Jambo! Oli otya? Hey, everyone. I just want to say thank you again so much to all of you, for reading my blog! I’ve been getting such nice compliments from so many people (some of whom don’t even have an obligation to do that kind of thing! Although of course I was delighted to learn that my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents were regular followers!), and it’s been incredibly heartwarming and comforting, especially when I get homesick, to know that you all care and are thinking of me. While I’m on the subject, I’d also like to thank everyone who has been taking the time out of his or her busy schedule (or got tired of watching movies while recovering from kidney surgery…hi Mike) to e-mail and facebook message me! It’s so great to hear from all of you! I’ve really been feeling the love. And if you have been reading this but haven’t sent me any kind of message in awhile, maybe you’ll feel sufficiently guilty and get on that! No pressure, though.
A special note about pictures: I have been trying every time I’m in an internet café to upload pictures for my past few blog entries, but it never seems to work. I guess a big reason is because so many people are using the internet (usually also to upload photos), so it tends to be pretty slow. Hopefully I’ll be able to at some point soon. Maybe I’ll be able to make it to the FSD office soon, or maybe I’ll just splurge on an extra gigabyte or two for my modem and do it on my own time. Either way, for now, my posts will be photo-less, but keep checking back, because there really are some great ones to go with older posts, which I’d hate for you to miss!
Ok, now it’s story time, boys and girls. Today’s will be about my trip to Mbira Forest this weekend (in case you couldn’t tell by the title of this entry) which was exciting, to say the least. Last Wednesday it was Effie’s birthday—she’s one of the other interns, who goes to school with me. Since we couldn’t celebrate during the week, we decided to all get together and take a special weekend trip. First we went to Ozzie’s (that really good bakery) for lunch (they have PIZZA! And it turns out that the apple fritters and cinnamon rolls are far superior to the chocolate cake. This other restaurant, Flavors, is definitely the place to go for chocolate…their brownies are amazing, if overpriced). After lunch, we hired a mataatu, a private taxi, to take us out to the hotel. We were supposed to be met at a gas station check point and get picked up by the manager in his car. However, he showed up late (gotta love Ugandan time) and then wasn’t actually able to fit all 15 of us, so the mataatu ended up following him and taking us the whole way. Due to the delay, though, we ended up driving the last stretch during and after sunset. And let me tell you, driving through a bunch of fields and then an enormous forest in the dark, while in a rickety taxi bus, on bumpy dirt roads, to an unfamiliar destination is pretty terrifying. Everyone kept “joking” that it had all the makings of a typical horror movie. And really, that’s what it felt like. Dara had a draft of a text to send to the site team with as detailed a description of our whereabouts as she could manage, and she kept updating it, just in case it turned out we were getting kidnapped. Luckily though, we arrived at the hotel in one piece. Where of course, we thought the evening’s trials and tribulations would be over. Little did we know…
Ok, I exaggerate, slightly. It wasn’t THAT bad, but the conditions at the hotel were pretty bad. And I know I’m a little spoiled and not such an outdoorsy person, but I’m a good sport and I can be a big girl about being a little uncomfortable. I mean, I chose to come to Africa. I’m not living in the most comfortable conditions on a daily basis, here. So I think I’m a little justified in this case, in terms of how much I hated having to stay overnight in that hotel. Seriously, if you find yourself in Uganda, and need overnight accommodations around Mbira Forest (which I’d recommend, because you want to tour it very early in the day), do yourself a favor and splurge on the nicer hotel, unlike we did. And really, it’s not such a splurge, it’s like 35 U.S. dollars for a night. Apparently it’s a really nice hotel, too.
But anyway, we were cheap and opted to rough it and sleep in tents and a few of us in tiny, icky rooms (I chose this option, but I think a tent might have been better, actually). Which of course, was in the middle of the woods where it was dark and scary, and completely infested with all kinds of very social bugs. You had to walk through a creepy, unlit, dirt path to get to the bathrooms, which of course were also gross. There was no running water (no showers of any sort) and no toilet paper (another tip for any aspiring Ugandan travelers…carry toilet paper with you wherever you go! It WILL come in handy! I promise you!). Still, the bathrooms were slightly superior to the Pit of Death at St. Eliza. We managed ok, going in at least pairs, and shining the flashlights on our cell phones through the tops of the doors, so that whoever was in the stall could see. The rooms only had double beds, which of course they didn’t tell us beforehand (they also didn’t tell us that the meal they said they could serve us wasn’t complimentary and tried to charge us 8000 shillings each for it…4000 could probably get you an equivalent one in Jinja…don’t worry, we talked them down), so I shared one with one of the girls. Only one pillow, though…it was one of the longer ones, but not quite long enough, and it was waay to hot to sleep even that close to another person (I wouldn’t have spooned James Franco or Alive Heath Ledger in that room. Not even if you paid me. …ok, maybe Alive Heath Ledger…). Also, the sheets were some kind of terrible synthetic material that did not breathe and made you sweat about 10 times more. And everything smelled really bad, the entire hotel (even the manager!). Oh, and there were a bunch of giant holes in our mosquito net, which of course those sociable bugs took full advantage of. It took all my willpower to not completely freak out and throw a temper tantrum. I really did want to order a private jet to fly me back to New York at that point. But I was very strong and mature, so of course I kept it together. Also, I don’t have the money for a private jet. Even if I did, there was no cell phone service, so I couldn’t have called for one. Our modems didn’t even work there; it really was the absolute middle of nowhere, and the perfect setup for a horror movie. Needless to say, I survived the ordeal, since I’m sitting in my room, writing this blog entry. But I will never, ever stay in a place like that ever again in my life.
