Winding Up and Winding Down – Days 77- 81

Posted on May 23, 2012


After my short episode in jail the last few days have been somewhat less exciting. On Saturday Moses and another field assistant from Budongo, Dominic made a trip to Biiso to surprise me. It was lovely to see them both. Although I half suspect the visit was an excuse for Moses to borrow a motorcycle from his friend and ride with the wind in his hair. Actually he has no hair now he shaved it all off last week.

“Who did that to you? Do you want me to have a word?” I said grinning at him.

“Ja it’s gone, better,” he replied rubbing his hand over the back of his shiny scalp.

I bought them both a beer. “Only one drink Moses, you’re getting back on that bike,” I said sternly.

He nodded. It was nice to get visitors and they filled me in on their news. I miss camp especially the forest, even with the Red Ants it’s somewhere that has firmly cemented itself in my memory and heart. Living away from the security of Budongo and other like-minded people has been tough going. Although all the staff (six girls and two lads) at the B&B have been fantastic, the townspeople (more village people really, minus the leather chaps and the mincing) have been disappointingly inhospitable. Everyone has tried to rip me off in some way or another and I’ve had to argue for a fair price for everything. It’s been exhausting. It was bound to happen and eventually it culminated in me having a blazing row with one cabbie who saw me turn green. Trust me, no-one likes me when I am angry. I know my friends will be laughing when they read this as I have a reputation for having a barney with taxi drivers the world over. I have not uttered a single expletive since I have been in Uganda and I’ve had zero stress or anxiety until the last two weeks. The cabbie’s aggressive complaint was the last straw. A semi-circle of boda guys formed around me and people stopped what they were doing to watch me bawl him out screaming like a Trini Banshee punctuating every sentence with the letter F until he could no longer be heard. He finally decided the best option was to take his money (which was the correct fare not the Muzungu price) and get back into his car and drive away quickly. What can I say? I am my mother’s daughter. Thankfully that is the first and hopefully the last time I “lose it”.

On Sunday I interviewed the local MP for Buliisa district who is also the national chairman for economy and is a member of the natural resources committee. The two policies appear to me, to contradict themselves. I was not entirely convinced by his answers. He talks about being a man of the people, but his staff at the B&B do not get a day off. They work very hard, 24 hours a day 7 days a week and he shows them very little gratitude. The manager, Christine has not seen her eight-year-old daughter since September and is unlikely to until the end of the year she says.

He told me he is not from the school of preservation, he is for sustainability (the caveat being as long as it’s good for the economy). I fear the forests have no place left in Uganda under this current government and that goes for the animals and other flora too. The politicians seem to think it’s not a problem, but their assessment of the situation is so skewed and advice from researchers and conservationists are falling on deaf ears. A recent biofuel study found that Uganda only has enough timber to last 4 years and firewood to last seven years! But no one in power seems worried about the future, their view is very much focussed on the present day. For a country that prides itself on large families, no one seems to give a damn about the next generation. My interview was robust but not nearly as tough as I would have liked. I was not however about to probe further than necessary. I’m already paranoid about being kicked out of the country from looking into the illegalities fuelling both fishing and the timber trade. I think he is somewhat suspicious of me because he asked a hell of a lot of questions and took my photograph even though I protested – I didn’t like that at all. My friend Paul says perhaps he has more of a personal interest in me. If he was flirting he was rubbish at it because I missed that completely! Mind you he did give me three mobile numbers and asked me to call him. Not a chance mate. I walked away from the interview no more enlightened or hopeful than before.

Yesterday there was a frenzy of activity in Biiso as people were gossiping like mad and moving back and forth past our shop window (the veranda where I take my breakfast). “What’s going on?” I asked Rogers as he came bounding down the reception stairs.

“Someone got shot,” he said.

“Really! What happened?”

“There was a man who (allegedly) defiled a young girl. He took her away from school and kept her for a few days before letting her go. When the police found out who it was they went to arrest him and he resisted. He was being protected by Boda Boda guys, so police opened fire and shot him in the leg,” he said.

Wow that’s one way to dispense a crowd I thought. The guy in question won’t be going to the local prison a few doors away from us, that’s for petty criminals.

“He’s probably going to be going to Masindi Prison,” added Rogers.

Good luck, I thought to myself.

After the excitement had died down, the day turned into quite an emotional one for me because I had to say goodbye to the staff.­­­­ My work in Biiso is complete. I bought a pineapple in the market to share with everyone. We talked and laughed, drank soda and they even dressed up for the evening to spend an hour with me before getting back to the grindstone of serving letchy, drunk lorry drivers and unemployed bums. I don’t think anyone has ever treated them with any respect or been polite to them. I hate the way men leer and boss the girls around, but they take it in their stride, even running errands for them which is not their job. Before I left I called everyone into the kitchen and handed out a modest tip to each of them, they were overcome with happiness, it was hard not to get teary eyed as they squeezed me tightly with their embraces. It brought back memories of my time as a waitress back in the 90’s. It’s a thankless job and good customers make the world of difference. I sincerely wish I could have given them more money, they are incredible young people who have big dreams and realistic ideas that I pray one day will materialise for them.

So now I’m somewhere else. I’ve decided to leave that detail out, not that anyone unsavoury is pouring over my blog, but you never know. Tomorrow I am attending a two-day conference on forest regeneration. My friend Paul picked me up this morning and we made the drive in his very comfortable and safe 4X4. Another perk of having an NGO vehicle is that it has red number plates like government ones, so at road checks police never pull you over and hassle you. He’s giving a presentation tomorrow on the progress of tree planting with private landowners and one of the species he will be talking about is Cordia millenii.  My visit to Hoima last week was more fruitful than I could have expected. With any luck I’ll be surrounded by botanists other preservationists who I can also include in my data for my ever-expanding thesis.