This past week was our fall holiday from school.  It’s a bit misleading to call it a “fall” holiday, one minute north of the Equator, but it was a holiday nonetheless, and so very welcome!
We ended up on a bit of a school trip: My cousin Jason, his wife Linda and their kids, Jason’s brother Dan,  my colleague Janet, our volunteer music teacher Jil, and I went to Fort Portal in the west of Uganda.  We all wanted to do something fun, so we did it together!
We stayed in a lovely little guesthouse on BEAUTIFUL property down a long bumpy road outside Fort Portal.  Fort Portal itself is a nice little town about 5 hours west of Kampala.  It has (according to the guidebook) about 48,000 people; it’s high, cool, and mountainous.  There is a small ex-pat population, I think, mostly involved with the tourism industry. I contemplated (maybe only briefly, but contemplated nonetheless) selling my house and buying a guesthouse, or at least a plot of land, in Fort Portal, I like it so much!  It’s a quiet, peaceful place.
We just spent Saturday relaxing and getting acquainted with our place.  It is about a 5 hour drive from Kampala to Fort Portal, and after we ate lunch at a nice restaurant called Dutchess, and got some veggies at the local market,  it was nearly 3 o’clock.  We were all really tired–we needed this break! It was enough just to sit on the deck and watch the clouds across the Rwenzori mountain range–the colors were brilliant and the clouds were ever-changing.  We had a nice supper of steak and roasted potatoes/carrots and enjoyed a campfire for a while.

The Rwenzoris, as seen from our front porch!

A friendly crested crane–Uganda’s national bird–who seemed to be a frequent resident of the wetlands near our guesthouse.

On Sunday Eddie, the guide who came with the guesthouse, took us to the nearby Amagera Caves and rainforest.  Amagera means “breast” in the local language, which is Lutoro. There’s a long and gruesome story about why they’re called that; it’s not totally without reason when one sees the stalactite and stalagmite formations in the caves.  There was also a pretty little waterfall we walked behind and enjoyed.  Eddie had said it was about a 5 hour hike (round trip), but we got to the caves in about 30 minutes.  It was another gorgeous day–brilliant greens and blues and fluffy white clouds.

Inside the cave…See the reason for the name?

 On the way back we got caught in a serious rain and spent over an hour huddled against the side of a deserted hut.  The hour actually passed pretty quickly and was kind of fun–all part of the adventure.  Within an hour of raining, the sky was clear and brilliant blue again and the sun shone, so we all went for a swim in one of the three crater lakes around us!
Monday we drove a ways and hiked up into the mountains a little, and, once again, the colors seemed almost unreal–sparkling and sunshiney.  We just walked for a bit–maybe an hour up and an hour back, but enough to get a good taste of the mountains.

The start of our hike–such saturated color! The distant mountains are the ones Dan and I crossed the next day.

A little primary school in the mountains. I’m afraid meaningful learning ceased for quite some time after we were spotted!

A little kiddo who accompanied us for a long time. Jason (my cousin) took this picture–I really like it!

Coffee beans ripen on the tree. Because this area is cool and mountainous, coffee production is fairly common.

Coffee beans dry in front of an unfinished building. The frame of the building will be covered by mud and become a fairly snug little dwelling.

Then we went to visit Jason and Linda’s friend Annette, a Ugandan lady who moved back to Fort Portal from Kampala last year to start a little farm on her family’s land.  It was so fun to see her little farm.  She fixed us an enormous feast–matooke (which is plantain, boiled and mashed, a lot like very stiff mashed potatoes), peas, beans, potatoes, beef stew, rice, and vegetables.  A whole lot of carbs and starch, and really very delicious, especially after a couple hours of exercise.  Then we toured her farm and picked strawberries and mint and gooseberries and guavas and other nice things and ran back inside just in time for a BIG rainstorm to start.  Unfortunately, it was quite a destructive storm and knocked down a lot of Annette’s matooke stand and the wall to the house her sister is building.  It lasted for nearly two hours, I think; we had to cross a big stream running across the road when we left.  We made it home quite late, had a quick supper, and headed for bed.

You want us to go WHERE, Eddie?

Dan and I had gotten a taste of the mountains on Monday, and Eddie had mentioned that he guided hikers on walks high into the mountains, so we just had to do it.  So we got up and got a quasi-early start on Tuesday morning.  Our goal was to walk over the mountains from the same place we had started Monday and end in the little town of Bundibugyo (Boon-di-bu-jo) on the other side, where we would spend the night.  We had to register and pay before going, as we would be walking through the national park when we got up high, and the park ranger came with us too.  So we finally left about 9:30 and rolled (or  straggled, I should say) into Bundibugyo about 7 that night!

Stocking up at a little shop before setting out…The last time that day we would be clean or dry!

