Monday, July 21, 2014

Are we there yet?

When I was a kid, I used to pack a bag every night, just in case it was the night I could go to another land. In would go a change of clothing, a flashlight (later on, a lighter or two when I realized I'd have to bring extra batteries), a chocolate bar or whatever snack I was supposed to bring to school the next day, and of course, a book. I didn't know where I might end up or what I'd have to do--- Neverland, Camelot, ancient Egypt, perhaps move around the universe by means of tesseract or even find an Indian in a cupboard. I never stopped hoping or wishing for an adventure. 

About four weeks ago, I embarked on a different kind of adventure. One that was as magical and action packed, albeit uncomfortable (insert laugh track here) as any I had ever dreamed of. For half term, I traveled in Uganda and Ethiopia for a week in each country. 

I can continue on with a day to day account of what we did but that might end up with me glossing over the bad roads and disappointing packed breakfasts/lunches we had. Or the time that stupid me sat at the back of the van and almost threw up. 

What mattered was seeing rhinos for the first time at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary and arriving at Murchison Falls National Park at nearly sunset to watch the water spray as it hit the rocks and see rainbows in the mist.

Murchison Falls National Park

Yes, I went on a wildlife safari yet again but let me tell you, it's never the same. At least, that's how it is for me - the terrain, the animals - flying, crawling, running --- usually away from us, and the view of the horizon. We had a beautiful boat cruise on the Nile and saw birds, crocodiles, hippos and even an elephant trapped at the side of the cliff (trapped until it found its way back, I suppose).

#midlifecrisis #40yearoldchimp

At Kibale National Park, we went chimpanzee trekking. It was a bit underwhelming as the chimps stayed on branches and were quite difficult to see. The most exciting thing that happened was one pooping and peeing from the branches with us watching odious material oozing from the trees.

my bed at Wagtail Eco Camp
The warm welcome at Wagtail Eco Camp more than made up for our looong drive to Bwindi National Park, where I was given a single room because they probably thought Jeff & Rachel were together. Two whities, ya know (that comment was from Rachel by the way). While they played pool at a local bar, I walked around with some school kids until sunset. Everything I said they found amusing and a boy named Dosh invited me to his home to meet his family.

sunset at Ruguburi

Gorilla trekking started with me hiring a porter to take care of me in case I became too tired to continue. I thought of it as similar to taking an umbrella, you bring one to ward off the rain. It was true enough for me, as apart from carrying my extremely light day pack, he didn't have to do anything else to help me. The rest of our group, were composed of two British couples who won a trip to travel with Ian Redmond, a tropical field biologist and conservationist. We were pretty lucky to trek with them, no complainers among them and all quite interesting individuals. Ian regaled us with tales and information about animals and our guide, Sarah, was very knowledgeable and friendly. We spent a few hours tramping about and saw a <giant> forest elephant while the trackers looked for the Nshongi group. Less than 3 hours after we started hiking, a baby gorilla welcomed us, flower in its mouth, running towards us. It was the best hour of my life so far this year, besides, there was also some X-rated gorilla action.

After our awesome morning with the gorillas, we went to the market with Gordon, one of the guys from the lodge; and then visited their cultural center where we were shown their small museum and two more employees from the lodge, Judith & James, danced for us together with people from their community, a perfect end to our special day.

The next day, four bathroom stops later and our bums aching from the crazy drive over rough roads, we bade Abby, our genial guide, goodbye. 

To be continued...

*gorilla picture taken by Jeff Aspinall

Thursday, July 17, 2014

People and Books

I used to prefer books to people when I was younger. Or I thought I did.

I grew up in the suburbs and I didn't go out of the house much after my dad left to work for Saudi Arabia. My cousins by then had also left to join their mom in Norway and my sister was years older and didn't really hang out with me then. I was left to my own devices most of the time. The maid, who doubled as my nanny, would play with me now and then but for the most part, I amused myself by creating stories for and about my toys. The rest of the time, you'd find me curled up somewhere reading a book.

When I started school outside our subdivision, I was banned from reading books (outside of school books) --- that's another story --- so as soon as I was out of my mom's eyes, I had a book in hand and walked everywhere in school with one. It's not as if I didn't have friends, in fact, I was strangely popular amongst my schoolmates and was involved in a lot of extra-curricular activities. I was often included in school performances and won contests for public speaking quite a few times. In addition to that, I got into fights, played rough and tumble with the boys, ran around school with my skirts flying, in short, I was a regular kid, albeit, a bit of a tomboy. Yet a big part of my time at school was spent with books. Librarians loved me because I read incessantly, helped other people find books, and best of all, organized the shelves without being asked to. 

Books were my closest friends, they demanded much of my time but gave back as much. They kept me company, entertained me, calmed my fears and taught me things about the world, even when they made me cry. I was very comfortable with them, they never crowded me or spoke at the same time, two situations that freak me out when I'm with a big group of people. However, there were always a few people who could draw me out and get me to leave my books, at least, for a while. They were kind and funny, genuinely interested in spending time with me, had stories to tell and were willing to listen to mine. 

Eventually, it dawned on me how much books and people were alike. Let me give you examples:

  1. Sometimes, you meet people you can't get enough of. Like books, you want to read them again and again. They never stop being interesting and there's always something new to discover about them. They make you think, yet at the same time, you're comfortable with them.
  2. Other times, it's enough to meet somebody once. You don't hate them, they're just not going to be your favorite. 
  3. Have you ever tried to read a book a few times but just couldn't get into it? Gave it time and a few days/months/years later, voila, you like it and can't put it down. Some people are strange at first and you might not like them very much, yet sooner or later, you find out you have things in common and they can be your friends for life.
I can go on and on about this. My friends have heard me, time and again, discussing this. I don't see an end to finding similarities between them though. :)

Now, I can't live without both. People are good for the soul, for my soul. I enjoy time with friends and try to see them or be connected to them as much as I can. I still value alone time, but how alone am I when I have my books?

P.S. Sorry, it's not exactly a post about Africa. I promise the next one will be.

For an interesting read (I'm clearly biased)

Why Readers, Scientifically, Are The Best People To Fall In Love With