Scholar Meeting and Ndali Dinner, Sat June 28

The group spent Saturday morning and afternoon meeting and interacting with some 55 of the 68 Kasiisi scholarship recipients. Scholar ages range from first year secondary school to second year college. Excellent food. Several speeches.

Rich and Maggie's scholarship student Kiiza Rogers.

Anita and Dave's student Namara Godwin.

Our student Kukunda Martha, #1 currently at Nyakasura Secondary School outside Fort Portal.

Scholar Happy Sauda, who made a very gracious speech at the Friday June 27 Muchwa ceremony.

Saturday evening we all went to Ndali Lodge for dinner with an eclectic group including the chairman of the Leakey Foundation and his family, plus Richard and Elizabeth Wrangham, and also researchers and staff from the Field Station. This is an exceptionally beautiful spot. On one side of the lodge, just a few feet away there’s a 300-foot sheer drop to the Rukwanzi crater lake below, and on the other side there are panoramic views of the Ruwenzori Mountains (when they emerge on rare occasions from the mist and clouds, that is!).

Muchwa, Palace and Goretti, Fri June 27

The group was greeted and honored this morning in Fort Portal, at the Kabarole District government offices, a building known as Muchwa. Kabarole (kah-bah-ROLL-eh), home of most of the Batooro people, amounts more or less to a state in the union that makes up the nation of Uganda. Ceremonies began with a brass band and a parade of students, followed by inspection of the ranks by numerous dignitaries.

Some fifteen students from nearby St. Maria Goretti School did a beautiful a capella rendition of the Tooro anthem. Our group did a rather less stirring a capella rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner.

The ceremonies followed the now-familiar sequence of speeches. It turned out that a reporter from Ugandan national television was present, filming portions of the event for national broadcast (we expect to get a DVD of that film sometime later). One of the speakers was introduced as the equivalent of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry with respect to the speaker’s representation of Kabarole District in the Ugandan parliament. Barbara spoke, introducing all of the visiting educators. Elizabeth Ross was presented with a charming resolution by the district government encouraging more exchanges and mutual growth between our countries and peoples.

After the ceremony we were driven, to our surprise, to the offices and home of the ceremonial King Oyo of Tooro, just around the corner and up a steep hill that overlooks much of Kabarole. The king was crowned at age 3 and is now 18 years old. He was in Kampala on this particular day. His family and he have become friends with Ghaddafi of Libya, who funded the reconstruction of the circular royal office building. Libyans are visible elsewhere in Uganda; for example, the Lake Victoria Hotel in Entebbe is now owned by Libyans and has been renamed the Libya Hotel.

The view from the palace grounds is said to be the most beautiful in Tooro. If only the clouds would clear and we could see, for the first time ever for us, the 17,000-foot Rwenzori peaks and their snowcaps...

Next, onward to St. Maria Goretti Secondary School, just down the hill from the royal compound. Our friend Richard Ali Tumwine from last year’s Uganda-Weston exchange group teaches here. We had an excellent traditional lunch, then heard speeches and were treated to unusually graceful dancing.

Later on we were told that the town of Fort Portal had been swarming all this day with police, to ensure security of the visiting American teacher group. There were radio broadcasts throughout Tooro for two weeks about our visit. Who would have guessed it?

Meeting the Schools, Thu June 26

We toured the five primary schools today, starting at Rweteera in the south and then up to Kigarama, Kiko, Kanyawara and finally Kasiisi (which is pictured in yesterday's entry).

Rweteera Primary School was originally built in 1961 by a British tea planter in the area. The first building is now decrepit and in dire need of replacement. It was heavily damaged in the magnitude-7 earthquake of 1994. We had another performance by the same turquoise-and-black-garbed group that did such a fine job in the big celebration on Wednesday.

Kigarama School is beautifully situated a mile or two north of Kasiisi, just off the road to Fort Portal. The school uniform color is pink. It’s striking and unusual to see large groups of boys dressed in pink shirts.

