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Published: February 10th 2011
It would be difficult to write a blog about Uganda at the moment and not mention the upcoming elections and the recent murder of David Kato, the gay rights activist. The murder of David Kato shocked the Western world but barely caused a ripple here in Uganda. I would not have heard about it if we had not been tuned into BBC news on the radio.
In Uganda it is illegal to be homosexual and carries a 14 year prison sentence. There was recently the push to make this more severe – hanging. As far as I can tell this is not the usual punishment for murderers or rapists, however Ugandan society in general does not seem shocked by the severity of this punishment (or that there is a punishment at all). I have had cautious discussions with a few Ugandans regarding this, and it seems that one of the Uganda’s Minister’s statements regarding David Kato’s immorality and his ‘erosion of the family’ seem to be in line with their beliefs. It shocked me that many Ugandans who are otherwise friendly, open and welcoming would hold such staunch views about other people’s lives.
It doesn’t shock me that in the
elections being held on the 18th February it is extremely likely that Yoweri Museveni, the President of Uganda who has been in post since 1986, will remain in power. More surprisingly is his rap song, ‘Do you want another rap?’ and the hat he is wearing on all his election posters; he looks like he should be on a Mexican hacienda. Election posters are plastered everywhere; on statues, people’s houses, shops, poles, rocks and even tied to hedges; and there is an open and obvious opposition. The older generation remember the Amin years and the times when they “had to buy their bread and sugar from Kenya” and feel that the stability, increased tourism and industry Museveni has managed to bring about in the past 25 years outweigh any negative things he has done.
Despite all this going on around me, my life has fallen into a simple pattern in which I work during the week, spend my evenings going for walks with Kristina and exploring accessible Uganda on the weekends. On my second weekend in Uganda we decided to spend Saturday in Kampala and Sunday in Entebbe, catching matatus (minivans) to and from our base in Seguku.
Standing in the sun beside the Kampala-Entebbe road, I asked the young Ugandan lady standing next to me how much we should pay to get into the capital. Gladys turned out to be wonderful – as she had a few spare hours she showed us around the centre, and walked us as far as the Ugandan museum, which is quite a hike. A Seguku local and a keen walker, we agreed to meet up for an evening walk the following week.
In contrast to the hustle and bustle of Kampala, the following day we headed to Entebbe, which is a quiet settlement on the shore of Lake Victoria and the home of Uganda’s international airport. We spent the morning at the Wildlife Education Centre, a ‘zoo’ for animals rescued from poachers or captivity with large open enclosures right on the shores of the lake. There are a variety of African animals but this obviously varies depending on the animals rescued – we were most taken with the roaming vervet monkeys who were playing on a children’s playground.
From the wildlife centre we decided to break our diet of rice, potatoes and chapattis by heading to a pizza
Kampala Old Taxi Park
There is order in this chaos - our matatus leave from the very far corner
place on the shores of the lake. It turned out to be idyllic, there was a breeze coming off the water and children playing on the beach in front of us. We had planned to visit the botanical gardens after lunch but we couldn’t drag ourselves away from the beachfront and so we spent the rest of the afternoon sitting by the beach, chatting to some locals about swimming to the islands directly offshore.
The following week went ahead as per normal; walks or the internet cafe in the evenings and either working with the women or working from home during the day. I am having a few difficulties with the marketing of the beads due to the restrictions of Ugandan banking, so I am hoping for an epiphany soon! The beads are coming along well and the women are becoming experts. They are also feeling a lot more comfortable with me, and are chatting to me more and more.
The beads themselves are coming along well – we have quite a few experts amongst the women, we will need to start branching out into different colours soon as we have a ridiculous number of green beads thanks
to the calendars from one of the local banks, which we had to purchase as they have become a commodity!
On Thursday prior to heading for Jinja for the weekend we went walking up Prayer Mountain with Gladys and took yet more photos of monkeys. After the monkey drought of the first two weeks we have seen hundreds of them wherever we go (I have had to restrict the number of monkey pictures I uploaded). Gladys invited us to have dinner the following week and we were thrilled to have our first Ugandan friend outside of either of our jobs (Kristina did get a very sweet love letter from a 17yr old she had been giving injections too which said he would miss her for the rest of his life!)
