Sunday, 22 April 2012

Uganda Diary Day 8: The source of the Nile/"Tea anybody?"

April 11th – Wednesday

First, can I just tell you about the nights here? When I learned we would be coming to a rural area I assumed the nights here would be quiet.  Instead they are filled with the sounds of birds, frogs and bugs all ticking and whistling and chirping and chirruping together. Beyond that is the occasional howling chorus of the village dogs and tonight the sound of a loudspeaker down at the trading centre. As for what I can see, the security lights in the resort are still on but every few seconds the sky to the east is lit up with a phenomenal brightness that can only be distant lightning, too far away down the valley for us to hear the epic thunder that will be accompanying it. Above the stars are bright, if a hazy, but I can only spot one constellation I am familiar with – Orion – and he is bent over on his side like an old man.

We stopped en route to the Nile to check out some waterfalls.  An astonishing volume of water.

Today is our day trip out.  We are going to Jinja to see the source of the Nile where it flows out of Lake Victoria. This is about a two hour drive in our beloved and rickety 70s style minibus. We're actually driving on tarmac for the first time in a week, through some more built up areas. My first thought is that I preferred the village, run down as it is. Looking back from the road you can see how much Kabubbu really is just a junction in the jungle, but it's getting too urban out here for me. I've gotten so used to the water rations, the electricity curfew, and although I'm sure I'll enjoy the luxury when I get back home I feel more than ever that a lot of the things we have in the 'civilised' world are just self indulgent and unnecessary ploys to make money. The things that didn't make much sense to me at home seem almost redundant now – the constant need to urbanise, self-entitlement, materialistic consumerism.

An interesting approach to trucking!

Driving over Nalubaale Hydrodam (prev. Owen Falls Dam)

The drive is good, bar the huge rumble strips that plague the road every 25m when we enter a town and make me fear for my tailbone - they do work though, we definitely slowed down! - I'm used to being noticed and waved at in Kabubbu and I forgot that out here we're like a bunch of bananas in a coal scuttle, and that a mzungu signifies not just a white person but probably a rich person too. Without John, our long-suffering guide, and 'Mr Versace' Godfrey we’d be obvious targets for anyone trying to make a fast buck. (They do this anyway. To get down to the landing station at the Nile costs five times as much for a non-Ugandan as it does for a local, which is still cheap in GBP, but regardless!) John gets out to deal with the armed checkpoint guards and Emma and I joke that he's taking a while. Please give us our John back, Jinja Municipal Council! [They do.]  John's been great; knowledgeable, reliable, grudgingly good natured even when half-asleep. It’s always good to speak to locals yourself when you’re visiting to really get a feel for the place, but without him there’s a lot I think we wouldn’t have picked up on. I think/hope we are less irritating than some of the visitors, but I think he must get bored having people get excited all the time about things that seem very ordinary to him.

We get onto the pontoon that gives us our tour of the Nile and soon realise that our tour guide Simon knows his stuff. As well as the history we also get a nature tour:

• Vervet monkeys
• Pied kingfishers (black and white)
• Woodland kingfisher (neon blue)
• Malachite kingfisher (red and blue)
• Night heron (grey wader)
• Cormorant
• Open-billed stork
• Nile Perch (usually exported to Europe)
• Tilapia (sold to local markets and hotels)
• Sandpiper (small brown wader)
• Golden weaver birds (the ones back at the resort are black-headed weavers)
• Red and electric blue dragonflies
• Sacred Ibis
• White Pelican
• An island hiding cobras and black mambas. Simon casually mentions that they can swim and we probably shouldn't dangle our fingers in the water!

Vervet Monkey parent and baby
Open-billed stork (I think) and something I don't know!
Local fisherman on Lake Victoria

At the source of the Nile: Me, John, Emma, Dave, Mum, Dad, and Steve
For lunch we are treated to fish and chips, which turns out to be an entire Tilapia, head and tail still attached, deep fried and probably caught that morning. It's delicious, and tastes slightly like fish fingers.
On the drive home we stopped so Godfrey can pick up a fish for dinner from a roadside stand. To keep it cool he hangs it from the windscreen wiper on the front of the minibus. Simple, yet effective!

John goes shopping
We gain a passenger
We went back a different route, through plantations of sugar cane, papyrus, and tea. There are tea pickers in the field. I don’t know why but I’d assumed someone had automated the picking process by now, but there they are, tossing leave over their shoulders into the baskets carried on their backs. Seeing this I'm suddenly a vehement supporter of Fairtrade, even moreso than I already have been. This is back-breaking work as it is, but to then deny a person their due wages just to whittle a couple of pence off the price of your teabags is not just ignorant but incredibly selfish. And of course there’s another angle. I’ve not seen any of the villagers in Kabubbu drinking tea; it’s a luxury product and few of them would be able to afford it but in England it’s our staple drink. 
I think of Ruth and the half acre of land which she must now use to feed her entire family, and then I look at the miles and miles of tea bushes. Why is tea being grown here when there are families just an hour down the road struggling to get hold of flour and rice? The answer, simply, is because the landowners will get more money from selling tea to the west than they will selling staple crops to their own neighbours. This isn’t to say that a trader doesn’t have the right to make money, or that we can never drink tea again, but there’s something unsettling about it all.  This isn't a problem I can solve overnight.  I think it's going to stay with me for a while.

The Tea-Pickers
Here's where your cuppa comes from
We continue through the industrial area and it's a bit of a shock, more so than anything I’ve seen in the village this week. We're now having a lesson in manufacturing. Steel, paper, sugar and drugs factories are all passing us by; huge grey warehouses set starkly against the lush green of the rainforest. The dramatic contrast highlights the issue in a way it doesn’t back home. I know much of my life so far has been facilitated by places like this, but it still makes me sad.

By the time we get home my bum is killing me. I swear there is no comfy way to sit anymore, and I've tried them all. I spent the rest of the evening working on the ten posters for Susan. I've asked to be excused from teaching puppets tomorrow so that I might just get them finished as long as the Sharpies hold out on me. Two of them have run out already just from doing the writing. As I retire I can hear the faint boom of distant thunder, regular as a drumbeat. It's moving closer...

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