby and worked with us when he was able, with a certificate of appreciation and a bag of beans and rice. We were all moved deeply when they, who have nothing, turned around and presented us with a bag of dried peas for each one of us—there were at least six bags of peas! As we were all distributing our gifts, many of the plastic bags sprung leaks and we had to quickly double-up to stop the flow of peas and beans and rice! Our joy and happiness in each other, on the other hand, flowed freely, and we ended our impromptu celebration with another round of Ruchiga song and dance and I joined in! The problem was that I was carrying a backpack of dried peas and since I was dancing on the side of a steep slope, I fell over! The women immediately righted me and we all laughed heartily at my antics! As we traveled back down the hill, I held hands with Lydia and we communicated our sentiments for one another non-verbally. These women are truly amazing pillars of faith and strength and I pray the yield from the gardens is bountiful.
Our last night in Kabale was spent at the home of our dear friends Edward and Peace. Susan had helped Peace prepare the feast and Johnson, Harriett, Henry, and Pastor Frank joined us for the festivities. Edward, Peace, and Harriet danced for us, and even Peter, demonstrated the Russian dance, the Troika, which reminded me a little bit of traditional Ruchiga dance because of the lower center of gravity. At the end of the evening, we got into some juicy politics and Edward finally let down his guard and voiced some of his political leanings. It turns out that he too is disillusioned with Musevini. The debate heated up because Harriett and Henry and Frank are all Musevini supporters. Edward wondered why Musevini, who helped negotiate peace in Burundi, couldn’t resolve the crisis in his own country in the north by now. I could have participated in this discussion all night but the rest of our party was anxious to prepare for our very early departure the next day and we had to bid a tearful farewell to our friends. It is our fervid hope that we will return to this community and remain forever linked in partnership and friendship.
February 26, 2006
Edward picked us up early on Sunday morning to transport us back to Kabale. After getting settled at the Town Centre Guest House, we hustled to Edward’s church for Sunday services. As soon as we arrived, we were ushered in and the very jubilant evangelical services began. Two very spirit-filled women who also served as interpreters for us, Emily and Susan, warmed us with rousing testimonies to the love of God and then Pastor Edward’s wife, Peace, further incited our expression of faith. Soon we were on our feet, clapping, singing, dancing with the music, exclaiming “Alleluia” and “Amen” liberally, and otherwise enthusiastically praising God! By the time Pastor Edward called us up to the front of the church to introduce ourselves, we were well-lubricated by the glory of God and each of us shared from the heart. As we were heading back to our seats, however, Pastor Edward informed the congregation that Sister Theresa (me!) would be asked to talk again later in the service. I had no idea what I was supposed to talk about but there was no shortage of spirit in this tiny church so I decided to let the spirit guide me. During the very animated scripture lesson about David and Goliath and the chronically ill woman who touched Jesus’ robe and was healed of her affliction, Emily interpreted for Pastor Edward and similarly exhibited his exuberant proclamations. It was like a mirror-mime with Pastor Edward articulating the story in word and dramatic presentation and Emily repeating his message just a beat behind in Kiswahili and pantomiming the action right along side him. After a couple of testimonials from parishioners about how God is acting in their lives, it was time for me to go to the front of the church again and in behalf of our family, share an inspirational story of faith. I decided to tell the story about how we had prayed at each step along the way to Kabale as we were uncertain about the advisability of staying in Uganda during the controversial national elections, and at each juncture, God led us clearly and safely to Kabale. Lydia, one of the lead volunteers at the gardens, attended Pastor Edward’s church service, even though she’s Catholic, so that she could meet us.
A group of young people performed a song in English they had prepared for us, “Make me a Living Sanctuary.” After the services, we invited the young people and other friends from church back to our hotel to record the song on Paul’s videocamera. We set up a make-shift recording studio in the conference room in our hotel and recorded the young people and a rendition where the rest of us joined in as well. It was beautiful. The song goes like this:
Lord, make me a sanctuary
Pure and simple, tried and true
With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living
Sanctuary for you!
