I dared Mt. Muhavura and she dared me right back.

When I was leaving for Mountain Muhavura last Friday, I wrote a braggy facebook update daring the mountain to become steeper because I felt I needed a proper challenge to help me forget the week I had had. I got a challenge alright. As I write this, I have one cracked fibula and a body that is still bruised from the various ways I had to contort it as I climbed.

Well I wasn't climbing ALL of the time. I lay down on the trail and took pictures of my throbbing legs many, many times.

Well I wasn’t climbing ALL of the time. I lay down on the trail and took pictures of my throbbing legs many, many times.

Have you ever exerted yourself so much that even your elbows sweat? Has your body ever given out so deeply that your mind stops recording your life? This is what happened. Halfway up the mountain, I stopped noticing things. I placed one foot after the other like every zombie in every zombie flick you have seen.

If the journey up takes away all of your energy, the journey down steals your patience. I began to fast-walk, and then slow-jog down the mountain. I had become bored with my pace and also competitive. It gets old, watching person after person overtake you. I also wanted to feel fit.

When my knee cracked back and I heard that pop, I fell down and wailed like a heartbroken actor in a Telenovella.

OK like this, only less dignified.

OK like this, only less dignified.

My poor limb. First, it had been ravaged by the spider mites on my herb patch, making it scar so much that I look like I’m wearing polka dotted stockings, and now I had broken it. Central to my weeping was that I would not be able to dance that night. A trip to a new place is not complete for me if I haven’t jiggled my limbs to its music! I was full of despair. Somehow, I got off the mountain. Somehow, I danced. Somehow, my moves did not make my leg break clean in half.

Yea

Yea

When I got to Kampala, my first stop was a hospital in Ntinda that I have been asked to please not name. The medical insurance I have is tied to that place. With the help of my nkoni, I hobbled up the stairs right into a nightmare. I have never encountered such confusion or rudeness. I should have run right out when I saw that the doctor was wearing a tiny pink dress top leggings and strappy sandals. You guys, I work in Advertising. That is my uniform. When clients see me, they go, Oh! This one must be full of crazy ideas. That is NOT what you want to be thinking about your doctor.

Me on a good day, You would not allow me to treat you.

Me on a good day. Don’t allow any doctor who looks like this to treat you.

Fortunately for me, she didn’t seem to have any ideas at all, good or bad and after 30 minutes of spastic, disinterested and distracted service, I was sent away with diclofenac and instructions to return for a session with the ‘sonographer’. The next day, the receptionist informed me that I would need authorization from my office to see this sonoperson. After two hours, she snappily informed me that my office hadn’t called back with the authorization. Now I know the fault wasn’t hers and reserve a big helping of side-eye for my office admin, but surely she could have let me know an hour earlier. I shook my crutch at them all and limped out of their establishment.

I eventually had my leg scanned at Span in Kisaasi, and although I am sure I left with some damaged cells thanks to being X-rayed on a naked table with no protective clothing over the rest of my body, I was happy with their service. The doctor made me feel like I was going to be OK. To distract me from the painful massage (there was a whole lot of swelling but I have been informed that it was very stupid of him to massage my fractured limb), he called me an athlete and told me stories of how basket ballers sometimes have to have their fibulas sawed entirely off.

I finally hauled my ass to a bone specialist and he’s put me in a leg brace and scared me into using my crutch more diligently, because nti I will never run again if I fool around with the healing of my limb.

I feel like an autobot.

I feel like an autobot.

One bright side is that thanks to the fracture, my body requires for me to take almost three times as many calories per day in order to heal properly. You guys August is going to be gorgeous. Fooooood!

Somebody Please Banish Me to Bule.

Bliss

Bliss

My dream is to travel around the world and write. Because a lifestyle like this will need serious financing, I see myself working a 9-5 job for at least 5 more years.

To stop bands of frustration from forming around my heart and mind, I take every opportunity to play pretend.  I morph into a tourist at least once a day.

As I am leaving home in the morning, I  say Apenyo, you are now a Kenyan college student who’s just checked in at Malaba

or  Apenyo, you are now a rebellious  Batwa (Mutwa?)  teenager who has run away from her home to explore the world.

Too few Ugandans possess a sense of wonder about their country, preferring to dream of vacations in “outside countries”.  Oba we think every centimeter of the world is as gorgeous as our home and so we don’t bother exploring? Fake stuff.

Bule is not really an Island. If you travel long enough in a straight line, the murram road that cuts through shaggy, unpredictable forest will deliver you to the heart of Mukono. This is disappointing to me. I like to imagine Bule as a tiny island, surrounded by waters rich in mukene. In reality it is some kind of peninsula.