Things turned up a bit, though, the next morning. The forest really did look beautiful in the light, and at least some of the bugs were gone. And of course, the tour we took definitely made the tribulations of the night before worth it. Mbira Forest was absolutely gorgeous. It was so incredible and breathtaking, and the whole time, the only thing I could think was: “Oh my god! I’m in a RAINFOREST! A real, live, rainforest.” It was so surreal. That’s the kind of thing that characters in stories and writers for National Geographic do. Not me. But I did it! We walked for a little less than 2 hours on a path through thick trees and other types of plants. The guide stopped us often to talk about the different types of plants, giving us all types of fun facts about them—some had medicinal uses. We saw one plant that could cure malaria, and a berry that was good for treating warts, among others! At the end, we arrived in a clearer area, where there were beautiful stone cliffs, and a waterfall! I’d try to describe it all better, but I really don’t think I’m capable. I don’t even know where I’d begin. Here are some pictures, which hopefully capture at least some of the wild beauty of the rainforest.
Here are some from the clearing with the waterfall:
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see too many animals. We were told that there would be lots of birds and monkeys, and the guide told us that there was even a species of lion that lives in Mbira Forest, but I guess they were all sleeping, in different parts of the forest, or just painfully shy. We did see a few monkeys once we got to the clearing with the waterfall, but they were really far away and moving very fast, so it was hard to get a good look. The ones we got to see at Bujugali Lake were much better, and they were the same type, anyway, so I wasn’t terribly disappointed. Other than that, the most exciting creatures we saw were some fire ants (I was so happy to be wearing sneakers)
and some weird looking fungi.
Probably the most surreal experience at all happened just as we were starting to leave the waterfall clearing and head back to the hotel. What happened, you ask? Well, it rained. In the rainforest. I know, it’s a shocking concept. Still, though, it caught us by surprise, especially because it’s barely rained the entire time we’ve been here. And given my initial daze and how I’d been marveling at the fact that I was even in a rainforest to begin with, the fact that it was RAINING in the rainforest was almost too much. I absolutely love rain, when it’s warm enough, which, on a sunny morning in Uganda, it was. I’d have been dancing to rival Gene Kelley, if it weren’t for the enormous amounts of mud and plethora of potentially precarious obstacles for me to slip on and severely injure myself. Instead I just walked and silently took it all in…while still making sure to keep an eye on the path, of course. It was a truly incredible moment—one which I’m sure I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
Of course, we all got absolutely drenched, and our clothes were soaked by the time we got back. I think Dara took a picture of us all that will be floating around facebook somewhere, so when I find it, I’ll put it on here. I can only imagine what I must have looked like. Luckily for me, I’d thought to pack a change of clothes (thanks, Mom…I know you’re probably disappointed in me for not thinking to bring my rain jacket, though!) and a towel (because how was I to know there wouldn’t be a shower? I was actually so glad for the rainstorm, because it made me feel much cleaner…if only I’d thought to bring my soap on the hike). So I dried myself off and changed into new clothes. Not everyone had packed extra clothes; so several people used the “standing in the sun until my pants stop sticking to me” method. No one seemed to mind getting wet, though.
We concluded our adventure together with a lunch at Ling Ling’s—a very expensive Chinese restaurant. Yes, there is a Chinese restaurant in Jinja. It’s right next to a gas station, and has a fake pagoda roof. The food, as you might imagine, was not the best Chinese food I’ve ever enjoyed (definitely not worth the exorbitant prices), but it was still a step above Main Moon (Sean, did our Main Moon song just pop into your head? Because it did for me. For those of you who don’t know, Main Moon is a sub-par Chinese restaurant in Geneseo, which, for some of my friends, has had unfortunate effects on their digestive systems. For the record, Shanghai is much better). Plus, it was still worth it to be able to say I have tried Ugandan Chinese food.
The rest of my weekend was pretty uneventful, I spent it in Kakira with my host family. It was still sort of more exciting than usual, because we’ve had some other family members visiting—Mama Fina’s sister, daughter, and granddaughter, as well as William’s wife and son (he’s a baby and absolutely adorable). Oh, and I picked up Midnight in Paris at the dvd store, and showed it to some of them. They liked it, but they didn’t get some of the references. I spent a lot of time trying to explain to them who Ernest Hemingway and Salvador Dali were, and why the things they were saying in the movie were so funny. Next time I go to the dvd store, I think I’m going to buy The Artist. That one should be easy for everyone to understand, even if they don’t speak English very well! And it’s such a sweet movie!
Be on the lookout for an entry about my experiences at work, and how the beginning stages of the goat project have been going! And hopefully, PICTURES, at some point soon!