After our choral debut, we then ordered sodas and donuts for all, and the whole room buzzed with enthusiastic chatter as we got to know each other.
While in Kabale, we needed to learn yet another language. All of these east African countries contain 40-odd tribes, each with their own language. In Kabale, the predominant tribe was Ruchiga and, though the official language in Uganda is English and Kiswahili is prevalent, most people in this are spoke this tribal language. “Agandi” is the basic greeting; “Agandi, sebo” is used to reference males and “agandi, nyebo” for women. “Webali” is “thank you.” And “webali mununga” is “thank you very much.” On my last day, I learned “God bless you,” and proclaimed it heartily to all we met in our farewell greetings. Unfortunately, that’s all we had time to learn.
February 22-25, 2006: Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda
What was supposed to be a 5-hour journey by bus to Kabale in southern Uganda turned into a 10-hour saga. A couple of hours into the ride, it became clear that our bus was having some mechanical problems, as it at first began chugging down the road and then petered out altogether! Fortunately, we managed to reach a town so we waited for the next bus to arrive. Unfortunately it was very full but in Uganda you make do and somehow, some way, nearly all the passengers from our disabled bus and their cargo were forced onto this next bus. All seats the center aisle and any other available nook and cranny was crammed to overflowing with people and their baggage. I actually started to feel a bit claustrophic as we waited for this slow process to unfold and later, surrendered my seat to a mother and a child and gladly stood for a few hours. It turns out that my timing was good because I was able to enjoy the ride through Queen Elizabeth National Park; had I stayed seated I would have only seen the back of the three back-packs piled on my lap and the various limbs and body parts of the people standing and sitting next to me.
We finally arrived in Kabale. Pastor Edward, our host during our stay in Kabale and the founder of Victory Community Gardens where we were going to work as volunteers for the week, met us at the bus station, accompanied by his friend and co-coordinator in the community gardens project, Johnson. We were famished after our day-long adventure on the bus and our new friends took us to Sky Blue restaurant where we indulged in the very tasty all-you-can-eat buffet of fish, rice, beans, vegetables and chicken. Everywhere we went, we were greeted with a heartfelt Ugandan handshake and, “You are most welcome.” We had arrived the day before the national elections and Edward thought it best that we lay-low the day of the election and a few days after the election to let any potential aftermath subside. So, he, Johnson and his kind friend, Robert, drove us to Lake Bunyonyi, a quiet resort on the outskirts of Kabale, where we spent several very peaceful days. It was a lovely setting to catch up on assignments and brainstorm and prepare our presentations for the community gardens training Pastor Edward had planned for our visit. Peter was so inspired that he began writing a very impressive and riveting science fiction novel. While there, we ate excellent food, enjoyed the company of the staff at the resort, especially Godfrey and Alex, watched and talked futbol, and met many fellow travelers on treks throughout this region of Africa as this is a stop for Overland, a low-cost group camping safari company. Among our very enjoyable acquaintances was Don from UK, who has traveled extensively throughout Africa and just returned from Rwanda. Don, a former school teacher, critiqued Peter’s book and agreed with my assessment that Peter is destined to be a very successful novelist. Another friend, Paul from UK, also became a very enthusiastic supporter of our family round-the-world venture.
Chimpanzees at Kibale National Park
Chimpanzees at Kibale National Park
February 21, 2006
Communing with chimpanzees
The enchanting rain forest we ventured through on our way to chimpanzee habitat was a wonderful prelude to our encounter with humankind’s oldest ancestors. Ornate, squat palm trees, spiked rattan vines, and delicate ficus populated the low-lying wetland areas and understory, while towering, bare-trunked, ceiba-like trees cloaked in bracket fungus formed the canopy in this eclectic forest. Hundreds of birds filled the air with song, while monkeys created their own music as they scampered in the branches above us.
