A Day of Contrasts

Today’s ride was for five of our youngest students who started either nursery school or preschool. Their names are Kaikara Hezed, Namugerwa Josephine, Lubega Stephen, Makumbi Elivis, and Kisakye Maureen.

Today was weird, and although both of us thought this separately, we are still unsure as to why. We started riding at 8 in the misty, cool air and we were quickly out of town after dodging around the trucks and weaving in and out of bodas as they drove kids off to school. We were expecting an amazing day of scenery and we were not disappointed. We moved from tea fields to banana plantations. There were huge stacks of harvested bananas piled onto bicycles and motorcycles hauling them to big drop off points where they were loaded onto trucks.

We only road about 80 km today, but it was mostly on very slippery muddy terrain as we moved through the rolling hills. There was a huge storm last night and another is building for tonight – sheets of rain and loud thunder. It’s pretty cool. I love thunder.

I have to say that John’s navigational skills have been stellar. I am amazed every day at the random trails and turns we take and it puts us right where we want to be. I trust him completely and we have hardly ever had to backtrack. Today was a challenge navigationally because there was a stream that interrupted every trail and some bridges were washed out. At one point he left the bikes with me and walked back down a massive hill we had just climbed to scope things out. I just sat in the grass and waited, trying to look nonchalant as I watched an older lady herding cows. There were four little kids ranging from about ages 2-7 who just stood there and stared at me. They had their arms all around each other and didn’t say one single word. I waved and the oldest one waved back but they wouldn’t come over to me despite my coaxing. I even offered them a banana but the oldest one just shook his head, “No.” This was quite the opposite behaviour than what I’ve experienced so far, so it made an impression on me. You can see me below just eating the banana myself.

We were riding past tiny little villages on a single-track muddy trail, trying to find our way when John looked left and noticed a warning poster slapped onto one of the doors of a home announcing “EBOLA.” He thought for a second that it would be a fantastic picture but he had second thoughts and wisely chose to just keep on moving past the quarantined house.

Maybe one of the reasons today was weird is because we experienced such a wide range of interactions and people in only the 80 km. Some were so kind and friendly while others were very hostile and came at us with lots of yelling, demands and threatening body motions. Some of the kids are so delighted to see us and wave and scream with all their might, “MAZUNGU! MAZUNGU! MAZUNGU!” Sometimes it becomes a chant that they just repeat over and over until we are finally out of earshot. And then other kids are demanding and sound rude (although I don’t think they mean to be). One girl today said in a very sweet voice, “Hello, Madam,” which was quickly followed by an aggressive, “Give me one of your bags!” As she stomped her foot. Whoa, girl.

Maybe another reason it was a strange day was the contrast in terrain. We got off the mud after awhile and rode a long segment where the shoulder was crumbling badly and dropped off abruptly into gravel. I had to ride close to John to warn him when trucks or cars were coming so that we could hit the ditch. The potholes are massive so you can hardly be frustrated when a vehicle comes tearing at you head on. It all seems to work – we haven’t seen a single accident yet.

Our hotel room is lovely tonight but in a horrible part of Kasese. We walked to get some water and snacks and saw a boy rummaging through a pile of trash on the road. It’s hard to say no to kids like this when they approach us with their hands out, but I’m trying to focus on our Get Schooled kids and tell myself that I can’t save everyone. Still…it bothers me and the images stay.

Our hostess at the hotel, Dorothy, is a lovely 25-year-old with two kids. She knew I wanted to go get some snacks so when I was heading out again to get some extra mangoes and bananas, she asked, “ Did you go to the supermarket already?”

“Yes,” I said. “Thank you.”

“Well, you know I also haven’t eaten anything yet,” she answered.

Taken slightly aback, I said, “Oh, well I’m going out to get some mango and bananas. Can I bring you one?”

“No, three,” she laughed, “one for me and him and him,” motioning to her two co-workers. I brought one mango and one banana… for her.