Jane Goodall Institute Volunteer Posts Connie and John 3: Journal Excerpts – Random Thoughts and Observations

Journal Excerpts – Random Thoughts and Observations

10Mar06 The schools were another eye-opener. They appear to be in the middle of nowhere and have the appearance of dilapidated chicken sheds or fire-bombed garages. All the young kids clamored for money as if it is their due. They don’t have enough English, which begins in grade P-2, to understand when I ask why I should give them money. “Have you done any work for me? Have you brought me bananas?” I realize the country runs on foreign aid and NGO handouts but I didn’t think the attitude had trickled down so far. Or maybe it is a trickle-up thing that the leaders learned as kids.

29Mar06 We had a saying in the Army that there were three ways to do something; the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way. I now add a fourth, the African way.

* Brooms are made of straw and are only two feet long
* Women carry enormous loads on their heads.
* Whatever is too large to be carried on the heads of women is tied onto bicycles; giant bunches of bananas, rolled mats of tea, lumber, charcoal. chickens and mattresses. If it is too heavy and unbalanced to ride the bike is just pushed along
* Lumber is cut into boards by hand in saw pits, most of it done illegally
* Furniture is made using hand saws, planes and pegs rather than nails
* Fields are plowed and cultivated using a heavy-duty hoe, mostly wielded by women.
* Gravel is made by hand; big hammers for big rocks, smaller hammer for finer gravel. It is put in sacks and hauled away
* Bricks are made by hand and fired in roadside furnaces
* Goats are staked along the roadside to graze
* Butchers work in the markets or along the roadside with the meat hanging from trees
* Wrinkles are removed from clothing with a charcoal iron
* Cripples use a single long pole in place of crutches
* Taxi vans always coast downhill as do motorbike taxis
* Petrol is purchased by the liter, often a single liter, and costs the equivalent of $5/gallon

1April2006 The infrastructure of Ugandan national parks needs some work. No one has change, not for food, nor accommodations, not even the park entry fee. You can go on a game drive only if you supply the vehicle. Motorbikes don’t count. You can also walk in the park but only when accompanied by an armed park ranger. The heavily horned Ankole cattle graze along with antelope and zebras.

12April2006 From The Tree Where Man Was Born by Peter Mathiessen: “African schoolchildren are now taught to appreciate their wild animals and the land, but public attitude may not change in time to spare the wildlife in the next decades, when the world must deal with the worst consequences of over-population and pollution. And a stubborn fight for animal preservation in disregard of people and their famine-haunted future would only be the culminating failure of the western civilization that, through its blind administration of vaccines and quinine, has upset the ecologies of a whole continent. Thus wildlife must be treated in terms of resource management in this new Africa which includes, besides gazelles, a growing horde of tattered humans who squat for days and weeks and months and years on end, in a seeming trance, awaiting hope.” Thirty-five years later and little has changed.

6April2006 Yesterday we saw a number of coffins being made as we rode through Ishaka. It must be a good trade to be in with the high HIV/AIDS rate and 5,000 deaths from malaria each week. But we haven’t seen any cemeteries, not a one. Robert, our source for local knowledge, said they are buried in the yard in family plots. The government is trying to stop the practice – too many people and not enough land plus it must be unhealthy.

9April2006 In addition to our Lonely Planet guides to East Africa and the Middle East we have Egyptian history and several books on Islam. We have both read “Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Bible” and “Walking the Bible” to get a historical perspective of the areas we will see later on. My fascination with Israel resulted in yet another reading of “Exodus,” “The Haj,” and “The Source” and to keep our focus on the environment we have read Jane Goodall’s “In the Shadow of Man” and “Sand County Almanac” by Aldo Leopold.

While some would find our situation too primitive to handle, compared to “South,” the journal of Shakleton’s epic Antarctic expedition of a century ago, it’s nothing more than a minor inconvenience. Through it all Connie continues to struggle through German grammar while Italian waits in the wings.

13April2006 On our way back from the Tea Estate Primary School we took a tour of the Finley tea factory escorted by Mark, the factory supervisor. We already knew about harvesting the leaves but now followed the process through dehydrating, cleaning, chopping, drying, sorting, bagging and even quality control tasting which is done every hour. Power for the conveyors is provided by their own generators and they grow their own eucalyptus trees to burn for the heating and drying, 24 cubic meters of wood each day. This one facility employs 2,000 workers and exports various grades of tea around the world through a series of brokers.

22April2006 On the way to Entebbe from Masindi we detoured to an International Rescue Committee (IRC) refugee settlement that had previously received funding for a Roots and Shoots program from the UNHCR or United Nations High Commission for Refugees. This permanent “settlement” (as opposed to a temporary “camp”) houses 14,000 Sudanese who were forced to flee the fighting in their country. They live in little villages of bandas like ours, have a good well, till fields of maize and veggies and graze goats. It seems the right of many Africans to move from country to country looking for peace and stability. The NGOs are funding these refugees while resident Ugandans receive nothing.

