04 Aug Be Prepared to Change: Adventures in Rwanda and Uganda
At this moment I am bumping up and down with the movement of our Easy Coach bus, trying to type as we jostle about. The wind through the open window, and the hot Ugandan sun has dried me off from a 150 ft bungee jump that dipped me into the Nile this morning.
I can’t help but smile when I look over my 7 travel companions. We are a funny bunch. Everyone is sleepy, happy, and tanned right now. It’s hard to believe that it was just a week ago that we were huffing and puffing red in the face up Mount Kibuye, one of thousands of steep hills that make up Rwanda’s famous topography. For those of us that made it all the way up, the view from the summit was a picture perfect landscape. We stood in a small grove of trees at the very top of the mountain. Even that tiny forest is a rarity in a country where every acre is meticulously tilled into fertile farmland to feed the many mouths in this densely populated country.
We were well rewarded after our workout. We squished into a matatu and hopped onto a couple of boda bodas to make it to our campsite at Lake Burera where we spent the next day lazing around by the water. We celebrated Will’s birthday with a bonfire on the beach, some local beers, and a midnight dip.
After returning from Northwestern Rwanda, the team headed to Kimironko for our homestays where we were hosted by widows of the Rwandan genocide. The “Mama’s” live in government housing and have formed a women’s cooperative to support each other through sewing and other enterprises. Everyone was stuffed to the brim with delicious local dishes, like veggies stews and fried cassava leaves. We followed up on the early summer East Africa project of painting some of the women’s homes as a gesture of thanks for their hospitality.
The team delved into the history of the region by visiting a few of the nations genocide memorials. We heard the tragic story of people who were trapped in churches and saw the mass graves, which are kept intact by a nation that refuses to forget the atrocities.
The bus we boarded to travel overnight to Kampala was great. Despite a bit of rust and a clear fender bender, it was comfortable seating only 4 in a row and very quiet. Sadly that bus left us at the border. After 3 hours, many tired and grumpy passengers (African and Mzungu alike) demanded a new bus. We got a loud hot crowded affair for the rest of the trip. It was a good lesson of one of OG’s backpactivist principles: “prepared to change”.
Switching from matatu to boda bodas was a whole other adventure. Riding boda bodas Ugandan style means 2 at a time and good luck finding a helmet But we make sure they go “pole pole” (slowly slowly) and hold on tight! We zipped around Kampala and went up the tallest minaret in town for a bird’s eye view of the city.
We arrived in Kampala with just enough time to shower and drink a cup of tea before whisking off to meet East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders, an awesome NGO that works to protect those at the forefront of human rights work. They also introduced us to the Human Rights Network of Journalists. We learned a ton about Ugandan politics and how the media works to shine a light on injustice. We also learned about the difficulties that journalists face in telling the whole story as they see it without government pressure.
After some heavy learning, we got a break to play a bit. We got picked up early the next day and went straight to the drop in point for white water rafting on the Nile. Our amazing rafting guide Big Jay was actually the first local to train as a white water rafting guide. He was true to his work while we flipped and tossed our way through the frothy class 4 and 5 rapids all day long! Work hard, play hard!
The sun is setting now and we have crossed into Kenya to continue our journey and start our community service projects.
East Africa Discovery trip leader