The entries in this blog are mostly informational and reflective. For a rollicking tour with the educators, see the group blog, for which thanks, Cort!
Wednesday afternoon and early evening we unwound in the cooling breezes at the top of the Mihingo Lodge, in the dining area overlooking the swimming pool and Lake Mburo parkland. On the other side we could see Kacheera Lake in the distance. It's hard to imagine a more quiet and relaxing time or place. The food continued to be stellar.
On Thursday morning the 10th we drove out of Lake Mburo's Nshara Gate past herds of Ankole cattle and made our way through Masaka to Kampala and Entebbe.
The roads on Thursday were not as good as from Fort Portal to Bushenyi. What's wrong with this road picture? Well, in Uganda you drive on the left side as in Britain ... but here we are all the way on the right side of the road. We're dashing over to avoid potholes, of the kind that break axles, some of which you can see at the left. Notice the oncoming van in our lane. No problem, we'll zip back to the left just before he crashes into us, unless at that moment he unwisely lurches to his right to avoid the potholes you see coming up dead ahead ... and so it goes, hour after hour.
The Thursday drive to Entebbe was punctuated every few seconds or at most minutes by avoidance maneuvers. Many of these moves had to do with getting out of the way of massive buses that blast by you, stop later to add/drop passengers while you drive past them, then blast by you again soon afterwards, all the while spewing clouds of oily smoke that choke and envelop you. Some of the bus company names we noticed - having a lot of time today to do this sort of thing - were Perfect, Endigyito, Jaguar, Swift Safari, Kalita, Link, Kibaluma, Poko Poko, and Honest Coach.
Along the way to Entebbe on Thursday we stopped at St. Mary's College in Kisubi near Entebbe, known as the top secondary school in Uganda for boys. We met with the deputy headmaster to explore the possibility of Dominic transferring here for his A level studies (last two years of secondary school). It looks quite promising, and if Dominic continues to excel we will likely pursue this avenue in about a year.
On Friday the 11th we were driven into Kampala (by a warm and capable driver, Sulla Lwanga) to buy books, gifts and Kasiisi crafts. We had lunch with scholar Koojo Matthew, the very first Kasiisi/AFROKAPS scholar to enter university. He's studying business at Kampala International University. His days, like Dominic's and Hilda's, are intense. He lives alone in a small rented room that has no electricity. He gets up at 6 and makes millet porridge on his small portable gas stove in a common area just outside his room. Classes go from 8 to 2. Then he has lunch and takes an hour of relaxation. He studies in the library from 4 PM until 10 at night as a rule, and up to midnight during exam periods. We are humbled.
By Friday evening nearly all of the Weston educators had collected at the Boma Guest House in Entebbe once again. One of the safari vehicles went straight from Lake Mburo to the airport, separately. When the rest of us got underway for the short drive to the airport, who should be standing square in the road but Joshua, Moses and Beatrice! They had driven 200 miles from Fort Portal just to see us off! What an amazing and heart-clutching surprise! They escorted us to the airport and stayed there very late, until 11 PM, to see our plane bound for Amsterdam lift from the ground.
Which it did, and we left Uganda behind us once again. But never behind us in our hearts.
Our new friend William (Apuuli), who brought us out from
The high Ruwenzoris were by far the clearest we've ever seen them. Snow was faintly visible in south-facing high cirques that are protected from the sun. This was a magical moment for me. I've read that these mountains were pivotal in the evolution of humanity. The rain shadow they created extended the savannah hundreds of miles west from
We stopped at
Late in the day we ended our journey at Mihingo Lodge, perched high atop granite cliffs in Lake Mburo National Park. Our dinner of rosemary bread, chicken, rice and vegetables was exceptional.
From town we went out to Nyakasura Secondary School on the northwest side of Fort Portal. The British "Commander" who founded the school is memorialized in the pictured statue. The school's name means "salt" - there are commercially important salt sources nearby. Richard Tooro's grandfather used to carry salt from this vicinity to Fort Portal to make his living.
We gathered all of the Kasiisi/AFROKAPS scholars who are at Nyakasura School. At the far right is a smiling Kukunda Martha - she's an exceptionally composed and serious girl who rarely smiles, but who becomes radiant when she does. That's Kiiza Rogers, Rich and Maggie's student, fourth from the right.
The estimable Kato Innocent of the Field Station drove us this day. He's an OB - an "Old Boy" - who graduated from Nyakasura, and went from there to Makerere University in Kampala, where he finished his degree in finance and accounting. He's third in command of operations at the Field Station. He has either 27 wives or 27 children; it was never quite clear which (or either).