Our accompanying park ranger, Phillip, at our resting place. That was before the hard work really began!  Note the tall mountain on the right.  That’s the one we crossed!

Walking into the bamboo forest on top of the mountain.

Bamboo up close

It was a lot of steep uphill and steeper downhill.  The uphill part had me puffing, but the downhill was the real kicker.  The good news is that it didn’t rain hard or for a long time; the bad news is that it rained at all.  The downhills were STEEP and the rain made them really slick.  Like I said, we left at 9:30 and had lunch on top at 12:30, which means the remainder of our time was spent going downhill.  A long part of the trail, fortunately, was bordered by tall, strong grass (think ornamental grass size), so we could grab on, but it was really slow going.  It was hard and tiring, but worth it:  from the top we could the whole mountain valley ahead of us, and beyond that, the Albertine Rift Valley, with the Semliki River and numerous lakes, reaching all the way to Congo.  It was vast and amazing and nearly too big to take in.

The horizon is the border with Congo!

Taking a break on the steep and muddy trail (a slippery slope, indeed!).

Another scene of verdant beauty.

A view from the top–just so lovely!

And another–I never tired of them!

After we passed the hardest part of the walk, we started to walk through the mountain valleys with little houses clustered on them and it was just phenomenal–who gets to experience rural Africa like that?  We definitely earned it, but it was worth the work.

Little homes dot the hillsides.  I never expected to find this kind of scene when I came to Africa!

Bundibugyo is nothing special–just a quiet little Ugandan town–but we found a nice guesthouse called the Rainbow Inn that had lukewarm showers (anything that wasn’t freezing was greatly appreciated) and really lovely rooms.  They were clean and bright and had thick foam mattresses on the bed, which is everything a person can ask for the low price of 35,000 UGX ($14 or so).  I had a Rolex and soda for supper and gratefully hit the hay.

Weary travelers, asking for room (and a shower) in the inn. We didn’t stay at Hotel Vanilla in the end, as it didn’t have even warmish showers. Rainbow Inn was able to satisfy, though!

 We were back up at 6 and on the taxi by 6:30, only to sit for another hour while we waited for people to come, etc, etc.  One major delay was the guy who got off to go get his friend, but returned without him but still wanted the taxi to wait.  There was a lot of yelling and negotiation on the part of the other passengers and the guy finally left.  And so we were off.  There were, at its fullest, 20 people in a vehicle meant for 14, but it was a pleasant ride despite that.  We went up and down one mountain and then up and down another to reach Fort Portal.  I expected to be terrified, but the driver drover reasonably and the roads were quite good.

A view from the taxi

And so we were nearly home!  We hopped on bodas to ride the 6 km to our little guesthouse and I received my first proposal in Uganda!  I can only assume it was because I looked so good (having woken up and walked out of the guesthouse to the taxi) or smelled so good (having ridden the taxi for two hours) or my personality was so sparkling (having woken up early and being stiff and sore from the hike and the taxi).  I had to tell him I just didn’t think it could work…
And thus concludes the latest African adventure.  Thanks, as always, for sharing it with me; do keep in touch!

Breaking the Silence

Hello Friends!

I AM alive and well, and I’m in Africa.  Here’s a little of what I’ve been up to!

In a word, I’ve been working!  I think most people reading this know that I came back in August to help with the start of Acacia Classical Academy, the school that took root in my cousin’s mind last year and that, in seemingly miraculous ways, has come to fruition.   It was still an idea, something we were acting on and hoping to accomplish, when I left for a couple months in America last June.  We now have a beautiful, peaceful campus and twenty students, which makes us a full-fledged, functioning (if small) school!

Our playground. There’s now sand below; kids come to class COATED in it every day!

One of our classrooms

The entrance to the school. It was just an old house on a weedy lot in June; there’s been a total transformation! Our campus is peaceful, green, and quiet, except for the bad music the Chinese restaurant next door continues to blare!

We really are doing quite well as a school.  My little class of 5 students somehow manages to be diverse–a Korean boy with limited English, two American girls whose families are missionaries here in Kampala, a Zimbabwean boy (all fourth graders), and a British boy in Grade 3.  We have settled (mostly) into our routines and we have successfully put on two presentations.  The first was a dedication ceremony on the first (!) day of school, and the second was an Independence Day celebration in honor of Uganda’s fifty years of freedom, which was marked on October 9.  I like my students, of course, and I like the family atmosphere of the school.  All of our kids play together at recess and we’re generally a happy and peaceful place.

For more recent pictures and information, check out our website:  www.acacia.co.ug.

I am living (until January) in a truly beautiful place!  It’s a big house in a spacious compound out near Lake Victoria.  The picture above is a sunrise view from my front porch.  Nice, isn’t it?  I am house sitting for some missionaries and am very grateful for this quiet, relaxing place to return to each evening.

