Today is a public holiday so most of the field assistants are at home with their families. This morning, Nancy, a Ugandan exploring the patterns of pollinators in different areas of the Budongo Forest Reserve, came with me for a walk to the nearest village, Nyakafunju.
As we left camp we were greeted by the sight of some of the Sonso chimps. There was a mother carrying her infant on her back together with another two adults. They quickly darted across the road from an opening at the edge of the forest into another area of dense undergrowth. The Royal Mile is a beautiful stretch of tree-lined road. It used to have lots of Mahogany trees but over the years they have been pilfered by loggers and now only a few remain. Nancy has an undergraduate degree in forestry from The Makerere University and pointed out various species of tree to me. I was hoping she would be able to shed some more light on Cordia but her knowledge is about the same as mine on that particular species.
Her life story is inspirational for someone so young (25 years old). She comes from a very poor family but is a very bright student. She managed to get funding to see her through her education and is now doing a Masters at the Makerere University. Nancy grew up walking around barefoot. Her family home had a grass-thatched roof, was made of mud with no electricity or running water. Her father was a peasant farmer who died when she was still quite young; but one memory she has of him is when he bought her shoes to wear at school aged 10 years old. She says the day she put on her shoes it filled her with pride and made her feel very important. Her elder brother died last July aged 37 years old – he had HIV. His story is not uncommon, and he leaves behind many children from three different women.
Nancy’s path to a better life has not been hurdle free. She fell pregnant at 21 and was forced to move out of campus and back home with her mother in Gulu. The father of Nancy’s child did a runner leaving her to hold the baby. They later learned he moved to Sudan. After the birth of her daughter, Blessing, she missed out on the enrolment process at university to secure a room on campus and had to find a room to rent in Kampala. Without the help of her friends who cobbled together funds she would not have been able to pay rent or eat. “It was a very hard time and sometimes when the money ran out, my neighbour would leave food in a bucket outside my door.” says Nancy.
She has a very sunny personality and I have no doubt she is a determined young woman who will go far. Her daughter is now 4 years old and is staying with her mother while she completes her Masters at the Makerere University. Her ambition is to work in research in environment and natural resources in Uganda.