About an hour and a half into the forest, we heard chimp calls ahead and with great anticipation we hurried to make our acquaintance. There in a glorious tree with a huge canopy and dripping with fruit were 30 to 40 chimpanzees, gorging on fruit, socializing, grooming, and otherwise enjoying the cool morning air. In a prominent nook sat the second alpha male of the community, lounging in the tree and lustily eating his fill of fruit. He would stuff a chimpanzee-fist full of fruit and leaves into his mouth and squeeze the sweet liquid from the fruit by chewing and rocking his jaw back and forth over the fruit compote. For added effect, he would frequently smack his lips with pleasure. Finally, the pit and any other disposable parts of the fruit would be spit out sometimes in mass, pummeling to the ground like little grenades. Occasionally, he would pause from this deliberate masticating to itch himself with his large, leathery hands. Close by, a female in uterus (in heat) watched the alpha male with lust, though he apparently was not in the mood because he paid her no heed. I noticed her eyes were deeply imbedded in hollow sockets and found out from our guide that her name is “Boiso” which means “small eyes.”
As several of our party noted during our one-hour-plus visit, chimps travel to the beat of their own drum. Because of their community-oriented ways, they are regarded by the indigenous peoples of this area as being “very wise and very good,” according to our guide. They live by fission-fusion, which means that they may break off into smaller pods to forage for food but always stay within a certain radius in order to rally enmasse when faced with danger or when the larger community is summoned to convene. They generally descend from the trees and walk along the forest floor when they are looking for another source of food. Inherently generous, they call the others when they find a jackpot of food so that all can partake in the bounty.
A few times during our visit, the canopy would erupt in a cacophony of motion and sound, as one chimpanzee would sound a rallying call and the others would join in the fray, whipping each other into a fever pitch of volume and movement. The trees swayed wildly and branches cracked under the weight of these beasts as they sprang from branch to branch and practically beat their chests in triumphant proclamations. In all the commotion, leaves littered the air, softly floating to the ground, while fruits fell in great numbers, pounding to the ground like a thunderous rain. It was electrifying to experience this symphony of virility, the only occupational hazard being the rain of fruit. For the most part, we were able to dodge the deluge with the exception of one incident when Steve was pummeled with a piece of rotten fruit and, just like a seasoned wildlife photographer, remained absolutely motionless as he tried to capture his coveted subject, a chimpanzee shimmying down a tree.
Two chimpanzees sat like spoons while the one in the rear groomed the other, gently combing through his hair and caressing him. It reminded me of the old rhyme, “There’s so and so sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g!” In fact, apparently these two were a couple as they were joined by their very active juvenile son, who had been frolicking in the nearby branches while they enjoyed this quiet, intimate moment. Paul and I watched this family scene unfold in rapt amazement and were thrilled to see the young whippersnapper perform some amazing acrobatics just above our heads. As if for an audience, he swung across several vines down toward us and then climbed back up another tree, paused for a barely perceptible moment to look back at us and see if we were still looking, and shimmied up to a perch nearby his parents. Still showing off, he started industriously breaking off small branches and demonstrating the making of a nest! When he was finished, he tried to lift the nest and relocate it nearer his parents, but eventually gave up and nestled with his parents. The younger chimp had a coconut shell mouth and was smooth and hairless unlike his bearded, long-haired, almost hippy-like adult counterparts. One such fully grown male was hanging suspended from a neighboring tree. Magesi, which means “clever” seemed poised for action, eagerly waiting the call of his comrades. In the meantime, the tree sagged under his weight, shedding fruit and leaves as the branches reverberated from his landing. When the rallying cry was launched, Magesi and the whole family, mother, father and baby, shimmied down a tree right near us and set off presumably in search of greener pastures.
Walking back to camp, we marveled at the magnificence of these creatures, humankind’s closest primate ancestors, and this close encounter with them. The sweet aroma of decomposing fruit filled the forest air and reminded us of our friends, the chimps, and their fondness of fruit!
