Category Archives: Africa

End of Africa

Marcy and I headed back into Kampala, and then finally Entebbe for my final days on the continent.  I was ready to get back to western civilization, but knew I was going to miss Uganda and Marcy greatly.

We spent my final day at a pool at a large hotel on Lake Victoria.  I wanted to leave with a bit of color…I left with sever sunburn.

Lake Victoria

I want to thank Marcy greatly for hosting me and allowing me to experience a small slice of what she has experienced.  She has also edited and added to a lot of these last posts, which has been a massive help to get names and objects correctly spelled and labeled.

Thanks for reading

Saint Fransis Sport Competition

The school that Marcy is volunteering at, St. Francis Secondary School for the Blind, was gearing up for a unique sport competition the entire month that I was in Uganda.  With a week left to my stay, I had the pleasure to go to the National Open Sports Competition for the Visually Impaired.

Marcy had been telling me about all the preparation and work that she and the whole staff and student body were doing in the months leading up to the competition.   The students where training for multiple track and field events.  The staff was working on getting all the logistics worked out, like event supplies and money for transport, food, and all the other bits needed for the annual event.

When I arrived many things had been taken care of, but many things where still left unresolved.  I witnessed the head teacher, Sister Winifred’s passion as my month in Soroti went on as she tried to navigate local politics and prejudice to raise money and coordinate the country-wide event, hosted in Soroti (each year a different district hosts the competition).

The competition spanned for 3 days, and included 3 categories for both men and women.  These categories catered to those who are blind, seeing impaired and those with low vision.

The opening ceremony focused on sensitizing spectators and participants on disabilities and visual impairments. A major part of this annual event is to educate communities on persons with disabilities and to spread the word “that a disability is not inability” (country motto) and that disabilities do not make people second class citizens.  In Uganda disability is often seen as a curse and many families abandon children with disabilities. Marcy and her co-workers know that education and sensitization are key to eliminating such ideas and stigmas.

The competition was very interesting. It is amazing to see those with visual impairments participate fully in each event. To run around a track, the competitors would have a guide running, hand in hand, aside them.  For most field events, a series of audio cues, such as clapping allowed the competitors to orient themselves to the field.

Guided Runner

Guided Runner

10,000 meter run (22 times around the track)

Men's javelin

Woman's javelin

Woman's javelin

Discus Throw

Discus Throw

One of the coolest games, unique to the visually impaired, is called goal ball.  There are two long goals set up about twenty yards apart.  The goalies, three of them on each team defending the goal, are blind folded (to establish fair game and even ground of ability between partially and totally blind participants).  There is rope tacked to the ground with knots to help each player orient themselves to the sidelines and playing field.  The ball looks like a classic dodge ball, but is made of a sturdier rubber and has a bell inside.  The crowd is requested to remain very quite, and each team bowls the ball and tries to roll it past the opposing goalies.

Goal Ball Field

Goal Ball Field

Goal ball Goalies

Goal ball Goalies

Marcy sitting with the sisters and students amongst the crown overlooking goal ball.

Marcy sitting with the sisters and students amongst the crown overlooking goal ball.

The competitors make the game look quite easy and natural.  At one point, the officials (all fully sighted) put on blindfolds and tried to play…they were terrible, which proved just how difficult depending on other senses can be.

Another unique sport game incorporated into this competition is called showdown.  It’s like air hockey and table tennis combined.  Again the competitors are blindfolded, and the ball is a hard plastic that has grain inside that makes a rattle sound.  Paddles are used to try and slap the ball into the opponent’s goal.

Showdown

Showdown

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For 3 days, we were out on the field.  I ended up being the unofficial photographer, and truly enjoyed the task.

Each day goal ball attracted a solid crowed of about 200 people.  It was amazing to see how the town would support, or at least be curious enough to come over and look on. Marcy also organized student dance and drama performances during intervals in the sports program. Again the performances were, not only for enjoyment, but to display that “disability is not inability”, many of her students are very talented musicians.

Goal Ball Crowd

Goal Ball Crowd

Okwe

This is Marcy with Okwe, one of the students that performed a song at the competition

On the final day of the competition, and after the closing ceremonies and trophy presentation, the local Lions Club held a dinner in honor of all the competitors, organizers, referees and anyone else involved.  It was a great feast, turned into a speech competition (Ugandans really know how to public speak and have no problem making extremely witty, and usually drawn out long speeches), and then into a dance party.

Dance Party at the Lions Club

Soroti Town

Boda Bike

I have talked a good deal about Soroti Town already.  This is the place that I spent most of my time in while in Uganda.  The town is in the Teso Region in eastern Uganda and has its own unique tribe and culture, as do many of the regions throughout Uganda.  As a side note, this mixture and grouping of different tribes and  cultures into a country, with forced boarder lines and simulated national unity can be seen as one of the problems that effects most of Eastern Africa, and in many ways all of Africa.

Soroti’s climate is warmer and dryer than other part of the great lakes region of Africa.  In the dry season it can get very windy and dusty, and in the wet season can flood, as many of the surrounding areas are low lying marshes.  When I was visiting, the wet season had just begun, and pretty much like clockwork, right  around 6 p.m. and sunset, large massive rain clouds rolled in and heavy down pours occurred most nights.

