I mostly passed the day traipsing over the hills and through the jungles. Elloy, my guide, was less chatty than Michael of the Salt Lake, but also gruffly efficient. This area was probably the most impoverished I visited in Uganda. I kept remarking on how beautiful it was and he threw me some serious shade. He couldn’t really see it what I meant, but allowed that, since you people keep telling us it is, so it must be. He then opined that maybe he would go to the States and find it beautiful. Poof! went my unmerited sense tourist pride. Ruboni is where I came to the conclusion that this type of trip is probably better is not experienced alone. It is less a question of outright solitude that the lack of having someone with whom to share your joy and awe, because the locals really aren’t feeling it. Some appreciate it, though, while others are vaguely hostile to it. Vacationing in truly poverty-stricken areas is often an uncomfortable experience, knowing, for example, that the staff is ensuring that you are staying at a level of comfort they will never experience themselves. This is true of many posh hotels in the West as well, of course, and also true of Bunia (which is something I will almost certainly discuss in a future post). But the sense of guilt seemed more acute here, where I was often the only tourist in sight.
There were myriad other medicinal and practical plants (like those preferred in treatment of syphilis or used as makeshift candles) that I’m forgetting. Elloy reminded me that the first line of medical defense here is always homeopathic. Then reflected that it was not good. Not always having a keen understanding of what ails them, villagers can easily ingest a plant to treat a cough, only to die of malaria. I was actually familiar with these challenges, as we face the same proclivities in our medical programming.
In additional to marveling at the scenery, I expressed amazement at the people who have to make this trek daily to work the fields and cart their harvests of yams and passion fruit and coffee and Irish potatoes back down on their heads, barefoot through the fire ants and saw grass, often as not carrying a baby. As I might have expected, Elloy was bemused at my amazement. Do women in Congo not do the same with their children? Sure they do, and they impress the hell out of me, too. I fell at least five times on the way down, but he mostly just slid gracefully in his galoshes and suit pants.
As we made our way back to the camp, Elloy described the historic flooding earlier this year that knocked out the hydroelectric dam that powers the nearby cobalt mine in addition to the town and has been in operation since the Canadian government built it in the 1950s. It also wiped away foot bridges, farms, and over a dozen people. The town was still in the process of recovering. Elloy complained bitterly that the government had been little to no help; they apparently felt that any rebuilding efforts they undertook would be gone within years if not months. He asked several times if I was certain that we only work in Congo. I so much wanted to help, and felt so guilty that I could not, that I just ended up over-tipping.
Also in the analogs of crazy Gordon stories, he was suffering from back pains throughout the trip, which is no small thing given how much time we spent driving. When I suggested that he go to the doctor, he said that he already had and that the doctor said what he needed was a girlfriend. I…have suspicions about the legitimacy of this diagnosis.
|Were he human, I would have accused him of being a creeper|
My last weekend in Uganda was blessedly quiet. I just puttered around Entebbe, enjoyed the lake view, and slept in. On the last night, I returned to that pizza joint. The waiter remembered my name and order. While I did not mind eating in the company my book, but the restaurant’s owner (rather her nephew, at her urging) invited me join her family for dinner. She often takes pity on the lonely expats, explaining that she understands how it is to be far from home. She is a Rwandan who came to Uganda in 1995. One guess as to why. Her nephew, who she raised as her own after his parents were killed in the genocide, is now working on a book about a modern history of Africa. We discussed strong men and fluid definitions of democracy in Africa. It was fascinating. The next day, I headed out to the airport reasonably early, as I did not actually know what time my flight was and got no answer when I called the (tiny, missionary) airline (the airport didn’t know, either, nor did the information desk even have the number for the airline. I was just told to stand in the main terminal until a uniformed employee of the airline wandered through and ask them. Magically, this worked). On my way there, I was briefly detained at a police and made to pass through a separate screening station for no apparent purpose whatsoever. Though it took close to 30 minutes, I was not patted down, my checked luggage was not inspected, and the officer’s examination of my hand luggage was so cursory that she missed the pocket knife. Sigh. Bye, Uganda.