Here Comes The Planet 59 – Uganda 01

As we continue our overland trek in East Africa and cross in to Uganda, our first order of business is a highly important and very public game of mini golf which requires us to dodge quad bikes… but not before we learn about the importance of breastfeeding through the medium of dance.

Also, our truck-mate Deb gets a new ‘do courtesy of the girls.

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Uganda: Lake Bunyoni and the Little Angels Orphanage and School.

Lake Bunyoni is the deepest lake in Uganda at 6300 feet. Our campsite for two days was on the edge of the lake and it’s certainly the prettiest campsite we’d yet seen. The steep hills surrounding the lake are terraced with banana trees and other crops, the lake is a lovely clean greeny-blue and the air is a bit misty from cooking fires. Fishermen in dugouts ply the lake and you can hear cows mooing at the farms. Our tents sit by the water’s edge on thick green grass and even though it is very warm and humid during the day, at night it is nice and cold.

The cutest kids in Africa!

We spent half a day visiting a school that is run by a man who used to be a sponsor child himself. His name is Duncan and he told us that his sponsor parents lived in England and he wants to help the community here and give other children the same chance he’d had. He took us for a very steep walk over the hills to see the village the children come from and to meet a local lady, Frida. He warned us beforehand that Frida is ‘mad – but not crazy, just mad. I don’t tell her that!’ She is 87 years old and a tiny little lady full of life and smiles. When we arrived she came out of her house and spoke to us, giving each of us a hug, feeling our arms and, in the case of ladies with decent ..ah.. assets.. she felt those too. We all laughed with her. She always asks Duncan which of the ladies is his girlfriend and he gets her to guess. This time she guessed Nikki was. Leigh wasn’t so lucky, Frida asked whether he eats anything because he is so thin. Poor guy!

Everyone in Africa loves a beard.

Then we walked on to the school through plantations of eucalypts. It is a free school and many of the children are orphans or their families are very poor. The school gives the children two meals a day. When we arrived they were having lessons so we split up and went into the classrooms. There were about 30 children in each room and about 200 children in the whole school. Thirty is unusually small for classes in Africa but then the rooms were so small they wouldn’t have fitted many more.

Year one classroom.

The classrooms had dirt floors, no door and the walls were rough boards with huge gaps and a corrugated iron roof. Each room had a blackboard and some posters – some of which were identical to the ones we have in my school at home.

We sat in a room with the kids and they were singing songs and doing spelling. Due to a lack of resources most lessons seem to be aural, which would be hard on kids who learn better through seeing or doing.

Dancing at assembly.

After the class time there was an assembly and then we helped hand out the lunches. The kids had two meals at school. We gave them a banana, juice, cup of porridge (no sugar or salt) and a slice of bread (plain). I can only imagine the look on kids’ faces at my school if you gave them food like that, but while they were eating the teachers gave a spelling quiz and if a child answered correctly they got another slice of bread.

Lunch time.

Along with the school we saw the beginnings of buildings Duncan had designed for volunteers to stay in. A lot of places charge volunteers money to stay but his plan is to offer free accommodation for people who want to come and teach. If I ever decided to do something like that, Lake Bunyoni would be the perfect place. My only regret is that Swahili is not the local language and I’d have to start all over.

I’d happily go to work every day in this fashion!

We were rowed back to camp in dugout canoes and I reflected on the roll of aid in Africa and how this kind of grass-roots organisation that grows from within a community but looks to draw on knowledge and experience of outsiders, is probably one of the most sustainable and successful we’ve seen yet.

Leigh plays with one of the kids.

Uganda: Mini Golf World Championship (Round 2)

‘Adrift’ at Jinja in Uganda was one of our favourite campsites. They had a bar that overlooked the Nile, hot showers (usually), monkeys, and wifi that worked (usually). There was also bungee jumping and, nearby, mini golf! Luke, Kat and I had played mini golf together in Australia and the Cook Islands so we were keen to have a game in Africa. Leigh, Nikki and Joan joined us on our excursion and so we all bundled into a taxi and made our way there.

Appropriately the park was ‘Big Game’ themed, complete with large fibreglass models of African animals…. and a tiger. Which made for good photo opportunities and, unlike straight-laced Australia, the staff didn’t seem to mind at all when we climbed on top of them.

Tally ho!

Oh noes!

The only tiger in Africa!

Giddyup!

The place we went to also ran quad biking tours and the practise laps went around and between the golf holes, adding a certain degree of excitement and petrol fumes that our previous mini golf experiences had lacked.

Joan with some of the lovely local kids.

As the game went on we attracted a small crowd of local kids who were keen to talk and hold our pencils and score sheets. They also posed for photos with us at the end and I coached them in making ‘oooooh’ noises when we missed and ‘yaaaaaay!’ noises when we got the ball in the hole. Their natural inclination seemed to be to stand silently watching but by the end they were clapping and cheering… or laughing at us.

Luke accepts the crowd’s adulation.

