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.
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!!