February 20, 2006
A walk in the Kibale forest
It was like going home as we trekked in the rain forest again! It’s been over three months since we were in the rain forest in Mt. Leuser National Park in Sumatra, Indonesia, and we greeted all the familiar plant and animal species and even the rain with delight! Though the rustlings in the trees also produced monkeys, we were introduced to a whole new set of primates—red-tailed, black and white colobus, red colobus, and grey-cheeked mangaby monkeys. At Kibale National Park, there are 13 primate species, 4 of which are nocturnal. In one grove of very large ceiba-like trees, we were surrounded by colobus monkeys of both varieties. We appeared to be at a very busy primate intersection because large numbers of colobus, which means “missing thumb” in Latin, were traveling back and forth across the trail, soaring over the gap between two large trees with the greatest of ease, adroit acrobats that they are! But, perhaps the most brilliant sighting was the grey-cheeked mangaby monkeys in a lilac-like tree. The monkeys were framed in a pleasant softness by this pervasive, delicate purple flower as they gorged on the fruits of the tree. Across the forest (45%), grassland (40%) and wetlands (15%) habitats, the park is also the home to over 210 species of butterflies and 314 species of birds, and as we traversed one stream bed deep in the forest, thick with palm trees, ceiba trees, like we saw at Mt. Leuser and Taman Negara, and a mature understory, it was as if we were entering a butterfly aviary; butterflies of many different colors fluttered lightly through the atmosphere, pregnant with the aroma of decomposing logs and snags. And, the hundreds of bird species serenaded us, as we penetrated deeper into the forest. Though many remained undetected by the human eye, we did identify the red-winged starling because as Peter quipped, they appeared to be holding a “convention” in one region of the forest, and the great blue turaco because it is such a huge, brilliantly colored bird. Another animal that was spotted by Steve and Paul, unbeknownst to me, was the green mamba! Apparently, Peter and I, engrossed in conversation, walked right underneath this very poisonous snake, 6 to 8 feet in length and 2” in diameter! I’m glad I was blissfully oblivious of this fact in the moment! Paul and Steve only revealed their sighting 24 hours later when they were verifying the type of snake with a park guide. Yes, we all were in agreement that they were quite wise to withhold this information from me! I can only imagine how utterly petrified I would have been! That evening, however, I was glad to make acquaintance with the harmless and elegant black and white casqued hornbill in a tree near the bandas and the primate, the bush baby, and civet, both nocturnal creatures.
We had just settled down in our tree house at Kibale National Forest when a loud crack of thunder heralded a torrent of rain. Paul ran for cover under the bed while the rest of us scurried around gathering our stray items and trying to consolidate them in a dry place. Leaks began sprouting all over the roof. Since we only had one bucket, we used it for the most prolific leak and tried to absorb the rest with our two towels. As the rain became fiercer, we lowered the blinds and tried to insulate ourselves as best we could. The hard African rains persisted as we huddled in the relative comfort of our leak-ridden hut. I was just about to start writing when another leak erupted on the bench next to me. Quickly I stowed all my paperwork in a back pack with the exception of my notebook and began writing. As the rain subsided to a soft drizzle, the roof of the tree house creaked and the wooden supports groaned from the still stirring wind and palpable wetness in the air. When the rain had stopped completely, the quiet strains of the rain forest began to swell—soft pitter-patter of the water dripping from the leaves, birds chirping, cooing, singing and other animal calls joining in the post-deluge celebration—the rain forest alive with the sound of music.
February 16, 2006
Julius arrived at 6:20 a.m. to visit with us before we left. His mother, Susan, also wanted to see us before we left so we hustled over to see her as well. This sweet woman bestowed us all with gifts. Sele was waiting for us outside the gate and we bid a tearful goodbye to the Naiyoma family. We spent the day enroute to Uganda, reflecting on our rich experiences in the company of our dear friends in Enoosaen.