Afternoon Clouds

Thunderstorm Rolling In

Trees lining a dirt road

Men under a mango tree. This tree is not trimmed at the bottom. On all the mango trees I saw, the branches all ended about this far from the ground naturally.

Just hangin' out in the mid day heat.

Soroti Town sport fields

The town itself has a nice little market that you can get most things at, like fresh produce, housewares and other daily living requirements.  Another part of town has bike shops, car mechanics, industrial type services and this really cool recycled tire rubber product area.  There are various restaurants, and two good sized hotels.

Soroti Town

Reused Tire Footwear

Man Making Tire Footwear

The most remarkable land feature is is massive mountain-ish rock, that just sits in the middle of miles and miles of plains.  It looks so completely solitary and out of place.  On top, the town up in 2 large water tanks.  Its gives Soroti Town a sense of scale and beauty that was unique to the other places I visited.

Soroti Rock At Sunset

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Soroti Rock From Town

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Food in Uganda

Food in Uganda feels like your eating ancient recipes.  They are still cooked in the same way, most times over a charcoal fire behind the hut or house.

Cooking using charcoal behind the house

Winnie made us this dinner. It was to serve only me and Marcy. I have never tried to eat so much in my life. Dishes starting from left to right. Top: matooke, irish potatoes, grilled chicken in soup, fired pork, fish in soup. Bottom: plates, atop, greens in g-nut (Ebbo), greens with onion and tomato (sukumu wiki).

Ugandan food seems to be very split among traditional dishes, and practical cheap meals. Matooke, atop, greens, and g-nuts are staples of most Ugandan meals.  Rice and meat are more expensive and tend to be for special occasions.  Meat needs to be cooked very well done for bacterial reasons and is usually deep fried, or boiled and added to a soup or stew.  All dished are salt heavy, as this is the main way to spice.  Her is a quick list of common local foods:

Matooke- plaintain(starchy non sweet banana) that is steamed or boiled and then mashed.

Millet- flour substitute.  Ground and versatile as flour.

Cassava- like a potato, or sweet potato.  It is generally dried and ground up into powder, then steamed.  it is very white and served as a filler side dish.  I found it to be extremely tasteless.

Atap- made from millet or sorgum.  It is combined with water over an open flame and mixed until hydrated and turns into a sticky batter like bread dough.  This is the consistency it is eaten at, like a firm dough, very dense and spongy.  It is also a bit gritty from the ground millet. It is usually eaten with a soup or sauce, and is dipped in for more flavor.

Greens- there are bunch of ways to prepare these, and they all have different names. Ebbo-greens, fried or pasted with g-nut sauce. Sukumu wiki -greens, first fried then tomatoes and onions are added. Dodo-greens, fried or pasted

Various meats- mainly chicken, pork, goat, and beef

All types of veggies- it is equatorial and used to be a rain forest, everything grows great.

Rice and Beans

Tropical Fruit- Mango, pineapple, banana, passion fruit and jackfruit.

Chapati– a flatbrad, much like a tortilla, originated in the east (India).  It is rolled flat and fried.

Mandazi– fried bread.  Basically fried dough without the sugar coating.

Here is a great link describing different Ugandan foods

We would often go into Soroti Town and eat at one of the hotels in the area while we used the internet. These meals tended to be western, usually with an English bend to them.  However on occasion Marcy would take me to various “local food” restaurants around town.  One day Mar was trying to take me to a “cafe” that she had heard of.  We found this little, unmarked door that opened into a small corrugated steel walled shanty room.  It was a restaurant, what we thought at the time was the cafe.  The service was great, and the food even better.  I ordered this amazing dish called (Puko- rice that is fried with caramelized onions) with greens (Sukumu Wiki, greens , first fried then tomatoes and onions are added and sauteed) and rice and beans on the side.  Mar ordered rice, beans and greens (Ebbo, greens fried and pasted with g-nut sauce).  After eating, Mar asked the merchant what the name of the place was, and he informed us that they didn’t have on yet.

Marcy at the secret spot.

Marcy's Meal. Rice, sukumu wiki, and beans

Self timer camera fun at the local food joint.

My meal of rice, beans, sukumu wiki and poku

We went back here several more times, along with other local food eateries.  This place however remained out favorite.  The last time I was there, the owner asked us to suggest names for the place.  I came up with “Secret Spot” since the door to the place is easily missed and has no sign.  Secret spot is also a reference to the surf world, as a surf spot that is good, but only known to a few locals, and is kept unknown so that it does not get over crowded is usually called a secret spot.

Another night, Marcy suggested that we get fish and chips from a local street vendor.  The plan is to go to the vendor on the street, select the fish, order, then head over to a near by tavern to sit and have a drink while you wait.  The street vendor then brings over the fish and chips and you eat there are the tavern.  Pretty nice set up.

Fish and Chips, Uganda Style

Marcy with her fish and chips

Cooking in Marcy’s flat was way more sophisticated than I expected.  She has a 3 burner bench top stove, a large propane tank hooked up, a multitude of spices and bins to store all her food stuffs in (mostly to protect against the aunts, they are ruthless).  Most meals that we cooked home where made with fresh ingredients bought that day or the day before.  I had to get used to not having refrigeration, which took a little getting used to.

