Tuesday, 29 November 2005

White Water Rafting on the Nile

White Water Rafting on the River Nile (Uganda)

M: On Saturday the 26th of November at 7:30am I boarded the Adrift bus to Jinja, which is the source of the River Nile. After receiving instructions, eating bananas, and putting on our helmets and life jackets, the group got into three rafts (nine people in each) and headed down the Nile looking for adventure and thrills. The trip consisted of some Grade 2 rapids, several Grade 3 rapids, a few Grade 4 rapids, and four or five Grade 5 rapids.

With my heart beating rapidly and my lungs gasping for air, I awaited the first rapid with apprehension. Early on, our raft tipped over on one of the rapids. I was tossed into the water with the rapids turning me every which way. I held onto my paddle but kept getting hit by another paddle which was being flung against me underneath the water by the rapids. Once all the confusion was over, I found myself out of the rapids and back in control. I made my way back to the raft. After this first episode, I knew what I was in for – a thought which did not console me. I quickly learned that our guide – an Australian extreme sport adventurer – was the leader of the groups (much to my reassurance: she knew what she was doing). She knew how to navigate our raft in such a way that we could command the river, the current, but most of all, the rapids (except for the last Grade 5/6 rapid which is ominously called “The Bad Place”).

We continued to make our way down the Nile River. For lunch, we stopped at a small island in the middle of the river where they had bread and sandwich toppings, juice, water, and pineapples. I stuffed myself and was (too) soon after told we were going back out. With a bloated belly, I readjusted my life jacket and tried to digest my food before it came back up.

The second half of the day saw long stretches of relative calm (with a slight current) waters. At such points, we got out of the rafts and swam or floated down the Nile. No piranhas and no crocodiles...

One of the worst Grade 5 rapids that I endured had a sort of ‘waterfall’ within it caused by the way the rapids dropped. We managed to keep our raft from tipping but the weight and force of the 'waterfall' made the paddle of the girl next to me smash into my right hand. I thought for a brief moment that it was broken and so did our guide. Feeling and movement soon came back to my hand but the bruising, cuts, and swelling remain. (I also realised when I returned to my hotel that I had somehow – I guess not surprisingly - pulled a few tendons in my right shoulder and had to wear a sling for 3 days). As I get older, I lose part of my wild and crazy and impulsive ways. However, I will always be “Melanie” and I don’t think those characteristics ever really leave you.

It was surreal to be in Uganda and rafting on the Nile River. Locals were washing their clothes and laying them on the banks to dry. Young kids were swimming naked. Cows were grazing alongside the riverbanks. Fish were jumping out of the water. Birds were resting on rocks or diving for fish. The sun was blaring and as hot as could be. The water was the perfect temperature. The rapids were fierce and unaccommodating. It was scary, nerve-wracking, exhilarating, soothing, adrenaline-flowing and memorable all at once.

Check out the photos, but I warn you, some photos may not be suitable for young and/or unadventurous viewers! ;) To see the photos, click here.

Thursday, 24 November 2005

Week 3 in Uganda

M: The government of Uganda has put a ban on all talk surrounding Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye’s case (he is the potential leader of the opposition and main political threat to the current president). This means there will be no media debate, not talk shows, no demonstrations, no public rallies, and definitely no riots. We shall see…..

Besigye was taken to Court again today (Thursday, 23 November 2005) and talks of protests have surrounded the city since yesterday.

I went to my first UN OCHA (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) security meeting yesterday. It was very interesting but unfortunately I cannot give any details! Top secret!! ;)

The power has been going off quite frequently and for long periods of time (also reason why I have not been on the internet much).

Last week, at the bail hearing for the 22 PRA suspects, the Court was “invaded” by the Black Mamba Hit Squad. These “Men in Black” as they are called locally, were sent to re-arrest the 22 PRA suspects.

CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting; which is being held in Malta right now) is also debating whether Uganda should hold the bi-annual meeting in 2007, as a result of recent events.

I am witnessing interesting times for Uganda. The next few months should determine what the near future holds for the country. Tension is also elevated due to Presidential elections set for March 2006 and the fact that Museveni’s NRM government changed the Constitution so that he could run for a third term (not to mention the fact that he arrested the opposition leader). Politics does not mix well when all this is going on: plus a nineteen year insurgency by the LRA against the Government of Uganda, coupled with ICC indictments for the arrest of the top five LRA commanders. Wow! A lot for such a small, poor country. I am definitely happy I chose to write my Conflict and Sustainable Peace Masters thesis on this country!

Monday, 21 November 2005

Equator in Uganda

M: I went to the equator yesterday (Sunday 20th of November). This is the line that divides north from south.

Thursday, 17 November 2005

Update on Riots

M: Well, three days since Besigye was arrested, things have calmed down in the city centre. President Museveni has spoken and urged people not to let thingsget out of control. An increase in armed guards, armed security, and military police are patrolling the streets day and night making sure no one gets out of hand. So things will hopefully get back to normal. I hope everyone has been following the situation on the news!!

Tuesday, 15 November 2005

Riots in Kampala

M: At 1pm yesterday (Monday the 14th of November), the opposition candidate, Dr. Kizza Besigye (Forum for Democratic Change) was arrested. He was subsequently taken to court in Kampala and charged with treason, supporting armed insurgents, and rape.

