Back on the River
It was great to have a couple of weeks resting, relaxing, catching up and planning. One thing I did during this break was an assessment with Peak Dynamics, called the Judgement Index.
This is to assess how I’m holding up across a number of indicators as the stress and tiredness build through the trip. The indicators include problem solving, self-criticism, stress/coping/attitude, focus and more. I did one as a base before kicking off. It’s an interesting assessment where you rate a variety of statements in order of priority. The good news is that I’m actually in a better state of mind now than before I left Australia (when I was super stressed) and everything rated good or strong. I will continue with these assessments through the trip. You can find out more about Peak Dynamics and the work they do at www.peak-dynamics.net.
After a couple of weeks I was back on the river. To my relief the same guys, Paulo, Peter and Koa, agreed to come on this next section. It started with a super fun day of rapids along the section that Nile River Explorers run their daily trips.
Then it was flat and often slow water all the way to the border with South Sudan with the threat of hippos never far away.
This section was a chance to see more of Uganda and experience the culture.
After a few largely uneventful days we reached Lake Kyogo. This was a long slog for about four days. No moving water. And most of the time we battled a head wind. However, we got to stay at some great landing sites (where the fishermen in the village get on/off the water). A couple you wouldn’t know were there if it wasn’t for the fisherman appearing out of the deep papyrus via the channels linking the landing sites to the lake.
One was so narrow (above) we had to leave the raft with some locally sourced security on the lake while a fisherman ferried us to the landing site. Peter had arranged all of this and met the local Chairman.
The Chairman is the elected head of the village executive committee. They are expected to assist in the maintenance of law, order and security. The role goes beyond this to implementing policies, acting as a communications channel to government and higher authorities. Plus they initiate, encourage, support and participate in self-help projects as well as monitor government projects.
Every time we arrived at a village, as is protocol, we had to notify the Chairman. We would explain what we were doing and ask for their permission to stay in the village and sign the visitor’s book. More often than not we’d also have to report to the local police and show our identification documents.
In one case the Chairman (pictured right) very kindly invited us to stay at his house. They gave us water to bath with, fed us and even gave up their beds for us. Such kind and generous hospitality. One of his granddaughters was a lot less enthusiastic when she saw me. Guessing they don’t have too many mizungus there. One look at me and she started wailing. The Chairman brought her over, her hands covering her eyes in an ‘if I can’t see you, you can’t see me’ way. When he pried her hand off her face she cried and screamed. Never had that effect on anyone before.
I’ve become a big fan of the local food. On the second section of the trip the boys asked for local food. Apparently, I’m the only one with my previously mentioned love of spaghetti and Nutella.
We swapped the spaghetti for posho, and Nutella for dried silver fish. Then any time we were in a village or town we’d sniff out some local food. Posho is is a firm dough like porridge made from maize flour, a staple under various names across Africa and beyond. I’m a big fan of matoke, a traditional and popular food in Uganda. It's a starchy banana, not sweet, usually served mashed. Only thing is, it’s guaranteed to put some extra junk in the trunk, so need to minimise how much I consume! Sweet potato is also popular. All this food agrees with me massively. We started with it on the section across Lake Victoria in the various towns we were in. When I got back and started on the mizungu food my body made it clear it wasn’t a fan.
You never go for long without seeing a fisherman. The advantage is you have access to some amazing fresh fish. One day we met a fisherman and bough a Tilapia from him. The boys poached it adding some ground peanuts and tomatoes. It was serviced with some posho and enjoyed as we watched the sun set over the river. The best!
A BIT OF LUXURY
We made our way up to Murchison and had a fabulous couple of nights at the stunning Murchison River Lodge
Such a treat! It’s set right on the river next to Murchison Falls National Park. We made the most of our day off and went on a game drive in the park followed by a cruise up to see all Murchison Falls.
The next day Chris, one of the owners of the lodge, very kindly gave us a ride in his boat through the delta up to where we could put in. There were so many hippos in this area and they are known for being fairly aggressive. Also, even though the river is wide, there are lots of shallow areas even in the middle of the river. This is where you’ll find the hippos. Makes it hard to navigate and avoid them and I didn’t want to push our luck.
THE END...OR RATHER AN END
A few days later we made it to the take out, as close to the South Sudan border as we could safely get to. And there it was, the toughest sections logistically done. I have leant a lot and it sure had its challenges. But that’s what I was looking for. It delivered in spades everything I was hoping for and SO much more – challenge, adventure, fun, adrenaline, cultural immersion and making friends and new connections. I feel incredibly blessed and privileged to have been able to be doing this trip.
After that it was back to Jinja (which is beginning to feel like a second home). The only slight drama on this whole section was running out of fuel at one in the morning as we made our way back. The attendant had fake filled at the petrol station. We made it back eventually, tired but happy.
It was time for relaxing, a lot less organising and logistics to think about. Instead time to reflect on the trip so far and catch up with everyone here. AND Christmas! My first African Christmas.
I have been going to one of the local restaurants here run by the gorgeous Esther. She very kindly invited me to her home for Christmas day. I jumped at the invitation. She has two kids, one special needs, and she is raising them alone after her husband left her. Making ends meet is hard here.
Most people here send their kids to private schools as the government schools are fairly woeful. But then it’s finding the money on top of living expenses and any medical expenses. This is a country where around 10 million are in poverty, living on less than US$1.25 a day and are unable to meet the basic needs. Poverty it particularly bad in rural areas.
Esther may have a lot of stresses, but she never lets it show. She is one of the most positive, happy people I have met, always smiling and laughing. I had the best day with her – talking and talking, laughing and hugging. And eating – tucked into my favourite matoke with chicken, cabbage, ground peanut sauce, spaghetti and potatoes. Was ready to pop!
It ended up being a bit of a Christmas crawl. Next was a visit to Minette and her family for some desert and then Rob, Marj and Lucky (the puppy) for some more food. A wonderful Christmas I’ll never forget!
I’ve been following various reports and updates on the situation in South Sudan as well as talking to as many people as possible. The unfortunate situation is that even with visas, approvals and private security, the risks are still incredibly high, unacceptably so. A peace agreement has been signed, but it has a long way to go before it is fully implemented from the top down to grassroots. So sadly it means I will have to come back and do South Sudan another time.
The people of South Sudan have suffered for decades. They were at war with the North for 25 years until they achieved independence from Sudan in 2011, becoming the world’s youngest country. Two years later civil war took hold again mostly thanks to political and ethnic clashes and other than a brief lull in 2015 has continued ever since.
There is a significant humanitarian crisis there. More than 7 million of the population of 12 million, are in desperate need of some form of humanitarian aid. There is hunger, malnutrition and constant violence towards and among civilians and the economy is in crisis.
Since the beginning of the conflict 1 in 3 of the 12 million in South Sudan have been displaced. Over 2m fleeing to neighbouring countries and 2m internally displaced. Of the refugees 85% are women and children. South Sudan is now the 3rd most fled country behind Syria and Afghanistan.
The current peace agreement is in a fragile state and has a long way to go before it is fully in place. The people of South Sudan have suffered for too long. I desperately hope that they see real lasting peace, the end of the humanitarian crisis and rebuilding of the country very soon.
So for me, it's straight to Sudan, get on the water and keep going til I hit the Mediterranean Sea!!! Or at least that's the plan...let's see how it goes...