It’s not quiet at this moment–there’s a lot of shouting and laughing on the part of my “neighbors,” a couple of Sudanese guys who live in the “boys quarters” behind the house.  Their friends are visiting and they’re playing volleyball, yelling and razzing one another.  It makes me happy to hear them having fun together.  They are kind and cheerful–fun guys to have as neighbors.

I came back to my little black Toyota Rav-4, purchased at 8 0’clock the night before I left for America in June, and have been so grateful for it as well.  It’s a car worth 10,000,000…shillings, that is, but nearly worth as much in dollars.  It has afforded me great freedom and independence (and protection from the rain).  It’s a good friend!

So life is flowing along in Kampala.  I put a lot more pictures on my next post, which is about my holiday trip to Fort Portal.

Thanks for checking in.  Let me know what’s going on with you!

South Sudan!!

It seems one does not live long in Africa before red dirt roads and motorbikes begin to factor prominently in one’s life.  That was certainly true during my Easter break visit to Kajo Keji in South Sudan.  It was also a place of peace, beauty, and, as many friends have already heard me rave, mangoes!

Some of you have already seen/heard about my trip from a prayer update I sent or from Facebook.  If you haven’t, though, read on!  I included a few more details here.

My friend Jessie and I traveled to South Sudan to spend a few days with Francis Chandiga and his wife Betty.  Francis (he also goes by ‘Chandiga’) is a Sudanese friend of my cousin Jason, who worked with him in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan.  Chandiga now works for Child Evangelism Fellowship, and, as he was gracious enough to host us, we traveled north for adventure in South Sudan.

Travel:  We took the Zawadi bus from Kampala north to Moyo, which is on the border.  The bus station is in the city center, and we needed to be there by 6:00 a.m..  I had arranged the night before for boda drivers we know to pick each of us up at our homes at 5:30 a.m; at 5:40 Jessie and K.B. were outside my gate, but Hassan, my boda driver, was nowhere to be seen.  K.B., though, saved the day by going to Hassan’s home and waking him up, and before long we were zipping along in the cool predawn darkness.  Kampala is really nice in the early morning before the roads get congested.

It was a great trip (as far as bus travel goes)!  The bus was on time, clean, and orderly.  Each bus has a “conductor” who helps passengers, handles logistics, etc.  Before we left the bus station, the conductor asked for prayer, and one of the three lovely nuns sitting across the aisle from us stood and prayed.  We made a couple stops but were very punctual at each, and made it to Gulu, basically the halfway point, in 4 1/2 hours, which is almost unheard of.

A market in the northern Ugandan town of Gulu. Gulu was really hit hard when Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army were wreaking havoc in northern Uganda, so it's seeking to recover and rebuild now that it seems to be at peace.

This roadside stand is a common site wherever buses stop. People sell roasted cassava (on the right) and roasted plantain (left), chapati (which are like tortillas, but better!), roasted meat (meat-on-a-stick), and sodas and water.

At that point, I considered calling Chandiga, who would be meeting us in Moyo, and letting him know that we were ahead of schedule.  I’m glad I didn’t, though, because the longest part of the journey was to come!

Veering northwest from Gulu, we left behind the smooth, paved, relatively wide roads for rutted, potholed dirt roads.  The landscape changed at that point, too.  It was more open–there were fewer banana trees–and we could see mountains in the distance on either side of the road.

After about 45 minutes, our bus pulled to a stop behind a long line of lorries (trucks).  Early in the morning, the first real rain since the start of the dry season had fallen, and parts of the road were impassable to the heavy lorries.  So our conductor would get out and walk to find the next empty spot in the line, and the bus would “leap frog” forward.  We got out along with many other passengers and walked a good bit of the distance.  Eventually we got back in, endured a scary five minutes when it felt as if the bus would tip on the muddy uneven road, and were on our way.

Walking to catch up with the bus

The other notable event of the trip was the ferry across the Nile.  Very fun and cool!  The Nile was wide and placid, but pretty swift-moving in this part of the country.  This part of the river is the White Nile, and this stretch is also know as the Albert Nile because it flows out of Lake Albert in western Uganda.

We arrived, at last, in Moyo to see Chandiga and his coworker Samuel smiling and waving from the crowd of folks meeting the bus.  After a quick meal of beans and rice, we were off (on the back of motorbikes) for Kajo Keji.  The border crossings were smooth, easy, and low-key.  There was a 10 km-or-so wide “no man’s land” between the two borders, which I found interesting.  Chandiga said that one benefit of it is that it acts as a buffer in times of war/dispute (and the border is somewhat disputed); troops can’t spill over the border and immediately enter the other country.

