Friday, 30 January 2015

... Gorillas in the Mist: Little Angels

Lake Bunyonyi is a stunning part of Africa that I never even knew existed. About 10000 years ago a river was damned by the lava from an erupting volcano. The result was the beautiful lake, which aptly means the "place of many little birds". 6,437 ft above sea level, it is about 15.5 miles (25km) long and 4.35 miles (7km) wide. Its depth is believed to vary between 144 ft and 2,952 ft. It is one of the few lakes in the region that is rumoured to be free of schistosomiasis (bilharzia) and safe for swimming, however, this claim is not verifiable and so the closest I got to it was in a dugout canoe. Emerald hills rise from its shores with beautiful terraces cut into the slopes, giving you the false idea that you might even be in Nepal. Amidst the ever present red dust is an abundance of rainforests and agricultural land with a dose of an air of mystery thrown in for good measure. It has 29 islands, some of which have interesting and somewhat tragic histories:

Akampeine Island, which translates to Punishment Island, was where unmarried pregnant women were left to starve to death or drown by trying to swim to the shore until the 1940's. They were often saved by poor men or slaves who couldn't afford the regular bride price.

Bwama Island was an anti-colonial rebel base but by 1921, the missionary Dr. Leonard Sharp founded a leprosy hospital here. After leprosy drugs were introduced in the 1980s it became a secondary boarding school. Sharp himself lived on the nearby Njuyeera (Sharp's) Island.

The 35 acre Kyahugye Island is home to wildlife such as zebra, waterbuck, impala and kob. Alas their presence on the island isn't all that romantic, they were brought here from the nearby Lake Mburo National Park.

The legend of Bucuranuka Island, aka Upside Down Island, says that this island killed people as a result of a spell cast by a witch. Some men brewing local sorghum beer on the island refused to give some to an old woman passing by. The old woman asked if she could at least get somebody to take her to the mainland. A young boy took her over and when they reached the shore the island turned upside down killing all bar a chicken that managed to escape and the young boy.

This morning a bunch of us headed out on a free walking tour run by Little Angels, a non-profit orphan project (http://www.littleangelsuganda.org/the-project.php). From the campsite, we hiked up some steep slopes that surrounded the area, weaving our way past sugar cane plantations and banana groves. The higher you climbed, the more impressive the view got. The little islands rose from the water surface and you got an idea of just how massive the lake, seemingly stretching into the far distance.

As we trekked up the hillside we stopped in at a house to meet an interesting character named Frida, whom many call “the crazy lady”. Despite being in her 80's, this woman was bursting with energy. She gave each of us a big hug, and welcomed us with a song and dance. As translated by our guide & Little Angels founder Duncan, she wanted to find out which of us was his girlfriend. This somehow led to her groping us, squeezing our boobs and slapping our bums. Ok I must confess, out of all the girls I was the only one who didn't get their chest groped. However, she did seem more fascinated by my tattoos rather than the fact I don't have much of a chest. I broke out into fits of laughter regardless and even though there was a language barrier, it was easy to feel and appreciate Frida’s joie de vivre. We got to take part in weaving with banana leaves and grinding some kind of seed to make a flour.

Overlooking the lake, a little ways from Frida's, is the Little Angels Needy Children and Orphan Project. Duncan set up the project in 2010, in a bid to improve the lives of the children and offer them better education. All Little Angels children are living significantly below the poverty line. Having grown up in a poor family, Duncan was a sponsored child himself and he graduated high school thanks to his sponsor. With this project, he hopes to give back to his local community and help children from financially disadvantaged backgrounds. There are currently 200 registered needy children between the ages of three and eight under their care and new classrooms are being built so they can take more.

During the visit, we got to sit in a classroom and watch the children learn spelling and mathematics. We even got to teach them (my artistic talents shone through *cough*). After class, the children all gathered in the playground and we had the opportunity to play with them (they loved braiding my hair) and join in the singing and dancing. We were then asked to perform a song and dance for the children. Nothing like being thrown to the lions! I apologize, to the entire planet, for inflicting the Birdie Song on these poor, poor children!

You can sponsor a child at the project or make any kind of donation that you feel will help. Collectively our group decided to buy a bunch of food products and gather together any clothing we had packed which we could easily do without (cue a reason for me to get rid of several pairs of socks which I haven't worn and likely won't on this trip that I'd planned to ditch before heading home). A little girl had also seemed quite enamoured with my watch, which I had had for eons and hardly ever wear these days, so as we were leaving I ran over to her and fixed it around her wrist. We headed back to camp in a wooden dugout canoe where we took part in the paddling for quite the workout. Just as we docked the heaven's opened causing a mad dash for the clothes line to salvage my hand washed laundry that had been drying. Thankfully it was just a quick shower although my clothing would've probably benefitted from the extra rinse had I left it hanging.

This afternoon some of us took a walk with the promise of coffee at the local coffee shop... Except the coffee machine was broken. And they didn't have the type of juice someone wanted. And the power went out. TIA! Still, it was nice to go for a walk before a very yummy "fingers only" dinner of lentils, spinach, salsa, chapati & ugali (maize) and I did get a very nice cup of tea.

Tomorrow I will be kind of sad to leave this idyllic haven and hit the road again to head back to Kampala. 

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