Monday, March 28, 2016

On the Road: Uganda

Into the Jungle

My plane touched down south of Entebbe where straddling the eastern side of the airport was Lake Victoria, Africa's largest body of water. I soon encountered trouble following my arrival. The officer at the immigration window refused me an East Africa visa because I didn't have proof of a hotel reservation. I hadn't known it was a requirement, and after some explaining, I convinced the manager on duty to issue me the 90 day visa that would allow me to enter Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya. Stepping out of the airport, I was now free to explore a new region of the world, for I'd never before visited sub-Sahara Africa. The people on the streets were all black. But most striking was the vegetation. It grew lush and green everywhere, while the soil from which it sprang was a muddy red. This was the land of plenty, and based on descriptions in the Bible, the closest thing on Earth to the Garden of Eden. Little wonder the locals called it the Pearl of Africa.
Ugandan Flag
Jinja Town

During the Scramble for Africa, when the powers of Europe entered into the African mainland and killed off the natives with the newly invented machine gun, the British eventually laid claim to Uganda. They didn't use much force to occupy the area. Rather they befriended the local king and then undermined him with savvy political maneuvering. For the next 68 years the British used the town as an administration center. Their presence also included many Indians laborers who would remain to become the local heads of business. Indian owned shops still line the central avenue of Jinja. From there, streets branch out towards the shore of Lake Victoria, but unlike elsewhere in the country, they do it in grid like fashion--the legacy of good British urban planning. The best properties in Jinja, those that sit near the lake, are owned by the Indian businessmen, as well as Western investors and the Ugandan elite. Elsewhere in town the cost of living remains high so most people come in for the day by bus from the surrounding villages. In one such village, called Wanyange, I stayed with a man named Eddy. Eddy was a social activist determined to build a better Uganda. I had come to help.

Of the many problems in the country the largest was the high rate of unemployment. According to Eddy, for people aged 15-25 the rate was over 80%. Even for young adults who had attended university there were far too few jobs. This directly contributed to social issues such as poverty, crime, prostitution and alcoholism. So it was Eddy's mission to tackle the problem by empowering the people in his community. It was his belief that if he was to improve his country's situation, he needed to begin with the young generation. For example, he organized classes that taught practical skills such as hair dressing, sewing and mechanical repair to help the community members find work. He also worked with the local schools to develop a sense of direction among the children. This included sports programs and guidance counseling. I too wanted to help. But I did not arrive at the best time. I came in January and school was out. Moreover, many of the program coordinators were on leave, so not much was going on project-wise. 

I spent most my days hanging out at Eddy's place or in town. Eddy had a friend named Joseph. The man liked to party and he took me out for my birthday to a dance club called Sombrero. I was the only non-black person in the place. The beer cost a dollar for a 500ml bottle, and once I became liquored up, I moved with the crowds. Ugandans had a particular way of dancing. The men kept their elbows in tight and rocked their bodies slowly. As for the women, they were more random in style. Some got  quite freaky and shook their big asses which looked to me like a pair of basketballs jiggling in a loose net. Others women were more modest with their movements. As I went with Joseph from place to place, we drank the whole night. I even tried kitoko, a local alcohol made of honey. At 42% it was strong yet went down smooth. The man who'd sold it to me had other liquors arranged in little pouches on his street stand. Each one contained about four shots worth of alcohol and cost a quarter. Going out drinking in Jinja was cheap. This was a pleasant change compared to the Middle East where alcohol had been expensive.
Two Eddys
Jinja Side Street
Lake Victoria
On the Tracks
Motor Taxis
Ugly Stork
Old House
Goodbye Party

The same man has headed the Ugandan government for 30 years. A former general, President Museveni had seized control of the country through force, and he has not been challenged for power since. Once a pragmatist who reformed the government and military, he later became corrupt, using his position to amass a fortune of tens of billions of dollars, yet he remains popular with the general public. At the same time there are those who criticize him. Much blame is placed on his inability to deal with the country's ongoing economic malaise. Though the annual GDP growth rate is 6%, the agricultural sector in which most people work is barely growing at 2%. That's to say most the wealth is in the hands of a small, elite social class that benefits from the exploitation of the country's natural resources--timber, copper, gold, iron ore, and most recently, oil deposits discovered in the west. Other criticisms focus on unemployment, poor infrastructure, and the national debt.