Riots in the city centre ensued. From the RLP office, I could hear the bullets (rubber or real you are never sure) being fired and people screaming. I could see clouds of thick, black smoke from burning cars. The Ugandan police forces sprayed tear gas at the people looting and rioting.

This morning (Tuesday 15 November) Besigye was taken from Luzira Prison outside Kampala to the court in Kampala city centre. The riots quickly resumed. Again, tear gas and bullets fired. Local opinions think that it can only get worse. Many people apologise to me for having to be here to witness this and assure me that Kampala/Uganda is not usually like this.

First Week in Uganda

M: I have survived my first week in Kampala, Uganda. As soon as I arrived at Entebbe Airport on the 7 November 2005, I could smell the tropical air, complete with burning refuse. I said to myself, “Ah, welcome back to Africa”! Uganda is one of 10 countries in the world through which the equator passes. The equator line is about 78km south of Kampala.

Kampala – the city itself - is quite chaotic, with mototaxis (called boda-bodas), small minivan buses (called matatus – see photo in Flikr set), and SUVs clogging the disorganised streets. Rush hour lasts about 3 to 4 hours in the morning and 3 to 4 hours in the evening (4pm to about 7pm or 8pm), which means you will not make your way from one end of the city or out of the city for about 2 hours. Most people tend to live outside of the main centre, hence the congestion and bottlenecks at every intersection and roundabout. Compared to Porto-Novo (the capital of Benin), Kampala is busier and more disorderly, perhaps because there are tons more people. At first glance, there are more similarities than differences.

The soil is still as brick red as I remember it. The power gets cut off almost every day for a few hours. They call it "load shedding". This happens mostly in the evening, which I find is worse because there are no streetlights.

My bargaining skills are as good as ever! I have been trying to find local food but whenever I ask, I am always directed towards fish and chips or pizza. Indian food is quite good and popular, so is Chinese. The air is filled with dust and thick black exhaust fumes. This is compounded when you take a boda-boda. I wash my face with cleanser and yet my white towel comes out an orangeish-red. I clean the corner of eyes and blow my nose and it comes out black.

The people are quite friendly. Each child – one after the other - has to come up to me individually and say, “Hi, how are you?” Another famous quote is, “You are most welcome” to just about anything from entering a store to asking a question. People will also agree with you and say that they know where such and such a place is even though they don’t, and they will even repeat exactly what you say, as if in agreement, even though they have no idea what you are talking about.

In Luganda (the language widely spoken in Kampala), they have trouble pronouncing the letter “L”, which means, even here in East Africa, I am known as “Merani”!

My first week I stayed with a family (Jed and Daniel Stern) outside of the city centre in Ktintule. They run the NGO UConnect. They were quite generous and let me stay with them at their house until I found my own accommodations. I moved to the Faso Hotel (click here to see photo in Flikr set) near Makerere University on Saturday (12 November 2005) and will be staying here until I leave for Nairobi on the 24th December 2005 to meet up with John. The hotel is quite simple but it is nice and I feel safe. I worked them down to US$12.50 per day with breakfast and laundry included. My breakfast consists of coffee, passion-fruit juice, banana, pineapple, watermelon, omelette and bread. The people at the hotel are over-friendly and overly helpful. I like the image of being treated like a princess, but this is really too much! Honestly. The Faso Hotel is much closer to the city centre and close to where I am doing research and I can walk to most places. I spend my days working/researching out of the Refugee Law Project (you can find the link on right hand side of blog). They have someone who runs the kitchen, so I am spoiled! He brings me coffee in the morning and then for lunch I will have either an avocado, tomato, cabbage, red onion, and carrot salad with chapatti (this delicious pita-type bread) or beans with rice and a form of sweet potato.

So far I have not had a decent night of sleep. At the Stern house, I was either woken by the rooster who crows all the time, a million birds singing to each other, or club beats from a bar several blocks away. At the Faso Hotel, I am either woken by people in the hall, men cheering at the football match, the staff outside yelling at each other, the 7am phone call from reception asking what time I wanted to take my breakfast, or – because it was Sunday – a church choir.

If you click on the photo (or here), you will be directed to a set of photos using Flikr. There is a photo of the national mosque, which is in construction. Actually, it originally began under Idi Amin (1971 – 1979) and is now being funded by Colonel Gadaffi! You will also see a few photos of these crazy birds. They are huge! I think they are called Storkbill Cranes or something like that. They are everywhere! There are some photos that were taken on the roof of the Faso Hotel on Sunday (13 November 2005) and show the area around the hotel. You can also see a panorama of Kampala from the rooftop.

Friday, 4 November 2005

Melanie's Farewell Fest

J: A significant posse assembled on Friday night to wish Melanie well on her big Uganda study and work adventure. The night began chomping on Belgian food and downing pitchers of 2-for-1 mojitos at "L'Amour Fou" a nifty little resto-bar in Ixelles. We then finished the evening at a Brussels institution (and home to a wacky mix of old and young): the "Archiduc" bar [click the pic to see the full set].

Rhett and Karla in Belgium

M: On Thursday evening, John and I introduced Saskatchewan-natives Rhett and Karla to a true Belgian Brasserie, "La Mort Subite". We had a great night beginning with true Belgian fare (lapin grille, stoemp, et jambonneau) at " Cafe Le fin de Siecle" followed by true Belgian beer in HUGE mugs.

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