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African Tales

UGANDA | Monday, 28 August 2006 | Views [1430] | Comments [1]

AFRICAN TALES - E-mails from our trip to Africa

1 African Tangles
After surviving 18+hours flying time compounded by jet lag we have spent a lot of time in the tangle of Ugandan traffic. We are very pleased we did not decide to drive ourselves.
Highlights have included:
walk through Mabirra Forest with 218 varieties of butterflies;
eating bananas (including Gunzu, a local roadside snack of charcoal roasted bananas);
gin and tonic on the verandah as the sun was setting over the Nile (at its source) as giant ugly Maribou storks settled in the tree tops;
being woken up by the loud croaking sounds of bull frogs in the garden below;
Ugandan people (generalizing) are laid back, friendly, courteous, educated and with brilliant white teeth;

Overall Uganda is a surprise; the poverty makes South Africa look like paradise.
The drive from Entebbe through Kampala to Jinja was a mind boggling panorama of human activity - people fetching water, shops selling anything and everything imaginable, children carrying babies, garbage, bicycles, minibuses and smile and waves to the Muzungu (white people.) It appears chaotic - a real tangle but everything kind of works itself out. We are both well and enjoying the real experience.
Love, Susan and Peter

2 African Tables
The kaleidoscope of sights, smells and sounds of Africa continues - filling the mind and heart - challenging one's ideas about a range of issues. Many of these experiences come from sitting around tables in varying circumstances.
The 1st of these was in Kampala. On the Monday we did the tourist thing - went to the museum, King's burial place/palace and the Bahai temple. We had lunch at 1 of the many roadside cafes - a small rickety table - where muzungus (whites) would rarely eat. We ate African food, maize stew, ground nut sauces. Susan was honoured with the fish head with her rice. Dinner that night was at a French bistro - quite different.
The road from Kampala to fort Portal (300 Km) was excellent (built by Yugoslavs in 1980 just before the country collapsed). We had a brief stop in a town for the ultimate in fast food. At least 20 children/teens rush up to the car with all sorts of food clamoring for attention. We had chapatis and gonzu (roasted banana).
The guesthouse is nestled in a valley with a view of the Ruwenzori Mtns - very comfortable and friendly. Meals occur around a large table where everyone from all parts of the world share ideas, experiences and sometimes a heated discussion - usually about solving the problems of Africa. The food is delicious- soups, fresh organic vegies and salads; meat, fish and dessert. Yesterday we had a wild trip to the other side of the Ruwenzori Mtns to visit a small village on the Equator and Congo border that has formed a farmers' cooperative using micro finance. Very interesting but that is another email. We drove through a fantastic African thunderstorm on the way home.
We are both well.
Peter and Susan xxx

3 African Triumph
If you can recall a stressful time in your life when you were living 1 day at a time - 1 step at a time. This is the reality for most Ugandans all the time. There is so much poverty, unemployment, diseases (malaria, HIV), history of conflict and of being let down by politicians and donor groups that life is a real and constant struggle. The legacy of conflicts and of Idi Amin's regime means that industrial activity is still limited, there is a lack of infrastructure, hospitals and rural health clinics are struggling, the roads are full of potholes, utilities are not maintained properly, (power/electricity is on for 24 hrs and off for the next 24hrs).
In the wealthy west we rush to support an aid agency/donor group but the experience for Ugandans of donor groups is often negative. Sponsoring an individual child to get an education in a village often ignores the context of the local community and has a negative domino effect on others living in poverty in the same village. Donor groups are also accused of spending their money on expensive consultants and 4 wheel drives (yes even Oxfam) or workshops in highly priced hotels where 2 night's accommodation is more than a family’s annual income in a rural village. They often create a donor dependency or else withdraw finance from a project as quickly as it was allocated without proper skills training or follow up to make the project successful.
There is also a story about education, about industrial working conditions, about the relationship to people of Indian background, about clans and different tribal groups, pop.growth (third largest in the world), About corruption, and child headed families and about the culture Uganda has developed out of their dire and unpredictable past.

