On a rainy Sunday morning on my third-to-last day in Uganda, I was picked up at 9 a.m. by William Kayongo, the driver with Heifer International,* and escorted from Masaka to Kampala. Normally an overcast, gray Sunday fills me with a kind of existential “Sunday Bloody Sunday” dread, but I’d had 14 hours of delicious sleep and driving with William is always a delight.
William never minds stopping to enable my shopping and/or photography, and he happily translates for me when I’m asking people for permission to take their picture. On our 3-hour journey, we saw hundreds of Muslims on their way to mosque, because as William explained, it was Eid al-Adha, a celebration of the trials and sacrifices of Abraham.
In the rain, the rich red clay of Uganda was splattering on everything, yet somehow the Muslim women in their bright pink and blazing white long dresses were immaculate. As we got nearer to Lake Victoria, we started to see roadside stands of vegetables stacked beautifully in towering pyramids, men selling 3-foot long Nile Perch for UGX 12,000 a kilo (about $2.50/pound, which makes it “very, very expensive for Ugandans” William explains), golden sponges and baskets displayed like crazy bouquets of flowers, and miles of wetland populated only by papyrus.
We also saw a bewildering billboard of Ghaddafi and Ugandan President Museveni shaking hands that I was dying to capture on film, but William told me you are forbidden to take a photo of it. Apparently, Museveni invited Ghaddafi to visit Uganda a few years ago as part of a plan to build a huge wetlands project, but Ghaddafi hit the ground trash-talking Christianity (Catholics, Anglicans and Evangelicals comprise about 84% of Uganda’s population), and he got his butt kicked out. Hence, the banning of the billboard-affirming friendship. But Muslims here still mourn Ghaddafi’s passing, since he built them a huge mosque and gave Muslim kids scholarships to go to school and university.
On the road, we were passed by Museveni’s wife Janet’s entourage of about 10 Cadillac Escalades and Land Rovers, which in a country as poor as Uganda is a fairly sickening display of wealth. I’ve thought repeatedly during this trip that if the government made school truly free, instead of charging every child about $250/year for uniforms, books and fees, it would alleviate untold amounts of suffering. But that’s about as likely to happen as Nile perch developing wings.
As we pulled into the suburbs of Kampala, the kiosks got thicker, the trash got deeper, the ubiquitous billboards advertising cell phones got bigger, and the air got fouler.
It made me long for the quiet beauty and open skies of Nyaka, where you always feel free to walk and explore. And of course, I miss those sweet kids like crazy.
I’m staying tonight and tomorrow in the Fairway Hotel in a big, pretty room with rough sheets and an LG TV that I can’t imagine I will be watching (but I did! Rush Hour 1 and 2 –in a totally bizarre cultural convergence). For the first time, I’m seeing a lot of white people around me, which is a big clue that I’m not in my kind of happy place. Glad I did my shopping already, at the Equator Café with William at my side.
This afternoon I will be meeting with Jane Ekayu, head of the Children Of Peace organization that is working to create a future for the young women who were abducted, raped and impregnated by soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army. The young women have been accepted back into their communities, but their children have not. I’m not sure I’m up for the horror of Jane’s stories, but I can’t wait to meet her.
This country, of which I feel I’ve seen a lot, is still such a mystery to me; I can’t imagine it ever producing a Joseph Kony or Idi Amin.
There is so much I have yet to understand…. and two days in which to do it. Guess I’ll have to come back!
**Super amazing BIG freaking news coming soon about my upcoming Global Journey with Heifer International in 2012 …stay tuned!!
Betty, I think these people who break out into huge smiles must recognize in you someone who really cares, someone who isn’t there to put on an act or take advantage of their plight. I don’t have many heroes anymore, but you’re one of the few. Thank you!
Honestly, I wish I could take credit — but my trick was to take the photo, then turn around the camera and show it to them. For many of the kids, especially, it was the first photo of themselves they’d ever seen .. and they were SO delighted!! That broke the ice and then the second shot I would get would invariably elicit a smile. I really loved the people I met … that was the only “heroic” thing about it … but thanks so much for thinking well of me, BB!!
Thank your post, thank your blog. I love your blog.
i am so happy you like What Gives! Just wait until next year … whoeeeee!
Beautiful photographs! Beautiful words. Powerful. So glad I came to visit.
I’m so glad you came to visit — come back, there’s MORE! Can’t wait to check out YOUR Taking the World On With a Smile blog! B
Thanks, Karen .. really glad to have you!
“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.” Albert Einstein
Betty, your posts both awe and inspire me. I have been witness to similar poverty in the Philippines (my mother’s homeland). When we visited, my husband and I were amazed that my relative’s children did not have electronics or TV and were always happy and smiling, never complaining about being bored. When I found out that many of them had never tasted ice cream, I orchestrated a huge ice cream sundae making family event with all the toppings (albeit with mango ice cream and other tropical flavors, including chocolate sauce and cherries which were all wickedly expensive), and even my aunts and uncles were thrilled with the treat. My husband and I have since started several ventures with entrepreneuring relatives, we send monthly support to a single aunt and her daughter, and we are funding a nursing college education for another cousin. But all of this is only a drop in the bucket compared to a third world country’s need, and I am doing what I feel I can for my immediate family. Your own generosity is limitless, and goes out to strangers, and for that, I bow down to you. What an amazing life of action you lead.
I’m excited to to build bridges and help people reach people through understanding ♥♥♥ Thanks for leaving lights along the way Betty:)
Love that you are building bridges through understanding — that is awesome! (And much of what I am hoping to do in my travels) — really appreciate the comment!!
It was hard to chose a fave photo this time – they’re all wonderful: I love the piles of veggies in the market, the red red earth, the clothing shop in Kampala, but its in your portraits that you really show us the country.
Darling Rosie — THANKS for your comment! I had such a wonderful time taking photos, but my favorites are also the ones of people. The best thing I like to explain is that even the most serious or sad faces — without exception — would split into big, brilliant grins the minute I showed them their photos — and it was such a happy moment for me! But aren’t the people fabulously beautiful, dignified and elegant??!! Happy Thanksgiving, Rosie!!!
Among the things and people I am thankful for is you Betty. I am so moved by the journey that you have taken us all on.
Hi Alice! Just WAIT until next year — I’m going to 12 countries in 12 months as a Blogging Ambassador for Heifer International .. it’s gonna be a WILD RIDE!
What an amazing experience that will be…I can’t wait to follow along with your adventures.
This blog wraps up how my daughter Whitney felt. She was in Tanzania in a village near Mt Kilimanjaro [and I think she said Lake Victoria], but these days I can mix things up in my head. She was there 6 weeks the summer before her senior yr, and did her senior thesis on the trip. After she graduated she lived in the Mt’s of Guatemala [San Marcos] and traveled into the country to work with educating women, and finding ways to sell their crafts. Her stories are as amazing as yours. Makes you wonder if the countries with the truly kindest, happy, giving people are the ones that horrible creatures [difficult to call them men] take over and control. The government and police are so corrupt in Guatemala, there is no legal justice. Thanks again for sharing your experiences. It is a wonderful read also!!
Thanks, Deb — I know you told me a little bit about your daughter at our reunion, but she sounds REALLY fascinating & so committed to service! It is totally possible that she was on Lake Victoria (although I’m not sure how close that is to Mt. Kilimanjaro) because Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda all border the huge lake. I am also really sickened that these countries that are so poor do not have leaders who invest in their people, or who actually make their lives even more difficult … it’s just such a shame. BUT I am thankful today for the incredible experience of going to Uganda — and THANKS for your comment, too!!