We woke up just before dawn to leave camp. As I stepped off the porch, I couldn’t stop staring at the stars. With no light pollution from anywhere (not even the campsite – no electricity at that time), we could see SOO many stars. It was jaw-dropping.
As we drove out of the park, we saw probably close to 100 baboons in different groups sitting in the roadway. All along the road there are huge mounds built by termites. Some are quite elaborate and appear like castles. These are also home to white flying ants. Baboons and especially chimpanzees enjoy feasting on these insect. The Budongo Forest Reserve lies at the southern part of the park and many chimps are found in this area. Some of the chimps that we will see out at Ngamba Island later this week are originally from this area.
We dropped Beto (my boss) off in Masindi as his plane ticket was for the next day and headed back towards Hoima. We were slightly delayed by a tractor and wagon which was stuck in a ditch. The boys herding cows took pictures of the muzungus (white people) which I guess was okay because we were taking pictures of their ankole (cows). Everything is much greener than I expected it to be. There is also very little trash along the roadways. I am not sure if this is because there is less trash to throw out the window (I don’t think I’ve had anything other than water in a disposable bottle the entire time I’ve been here – not even an ice cream or a candy bar) or if there is a general consensus to protect the environment (which I doubt considering my conversations with Ugandans).
The one thing that does line most roadways are huge burlap sacks which are filled with charcoal – the primary fuel source for most homes.
After Hoima, we continued to Queen Elizabeth National Park along dirt roads up and over many hills. The area just after Hoima used to be rainforest, but it has all been cut down to make room for agriculture. I am amazed to see that the majority of the people working in the fields are women, though there are some men and also children there as well. I am also amazed by the quantity of things people (mostly women, but also some men) are able to balance on their heads. Even odd-shaped things like logs more than 2 meters in length are easily balanced and transported long distances on the tops of human heads. There is probably a distance of 5 – 10 km between “towns” which all appear to be very similar concrete and brick buildings with metal doors. Most shops seem to be closed, but those that are open appear to sell a little bit of everything. There are few houses in town and some people must walk very far to get there.
The kids in their brightly colored uniforms (think pinks and teals – perhaps it is for easier visibility) also walk very far to attend school. During their breaks it seems as though they all enjoy playing soccer/futbol. Most of the kids wear no shoes. Both boys and girls often have their heads shaved for ease of control. (And believe me, after being here for 2 weeks, I’d love to take a razor to mine!) The girls always wear skirts or dresses.
Everyone must walk far to collect water for the day. In some towns, there is a pump well to which everyone brings their yellow jerry cans to fill for the day’s use. In towns with no pumps, the cans are filled at any available source – many times the same rivers being used to wash cars or cows.
If there is only one can, it is normally carried on someone’s head (and often there is a child following behind with a repurposed gallon-size cooking oil jug following behind). Sometimes four or five of these cans are loaded onto a bicycle for ease of transport. They also often attach 20+ pineapples or four or more stalks of green bananas to a bicycle to transport to market. (Many times they ride the bikes down the hill then push them up the opposite side.) The green bananas form the staple food of Ugandans – matoke. Matoke is like a really thick green banana mush. It doesn’t have much flavor and I assume it has low nutritional value, but it is certainly filling.
Some of the houses outside of town are also made of brick (and there are many, many brick kilns similar to the one I visited when I was in Machachi, Ecuador the summer of 2007). Other houses are concrete or mud with metal or thatched roofs. More traditional houses are round instead of square. Most homes have two small buildings. The larger of the two (though still not large, maybe 10’ x 15’) which is used for sleeping) and the smaller (maybe 8’ x 8’) is used for cooking. Most families have 8 – 12 kids.
The names of the places are fun to pronounce, like Kyenjojo and Katooke, but there are also very British names like Fort Portal and Lake Albert (or Queen Elizabeth National Park, for that matter). Churchill once said that Uganda is the Pearl of Africa, and from what I’ve seen thus far, I am starting to believe him.
In addition, Uganda still has kings and kingdoms which seem to be mostly symbolic, but still have an influence on the culture of each region – especially the way people think and act. The king from the Bunyoro Kingdom sent his Secretary to our meeting in Hoima to learn more about payments for ecosystem services and it is only with his nod of approval that many people in the kingdom will seriously consider such a program. The youngest king is now 18 or 19, but was crowned at age 3 when his father passed away. He is the King of Tooro Kingdom which encompasses Fort Portal and nearby regions.
A LOT of tea is grown in this region of the country. Most of it is for export including for companies like McLeod Russel. People who pick tea make 150-200 Ugandan shillings per kilo of tea picked. There are 2400 shillings to one dollar, so to make $1, a person must pick at least 26 pounds of tea leaves!