I spend September 19th visiting chimps on Ngamba Island.  One of the staff members at the Wild Life Club Office asked me whether I had a chance to visit them; when he learned I hadn’t, he offered up his seat for me as he had been there numerous times.  I was super excited and arrived at the taxi park half an hour earlier than I said I would to meet the staff member.  As it was past the time we discussed to meet, I went ahead to Entebbe Nature Center.  ENC houses 40 different species of animals & cares for about 150 animals; they are different from a traditional zoo since they are a refuge for injured and older animals that cannot take care of themselves in the wild.

After an hour and a half of waiting (during this time I got a free entrance into the nature center) the staff member finally arrived at ENC.  Another hour went by before I headed with a secondary school group on a two-hour long ferry ride across Lake Victoria.  I won’t deny that I’ve a mild hydrophobia even though I know how to swim.  Something about not knowing how deep the water is and from almost drowning in the Indian Ocean as a 3 and a half-year old.  I also had no desire to be in Lake Victoria because of the high prevalence of Schistosomes that cause Bilharzia.  Despite my fear of water, flukes and rocking of the ferry boat, I was grateful for the (free) opportunity to visit the island.

I spend the time before the chimps’ feeding time exploring the island, taking pictures, spotting the Sacred Ibis (for the 1st time), other birds & two monitor lizards, and listening to a lecture that the secondary students had to attend.

It was refreshing to see students ask questions as I worked with older primary students in the village who had a lot of difficulty being comfortable enough to ask questions.  The answers to the questions were interesting; I felt the staff member was doing his best to answer them but I noticed a tendency to anthropomorphize the chimps.  It may take conscious effort to understand non-human animals in their own environment without feeling the need to attribute human qualities to make them more relate-able to people.

After the lecture, we went to the chimps outdoor habitat to see them feeding.  It was impressive to see our 98.7 % relatives sitting hunched forward with their knees bent before them, holding out their arms for a veggie, and vocalizing when their keeper threw veggies over the fence.  There were over forty chimps in the outdoor facility; the chimps were confiscated at the customs close to the border with Democratic Republic of Congo.  A couple of them were held in the indoor holding area because one of them kept trying to escape the island when he was picked on by other chimps & the other chimp was an incredible acrobat who like to jump over the fence.  Since an average chimp has physical strength of at least 3 adult men, visitors don’t get the same experience as they would when they track chimps in the wild (where they come relatively close to the chimps without protected contact, a fence).  We were also asked not to go too close to the fence since some chimps had a habit of throwing things at us.  I was amazed at how similar we were to the chimps.

After the feeding time, we left the island and returned to the mainland.  I felt exhausted and was thankful for the free ride (that was arranged by one of the staff members) back into the city.  After dinner I went straight to bed and left for site early next morning.

Next post…Gorilla tracking on September 25th.

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All Volunteer Conference

September 27, 2010

I left site on Sept 1st to attend the All Volunteer Conference held over the next two days.  Before I got to the hotel, I stopped by the Wild Life Club Office.  Procured a permit card for the college.  Yay! Now we officially have a live Wild Life Club at the college partnered with a parent organization.  I’m so excited.  I really can’t wait for one of the staff members to come and give talks & show documentaries.  It would be incredible if the students could visit one of the parks.  Gosh! That would be a great opportunity for them.

I rushed to get a facial after a downpour while I was at the Wild Life Club.  I know, facial in Africa.  Totally! A friend at a salon gives me awesome facials.  She is friendly and professional–2 things I look for before I do business with someone.  The saloon uses high grade skin products.

I met up with Fractal in Garden City and had mouthwatering vegetable pies at Uchumi before we headed to Hotel Ridar.  Finding a taxi around rush hour on Jinja Road was a headache but the broker whom I greeted found us a private car who was going that way & we paid the nice lady for the ride.

We checked in and found a room with a double bed, which is unbelievably hard sometimes.  After checking in, we went downstairs for dinner.  I wasn’t hungry since the veggie pies were still digesting.  We saw PCV’s we hadn’t seen for ages.  It was a wonderful reunion.

Over the next two days I spend time with some incredible people, met Ambassador Lanier (I mentioned to him that I send him a letter addressing my concerns about how Ugandan visitors are treated at the Embassy), sat through interesting sessions (Raising Voices, Family Planning, secondary projects–I never knew making soap would so rewarding)ate delicious food, caught up on my sleep, and hung out with the kitchen staff.  The kitchen staff @ Ridar were welcoming and super cool.  On the last day of the conference we had some delectable pizza.  My mouth waters when I think how delightful it was.