Kato is the later-born of twins. His older sister twin died a few days after their birth. The Batooro people have very specific names for children in certain special circumstances including this one. As the male second-born of twins, Kato's name can only be Kato, which means exactly this birth situation (whether or not the sibling survives and regardless of the sibling's gender). Also, Kato's pet name can only be Abooki given his birth history. Here's Kato at the Tooro Rock outlook.
We stayed at the Mountains of the Moon hotel Monday night to get an early start on our travels Tuesday morning. We had dinner with Richard Tooro (Akiiki), Richard Ali Tumwine (Amooti), one of Amooti's cousin-brothers, and three young Scottish siblings travelling in their volunteer mother's footsteps.
Akiiki told us an African story about animal behaviors along Ugandan roads when taxis (matatus) pass. Cows always stand there obliviously, goats always run away as fast as they can, and dogs always chase these vehicles. But why? Well, it turns out that once upon a time all three of these creatures, who were friends at the time, rode in a matatu together. The cow reached her stop, paid the driver, and ambled away contentedly. The goat came to his stop, but he didn't pay - instead, he leaped out of the vehicle and ran away to avoid paying the tariff. The driver, furious, told the dog that he had to pay for the goat as well as for himself since he was the goat's friend. This aggravated the dog, but he had no choice else he'd be stranded along the side of the road. To this day the dog, still fuming, chases matatus angrily when they pass, while the goat continues to flee the driver's wrath, and the cow just stands and chews.
Debbie and Katya left Friday for Bwindi, and most of the others left on Saturday for Ishasha, Mweya and Bwindi. The few of us remaining spent the weekend resting and doing errands in Fort Portal.
Here are views of the four roads that converge at the main roundabout (rotary) in the town center. At this time of year in Uganda, the sun rises in the northeast and makes an arc across the northern sky to set in the northwest. The sun is always north of where you are standing, so your shadow always points at least somewhat to the south. North of the Tropic of Cancer, where we live, your shadow always points north. Does your head hurt yet?
Steve and Barbara bought strikingly African fabrics in town. Steve had a shirt made on the spot. It was ready in a couple hours. Total cost with fabric and tailoring: about $10. Later Saturday evening we had another very tasty dinner at the Mountains of the Moon resort hotel.
On Sunday we went to church at St. Stephen's on the Kasiisi School grounds. The service lasted three hours, then another hour for the fine meal we all had afterwards! We were honored guests once again. Barbara spoke on our behalf to the congregation. The last part of the service was an auction to which we contributed some things, and during which we bought several food items that we donated back at the end. This little girl, Joyce Ruhweza's daughter, captured our hearts.
Later in the afternoon we visited the Tooro outlook rock along the road to Fort Portal. In town, we spent a fascinating hour at the botanical gardens, which are more of a working organic farm than typical such gardens found in the US. These women are preparing marigold flowers for use in a medicinal potion. Rainclouds burst, and we decided to call it a day, going "home" to Margaret's superb cooking at the Field Station.
Barbara and Pam taught Thursday morning at Rweteera, which is several miles south of Kasiisi near the main part of Kibale Forest. The lesson was about fractions and percentages. The two teachers had revised the lesson significantly after our chimpanzee trek last Sunday: our guide, Charles, had given us a number of statistics about the forest and its denizens, and these worked well to tie the math lesson to the kids’ daily lives. The lesson was well received, but the students were slow to respond at first.
Things warmed up considerably when Barbara and Pam started handing out literally hundreds of gifts to the children. Pandemonium nearly erupted. The headmaster kept ringing his large hand-held bell as hard as he could to bring the children back into order and quietness. It worked only sometimes.
Thursday afternoon we were in Fort Portal for internet and shopping, then back to the field station for a quiet evening dinner.
After teaching at the various schools Friday morning, the whole group converged at Kasiisi School for an unexpected massive afternoon assembly, during which the Kasiisi staff and children bid their farewells. There were very few speeches – anomalously – but much singing, some of it doleful. A few children actually wept. The ceremony was beautiful and moving. And it came as a surprise, as the visiting teachers had expected to be working in classrooms all this day.
In the evening we had – guess what – another celebration, this one a farewell at the field station (MUBFS) where we've been staying. Thunderstorms loomed all around us as the sun set, and rain brushed us a few times but never came down hard. Speeches went on into the dark, interspersed with songs and dances, followed by dinner and dancing. The whites danced, or tried to dance, first. When we had cleared the floor, the Ugandans took over and sparkled. We were envious. Even the oldest people among the Ugandans dance extremely well, with grace that is beyond description. One of them, a tiny and quite elderly man, danced right in front of Barbara and me with consummate joy and fluidity, completely aware that we were watching and admiring, twinkling back at us now and again as he turned.
