My activities in Uganda are pretty routine and are punctuated by periodic travel 4-6 hours from Bwindi where I experience new things, and see beautiful vistas and people.
My day begins near the Impenetrable Forest. I stay in a one-room cabin built for Scott and Carol Kellermann years ago. I awake around 6 a.m. to familiar music on the iPad. When I step outside on the deck facing the forest to get to the sink and toilet, I often see Venus rising over the hill. It’s always beautiful, just like when I see it rise over the Sierra foothills at home. Time to sh*t-shower-shave (not necessarily in that order) and head down for breakfast.
Getting here to there
When I arrived in March, I would call for a boda boda (motorbike) to pick me and take me the 2k or so down to the Guest House for my morning meal. In the past six weeks weeks, though, I have rented a bicycle and have ridden the mostly downhill road to get there. As you can imagine, it is quite a spectacle at 7:10 a.m. for local Ugandans to see and hear a muzungu cyclist riding by. Most are on foot heading to school, work or home. I make a point to holler a greeting (“Agandi, sebo…agandi, nyabo…orrirota) of hello or good morning to each sir or ma’am I encounter. The responses are loud and true as many now recognize me, though some mumble as I pass.
By about 7:20 I am at the GH, where I park the bike and head to the nearby hospital for a quick fix of wifi to catch up with overnight email, if any, and maybe an NBA or MLB score. Last year we had pretty good wifi at the GH but it has been out of service pretty much since I arrived so we improvise. After about 10 minutes I return for breakfast. It starts with a plate of fruit: slice of pineapple, watermelon and a banana. Then Moses or Evelyn will come by to take our order for eggs. Fried, scrambled or Spanish Omelette are our choices. Paul and Barbara a couple of Episcopal missionaries, are at the table going through the same routine as I just described. They live next door to me up near the forest.
Lately there have been a number of other volunteers and guests who are staying at the GH. It is nice to meet people coming and going through Bwindi. They may stay for a couple of days, or longer; trek with the gorillas, and eat the three squares that we get. In addition to the eggs, we often get enkumba, a delicious hot, chocolate brown, millet porridge. I was introduced to it by Bishop Kayeeye while staying with him in Kabale. Very nutritious. When we’re out of that, we sometimes get what we call “muzungu porridge,” which is like oatmeal and, like me, very white.
I hurry through breakfast to get down to the hospital for morning devotions at 8 a.m. It is the one meeting at the Bwindi Community Hospital (BCH) that begins on time. Staff and patients assemble outside the outpatient clinic. There are drums and singing as we worship to begin the day. After a song and a prayer, someone will stand and deliver a homily of 7-12 minutes or so. I spoke yesterday for the third time this year. I introduce myself in local Rukiga language, try to add a few new phrases to show friends and others that I’m learning more and more, then revert to English the rest of the way. Most of the speakers preach in English though a few will talk in Rukiga. Fine by me. The word of God is accessible to all in any language.
There is a concept here we call “African time” which refers to the incessant time slippage of appointments, events, etc. A meeting scheduled for 10 a.m. may not begin before 10:30 as people arrive slowly. This happens throughout the day and is frustrating for some westerners, like me. After a while, though, I breath deep and remember “TIA…” this is Africa. Deal with it, Hill.
Fun with Rukiga
After devotions, around 8:30 a.m., staff leaves for work stations or medical wards. The communications team heads upstairs to the office. I follow them in, where I hold court for a while, practicing some Rukiga, reviving decades-old jokes to a new audience.
By 9 a.m. I head next door to the IT lab where I charge my devices and review video for about two hours. Then it’s time to move. Most days I’ll head back to the GH where I pick up my bike and ride uphill to the Batwa Development Program (BDP) offices. There I will hold court once again, practicing my Primary-2-level Rukiga with doctorate-level speakers. It is a lot of fun as they grill me and put me through my paces. Surviving that, I go find Joel, my irrepressible friend and Rukiga teacher. We try to be serious about learning the language. Most time I will give him a phrase to translate for me so I can add it to my Notepad on my iPhone and drop it on some unsuspecting citizen. It’s working pretty well. I’ve spoken extended Rukiga at morning devotions before hospital staff in Bwindi and Ft. Portal. I introduced myself in Rukiga on a radio program broadcast to five African nations from Kabale, and wowed the crowd following a baptism at a local church.
By 1:30 p.m., it’s time for lunch and I’ll announce to anyone who will listen, in the office or on the street: Ninkuza aha Mokeye House curya shamushana! (I am going to Monkey House to have lunch!)
After lunch I may spend the afternoon up top at the BDP for good, unrestricted Internet or return to BCH and the communications office. As evening approaches, the communications team of Aida, Josline and now Kayla from Bakersfield, CA, will decide whether to go to the gorilla lodges in the evening to visit with trekkers, tourists who could be potential visitors and donors. I tag along once a week or so. These are beautiful resorts located near the impoverished homesites in Bwindi. While there we can relax, have a soda or a beer, enjoy the surroundings. On Tuesdays I usually stay after work to join others in a Bible study class (currently, Acts).
Dinner is not before 7 p.m. Afterwards, I hire a boda to drive me in total darkness to my house where I wind down, meet with the night watchmen, show them my knowledge of the stars above, when clear. On moonlit nights, the sky is so dark, the stars so many. Then I retire to rest before another day in Africa.
I love being here with these wonderful people very much.