About Me

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I teach abroad and continue to pursue the life I was given as if it was my last. Many people think it is. In my spare time, I enjoy lapping up ice cream, reading spy novels, and euthanizing manta rays.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sipi Falls

I drove to the eastern flank of Uganda Saturday, amid one of the heaviest storms in recent memory. Recent being a subjective term based on how much of one's memory can be recollected. I remember moments from Monday Night Football in 1984 vividly but can't remember what I taught four days ago. Anyway, I was driving...

Driving in Uganda is half pinball half Frogger and 90 percent lunacy. You take your eyes off the road for one second to look at your phone, check the odometer, flick an ant off your knee or wave at a small boy running after you and you might kill someone. Like the boy. It's that fluid. Potholes spring up like minefields in a 1980s arcade game. Bogeys are everywhere. Everywhere. It's pure lunacy.

Once I got through Jinja and quit the main thoroughfare to Kenya the tarmac road turned quiet. I got stopped at two checkpoints. "What are you carrying in your boot, sir?"
"I'm not wearing..."
Oh, The British-English thing. Boot, bonnet....trunk, hood.
"Just camping stuff and clothes."
I was waved on both times.

A few miles beyond Mbale I was stopped by a third copper, a female in white uniform. "I go to Tororo. Can you take me please?"
"Why not?"
"I just...can't."

I was half-waiting to be sweet-talked, half-waiting to be arrested. In the end, "Safe Journey" was all she uttered before I tore off down the road.

The escarpment up to Sipi village is really breathtaking. You can practically see across half of the country from the promontory in town. All of Karamojoland, Lake Kyoga. It's a gorgeous spot.

I did three hikes in two days. The first was the three-waterfall tour that everyone does, starting from the highest falls and descending to the 100 meter drop nearest to the campground. This was arranged within minutes of parking, setting up my tent, stove, and gear, and eating my peanut butter sandwich I'd been eyeing all morning.

The sky was a combination of blues, grays, charcoals and whites all weekend. Storms were either lurking or in process. But besides a half-hour squall Saturday afternoon I never got trapped in a tricky predicament.

I love camping. I had a spot all to myself next to two uninhabited cabins and a latrine. A rock hyrax (I know...what the hell is that?) crept and climbed the nearby trees overlooking the campground and valley below. I had a wonderful view of the 100 meter waterfall across the ridge. I was able to cook, eat, and sleep in absolute peace. Thunderstorms doused my tarp both nights but I never felt a drop. There is something wonderful about setting all that up yourself and being self-sufficient. If I could learn to sleep on a 24" wide mat I'd be set.

Sunday I drove 6 kilometers across Sipi, past a coffee plantation, village huts, women and children hauling firewood and selling coffee beans, up to the turn off for Mount Elgon National Park, where 6 more treacherous kilometers of off-road driving awaited me. And terrorized me.

The minute I turned on to the muddy slop, I saw a 8 wheeler descending a steeply graded slope in neutral, slipping backwards. What have I got myself into? If I thought tarmac driving was tough, I was in for a real shock. Those 6 km took me 35 minutes. I was in 1st gear, in 4wd, negotiating rock, mud and puddles with screaming toddlers chasing after me. I could not concentrate long enough to wave at them. I slipped and slid, fish-tailing across the muddy, shaded parts of the tract, up swales, clutching the brake with utter fear coursing through my veins. My pulsating veins. Seeing the trailhead and park's gate was a very welcomed relief.

I had a private guide for the 7 km hike through the Cherbonet Falls. However, the views inside the park were meager compared to the hikes around the falls themselves. Nevertheless the work out and forest were beautiful, green; from a distance we spotted a couple of hornbills and blue monkeys too. In fact, the most exciting moment of the hike was seeing a local man flee from us at breakneck speed through foliage and descending grade that seemed suicidal.
"What was that?" I asked David.
"Villager. He is here on the wrong day to collect resources."
"Wrong day?"
"Villagers are allowed to take wood and bark on Tuesdays and Fridays. Today is Sunday."

I went down to the bottom of the falls Sunday afternoon, avoiding about 32 children asking me for money and  - when refused - they followed me anyway. The sun came out just as the mist from the falls' lower pool came into view, making for a really nice rainbow for about three minutes.

I drove back Monday morning, passing all police check-points with flying colors. Such pride having my papers in order.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Blue Caribou

Driving in Kampala is a little like taking a bath with a thousand daggers. You can't avoid getting nicked, you just try to make it through without getting sawed in half. My newest baby is the Toyota hatchback that - Inshallah - will save me from a boda boda injury/heart attack the next nine months. There are ancillary costs involved with having a car here - gas, maintenance, bribery, pot hole anger, traffic, bribery...making it through an errand without raising the blood pressure is really difficult.
I'm also paranoid about car theft, car jacking, slashed tires, and general envy that is already facing me from having something that most people around here don't. It worries me. But then again, I think about early December, winter break, Africa by overland, and my heart gets racing again. This time in a good way. Adventure. Savanna, mountain rivers, gas stoves, firewood, campgrounds, hippo songs, mating calls, sunrises, and I get excited.

Not much has changed here. I did a workshop for scholarship winners at the embassy last week that went swimmingly. Ten students for a power point presentation on the college personal statement, SAT essays, and the academic essay.

This is week four in the academic semester and we've finally got full turn out in both my classes. Students are nice, interested, curious, and willing to learn, so far.

The rainy season is definitely here...has been since I arrived, really. Cooler temperatures too. Dan has been planting peas in the garden. Lots of weavers around the house. Haven't seen any monkeys in a couple weeks but I'm sure they're around. There is word that the house next to me is about to be converted into campus security, which would either make me a) even safer, or b) completely vulnerable.

Great additions this year to the house include:
a) starbucks ready brew packets.
b) Big 5 pull-up bar that acts as my home gym
c) head lamp (for those unexpected power outages at 7pm)
d) the new novels and literature anthologies (thank you, Uncle Dick, Barb, Lenna, and Paul)
e) the DVD player
f) the DVDs (thank you, Paul)

That's about all I can think of for now.