Fear & Loathing in Uganda.

I see a bad moon rising...

We have a mouse in the guest house at Nyaka AIDS Orphans School. Actually, it’s more like a rat, but I refuse to let anybody use the “R” word. I haven’t personally seen the rodent– or at least I refuse to acknowledge that I’ve seen it – but both John the dentist and I saw something with a long tail race stealthily across the hall and into the kitchen yesterday afternoon. And then, at 5 a.m., Roger and his wife Terri went to the bathroom and their shocked shrieks as the critter ran across their toes awakened the whole house. (Except for my roommate Jennifer, who was completely unfazed by the event.)

My beautiful bedroom at Nyaka ... now scary!!

Now I’m freaked out beyond belief. I can’t even go to the bathroom at night. The house is no longer a lovely refuge to come to mid-morning for a quick cup of tea. And the idea of taking a shower at night, right next to where the horrid creature obviously lurks, is just too creepy for words. Instead I walk around like an imbecile, clapping my hands and stomping my feet to ward off any surprise appearances.

This is as much of the (R) that I could stand to post ...

I know it’s ridiculous, ironic, and possibly imperialistic to be terror-stricken at the idea that there is a mouse/rat in our house when we are living in Africa .. with the doors open to the outdoors… on a veritable farm … with a school full of beautiful, amazing AIDS orphans who have a helluva lot more to worry about than a mouse who is trying to score a little food. It’s so girlie, self-indulgent and picayune.

Pretty Nyaka animals I actually like!

But goddamit, I hate mice. I know I’m being irrational and over-reactionary, but this is my own personal Waterloo. I take great pride in the fact that I’m completely unfazed by spiders, snakes, owls, heights, terrifying roads, roller coasters, bees, roaches, and solo travel to remote places. Ergo, I feel  I have the right to get unhinged about one thing, although it makes me feel really pissed off that this R*# has altered the way I feel about Nyaka, a place I love in a way that feels almost sacred.

Looks so innocent, doesn't it?

Plus, like any living situation after a week of pure bliss, ours is getting a little complicated. We had a wild Mille Bourne game the other night and it ended up in all of us screaming at each other like banshees. Led by me, of course, because I’m an Irish brat who loves to win/has to win. How scary that this bunch of do-gooders coming down to help AIDS orphans in Uganda is at each others’ throats over a card game. And then the next day, we got word that Terri’s dad had died .. which made us all feel awful. I feel a long way from home, and the stupid hairy mouse isn’t helping things. ~~~~~~

What passes for a highway in Rukungiri...

The next day I left my beloved Nyaka for good, and set out alone to see some other  projects in Rukungiri – a two hours’ drive and a completely different world away. While Nyaka is rural, lovely and quiet, Ruku is a typical, noisy, ugly, small African city. After 12 hours of interviews on horrific roads, I was staying alone in a hotel up on a hill that was supposed to have electricity and hot water but seemed to have neither. I hadn’t eaten all day, then had a disgusting cold rice dinner and was missing Nyaka and my pals badly…plus I really, really wanted to get on the internet, download my photos, and take a hot shower, minus the mouse terror. And I was being thwarted on all accounts.

Kind of a scary bathroom...

The sweet brother and sister at the front desk, aptly named Everest and Silivia, ran up and down the steps to my room, trying to get things to work, but finally had to admit defeat. I did grab a few minutes of hot water in the shower– victory! –  then took my computer down to the reception area and sat there working for a few hours, while a tiny, adorable girl stared over my shoulder at my photos, hollering “Mazungu!” at every white person she saw. Quietly, Everest brought me out a teabag, thermos of hot water, and a slice of gingerbread on a pretty plate. In an instant of total clarity, I  was struck once again by the Ugandans’ sweet generosity and hospitality –which of course stood in stark contrast to my impatience and overreaction to every inconvenience.

In fact, every Ugandan I’ve met has exhibited this same unfailing, polite desire to help This Mazungu in any way he or she can, despite living themselves in a land of hardship, sorrow and want. The contrast between my own insistence on the things I’m entitled to and the Ugandans focus on how to be as welcoming, kind and thoughtful as possible made me squirm in my seat. Quite frankly, the rat I was living with was a whole lot less scary.

19 thoughts on “Fear & Loathing in Uganda.

  1. Bet-tye, what an awesome picture of
    a lovely, wonderful world for all it’s difficulties! Your putting things in perspective, yet still feeling put out, is so true for me; but I love how you keep trying to live up to the higher standard 🙂

    Thank you a million times for sharing your heart and your life

    • Hi Meredith!! Thanks so much for your comment — I DO try to live up to higher standards but it’s only because my natural state is so cranky! I am so glad you’re reading .. and writing!! Happy Thanksgiving, honey!!

    • Amy — I can’t even look at PHOTOS of mice… seriously!! I am absolutely phobic about them. It’s my Achilles heel … and besides, I’m really not a pet person…. I respect them too much to subject them to my company!!