We had the loveliest introduction to Kajo Keji we could’ve asked for.  The sun threw its lovely golden light across the landscape, and the air cooled as we zipped along.  My serenity was occasionally interrupted by Chandiga’s screeching on the brakes for a chicken or goat in the road, but otherwise it was the nicest welcome we could want.

Kajo Keji: South Sudan is divided into states which are further divided into townships, and that’s what Kajo Keji is.  The Kuku tribe is the predominant people group there, and the language has the same name.  There are places in South Sudan that are not peaceful, and people groups who are not peaceful.  For example, the Dinka, one of the biggest tribes in South Sudan, do quite a bit of cattle raiding and general fighting back and forth.  The Kuku, though, generally are peaceable, and Kajo Keji is a more peaceful and prosperous area of the country.  Chandiga said several factors influence this.  One is that many Kuku now live in the US or Australia, and send money back home.  Another (probably related to the presence of a little more money) is that people in KK tend to be better educated.  (Both education and prosperity should be viewed relative to the rest of South Sudan). A third is that Christianity seems to have taken a hold in the area, so that there is a sense of ethics even among those who don’t actively practice Christianity.  Chandiga said that both theft and witchcraft are quite rare.  I’m sure Kajo Keji has its set of social ills, but the previous characteristics are definitely good things!

The Language:  As I mentioned, the language is Kuku.  Here are a few words/phrases that we picked up.

              Do pure (doh pou-ray) The morning greeting, used until noon, for addressing one person

Ta pure (tah pou-ray) Also used until noon, but for addressing two or more people

Do parana (doh pah-rah-nah) Used from noon until evening for addressing one person

Ta parana (tah pah-rah-nah) Same as above, but for addressing two or more

 Nan pure/parana   The reply to the greeting, depending on the time of day

 Tiyiti!  (tee-tee; it’s said so quickly that the middle syllable is nearly dropped)  Let’s go!

Wulek wulek!  Quick quick!

Schools:  I had written to Chandiga asking how we could help if we went for a visit.  During the school holidays, Chandiga runs day camps for kids–quite similar to vacation Bible schools.  Because school was still in session, though,  he arranged for us to speak in local primary schools and secondary schools and to speak to the teachers as well, so we visited four primary schools and four secondary schools over the three days.   One notable was that each schoolyard had at least one big tree in whose shade we gathered to speak.  It seemed so African (and very cool) to do that.  At the primary schools, we shared the creation story and how Jesus came to fix the problem of our broken relationship with God.  At the secondary schools, we spoke to students who were members of the Scripture Union, which is a Bible club for young people.  I believe it started in Scotland and is active in many places around the world.

Scripture Union kids in a secondary school classroom.

The Scripture Union students were super!  I think their Bible knowledge was pretty basic, but they wanted to know more and just seemed very sincere in their faith.  It was fun, too, to hear them worship.  A song leader, usually a girl, would get up and lead out (a capella) with a song, and everyone would start clapping and moving.  Often she would sing a line (Hallelujah, God is good) and everyone else would repeat it.  They had their well-known favorites just like kids in America or anywhere else, and they knew when to clap, when to dance, etc.  South Sudan is in a pivotal place right now, and these kids will be the first new generation of leadership in South Sudan.  It can become a country of justice and equity-a beacon in East Africa- if young people like this rise up to govern with integrity.  That’s exciting stuff!

Chandiga said he feels like the youth are often overlooked in churches and just don’t get a lot of direction or leadership.  Please pray for  men and women to mentor these kids as they grow to maturity.

Below are pictures from some of the schools we visited.

Most of the school buildings looked fairly crisp and fresh.

Meeting under the big tree!

The kids listened nicely. There were consequences if they didn't! At one school, we heard a little boy being "beaten" (swatted with a stick) in the room next door because he had repeatedly stolen money from home and bought a bunch of bread for his friends at school.

I nearly caused a riot (of very small people) when I took pictures of these kiddos and showed them the images!

Some of the little folks from above playing outside their nursery school. This was the most 'primitive' school building I saw, and it was the exception. South Sudan has had peace for about 7 years now-- people have been back in the area for about 10--so as time passes, the school buildings have gotten nicer. Most looked like the building in the first picture.

A friendly little person at the last primary school we visited. She was the daughter of one of the teachers. Several of the teachers also had babies with them, and fed them (the natural way!) while we sat in the shade of the mango tree and talked.

Mangoes:  We arrived in Kajo Keji on the upswing of mango season, and I took full advantage of the situation! Two of the three days we were there, we had a “rest time” after visiting a primary school in the morning.  The first stage of rest time was to sit under the mango tree and eat freshly picked mangoes.  And they were good mangoes–firm,  not too sweet, not stringy, just GOOD!  Mango trees are a useful feature in Kajo Keji, and I would guess other parts of Africa.  We spent a significant part of our visit sitting under mango trees-waiting to meet someone, talking to kids, or just relaxing.  One of the motorbikes developed a flat tire on the way back to Moyo so we waited for the repair…under a mango tree!