Non-political speeches by Ugandans are true works of art. Almost always the speaker or the introducer declares that a few very brief remarks or comments will follow. The speaker proceeds calmly and quietly, with wide, meditative silences between words and phrases. The tone is conversational, often with humor and sometimes with direct words to certain people in the audience. The pace varies and the volume flows up and down, all gracefully and musically. It feels like quiet jazz, structured but with relaxed improvisation, confident and amused, playful. Just the like old man dancing. Wonderful to observe and to immerse oneself in, whatever the words happen to be about. And the words are often poetic too, in counterpoint to the music of the delivery.
A group of wizened women said yes, I could photograph them with their beans for sale, but I would have to pay them 20,000 shillings ($15) to do so. That’s about 20 times as much as I was willing to pay, so we didn’t even get to the stage of negotiating.
Some of the group bought small hand drums, many bought fabric and dresses. We had three of our Ugandan friends along to help with reality checks on prices and quality, and a good thing.
We had a midday lunch at the Mountains of the Moon resort hotel just outside Fort Portal. It’s a magnificent British colonial hotel - perfect as a set for certain kinds of movies - that has undergone major renovations recently. Everything about the place echoed of my days in India, in particular my times at the West End Hotel in Bangalore. The gulf between this edifice and the people just outside its gates is enormous, just as in India. But the clientele here is mostly Ugandan, it appears, which is another welcome indicator that Uganda, among the African nations, is relatively prosperous and stable.
Joshua Kagaba had fairly casually invited some or all of us back to his Fort Portal Secondary School this afternoon. He himself had to leave town to oversee a track and field event in eastern Uganda, yet another energetic and wide-ranging rocket in his pocket. A few of us went at 3, expecting to interact with students again as on Monday. Instead, we were greeted with a massive sound system through which came the booming announcement, "Ladies and gentlemen, the moment we have all been awaiting has finally arrived!!". We were let into the compound by security guards. There were about 1,500 people – students and adults – packed around the central courtyard in crowds and under tents, in a tumult of welcoming noise. We entered like rock stars, waving and smiling, walking among the dancers to our seats in one of the tents.
There was dancing like none we've seen before in Uganda. The music was a mixture of Ugandan-flavored rock and roll, rap, reggae, and traditional East African. Kids in costumes danced wildly and suggestively, yet stylishly still. Interleaved with performances were anthems, prayers, introductions, speeches, gifts of fabric and clothes, and food. It was spectacular.
Most spectacular were Akugizibwe Israel’s dancing and speaking. This man cannot stand up. His legs bend backwards and his arms are inoperative. But he danced vigorously and inspiringly, in a group, in the traditional fashion with gourd rattles on his lower legs. The crowd roared again and again as he did amazing and unexpected flips and turns that were powered by only his legs. Dozens of people, young and old, male and female, ran out from the pressing crowd to give him money in praise and to dance with him for a moment. No other dancer we’d seen to date (and there have been many) ever got more than two donations.
Soon after his dance performance Israel made his speech, crouched on his legs and leaning forward, his head nearly on the ground. The master of ceremonies held the microphone. Israel spoke calmly and eloquently about the ways and means with which he and his peers seek to advance in their educations and careers.
There's another image of Israel in the June 30 entry below. When he's seated on a platform or table as he is in that image, he gestures with his feet as he speaks, just like one would with arms and hands.
Later I talked with Israel in person. He wants to be a lawyer and has a chance to go to college in Ireland. He doesn’t know yet what kind of financial support he might get. If things go well, he will start college next year in a 5-year program that will prepare him for the 7-month study program leading to the bar exam.
Johanna reciting a Langston Hughes poem at Kiiko School.
Linda and Steve team-teaching at Kigarama School, in a room that was very badly damaged in the 1994 magnitude-7 earthquake.
Chris teaching in the Rutooro language at Rweteera School! She roused this class and the school headmaster Nyakama Stephen to sing and to pantomime the bear climbing up the mountain to see what he could see. What a performance!
A view along the road going north from Rweteera School back towards Kasiisi. It's very hard to capture the the beauty of these steep hills textured with banana trees, eucalyptus, avocado trees, pines,cassava plantations, tea plantations, and indigenous trees.
In the evening we all went to Joshua Kagaba’s house and plantation in Ruteete, about 5 miles southwest of Kasiisi School on the road to Ndali Lodge (which by the way is featured in the July European edition of Vanity Fair). Joshua and the other Ugandans who visited the US last year put on a joint celebration for the group. What a party!
Joshua owns maybe 50 acres, a very large piece of land for one person in Uganda. It’s prime farmland. He and his family are expert cattle and truck farmers. We picked pineapples, sugar cane, green bananas, guavas, avocado, green beans, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, cassava, and peanuts (groundnuts or g-nuts), most of which were new to most of the group other than (as Joshua put it) "shriveled in a plastic bag or a box in a market". This worker is picking guavas in one of Joshua's many trees.