But there is hope and there is a story of triumph over the odds. There are poor villages where Ugandans have formed co-operatives through micro-finance, (a small loan of sometimes as little as Au$45 for6 months to buy seeds, tools, or a 2nd hand sewing machine) and through the co-op are gradually gaining control of their own affairs and reducing poverty in the local community. But even here there are still huge challenges particularly in the form of trade barriers. The small coffee farmer in the co-op struggles to compete with the big companies and overcome the barriers to accessing wealthy markets. The West can help by calling for the lifting of trade barriers on African countries.
There is triumph in the Ugandan generosity to others and in their free-will given friendship, their spirit and humour. There are angels in Uganda - people who are highly committed to the country's transformation. Despite the dire poverty, there is very little crime or begging in Uganda. One of the highlights for us is to be able to walk through a busy and chaotic market in Kampala and know you are probably safer than in Hindley St. in Adelaide or in most places in Sth Africa.
Love Susan and Peter

4 African Tracks
We have been to areas of Uganda without power/computers for the last week or
so. These tales may be out of sync or delayed and no 3 is still coming. Here are a few tracks we have made. We climbed the Ruwenzori Mtns closest to Fort Portal. Very steep in parts. About half way up we went into a small grass hut belonging to a sangoma (witch doctor). After some singing and dancing and from the way the sticks floated in the "water of the gods" he divined our time in Uganda would be good for us and blessed us for a safe journey. After a hard climb further up into the Mtns. we visited a traditional blacksmith. He used recycled metal to make knives and farming tools of all sizes. The scenery was spectacular.
Another track took us to Semuliki Nat. Park - a jungle close to the Congo border - with monkeys crashing in the canopy overhead we walked to the hot springs bubbling out of the earth. Our guide cooked us lunch (eggs, potatoes, matoke - cooked bananas)in the hot springs. Another track took us to the Kibale Forest - famous for its chimps. We saw 6 of the 9 primates within an hour including a group of chimps, mainly mother and babies. We are continuing to enjoy the generous hospitality of the locals and our host Maurice who runs the guest house and scrumptious food and conversation continues. Off to Bwera on the Congo border and Queen Elizabeth Nat.Park for a few days.
Love Susan and Peter

PS thanks Jill and others for the news

5. African Towels
Picture a dusty frontier town in the Wild West or something out of an old
Humphrey Bogart movie and then you can get a picture of the town of Bwera 2 kms from the Congo border. We are staying at the Safari Park Hotel (Yes, the local 'Saloon Bar'). No electricity, only cold water and nylon /polyester towel that wouldn't dry you in an Australian drought. We managed to secure the VIP suite for 24000 UGS ($18.00 per night) for 3 nights.....it was very basic.
While in Bwera we took part in a 3 day cultural/civil society fair with 500 Ugandan participants. We even met and shook hands with the Ugandan Minister for Defence!
We visited Hillside Secondary School nearby that caters for local kids in poverty. We didn't realize how much we take for granted in Australia. A school with no electricity, no running water, dirt floors, one shelf of books (old text books we would have put in the waste bin back in the 70's)- this was the library. The school has 200 + students, no discipline problems and teachers are paid a pittance ($28.00 per fortnight). A place well deserving of donations and support. Unfortunately there are 100's of schools like this in Uganda and thousands in Africa. The problem is overwhelming. We managed to team up with 3 Belgians working in Uganda and made a brief foray across the border into the Congo. There was a huge market just across the border from Bwera and we negotiated with the Ugandan police in their bamboo border post, who took our names and escorted us across the border. The crossing was something out of a movie - we bypassed long queue of heavily laden vehicles and bicycles that looked like refugees from a conflict zone.
We crossed a tiny bridge that was the border and then were allowed to roam the market for an hour as long as we didn't take photos. We saw a lot of nylon/polyester towels for sale. We bought some lovely cotton textiles and returned to Uganda, tipping the Ugandan policeman a mere $3.50, he farewelled us with a smile - not sure whether it was for the tip or from relief at returning the muzungos safely back to Uganda
Love, Peter and Susan
PS Paris - great that you are settling well into your new school Hi Olive/mum - enjoy your stay in Canberra

