Now – last time I wrote – we were about to head off to Uganda for Herb’s wedding. P & Herb had been off working in Melbourne & Indonesia. We had a group of American Uni students come to do an “internship” with us…and they thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to experience living in Mauritius but I’m a little unsure how much work was done. The program will certainly have to be tightened up for next time (my job, I guess).
Well…the trip to Uganda should have been a fantastic experience and I was certainly looking forward to it in more than one way – a chance to go to a traditional wedding (actually 2) as well as travel to a country that P & Herb spoke so fondly of and a chance to catch up with my son – the now-accomplished traveller…but the early signs did not bode well for the holiday experience I was hoping for.
First up – the night before we were due to leave – Air Mauritius contacted Matt (who was already on safari in Uganda) to tell him our plane was going to be delayed 2 hours (and why him? cos his name was one the top of the list of people on the booking, even though he left a couple of weeks before we did)…so at midnight there we were…frantically trying to change our connecting flight in Johannesburg (which we were now going to miss due to the delay and which in turn, caused problems for our Rwanda visas)…and…no luck – all normal people were home asleep in bed.
So we took the trip to the Mauritius airport at the new time and spoke to the Main Manager and after giving a huge sob story about how their delay could mean we would miss a wedding in Uganda (which was true!), they changed our South Africa Airways tickets for us… at no charge…and then to be really cheeky, I said that they should be paying for the accommodation that we were now forced to take in Jo’burg due to the delay…”No probleme Madame…Vee vill pay” as she scribbled something onto a piece of paper with the airline stamp on top…When we finally got to Jo’burg (watched our connecting flight take off from the plane window) & saw the Air Mauritius check-in lady – she generously wrote out our coupon for accommodation, breakfast AND dinner and FREE pickup from the airport!
So we headed to the hotel – a massive complex with several conference centres not far from the airport but quite nice – had time for a short wander around one of the shopping centres which was REALLY good (amazing what you miss when you don’t have it) and then headed back to the hotel for dinner. The front desk directed us to the restaurant – which happened to be “fine dining” – and since the food tab was being picked up by the airlines ordered entree, mains AND dessert then treated ourselves to a VERY nice bottle of wine & an after dinner liqueur which still was cheaper than the dinner…After brekky, when we went to check out – we found out the airline was going to pick up the WHOLE tab…a great way to start the new day…
And then at the airport – disaster! After waiting for an hour to change our homeward leg, we went to the check-in counter – bags were taken – and we were told “sorry – you can’t check in because the credit card that was used to pay the tickets has not been authenticated”…and that was going to prove a problem, since it was Matt’s card and he was on safari somewhere…arguments, discussions, going from one counter to the next, and finally “we can’t check you in unless it happens in the next 30 seconds”, so we bought new tickets…luckily the bags had been checked in otherwise we would have been on the next plane back to Mauritius….
I raced downstairs to get the cash for the Uganda visas, but it must have been “go slow day” as the lady fiddled and fart-arsed around & then told me I couldn’t get the cash without my passport & boarding pass, which P had upstairs at check-in…when he finally got downstairs with it all – we decided that we couldn’t wait any longer since it was only 15 mins til the gates closed and we still had to get thru immigration and get to the gate…that’s when the marathon race started…I have never been so “fleet of foot”…I don’t think P has either…and so relieved when the girls at the gate pointed to us as we bounded down the escalator towards the gate, barging past the other passengers…and finally we boarded – out of breath & exhausted…but on board!
There were a few other dramas on the trip which disproved the “it comes in threes” theory but I won’t bore you with those – only to say this…if you are ever travelling to Africa – make sure you have USD in cash, and if you visit Rwanda – don’t think you can get anything out of the ATMs on Visa because despite all the Visa stickers all over them – they don’t work and you have to sit in an office of a bank with the 1000 of other tourists with one person to serve you & get money by filling in a book’s worth of paper…oh and also – for some bizarre reason Aussies have to get a visa for Rwanda – so plan ahead, well in advance!
The traditional wedding was in Rwanda, where Fifi comes from. So P & I jumped on the bus for the 13hour trip there along with Herb & his family & a bunch of his rellies…I was quite fascinated by what I saw along the way; the fields of papyrus & jackfruit trees; the handmade red mud bricks cooking in the sun; the wood plank stalls displaying their wares which were anything from fruit & veg to woven baskets to meat hanging from skewers outside the small window; the wooden bed frames stacked outside the shops that looked like shipping containers covered in mud; the bags of charcoal with banana leaf lids; the trucks of Matoke (green bananas that are the staple food for Ugandans and many Africans); the school kids in their brightly coloured uniforms (even boys wore lolly pink);
the yellow jerry cans being carried to the river or pump to be filled with water for the household for the day; the hundreds of “boda-boda” which were motorbikes with long seats used as taxis (and called that since that’s the sound they make); petrol was about 2450 Ugandan Schillings per litre ~ AUD1.50/litre; the “stop/go” guys on the road using squares of cloth in red & green; the women doing their washing (clothes/sheets etc) in small plastic tubs & hanging the clothes to dry on any available bush (be it dusty or not); the guards with AK47s and shotguns at every petrol station and bank and on many street corners; a man selling clothes from a stand in a wheelbarrow that he pushed around the street; the red mud houses about the size of a small bedroom that housed a whole family, where they slept, cooked, ate & bathed – toilets were holes in the yard with a small fence around them; the stereotypical African “flat-top” trees; the Ugandan cobb (like small antelope) in the fields with the long horned cattle & goats; the extreme poverty of the people contrasting with the expensive modern road equipment…but most of all it was the happy smiling faces of the people that had the biggest impact.