The first time I traveled there, it was in the company of a fun but also peevish friend who refused to tell me where we were going; not when we were getting into the Ggaba taxi at Cooper Complex, not when we were whizzing past Kansanga. Not even when he was telling me to board one of the taxi-boats at Ggaba’s landing site did he say “Hey, I know of this island* with gorgeous beaches and that’s where I’m taking you”.

He just became irritated with me for asking.

I am happy that I went with the flow that day because the taxi-boat delivered us to a place whose loveliness hasn’t diminished in all the 3 occasions that I have been there. There is too much to see, to fear, smell and touch.

My irritation with my irritated friend had disappeared!

My irritation with my irritated friend had disappeared!

As the boat approaches Bule’s shore, about a meter way, you hear raucous chirping. It’s rising from a short but sturdy looking tree that’s growing out of the water. The tiny yellow birds that call it home are too many to count. Their nests are identically sized and hang from every available branch!

The moment I noticed that some of the nests were still green as a result of being constructed with fresh twigs, I considered bursting into tears of wonder. Why? Because, come on, how often does one find opportunity to burst into tears of wonder? Green nests and brown nests, green and brown all over the tree with tiny yellow birds flitting from branch to branch, nest to nest and all the while, making shrill contributions to the conversation they are perpetually having.

There are four “beaches” on Bule. Before last weekend, I had only been to Mutoola, so I bless the Boda boda men at the dock for happily educating my partner and I about our options. Really they had nothing to lose. They were going to profit by charging us three times more than they charge people who know their way around the place.

Lagoon Resort, they said, is for bazungu. “It is nice, but if you don’t have money, hmm, you go to the other places. Those are BaGermany.” They were right. The place seems geared towards expats kubanga they charge (heavily) in dollars. It would cost us 200 dollars to spend a night, the receptionist said, and we couldn’t bring any drinks or eats in.

I am an old hand at Bule, so I know that if you don’t carry food from Ggaba, you are likely to starve. Well, unless you can hunt squirrels and bush rats. Most things that you’d like to eat while at the beach come from the mainland and so the hotel people need for you to communicate your intention to eat hours before you arrive. Not even fish will be on hand because there is no electricity to keep stuff fresh. 

We left Lagoon and after a short walk, arrived at the gate of a place called Lakeside Adventure Park.

I won't call it Eden. That will be too much. But it's close.

I won’t call it Eden. That will be too much. But it’s close.

It was deserted. A few minutes’ exploration revealed that Lakeside had an even better ambiance than Lagoon. We were walking around, mouths agape, worrying about how much we would have to pay to spend the night in such a place when we came upon a lean man wearing a yellow shirt and grey pants. He introduced himself to us as Mr. Perfect.

Perfect had a removed, somewhat supercilious manner until we told him that we were looking for a place to spend the night. Perhaps he always has to send stragglers away, who just wander in, looking for a place to picnic without paying the 10,000 entrance fee. However, as people with intentions to spend money there, we didn’t have to pay this fee.

We were happy with what Perfect had to say. It would cost us 40,000 shillings to spend a night in a tent erected a few meters from Lake Nalubaale’s shore. We also had the option of sleeping in the dormitory at 30,000 a head, or making use of the “family house” which is fitted with solar electricity and other amenities, for 150,000 (4 people). We took the tent option.

We had muffins, waragi, a box of fruit juice, pineapples and a kilogram of raw pork. That’s right. Lakeside allows, even encourages patrons to bring their own food in. For 5000, we had the use of their kitchen.

As our tent was being pitched, we explored the climbing courses that occupies a good amount of space on Lakeside’s lawn. They are intricately constructed and I imagine, fascinating to climb.

I hadn’t padded my wallet enough to afford a go (60,000) but I watched some people complete it the next day. Oh the joys of watching a human being overcome terror. It was like witnessing an excruciatingly slow bungee jump; all of the terror with none of the merciful swiftness.

I spent two days lazing about on different surfaces, wearing few to zero clothes, just breathing deep and falling in love with life.

Eating life

Eating life

At one point, we ran out of cash and had to take a boda boda to Mpaata, a shanty town some miles from Lakeside for mobile money. When we arrived, the network was off. We didn’t despair for very long, deciding to do a nature walk instead of panicking.

Bule is one thickass forest, you guys. I swear it is like the set of Land of the lost. It was the most romantic (and amusing) thing watching my partner uproot a long, flexible, reedy plant that he started to use as his staff (and swat-stick). What was it for, I wonder? Protection from snakes and large squirrels?

What had Bule turned him into? Moses of the Bible? George of the Jungle? Both?

I love creeper plants and this place is home to such a variety!  I just want to move there and build a tree-house and make babies.

Not actual babies.

Eventually we got our M-money and carried on pretending that we’d never have to return to Kampala.

Reading boat

This boat became my reading chair.

