Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Our Tour: the who and the how

Our group was small—ridiculously so, given the size of the vehicle we took. There were six of us on the tour (one only joined us while we were in Murchison Falls National Park itself) and four staff, all traveling in an overland vehicle that could take up a zip code. Given the state the vehicle was in at the end of our tour, I can’t imagine what it must be like when it’s full of people, but it did seem strange to have this enormous monster for so few of us. Apparently, the pop-top van was in the shop.
At least one person in each party had some reason to be in Uganda; the others were visiting the ones doing work here. One young woman, a recent Columbia grad, was working on an anti-malaria project before beginning a Masters degree in International Relations; another was working on a project for the World Bank. Simon Joseph (“Call me SiJo”), the young man who joined up with our part in Murchison Falls seems vaguely to be wandering around Uganda, getting involved in various things and then wandering off again. And then me, of course. It seems to me that the Uganda tourism industry is fairly dependent upon the Uganda aid industry.

People asked what I was doing, and I explained about Kiva. Then they would ask what I’m doing when I’m not working with Kiva. I’d say I am an Episcopal priest. The reactions were typically varied. One person quickly told me that he was Methodist. Another said, “I never would have guessed that.” They took it well, though.

Our crew were really great and an interesting mix. Courtney, the leader of the tour, sounded like an Aussie but grew up in Zimbabwe and had some interesting stories and insights into that country. Along with Courtney, Julius and Kirunda did yeomen’s duty. Julius helped me set up and break down my tent every day. (He’s not pictured here, unfortunately.)

Finally, there was Beki, the driver. You can imagine my confusion when I heard about “Becky,” and met this big, burly guy. I can’t imagine being a driver in Uganda, except that I imagine it would be exhausting! Even the good roads are loaded with ruts and potholes. As we left Kampala, we saw an 18-wheeler jackknifed next to the road, clearly having tried to avoid some pothole in front of it. Given the size of our vehicle, driving was a challenge (though easier in some ways), but Beki was simply amazing. Not exactly a smooth trip, but a reasonably comfortable one overall.

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