Monday, September 22, 2008

Over the river, through the woods, to Brett's house I go...

This past weekend I decided to go visit my friend Brett in Jinja (a good sized town about 2 hours east of Kampala, site of the source of the Nile river, and hot spot for white water rafting). Brett is coming up on the end of her 2 years of service in the Peace Corps and has been working with a great organization in a village about an hour’s walk away.

I left work early on Friday about 5:00 to be able to get back to my house, throw some random clothes in my backpack and make my way to the taxi park downtown. The easiest way to get around during rush hour “jams” is to take a boda, or public motorcycle, praying the whole way that the car 3 inches from your side doesn’t swerve and take you and the speeding boda driver out. Usually if you ask them to go slowly or pole, they tend to listen. I managed to hop on a boda and make it to the taxi park around 10 to 6. The taxi park is an insane experience. A huge parking lot filled with VW vans, painted white with blue checkers across the side, and various short buses called “coasters.” Weaving in and out of the scene of organized chaos are hundreds of vendors and merchants trying to get you to buy their wares and supplying snacks and drinks to waiting passengers.

The park is hectic but somewhat ordered. The taxis clump in sections according to their regional destinations. You walk through the mayhem to try to hear someone yelling your area and then choose the vehicle that looks like it will fill up most quickly. I chose a coaster because the larger vehicles tend to move slightly slower and give you the illusion of more space. I squeezed into a small seat at the back of the coaster and waited for the rest of the thing to fill up. Once every seat is full the driver takes off, weaving through the mayhem and people out to the packed Kampala roads.

Driving, even in the country side brings you past throngs of cement roadside shops, wood furniture sales space, young men grilling meet on sticks to be sold to passing cars, vegetable and fruit stands, and hundereds and hundereds of people on bicycles. Buses and cars routinely swerve, attempting to dodge, potholes, pedestrians, cyclists, and boda drivers. The only stretch of road not bustling with people and shops is through a small forest shortly before arriving in Jinja. Along the main paved roads though you will never see an uninhabited strip, the sheer quanitity is incredible. This time the trip took about 2.5 hours because of traffic and I arrived in Jinja after dark. I hopped off the taxi right before the bridge across the river, hopped on one of the 10 bodas waiting to shuttle taxi riders around, and enjoyed the wind on my face as the driver zoomed down the dirt road to my friend’s house. It was so quiet, clean, and peaceful…already quite a change from Kampala.

I saw my friend sitting on the side of the road, had the boda slow down, and hopped off. The first thing I noticed was the unbelievably clear sky, peppered with an impressive number of stars…you could make out the cluster of the milky way clearly as a backdrop to bright shinnings in the sky. Brett’s house was part of a family compound. Gated at the edge of a hill drop off to Lake Victoria and the crossing of the Nile, her view was incredible and her house quite nice. She might be the luckiest peace corps volunteer (PCV) to have ever graced the earth. Her house had a kitchen, common entry area, living room, two bedrooms, and full bathroom with indoor plumbing, running (hot) water, electricity, and a fridge! It was quite the treat. When I arrived we chatted for a few hours and then put our weary selves to bed.

The next morning we woke up around 7am, showered, ate muslix, yogurt, honey, banana, and fresh papaya, and then made our way to her site so she could do an HIV/AIDS prevention training with school children. We walked for a little over an hour over red dirt trails weaving through the country side and around the backs of small villages. The land was green, lush, overgrown, and rolling. We passed men tilling soil in fields, children playing in streams, and women doing their weekend laundry. When we got to her organization I was blown away by the oasis they had created. Amidst a fairly dirty and very poor village was a well groomed compound, fresh cut grass grounds, a clean cement clinic and resource center and small wooden school house/cantine a few feet away. The place was bustling with peer educators, school children, and members of the community coming to get tested or treated. We walked over towards the peer educator meeting and Brett was just about knocked down clean by one of the school kids coming to hug her. Many of the kids were orphans and HIV positive themselves so loved the consistency and positive attention they got from Brett.

We waited around in true east Africa style for about an hour for the other facilitator to come with the materials for the lesson. When he finally showed the kids got started discussing examples of peer pressure and how to counter it. They went through role plays of pressure situations and then discussed positive role models and methods for staying safe and healthy. It was very interesting to watch. By noon we made our way back to Brett’s place and made some grilled cheese and salad, with fresh Ugandan avocado. We then made pumpkin vegetable stew and rested for a bit. Around 5pm we started walking to Jinja town, about another 45 minutes away. Once on the outskirts of the town, we hopped on bicycle bodas and rode into the city center. There we hopped on another packed taxi, went through some ridiculous routine of local youth pushing the taxi through the streets to get it moving and then were on our way to a near by campsite/rafting center.

Jinja town is well known for its rafting. The Nile has some serious rapids and tourists come from all over to take part. It is a bit of a weird dynamic since it does attract some college frat like individuals and almost entirely muzungus (white people/foreigners). We were heading to the rafting center because one of Brett’s fellow PCV’s sister was visiting and they decided to go rafting and hang out in Jinja for the weekend. Two other PCVs decided to join so we headed up for dinner and some beers. We ate largely American fare and drank Nile beer overlooking the falls and enjoying the sunset. Topped it all off with an ice cream brownie and then went to the outdoor bar to hang out with Brett’s friends.

While throwing back a few beers one of the people who had been in Brett’s friend’s raft came over to talk. We quickly discovered mutual friends and spent a good portion of the night laughing over how small of a world it truly is. Finally around midnight we had a special hire taxi pick us up and bring us back to Brett’s. We both passed out hoping to sleep for a good long while. Unfortunately the rooster outside the window didn’t wish for that to be the case. Come 6:30am incessant crowing…no use trying. We made some eggs, hung out, read, and talked. Finally around 11am I packed my bags and said good bye. I walked to the main road, hailed a boda, and was taken to the highway where I loaded into a taxi heading to Kampala and counted 17 people squeezed in. We would stop every 10 minutes or so to try to squeeze more people in or let others off. Right outside of Kampala the taxi stopped again and this time the runner told me to get out and switch to another Taxi. I was very confused but did as was told and set off to town in the new crowded taxi. Thankfully it all worked out and I got off a few blocks from the house, hailed another boda and was home.

I scarfed down some food, chilled for a bit and then hopped in the truck and drove to the country club to fit in a swim. When I had finished my workout I drove to the downtown supermarket, stocked up on the week’s lunch supplies and fruits, and picked up dinner from my favorite take out place. All in all I have to say a great weekend. Tomorrow my boss gets back from England and I’m sure the work will pick up greatly.


Marcia said...

1. A boda sounds even less substantial than an autorik. Just what a Mom wants to hear.
2. Do they call them 'coasters' because they have no brakes?
3. Nile beer by the Nile...does it get any better than that?
4. So Ugandan children can learn about sexual predators, peer pressure, and safe sex, but American kids can't. Hmmm interesting....

Whitney-Diggs said...

Miss you girl! I've been tear'n up the trails without you! Whitney