Directly after work on Friday we took a bus to Jinja, Uganda’s second largest city. Sweltering in the heat and squashed in to the backseat, we took the slow 80km congested drive to the home of ‘the source of the Nile’. Staying at the ‘Crested Crane’ for 62,000 shillings per night we were in Jinja for the same reason as other mzungus
, to whitewater raft on the Nile.
After a delicious meal in Flavours Cafe on Main Street we decided to walk back to the hotel, and after too much liquid at dinner I needed to get back as quickly as possible. Thinking that taking a huge shortcut through the centre of the hedge of our hotel would save some valuable time and being completely unaware that our hotel had an armed guard on duty, who wasn’t too pleased with our shortcut. He told us, while waving his gun at us, that we had to be careful as he could easily have shot us. Needless to say we didn’t take any more shortcuts!
The following morning after a good breakfast we were picked up by a truck that already had four very perky university students from Canada in it and were taken to Adrift’s headquarters. We had to wait a few hours before we got started. Divided into boats we ended up with Camo, a Kiwi, as our instructor, a Canadian couple on a whirlwind round the world trip, a couple from the UK and two Ugandan guys, one who has been living in Sydney, and it turned out to be a fantastic, although slightly terrifying day.
The rafting was vastly different from my previous rafting trip in Switzerland as a 19 year old as we tackled Grade 5 rapids, went over waterfalls and generally got very bruised and battered. Our raft was more adventurous than the others and tackled all the harder rapids (sometimes there were easy and hard ways down each section) and at one stage we chose a section in which there is no real option but to flip over. All this was a little nerve-wracking but nothing we couldn’t handle, and we generally had a great time, talking about everything under the sun from politics to soap operas (we had an ex-Young and the Restless star onboard) whilst paddling past fish eagles, kingfishers, cormorants and locals doing their washing.
On our last rapid of the day the boat and four members of our crew, including myself and Camo, the instructor, got stuck in the ‘surf’ right in the middle of the rapid. At first I could only see the British guy in front of me as I was doing my best to hang onto the raft and the paddle, whilst the boat was being thrown up and down. We tossed
our paddles and kept hanging on. All I could see was white water crashing around me and the boat was being thrown up and down but not moving out of the churning waters. After about a minute of this someone asked Camo what the plan was, to which he said “hold on”. After another minute of waves crashing over us and being thrown around Camo said we were going to have to jump off as the boat wasn’t going to come out, he said we would need to hold ourselves in little balls and eventually we would come up somewhere. I imagined myself being in exactly the same position as the raft, except being hit against rocks and half-drowning and I said no. As he was explaining that there really was no other option, the waters calmed and our raft came out all by itself. I was extremely relieved!
It will take me some time to psyche myself up to do this rafting trip again when Al is here, but it was an amazing day.
The following day was extremely lazy as our sunburn, cuts, bruises, and muscles were all sore – so Kristina and I took a very
sedate stroll to the ‘Source of the Nile’ which is a complete tourist trap on what looks like an arbitrary point on the river where there was a waterfall before the Owen Dam was built. The source of the river is somewhat disputed anyway, but it is a lovely walk down the river. The best view we got was when we were trespassing in someone’s vegetable fields (which didn’t come with the Ugsh10,000 price tag of the ‘Source of the Nile’).
We had one last meal in Flavours, getting as much calcium and greens as we could before returning to Seguku.
This past week has been fairly unremarkable except for a lovely dinner at Gladys’s house. Gladys is 30 and has just been made redundant from the charity she was working at as a caterer due to the credit crunch. She sends all her younger brothers and sisters to school and university and lives in a small but immaculate room with one of her sisters. They do their cooking and washing outside and she entertained us in the front section of her room which is cordoned off from the sleeping section. We had spent some time with Gladys now
and she remembered everything we had said that we liked and hadn’t tried yet. She went to so much trouble! She had bought us each a beer (something she had never tasted), as well as mangoes, passion fruit and jackfruit which we hadn’t tried as yet and cooked us a delicious meal. We had matoke (plantains ), potatoes, pumpkin, a smoked beef stew, peanut sauce, eggplant and greens. It was all delicious and she had gone to so much trouble. We knew she had just paid her brother’s university tuition (almost US$1000 a semester) and had very little money to spare and yet we ate like kings – it was incredibly humbling. There are not many people as giving as Gladys.
We plan to spend more time exploring on the weekend, and then Kristina’s mum and sister will arrive from the US for a few weeks, followed in quick succession by Al. So time is flying and I have a lot of work to do before I leave.
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