Tuesday, February 7, 2012

3 Weeks in a Nutshell

Hi Everybody! Hope you are all doing well! I wanted to share about the last three weeks for us here in Uganda. If you missed my earlier post, feel free to check out the significantly less wordy account of our trip - pictures! But, if you are okay with a potentially largeish nutshell version of the last month or so, read on!

Our first visitors - my mom and dad - arrived in Uganda on January 17. We had been looking forward to their visit for months, and were so excited that they were finally going to be in Uganda with us! They arrived without much trouble, and actually flew to Uganda with the sister of another PCV.

It’s hard to describe the emotions of seeing family for the first time after almost a year! We waited with so much excitement to see them come out of customs and as they walked through we all just ran towards each other and hugged and cried and hugged some more! It was really amazing! We were just so overjoyed to be together and know we’d be spending the next two weeks in the same country!

After the initial excitement of having them here (I think we were up until after 2 the first night!), we spent some time relaxing and catching up in Entebbe, then headed out on our first adventure - Murchison Falls National Park. We had hired a private car and driver/guide to try to make transport a bit simpler, ensure safe travel of all of our luggage, and try to cut down on Mom’s chances of getting car sick. It seemed like such a good idea....Long story short, we had a flat tire, breakdown in the middle of the game park, drove off the road in an attack of tsetse flies, and spent the entire trip back to Kampala going about half the speed of the cars flying by us. In the middle of the ride back, our driver calmly pulled over, walked behind the car, dialed a number on his cell phone, and started yelling (literally!) at the guy on the other end. It went something like this: “You STUPID man, STUPID!!! You sold us a FAKE CAR! Why have you sold us a FAKE CAR?! You STUPID, STUPID man...” And on and on....On top of all of that, it was dry season and dusty was everywhere! The car, luggage, and every inch of our skin and clothes were absolutely covered in dirt! I honestly don’t know if I have ever been so dirty!!! Luckily we all found the adventure more funny than frustrating, and everyone had a good attitude about it!

When we weren’t busy dealing with car trouble, our time in the park was great! Murchison is a huge park with lots and lots of the classic safari animals. We managed to see most of them! We started with a boat trip on the Nile, headed towards the base of the Murchison Falls. Along the way we saw tons of birds, crocodiles, hippos, Ugandan kob, bushbuck, waterbuck, colobus monkeys, baboons, warthogs, buffalos, and my favorite - elephants!!! We had some incredible moments along the boat ride - crocodiles suddenly charging our boat, birds in the hundreds taking off in flight, and an elephant who had waded out to the middle of the river and walked back to the other side just yards from our boat. He was very old, and very huge and totally breathtaking!

The boat tour took us to the base of the falls, which was a great view. Then, we headed back downstream to the dock, seeing many of the animals again along the way. It was a truly unforgettable ride. Disney Jungle Cruise - you’ve got nothing on us!!

In the evening we headed out on ridiculous roads to see the top of Murchison Falls. The roads in the park are so bad it honestly feels like you’re on a really poorly done simulator! I kid you not. Thank God for 4 wheel drive! Anyhow, the top of the falls were really spectacular! Standing on the top and looking out, you get soaked by the spary and the power of all that water is truly amazing! Pictures don’t do it justice! But, we enjoyed the view as the sun set over the park.

We spent the night at a rest camp overlooking the river and woke up in the middle of the night to the sounds of hippos crunching the grass outside our bandas. We had a short night in order to start the game drive early the next day.

Our game drive was good, though probably not the highlight of the park for any of us! (The boat trip was a hard act to follow!) We were able to see a gorgeous sunrise, giraffe, warthog, baboons, lots of deerish animals, and even two young lions. Although we didn’t get a great view of the lions, it was super interesting to watch all of the animals react as they knew that they were on the prowl! After we’d seen what we could, we made the long trip back south!

Back in Bushenyi, Mom and Dad enjoyed seeing where we live, meeting our friends, neighbors, and coworkers, walking to town and around our village, doing their wash by hand, and cooking peace corps style! We also played lots of games and of course talked and talked and talked! Mom and Dad also gave us an enormous stocking full of belated Christmas gifts each day - calling it the 12 days of Christmas! They were so generous in restocking our supply of American toiletries and giving us so many incredible, practical, and fun gifts - pam cooking spray, chocolate chips, American sweets, new clothes, yoga mats, puppets to play with the kiddos, etc. It made for a wonderfully festive belated Christmas celebration!

While in Bushenyi we also had the chance to track Chimpanzees in the nearby Kalinzu Forest Reserve, and visit a neat lodge on the escarpment overlooking Queen Elizabeth National Park. Chimp tracking was a crazy adventure. We hiked (and hacked) our way through an incredibly dense rainforest and were able to see chimpanzees, three different monkey species, and lots of really interesting plants. It was a national geographic worthy day!

Last but not least, we had the opportunity to head to Rwanda and spend a weekend in Kigali. Mom and Dad got the authentic public transport experience on this trip - overcrowding, delays, breakdowns, and even (almost) fistfights! One of the funniest public transport moments of the trip was when we had 10 people in a car the size of a Toyota Camry. All four of us and one (lucky) Ugandan were crammed into the backseat of the car. The driver was trying to get the door shut and just kept slamming it into Dad’s hip. The Ugandan tries to grab Dad around the shoulders and pull him in, the driver is shoving him from the outside with all his might, and Dad just can’t stop giggling! We all laughed a lot, and I had to try to explain to the four passengers sharing the front seats that we don’t really travel like this in America!!!

But, Rwanda was lovely - so clean and organized! We were able to stay with a relative in Kigali who was lived there as a missionary for the last 26 years! He experienced the genocide there in 1994, as well as the aftermath that followed, and was able to share many really interesting perspectives and experiences, having been in Rwanda (and East Africa) for such a long time. While in Rwanda we were also able to see the Hotel Des Milles Collines (the hotel from Hotel Rwanda), and a really beautiful, but really sobering genocide memorial. It was a really great trip - fun, interesting, and poignant too.

Then, last Thursday we sent Mom and Dad off again. They insisted on braving public transport alone (earning major kudos from our Peace Corps friends!) and flew out later in the evening. The time flew by, but we really loved every minute and are so thankful for the time we were able to spend with family.

Now...back to reality! Although the term technically started yesterday, our returning students are waiting for their exams to be marked (exams they took in November), and as such are not back yet. Since the government won’t pay for students to repeat a year at the PTC, they must first know whether or not they passed year one in order to determine if they should come back to school. So, they’re scattered all around, listening to the radio, and we hope that they will be here before too much time has passed!

We’ve been joining the staff for beginning of term meetings (3 days of meetings, to be precise) and been reminded of some of the frustrations of service that we managed to ignore for the last couple of months - poor timekeeping, low attendance, and a very different style of “running” a meeting. But, we are excited for the term and year to come. We have lots of new ideas and big plans, and we will be sure to keep the blog posted as the term goes on!

For now, thanks so much for reading! Thanks for your thoughts and prayers, and know that we love and miss you all very much!

Much love,


PS - February 11 marks the anniversary of our arrival in Uganda and the end of our first year as PCVs! We can’t believe it’s already been an entire year!!!

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