Adventures in East Africa
This is the tale of how I ended up in the Nairobi airport feasting on two rounds of iced coffee, countless chocolate bars, multiple samosas, and even the sugar coated ice cubes at the bottom of the cup. Meanwhile, Sarah Curl lay collapsed atop a motel bed in a dusty Ugandan town where she may quite possibly remain until this very day.
A perk of the Kiva Fellowship is having friends who live and work in diverse locations around the globe. After a few months in Kenya, I decided to take advantage of this network of colleagues and visit a KF12 classmate in Kampala. This is the latest chapter in the Only as a Kiva Fellow novel that I’m constantly writing in my mind.
Sarah’s First Rafting Experience
It all started when rafting down the Nile on my first day in Uganda. My original vision of this river (a tranquil body of water upon which Ancient Egyptians rowed boats through reeds and past the occasional crocodile) was quickly revealed to be egregiously misinformed.
Beginning at the river’s source in Jinja, we paddled (and sometimes unexpectedly swam) for 30 km through more than 12 advanced rapids. The first few bumps were great. We paddled. Ducked. Paddled some more. What fun… until we learned some interesting facts about our guide: it was his 11th day on the job, he couldn’t swim, and his main qualification was his background as a fisherman. Hopefully he’s a quick learner? No luck.
I reached my limit when stuck underneath the capsized raft while cruising down a Class V. Sarah’s moment of terror occurred as we free fell down a 20 foot waterfall while the guide shouted “I love you, Sarah!;” and he was somehow the only member of our 8 person raft to fall out and then blamed sweet little Sarah for pushing him off. Don’t worry, he’s fine. A safety boat scooped him up and brought him back to us.
We opted not to purchase the photo pack, so the only memento from the day (other than living another day to tell the tale) was Sarah’s first degree sunburn.
After recovering from our first epic adventure and a few days of work in Kampala, Sarah and I took off for the Rwanda-Uganda border by boda.We soon found ourselves in a futuristic world marked by aliens in green helmets, stoplights, and peg-legged rastafari dripping with dreds who concurrently knocked on their prosthetic limbs creating a makeshift drum circle of sorts. Let me explain.
Rwanda can be summed up in two words: safety first. The streets of Kigali operate with logic and standard that restores a mzungu’s comfort in crossing the street. Ann, Sarah, and I stood on the sidewalk (yes, slabs of concrete line the roads meant for pedestrians only, real sidewalks) mesmerized by the painted lines on the road, stoplights above, and the traffic that actually adhered to them. The intuitive orderliness and efficiency of the Western world had all but evaporated from my habits and mind until suddenly and unexpectedly confronting them in Kigali.
Since 1994, the RPF has worked to instill a stable law-abiding society, or at least one that appears that way to an outsider and weekend tourist. The government is so serious about these reforms that even President Kagame can be found picking up trash outside his home on the third Saturday of the month (a mandatory national rubbish collection day).
And the rastafari? Turns out the proceeds from our hostel fund an on-site prosthetics workshop.'
The Odyssey Continues
So you think the story is about over? So did we. After stopping by an “exploding lake” that sporadically produces bursts of CO2 and methane (a lethal combination that asphyxiates all living creatures in the vicinity), we resumed our epic migration back to Uganda with 16 hours remaining until my flight departed. The task was simple and timing realistic but we failed to account for the typical unforeseen obstacles that would belabor our return.
As the lone mzungus, Sarah and I charmed our way onto a bus headed back to the promised land of Kampala. Unfortunately, it was packed beyond capacity. No seat? No worries. We joined the other 10 plus seat-less passengers on the floor, squashed and smelling like sardines in a tin can. And that is where we remained for the next 9 hours, watching Tanzanian rap music videos as the vehicle waded through floods, dangled atop cliffs, and bounced over the unpaved “road.”
Eventually we transferred to another bus where I stretched across a row of seats and a pool full of an unidentified liquid. Sleep at last—or so I thought. An old Mama came aboard, nudged me out of my prime seat space, snuggled her face into my thigh, and snored like a beast. She seemed pretty content for the next 8 hours. Oh well, at least we had seats this time.
Sarah and I said our groggy goodbyes around 3 am as she hopped off in a dark town where she was scheduled to meet a Kiva borrower the following day. I was left alone with the snoring beast on my lap.
Exhausted Yet? Me Too.
I definitely did not make my flight. After wandering like a zombie from one airline office to the next, I caught the next plane out, ran to the Karen Blixen Museum during my layover in Nairobi, and rushed back to the airport.
After learning of my flight’s delay, I hunkered down at the terminal’s only café and feasted on overpriced hydrogenated goods, caffeine, and maji (water). This is when I realized I hadn’t eaten anything for the past 30 hours (we went into survival mode on the bus and adhered to a motto of “dehydration or bust”) and I was one step closer to making it home and passing out underneath the ethereal gauze of my bed net.
It was back to the office as usual the next day.Click to view slideshow.