I’ve finally returned to Uganda and it’s as if I’d never left. It does however feel surreal to be here again, especially as this time I’ve come as a Masters research student and not under the guise of a journalist.
For the next three days I’m having a quarantine period before heading west to start my data collection in the Budongo Forest Reserve. Field work is not glamorous and eating rice and peas everyday would test even the most pious of people; so as a treat I’ve checked into the Boma Guest Lodge. It’s where I stayed on my last night in Entebbe in July 2010 and I fell in love with the place. Splendour at an affordable price, well I say affordable, for a Muzungu that is (foreigner). The guest house has several different parts to it, all tastefully decorated with dark wood and dusky pink brick work. There’s a beautiful garden filled with all types of birds and also a small swimming pool.
Last night I was greeted with a light shower as my flight touched down on the tarmac, but today the sun has been out with a vengeance. I hadn’t quite anticipated how hot it would be. I know it’s Africa, but it’s suppose to be rainy season. I’m not complaining, trust me, I hate the cold and would rather the sun any day of the year. This morning I eased into the Ugandan way of life, no rushing around like a headless chicken. No deadlines and no agenda. My best friend told me before I left: “Remember Ash, T.I.A (This Is Africa) so soak it up and relax.” And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing today.
I had my first cup of Joe on the veranda at 8.30 this morning while listening to the chirping of so many birds in the garden. Everything was sparkling in the sunlight. The staff were busy at work, quietly cleaning and wearing broad smiles. It was simply all too good to be true. Then the tranquillity was shattered as the other guests came crashing into the breakfast area.
A German family was first out, stereotypically, they nabbed all loungers by the pool, marking their territory with their towels. After eating, the kids plunged into the water and the adults lay like alabaster-coloured beached whales doing a better job of reflecting the sun than absorbing it. Then an American woman in her mid-50s and in pigtails (!!) began barking orders at the staff about getting an extension lead for her laptop. Clearly they all need to adopt the T.I.A attitude.
This afternoon my dear friend Richard Balabyekubba, a.k.a Detective Columbo brought his wife, Teddy, and baby son Eloah (5 months) to see me. Last time I saw Colombo and Ted they were “just courting” their words not mine. His friend Kenneth also came. Richard insisted on picking me up from the airport last night which was the best welcome back to Uganda. We first met when I stayed on Ngamba Island, the chimpanzee sanctuary on Lake Victoria. He was one of the staff there. I gave him his alias because he was constantly asking questions about London and my life as a journalist. A very bright young man who loves playing chess and has big ambitions. We’ve remained friends emailing regularly. For baby Eloah, today was the first time he had clapped eyes on a Muzungu and boy did he wail like a banshee when I picked him up. Thankfully after a few hours his fear turned to curiosity and he was gurgling happily in my lap.
Colombo and I took a walk into Entebbe town. I wanted to buy a local phone to try to save on international phone bills. My goodness what a palarva. I think we visited every business going – I had to have a passport picture taken, then photocopy my driving licence, then barter the price down for the phone; fill in paper work; buy the SIM and then buy airtime. The government likes to keep tabs on everyone with a phone. Who says Big Brother isn’t listening? As well as buying the world’s crappiest handset, the man selling me it also threw in a marriage proposal….! The Northerner needn’t worry, it wasn’t an upgrade I was about to sign up for.
Next stop was the Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust (CSWCT) the organisation that runs Ngamba Island, it’s moved offices now. The staff were so surprised to see me back and were lovely, hugs and kisses all round. If I’d got there a few hours earlier I might have been able to witness the transportation of four orphaned baby chimps onto the island from quarantine. I’m going to try to blog about them in June when I hop across to see them on my return journey from Budongo.
I really wanted to take pictures of the town today to show you, but I felt a little uneasy walking back home on my own with an expensive camera. It’s not that I felt threatened, I just didn’t want to draw more attention than necessary to myself. Perhaps tomorrow …hopefully I’ll have a partner in crime when another Roehampton student flies in.
Tonight there are lanterns dotted along the corridors of the Boma and all around the garden, it looks very pretty. But I’ve escaped back to my room. As much as I enjoyed the scene and a very impressive dinner (Zanzibar fish curry cooked with coconut milk; served with fluffy white rice and a chapati, accompanied by fresh tomatoes, diced red onions and chilli); to use a Sarf London phrase, the other guests were doing my head in.
There have been at least five power cuts today and the wireless connection has dropped out so many times I’ve lost count. This post should have been published four hours ago. Now before I sign off, I thought I’d also share with you a small challenge I’m going to embark on in addition to the research. I’m going on the wagon for three months. Anyone who knows me, will realise the enormity of that statement. I had water with dinner, yes water! Today is Day 1 of 90 and you know what? I hasn’t been too bad – T.I.A everyone.