Observations: Driving from Kabale to Buhoma

Published: March 31st 2010
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Scrawled while making the journey from Kabale to Buhoma (at Bwindi Impentrable Forest National Park)

Hills quilted in a patchwork of greens and browns by terraced crops. If I could find the quilt's corner I would be tempted to pull at it, creating new folds of land and revealing what lay underneath this blanket. Nature harnessed, stitched and restitched communally by countless people across the land and through generations. Is the earth warmed by it, or suffocated? I think the latter - the quilt is pinned down firmly and trapped nature denied freedom.

Kids on the side of the road, wearing dirty bodies and ragged clothes, filthy and torn. Hands outstretched, demanding money. Our socioeconomic differences evident in our absence of their accumulation of dirt, snot and malnourished pot bellies; in the completeness of our clothes; the mode of our transport and the colour of our skins. My possession of pen and paper. Their hands empty, exept for the few girls carrying even smaller children, mini replicas of themselves. I imagine I can see the recognitions of injustice, and the justified sense of anger, in the furrows of their brows and in the eyes of their long hard stares.

Smooth tarmac giving way to unsealed road, slowing the journey to the pace of jerky bumps from rocks and potholes - in several stretches I think those are far more common than even ground. Passing the time in sightseeing and conversations by turn, gaining Moses' perspective on current and past politics and recent history. Seeing that the children we pass are just one of the many products and victims of this seemingly self-perpetuating cycle of corruption and greed.

Relieved to be entering the Bwindi ("Dark") Impenetrable Forest, a place not entirely tamed or laid waste by humans. Trying to judge just how impenetrable the forest is, by imagining myself attempting to walk into the bush. The tangle of thick vegetation, and the vertical heights of rock and earth, lead me to conclude that I could not get very far. An aptly named forest, I think, and then ponder what it will be like trekking Mountain Gorillas in two days' time. I am excited.

Sounds of insects and birds, as well as the elephant dung we drive over, attest to the life that hides within. Further proof, if we needed it, evidences itself in the form of birds running and flying across the road in front of us, clusters of butterflies dancing rainbows in the air, and the monkeys causing trees to shake as the jump about.

Juxtaposition of forest and farm, wild and tame, creates less visual contradiction than expected. Each encroaching onto the other's space, both are beautiful - in fact, almost complementary - as they capture and frame each other's magic. Feels almost criminal to write, a betrayal, knowing the environmental degradations and threat that one poses to the other, except I can't help but be enchanted by the aesthetics of the fields. I suppose bad isn't always ugly, and feelings are rarely simple. The hills stand tall to proudly showcase their ordered beauty and with so many rolling across the expanse and into the distance my eyes don't know where to focus. Cultivated descent of steep gradient plunges down to valley below, and rises seamlessly and equally steeply to the next hilltop.

As though chastising me for my thoughts the forest engulfs us again, blocking the hills and their crops from view. Instead, I am surrounded by thick walls of jungle and I find myself lost in it again, harking back to my teaching days in an effort to remember the various layers and storeys of forest, and other related information I explored with my Year Eights. It's as scientific as I can get as the myriad species remain nameless to me. Broad terms like "ferns," "vines," "epiphytes," "understorey," and "canopy" are embarrassingly as detailed as it gets, with all of those and everything else bundled together in the broad arms of the word "tropical." I decide I must really have been a terrible teacher, if that's the extent of my own knowledge retention. Better I be a traveller then!

Slowing down to navigate over another particularly rough patch I am reminded that the constant twists and turns of this winding road have made me queasy, and I am glad when we stop a couple of minutes later at a tiny village. It's one of several pauses we've had on our journey so far due to problems with the engine overheating. Initially bordered by forest on the left side and banana trees on the right, we are soon ringed by a fence of children instead, who seem content just to stand or sit and stare at us after the initial "helloes" are exchanged. It reminds me of one of our first stops this trip, when Charlotte was completely hidden from view by the kids who surrounded her while she sat reading a newspaper - they seemed enthralled by this, and stood watching until Charlotte stood up to return to the car five minutes later.

On our way again and a stand of eucalypts catches my eye, followed by another one, and then another. Initially confused by how many eucalyptus trees we had been seeing throughout both Kenya and Uganda we finally asked someone at the Bigodi Wetlands, and were told that it's all thanks to Queen Elizabeth. Apparently, when she visited Uganda in 1954 she decided she wanted to so something to help Ugandan women, as she had observed that they had to walk great distances to collect firewood. Her gift, then, was Australian eucalyptus trees, as they are fast growing, tall and straight. I think the logic (if there even was any) was that these trees would replace themselves more quickly when cut than would the existing trees. Anyway, so the trees were sent to Uganda and planted extensively. Unsurprisingly, as a fast growing introduced species, it quickly became a pest and peril to native plants, which are being crowded out by the eucalypts. So that's the story. I should probably verify it with other sources. The pesty but stately reminders of home soon disappear amongst lush vegetation we've been seeing for most of our forest journey. Passing a creek: has everything just become greener and more dense? Is that possible?!

Feeling tired, and slightly nauseous, as we are shaken in every which way by the constantly switching directions and contours of the road. Hero resting her head on my lap as she wills sleep to save her from vomiting.

It's clear it hasn't rained in a few days - as I look down at Hero I notice my clothes. My last clean t-shirt has changed colour in the past few hours, from grey to the very same red-brown of the road. I note, resignedly, that my hair, glasses, skin and clothes are all finely coated with a layer of dust. The same is true of our bags when we finally arrive and drag them out, though the dust on these is a thick coat.

Perhaps the rain held out just long enough for us to have this dust bath, and pitch our tent - within an hour of arriving, a storm blew over and it started pouring down. I thought of the condition of the road we'd just driven, and then imagined it post heavy rain, and was thankful for the dust that powdered me.


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