I ended up cooking quite a bit, and it was fun to try and twist some of my stock recipes with the local ingredients that we could get.  Marcy had some great go to meals as well, and surprised me with her Africanized cooking skills.

Marcy preparing a tasty avocado spread

Fresh avo and tomato

On 2 occasions I cooked meat, which was a scary ordeal.  Preparing meat improperly here can turn into a very serious health hazard. Many parasites are found in animals, and the main way they are transferred to humans is through meat consumption.

At the butcher a slab of animal is brought out, and hacked up with a machete on a wooden stump that is dripping with years old animal oil that has been baking in the heat for years as well.  Seeing the raw meat laying across this bacteria breeding ground is the first bit of fear I felt around the meat prep.  Next was washing and dicing the meat back in the kitchen.  The entire time I was completely freaked out about cross contamination and must have washed my hands, the counter top, dished, and knife 10 times with a heavy bleach solution.

the "butcher" trimming us off a nice cut with a machete on a greasy wood stump

Once the meat was ready to be cooked, I had an argument with Marcy after she suggested that I boil the meat first, then fry it for a pasta sauce I was going to make.  I really didn’t want to do this, as it would leach out all the oil and flavors that are crucial for the sauce.  In the end I decided to risk it, and fried the meat in olive oil excessively to make sure everything was dead.

I repeated this process once more towards the end of my stay, and made a large batch of pasta sauce for various friends that I made on my visit.

Preparing goat meat

goat meat pasta sauce

One of the most unique culinary experiences I had was the night that Marcy took me along with 3 other PCV’s to a pork joint.  The establishment (I use the word loosely) was a mile or so outside of Soroti.  We took boda bikes and as we rolled up to the place, I was confused because it was just an empty lot with a few dilapidated  cement thatched roofed huts.  I looked at Mar, and with a sly grin she said, “were here!”.

The place wasn’t really a place, it was just a cooking space with 2 standing walls, a charcoal pit and a bench, this was the “kitchen”.  The dinning room was 5 chairs in a ring, in a dirt lot near a tree with a baby goat running around.

Pork Joint

There were 3 huts lining the property, 2 with most of the thatch gone from the roof.  We sat out and had beers brought to us.  The chairs where basic but really intriguing to me, made of beautiful red wood, and the most basic design.  I love them!

Pork Joint Chair

The cook greeted us after we received our drinks and asked what meat we would like for the night.  We all wanted pork, and Mar was craving chips (french fries).  The best part of the ordering process was that we had to order everything in weight amount, Kilos.  So we ordered 3 kilos of meat, and 2 kilos of chips with tomatoes.

About 30 minutes later is started to sprinkle, so we moved to the one hut with most of a roof.  I think after about 5 minutes we realized that the shelter wasn’t going to work, so the cook arranged for us to go sit under the roof at a little shop across the street.

In hut at the pork joint

Two hours and about six beers later the food was served.  Two large platters where set on a small table between the five of us, and we started digging in, picking everything up with our fingers and gnawing on the well done pork.

The pork was fried in oil and heavily salted.  I know that this is probably the most unhealthy way to eat an unhealthy meat like pork, but it is delicious.  The chips are also fried, but to my surprise they sauteed the tomatoes together with the chips witch was amazingly good, like high end fresh ketchup.  I will keep this process close to me from now on, just another little token from Uganda.

Pork and Chips

The best part of eating in Uganda was the street meat.  When riding on a bus, we would generally stop on the road in a small town that had a mass of roadside vendors with food to go.  There was always a chapati person, and men and women with all kinds of meat, fried or grilled and served skewered on a stick.  There are always grilled bananas, mandazi (fried bread) and bottled water.

Ajon is the local brew that people drink in Soroti.  It is the most foreign and different alcohol I have ever experienced.  For millet ajon, the process begins by mixing millet flour with water to make it smooth and solid. It is then buried underground for about a week to allow it to ferment. After seven days of fermentation, the sour mass is recovered and roasted at very high temperatures until it turns black. This is followed by sun drying, which normally takes about two days. It is then put in a drum filled with water so that the bad stuff floats and is filtered off. At this stage, yeast is added for two consecutive days. This turns the sour mixture sweet, as though sugar has been added to it. After another couple of days, it is ready to serve. It is brought back to he hut or house, usually put into a large clay pot in the middle of a drinking circle, and hot water is added.

Ajon in clay pot

To drink it, one uses a natural reed that is hollow.  At the end a makeshift filter is attached.  The brew is sour and hot, and takes quite a bit for a westerner to stomach.  The alcohol content is low, but I was told that many drink it because it has great nutritional value and of course it will get you drunk!

Drinking ajon

Last but not least is the Ugandan beer.  There are several brewers, and these are only a small sampling, but the ones I drank the most on my visit.

Nile Special

Nile Special. Named that because that is where it is brewed, on the banks of the Nile river.

Bell Beer

Bell Beer. In the back ground is Club, another popular Ugandan beer

Living in Uganda, Part 2

Hut Compound. Madera, Uganda, East Africa

The big reason I ended up flying half way across the earth to visit Uganda is that I had a close friend living there as a volunteer and is ingrained in the culture. Marcy knows her way around, and was part of a community.  I know through experience that this is by far the best way to get to know a place on in a short time frame.

