Jane Goodall Institute Volunteer Posts Connie and John 3: Journal Excerpts 4: Interesting People

Jane Goodall Institute Volunteer Posts Connie and John 3: Journal Excerpts 4– Interesting People

2Mar06 This afternoon we walked through the Botanic Gardens, escorted much of the time by Patrick, a volunteer who is in his final year of university as a conservation major. In addition to knowing most of the plants he was an expert at spotting birds. Our count stands at eleven. We stopped along the way outside the heavily fortified UN compound used by aid-workers on weekends when they return from Congo.

9Mar06 Just as we finished the laundry another muzungu peddled in on a well-used touring bike loaded with camping gear and spare tires. Tim, no last name given, is from Virginia and is a naturalist from (small world) the Nature Conservancy. His specialty is the study of an endangered woodpecker in the South. He is on holiday in Africa and stopped in to see what we were doing. He has peddled over 500 miles in Uganda alone plus some distance in Tanzania and perhaps other countries. Like Robert Frost he had miles to go before he sleeps and rode off.

10March06 Just before dinner Herbert, the NFA district manager stopped by to look at our US photos. He was soon joined by Jonathan and they oohed and aahed, saying our house looked like a hotel. A geography lesson ensued followed by questions of land ownership – where do you grow your food?; civics – what’s a state vs. a city?; politics – Bill and Hillary are tops!; jobs, race, taxes, and more. I suspect there will be a follow-up and was surprised at some of the things they know and some of the things we take for granted that are so foreign to their culture, like service industries rather than subsistence farming. Ugandans may be poor but there is always food.

12March06 It’s Sunday and the 50 or so kids that were here last Sunday to greet us returned for Lawrence’s Sunday reading program. And we had a visitor, or rather two visitors, ourselves. Olva, a young woman we photographed at the baptism yesterday said she wanted to be our friend and stopped by with here infant daughter, She is quite pretty, 18, unmarried and her daughter, Shamimu, is 14 months old with giant brown eyes. She screams when she sees muzungus, adding to our discomfort. Even sweets and her mother’s breast would appease the baby. Olva doesn’t speak much English so Robert had to help us out.

She doesn’t have a job or a husband but gets by growing her own food. She was dressed in her church clothes and carried her daughter slung on her back in a freshly laundered cement sack specially tailored for the task. It was awkward, we thought she wanted some money, but Robert said she didn’t expect anything and when I told her it was time to go they left happily.

16March06 As I waited for the students to reappear from the forest I looked up to see two white females approaching. Helga is doing some missionary work in Bushenyi and Sonja is visiting for a couple of weeks. I can see why Connie and I cause such a stir. The first glimpse of white skin literally caught me by surprise, almost like Dorothy’s first look at Oz..

26March06 While we were relaxing outside our cottage at Lake Bunyoni, Roni, and independent traveler from Israel stopped to chat. When she learned we were with JGI we had to tell her everything. She had been on the website and really wants to work with chimps. Roni is the exception to Stephany’s description of the typical 20-something female volunteer. She is 23 but very much capable of functioning alone. After her military service she spent two years in a program to help families establish themselves and colonize the Sinai Desert. That’s two years living in the desert, herding goats and making cheese.

Saturday morning we went out on the lake in Jackson’s dugout canoe. We saw several new birds and many old favorites. The terraced hillsides are beautiful from the water and it was worth the Ush 5000 but on the way back Jackson put the bite on us to “sponsor” his daughter for secondary school. He is used to dealing with tourists and well paid NGO workers and was surprised when we explained our situation; that we are here at our own expense to help make his country better; that we are unpaid and live very much like he does without electricity or running water. When I suggested maybe he should give us money he said he would if he could afford it.

28March06 Elias, the matatu driver, drove me to Ishaka to replace our propane tank and Jonathan hitched a ride. Along the way Elias praised President Museveni for the good ha has done, cursed his fellow citizens for being lazy and taking aid. He also told me it costs Ush 3,000,000 a semester to send his son to college and next year he will have two kids in school. Unless they get government jobs they can look forward to making about Ush 100,000 a month, less than $700 a year.

1April06 After dinner at Lake Mburo we talked with Don who is from Arizona and like other Americans we have met on the trip he has an interesting story. He is a water/sanitation engineer working for a small NGO in the northern part of the country. From his description it sounds very different from what we have experienced – more poverty (hard to believe), refugees, and armed bandits. We most likely won’t take him up on his offer to visit. I am sure JGI has a policy against travel in that area.

8April06 We returned from birding to find an unfamiliar vehicle parked out front and one of the NFA guys was crawling through the bushes collecting snails. The German researcher was paying Ush 100 for each snail. He returned from the forest just before the storm broke. Thorsten lives in Hanover and is a snail researcher, shnecken to you krauts. His wife is Ugandan and he spends a lot of time here. No ne knows how many species of snail live in Kalinzu and many will be new discoveries. There is no economic value in his research, only a quest for knowledge but the diversity of snails in Kalinzu can be used to determine the health of the forest.

16April06 It’s Easter and our friends Olva and her daughter stopped in for a visit. Shimimu looked beautiful with her hair in corn rows and colored beads but she continued to cry when she saw me. I don’t know whether it’s because I am a stranger or just plain strange. Olva brought us a pineapple and some avacados so I gave her 2000 shillings and some cookies for the baby.