As to the scores, Luke won with a blinding 3 holes in 1. Nikki came second (I think) and I’m pretty sure I came last. As far as courses go I would definitely recommend it – if you’re in Uganda and enjoy mini golf don’t miss it!

Proof of victory.

Group photo!

(note: the post events are jumping around a bit at the moment as we’ve had barely any internet over the past two weeks, so rather than posting in chronological order I’m just posting about events as I get the photos ready.)

Camping in Africa.

I’ve never done much camping, except for at music festivals, which is less like camping and more like moving half the contents of my house into a field for a short period of time. So doing the relatively rough and ready camping that we’ve done with Dragoman has been an interesting experience.

The tents we’re using are super heavy canvas dome tents that have metal poles and a heavy waterproof fly – a far cry from the cheap $80 tents that I used to buy and which would last maybe two weekends if I didn’t forget to unpack them before they went mouldy. In some ways they’re great – more waterproof, windproof and heat-retaining than any other tent I’ve ever used. On the other hand they’re heavy, hard to roll up small enough and have no awning so when it’s raining they’re not much fun.

Most mornings we’re up between 5 and 6:30am, although this morning (we’ve got two nights in one place) we slept in til 8am. It was magnificent.

We have a cook with our group – the cook for the first leg was Charles, a 50 year old man from Kenya. His catch cry was ‘Please guys, don’t wait!’ when the food was ready. Always smiling, helpful and relaxed, Charles was great fun to be with and we were all sorry to see him go. Now we have Mash, who is younger but also super laid back, makes amazing food and is teaching me some Swahili too.

Saying goodbye to Charles.

Every day for breakfast the cook makes toast and eggs, sometimes bacon, and we have a range of fruit and cereal. When we’ve finished eating we have to wash our plates and then flap them dry – this means standing around waving them like we’re signalling to aircraft. Everything gets air-dried to avoid unhygenic tea towels and is a good chance to stand around chatting with people. Everyone pitches in to help with meals and cleaning, although two or three people are rostered on to turn up early and help with preparation and then finishing clean up.

Lunch prep.

Lunches are usually sandwiches, sometimes pasta salad. If we’re on a game drive during the day we pack our own lunches at breakfast. I bought Luke and I plastic lidded containers at the supermarket the other day to keep salads or sandwiches in as I’d rather not be throwing away cling wrap every day. Plus then our food doesn’t get squashed in our bags.

If we stop for lunch on the road we get out our little camp chairs and get food ready. We’re so quick now that everything can be made, eaten and packed up in 40 minutes. Not a bad effort for about 25 people!

At lunch yesterday we’d stopped at a petrol station that had a nice shady tree and some grass for us to sit on and we’d just about got everything ready when we heard music booming down the road. A small truck came into view with a banner across the front and lots of people standing in the back.

Unexpected lunchtime entertainment.

They pulled over, possibly because of the big group of muzungu staring at them, and disgorged a man with a megaphone who told everyone about Breast Feeding Awareness Week. Then a group of guys in matching outfits got off the truck and performed a dance routine Beyonce would’ve been proud of. Then they got back into the truck, to much clapping and cheering, and drove off down the road. Don’t worry, we got footage.

Dinner on the trip is usually served in whatever campsite we’re staying at and most have an area set aside for groups like ours to use – some benches or tables and, if we’re lucky, a sink and tap. We’ve had something different for dinner almost every night of the trip and there’s almost always enough for seconds. The dishes and the style of cooking are very reminiscent of the New Year’s holidays my friends go on – there’s about 40 of us who go away for a week and self cater in school-camp-style accommodation. Having run a kitchen like that, and also worked in festival camp kitchens where we fed over 100 people but have no running water, I really appreciate the way Dragoman cooks run a pretty tight ship and get everything done so quickly.

About half the time we’ve camped we’ve had upgrades available. These range from quite dingy rooms to whole houses for quite reasonable prices. The other night it was raining so 6 of us chipped in for a house that was $12 each. Not bad when you get a four poster bed, lounge and equipped kitchen to yourselves. We’ve upgraded a few times and did so last night, with Kat, Lucas, Luke and I sharing a four bed dorm. When we woke up to the sound a rain on the roof we were glad we did!

Some of the upgrades have been tented campsites, where the tents are set up permanently under thatched roofs. Although there’s no ensuite there’s lots more room, proper beds (well, foam mattresses, I’m yet to encounter a sprung mattress in Africa) and sometimes even a powerpoint.

Tented campsite at the Maasai Mara.

The biggest frustration of our traveling and the way we move around so much has been getting laundry done. We can’t dry stuff on the truck and at night it’s not enough time. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to come across a native African Laundry Tree, which helps.

A Laundry Tree in full flower.

If anyone has heard about the Nairobi airport fire and wondered whether we’re affected, well – yes, we’re supposed to be flying out of there in about 10 day’s time, but hopefully everything will be ok, as they seem to have already started reorganising the terminals so that people can arrive and leave. Fingers crossed! If you don’t know what I’m talking about google it – the flames are visible above the roof of the building. It’s pretty impressive… or depressing, depending how you look at it.