The part of this adventure that left the biggest impression on me was meeting all of Marcy’s friends, co-workers, fellow PCVs, and living temporarily in a small village in East Africa.  I felt as though most people visiting this part of the world end up in hotels that put up walls, and shield visitors from the gritty local scene, and then go on a game drive in a big Land Rover and, if they’re lucky stop in a small town to buy trinkets.  It’s a tourist way of being in a place, and is something I will always try and avoid.

Marcy has some awesome friends.  All of the PCVs I met were great.  Its funny how some people and personality types are drawn to similar things. Since her group of 50 are there to support one another through the “roller coaster ride” of PC, many of them bonded quickly, so most times it’s like you’re with old friends.  Each and everyplace I went with Mar to visit another volunteer was a real treat, as we got to meet their Ugandan friends, and be apart of their community for a bit.  It was always fun to have questions asked about what America was like, and amusing to hear the preconceived notions of our country.

In Soroti, at St. Francis School For The Blind, I had a chance to meet all the sisters that ran the school, along with several teachers and support staff.  Mar has become very close to several of her co-workers and we ended up hanging out with them at their homes.  Each one cooked us dinner.  Once again, even though we are visibly very different people, I felt as though we could have been with old friends. Marcy has said that, her Ugandan friends have had a huge impact on her persevering through the two years of service.

Two of Marcy’s closest friends on the school compound are Winnie and Magdalene, both staff members of St. Francis. One night we had dinner with Winnie. We visited Magdalene and her three year old, super-rad son Melvin several evenings. Melvin, after a full day of nursery school was usually asleep in bed, luckily he can sleep through anything!  We had a mini-party and drank Ajon (a type of alcohol brew that I will explain later) one night, Melvin slept through it all.

Winnie mixing up a batch of atop for our dinner

Marcy sitting with Marvin, Winnie and Magdalene.

Magdalene's chickens in the back room

Magdalene's chickens in the back room.

The Crew taking Ajone. Ajone is a basic Ugandan alcohol.

Mar and the girls enjoying a sip of hot ajone.

The straw that I am drinking from is a natural reed that grows locally. It grows hollow and makes a perfect natural straw.

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The Sisters were extremely busy the month I was there, preparing for a countrywide sports competition for the visually impaired; St. Francis Secondary School was hosting the event.  It wasn’t until the very end of the visit that I had a chance to sit and have a dinner with the Sisters.  However, throughout the month I would meet each Sister individually in passing.  The head teacher (principal) is Sister Winifred.  She is a full on go-getter.  She put in solid 15 hour days while I was there, and shows mass amounts of passion for her work.  She has this great, “no bullshit, right to the point” way about her.  This is rare in Uganda, as the culture tends to lend itself to beating around the bush, and an hour of small talk before getting to any point.

Sister Kevin is this wonderfully jolly woman.  She has actually spent a fair amount of time in the US, at seminary, and is always smiling.

Sister Maurice is the “grandma” of the bunch.  She has a wacky sense of humor that caught me off guard several times.  One of the funniest memories I have, is sitting at the post sport competition banquet at the lions club.  There was complimentary beer being served, and Mar and I felt a little awkward drinking in front of the students and Sisters.  Sister Maurice grabbed 4 and put them in front of us.  I remember thinking, she didn’t give us one a piece, no she gave us 2 each and kept trying to force more upon us, (she did the same with food).  She is like an Italian grandmother, forcing excess upon us. Different places and people; same result.

Sister Maurice

I met another one of Marcy’s fellow teachers.  His name is Agrey.  He recently was married, and Marcy went to the wedding!  He is a quiet, thoughtful man, and has a good knowledge of the world and even the US, probably more than most Americans.  We ate dinner with his wife, and son, and talked about multiple topics such as the similarities between Ugandan’s educational system and curriculums with those of the US, we talked about cultural differences, the weather in Uganda compared to the states and so on.  It’s such a cool experience hearing the differences in customs, systems and perspective that cultures have.  Throughout most of these exchanges I always feel a sense of pain, and regret that Hollywood and the entertainment industry is America’s main cultural export, and is often written, sensationalized, made-up and fake.  This greatly affects the way that others see us, and I feel it is such a distortion of our actual culture that always needs explanation. Frankly, it really sucks.

Agrey and Family

Marcy and Agrey's son

Can you see the family resemblance?

There are always kids playing outside of Marcy’s apartment, and the road is about 40 feet from her back window, so the sound of cars, bikes and people walking and talking permeate her rooms.  I was surprised at how loud living in Madera is.  In the very early morning, rooters, cows, humans, birds, dogs, chickens and numerous other livestock start their daily song.  Sleeping in is not really an option.  I observed all this for a full week because I was held up in the apartment finishing up a design project.  My computer and a shortwave radio where my only companions as I cranked out technical drawings.  Marcy was at work, but would pop in from time to time, and we often ate lunch together.

7 a.m. kids outside the apartment playing.....everyday.