Need I say more?

Prices:  A friend asked me to include more information about the prices of things.  We actually used Ugandan shillings in Kajo Keji; South Sudan uses the pound, and I guess it’s used there too, but it was easier for us to take shillings because we already had them.   We didn’t buy a whole lot on the trip, but here are few examples. I think the exchange rate was around 2400 UGX to the dollar at that time, so that’s how I figured prices.

  • The bus ticket: 65,000 UGX round trip-$27
  • A room (2 beds) in a seedy hotel in Moyo (the border town): 30,000 UGX -$12.50
  • Lunch for 4 in Moyo: 40,000 UGX-$16.67 UGX
  • Chapati from the bus window:  2000 UGX-$0.83 (!)
  • Boda home from the city center-6000 UGX-$2.50
  • Getting to see and experience South Sudan:  PRICELESS!  (I had to say it!)

A Big View: One of my favorite parts of the visit was experiencing this corner of the world God created and getting just a glimpse of what He’s doing there.  I find in myself, in the course of cross-cultural living,  pockets of ethnocentrism in my thinking and understanding.  I of course know God created the whole world, and in an abstract sense I understand that.  But I better understand God’s love for people in the contexts I know, with people whose language and culture and even appearance are familiar to me.  But places like South Sudan seem far away and so very foreign.  But God created this whole world, and He is present and active everywhere.  His love and care are not linked to culture or tribe or nation or language or location.  He is as concerned about what happens in the lives of the children around the bore hole or the ladies hoeing crops in the field as He is about me and the lives of my family and friends.  My mind can barely hold that thought, but I saw it and experienced while I was in Kajo Keji, and it was a great outpouring of His grace that I could do that.

As I write, war seems to be coming for South Sudan and the Republic of Sudan.  Please pray for these people who have suffered greatly for years that they may be spared further suffering.

Thanks for coming along with me.  I love sharing my adventures!

Find a few more miscellaneous pics below!

Chandiga and his family; his wife Betty is beside him.

The view from Chandiga's house

Our simple but very adequate room. Chandiga was a gracious host, and we ate well and were well cared for!

We visited a women's cooperative run in partnership with the Catholic church. Women here baked bread, made jewelry, and wove beautiful cloth like this.

The cooperative is called Lady Lomin. Check it out at http://www.ladylomin.org!

South Sudanese boda license! I had to have a picture of that!

The Episcopal Church apparently has quite a presence in Kajo Keji. We saw many Episcopal Churches, and either the Anglican church or the Episcopal church runs a Bible college. Betty (Chandiga's wife) is attending the Bible college; she's one of two women there.

One of approximately 50 churches that Samaritan's Purse built in Kajo Keji. The previous churches had been bombed during Sudan's long civil war.

Some kiddos on their way to school. We met them on a morning walk. We saw kids arriving at the school late--they got three swats on the bottom with a stick!

Little children at the bore hole very near Chandiga's house. Child Evangelism Fellowship drilled the hole, but he has made it available to the community, which shortens the walk for water that the women and children must make each day.

It was good to be back in cattle country. The people of Kajo Keji aren't as into cattle as the Dinka and Nuer farther north--they're more farmers--but I did see a few herds, which made me happy!

A few weeks ago, my roommates and I took advantage of a free weekend to visit Jinja, a town about two hours away and the source of the mighty Nile river, which is a cool distinction. Jinja is known as a place for outdoors and adventure sports like white water rafting, kayaking, horseback riding, bicycling, and even bungee jumping (which I, by the way, did NOT do!). Many ex-pats like Jinja because it’s cleaner, calmer, and the traffic is saner than Kampala, but it’s a fairly developed town.

We left home at 4:20 (p.m.), walked to Ggaba Road, took the taxi to taxi park in the city center, and boarded the taxi for Jinja. We arrived in Jinja around 7:45 on what should be a little over an hour’s drive, having been gridlocked in horrendous Friday night traffic as we left the city. We had a strange incident not far from the taxi park: a plainclothes, presumably civilian man waved for our taxi to stop, which it did. He got out and demanded to know which occupant of the taxi had thrown a banana peel. I believe there is a “clean-up Kampala” initiative underway, but that is a seriously small problem to get upset about in a city where part of the way they fix the roads is to pack piles of garbage into the holes. Weird!

Anyway, it was after dark when we hopped out at the first roundabout into Jinja (just after crossing the Nile) and hailed bodas, which we proceeded to ride for 8 km (5 miles) along dirt roads under the stars. Had I been alone I would’ve been scared and nervous (it actually wouldn’t have been smart to do alone), but since we were together (on three different bodas, but traveling together), it was fun. The cool air whipped around us as we zoomed by banana trees and little huts and stretches of still countryside.