Kiko is a new school, relocated from the Kampala road into the tea fields to quietness. Kiko’s color is a tea green. The tea grown around Kiko belongs to the Findlay group. It is said that most of this tea is sold by Harrod’s of London. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of tea around Kiko and Fort Portal. The tea fields abut Kibale National Forest along its northwest boundary. Very few animals will venture into, much less cross, a tea field because there is no cover, no food and no water. The tea fields amount to a barrier to interbreeding among land animals.

Kanyawara School has a new headmistress, Josephine, standing at the left. She has improved the school significantly since our last trip. It now has sporting facilities for netball and volleyball, and new latrines under construction.

Welcome at Kasiisi School, Weds June 25

We were welcomed in grand fashion on the Kasiisi School playing field this day. Where once we worked mainly with Kasiisi School and to a lesser extent with Kanyawara School, now we are working with five schools with a total attendance of more than 3000 students. New to us are nearby nearby Kiko and Kigarama Schools, and Rweteera School about 7 miles south.

All five schools came in force, in celebration, performing multiple songs and dances each.
Local dignitaries made speeches, including the District School Superintendent (who oversees hundreds of schools), the local political leader, Prof. John Kasenene of the Makerere Universtiy Biological Field Station, Kasiisi headmistress Lydiah Kasenene, a director from the Uganda Wildlife Authority, and several others. Barbara spoke for the Weston contingent, since their superindent, Cheryl Maloney, could not come at the last minute due to a death in the family. Parents and family of students gathered. People walked from nearby villages to watch and enjoy. A beef lunch - a notable luxury - was served to hundreds of the participants.

One particular Kiko dancer, a very small girl - but exceedingly determined and fluid and energetic - was honored by not just one but two older women, who separately emerged from the crowd to give her money. No other among the hundreds of performers was recognized this way.

The visiting group and other guests including Richard Wrangham interacted with hundreds of teachers, parents, dignitaries and students. What a celebration!

Kampala to Fort Portal, Tue June 24

We loaded our 30 duffel bags onto the two minibuses again - actually, Akiiki and Apuuli did nearly all the work after we'd hauled the bags from our rooms to the driveway. Then we embarked on the 7-hour drive of 165 miles to western Uganda, through the outskirts of Uganda, then to Fort Portal and onward to the university field station where we're staying.

We had a short stop along the way at a vegetable market stand, a buffet lunch at the Gardens Restaurant in Fort Portal - drinking Stoney Tangawesi, our favorite African ginger ale.

We also visited Richard (Akiiki) Tooro's fine travel and safari shop in Fort Portal (left).

At the field station, which is run by Makerere University of Kampala, we were met, to our enormous surprise, by all of our visitors from last year's Uganda-Weston exchange! Many made the rather long trip from Fort Portal during working hours to do this. We had a long and heartfelt session of "kugwamunda": tummy to tummy in warm greetings.

The field station celebrated 20 years in 2007. The facilities are remarkably good especially given the remoteness of the location. Our quarters are at the left end of the long white building (below) which is behind and up the hill from the main buildings (left). We're just a few feet from the jungle. At night the colobus monkeys sound like lawnmowers as they communicate warnings to each other.

Kampala, June 23

Barbara and I went down to the lake with the group to see them off on their boat expedition to the Ngamba Island chimpanzee sanctuary.The event moved slowly - it unfolded, as we've come to say. After the group left on their boat, Richard Akiiki drove Barbara and me from Entebbe to Kampala to buy textbooks and to visit a charity organization that helps schools plant indigenous trees.

On the way we learned that Ugandans call the lake Victoria when among non-Ugandans but Naruballi among themselves. The local names that have persisted for hundreds or thousands of years remain alive no matter what the rest of the world says the official name might be. Most likely the local names will supplant the imposed ones, as has happened for example in India in the last several years. Some Indian people, though, say that names don't really matter, and the effort to change the name of Bombay to Mumbai wasn't worth it. We are after all more global everyday, and probably for the better in most ways. Before the Bantu migrated east into what is now Uganda thousands of years ago, Naruballi must have had a different name. And a thousand years from now it'll have yet another name.