These issues had all come to the forefront with the upcoming presidential elections. Seven candidates ran against Museveni. The elections are held every five years and are a volatile time in the country because of violence between the government and opposition. Many people questioned if it was possible to have a peaceful transition to a new presidency were Museveni to lose, or if it was even possible for him to lose at all. Ballot rigging was a huge problem that undermines the entire voting process. The question came up during the presidential debate, the first of its kind in Uganda. Organized by the UN, the debate brought the candidates together to the capital of Kampala. Museveni too was invited but refused to make an appearance. I watched most the three hours telecast, and was pleased to see that the journalists conducting the debate did not hold back. They asked the hard questions and in doing so embarrassed those candidates who were uninformed regarding some issues. Of the candidates, only two had enough support to pose a threat to Museveni. Both were former military men and in them I saw no hope of the government changing, because regardless of the promises they made, their agenda was no different than Museveni's--to secure power and exploit it for personal gain.

Interestingly, one candidate was a woman. A social worker/lawyer by trade, I believed she made the most convincing arguments. She understood that developing agriculture was critical to improving the economy. She also stated that 80% of the work done in the country was done by women, and that for Uganda to develop, women need to play a larger part in government, while also receiving more rights. As it stood women could not own land. They couldn't report domestic violence or rape. They were often treated more like objects than people. Watching the woman candidate speak, I truly felt the passion of her views, whereas the other candidates seemed more cold and distant. Eddy attributed it to the men's arrogance, a sure mark of elite classism. The woman had no chance of winning against them, let alone against Museveni, but she was determined to use the election campaign to shed light on often ignored issues. For that she had my respect.

In the end the masses re-elected Museveni. I'd say it was for the best. Had he lost, he'd probably not have left office peacefully. Maybe in another five years he'll tire of politics and finally step down. But first his greedy associates in big industry will have to find someone else to serve the interests. We shall see.
Political Posters
 Eastern Run

I'd agreed to help Eddy in Jinja. But there was not much for me to do. I did some work on his website and made an introductory video of him speaking about his organization. Then I hung out. That left me a bit bored. I soon jumped at the chance to visit Mbale, a town in the eastern part of the country. I'd met a woman in Jinja who'd invited me and Joseph to stay at her family's guesthouse. Her name was Teddy, and she'd been in Jinja to attend a golf tournament. A week later, Joseph and I went to Mbale in his friend Julius' car. That first day we had lunch at the guesthouse and then drove around, stopping at the Mbale Resort Hotel, the classiest place in town. In the evening we ate dinner with the family. Teddy's father was in London, but her mother, uncle and sister stayed at the guesthouse. The other regulars were away for the holidays. The uncle was a teacher and a soft spoken friendly man. He enjoyed playing cards and drinking beer. As for the mother, she looked after the guest house. Two other live-in staff helped her. They did the cooking, cleaning and washing. When I offered to help out, the mother told me I should sit and relax.

The second day Joseph and Julius had to return to Jinja. I remained because I wanted to see the Sipi Waterfalls which were in the region. Teddy said she would take me in her family's car, granted that I paid for the gas. We set off after lunch and made the 90 minute drive into the eastern highlands of Uganda. The waterfall park was in a rural area where people farmed among other things, coffee and bananas. We got a guide and hiked upward from the visitor center. The first waterfall came spilling over rock and broke into a wide column of mist-like water. A trail led behind the cascade where we could get close and feel the cool blast of nature's fury. The other big fall in the park was similar, but we couldn't go anywhere near it, having to settle for a view looking down from an adjacent hillside. I'd seen plenty of waterfalls in my life and Sipi Falls failed to rank in my top five, but it was still worth a visit. The atmosphere too lent the trip an extra appeal, so when I left the park, I was content with what I'd seen.