No sooner had they gone than a 4X4 pulled in for a picnic. They were an interesting couple, perhaps the faces of a new Africa. His grandparents were Portuguese and Ugandan on one side and Belgian and Rwandan on the other. His wife is Belgian and Congolese. Their kids were very polite and will fit in anywhere on the continent.

3May06 Another JGI volunteer, Ben has that rare combination of British humor and understated intelligence. He is a practicing biologist, an ichthyologist by training, a primatologist by circumstance and a fan of butterflies. It seems he was filling in at a fundraising event and was sitting next to some “conservation bigshot” who turned out to be Dr. Jane and she invited him to volunteer. His girlfriend is in Borneo working with gibbons but will join him here later in the year. We look forward to seeing him around Masindi; Ben, the Oxford doctoral candidate with the Simpsons pajamas.

9May06 We met Sally when she offered to write us the letters of introduction we needed to open a bank account. She is British but spent much of her life living in Tanzania. After an early retirement she returned to Africa as a VSO volunteer in Uganda. She says she isn’t very good at packing so she is still here. She owns the New Court View Hotel and knows everyone and everything that is going on in Masindi.

14May06 Three Italian guys just came in from a forest walk. They are circumnavigating Africa in a Land Rover they shipped from Genoa to Djibouti. They travel in stages and store the truck during their returns to Italy. They have been forced to travel with armed guards in Somalia and Kenya but haven’t had any problems.

27May06 We spent the night at the Sugar Works as guests of Richard and Kara. Not all muzungus in Uganda are volunteers or NGO workers. Some are professional ex-patriots who find it more enjoyable to work outside of, in their case, the UK. Richard is an agriculture specialist who has worked in Papua in coffee and tea and now adds sugar to the brew. He met Kara when she was a VSO teacher in Malawi. Their friends Chris and Rose are another interesting couple. He’s British and she spent her first three decades in Zimbabwe and her family story sounds straight from Michner’s “Covenant.” After ten years in Britain they are back on the circuit. Most of the Sugar Works white staff are from the UK with a high percentage of Scots. We think their colonial heritage makes it easier but it may just be a way to escape from a very small island.

31May06 The big event of the day was the arrival of an American couple and their 6-year old son, Kelton, he of the enormous blue eyes. They camped here last night and went on a chimp walk with Vincent this morning. Gary is a professor at Wake Forest and Jill is originally from Castle Rock! I am sure we have seen her dad at the recreation center. Wake Forest encourages students to do things abroad like hiking in the Alps and has their teachers to along but on this trip Gary and Jill sandwiched a teaching stint in Vienna between a visit to Thailand and Vietnam and six weeks in East Africa. Kelton is an innocent beneficiary and can handle his end of adult travel conversations. The people you meet traveling off the beaten path, even Americans, are a cut above.

21June06 We stopped outside of Nyabyeya to visit the man who was subcontracted to make our cabinets. They won’t be ready for a while because his young daughter had been ill and just died. I am glad we stopped and happy he got the work. Vincent has a crippled leg and uses a long pole as a crutch. This is the way aid should be administered.

4July06 When we stopped at Nyabyeya Forestry College to check on the progress of our benches, Peter the Danish volunteer from MS Uganda was there. I couldn’t believe that MS, multiple sclerosis, is an issue here with all the HIV, malaria, dysentery, et al, so I asked what it signified. It’s for a German phrase with no direct translation which means something like “Different peoples working together.” Peter also told us about philosopher Eric Fromm’s theory that there are two types of societies; “having” and “being.” In a “having” society like ours it is all about possessions. Africans have a “being” culture focused on the here and now with little thought to planning or the future. As Connie remarked, it takes a lot of time to live here.

8July06 We also had several groups stop by today; birders, just-lookers, the French kids who were turned off by the new prices, and a group from Sonso that included Vernon Reynolds, author of “The Chimpanzees of Budongo” and his friend, a professor at CU-Denver.

29July06 We gave Chris Magin from the British Society for the Preservation of Birds, the UK’s Audubon Society, a freebie birding trip at the Royal Mile with the proviso that we tag along. While birding we met Dwayne (or Duane), he seems unconcerned with the spelling. Chimpanzees are like that, you know. Dwayne is about 40 and has enough gray on his back to prove it. He is the alpha-male of the Sonso group and was knuckling his way alongside the road checking the status of the fruit crop so he could report back to the troop. He was closely trailed by his human shadows with a hand-held computer to record his every activity.

2August2006 This afternoon a couple from Capetown arrived in their pick-up camper to do some birding. I had a flashback to Rocinante, Steinbeck’s home-on-wheels in “Travels with Charlie.” They have been modifying it for five years and know it will never be perfect. That’s the way we campers are. They came up through Zambia and Tanzania and will return through Malawi and Mozambique, quite a trip in their converted Land Rover. They told us about some real adventurers, a couple from Australia they met along the way who are traveling on a Harley Davidson. They have now covered 450,000 kilometers and visited 168 countries. Their goal is to ride to all 190-something nations recognized by the United Nations.

10August06 Two nights in a row young backpackers arrived after dark on their way to or from Murchison Falls. Some had camping gear while others were hoping to stay in a banda, a service Busingiro no longer offers. As adventurous as we are we wouldn’t consider getting dropped off in the middle of nowhere after dark. The Lonely Planet guidebooks, even the ’06 editions, can’t keep up with the changes and are merely guides, not scripture although many of us consider them our bible. Like the 13 young people who arrived in their bus last week with nowhere else to go, we let them sleep in the education center. It’s probably a bad precedent but what else could I do?

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