6. African Tails
After Bwera, we spent 3 days on the floor of the western section of the African Rift Valley - a warm humid place with lakes, forest, savannah and lots of animals.
Richard from Kabarole Tours and his son Sam (14) were our companions on this trip.
Our first stop was at Mweya Camp in Queen Elizabeth Nat Park. A group of
Warthogs came grazing 3 m's from the door to our room soon after we unpacked. They must be one of the ugliest creatures on earth, but Susan reckons their eyelashes and swishing tails are cute.
On a boat trip in the channel between Lake George and Lake Edward, we saw Hippos by the hundreds - swimming and sunning themselves; Nile crocodiles, Hyena, Buffalo, Antelope and many varieties of birds. The following morning we traveled south to Ishasha along one of the worst roads we have ever been on - it took 3 hours to travel 42 kms.
The camp was on a small meandering river that formed the border with the Congo (again). We stayed in a Banda (a round hut with a grass roof) - basic but comfortable. Washing was from a plastic bowl with water from a nearby borehole pump.
We saw many more animals including a female lion climbing a tree, hippos quite close, elephant, herds of antelope and more Warthogs with their antenna tails. We also found ourselves about 3 metres from a large male lion sitting regally in a sphinx-like position staring into the distance over our shoulders. The only evidence that he registered our presence was the slight irritation in the swishing of his tail.
On the 14 Sept. we had an interesting experience when we caught a very full local bus (roosters, bunches of bananas and all) from Fort Portal to Kampala (4 hours) and then on to Entebbe (another hour).
It is sad leaving Uganda - it has certainly been an interesting experience. Tomorrow (Sunday) we travel with Felicity and Basil on another bus from Johannesburg to Maputo in Mozambique. We'll be there for the rest of the week. We wonder what Mozambique and South Africa has in store for us?

Peter and Susan

7. African Tootle
What was a surprisingly pleasant 10 hour bus tootle from Johannesburg became intriguing after a thorough search through all the passengers' luggage at the Mozambique border as well as the bus being stopped by police 3 times before we got to Maputo (there was something afoot but we will never know). In an eerie similarity to East Timor, Mozambique achieved independence in 1975 after lengthy resistance by Frelimo to the Portuguese colonial government. (In fact this Monday 25 September is a public holiday in Mozambique to celebrate the beginning of the armed struggle.) The subsequent 15 year battle with apartheid S. African backed rebel group has left the country and its economy ravaged and rural areas riddled with land mines. Maputo, the capital, is however unique in Africa. There is a feeling that transformation is happening here - there is a huge challenge but the potential is there. It could be the Riviera of Africa in the future. It remains one of the worlds poorest countries.
Maputo is more organized than Kampala and has a great Portuguese/Mediterranean/European ambience. Some of the architecture is truly fascinating - from Art Deco houses, to the magnificent railway station of a bygone era (designed by the architect of the Eiffel tower). Also the Iron House, made entirely of iron, for a past governor (C19th), but never used - too hot! There are wide tree-lined streets (boulevards), parks and a great market that partly resembles Adelaide Central Market 40 years ago. One could explore Maputo by street names alone viz. Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Ho chi Minh, Salvadore Allende, Olaf Palme, Guerra Popular and lots more. We have felt reasonably safe here, a few street hawkers hassling us (probably worse in Bali) but no big deal.
We tootled off by ferry (hour and half) to Inhaca Island for 3 nights.
Mozambique is famous for its seafood (prawns, crayfish, and calamari) and cashew nuts. On the island and in Maputo we enjoyed huge platters of scrumptious seafood (usually grilled with garlic, lemon) washed down with the local 2M beer, at prices we would only dream of in Oz. While on Inhaca island we also took a local boat to the nearby Portuguese Island. We took a lazy stroll around the sun-drenched island (about 6 KMs), with it's palm trees and white sand, collecting shells - shells that you can only buy in souvenir shops these days.
On Monday we leave Johannesburg and begin our grand S African tootle in our
Toyota Yaris hired car.