  2. Thank you so much, Betty! I love all your posts – the fotos, the wonderful people and projects you tell us about. Now, i am overwhelmed by your honesty and willingness to admit your feelings, and accept them while being aware of the spirit of the people you are visiting. Go girl!

    • Dear Jane, I think it’s important to convey that while travel is such an adventure and so fulfilling, it’s often just maddening, frustrating, and brings out the worst in you — and believe me, mice ALWAYS bring out the worst in me! Thanks a million for writing …

  3. Great post Bet-tye. Love your honesty. Favorite pix are
    * “What passes for a highway in Rukungiri…” – I know roads like that – it makes you seasick and knocks the fillings out of your teeth…
    * and the kid in the bottom photo.

    • Rosie, I love how closely you look at the photos! The roads in western Uganda were really unspeakably bad — and of course, that was topped off with having 6 of us in a truck, smashed in like anchovies. At least you didn’t bump around as much … but it’s difficult to describe how grueling a day spent on those roads can be! (but why do i miss it so much??) THANKS for writing!

  4. Betty, I love your humor, i love you honesty. You bring to life a world i do not know at all, and i am grateful for your shared insights.

    • Janet — You are such a great example for ME, as to what a wonderful wife & mother should be! I remember all your stories about your beautiful girls (and grandgirls) and I think ..oh wow, I hope my family hangs together like that and I end up as happily!! Thanks so much for reading!!

  5. That was definetly a R## not a mouse. Thank you for admitting that you like to win/have to win. So am I super competitive.Bad combo for card opponents. As for your observation about the people of Uganda being happy, polite, generous, and appreciative despite having virtually nothing is right on.

    • John– when my husband read this post he said, “Are you making that up? You were fighting about a card game??” And I said — “YES, but it was all John’s fault~ tee hee!!: He didn’t believe me, of course, because he’s played games with me and knows all my horrible habits … but I am so glad we are STILL friends & I love that you are reading my blogs on Uganda!!!
      xoxoxo b

  6. Hi Betty! Great posts from your recent trip—I’m really enjoying them. I know this idea isn’t going to go over well with you considering your loathing for the (R), but if you ever had a rat as a pet, you’d lose that fear quickly. (Yes, I know you’re already horrified just reading that line). Back before Michael and I moved into our townhouse (about 12 years ago), we lived in a garden apartment. One spring afternoon, my freelancer who was helping me out walked up to the front door and since I had my office windows open to the garden, she yelled out “hey, there’s a white rat in your front yard!” I ran out to see what it was—sure enough, it was a baby rat, eating peanuts along with the squirrels we fed regularly! Not knowing whether it was a domesticated/escaped pet or an albino D.C. rat, we commenced to catching it. I found a huge clear Utz pretzel container (Costco, of course) and went over to him and trapped him in it. He freaked out temporarily and then commenced to cleaning himself. I knew then that he was not a wild rat. We later put two and two together and realized he was a “feeder rat” for someone’s snake (bet you don’t like those either!). About a week before, someone had thrown out a huge aquarium, complete with a snakeskin in the bottom. I went to the local pet store, told them what I had captured, and asked what I needed to care for it. They brought out a full grown (huge, in other words) white (R), and asked, “is this what it looks like?” About $75 later, I had a three-level (R) condo, a bag of really unappetizing hard blocks (food) and various (R) assundries. We were now (R) owners! I named him Lucky (because he was lucky he wandered into Mother Nature’s yard) Fred (because he tapdanced nocturnally while we tried to sleep) Chewy (isn’t it obvious) Rattatouille (because I liked the way it sounded. Lucky Fred Chewy Rattatouille had a long six year life with us. I had read that (R)s like to play so I took him out of his cage. He HATED being out of the cage and a friend who raised fancy (R)s said some (R)s are agoraphobic. Lucky Fred was just that. Aside from the 11 (not all at once) ferrets we had as pets, Luck Fred was the smartest, most interesting animal we’ve come across. I was sad when he passed, but happy to know him.

    I know I haven’t changed your mind about (R)s, and I know your (R) is not a domesticated pet, but they’re not so scary once you get past the “disease carrier” notion! 🙂

  7. Really, really beautiful post. Your pics of the children could be on the Compassion Int. website, they are so lovely. What a great opportunity, and have enjoyed your reflections on your Uganda travels.

    I just began reading The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn and read this quote this morning:

    The less I spent on myself and the more I gave to others, the fuller of happiness and blessing did my soul become. – Hudson Taylor

    Reminds me of a sweet lady named Betty!

  8. For me, a snake is a WHOLE world of worse – but as you said, we all have that one thing – still – sounds like an amazing trip.

  9. I’m totally with you on the R## front! And yes, too, to the totally gracious courtesy extended to us Western travelers by the local Africans. It puts a cold shower or two in perspective.

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