Finally we arrived in Rwanda. My impressions of Rwanda were that it was very clean, very organised/planned out, lots & lots of tea (#1 export). The government imposed a law that on the last Saturday of every month, everyone in every town & city are banned from driving around the streets but must clean up around their homes, the villages, towns & cities…no wonder it’s so clean!! and probably easier to impose rules like this when you are starting a country from scratch again…
P & I visited the Genocide Memorial – we only had an hour which was really not enough time – but certainly long enough to be affected by the story of the million plus Tutsi Rwandese that were murdered in 1994. It was a very emotionally hallowing experience that brings tears to my eyes even thinking about it now…if you get an opportunity – you will cry buckets and feel ashamed to be part of the human race but it’s worth it…
The following day was the “Kwanjula” – the traditional wedding ceremony. Herb’s mum, Christine & Mamma J (aunty) helped me dress in the very ‘sexy’ traditional Ugandan dress with the big pointy shoulders (felt like I should be part of the Deep Space 9 cast)…first there was the 5 metres of stiff woven kakoi wrapped around and around my body, then tied at the waist & the top folded down – I was now about 5kg heavier and had added several inches to my hips…then came the dress, button at the neckline and pleated down one side – again tied at the waist, but this time with a massive heavy red silk sash that added another couple of kilos to the weight… P also wore traditional dress – no pun intended cos it did look like a long dress with pants worn underneath and sometimes a jacket…
The actual ceremony was held at a big beautiful modern home that happened to also be the Finnish Consulate’s (Fifi’s step mum)…Two open canopied areas decorated in tan & brown silks, leaves & woven ornaments on one wall above four high backed wicker chairs – perpendicular to them were two brown leather couches facing each other for the representatives of each family…in traditional ceremonies there is a lot of “negotiating” and it is all done by other members of the family- not the groom or his parents…anyway there was lots of banter back & forth all in Rwandese (so none of us could understand – and that was most of the Ugandans also)…but basically it was about how many cows Fifi was worth, along with gift giving of bottles of whiskey. Herb had actually hired some for the occasion and they made great ceremony of going to look at them. Then the cow-herder came up & told everyone about the cows, then two other guys came & “sang” apparently about Fifi & how many cows she was worth…one guy seriously looked like a pimp. Then Herb & his best man were called forward to sit in two of the wicker chairs.
There were traditional Rwandese dancers who arm movements included outstretched arms and upturned hands to represent the long horned cows…then finally, Fifi arrived, a beautiful bride in her blue & gold Mishanana (traditional dress), accompanied by her ‘bridesmaids” all in their traditional Rwandese dress – a singlet top, a gathered skirt & wrap over top – very similar to Indian saris…then it was all over & we were heading off, after we quickly ate the dinner that was finally offered us (traditionally Ugandan wedding offer guests food but Rwandese don’t…so we weren’t sure)…However Fifi was not allowed to come – although the ceremony is officially recognised as a marriage, she was not allowed to go with her husband until after the civil service which was a week later….
The rest of the Ugandan trip was pretty cool. We headed off the day after the Kwanjula with the other group who had already been in Uganda for the 2 weeks while P & I continued to work back in Mauritius (ie Matt & girlfriend, Aniel, Matt’s dad, Matt’s mate Jeff from Chicago who had visited us in Mauritius & who offered to give Son 1 a fantastic opportunity in Chicago for a couple of months, and Matt’s other US friends who were living in London, Stacey & Russell) to Lake Bunyonyi, loaded our gear into what could have been a Thai water taxi & 30 mins later arrived at our own private island for a night…Habu Haro Island. We stayed in tents that were permanently set up inside a shelter, complete with 4 poster bed, the essential mozzie net, small table & 2 chairs. Thru the back of the tent was the built on toilet & shower. The whole tent was on a wooden platform up amongst the trees…lovely & peaceful…and only us on the island!!
The “swimming pool” was the lake – which is the second deepest lake in Africa at about 900m – and has fresh water & salt water at various parts – where we all had a lot of fun calling to the children on the opposite island from the deck, beers in hand…the conversation went something like:
Children: “hello…how …are…you?”
Us: “I…am…fine. How …are…you?”
