Today Tommie and I separated. She headed south to Ishasha to see the climbing lions and Bwindi for the gorillas (this was too expensive for my blood – it is $500 just for the permit to see the lions).
I headed east to the village of Bitereko. In 2008 I met a woman named Beatrice. She is a high school history and geography teacher, but she came into contact with Forest Trends because she heads a group which plants trees for carbon sequestration with a Ugandan NGO called Ecotrust. She had invited me to her home at that time, but I don’t think either of us ever believed that I would be in Uganda. When she arrived at the workshop, one of the first things she said was “you must come to visit Bitereko”, and so I did.
Within the Bitereko Carbon Community group, there are several institutions including schools as well as a church, and over 300 individuals who have varying plot sizes. Ecotrust acts as a broker to find the buyers and connect them with the carbon sellers. Most of the buyers are in Europe where industry is restricted regarding the amount of carbon they can emit.
We met Beatrice in Ishaka, a small town about 1.5 hours from the park entrance. From there we travelled on dirt roads first to the school where she teaches. There I met the headmaster and some of the other teachers and saw the reforestation project the school is heading as well as the headmaster’s gardens. We also went to visit one of the gentlemen who was among the original 5 sellers 8 years ago (many people were concerned that the buyers would arrive to take the peoples’ land). It was interesting to see the different gardens and hear each person’s experience. We had lunch at a local hotel (goat meat, rice and matoke) before heading to a small meeting with the Executive Committee of the BCC and an Ecotrust representative. I was a bit taken aback by the formality of the ordeal, but it was interesting to see as well. Afterwards, the chairman of the group invited us to his school to see their project (there is actually a group of kids who volunteer to take care of the plot) and then we went to the church to talk with the priest and see his work with the trees. It was all very interesting to observe first hand.
In the evening, we went to Beatrice’s house. It was four of us – Beatrice, the guide from the park (Bosco), the driver(Vicent) and myself, but they prepared enough food for 12 people. There was matoke, rice, goat meat, ground nut sauce, cooked cabbage, the local specialty millet bread (which is not bread at all) and dessert of jackfruit (which is VERY sweet), pineapple and oranges.
Stuffed silly, we sat back to talk and slowly other people came including Beatrice’s sister Justine and two women who work at Beatrice’s primary school. It was fun just to sit back and spend what seemed like a regular night with a local crowd.
Though white people do come through the village occasionally (especially to visit Beatrice) it is a rarity because it is over 1 hour from the nearest town. There is no electricity or running water. The kids were all very interested and shouted “muzungu!” as we drove by. Many came to spy under the curtain which covers the door to see this white skinned girl. Many of the adults also stopped to stare. It did make me feel a bit uncomfortable, but it was worth it to experience the true Uganda.