Country music played through the evening except when traditional dancers and musicians performed. Many local notables were present. One of them mentioned voting for Joshua in the upcoming election for mayor, for which Joshua is a serious candidate. There was fine Ugandan food and there were many speeches.
One of the speakers was the headmaster of Nyakasura Secondary School near Fort Portal. He said that the area where Joshua lives, the Bunyuruguru crater lakes, was deserted until the white men came to live in them. The local people feared the lakes as being dangerous and evil. But the whites cared nothing about the local beliefs, and the whites did not apparently suffer at all for having broken taboo by settling in the vicinity. The headmaster said that this propensity for action over belief is characteristic of Europeans vis-a-vis Africans. The same theme shows up very clearly in Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart, which all students in Uganda schools read and which I finished yesterday.
Several of us went to Fort Portal Secondary School (FPSS, private), where Joshua Kagaba is the headmaster. Joshua was one of our Ugandan visitors last year. He’s a remarkably energetic and successful entrepreneur, farmer, politician and educator. Last year in the US, in a fashion typical for him, he wangled a flight in a private plane owned by one of the Weston parents. More about Joshua in the Tues July 1 entry.
Cort and Cindy paired up to meet and interact with FPSS students, and Debra and Kate did the same with other classes. I took photos of all of them along the way and answered a few questions. There were some notable questions.
More than one student asked if it’s true that the world will be destroyed in 2012 when it is said that an asteroid will crash into us. Apparently this has been in the Ugandan popular press recently. We answered that there are millions of objects in space that might hit the earth, and scientists all over the world are working more and more closely and energetically to detect them and find ways to fend off those that could threaten us.
One student asked, "How long does it take for a black man to become white?" I answered, about 200,000 years. That’s about the amount of time it’s been since black humans migrated out of Africa into all other parts of the world (100,000 years might be more accurate). Those people who lived for millenia in the northern climates gradually evolved to have white skin, the better to absorb the essential nutrient vitamin D from the lowered amounts of sunlight. I stressed that we are all really the same, and that the differences we perceive are mostly superficial. I said that blond hair is now predicted to become extinct in the next few hundred years, as humans across the globe mingle and take on features that resemble those of Ugandan people more than northern people. That answer seemed to resonate with the listeners.
Some students are quite challenging in their questions, others were ironic and humorous. Not all were positive, and I take that as a good thing, in line with anticipated independence of thought and eventually of action.
One student in particular caught our attention as he would have caught anyone’s. Akugizibwe Israel has withered arms and deformed legs. He moves himself around with considerable difficulty. And he is exceptionally clear headed, well spoken, and thoughtful. He’s the chairman of the school’s student council and serves on numerous educational and social initiatives, some of them at the national level. He commands everyone’s respect and admiration. There's more about him in the Weds July 2 entry. Here he's seated on a platform, gesturing with his feet as he speaks with the visiting Weston educators.
We trekked in the Kibale Forest to see chimpanzees early Sunday morning. Our tracker, Charles, has been guiding in the forest for fourteen years. We were driven to a drop-off point south of the park headquarters. Then we walked through the dense jungle for about an hour, hearing chimp hoots and calls coming closer and closer. The walking was sometimes quite tough, through vines and thorns, up and down hills, through swampy lowlands where safari (fire) ants got into our clothes.
But the effort was totally worth it. We watched a group of about 10 chimps hunt a colobus monkey high in the top rainforest canopy. Some chimps would take turns cutting off escape routes on the ground under the trees, while other chimps would climb up to drive the monkey into a corner. The air was filled with bloodthirst and noise. The monkey escaped, however, which was probably a relief for most in our party.
Kato, an aggressive 18 year old male chimp that has been challenging the group’s alpha male, ran by us twice throwing pieces of branches in our general direction. Our guide said that this was not really aggression, just high spirits.
After resting in the afternoon, we went to John and Lydiah Kasenene’s beautiful house near Kasiisi School for a celebratory party. There was fine dancing and fine food. Headmasters, parents, elders, teachers, friends, researchers, and other people attended.
I wore “old man” garb: a long white flowing robe given to me by John Kasenene last year in the US, a simple black sports coat, and a special walking stick that connotes authority, also a gift. This brought appreciation and no doubt a few laughs. One of the Ugandans said that I was dressed in the manner one would to ask a family for their daughter as my bride.
We met Marij Steenburg from the Netherlands, who is visiting here for a couple of weeks this year. She was a research technician at the field station in the 1980s, and was the first to do systematic tree planting and to support scholars in their primary and secondary educations. Her bad experience long ago with the mango bot flies was an early warning to all other researchers and visitors of that particular risk.