Also on the road to Kampala, there's an unusually large billboard filled with a photo of a beaming Juliana Kanyomozi, who's one of the most popular singers in Uganda. She's a Tooro from Fort Portal. The Batooro people are immensely proud of her.

A striking change from three years ago is the number of new wireless services and their service franchises along the roads. The service providers, among them principally Uganda Telecom, MTN and Warid, paint franchise shop façades their corporate colors in exchange for licensing the franchise and placing their advertising on the façade. In a tiny strip mall of 5 or 10 stalls and stores, half might be wireless franchises, sometimes even all for the same service. (Paint vendors seem to be doing well too; could this be part of why?)

Kampala roads and streets are a riot of color and action. Richard Akiiki and others from Tooro don't like the city: "It's troublesome, dirty, polluted". The air is heavy and pungent with exhaust fumes from ancient vehicles, charcoal smoke, and the not-unattractive sour smell of tropical vegetation and wet soil. But the city is tremendously alive, growing, rising up, spreading, vital.

Back in Entebbe in the late afternoon, we all walked in a large group to an exchange office that offers very good rates. We were the center of attention for hundreds of eyes every second of the way as we wandered around half lost. A young Ugandan man accosted us, trying to sell us small handmade necklaces. We said no. He persisted. When we kept on saying no he turned accusatory, saying that the whites have abused the Africans and that our day of comeuppance would be soon. We didn't try to tell him that our mission is ultimately in support of that day. Nor did we try to tell him that Africans would have abused whites the same way had the power balance been reversed. This was the only overt hostility Barbara and I have experienced in two trips. It rattled the whole group a bit. We ended up phoning our vehicle and being driven back to the hotel, rather than walking back carrying what onlookers would know to be thousands of dollars worth of Ugandan cash. The guidebooks warn explicitly against letting people know you have lots of cash with you.

We had an excellent barbecue that night at the Boma Hotel, featuring native tilapia from Naruballi. Someone asked if the the Southern Cross constellation might be visible - and there it was, halfway up the southern night sky, placed perfectly in a break among buildings and trees for us to view.

Boston to Kampala, June 21-22

Boston was humid and warm, Amsterdam was cool and humid, and Kampala was very warm and very humid.

The flight from Amsterdam to Kampala seemed filled mostly by people from charity organizations and missions. It felt like a cocoon of westerness as we crossed over the Sahara Desert for hours. Our excellent meal was elaborately designed and presented: covered with a custom designed and recyclable molded plastic cover, it consisted of Cretan soup, a cucumber salad, Tillamook cheese with crackers, a packaged honey cake, and a fresh roll. How different from what those on the plane are likely to eat in Uganda.

We sat next to a young man coming home from Denmark. He and several colleagues had just finished software development training for their startup company, which is building a microfinance site to connect global investors with local entrepreneurs. This is good - it's new in Uganda (to my knowledge) and a welcome sign. I found myself thinking, the time will come when the Ugandans will tell us not to come any more in order to help, but instead to come only if we'd like to enjoy some life with them. That's the time I believe we're ultimately seeking.

Night fell suddenly, shortly before we landed in Kampala. The airport terminal windows swarmed with large tan-colored flies or beetles that were attracted to the light. Too big to be lake flies. On the lower level where a door to the outside was open, with every pace or two you'd step on one with a loud sound like popcorn popping.

Richard Tooro (nickname Akiiki) and his wry sidekick William (Apuuli) met us at the airport with Toyota minibuses. After a near mishap over what might have been lost car keys, we drove the ten minutes to the Boma Hotel (photo) , unloaded our 30 large duffel bags of gifts for the Ugandan schools, signed in, and gathered on the verandah in a cool Lake Victoria breeze for beer and laughs.

Back to Western Uganda in Summer 2008

This blog is about our trip to Uganda from mid-June to mid-July 2008. We're accompanying an exchange visit by a dozen educators from the Weston, MA, school system.