Since I was in no hurry to return to Jinja, I stayed one more day in Mbale. That was when I met Teddy's daughter. The child slept in a back room most the time. She was disabled due to an incident that had happened during Teddy's pregnancy. From what Teddy told me, a man had wanted to be with her, but Teddy refused him because she was already with somebody. Out of anger the man then poisoned her. Teddy nearly died afterwards. The baby in her stomach too suffered. Once born, most the infant's brain was not encased in the skull and the doctors had to remove a portion of it. Somehow the little girl survived. She now had an abnormally small, misshapen head and was helpless, unable to move or talk. And the girl wasn't nearly as big as a typical seven year old. In spite of this Teddy and her family loved the child deeply. They really were wonderful people in a giving way and I wanted to show my appreciation for their kindness by cooking a meal. I went with chili beans. As complex as it was to prepare, I could find most the ingredients I needed. When I added the spices, I held back on using too much cayenne powder because Ugandans don't eat much spicy stuff. It took two hours to make ready. I then served the chili with rice and guacamole. It went quick and everyone said they'd liked the dish. Job well done, I thought.
Lunch at Guesthouse
Misty Waterfall
Falls From Above
Old Hut
Sipi Falls
Home stay

After the two weeks I spent with Eddy, I switched to another home. The woman of the house, Ester, lived with her two sons Arthur and Cooper. Their place was located in a small village within the larger town of Bugembe. None of the roads leading in from the highway were paved, and for toilets the locals used outhouses scattered between the buildings, some of which were made of mud bricks. Small children ran wild everywhere. Uganda has the lowest median age in the world at 15 years, and I could see why. For every adult there must have been five kids. Most the families were too poor to buy them proper toys so they played with garbage, rocks and dirt. With all the chickens and goats shitting everywhere I thought it very unhygienic for anyone to be handling earth, then to put their fingers in their mouth. I should have said what was on my mind, but the kids didn't understand English. They did, however, speak to me in the local language Lugandan. Some called out "muzungu" while pointing at me. The word meant light skinned foreign person.

Ester was involved in the same organization as Eddy and she helped in the local community. During the school break between terms, Ester gathered a group of kids in the local church and tutored them. They were very young, 4-5 years of age. A few of them could not even hold a pencil properly. Still, Ester did her best to teach them English speaking and writing. I assisted her when I had the mornings free. A boy named Levi quickly won me over as a favorite. He had absolutely no interest in studying. I tried to help him. I sat behind him and took his hand to show him how to write the alphabet, but rather than look at his notebook, he turned his head upward and stared at me. Another girl, Peace, also had trouble writing her abc's. I helped her as best I could. It too was slow going. I looked to Ester who was working with another child. I admired her for her patience and determination. No one was paying the woman to do a thing, and yet there she was, using her motherly touch to encourage the students to learn. On the weekends she taught an older group of women as well. The class' focus was on needle work and Ester hoped that by learning the skill the women would be able to find work in the future.

Ester was also a member of the local protestant community. On Sunday we returned to the same church building for mass. Like most buildings in the village it was of poor construction with wide gaps between the wooden planks that served as its walls. About twenty people joined us. We listened to the minister, and every minute or so the woman said, "alleluia," after which the congregation raised their arms and replied, "amen." The people sang too, mostly in English and a bit in Lugandan. I heard a lot of "Jesus loves you" in the lyrics. Then the unexpected happened. The minister asked me to take the pulpit and sing a song for the group. I didn't want to refuse so I stood before everyone, quickly realizing I didn't know any church songs. The minister smiled. "It's okay," she told me "sing whatever." I swallowed deep and began singing a song I'd used before when teaching English to children in Japan. The song even had gestures. Soon everyone was singing along and genuinely appeared to be enjoying themselves.