Another monumental experience was transport, and leaving the compound for various reasons.  Whenever we needed to go to the market, get a solid internet connection, or Marcy had some commitment in Soroti town, we would need to catch a boda bike from Madera to Soroti town center about 2.5 miles (5K) away.  Often this wasn’t a problem, but later in the afternoon, at night, or super early in the morning this would prove difficult since the boda drivers were busy; village “rush hour” if you will.

Once we where able to get a ride, we would be carried down the dirt road away from Madera, and about half way into the trip we hit the tarmac paved road leading into Soroti.  Along the way we would pass several thatch roofed hut compounds, and some concrete walled houses.  Often, from some hidden corner of a compound I would hear a child’s voice yell, “mazungu, mazungu!”, or “Teacher Marcy, teacher Marcy!”.

Road to Soroti Town

I can’t say I was ever comfortable with the idea of heading into town, or to the market alone, I felt more comfortable with Marcy.  I am ashamed that I never conquered this fear, and stepped up to the challenge to navigate the area on my own.  Part of it was that even with most Ugandan’s speaking English, I found it hard to hear through the accent, and the fact that with Mar around, it wasn’t absolutely necessary to go out on my own.  I found it tough to feel comfortable on the street in Madrea or Soroti. This unfinished business will surely guide me back to this area of the world someday.  I’m looking forward to it!

Sipi Falls

Sipi Falls

After several weeks of kicking around Marcy’s site, we decided to take a road trip towards the Kenyan boarder, and Mount Elgon, an ancient volcanic range.  There are 3 cascading waterfalls in this area that cover about a mile called Sipi Falls.  To access the area we needed to head back to Mbale and then head east for another 60K or so.

A few months earlier, Marcy had taken her mom to a cool little resort that is run by three Englishmen in Sipi.  Marcy spoke highly of the area, and I was ready for the cool air of the high elevation, and excited to visit a resort.

We packed up light, and took the usual boda bike into Soroti, then hopped a bus to Mbale, about 2 hours south.  From here we planned to catch a Matatu (van taxi) on to Sipi Falls.

As with most public transport in Uganda, a simple plan never ends up being so straight forward.  From Mbale, heading towards Sipi, we where stuffed into a van with 20 other humans (van is designed to fit 9 passengers in the back) and driven 40K with about 15 stops on the way. Three quarters into the drive, the driver informed us that this was the end of the line, 20K short of our intended destination, even though the driver told us he would take us the entire way.

Furious, Marcy payed the driver half what we agreed, and with the magic of a veteran of Uganda, negotiated with the driver to find us a ride for the rest of the trip to Sipi.  What we ended up with, was a large diesel industrial flat bed truck.  The back was full of random items such as, produce, piping, and about 20 Ugandans standing, catching a ride as well.  We were ushered into the front seats, agreed upon a price, and where off.

This was all well and good, until we  hit the uphill climb at the base of Mount Elgon.  The truck’s over taxed engine whined and sputtered as it struggled to climb.  For over 20K we crawled at about 5 mph up a windy hill.  I swear I could have walked faster.

From the road I could see two of the three water falls, and I grew more and more excited as we slowly approached Sipi.  Finally, about 2 hours past our expected arrival time we walked into the excellent resort  Sipi River Lodge.

Sipi River Lodge, Main House

The resort was tucked right next to the second waterfall, literally in the back yard.  Each night I fell asleep to 200 foot falling water tumbling over the rock ledge.  It was amazingw!  We stayed in a really quaint hut with a thatch roof and a cool bed frame made of stone and mortar.  Each night the only light we had was by lantern.  This is the point that I decided to build a thatched roofed hut when I get back to the states.

Sipi Middle Falls. Right in the back yard! This pic was taken from the doorway to our hut.

Middle Falls

The Hut

Sipi River Lodge, Huts at Night

The food was great, very English but well made.  We ate with the other guests staying at the resort. The first night the only other people were an Indian / American couple that where visiting their daughter who was working for an NGO (non-governmental organization) in Kenya.  It was very nice to talk to a family that had lived all over the world.  There daughter grew up with the family in Thousand Oaks, California, outside of Los Angeles.  It was interesting to see the emotions that the parents where going through having a daughter living in Africa.  Concern, admiration, and anticipation of her homecoming seeped through most of the small talk that we shared.  I remember having the thought that these emotions must be a universal throughout the world over when parents have a child living abroad in a far off, foreign place.

The next day, we woke, had breakfast that is included with the stay, and I loaded up my camera gear to head to the lower most, and largest water fall.  Marcy wasn’t feeling well, so she decided to stay back.  I was escorted to the club house to meet a guide that worked at the resort, and would take me to the falls.

We walked for about 45 minutes, through coffee plantations and a small village, where we had to pay the land owner to access the falls.  Along the way, we stopped at a cave, and my guide, Tony took pictures of me.  We walked almost entirely downhill to get to the falls, so I knew the walk back to the resort was not going to be fun in the midday sun.

Coffee Plantation Hut and Middle Falls

Middle falls view from the start of the track down to the lower waterfall.

Half way down the track, first view of the lower fall.

On the Track

We stopped at a cave along the track, it went in about 40 feet, and then a small entrance hole was at the back. I asked Tony if he ever went deeper in and explored the cave. He looked at me like I had 2 heads and said, "no". I don't think it is wise to crawl around caves ion Africa.

