Over the weekend, we decided to go to Lake Nabugabo with two of our friends from Kitovu Mobile. While there, Peter and I went swimming and played beach volleyball with some other people who were at the lake, while Madeline and Eileen relaxed under a palm tree chatting with Betty. We also all walked through a mini jungle and saw monkeys up in the trees.
On Monday, the four of us stayed in the office and translated the survey that we made into Luganda. This ended up taking us much longer than we expected and we worked on this for the rest of the day with the help of some of the employees at Kitovu Mobile. What was most hard about translating was trying to form questions in Lugandan that were not “leading questions” because we knew that many answers would be influenced by the question if they were not formed correctly. The Kitovu Mobile workers were very meticulous, however, and to our best knowledge they were able to form our questions successfully. When we finally got back to our hotel, Peter and I went to the soccer field and had a lot of fun playing with some Ugandans.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, we travelled out to the five Village Health Teams who are conducting our survey and passed out all of the copies as well as went over each question with the help of a translator. Because each meeting took about 2 hours and the VHT’s were all spaced out a long way from each other, these were VERY long days with lots of driving. Throughout this week and last week we were able to form good relationships with the VHTs. We had two groups that were our favorite. One group always gave us food; matooke, rice, beans and meat for one meal and a snack of fresh pineapple for the other day. This group was kind enough to us that we offered to buy mats that the VHTs would make for us. This may not seem like much but the mats are surprisingly expensive and it is a great income source for the group. The other VHT that we enjoyed sang a song that in which they circled up and invited us to dance in the middle of it with them. This was hilarious and the song was startlingly catchy. Peter and I had such a great time playing soccer on Monday that we returned to the field again on Tuesday and Wednesday and played for hours. Wednesday we also met up with fellow bazungu (plural of mzungu) staying at hotel zebra, Scott and Ryan. Madeline and Eileen had awesome intense political debates with them and stayed up way too late for the busy day ahead of us on Thursday. Incredible and smart guys, looking forward to hanging with them soon.
We switched things up on Thursday. Uganda, and especially Masaka town, has given us opportunities to connect with other “muzungus” that we have met along our trip. The muzungus have a hard time blending in as one might expect and we have met many a muzungu along our trip who are in similar positions working at NGOs and other non-profit organization. In a weird series of events, we became connected with Kris, a Canadian who is an administrator of Tekera Resource Center – a community alliance, non-profit organization that has a primary school, large farm, a health clinic, and a craft center among other things in its compound. On Thursday we visited Tekera and had one of our most enjoyable days. We took a tour of the compound, went on a nice walk with another Canadian, Scott, whom we met at Nabogabo separate from Kris (yet they were connected by the company Scott works for) and who we have also hung with at hotel zebra, and we participated in PE and activities involving the primary school kids.
PE (physical education) at this particular Ugandan primary school was unlike anything I’ve seen or participated in the US. School children from almost all the grades participated. PE took place in a large field and the children, more than 200 of them, circled up and the teachers began a series of awesome, interactive singing/dancing/moving exercises. It was fun – the children were great as were the teachers and it was a truly interesting experience.
On Friday we began our journey to Queen Elizabeth National Park in the western part of Uganda. We arranged the trip with Kitovu Mobile and they lent us a car and driver which we paid for. Our driver, whom we never met before, calls himself Narazari which is pronounced similar to Charazard (the Pokemon character), just with an “N” instead of a “Ch” at the beginning. He turned out to be a great guy to have along for the trip because of his experience in game parks and his uncanny eyesight and ability to point out and distinguish animals in the park. Our car was the perfect safari vehicle… a Toyota Four Runner- rugged, comfortably fitting up to seven people with a ladder that leads up to the roof where a metal rack sits which is strong enough for all four of us to stand on top of the car to look out into the savannah. The drive to Queen Elizabeth was long, 6 hours long, with a few stops along the way. Conveniently, the road to Queen Elizabeth passes through a regional game park that holds many Zebras and the Ugandan Kob (a small type of antelope).
The road leading up to Queen Elizabeth gives the perfect view of the national park. Queen Elizabeth is immense and covers hundreds of kilometers. It’s nestled between two mountain ranges and two lakes. Lake Albert, the larger of the lakes, is on one side and Lake George on the other and they are connected by a natural strait. Savannah and the bush cover the rest of the park. It’s spectacular.
Our drive into the center of the park to receive approval was filled with baboons, elephants, antelopes, kobs, hippos, warthogs and a family of mongoose (plural mongeese?). It was amazing and until the next day we did not realize how fortunate we were to see all those animals so easily.
After getting the car checked and paying per person, we headed to Kasese which is a small town on the outside of Queen Elizabeth with cheap hotels. Exhausted from the drive and with the thought of waking up at 5 AM the next morning for a game drive, we headed to bed early in our beds in the White House Hotel. – A note about Kasese: the following day after our visit to Queen Elizabeth Eileen received an international SOS about a cholera outbreak in the town. Thankfully none of us decided to use the water and we escaped without problem.
The drive into Queen Elizabeth at 5:30 AM was easy to stay awake because we were all excited to enter the park. Pictures are worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, so it is almost not worth describing what we saw because it would not give Queen Elizabeth justice. However, picture in your mind classic African savannah scenes of antelope, elephants and buffaloes with the occasional lion then you might have an idea of what we saw. It was fantastic and we were told that seeing a lion is a very rare event because many of the lions in the park have been killed by the local villagers.
After a short lunch break back in our hotel in Kasese, we headed back into the center of the park to do a boat ride through the channel and into Lake Albert. This boat ride was probably the most exciting thing about Queen Elizabeth. Elephants lined the shores and waded into the water to graze on the reeds that grow there. Right next to the elephants were the water buffaloes- relaxing in the lake and constantly swatting flies. Hippos would be in the water right next to the buffaloes. They were huge but, like an iceberg, they only showed the smallest percent of their body above the water. Hundreds of different types of water birds and eagles also lined the shores and could be found with large fish in their talons and picking off the parasites of the larger mammals. Crocodiles and four foot long monitor lizards were also abundant in and out of the water. One crocodile, at least nine feet long, had caught a fish about three feet long and downed it in less than four bites. The boat ride was well worth it.
Saturday ended with a relaxing evening back at the hotel and on Sunday we headed back to Masaka making about 100 mini stops during which we visited the border of the Congo, a fish market and many many little errands our driver made. The Congo border was interesting and we only had to get our passports checked once before we were allowed to get close enough to throw stones into the Congo, which we actually did. The fish market was a little bizarre and must have lacked every health code. Narazari bought four large catfish and insisted on tying them to the front of the car before going off for the rest of the trip- something which we all thought was extremely unsanitary but most have been common.