I know everyone uses that phrase when they leave Uganda, but it’s because you have it shouted at you about 50 times a day, which is probably undershooting on some days. It always cracked me up that kids would see us coming and yell “Mzungu, bye!” Why not “hi”? Doesn’t it make more sense to yell a greeting instead?
Anyway, surprise!! I’m home! August has been a particularly eventful month, largely because I found out that all IPCs (people with my position) in the organization were being sent home early due to unforeseen events. And of course I never miss a chance to surprise my family when the opportunity arises! Even though it did not go as planned. Both my sister-in-law and my brother caught me as I was trying to sneak into the house, so I just hid and jumped out at the rest of my family members as they arrived instead of trying to surprise everyone at once.
The month was exciting for other reasons too, though. Toward the beginning we had a colleague from head office come out to visit the East Africa sites and gather some information and it was so fun having her there! She ended up having a night free as she passed through Jinja on her way to Kenya, so we went to a nearby campground/hostel next to the river and had a blast relaxing and watching crazy interns dance on picnic tables. I also had to say goodbye to the last batch of interns this month and it was so sad to see them go. I’ve decided that departure was one of the worst parts of this job. After that, though, I had a little bit of free time, so I went to my program director’s home in Kasese. It’s in western Uganda and it was beautiful!
We started our trip two days after the interns left because the work had been so brutal for so long that we all just needed a break. Margaret and I road tripped to her house and it was a long but scenic drive full of random events and small adventures. At one point, we were in a traffic jam and were moving slowly through a small town/village. I had my window down and wasn’t really paying attention to what was going on around me until all of a sudden I heard running footsteps coming up behind me and felt someone grab my arm. I jumping, pulling my arm into the car as I turned to see a man with a ragged appearance reaching toward me with a kind of wild look in his eyes. Startled, my head swung to look at Margaret, completely bewildered. She just laughed at me as she rolled up the windows and casually brushed it aside saying that he was a mad man. Apparently some people think that touching a Mzungu will bring them luck or something.
I ended up attracting a lot of attention while I was with her. We stopped by her farm on the way to her house so that we could pick up some matooke and chickens and a group of local school girls spotted me through the gate as they walked by. They stopped in their tracks and stared at me from the end of the driveway for a while before finally just walking up and standing about 5 feet away to get a nice close look. They stayed there for about 10 minutes just watching me. While we were at the farm, though, I was so impressed by how nonchalantly Margaret held the chickens. She just stood grasping one by the wing joints in one hand while texting on her phone in the other. She laughed at me as I snapped a picture and then dismissively said, “Haha yeah… These ones are going to die”.
On my first full day in Kasese, we started off by going to the Rwenzori Mountains and hiking up a little ways to get some pictures. They are big! They’re over 16,000 ft tall. They are also called the Mountains of the Moon, supposedly because of their snowcapped peaks. These along with Mount Kilimanjodaro and Mount Kenya are the only permanently snowcapped mountains in equatorial Africa. After seeing those, we intended to go to some hot springs, but we discovered that the price was way too expensive for a foreigner. That was one of the most frustrating parts of living in Uganda, actually. The price discrimination was a little bit infuriating. Going to the hot springs, for example, costs 20,000 Uganda shillings for an East African native. For me, it would have costed 220,000 Uganda shillings. Rough. It was okay, though, because we ended up going on a short hike to a waterfall instead and then got to go see some crater lakes. They craters were created by volcanic explosions thousands of years ago and have filled with water to create beautiful lakes. Unfortunately, my phone died before I got pictures of the lakes, but I have some of the unfilled craters in the slideshow below.
On the second day out west, we woke up really early and went on a safari game drive in Queen Elizabeth National Park! It was so cool getting to see all of the animals. As we were driving into the park at 6:00 am we came across a hippo crossing the road! Maybe we should start asking “Why did the hippo cross the road?” We also came across impalas, buffalo, a warthog, some more hippos, a bunch of elephants, and a few lions! But the lions were too far away to take pictures of, we could only see them through the binoculars. The elephants, on the other hand, were in fine form! One of them was a complete ham and came close to us to pose for pictures. Of course not really, because he was a wild animal and all, but that’s how I liked to think of it. It was so much fun! It went by really fast, but it was an item on my bucket list that I got to check off. I ticked off another that day by crossing the equator. I’ve really wanted to visit both the northern and southern hemispheres, so going to the equator was pretty great.
Then I got to have a third bucket list experience the next day when I went bungee jumping! It was so crazy, I actually almost changed my mind last second. I had volunteered to go first, so after my friend and I climbed the stairs and I got all strapped into the bungee gear, the instructor had me hop over to the side of the platform to prepare to jump. He told me not to look down but he didn’t say that until after I already had, so of course I started to psych myself out. Plus, how was I supposed to scooch along and dangle my toes off the edge without looking down to see where I was going? Anyway, I started to panic a little. He kept talking to me, telling me to stop thinking because “thinking and bungee jumping aren’t friends”. I stood there asking myself what I was doing and why I had gotten myself into this situation. I reasoned that I didn’t really want to jump, I just liked the idea of bungee jumping, right? But in the end my pride got the best of me and I refused to be the person who chickened out. I still wasn’t brave enough to jump on my own, though, so when he asked if I wanted him to give me a little push, I replied “Can you give me a BIG push?!” Then I put out my arms, closed my eyes, and forced myself to accept that I was going to fall one way or another. They counted “3, 2, 1, BUNGEE!” and he shoved me off the ledge. I felt myself lurch forward past the point of no return and all I remember after that was screaming and being so shocked that I didn’t really feel anything at all for the first few seconds. Then I reminded myself to open my eyes, and as I watched the Nile get closer I started to feel so giddy. The tautness increased in the cord around my ankles and then I was on this thrilling bouncing ride. I started giggling to myself like a total weirdo, but I was the only one up there, so what did it matter?
I expected it to be some life-changing event for me, but it wasn’t. I think that maybe we find little slivers of courage in ourselves over time and we just don’t notice them accumulating until something big happens that requires us to find them. I think I expected to feel myself gain a big chunk of courage through this experience, but instead it made me notice how much I already had. I don’t tend consider myself a particularly courageous person (for good reason seeing as I couldn’t even jump on my own) but apparently I have more than I thought. That’s good to know as I come to the close of another chapter in my life. Now I’m home and am working on figuring out what to do next and trying not to let anxiety get the best of me. It’s time to draw on some of that courage and forge a new path. Wish me luck!