If you want to travel to Bule, this is what you need to do:

  • Shop. Take a taxi to Ggaba. Walk to the dock and enter a taxi boat. Fare is 1,500/=

  • If you don’t want to be sweated on by other passengers (these boats get PACKED), take a “special hire” one. This will cost you anything from 15 bob to 6 bob. Bargain in Luganda.

  • Don’t be just staring at your smartphone like an idiot when in the boat. You will miss the special tree with the special nests!

  • Remember the names of the beaches. I totally, 100% recommend Lakeside. No they haven’t paid me to do kalango. They should, right? Ha

  •  Don’t allow the boda to charge you more than 2000/=. Go forth and enjoy.

  • Take the climbing course at Lakeside. Terror is good for personal growth. Climb, jump, zip, duck, use your body. Turn some of the bacon fat around your heart into energy.

  • Take pictures! I didn’t take very many, but here’s hoping that my words painted a good enough picture.

  • Go explore Bule and tell people about it because because a place like that should not be a secret

Update: Forget my sad pictures. These people have a fantastic gallery

My next big adventure is a two day trip to Murchison Falls with a truly great tour company called Sabili Tours. Come and we go :D!


The end

A good Ugandan is a dead one, apparently/ We goooo!

In this society, we openly discuss other people in two instances; when we’re gossiping about them and when they’re dead. It is as rare as chicken teeth that you’ll find two or three gathered, extolling the virtues or achievements of somebody else when they have nothing to gain from doing so. It is only when our propensity to envy is numbed by their deaths that we start to sing about other peoples’ good deeds. Phrases like ‘true Ugandan’ and ‘builder of the nation’ float from mouth to mouth like dust bunnies.

I know some great people doing phenomenal things, people who I’d like to be when I finally grow up and I’m going to start writing about them here. One of them is a fellow called Ganzi. He’s not dead and is doing something that I very much admire.

When was it that we were taught about the ‘tourist sites’ of Uganda? Primary three, right? And how long did you retain that information? I’m willing to bet that you forgot all of it as soon as you’d finished writing that SST paper. Ganzi is a dreamer, pushing paper in a corporate office to make ends meet, like so many other young people. Unlike the rest of us, he’s a doer as well.

A product of middle class upbringing, he’d been conditioned to believe that tourists were the white ladies and dudes in the short shorts and sapatus, traversing the streets of Kampala with large cameras dangling from their necks. He didn’t know many Ugandans who traveled around the country for anything other than work and when he looked into what exactly was drawing people into Uganda,it didn’t take him long to assemble a list of places he’d visit if he could afford to do so.

He conceived of a dream to start and run the biggest travel agency in Kampala, one whose emphasis would be on getting as many young Ugandans to explore Uganda as he could. But he had (and still has) a problem.
When Ugandans talk about going on holiday or honeymoon, they speak dreamily of Mombasa( the poor ones) or places like The Maldives (the rich ones). There is little or no talk of Jinja or Moyo or Mbale or Mpigi. And this is not because these places are boring or ugly. Laziness and bias has closed our eyes to the loveliness around us.

I’m here pointing fingers at you, but I too am one of the people who only pose on social media when I’m travelling out of the country. I even write long, glowing articles about the trips and badger editors into printing them. Terrible.
Can we please take a moment to appreciate just how insanely rich and beautiful this country is? And can we, together, make the decision to pull some of our monies out of bars and boutiques and inject them into our tourism industry?

Spend some of your annual leave jumping off a ledge

uganda-bungee

or watching gorillas mate

Or just hugging

Or…hug?

or staring slack jawed at the view from one of the mountains around lake Bunyonyi.

bunyonyi beauty

Go boil your breakfast in a hot spring

boil eggs

and spend the night under Gulu’s night sky.

Way better than this

Way better than this

Do something constructive with your life and money. Find people like Ganzi and pay them to organize trips for you.

Ganzi is a good Ugandan and a builder of the nation. What are you?

P.s: He’s the man behind this TRIP. Come and we go.

Then he died. A play (mbu).

Taxis are great for ideas. There’s something about humanity crushing in on you from all sides that makes your brain bubble over with them. Most of the stuff you read on this blog has been conceived in a matatu or on a boda, including the “Play” below.

Then he died.

Scene one (and only)

The room is small, dark and empty save for a plastic chair and a fraying settee. On the chair is a person of ambiguous gender wearing a doctor’s coat with the words Dr. Kyrte scrawled on its collar. A few meters across from him/her is a man trying to occupy as little space on the settee as possible. His name is Bo.

Dr. Kyrte:  Speak.

Bo: I can’t understand why he did it…I mean, I could have forgiven loud sniffing, taking up more leg space than he was entitled to…even aimless conversation, I would have tolerated. But dying! What I could have done to make him so angry that he decided to die on me?

Dr. Kyrte: Start from the beginning, Bo. As you never fail to remind me, you’re paying for this time.