Children: “I…am…fine. How …are…you?
Us: “I…am…fine. How …are…you?”
Children: “I…am…fine. How …are…yooouuu? repeated many times…interrupted by the occasional “Jump Muzungu jump” (Muzungu means white person) when the guys were jumping from the diving plank…celebrated by the children jumping, laughing & clapping…
After a great dinner, including some “crayfish” from the lake (tails were about the size of small cocktail prawns – I felt cruel eating them) & a great night’s sleep, we headed off again on the taxi-boat to the mainland – passing several islands along the way; one of which was where the unmarried pregnant girls were left to die. Back at the mainland we were confronted by “market day”…hubbub and mayhem with all the locals in their “finery” (they dress up for church & market day) and their produce; cabbages, potatoes, tomatoes, chickens & pigs on the water edge, in dugout wooden canoes. From here we headed to Bwindi (which was windy!) & the Impenetrable Forest…to do mountain gorilla tracking…all along the way we were met with “helloooo muzungu” by the children with their huge smiles and waves….
We stayed at Gorilla Forrest Camp for the night, watched the monkeys outside our room playing & eating, was adopted by the camp cat, Rosette, before the early start the next morning for the trek …won’t go through all the details but must say, we were very lucky that we only tracked up mountains through forest for about an hour to find the gorilla family & what an AMAZING (!!) experience…very humbling to be within a couple of metres of baby gorillas & their mothers & even the silverback came very close…such intelligence behind those eyes…felt very privileged to be so close especially knowing that they are still being hunted & killed by poachers…After our hour was up (rules are that only one groups of 8 visit the family for no more than an hour a day & stay within a few metres), we headed back to our camp to rest up for the early start to head to Queen Elizabeth National Park (renowned for the climbing lions)…
Well – what a complete disappointment – saw several warthogs, one elephant in the distance, some Ugandan cobb and not much else…Lunch was next to the river Ishasha, on the opposite side was the Congo and between us & there, were a herd of Hippos…which are cute looking once in the river but quite different waddling out on the land. P was saying that when he lived in Uganda – the area was a popular camping spot but it started to get too dangerous with the rebels coming over from the Congo so it was closed as a camp ground.
Before we got to the “picnic” spot we stopped at a small village school. As soon as we arrived the children all streamed out of their “classrooms” and started to sing & dance for us. It was quite moving to see these happy smiling kids; some barefoot, some orphans, some in clean neat clothes and some in ripped dirty ones but all of them singing & clapping & dancing with huge smiles…The principal turned up on a bicycle boda boda with her little girl & a baby strapped on her back. I asked if I could visit one of the classrooms – the room was one of 4 in a hand built mud hut with tin roof, about 2mx3m with an old warped blackboard at one end. Three benches lined up in front that the children who were aged between 9 & 13, sat on. There was one text book that the teacher used and most children did not have pencil or paper so much of what they learnt they did by rote. I had a chat to the kids – they were learning geography. A teacher outside was holding a science text book & I asked if I could look at it…He was teaching his Form 6 class, about sexual reproduction. The science book was written in quite simple English & to be relevant to their culture eg. agriculture & cattle farming….More singing & dancing…more tears to my eyes…they are so appreciative of the small things!
After our safari-ing we headed to the place where Herb & Fifi would be having another wedding ceremony & reception…a beautiful hotel in a forest. This is where I FINALLY caught up with Son 1 – my wayward son – who had been doing volunteer work teaching soccer in Jinja to orphans & school kids & who then went on his own safari (& managed to see every one of the Big 5 & extras…the big 5 are lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos & buffalo, but he also saw cheetah, hyena, vultures etc etc) and then spent a week in Zanzibar just chilling (read “partying”). It was great to see him – it had been nearly 2 months…and he seemed very grown up.
After the wedding we headed back to Jinja with Son 1 – he wanted to show us around…and we had a great time there with him. He decided to stay on while P & I headed for a couple of days in Kampala before back to Mauritius. Of course with the amount of time we had, P wasn’t able to show me all the places he loved – but I did visit most of the favourite pubs he used to frequent….
Back in Mauritius – and back into work…how quickly the trip faded into a distant memory…a few days in Mauritius and we were off again – this time back to Perth (ah…tax time!!!) and then Son 1 was off to Chicago (begrudgingly…the girlfriend was putting on some pressure) – will leave that for another time…
Since returning to Mauritius it has been “go, go, go Bedlam” (imagine cheerleaders in short skirts & pompoms)…we have moved to a new office (a REAL office, not another garage) in the old sugar estate – an old estate house constructed of thick volcanic rocks…it’s pretty cool. I’ve been seriously working my toosh off getting accounts up to date – which included a couple of scary interviews with the Mauritius Revenue Authority…P & I are presently house hunting…the owner is trying to sell and has decided to renovate before he does…ahhhh – would be less stressful doing TEE marking!!!
Lots of smiles & love