26April2006 We searched out the Welcome Home Orphanage in Jinja, run by the Australians we met at dinner last night. Mandy, the owner showed us around and introduced us to the staff and many of the sixty-one children ages infant to four years. If they are not adopted here they are sent to another orphanage where they continue their schooling and learn skills they can use in Uganda. The place is suffocatingly fundamentalist Christian and only like-minded folks are considered as adoptive parents. But Mandy and co. have invested a lot in the children’s welfare so they deserve to have a say in their futures. And there are probably worse fates than growing up with the religious right, considering their alternatives.

2May2006 A quote from Edward Abbey’s essay “Sierra Madre” which I found very fitting reads: “Birdwatchers are a fussy, eccentric lot, especially perpetual beginners like myself, who seem condemned never to find a bird, anywhere, that corresponds precisely to its description and illustration in the bird books. A failing, on the part of the bird, difficult to firgive.”

4May2006 Aid, the foreign kind, seems to be nearly as big a problem as HIV/AIDS and nearly as difficult to manage. The problem, as Paul Theroux points out in “Dark Star Safari,” is that after more than half a century of contributions from governments and NGOs with nearly every conceivable combination of letters, it just isn’t working. Money disappears into the pockets of corrupt and insensitive leaders; donated goods find their way into the (black) markets or worse, food sits on the docks for lack of a distribution system.

Working for an NGO is better even than a government job with all its extra opportunities for compensation. NGOs pay high salaries, provide good housing and have other fringe benefits. We heard of one Ugandan water engineer working for an NGO in Lesotho despite the fact his services are greatly needed in his own country.

More than that, aid without work just postpones the inevitable. One day Ugandans and all Africans are going to have to stand on their own. As Hillary Clinton writes in “Living History,” “…Africa needs more than words; it needs investment and trade if its economies are ever going to develop.”

5May2006 Seven AM is an interesting time of day. It’s when the many security guards have finished their shifts of guarding the businesses, compounds and homes. They shuffle along carrying their weapons in anything but a military manner, and what an assortment of firearms. There are shotguns, WW I bolt action rifles, AK 47s, M1 Garands and carbines and others I couldn’t begin to name, most with their bluing worn down to bare metal. I doubt many of them would fire even if their owners could aim.

13May2006 There were several butchers at the Kinyara Saturday market, hacking away with pangas at goat and cow carcasses. You could tell which was which by the head they left nearby! When they offered me innards – I could identify lungs, liver, hearts and intestines – I said, “That’s not muzungu food!” and they laughed.

21June2006 While people in Antarctica and Stewart Island, NZ are bemoaning the lack of sunlight and Alaskans are basking in it for 24 straight hours, the solstice here on the equator will go mostly unnoticed. Daylight will still be about twelve hours long, the same for darkness. The temperature will be around 80 degrees F (27 C), just like every other day. Monotonous, yes, but it could be worse.

9July2006 Gideon, a driver for the Far Horizon tour company, comes from Bwindi, home of Uganda’s mountain gorillas and could be the national spokesman for successful eco-tourism. He says the gorillas are his brothers. They are responsible for the schools, the housing and the hospital in his area. Seventy percent of the villagers earn their living directly from gorilla tourism and the others from trickle down economy. He says they will actually kill anyone who harms the animals and they know all 380 or so by name. They even have a christening ceremony complete with a minister when a baby gorilla is born. That is the kind of result we hope for, one where everyone is a winner, especially the environment.

14July2006 Unlike the National Geographic average of one thousand photographs taken for each one printed in the magazine, my “mind photos” are all perfectly framed and exposed and the subjects are brilliant. The only thing lacking is an actual camera. After living among the people for so long photographing them as they go about their lives seems like an invasion of their privacy. But I keep the memories.

This morning we stopped at Ashaba Primary School in Masindi. The youngest kids, four-year olds, were fascinated and fascinating. They looked like clones in their school uniforms and were cute as kittens. CLICK.

There is a spot where the road dips below the cane fields and you are looking up at the workers swinging their hoes in the rich soil in a scene from Mississippi or North Carolina century ago. CLICK.

Fifty or more cane cutters straggled along the road heading for lunch. Their dark skins were blackened from the burned cane fields and their KSWL (Kinyara Sugar Works Ltd.) coveralls were filthy and tattered. Change the background and replace the cane knives with picks and shovels and they could have been miners in West Virginia or Wales. CLICK.

28July2006 Vincent now has his motorcycle permit and is taking care of the routine school visits. After more than 5,000 kilometers riding the bikes has gone from an adventure, to a pleasure, to a chore, and has now become a test of survival. We have had enough rain and mud, dust and bugs, potholes and seemingly suicidal drivers. As Connie so often says she has done everything on a motorcycle you can do – except die!

10August2006 Africa is place of ants, other insect, of course, but it’s the ants I notice today. From nearly microscopic to over an inch long, they comprise a staggering number of species and probably gazillions of individuals. Anything dead, dying or otherwise edible is covered in minutes and quickly devoured. But it’s the driver ants, which I have (wrongly?) called soldier ants or army ants that fascinate. They march in columns from an inch to a foot wide packed mandible to mandible with ants all hurrying along in a stream. As I watched a two-inch wide rivulet I estimated at least 20 individuals per second moved past; 1,200 per minute; 72,000 per hour and this went on for hours. Today the flow is 25 feet wide with some eddies and calm areas around the swifter currents. How many? Where are they going? Woe to the creature that rests in their path!

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