Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Leaving Again - part three (of three)

I am on a roll! I know its only been a couple of days, but I have a holiday today, and I'm in town, and the internet and electricity are both functional, so I cannot pass up this opportunity.

So where was I? Leaving Mombasa. I think one of the most difficult thing about traveling is meeting new people and getting to know them and then having to leave. The great thing about traveling on your own is that you really get a chance to branch out and meet people adn have experiences you wouldn't have if you always stayed with the same group. The bad thing is that once you move on, you're alone again.

Bobo accompanied me to Nairobi, cause he had to visit his cousin who had been jailed for accidentally buying a stolen car, and to help look after the cousin's wife and children. I said a difficult goodbye to him before getting on the bus to Kampala, and gave him a bit of money to get a passport. There are no jobs in Mombasa and he doesn't make much, but he wants to go somewhere where there is work os he can help support his family, especially his mom who has lost her job and is living in th slums. I told him maybe he could come and visit Uganda if he gets his passport before I leave, and if he can get the $40 for a bus ticket.

The ride to Kampala was hair raising. Including Momasa to Nairobi, I was on the bus for 26 hours, during which the bus driver rarely stopped long enough for the bathroom let alone food, and twice left without me, once when I went to pee and once at the border where I was arguing about the abysmal exchange rate and ended up paying the official almost twice as much for my Visa as I should have. Luckily they stopped not too far away and I was able to catch up within 15 or 20 minutes both times. Very luckily as my bags were still n board.

The road was also not very good and we were often jolted around in our seats, or tipped alarmingly as we passed petroleum tankers on the shoulder. A few times, I was holding onto the seat waiting for the thing to tip right over. Luckily I couldn't see the driver, so I could tell myself that he knew what he was doing.

I got to Kampala at about 11pm, with no guidebook (I lost it the day I got mugged in Mombasa), no Ungandan money, and not knowing anyone there. I got off the bus last, and a little nervously. A taxi driver saw me and said "Ahhhh! Mzungu, where are you going? Backpacker's?" I said yes, and went to collect my bag. I had to stop at the bank machine to get some cash, and I am glad to say that the man did not drive away with my luggage in the back seat. I stayed the night in the backpackers and got a ride to the bus station the next morning so I could get to Kabale. The receptionist had heard of Edirisa and told me it was run by Slovenians and I'd better not become a communist down there. I also met some other travelers and studnets there and a couple of American soldiers who were on their way to the Congo. I had some interesting conversations.

After another 8 hours on a seriously crowded bus, I arrived at Edirisa in Kabale, a small but clean and well-equipped hostel. I met some of the staff there and was told I would have to wait until they could meet and figure out the whole missing LFA thing. I had some food and spent the night there. For 5000 shillings which is a little under $3 Canadian.

The next day I went to the lake where many of the international volunteers and local staff live. It is indeed a commune, though there are only two or three Slovenians. It is ridiculously gorgeous there.
I was actually quite taken aback by the climate in Uganda. After the hot, dry coast, the lush greenness, coolness and hilliness were quite surprising. Its amazing to see the forests of Papyrus and Banana trees and the rolling hills covered with crops and dotted with farm houses. It rains often and is cold enough to wear a fleece jacket, especially in the evening. Lake Bunonyi (which means Lake of small birds in the local language, Ruchiga) is very quiet and calm and the view from the commune is incredible.

I moved my stuff into a small terra cotta house near the lake thatched with Papyrus. There was not very many people about, but I explored the place. They have three of four traditional dugout canoes and a a floating dock, a make-shift pool in the lake for swimming lessons, a canteen and a kitchen with minimal electricity that comes from a solar panel, a bar (that's right, with beer and everything), and several more huts where people sleep.

I am happy to say that my stuff is still in that my stuff is still in that hut. I was allowed to stay even though I had no training. That weekend, I made up for it in part by going with a few other new volunteers on a canoe trek around the lake, visiting some of the islands and small villages nearby. That was really amazing and I thankfully got a lot of pictures from both my camera and the others'. I also got to know John, from Ireland, Jamie and Carson, also from Vancouver!, and Moses, the local who was our guide. It felt strange to be in the company of Westerners again. All of my time adapting to Kenyan culture made me feel like a bit of an outsider there with both the locals and the Mzungus. I am over that now, but I still feel the separation of my white friends and I from the local Mchiga culture. I don't think there is much to be done about that while I am saying with Edirisa. At least, I am getting to know some of the local staff.

For the last week and a half, I have been helping with the Smiles program doing creative workshops with primary school kids near the lake. Last week we taught hygene, this week art and next week will be games and sports. The kids are amazingly cute and excited to learn as long as we can keep their attention. They love the Mzungu teachers. We also teach swimming, which many of the kids can't do despite the fact that they cross the lake on canoes daily. I don't really know how to teach swimming, especially to children that don't necessarily speak English, but they are eager to learn and we do our best. It can be quite rewarding actually.
I've learned about the commune as I go, helping to cook, doing laundry and looking after the compound. When I have free time, I take the 45 minute ride into Kabale and run errants, use the internet, and go out for food and drinks with the other volunteers. It is relaxed and social and fun.

Well, that about sums up my adventures to date. I'm going to continue with workshops and swimming lessons until more volunteers arrive min-month, at which point I will probably more on to another program. More news on that as events warrant.

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