This is a culture of apology. Or perhaps one of concern lost in translation. I trip on the bricks infront of my house, my guard says he is sorry. I drop a pot of water preparing tea for some students of mine, they are both sorry too. I sneeze, sorry. I forget my keys, sorry.
Or the other night, when Kathryn and I ventured to an Ethiopian restaurant in Remera. Mistaking an entire hot pepper for a green one, she begins involuntarily crying, and the old men two tables over are…sorry. I wasn’t sorry, I just laughed. I am a bad friend. That is why I swallowed a hot pepper accidently a few minutes later too. Serves me right.
The incessant burning resulted in a trek across town to find ice cream, our moto drivers thinking us completely insane.
Fitting for the week. Try explaining why white water rafting is fun to Rwandans who don’t like the rain. Chalk that up there with explaining the purpose of Halloween. Pure insanity. And while we might not have celebrated Halloween this weekend (that was two weeks ago), we did go rafting.
So, last Thursday we left for Uganda. After an eight hour bus ride, we arrived in Kampala. A large grimy city, which oddly reminded me of Toronto. Perhaps the sheer size of if, rather than the cows eating from garbage piles. But, I awoke the next morning to rain on the roof of our banda and monkies in the trees, so I was happy enough.
Four days after the fact and I was still incredibly stiff and sore. It is like a morning after snowboarding, when you wake up and all your muscles seem to cry out at once. All I wanted was a hot bath, and yet I was greeted only by a bucket of cold water. Yet, despite this, the sunburns and sore muscles, it was entirely worth it.
Two rafts. Our raft was eight in total; three serbians in teeny scarring bathing suits, three canadians (including Kathryn and i), one brit with two black eyes face planting the water when bungee jumping, and one kiwi, our guide Ruben. A funny fowl mouthed burly blonde boy who clearly thought the world of himself, but seemed to think the world of you too. So it was more endearing then anything else. Add five Ugandan safety kayakers, one more in a safety raft.and set us adrift on grade 5 rapids. A motley crew to say the least.
The entire experience was unbelievable. I think that is the most accurate way to describe it. You would descend these giant walls of water, to be greeted by another rising ominously in the other side. But first you would hover above, as if in slow motion. Everything quiet, deafened by the roar of the rapids. And for this split second you could watch these fields of churning water. Waves braiding themselves down the river. Tying themselves in knots then slowly unravelling and unfurling into massive pools. This moment amidst beauty with your heart in your throat. And then the moment would pass, time would resume itself, and you would begin sliding swiftly forward, as the walls came crashing down on all sides.
Sometimes we would tip. Sometimes we would not, raising our paddles in the air, an act of triumph. However, the times we tipped were more frequent then the times we did not.
One instant it was blue skies, the next churning white, and then black. Two invisible hands grasping at your ankles, pulling you further and further into the depths. A twisting tunnel, forcing you forward through the muffled roar and out the other side. Alice in her rabbit hole. I would resurface choking & grinning.
This process quickly became par for the course.
One time only the boys fell out. Another instance (over a sixteen foot waterfall), it was only Ruben who went shooting over our heads. Grimacing, he swam his way back to our laughing raft. But most often, we all went tumbling over the red sides into the frothing mass below. After one such instance, I made it onto the safety raft with nearly all of our paddles. Hauled up by the operator, an entertaining Ugandan boy named Peter (who told me that he had been a mzungu from Vancouver in a past life). We were too close to the next rapid to return me or our gear. So peter and I laughed and laughed as we watched my raft attempt to navigate the next rapid with only two paddles. Miraculously they made it out in one piece.
But, the last rapid was the most intimidating. Itanda Falls, otherwise known as “the bad place.” And as we soon learned, aptly named. Although, as of the other night, we have concluded that Ethiopian food is more painful then the bad place.
The river was lined with locals, watering long horned cows, washing clothes, or simply observing the spectacles that are the Jinja rafting companies. We had to portage around the first part; a grade six rapid. But it was enormous so setting ourselves adrift part way through was terrifying enough. We flipped in the middle of the river, and were promptly pulled under. A downwards spiral of liquid fists and actual limbs. I cannot tell you how long I was under the first time. But my lungs were screaming by the time I surfaced, only to be pulled immediately under again. This pattern repeated itself another two or three times before I finally found myself disoriented and downstream.
So…rafting in Ottawa next summer? Or the rockies? Anyone? Because I am so in. Seriously.
The ride back to camp from Itanda Falls was close to fourty minutes along dirt roads in rural Uganda. Red dust, mud huts and naked babies in the late day sun. I spent the trip perched atop the back of a converted cattle truck, clutching the metal bars. A wooden bust on a sailing vessel, perhaps with messier hair. A moment I wish I could repeat over and over.
The night occurred sprawled on red lit couches in an open building. A thatched roof, a sand floor, and a spectacular view of Bujagali falls (the first grade 5 of the day!). Two rafts clinking glasses to a job well done. I even got the Ugandan bartenders to play my ipod over the speaker system for a good few hours. Eventually we retired, not to bed, but rather to the field to rehash the day and star gaze. Or more accurately, befriend three friendly camp dogs and play our infamous scenario-digital-camera-game. Something long ago perfected in Kathryn’s Etobicoke basement with the likes of one lovely Katie Hamilton.
For instance, what would you do if…
…suddenly you come out of a rapid and all of your clothes have been ripped off in the process (apparently Kathryn would be happy. haha)…
…if you involuntarily swallow way too much water, (which later became known as ‘sips of the nile’)…
… if you could ride on the top of a cattle truck all day every day…
So yeah. In conclusion, Uganda = Amazing.
...Depite our last taxi driver at 5 am taking us to the bus station. He had to shake the car back in forth to keep it from running out of gas. Kathryn and I flailing around the back seat in the dark. But I got to watch the sun rise on our bus back to kampala.
I feel as though significant moments in my life (if only internally) are always tied to either sitting in cars, rainstorms, the early mroning or some combination of the three.
Either way, I routinely forget how pretty it is.