Both Ester's sons were around 20. Her other three children had moved out already. She'd once had a husband but he'd passed away. The youngest son, Arthur, liked basketball. He played almost everyday. I went with him once to practice. My purpose was to make a video to send to his friend in America. So I stood on the sideline of the court with my camera and took short videos whenever Arthur's team moved in on offense. He was the lead forward and scored the majority of points. Later I compiled the videos on my computer. I added in special effects like slow motion, quick rewind with replay, and double takes. Arthur laughed at the result. But in a good way. His brother did too. If he played basketball I would have made him a video too. He instead played soccer. Cooper didn't play much though. He was on school holiday and spent most his time indoors watching TV or listening to music. If he went outside, it was to the porch to make popcorn. The family had a machine and sold off little baggies to generate extra income. For me, it meant as much popcorn as I wanted.
Lunch Time
Bugembe Street
Selling Popcorn
Respecting Elders
Stamina Chickens
Playing Basketball
Home Stay Family
Entebbe and Kampala

Uganda's only international airport is in Entebbe. I'd arrived in the country there, and three weeks later I returned to pick up my friend Gati. As you might recall, I'd met her over a year before in Nepal. I'd also visited her in Bangladesh earlier in my round-the-world trip. Since then we'd decided to travel together. In Entebbe there is a zoo and an island in Lake Victoria which serves as a chimpanzee sanctuary. We went to neither. That left the botanical gardens to see. It was a wide area of grass and trees, thick jungle in some parts. It descended gently towards the lake shore where a cool breeze swept inland. The gardens were also home to many animals. We saw species of birds, a large lizard, and a group of grey monkeys with black faces and blue testicles. Once done we returned to our hotel in the town center. For a city in Uganda, Entebbe was rather clean and the roads well maintained. It had a modern style mall replete with a western style supermarket and a KFC. But no McDonalds. There weren't any in the country. I had to explain to my Ugandan friends that it was an American fast food chain, the very one which had started the global fast food movement.

From Entebbe we took a local bus to Kampala. The city had 2.5 million and was dirty and chaotic. The old center was the worst. The traffic congestion made it a nightmare getting in and out any day of the week save for Sundays. A few kilometers to the east was the new commercial district. That part of Kampala was much cleaner and orderly. Yet for all its hectic ways, the city as a whole did not seem a bad place. The people were not pushy or dodgy. Nor was everyone honking their horn and shouting, you know, like leashed dogs barking at one another. I must say, that never made sense to me. Drivers can honk all they want. It won't make the situation any better. The Ugandans understood that. Or rather, they were polite people who didn't feel the need to rush from place to place. The exceptions were the motor taxi drivers. They wove recklessly in and out of traffic lanes and often caused accidents. I'd read that the biggest danger to tourists visiting the country was riding one of those.

Kampala had some things to see but the sites were spread out and not easy to reach.  Gati and I settled on seeing the National Mosque which was walking distance from our hotel. Uganda is predominately a Christian country but it does have a 20% Muslim minority. Former dictator Idi Amin Dada had converted to one. He began construction of the mosque in the 70's. Then he was ousted from power and the mosque remained incomplete until Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi provided the funds needed to finish it. In 2007 it opened its doors. When we went we had to pay a few dollars to see the inside. Our guide, Brother Muhammad, gave us a tour through the prayer hall. Then he took us to the minaret and allowed us entry. It is quite rare to be able to go up one as a tourist. The mosque itself was built on a hill, and from the top of the minaret we could see the old city, commercial district, and expansive neighborhoods that made up Kampala. Aside from the National Mosque, we visited a second religious site while in Kampala, the Myunyonyo Martyr's Shrine. The main building was still under construction. When we went, there were 1000 people attending a type of mass service. The only white man present, a priest clad in a red robe, preached to the assembled congregation. Years before Pope Francis had spoken to the Ugandan people at the shrine. I know because vendors sold DVD recordings of the visit. I politely refused to buy one.
Storks Roost
Lush Vegetation
Kampala Street
National Mosque
View From Minaret
No Motor Taxis
Service Taxi Park
Empty Bus
First Safari