Lower falls from the bottom.

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My Guide, Tony

Heading Back Up The Track

This is another lodge on the cliff edge of the lower falls.

View of the valley and butte. Beyond that is a great plain looking towards Soroti.

Same View

Every bit of land is used.

Top of Track. Ruins of a house and Hut, and the plain in the back ground.

These little guys where running all over the place. Once back up the track, the child with the blue boots ran up to Tony to show him the blue gum boots. They were new, and the little guy was so excited. They where probably 4 sizes too big and he marched around clumsily showing them off.

Once back at the lodge, Mar and I ate lunch, and took a really nice siesta, during which the weather turned and some of the heaviest rainfall I have ever seen fell.  Literal sheets poured across the property and we sat inside the hut with the door open enjoying the torrent.

The light outside turned a brilliant gold color after the rain storm, and I convinced Marcy to climb to the top of the falls in the back yard with me, even though she wasn’t feeling great.  Climbing up was a little tricky.  The track was steep and muddy.  We had to cross two rickety bridges, and then stumbled across a local boy that insisted on guiding us even thought we told him ” no, we don’t need a guide”. (neither of us had any cash on hand)

Looking back at Sipi River Lodge from the trail to the middle falls.

Rickety bridge on trail to middle falls.

Grasshoppers on the trail

Marcy on a scary cat walk up to the falls.

We got to the top of the falls and where rewarded with a spectacular view of the river feeding the falls, and the view of the flat land to the west that stretched out like a sea into the horizon back towards Soroti.  We could see the rain clouds dumping across the plains far in the distance.

On top of middle falls.

Falls River

plains thunderstorm

From top of falls

After about 30 minutes of picture taking and observing, we crossed the river to start the decent back down to the resort which we could see right below us.  As we headed off, a group of local boys warned us through charades and by pointing that the biting ants had been forced out of the ground by the rains and showed us a swarm on the ground.  We stepped over them in a leap, letting our feet hit the ground around the ants only for an instant.

We scurried down the path on the opposite slope from which we came, which was steep, muddy, slippery and quite overgrown.  Some how we where walking through a planted field and struggling to stay on the path along the steep incline.  Right about this time, I got my first bite.  Well up my pants, on my calf.  Then another, higher up on my thigh.  These medium sized red ants where using there large front talons to grip into my flesh, which hurt like hell.  Then Marcy started getting bit.  Her issue was more of a wardrobe concern as her tight jeans made accessing her calf and thighs nearly impossible.

We where on a muddy, slippery, tilled bean field 200 feet above our resort, next to a waterfall with ants in our pants.  I kept getting visions of Marcy having to strip as the only means of relief from the ants, in front of a bunch of 12 year old Ugandan boys.  It was a funny, then a nerve racking thought.

Somehow, we where both able to rid ourselves of the devil ants, and continued scrambling along the path to get out of the mud and wet.  We took a wrong turn and ended up in a private residents back yard, having to jump down a muddy 10 foot cliff.  Both of us where soaked and our hands and pants where smeared with dark read muddy earth. A man came out of the house, and we explained we were at the falls and ended up in his back yard.  He was nice and opened the gate to his driveway which led us to the main road, and back to the resort.

Misty Morning Falls

The next day we packed up to head back to Soroti.  The Indian family offered us a ride in there private hired car to Mbale, which Marcy and I excepted with great excitement.  Once back in Mbale, we decided to go to a local hotel that had a pool that Marcy had been to before.  Being able to swim in Uganda is a treat since all of the natural fresh water has a variety of bacteria that can kill you.

We hopped on 2 bodas and started to race down the crowded streets for the hotel.  As we excited a round about, my driver veered close to the parked cars along the street and all at once I was jerked off the bike, landed on all four’s and slide across the dusty, asphalt road next to my driver and his 150cc motorcycle.  I had a moment of terror as I looked at my elbows and saw blood, then felt the pain in my knees, immediately recognizing the shredded flesh numb feeling.  I  pulled my jeans up over my knee to reveal minor skin scrapes and nothing else.  I was incredibly relived.

A crowd gathered around me and the driver and the ditched bike.  I looked over and saw a large man getting out of a new white Toyota Tundra with a badly dented door.  He had opened the door as we drove by, knocking my driver and I off the bike

Witnesses crowded around and yelled at the Toyota driver that it was his fault , and therefore his responsibility to take us to the hospital, which, after inspecting my road rashed elbows, I realized I did not need, nor wanted to experience.  I assured all the men around me that I was fine, but that  the Toyota driver should take my driver to the hospital, as he had a good gash on his fore arm.  They told me that I should at least have the man at fault drive me and Marcy to our destination, which we both agreed would be a good idea.

It worked out that I was headed to a chlorinated pool, and after scrubbing and washing up in a shower I jumped into the pool to kill whatever else might be still alive in my minor wounds. It was very luck that I had put on jeans that morning, as I had been wearing a very light pair of hiking pants for most of the time in Uganda, which would have torn and left my knees exposed to the asphalt.  There is something to be said for dumb luck.

