Homestretch Starts Tomorrow

It wasn’t raining when we woke up and stayed sunny all day. We are hoping for the same tomorrow when we leave to head back to Masaka. We ride about 38 kilometers, then take a ferry and then ride another 38 kms back to Masaka.

If it’s raining, it’s raining; there’s not much we can do about it and that’s why we brought rain jackets. We would just really like to avoid the mud as it wrecks the bikes, our clothes and my mood.

We went for a little ride today, got some money, water and soggy cookies and then explored a bit. I spent some time this afternoon talking with James, the waiter and bar tender here. He is super helpful and always goes the extra mile. I was asking about his wife who, he said, was born on this island and has never left. I asked him more about this because we have not met a single man in Uganda (except in smaller villages sometimes) who actually lives with his wife and children and I wondered if that was as common as it appeared. He told me that it’s very common because people have to go where the jobs are that pay the most. Yes, there might be a small restaurant in the small town where his wife lives, but the pay would not be enough for school fees for his two children. So, just like all the others we have had contact with, he lives here on the property of the hotel. He goes for three months at a time between visits and only gets to stay (without pay, mind you) for ten to twelve days before he has to return to work. Can you imagine that? He knows his children need his influence and he regrets deeply that he cannot see them grow and change. It made me very sad to hear how hard that is on the family, but he’s committed to caring for his family in the best way he can. We have seen this same situation in EVERY accommodation in which we’ve stayed.

Flavia, the 28-year-old housekeeper who has worked here for two years, shared the same story. Her boyfriend and family live on the mainland and she only sees them every three months or so. She says people do not travel to the island from the Entebbe side very often. One reason she said is that people are afraid to cross the water. It takes about three and a half hours to get here on a ferry from Entebbe and Lake Victoria is ranked as the deadliest body of water of its kind on the planet because of the number of deaths recorded each year (a mixture of lethal weather, poor communication and lack of resources are the three biggest cause of the high fatalities). The main reason that people don’t come over though is that the island has a reputation for having an abnormally high rate of HIV/AIDS and so when people move here, she says their loved ones “feel abandoned” and so then the families “abandon them and write them off.” They assume they will have other sexual partners over here and contract AIDS as a result. I’m sure that might come as a result of only seeing your partner four times a year, but James and Flavia say that assumption is wrong and has not been their experience. I left the conversation feeling both sad and helpless.

And now, for the last of your questions:

Question: What is the first thing you want to do when you get home?

Answer: We are really looking forward to spendig a day with Hannah at the Coast before driving back to Nelson and seeing Dylan. After that, we really want to eat some popcorn and sit on the deck in total anonymity and walk the streets without anyone noticing us.

Question: Have you seen any snakes?

Answer: Thankfully, only small dead ones on the road!

Question: Are there any Christian churches/ people in the villages that you might go and say hi to?

Answer: Every Sunday has been a cycling day so far so we have not taken the opportunity to do this. Truthfully though, I’m not sure that we would as it would be quite a distraction for the congregation and too overwhelming for these two introverts. We get enough attention as it is. We are going to attend church with Pastor Vincent next Sunday as the ride will be completed and we want to say a word of thanks to them for their prayers and support.

Question: With it being a tribal country – would it be right to assume that in the rural areas Christianity is rare or non-existent?

Answer: Our experience has been that no matter how remote we are or how small the village is, the people will do what it takes to get to church even if it costs them money to ride a motorcycle taxi, or walk long distances. We know the tribal traditions exist, and some are quite dark, but we have not experienced anything related to the witchcraft that we know exists or other unfamiliar traditions. The three main churches represented here: Catholic, Muslim and Christian. We have seen a pretty equal representation of each.

Question: Would you do this trip again and if so, what would you do differently, if anything?

Answer: I would probably not do this exact trip again, but only because I would like to see and experience new things and places. I don’t know if I would feel the desire to bike in Africa again necessarily, although it would be kinda cool to bring other people over and experience things from a fresh perspective. Would we do anything differently? Knowing what we know now, we would not drag a tent and sleeping mats for seven weeks considering the cheap accommodations that are so plentiful and the now-obvious safety issues with camping. We would have carried more jerky and less oatmeal knowing that breakfast is always included with a hotel stay and trusted meat protein is hard to come by. I do, however, want to encourage anyone who rides a bike or loves people and adventure to come to Uganda and experience the same generous hospitality, beautiful people, amazing landscapes, safety and affordability that we have found here. We are thrilled with our choice to come here to bike tour and will never forget our time here.

Question: You wrote that you get comments from men along the way – and some of them very inappropriate. Is that representing the view of women in general in Uganda, or is it more because you are white that you get those comments?

Answer: I think it’s a little of both. I certainly stand out as a woman riding a bike because after seeing thousands of men riding, we have only seen a handful of women on bicycles. The comments like “I love you, baby” and “Marry me now” are, in my view, either a joke or things they have seen on TV and videos. They watch a crazy amount of Bollywood TV and the themes are always about relationships from a male-dominated perspective. I don’t want to make a blanket judgment on the culture here because we know and have met many amazing men here who love and value their wives, daughters and mothers. But we have seen many interactions between men and women and it is a very male-dominated culture. We knew this before because of the other work I’ve done here with Martial Arts for Justice with victims of gender-based violence. But even the example of the woman on the ferry with the two restless children is what we have seen time and time again. So, again, the simple answer is that I think it’s both their attitude towards women and my white skin and what they think that represents.

Question: What are your Top 5 experiences from your trip?

Answer: This is a tough one to answer, especially because there have been so many good things. Of course, seeing animals in the wild and raging waterfalls is something I will never forget. But the first moment I reached the Nile and saw the magnitude of its size and power, I was humbled to tears. It felt like a very significant moment for some reason and I was so happy to be sharing the experience with John.

My heart is warmed and my spirits soar every time I get a high-five from a stranger on the road. I would say the encouragement from the people has been a huge highlight that I was not expecting.

A scene I cannot get out of my mind was the four little siblings that silently watched me from a distance with their arms all wrapped around each other as it symbolized to me not only the poverty that was obvious, but the resilience, hope and comfort that comes from relying on others.

The significance of the young man who paced me up a relentless hill on a difficult day was a highlight for me. He didn’t leave me and seemed almost protective as we pedalled together in silence.

And finally, meeting the Get Schooled students that we had the honour to meet before the trip and anticipating the final celebration with them is what this whole thing is about. I’m humbled to meet them as they are the real heroes in this story and should inspire all of us to never give up hope.

Question: Do you notice any difference in how outgoing and friendly little boys are compared to little girls? Does it seem that the girls have been encouraged to be more shy and reserved or are they just as curious and gregarious as the little boys?

Answer: We haven’t really noticed a big difference in this but the boys have been more likely to chase or run alongside us for longer periods of times. The girls are just as likely to ask for money, scream in excitement, wave, smile, and call out, “muzungu!” from hidden places along the roadside.

Question: How can we support your efforts?

Answer: First of all, let me say this was an actual question and not added by me. I’m so thankful that people are still asking this question. I have been overwhelmed with the support we have received already and we have had people ask how they can continue supporting the Get Schooled children. One man has even committed to sponsoring a child until he or she graduates. I’m so humbled by this level of commitment. So, for those of who want to continue your support, you absolutely can. To provide more than just one year of education for these children would be beyond my expectations and into the realm of miraculous. If you want to continue to support Get Schooled and give these children a real chance to rise above poverty, please let us know and we can get that set up for you. I will continue to do whatever it takes to maintain oversight of any level of support that is given.