Of all the worthwhile things a tourist can do in Africa a visit to a national park comes in at number one. In Uganda alone there were 20 to choose from. After researching our options, Gati and I decided to go to Queen Elizabeth, a national park located near the Democratic Republic of Congo border. A seven hour bus ride from Kampala got us to Katunguru by the park entrance. The small, dusty town had cheap accommodation, local restaurants, and plenty of safari guides for hire. We went with a guide named Eddy. He worked for a local tour agency and drove a Toyota 4WD van. Talking with him, I learned that In the local lingo the guides called a safari excursion into the park a game drive. We hired him for two, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. Our morning drive began at 6:30 am. We went to a spot where Eddy had seen lions the day before. But now they had apparently left. In their place we saw antelope, water buffaloes and the occasional warthog. The park also featured hundreds of species of birds--600 to be exact. The most elegant was the crested crane which appeared on the Ugandan flag. We were lucky to come across a family moving through the grass next to the road.

The look of the park was oddly brown and dry for a place located right on the equator. The tall grass and island-like thickets of bushes and trees made it a savanna environment. These trees were either cactus that had branches stretched up like a candelabra, or a variety of acacia. We drove around for three hours in this landscape, sometimes encountering another safari van loaded with tourists. The driver of one such vehicle informed us that lions had been spotted where we'd first gone in the early morning. Eddy sped us back and sure enough a pride of eight female lions sat relaxing in a patch of grass. To our disappointment they were about 100m from the road. This made them difficult to see, and even more so to photograph. Eddy told us that if we went off road to get closer, a park ranger might catch us. The fine would be $150. With no rangers in sight the other safari vans that'd arrived around us drove into the grass. Against his better judgement Eddy followed their lead. We raced right to where the lions were, one of three vehicles. The lions didn't seem that startled by the sudden approach of our giant, loud vans and remained in place. We were beside them for only a minute then turned back to the road. As Eddy had put it earlier, the animals in the park grew up seeing and hearing safari vehicles, so that was why they weren't too bothered by us. Not the lions or antelopes, or warthogs or hippos.
Crested Cranes
Water Buffalo Bathing
Lion Pride
Wares for Sale
Crater Lake
Local Girl
At the Equator
In the afternoon we saw much of the same animals. What we didn't see we're leopards or elephants. The park had an area of over 1000km and with the wildlife spread throughout there was no guarantee to see any animal in particular aside from antelopes. Not a worry. We were able to see elephants at a different time on a river cruise. The boat went down the Kazinga Channel which ran between Lake Edward and Lake George. The area was outside the national park and we didn't need to pay the $40 daily entrance fee. It was also a very green place compared to the park's savanna interior. The most numerous animal was the hippo. During the two hour cruise we saw hundreds. They spent the afternoon hours cooling off in the water, then at night went into the savanna to feed on grass. Water buffaloes too waded in the channel in large herds. But it was the elephants we'd looked forward to most, and about 30 minutes into the cruise we pulled up beside a group enjoying a bath. There were about 20 of them. When we drew near they got out of the water and fled into the jungle. I felt bad scaring them away during their playtime, but later on, on our way back down the channel, they had returned. We were too far away to frighten them that time.