We left Mbale and headed back to Soroti in a Matatu.  By this point I was completely over public transport, and just wanted to be back at Marcy’s site with the sisters.  This was by far my worst day in Africa.

Living in Uganda, Part 1

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Door to Marcy's Apartment In Madera At St. Fransis School For The Blind

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Madera Sunset

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Classic! Soroti Rock

I was pleasantly surprised by Marcy’s site.  It is located about 1.8 miles from the small town of Soroti.  The village area is called Madera. She lives within the school compound. The school compound has multiple buildings and has a secure fence running around it. There is a large gate at each of the two entrances that allow vehicles to pass in and out.  The school, St. Francis School for the Blind is run by nuns.  Her apartment, which is connected to the convent and is home to three Sisters is great, better than any of the places she had lived in NYC. I felt very safe and secure at Marcy’s house.

Across the street is a resort-ish restaurant and accommodation called Eneku Village.  Its a really cool place, with a large thatch roofed bar area (capable of holding at least 100 people) and a little pond in the middle of the complex surrounded by large leafed trees.  They often show English Premiership football matches at Eneku;  Ugandans love “fotbol” (soccer) and most follow Manchester United or Chelsea as these are the teams that are broadcast here.  Eneku is a great resource for Marcy, and for me, as when the power went out, which happened several times, Eneku would still be lit up due to a generator.  The bar also provided a much needed sanctuary from the daily grind of living in a small village in Africa.  It was a way to escape (usually with a beer) and help take a step back from the daily culture shock one experiences. At the beginning of her service, Marcy would escape to Eneku multiple times during the week; now she usually only takes visitors there.

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Small Village Compound In Madera. Thatch Roofed Huts

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Madera House

Marcy has a bathroom with running water and a toilet, which is a luxury considering many PCV’s have to use a detached pit latrine (basically a concrete covered hole in the ground you squat over).   There is a kitchen, a nice size sitting room with a couch, a  large table/desk, an extra bed (mine) with a mosquito net hanging from the ceiling and a coffee table.  Marcy’s has a separate bedroom too. Her bed has a T shaped support at each end that holds and spreads the mosquito net over the mattress. Her place has a nice homey feel, decorated with family photos, maps and crafts.

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This is me in Marcy's sitting room, listening to the BBC world report on a short wave radio. I was in the middle of a design project as well and completed it in Uganda. I have proven that I can work from anywhere on the planet!

Living there was not as basic as I had thought it would be.  In the mornings we would have to boil water for the day, but cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner was as usual as anywhere in the world.  The big thing that was different was no refrigeration, so to consume perishables such as milk, we needed to get and finish it that day….in the end its a small adjustment.  Marcy was able to use the Sisters’ refrigerator from time to time, so we were able to keep leftovers. Also, cleaning dishes, which I hate, involves using two basins on the kitchen floor; one basin for washing, the other for rinsing.  Marcy does not have a kitchen sink so she fills the basins from the bathroom spout or from a jerry-can she keeps in the kitchen.

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Washing Dishes

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Marcy Preparing Lunch

Food prep was another area that I really needed to adjust too.  Marcy explained to me that in Uganada, (and most of Africa I assume) the most important thing to stay healthy is watch and be wary of what you put in your mouth and stomach.  All veggies and fruit needed to be washed, and peeled ideally if eaten raw.  We would often bleach vegetables if we where going to make a salad.

Meat prep was even more nerve racking.  I will explain later in the food entry why.  Basically the meat could very possibly be extremely contaminated due to the butchering process at the market, so all the meat in Uganda is either boiled at a high temperature or deep-fried until extremely well done.  One night I decided we should buy goat and cook it…Marcy is still confused as to why it took me so long to prepare…

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Goat Meat

Laundry was another big learning experience for me on my visit.  It is washed by hand using 3 basins (shallow plastic circular containers).  The process is beautifully water efficient, and I felt guilty at the amount of water we Westerners use with our modern machinery.  Basically you fill the three basins with water.  Soak the soiled laundry in the first with and handful of detergent (this was the direction on the box…handful!  I love it) then scrub using the palm of your hands and folding the material over itself to scrub with.  Then ring out and transfer to the second container with clean water. Ring again then transfer to the third container, ring and rinse again.  After the first basin become too soiled, dump and fill with fresh water for rinsing; make the second basin, which become soapy at the “wash” part of the cycle, the first container with soap (add more soap if needed). Continue this process of rotation until all laundry is clean.  It took me and hour to do one load.  I watched the girls that help run the compound (cook and clean) do laundry and it took them about 10 min to do the same amount as I did. Marcy has become pretty quick as well.

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Laundry

Once in a while water is an issue. The convent/school compound runs water from a electric pump.  If power is not there for a few days, water from the tank runs out. Marcy, the Sisters and the staff than either go to a borehole (hand pump well) to fill jerry-cans or pay someone to get the water.  Marcy has learned to keep extra full jerry-cans in her house to avoid being without water.  The amount of water used by each Ugandan a day is something like 3 jerry-cans (about 60L)(16 Gallons).  The average American uses about 10 jerry-cans a day(220L)(58 Gallons).  Again…we are so wasteful!