Altogether, our transportation cost 9,000 shillings; at the current exchange rate of 2,300 shillings to a dollar, that’s a little over $4!  A light supper that night–a plate of chips (French fries) for my roommates and pita and hummus for me–cost about 6,000 each.

We stayed at Nile River Explorers, right on the banks of the Nile. Originally, NRE was located beside Bujugali Falls, which was the source of electrical power for Uganda. A recently constructed dam further downriver has completely covered up the falls, though, and so we saw a tranquil and idyllic Nile the next morning when we woke up.

After a nice breakfast which was slightly delayed by a lack of power, we rented mountain bikes (in various stages of upkeep and repair) and rode throught the Ugandan countryside. January and February are the dry season in Uganda, and so it was hot by the time we left around 10 o’clock. Still, it was really excellent–it felt like a privilege–to ride through the countryside. We kept exclaiming, “I can’t believe we’re really doing this!” Jinja is touristy, so we weren’t the first whites through the area, but still the little children ran out, waving and yelling, “Mzungu!” We wound down dusty red roads flanked by banana trees and saw quite a few traditional round huts. This is rural Africa!

We made our way down the DUSTY road to Jinja and The Source Cafe.  Jinja really is a nice little town; it’s calm, peaceful, well-planned, and, because of the tourist industry, has some developments–like nice cafes–that westerners appreciate.  We ate a nice lunch, did a little shopping, and dropped off our bikes and caught the shuttle from Explorers Backpackers, which is a hostel run by the man who runs Nile River Explorers.

The shuttle took us the “back way” to Kampala,down dusty red roads and past little villages, until we reached the city center, caught bodas, and made our way home!

Another successful African venture!


I said goodbye to Jason, Linda, and Co. and headed further west to the town of Kisoro on Friday morning.  I had heard its beauty surpassed that of Lake Bunyonyi, and I also wanted to visit a lady name Jenny Green who I had met at church sometime this fall.  We  unexpectedly ran into our friends Coffie and Diana (the same friends with whom we spent Christmas Day) at Lake Bunyonyi, and they were planning to drive to Kisoro on Friday, so it seemed like a perfect arrangement.  We set out early and  admired the beautiful green valley flanked by terraced hillsides as we started the climb to the pass.  Sadly, however, the car overheated and we pulled over.  After some waiting and some deliberation, it was decided that I should ride back down the mountain with Fred, a random guy who had pulled over to help us, and take some form of public transport to Kisoro (which had been my original plan).  Fred insisted that the matatus (minibus taxis) weren’t running that time of day, and that if they were, they would take forever to leave because they wait to go until they’re full.  So it was that I came to be riding in a Toyota Corolla with six, yes six, other people.  And I was actually quite lucky:  the folks in the back seat, a lovely young couple with two little girls, paid for an additional seat so that there would only be three of us across the back, as opposed to the usual four or five.  I think I was also treated quite nicely:  I heard some wrangling going on before I was directed to sit in the back, with the word “mzungu” popping up, and I think they let me sit in the back for that reason.  So we were three in the back (plus a baby and a toddler) and four across the front-a woman with a baby in her lap, another young woman, a young guy who crawled more-or-less into the driver’s seat, and then the driver who basically sat in the other guy’s lap.  And we were off!  They driver did a good job, though, and drove very reasonably on the steep and curvy road.

The drive was beautiful!  We wound up and up into verdant green mountains with terraced fields cut by winding footpaths.  I very much had a sense of being on the Equator, and it seems that the landscape had a lot in common with South American mountains/highlands (as much as I know about them!).  The clouds closed in and the air became cold as we drove.  I got to see many scenes and shades of Ugandan life–bicycles laden with matooke, men carrying bundles of sugarcane over their shoulders, women hoeing their crops on the hillsides, and trucks crowded with people and goods making their way to the villages or markets.

I stopped at a little hotel in Kisoro for a cup of African tea (black tea with milk, sugar, ginger, and other spices-very tasty) and then Jenny met me and took me to the Golden Monkey, a guesthouse there in Kisoro.  It was a lovely little guesthouse, perfectly adequate, and a nice place to spend a couple hours reading and resting as the rain POURED down outside.  One’s standards change slightly when in a developing country, but the Golden Monkey was snug and clean, the food (Spanish omelettes, chips (french fries), and toast) was good, and the owner, Molly, and operator, Wise, were lovely and friendly.   Molly DID wake me at 6:40 a.m. on New Year’s Day–a guest wanted to buy a basket before she left, Molly didn’t have any available, and there was one in my room she could sell–but it’s something of a rule here that you don’t turn down a chance to make a little money, so it wasn’t a huge deal!  Just another little quirk that makes life fun and interesting…

My room at the Golden Monkey

The dining room at the Golden Monkey

My guidebook describes Kisoro as “scruffy and amorphous,” and that’s probably not too far off the mark.  I really liked, it, though!  It feels like a frontier outpost, because it is, but it’s in such a lovely setting, and it was so nice to be in a small town.