Seeing all these animals in the wild was a first for me and I paid good money to do it. But the cash was well spent. The park and surrounding areas had an abundance of wildlife to view and appreciate. This, however, was not the case in the past. Before president Museveni had seized power Uganda had been plagued by one war after another. With farmers fleeing in fear and fields going untended, there was often not enough for marauding soldiers to eat. To survive they had to kill the big game animals for food. There was also nothing to stop them from poaching ivory and pelts. This lead to the depopulation of the fauna in the national parks. In the years following the fighting the animals began to grown in number yet remain fewer then what they 'd once been. Armed park rangers now patrol the parks to make sure poachers don't cause any more damage. Gati and I got to see them in action. We were leaving the area in a bus when Kalashnikov wielding rangers stopped us. The men explained that they'd gotten a tip regarding a group of suspicious passengers. Hearing him speak, the words terrorist and bomb quickly entered my mind. I watched while the lead ranger went through the passengers' bags. In one of them found a stick wrapped with a striped animal skin. Because the animal was a protected species, the ranger pulled the man and his friends out of the bus and loaded them into a waiting truck. That was the last we saw of them. A remaining passenger on the bus commented that the men had had the stick to practice some kind of witch doctor ritual.
River Cruise
Boat Guide
Hippos on Riverside
Buffaloes and Elephant
Yellow Bird
Elephant Bath
Taking a Break
Into the Mountains

North of Queen Elizabeth National Park was Rwenzori National Park. Located a bit north of the equator, the park's mountains reached over 5,000 meters in height and had snow year round. They also formed the tallest mountain range in Africa. Gati and I went to the town of Kasese which sat at the base of the mountains' foothills. The area was largely populated by farmers who grew seasonal fruits, vegetables and coffee. In the town we didn't have much to see, but there were a few nice restaurants. The fancier ones offered foreign food--pizza, hamburgers, curries, pasta, and the like. For dinner we tried our a hotel restaurant with a faux bamboo facade. Gati got Indian food. I ordered a hamburger and side of fries. It took them forever to prepare my food--almost an hour-- and when it finally came, they'd messed up the order. My plate had fries but rather than a burger they'd served me beef on a stick. Oh the disappointment I felt at that moment. And I might have complained had the kebabs not been delicious. Yet I was far from satisfied. The next night I had to go to another restaurant to rectify the matter. This place got the order right, and though their take on a burger wasn't great by American standards, it hit the spot.

Since we'd come to the area, a hike into the mountains was in order. The trailheads up started in the town of Kilembe, some 14km east of Kisese. Trekking aside, Kilembe was known for its copper mine. Only recently had a Chinese company reopened it after 30 years of inactivity. We passed by the mine on our way to the town's one backpacker hostel. The hostel organized hikes, but neither Gati or I wanted to pay the high cost for a tour into Rwenzori National Park. Instead we settled on a community walk that led to a waterfall. Technically, the spot was inside the park, but we didn't have to pay the $35 entry fee to see it. A guide named Jerome took us up. We walked right from the hostel across a river and into the foothills. Villagers lived on the slopes in small hut-like houses. They grew their own food. Jerome told us that cassava was the staple of the local diet. We saw plenty of the plants along with corn, millet, avocado, banana, passion fruit and yams. It was a hot, bright day and the sun made the hike less enjoyable than it might have been. As we followed the trail we encountered many small children who waved at us. They were too young to yet know English but understood "hello." That and "bye bye" was all they could say to us. Or in the local language they said "muzungu." The entire time I was in Uganda I don't think one day went by without me hearing the word.

After more than two hours we finally reached the waterfall. It was a jumble of small cascades feeding over rock and into a small pool. The first thing I wanted was to put my feet in and wash them. The cold water stung terribly. "Damn, that's icy," I said aloud. I thought it must be snowmelt from high in the Rwenzori Mountains. It was also the clearest water I'd seen in Uganda. Elsewhere the rivers were green and opaque. I still didn't want to risk drinking any. Instead I sat and passed around the sandwiches I'd brought in my pack. They contained jelly and margarine. We ate in silence and after some rest went back the way we'd come. In spite of the heat and climb, our guide hadn't slowed a bit. He had grown up in the hilly area after all. If only he'd done less walking and more talking. For a Ugandan I thought him quite serious. It's not good to generalize, but I found the other guides we'd been with to be more amicable. They'd always found the words to break awkward silences. Not Jerome though. Even the goodbye we shared at the end was uncomfortable. That didn't keep me from giving him a tip. Just I'd have given more had he worked harder for it.
Coffee Plant
Hill Children
Nice Waterfall
River Crossing
Lush Foothills
Local Housing
Ugandan Beer
Innocents Hospital