When we arrived at the border, Steve was so excited to be finally visiting Uganda that he very enthusiastically made acquaintance with the immigration officer at the border, John, and began exclaiming that this was the friendliest immigration office we had encountered to date. As he became engaged in an involved conversation about his life, we weren’t sure we were going to be able to tear him away from his new acquaintance and teased him endearingly about his “new best friend” as we recounted this episode and his boy-like excitement about crossing the border.
It was as we were crossing the border to Uganda that we became aware that the country was preparing for national elections and as per usual, there were tensions. Musevini, the current president who has been in office for 20 years, ran again. His opponent is from a new party, the Forum for Democratic Change, a party not sanctioned by the government. We discovered that violence had broken out during a recent rally for the challenger; an army lieutenant opened fire into the crowds, killing two people and injuring others.
We began to feel uneasy about the civic unrest and decided to head to Kampala to assess our options. When we arrived, we found a hotel near the city center, not the most appealing section of any city, but, given the circumstances, we were all doubly uncomfortable. We tried to reach the emergency line of the U.S. Embassy to no avail. After an involved discussion, we decided to let God guide us and either seek refuge in Kibale National Park, one of the world’s premiere chimpanzee sanctuaries, or leave Uganda, depending on the buses available early the next morning. When we arrived at the bus depot, lo and behold, there was a bus ready to depart to Fort Portal, the gateway to Kibale National Park. Certain that this was a sign, we boarded the bus and headed west. Once aboard, we were further encouraged when we found out that, due to improved roads, the drive would be half the time indicated in our Lonely Planet guidebook. This is always cause for celebration as we have traveled hundreds of long, tedious hours by bus over the course of our trip! When we arrived in the small town of Fort Portal, it was amazing how different, i.e. non-threatening, the atmosphere was and our apprehension abated significantly. After lunch on the patio of a lovely hotel and restaurant in town, we stopped at the local market to purchase snacks and then headed to the matatu stand to catch a ride to Kibale National Park.
Swiss Family Robinson
After a scenic, albeit cramped ride through the countryside dotted with small banana and vegetable farms, interspersed with sweeping expanses of tea plantations, we arrived at the entrance to the national park. We were escorted to the available accommodations, the tree house and bandas, small stone dwellings with or without bathrooms/showers. The tree house was 10 m off the ground and buttressed by several trees. Hexagonal in shape, each of the sides opened up to vistas of the forest and wetlands prairie. A ladder, 30 rungs high, led to the entrance of the tree house, and we were immediately enchanted with this tree house dwelling. To seal the deal, Paul heard movement and sure enough, brown buffalo bounded spryly across the wetlands when we were checking out the place. Peter, Paul, Steve and I were eager to settle into the tree house and begin looking for wildlife from our look-out. Though no animals were sighted, we were treated to the magical sounds of the jungle and the spectacular views of palm trees, delicately arrayed in fine fronds, undulating in the gentle afternoon breezes. After dinner at the local women’s cooperative, the canteen in the park, we met our friend and guide, Charles, for a night walk. He led us into the jungle and then instructed us to turn off our flashlights. There we were huddled together attentively listening to the hum of the jungle insects and other critters. At our second station, however, our peaceful revelry was suddenly broken when in synchronized order, each of us began jumping hysterically, starting with Peter. Unfortunately, we had been standing in quiet communion of the jungle in a nest of stinging ants! They had been lying in ambush and in no time, with the speed and stealth of the green berets, had infiltrated our shoes, socks and lower pants. Everyone began dancing, kicking and otherwise trying to shake the intruders. Once the escapade was over, I found myself chuckling as I re-enacted the synchronized awareness that ran through the group. Steve was the last and had the confounding experience of trying to decipher what was going on with the rest of us further up the line. He kept saying, “What’s going on? What’s going on?” Entirely preoccupied with de-anting our lower bodies, we were unable to articulate our plight. Finally the wave hit him too and he joined in the hysteric antics of the rest of us. That ended up being the only noteworthy incident in our night walk and we parted with Marcia at the foot of our tree house.