Bo: That’s right, Doctor Kyrt. I am.

Dr. Kyrte: Kyrt-E. So what died and where?

Bo: Two days ago, I woke up at what must have been 7am although it could have been 9 or 10.

Dr. Kyrte: Right.

Bo: I had a cup of porridge, burnt, because my maid is a hater. I don’t understand why he couldn’t have done the social equivalent of burning porridge! Clearly, he found the experience of sitting next to me very unpleasant. (blows nose loudly)

Dr. Kyrte: Did any dying occur before you left home?

Bo: No.

Dr. Kyrte: As I never fail to remind you Bo, the only minutes I am willing to spend in your company are the ones you pay for.

Bo: You’re so unkind. I walked up to the taxi stage, arrived winded, waved a taxi down, sat on the chair next to the driver and greeted him. When he didn’t respond, I got out, waited for somebody else to occupy the seat next to him and sat on the big chair near the door.

Dr. Kyrte: Go on. Starts to shoot saliva through the gaps between his/her teeth

Bo: The taxi began to move. Could you …not do that? The guy who’d occupied the seat next the driver…he died.

Dr. Kyrte: Died?

Bo: Yes.

Dr. Kyrte: How?

Bo: He just groaned a bit and died. His corpse then slid onto my lap.

Dr. Kyrte: How didthat make you feel?

Bo: Hateful but triumphant. He must have been spiteful because I’d made him sit on the small chair.

Dr. Kyrte: What happened after that?

Bo: Nothing. I didn’t want to alarm the driver with news that a man had just died in his taxi. That could have led to an accident.

Dr. Kyrte: Good thinking.

Bo: I waited until we reached my stop and then announced loudly that a man had died. The taxi must have been full of blind idiots because they all exclaimed mbu “where?!”.

Dr. Kyrte: Seems like a valid question to me.

Bo: Which is why I’m getting a real shrink the moment I can afford it. At this point, I was tired and late for work so I pushed the guy off my lap, jumped out of the taxi and bolted.

Dr. Kyrte: Had you paid your fare?

Bo: No. Oh. That’s probably why they chased me. And lynched me.

Dr. Kyrte: Yea. Probably.

Bo: Yea.

Dr. Kyrte: Yea.

Bo: OK bye.

Dr. Kyrte: Till next time.

So, what’s with that accent?

Swerncing is the act of sounding silly as you speak in an accent that your tongue just can’t be bothered with. Hello becomes helllorr, Stella becomes Stellarrr, go out becomes gorout.

Research shows that the moment the average Ugandan breathes in exhaust fumes of a place outside Uganda, even if it’s just Kenya, they’ll comeback swerncing, and more intensely if they’ve been to America or Europe (places associated with milk, honey and everything nice). A muzungu saying gyibarley nyabul is also a kind of swerncery, but of a more amusing variety.

English speaking Ugandans spend a lot of time analyzing, ridiculing, laughing at; generally being concerned with accents. You know a gossip session has risen on the scale of hatefulness when somebody says something like, “the way that heifer overuses ‘r’ to mbu Americanize her accent makes my ears vomit a little whenever she speaks”.

They’ve also made advertising agencies in Uganda rich. Whatever laughs can be squeezed out of Acholi and Luganda and Runyakitara accents have been collected and turned into money and now enough is enough. We shouldn’t even be reinforcing these differences in the minds of people, especially not in a country that’s a hop and a wiggle away from civil war on sectarian grounds. People don’t dig each other enough.

There are many reasons a person may swernce at any given moment, some more acceptable than others.

First of all, people are impressionable and even a little exposure to a different way of speaking can affect the way they’ll sound when they next speak. If you have friends with kiwi accents, you need to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for the time your words curl unexpectedly. You will likely be telling a riveting story; all your friends will be nodding appreciatively, giggling in all the right places when BAH! your next sentence will come out in a strange accent and shame you.

People swernce to be ‘professional’, especially on radio. Most presenters sound like they’ve got a fungal infection in their mouth, which makes it impossible for us to hear what they are saying and is responsible for the recent trend of people flinging their radios across the room.

Really don't.

There’s also travelers swencery that happens to people who leave the country for long while. In a few months, the accents they’ve had their entire lives disappear completely. When they come back home, they never really change back. This swencery is slightly more acceptable because they’ve earned it by having lived in an environment where they were required to blend in if they wanted to escape the attentions of xenophobes. As long as they sound authentic, I reserve my resentment.

It’s those ones that leave for 48 hours and come back speaking like an American who has had all their teeth removed that irritate me. What are they saying? That they’d rather sound like a toothless person than sound like me? Shya. Those ones I dislike openly. If you insist on coming home with an accent, practice until you sound more like Denzel and less like you’re gurgling bile because while it is your constitutional right to speak funny, it is our constitutional right to say mean things behind your back.