I grew up going to church. I stopped around the time I finished high school. Until then I'd been attending San Rafael Parish in San Diego near my parent's place. My dad still goes every Sunday for mass. When he'd learnt I planned on visiting Uganda, he asked that I see a Ugandan priest by the name of Bonaventure. I thought that Bonaventure was his last name. But when I went to Mbarara city to see him I discovered that his parents had given it to him as a first name. We'd arrived unannounced. Not that I hadn't try to contact him first. But my emails had received no reply. Another purpose behind my visit was to see the children's hospital Father Bonaventure had helped found. He was a friend of San Raphael Parish and had once spoken about the facility during a mass that my father had attended at our church. This was why my dad  wanted me to go. He also suggested I write about Innocents Children's Hospital for the church community back home.

Father Bonaventure was not at the hospital when I showed up. He'd gone to church to conduct funeral services for a bishop that had recently passed away. The hospital receptionist explained the situation and kindly took it upon herself to show Gati and I around. For a hospital established primarily on foreign donations it was well maintained. The wards contained 60 beds and only one child was permitted to each to avoid cross infection. The receptionist said that malaria, typhoid fever, diarrhea and malnutrition were the typical ailments they treated. In the whole of Uganda only one other children's hospital existed, far away in Mbale district, so Innocents got patients from all over. Foreign aid and some government subsidized medicines made it so the treatment was cheaper than usual. But the hospital couldn't take in everyone. For example, the rainy season caused more disease than usual and the wards quickly filled up. There also weren't facilities for surgery. In these cases the staff referred the children to nearby Mbarara University Hospital. At the time of my visit at Innocents, more buildings were under construction, including a surgery theater. The next step would be to secure funding for the equipment needed to operate them.

After dropping by Innocents Children's Hospital I went to see Father Bonaventure at  his church. He was still busy and we had to wait some. Then, when we finally met him, he invited us to a meal without me having the chance to explain who I was or why I'd come. Several bishops from around Uganda had also attended the funeral and they were now having a late afternoon gathering complete with food, beer and wine. Father Bonaventure was a bit tipsy when he received us. Not what I'd expected. Gati and I ate the food set out, and among it was pork, something I'd not had in a long while. The big chunks of meat couldn't have possibly tasted better than they smelled but somehow they did. Once finished we talked at length with Father Bonaventure. He was a gentle, pleasant soul of a man. I think the word gregarious best described him. When I explained who I was he lit up with a beaming smile. I'm not so religious but talking to him I recognized the value of his character and the strength he found in his faith. If there's anything to it, the whole community of organized religion, it's the sense of goodwill among men. I wish I had more time to listen and learn from him.
Hospital Staff
Riding a Tricycle
Bonaventure's Church
Me and the Father
Across the Border

The next day Gati and I boarded an early morning bus from Mbarara to the Rwandan capital of Kigali. I remembered how earlier in my trip I'd always been sad to be leaving a country behind to see the next one. Now it was the opposite. Uganda had been wonderful but I needed to move on. In a way I was becoming desensitized from over a year of travel and felt less attachment to the places I went and the people I met. Now I also had Gati with me. I was grateful she'd come to East Africa. It made the trip entirely different. I now had a travel companion with whom I could share my experiences. But I worried about her too. Africa is not for everyone. Maybe Gati wouldn't like it after a while. Or maybe she'd become sick. Her body was not used to being on the road like mine. I felt responsible for her to an extent. So I made it a priority to see to it that she had a good time traveling with me.
Traditional Dance