I apologize in advance for the length of this post… We haven't had internet for the past few days, and I'm therefore combining two posts and backdating it to keep on track! :)
My stomach had completely dropped by the time I got up yesterday. I woke up bright and early, and made my way into town to the Tigo headquarters for my final few "on-the-ground" interviews for my research project. An additional piece of work I and a few other students have been tasked with in East Africa, is examining the influence of technology in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. My particular research project is focusing on the Mobile Money Transfer and Payment service, provided by the mobile network operator, Tigo. I have been in regular contact with the Tigo personnel in town, but was directed to meet with a data specialist at HQ on the outskirts in the morning, to which I gratefully obliged! After learning quite a bit about the company's operations, and discovering stats on the adoption and usage of the model, I made my way back into town to meet Jamie at the Bank of Kigali, so that we could withdraw US dollars for the next leg of our adventure.
Of course, what should have only taken us half an hour, took two and a half hours, due to some miscommunication at the reception desk, cards not being recognized, super long lines due to the bank being closed on Sunday, and of course, the leisurely "pole pole" pace of the employees. Nevertheless, we eventually got our money after paying a hefty service charge, and left feeling quite drained. Initially, I was planning on stopping at Nakumatt one last time, to pick up some snacks and two bottles of Coke, as my dad collects coke bottles from around the world, and the two I had initially bought at the beginning of the trip had since been consumed at our home accidentally by the boys while mixing drinks. However, because our driver was already at SFB waiting to take us to Uganda, I had to skip out on the Nakumatt trip. (Sorry Dad - I will try to find the same / even cooler bottles in Uganda this week!)
We rushed back and started packing. One always underestimates the time it'll take to pack, and this was no exception. It's hard to believe how much we settled in over the last four weeks, and although our place became homey, it made for quite the stressful rushed packing experience! After packing, we called our cleaner and paid him for his assistance throughout the four weeks, and then called a few of our friends to say goodbye. It was quite sad to say goodbye to Regis, who has been so good to us throughout the course, and even to Rehema, who has looked out for us and always made sure we felt part of "the crew." They both came by the house and we all promised to stay in touch. We then dropped off our keys to Dr. Murty, so that he could pass them on to Chris.
It's quite unfortunate actually, Chris called us to let us know that he was going to stay in the Northern province with Patrick for a few more days. I'm glad they're having a wonderful time up there, but am sad that we won't get to say goodbye! He will be continuing his research in Kenya, and since he has an extra month here, he figured he might as well make the most out of his time with Patrick in Rwanda! I'm looking forward to seeing his pictures, and left him a nice note before we dropped off the keys.
We then went to the canteen to take some lunch to go, and said our final goodbyes. Some of which included kind goodbye messages from secret and not so secret admirers! After picking up our lunch, we met Chris, our tour guide for the next three days. It's quite the coincidence actually: it's still Jamie, Chris and Salima, although it's a different Chris.
As we drove through Ugandan countrysides, we were surprised to see so many bicycles! Where in Rwanda the majority of vehicles were motorcycles, Uganda is more like the Netherlands, such that everyone rides their bike around! Numerous people were sharing the bikes as well, which helped me to understand the scar on my dad's forehead. He had been riding on the handlebars of my great-uncle's bike when they were kids, and I thought it was just playful mischief. Instead however, it seems as this practice is the norm, and that they were not being mischevious at all!
It was quite cold, so high up, so we were pleasantly surprised when one of the hotel assistants mentioned that hot water bottles had been placed in each of our beds to warm us up! It was certainly a nice way to fall asleep, breathing in the crisp fresh air, and cozied up to the warmth of the hot water bottle.
Our wake up call this morning was another pleasant surprise: there was a knock on the door and we were greeted by a staff member who had a tray in his hands, with a coffee flask and two tea cups on top! Ten minutes later, there was another knock on the door, and we were told that our showers were ready. Since we were so high up, they have to heat the water themselves, using firewood! It was a lovely, earthy shower, nice and warm, and the smell of burnt wood was pretty neat.
We set out on the hike, and spent about an hour trekking through the bush. The terrain was quite rough, but there was quite a bit of elephant damage around, so parts of our hike had a sort of path. I was very thankful that we decided to rent a walking stick for $5 US, as the guide had advised us that it is often beneficial to have a third leg when hiking this terrain. Janelle and David, the couple that came along with us, hired porters as well as walking sticks, also at the advice of the guide. Our guide (who when we asked his name simply responded, "guide") was great. He used his machete to hack away branches as he led us through the jungle, while communicating with the gorilla trackers, who were searching for the gorilla family's location today.
Once we arrived back at the camp, we were presented with our certificates, and proceeded to eat our lunch. They had set up a very overpriced souvenir stand at the base, with some lovely jewelry pieces and wooden gorilla masks. If trekking hadn't been so much, I would have bought something in an instant! Unfortunately, however, we have seen similar pieces for much less, and we therefore left for our hotel without purchasing any of the handicrafts. We quickly packed, checked out, and started the journey to my mother's birthplace, Masaka.
Since Masaka is en route to Kampala, Chris asked us if we could give his kids a ride, to see their aunt in Kampala. We said yes, as there is plenty of room in our van, and we had met the two of them last night, and found them to be well behaved. However, when we stopped in his village, the mother, two kids, and their baby got in! We were a little taken aback, and Jamie took Chris out for a talk. Hopefully Chris will do something for us to help us out with the price for the week!
As we started driving back down the mountain, we found out it is a seven hour drive to Masaka! We were under the impression it was quite shorter, but of course, the roads are quite terrible in the countrysides, and the construction patches do not help! I actually exclaimed my excitement quite loudly with a happy squeal when we finally hit tarmac about two hours in!
The drive was right through the gorgeous, gorgeous countryside of Western Uganda. We were surrounded by mighty mountains, carpeted with lush greenery, and dotted with mountain goats and cattle. The cattle here are plentiful, and the bulls have super long horns. There really is such rich scenery here, some of the most beautiful landscapes I've ever seen. However, on the sides of the roads, are some of the poorest people I've seen. This juxtaposition was a lot to take in, and really made me thankful for everything we have.
About three hours in, before even reaching the first town from the mountains, we discovered that our front left tire was punctured. Chris changed it on the side of the road, and then once we reached the town of Kabale, we had new tires put on each front wheel, and had the pressure topped up in all of them. This unforeseen incident was not helping our mission to reach Masaka and see it before sunset!
We stopped in Mbarara, about seven hours into the trip, and after looking at the map, we realized it would be still quite some time before we reached Masaka. Jamie was quite frustrated with the entire situation, and made some remarks about the country overall. Even through I've never been here, I do feel connected to the place, and he realized from my stunned reaction that I took offence to the comments. He apologized, and we ate a delicious dinner at a pleasant hotel restaurant. We also tried numerous times to connect to the internet without luck, and therefore started back on the road to Masaka.
We arrived quite late, and stayed in a nice hotel, called Hotel Zebra. There was no power when we arrived, but the staff went out of their way to bring us solar charged bulbs, and ensure that we had a pleasant stay. What a warm welcome into a town that has so much meaning for me! I'm so excited to see the town in the daylight, and really experience the place where my mom spent the first few years of her life! :)