Susan & Peter

8 African Tapestry
You know you're in South Africa when you are driving 20KM over the 80KM speed limit and the elderly man driving behind you is impatient to overtake. Overall the signposting and quality of S. African roads are good. We celebrated S. Africa's Heritage Day at the "Cradle of Humankind' near
Pretoria (now called Tshwane). This is a huge modern museum at the archaeological site of fossils of the first humans. There was a range of cultural activities, hundreds of people, many in their traditional dress - young people, old people from all groups - a tapestry of the new S. Africa.
We have spent some time in a town called Clarens in an area called The Golden Gate. When we arrived we thought we had taken a wrong turn and were in Bright or Halls Gap in Victoria. A pretty town with coffee shops, craft and art galleries and surrounded by the magnificent Maluti Mtns. Largely unknown outside S. Africa, this is a spectacular place with high mountains and a picture postcard (or tapestry) whichever way you turn. For a bit of exercise we climbed a part of the Drakensburg Mtns. - a 4 hour round trip - up a steep often rocky path - with precipitous sides. Again spectacular scenery - Susan had to be encouraged across one part of the path, high above a valley, which had fallen in. Scary but she did it!
On Thursday we crossed yet another a border - this time into Lesotho. This mountain kingdom has a population of 2 million people, and like many countries in Africa is very poor. Up to 80% of the males work in neighbouring S. Africa to support the family income. A very steep 200KM drive up and over the Maluti Mtns. makes the Alpine Way in Australia feel like drive to the local supermarket. Hairpin bends on a road full of rock falls and piles of snow when we reached the top.
When we arrived back at the guesthouse in Clarens (S. Africa) we discovered we had a flat tyre. We were pleased that this was the worst thing that had happened.
Uganda, Congo Republic, Mozambique, Lesotho and S. Africa - a truly African tapestry.
We are both well and on Monday begin our slow drive down toward Knysna and
Cape Town.
Love to you all,
Susan and Peter

8. African Tether
South Africa is blessed with spectacular landscape - mountains, rivers, great beaches, flora and animals. Much of it unknown to the rest of the world. Over the last few weeks we have been enjoying the best of it.

We had a bit of excitement as we were leaving the small isolated town of Port St Johns on the Wild Coast. It had been raining heavily all night and as we were beginning our journey south, a cliff face adjacent to the road gave way with 2 large rocks slamming into the side of the car. Fortunately we were OK and our hire car was insured. We swapped it for another in East London.

Traveling in South Africa is again an opportunity for deep reflection and debate. While on one hand the landscape is beautiful, it is also an experience in 2 worlds.
One world is the elite, rich, privileged life for the majority of whites - and they have got richer since the change of government - large luxurious mansions/shopping malls etc, expensive cars (BMW, Mercedes, Alfas etc.
Wealth is flaunted - almost a statement of hegemony.
The other world of the black population is largely one of poverty and second class citizens. Unemployment has increased significantly since 1994. There has been an improvement in housing - there are still very basic shacks and even the new brick/concrete house are small and massed together - all look the same and are massed together on the edge of towns.
But it is a complex issue........
It is not called apartheid anymore, but it still exists. White South
Africans were given an opportunity to change with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission but it appears for the majority of whites the olive branch was emphatically rejected. It's a country and culture, for the most part, tethered to the past. One wonders when it will truly break free.

(Note: these opinions are those of the authors and not necessarily any one else’s)
Susan and Peter

9. African Treasures
Dear everyone,
Having done lots of driving, we have concluded that the driving behaviour of most S. Africans is scary and irresponsible. Remember that elderly person that we spoke about in our earlier e-mail trying to overtake? We now have another driver tail-gating us, trying to overtake at 120 KMs per hour on a double white line while talking on their mobile phone.
We have spent the last week in the most stunning landscape including beautiful beaches, lots of wild flowers, lofty mountains and valleys - we have lost count of the number of mountain passes we have driven over and through (avoiding rock fall areas where we can!).
The Cape including the Garden Route is a truly beautiful part of S. Africa.
We spent some time in Knysna, Sedgefield, Calitzdorp, Montagu and are know in a self catering apartment in Bantry Bay, a beach suburb of Cape Town. The weather so far has been sparkling and through our bedroom window we are enjoying the sound of waves crashing on the rocks below.
The highlights of the past week have been:-
-an early evening swim in the pool in Montagu that is fed by hot springs coming from deep underground. The water is apparently slightly radio-active but said to be beneficial to health. Neither of us were glowing in the dark afterwards.
-farmers' market at Sedgefield with its fresh cheeses, breads, and other treasures + all the S. African favorites - gemsquash, biltong, koeksisters, vetkoek, melk tart, and so on.
-Cango Caves - very similar to Jenolan Caves near Sydney
-Climbing up Lion's Head adjacent to Table Mountain
-swimming in the icy cold Atlantic Ocean at Clifton Beach with its mountain backdrop
-the drive on Chapman’s Peak and Cape Point
-re visit to District 6 Museum
-Staying in this cosy apartment in a magnificent location -weather to treasure -visit to Cape Town Art Gallery -a walk around Cape Town city