I visited Potter’s Village the following morning.  It’s an excellent work that my friend Jenny started to care for babies whose mothers have died in childbirth.  Families are typically unable to care for the babies when that happens and the babies are basically just allowed to die.  So Potter’s Village takes them in and cares for them until they’re 2 or 3 and the extended family is then able to take them back.  It’s a profoundly Christian work based on the idea that God has given these children life, worth, and value, and that those things are to be protected.  Jenny is the director of Potters Village and partners with the Church of Uganda (the Anglican church).  Potter’s Village has a website at www.pottersvillage.org.uk that explains more of the work and shows more pictures.

Holding one of the beautiful babies at Potter's Village

I attended a New Year’s Eve service at the Anglican cathedral in Kisoro, which was a fun and memorable experience.  Jenny’s friend Andrew had just arrived from the UK to spend some weeks working at Potter’s Village, so it was nice to have another mzungu, especially a man, go with me since it was at night.  We didn’t glean much from the service prior to midnight, because it was in Rufumbira, the language of the Bafumbira people, who live in that region of Uganda, but at midnight it was really fun.  People broke out in singing and dancing and wishing each other happy new year.  Jenny said that they lit fires on the hillsides and drummed, but we didn’t hear much of that in church; it was a fun and joyous celebration inside the church, though, and certainly a New Year’s Eve like no other.

The lovely Anglican cathedral

Jenny has two adopted children, and a third little girl who frequently stays with her, and on Sunday the kids, Andrew, and I climbed one of the high hills behind Jenny’s house.  It was incredibly beautiful!

With my hiking companions (Jenny's kids) on the way up the mountain. Note the volcano in the background--it's in Rwanda!

Girls and ladies dressed in their Sunday finery as we head to the top of the hill

The view from the top

Looking the other way at the top

Looking into the valley from the hilltop

I boarded the bus at 5:55 p.m. Monday morning for Kampala, and spent the majority of the day there.  The trip was actually quite good, as far as bus travel goes–there were no MAJOR problems or delays.  We stopped many, many times along the way, mostly between Kisoro and Mbarara, and then made pretty good progress from there.  The man who sat by me was kind and helpful; he explained why we were stopping or what was going on,  and for the most part didn’t hit on me, which was a nice relief!  (White women represent wealth and prosperity, so as a result many men are over-friendly, if you know what I mean…).  I enjoyed some Ugandan fast food I purchased from the bus window–an ear of roasted maize, kind of like a cross between sweet corn and popcorn, and really quite satisfying, and my favorite roadside treat of gonja, which is a small plantain that has been roasted over hot coals.  It’s what a baked potato would taste like if it were crossed with a banana; it sounds weird but tastes good! Upon arrival in Kampala, I took a taxi to Bugolobi, the area of town where my cousins live, and a boda to their house.  I arrived at 5:00 p.m., having utilized basically every form of public transportation Uganda offers!

Below are a couple pics taken from the bus window in the lovely morning light.

I arrived at Kisoro feeling spiritually and emotionally weary.  I think the long school days, the busy-ness of life, and the general adjustment to living in a new place had taken their toll.  Also, it’s possible to despair when one looks at the lives of many in Uganda:  so many are desperately poor, without education or opportunities, and seemingly without hope.  Jenny shared with me some of the stories of lives there in the mountains around Kisoro, and life is hard, to say the least.  I left feeling heartened and renewed.  Part of it was Jenny’s hospitality and kindness to a near stranger, and also watching her interact so kindly with the people around her.  Part of it was the chance to be out of the city and to be in those lovely mountains.  Most of it, however, was the reminder from Sunday morning’s sermon, given by a lovely Ugandan woman named Peace.  She reminded us that in the fullness of time God sent Jesus, and He is our only and our everlasting hope.  He is the hope for those living difficult lives in the mountains of Uganda, and He is the hope for those of us born to privilege and prosperity.  He is the hope that transcends race, gender, ethnicity, income, status, and place, and He offers Himself to us.  Let us lay hold of that hope in this new year!

Safari, Round Two!

It just looks like Africa!

A waterbuck

Question:  What’s the only thing more exciting (thrilling, hair-raising, just plain scarier) than riding a boda (a motorcyle taxi) down the middle line between two packed lanes of traffic?
Answer:  Meeting a boda coming the opposite direction on the same center line!

(I posted this on my Facebook page, too, but it bears repeating)!