Before, I explained that the Eneku Lodge as being a sanctuary of sorts, and I want to explain why.  I found the people in Uganda that Marcy would introduce me to, and even most strangers that we talked to, to be extremely friendly, super generous, thoughtful to a T, and wonderfully inquisitive.   However, when we were just walking along, Marcy and I (and even when we were with a Ugandan friend) pedestrians, bus loads, individuals, groups, and most of all children would stare piercingly.  At first this didn’t bother me, but as the month wore on, it increasingly made me uncomfortable.  It always reminded me that I didn’t belong here.  For Marcy, after a year and a half, it was a source of annoyance.  Children would often walk buy and say Muzungu!  Many adults would do the same.  That phrase was often followed by “you give me money” (in Ugandan-English asking for things is a command and is not disrespectful, just translation).  The best way to describe what it is like to be white in rural Uganda is similar to when one is famous.  Anyone thinking that they want to become famous should experience this first hand in Africa…it may effect your decision greatly. I feel I can now relate to some movie stars and pro athletes.  Mar and I often talked about how it would feel to have the sensation of everyone looking at you home in the states, and it made me feel ill.  People would often come up and shake hands, or when walking into an establishment, we would be greeted verbosely, sometimes over or in front of a Ugandan, which made me even more uncomfortable.  Many times, someone that Marcy had gotten a ride from many months passed, would stop and state he had given here a ride…of course Mar didn’t remember, just another awkward moment that I’m sure a celebrity experiences frequently.  There is something to be said for ambiguity, which I think in the states becomes at times frustrating, but when experiencing the opposite, it is a welcome comfort when re-entering the west. I know Marcy is looking forward to walking through Manhattan and being lost in a crowd.

Up the street from Eneku and the gate to Marcy’s compound is a very small shack that is a convenience shop.  The place is big enough for one person to stand in and has various items that one would need to walk at least 30 minutes in either direction to get.  The woman that runs the shops name is Joice. Mar explained to me that Joice was one of the first people in the village to befriend her, and invite Mar into her house.  She became a source of local knowledge for Mar and a good friend.  Near the end of my visit I gave Joice a jar of “Sunday gravy pasta sauce”, and spaghetti that I made.  A little taste of the Italian Ceccarelli  flavor for a friend.  Something about sharing ethnic food between two people is such a connecting experience, like a smile, it’s something deep and ancient in human existence.  Language may be a barrier, but we all must eat, and all enjoy food, its one of the great unifying experiences between peoples.  I love tapping into that and enjoyed doing it with many of Marcy’s Ugandan friends.

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Joice In The Shop

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Joice

One thing is for sure it is extremely hot in the Soroti district where Mar is located.  It was perpetually 80F (27C) during the days. I was surprised by how dry the heat was.  Marcy informed me that, when I was visiting, it was the cooler, rainier season; apparently December is brutal.  At night, it was comfortable with a fan.  My body had a hard time adjusting, as I had just gotten used to the coldest winter I have ever spent in New Zealand.  I realize I miss the warmth, and think that I may be done with winter…forever.

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Madera Sunset

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Madera Sunset

Walking through Soroti town, or any small city/town is an experience on to itself.  Many of the grocery stores are owned by Asians (Indians).  There is always a hustle bustle on the streets with bicycles, motorcycles (bodas), Matatus (Hiace van taxi) and cars/vans/buses all whizzing by.  The street markets are alive with merchants and customers buying everything from bananas and pineapple to fabrics and basins. Groups of men hang out, playing Ludo (game like Parcheesi), drinking (the Ugandan’s say “taking”) beers or laying across their motorbikes. The women seem to always be busy with work.  I said to Mar at one point (and this may be inexperience, lack of knowledge, or just stupid ignorance, but my intuition tells me I’m right) that woman are the future of this place.  Break the traditional gender rolls here, and woman would take over, and after a while I think East Africa could get back on its feet.

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Road from Madera to Soroti Town

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Soroti Rock

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Soroti Rock and Cell Phone Tower

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Soroti Town

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Soroti Town and Rock

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Soroti Town and Rock

Boda

Boda Bike

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Bodas and Clouds, my story of Uganda.

The main markets are amazing places.  Smaller versions of Owino Market in Kampala.  We could buy fruit, veggies, millet, rice, beans, g-nuts, flour….basically any food is available, along with cooking ware, utensils, meat (not pork though, this needs to be bought on the out skirts of town, selling pork is not allowed in town due to the large number of Muslims), huge banana leaf baskets and all sorts of other miscellaneous items  I wish I had pictures of. Unfortunately, this was again an uncomfortable situation to have my camera out.

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Buying Pork on the Outskirts of Town

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Waiting.....

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Getting Meat Cut

After shopping Mar would often take me for a cold drink and internet at one of two hotels in Soroti Town. We could get a semi solid internet connection, a cold Stoney Soda (ginger soda)….served in a glass bottle, now my favorite sugar drink in the world (made by Coca Cola, not sure why we can’t get it in the states).  We would often get lunch and watch a little CNN or a football match, or at worse a Nigerian soap opera (most of the TV produced out of Africa is made in Nigeria…???)

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Soroti Town Vista

Part 2 of living in Uganda is coming soon.  Thanks for reading!