Lots of love,
Susan and Peter
Ps off to Jo'burg Sat 21st and to Oz 25th

11 African Township
Despite the protestations and advice from a number of others, we decided to stay in a Bed & Breakfast in an African Township.
We stayed in MaNeos B&B in Langa Township near Cape Town.
The B&B is run by Thandiwe Peter and her daughter Neo Moathodi. It was an interesting and enlightening experience.
Staying in a township is like stepping back in time – into the 1950’s. Housing is small and basic and the furniture, small kitchen, décor (vinyl on the floor) pictures on the wall, ornaments, brought back memories of our childhood homes. This was reinforced by the religious values (grace before meals), people walking up and down the street interacting with each other and others popping into the B&B for a chat or for a cup of tea. We spent an evening in a Shebeen (informal tavern) and sat around a table and over a few beers chatted with the locals while Cape Town Jazz music blared from the ‘Hi-Fi’ set. We talked about education, crime in South Africa, politics, religion and how to fix up the world. The people of Langa seem to like their religion and their alcohol.
Thandiwe and Neo shared heartbreaking stories of the losing battle with HIV/Aids – such as 8 year olds caring for their siblings as both parents are in bed with the disease.
Despite the vigorous campaigns, Thandiwe said that as long as there is widespread poverty and some people selling sex to put food on the table, there will be Aids.
We visited a community centre and a crèche. The crèche was in a shipping container and the 58 2 – 5 year olds sang ‘Nkosi Sikelela’ to us with real gusto.
Before we left Cape Town for Johannesburg, we visited the small fishing village of Paternoster, 100 km north of Cape Town. We were surprised at the building development all along the coast. There seem to be few constraints on development and we wonder how future generations will judge this activity.
Susan and Peter

12 African ‘Totsiens’
We’re back home!
The trip was challenging and hard work at times – but every bit of it was worthwhile.
Uganda was a real eye-opener. Despite the poverty, we will remember the beauty of the place and the warmth and the spirit of the people and the ‘angels’ working in their communities.
Mozambique is slowly recovering from its past traumas and is a place with lots of tourist potential.
South Africa has magnificent scenery, easy to get around, good food & wine and so on and the tensions and complexities continually challenge one’s perceptions and beliefs. S. Africa is still in a state of transition and we will take a keen interest in the outcome over the next 15 years. We predict there will be some shifts of seismic proportions to come in the future.

Being away for 2 + months – especially in Africa - has made us realize how much we take for granted in Aus: The wealth and relative lack of poverty; the clean air and open spaces; the safety on the roads; garbage collection; electricity and clean tap water and so on; and we couldn’t help but notice how clean and litter free our streets are.
Yes it’s true – we also noted on our return how easy-going, relaxed, multicultural, laid back, friendly and helpful Australians are generally. It is interesting to ponder on these kinds of cultural differences between people of different countries.
On the other hand we were struck by the superficiality of the commercial media in Australia – it is awful!

We thank all our hosts for their hospitality and generosity – Basil &
Felicity, Jean, Maurice, Ineke, Gladwin and Kathy, Vanessa and to Paul for house-sitting for us.

All we have left to say is
Totsiens (Afrikaans – “Till we see you”)
De sibonane kwakhona (Xhosa – Until we meet again)
Sahle Gahle (Zulu – Stay well/stay in peace)

Peter and Susan



Hi there, I'm trying to plan a trip which will include 7-8 days in Uganda. I googled and come across your updates from 2006. If you're still intouch with this site I'd be really interested in picking your brain on some planning

  Cam Mar 3, 2010 3:10 PM

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