Just another day in Africa, and another time God looked after me!

Hi All!  I hope this finds you well.  I have enjoyed hearing from many of you in response to blogs or Facebook–thanks for the messages!

I wanted to post a few more pictures of my trip to Queen Elizabeth National Park and the south/central west part of the country.  It was a beautiful trip!  We left Kampala at 6:30 in the morning, and even the city was beautiful in the early morning calm and light.  It was definitely the quietest and most orderly I’ve seen the city, and my cousins, who’ve lived here for 4 years, agreed.  It was great to get out of town, and, as I said, the drive was beautiful, and mostly on good (even beautiful) highway, not something to be taken lightly!  We drove through rolling green hills all the way to Fort Portal, which is a lovely little town virtually on the border with Congo.  As we got closer to Fort Portal we drove through tea plantations, which are lush and green and manicured.

Some of the beautiful scenery we passed on the way to Fort Portal

More scenic beauty

We refreshed with good coffee and samosas (fried meat turnovers) and drove south a couple more hours to Queen Elizabeth National Park.  We crossed the Equator on our way, which was cool, although there was nothing particularly remarkable about the place–the landscape, etc. was the same as the surrounding area.  Our lodge was on the south end of the park, so we drove through the length of the park to get there.  We traveled about 8 hours that day, so we just stayed at the lodge once we were there, enjoying the lovely view and resting.

The next day was the real highlight of Queen Elizabeth.  We took an early morning game drive, and took in the lovely scenery as well as the wildlife.  We DID see a lion, which was quite lucky, and lots of kob and water buck (kinds of antelope).  I really loved our drive down to a little fishing village for hippo viewing.  I put some pics of it on the last blog–the hippoes were really close, and it was fun to see the village as well.  It was quiet and isolated and just felt like Africa.

The hippoes were really close to the land at the fishing village!

A lady at the fishing village got quite close (too close, really) to the hippoes!

The fishing village, facing away from the water.

The Kazinga Channel, which runs through QENP and connects Lakes George and Edward. This was taken the night before the others; I just wanted to share it because it was so pretty!

The lion!

Later in the day we took a two-hour boat ride and saw tons of hippoes, water buffalo, and birds, and we saw just the eyes and back ridge of a crocodile poking out of the water.

Some of the wildlife on our boat trip.

Water buffalo relax in the heat of the day.

Oh ya, we saw elephants, too!

The rainy morning following our wildlife viewing we drove the better part of the way back toward Kampala.  We drove through more of the beautiful, lush, high hills, and then descended down into the lower part of the country again.  We drove through Mbarara, which is the home or home region of President Museveni, and also the cattle raising region of Uganda.  Ankole cattle are raised in this area; they’re the ones with big horn, kind of like longhorns, but thicker at the base and curving upwards more.  There are dairies around Mbarara, too, so it was fun to be there and feel something of a connection to the agrarian way of life.   We drove through some rather bleak and desolate areas, and I commented that I could understand why people living in those villages would get out of there and head to Kampala as soon as possible.  I don’t think the hope of a better life in the city always materializes for people, but I can understand wanting to get out of some of those dreary places.

We stopped off at Lake Nabugabo for a couple of nights before heading on home.  It’s not a place of stunning beauty, but it is quiet and pleasant and pastoral, and we could swim in the water there.  Apparently the mineral content or pH of the lake prevents freshwater snails from forming shells, so the lake is free of bilharzia.  Bilharzia is a nasty condition caused by a parasitic worm that is carried by freshwater snails; this worm damages the liver, heart, lungs, and bladder and causes symptoms like bloody urine and constant exhaustion.  (Lake Victoria is infected, unfortunately, as is most fresh water in this part of Africa, and I believe much of Africa).  So it’s good news when there’s bilharzia free water!  We stayed at a campground run by the Church of Uganda (a branch of the Anglican church) in little round thatched “bandas” and just enjoyed relaxing a couple days.

Lake Nabugabo at sunset.

At Lake Nabugabo

I had to show this part of one of our lovely suppers (eaten beside the lake shore) at Lake Nabugabo--fried whole tilapia. It was yummy--mild, tender, and plentiful. (And I don't even like fish!)

And on that note I’ll close!  Like I said, I love hearing from all of you.  Life here is becoming a little more routine–school, running, and Bible study make up most weeks here, but I’ll continue to post when things are interesting.  I hope each of you are well, and please keep in touch!

A view at the fishing village where we first saw hippos.

More hippos! They were so interesting! And close!

Relaxing in the pool at Kingfisher with the fabulous view in the background!  Who’s coming to visit??  Not sure why this picture merged with an old warthog, but I’m also not sure how to fix it…

Don't let this happen to you...

A stork of sorts…As seen from the boat
Beady little eyes…