I also danced @ the Talent Show because someone from my group signed me up.  Even though I love performing, I don’t always take the initiative and was glad some one gave me the push.  It was an impromptu performance but it worked out.  A friend from my group asked me whether I could go to her site and show some of the girls in her area Bollywood dancing, which I gladly agreed to.  That gave me another idea of starting a dance club.  Dancing is an integral part of African culture and empowering girls through creative movement may be a way to break the initial ice and give them opportunities to express themselves where they feel in charge and comfortable to be themselves.

After the conference Fractal went back to site.  I wanted to visit homestay but an emergency came up.  I heard from our host mom that our host sister’s baby was in the hospital.  I made my way to Kololo hospital where I stayed the whole day. Baby I is an adorable baby, happy & the least fussiest baby I’ve ever met; it was painful to see a 7-month old baby with tubes inserted in his nose and arms.

I don’t know how pediatric nurses, doctors & other medical professionals tolerate all that pain their little patients take; it takes incredible strength to do what they do.  Even though I’ve respect for pediatric doctors, I was annoyed by Baby I’s doctor.  Baby I’s grandma (my host mom) managed to calm him down; soon after he calmed down, the doctor entered the scene, picked up the baby, and asked him how he was doing.  Baby I started shrieking.  Seeing the infant’s response, the doctor asked him why he was crying.  What’s the doc thinking? Or is he not? Why would you take a child who’s comfortable on his grandma’s lap, raise him in mid air, and ask him how he’s doing.  I was later introduced to the doc and found out he did an exchange program in the twin cities in MN.  I wanted to ask him where he learned to interact with his patients the way I just saw but decided to hold my tongue.  In the evening my host sister, her husband, Baby I’s nanny & I headed back to their apartment while the grandma cared for the baby.

I had a restful sleep and headed back into the city the next morning.  I had my first tennis lesson at the American Rec Association.  The coach was amazingly encouraging and patient.  I learned forehand and backhand.  Met some really nice and friendly staff.  I was introduced to the ARA cat Jerry; I thought the name was slightly odd for a female cat, even though giving girls traditionally male names is not uncommon here.  She was the fattest and the oldest cat I’ve seen in Uganda.

After the tennis lesson, I made my way to the taxi park to catch a matatu to I-town.  That leads me to a lesson I learned that day: if you can help it, then avoid taking late afternoon taxi because the drivers think they’re infallible.  I had a gravity defying experience and felt I was in an airplane at various points of the voyage.  I did make it home in an intact piece.  I was glad to be home to Fractal, Kunda the cat & Peace the duck after a long rewarding day.

The fish

July 11, 2009

June 20, 2009

Seated under the luminous afternoon sky on the woven pink palm mat, my neighbor Diana sat across her friend Sandra rocking little Pam on her lap near the thatched gazebo.  I stood on the grass near the intricately handcrafted mat looking through the Minolta binoculars eyeing the Broad-billed Roller perched high on the pine tree.  Wak, wak, wak!  The deep raspy call caused Diana to look up from her conversation and study what I was watching.  Amused that I would spend time observing an ordinary bird, she asked me whether there were any birds in America.  I informed her that there were numerous birds in North America, but the Broad-billed Roller is a native of East Africa and the only one I had ever seen in the US was at the African aviary of ZooAtlanta.

Diana invited me to sit and talk to her about America.  Thinking that I’m not used to bending my knees to sit on the ground, Diana nudged her stepdaughter Paulina to bring a wicker stool for me.  Sitting on the small stool with my legs stretched out, I waited for Diana’s questions.

Do you have trees? Mango trees? Jackfruit trees? How about geckos? Are there mosquitoes? Do women breastfeed? Do you cook on a sigiri (compact charcoal stove)? Do you eat fish? Do  you have the kind of fish we have–the one with breasts?

Keeping a straight face with the last question was a mammoth task.  Unsure whether I heard her correctly, I reiterated her question.  She nodded.  I asked her whether she was mistaking the “fish with breasts” with a mammal.  “No,” she insisted.  Then she added, “women don’t eat those fish, but men eat them and become stronger.”  Wondering whether scientists discovered a new species of animal with fish and mammalian characteristics, I googled “fish with breasts” in the search engine and discovered that there is indeed a fish with legs and breasts in America–in Sekiu, WA–but it just happened to be a wooden statue that welcomed tourists to the small fishing village.