• Kathleen Holyoak

Uganda - Part IV

After we finished our work in Kampala, we were off to the small southwestern village of Bwindi where the Impentrable National Park was located and where we were hoping to see some silver back gorillas, pygmies and get a feel for life in a very rural area of Africa. This entry, however, will focus on the village of Bwindi and a school for orphans.


I love this quote by Ibn Battuta: "Traveling leaves you speechless then turns you into a story teller."

Anyone who knows me personally also knows that I always have a camera on my shoulder and the photos I take help my stories live on.

(Map courtesy of web) As you study the map, note the proximity of Kampala and Bwindi in Uganda.

Because we were short on time, we opted to fly to Bwindi and then drive back to Kampala. We boarded a ten passenger aircraft and were soon off for a one hour and 8 minute flight away.


Our pilot was a very attractive young woman and I was thrilled to see a female in the pilot's seat.

Upon landing on a very small landing strip, Joseph, our guide, was there to meet us. He was a sweet man who greeted us with a big smile and a "welcome." We piled into his broken down van and took a 2-1/2 hour drive on a one lane dirt road. If we thought roads were terrible in Kampala, these were even worse. The washboard road and the potholes were so bad that our heads hit the ceiling as we bounced around; it was evident that the shock absorbers on this van were shot! And. . . when it rained, the ceiling leaked but we just laughed and were grateful to have a guide who knew the territory as we were completely at his mercy.


When we learned that Joseph had driven 12 hours all night to meet us at the airport, we felt badly but he was our transportation back to Kampala so that was the only option. Therefore, in addition to his fee as our guide, we paid for his room, meals and gave him a generous tip. He didn't speak much English so conversation was a little difficult and limited.

View from airplane of the terrain below.

The area was completely different from Kampala. There were mountains covered in banana orchards, tea farms and lots of trees.



Confucius said, "Wherever you go, go with all your heart." I don't believe Garth or I stopped grinning our entire drive to Bwindi.



Everywhere we drove, people would turn, look at us, then smile and wave back. It was heart-warming to see how welcoming they were to strangers because our pale faces certainly made us stand out.


The area was lush and green and even though the roads were challenging, we were fascinated with everything we saw.



We passed by natives walking along the side of the road and saw little huts tucked away in the banana trees and dense foliage.


It's a very hard life in Africa and children are taught to work because that is all part of their survival.

The roads were narrow and often times hard to pass other vehicles.

We arrived in Bwindi about1 PM to find a very small main street lined with shops.


With much excitement, we drive into Bwindi.
Main street in Bwindi
Fruit market

Local merchants depend upon tourists to survive.

We passed by a school with children waiting outside.


Children waiting outside a school.
Off to work and sell handmade items.



Joseph took us to the place we were staying and we checked into the Bwindi View. The picture below was taken outside our little room and the van we were traveling in.


There was a cute little porch with a table and two chairs where we could sit and relax with a lovely view.



Veiw from our room.

Rather than pay $880 for two night's lodging in a modern hotel, we opted for a lower priced room. As long as we had a clean bed and indoor bathroom, we didn't care but even at that we paid a whopping $250 for two nights. It was small and sufficient for our needs but what we didn't realize was that it had no electricity so it was a good thing we had brought a flashlight.


Garth trying out the double bed.
Our bathoom. Notice the shower!





After a quick lunch of the "daily special" consisting of stew, rice, beans and tortillas, we were ready to explore.









"Travel isn't always pretty. It isn't always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart but that's OK. The journey changes you; it leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart and on your body. You take something with you and hopefully you leave something behind." Anthony Bourdain



When we saw these local outhouses, we were even more grateful to have an inside bathroom.

Inside village outhouse and squatting hole used for a toilet

I had to smile when we saw the sign, "Bwindi Actors," and wondered if they had a theater somewhere in the village? Or . . . maybe this was their local talent agent?


This man was making knives. We wanted to see more so we went inside his hut.


Before we knew it, it started to rain and with no umbrellas, we were running from one shop to another.



Wood carver

African mask carving is passed on from generation to generation and is usually isolated in a small community.

Masks in Africa represent animals and ancestors and when wearing one, Africans believe it turns a tribal warrior or leader into an invincible force to reckon with. Only older tribesmen wear masks or young men during initiation rites and there is no record of women ever wearing masks.


Natives have a deep relationship with nature and the spiritual world.
This chicken will probably end up in the next pot of stew.
Handmade aprons and items for sale to help single African women

At 5:30 PM we heard drums playing somewhere in the village and were told that the Bwindi orphans from the school were getting ready to put on a program for visitors at the development center.



We walked across the road and down these steps and found a small ampi theater with about 30 children who were getting ready to perform. They were dressed in uniforms and everyone was smiling. We were anxious to hear them sing and dance.


Their music teacher greeted us and said,"If you are not educated, you cannot be successful in life." She explained that the children needed uniforms to attend school and urged visitors to donate to their cause. It costs $63/child for uniforms and $400/year for children to attend Primary school and $600 for Secondary.


The Bwindi school was started mainly to help orphans and other children who are unable to meet their needs because of poverty and rampant HIV/AIDS. The school was started to give these children back hope and a chance for a better future in the effort to fight illiteracy from their community.


Getting ready for the program.
The presence of the drum has united the Black African and his spiritual concepts and ideas

Traditional drums in Uganda differ from tribe to tribe and represent an untouchable power, a centre of political, social and spiritual life of the Baganda people. They come in a variety of shapes but two drums of greatest importance are the embuutu (big drum) and the engalabi (long drum).


The tall engalabi drum is used in traditional ceremonies and in the theater. The engalabi drum is never played on its own but is always combined with other drums and rattles. It has a head made of hide from a reptile that lives in the water, but sometimes python or antelope skin is used. Because the engalabi is a single-skin drum, the hide is nailed down with wooden pins in a single row or in a zigzagging double row and penetrate deep into the wall of the instrument. The rule in playing the drum is the use of bare hands.



The larger drums or embuutu, also known as female drums, are traditionally hand-carved from old-growth hardwood trees. They have a double-headed skinhide and within the drums are two ringing pearls that remain in place before the head is sealed by the skinhide. They are decorated using cowries (sea snails) and pearls lacing up the non-resounding skin hide.






The embuutu (or female drum) determine the main melody for dancing and for everyday life, symbollic that women are mainly responsible to guarantee the survival of the community. It is their task to give birth to children and to raise the children as well as to farm and gather food for the family.

There are about 12 different species of trees used in the drum making process. These are sturdy trees that do not crack and are resistant to insects and weevils. Most of the drum makers learned their skill from their fathers who also learned from their fathers and so on. The sound and rhythm of the African drums in Uganda are unforgettable!


Some instruments are decorated by incising simple patterns all around the shell of the drum

Drums in African tradition bring the power that drives a performance. Music is not merely entertainment but is ultimately bound to visual and dramatic arts as well as the larger fabric of life. Drums may be used for "talking," that is, sending information and signals by imitating speech.


Many African languages are both tonal (that is, meaning can depend on pitch inflections) and rhythmic (that is, accents may be durational), giving speech a musical quality that may be imitated by drums and other instruments.



The program started and we were enthralled as we watched the children dance and sing. We sat on a long bench made from the trunk of a tree with a few other visitors.



We loved watching the children perform and the little 4 year old girl pictured in purple stole the show when she danced and moved her ""bootie". The children's heads were shaved to control head lice in the orphanage.


Drumming music and dance are almost always an accompaniment for any manner of ceremony. Drums are played at the birth, at name-giving, when boys become men and girls grow into women, at courtship dances, at weddings, for seasonal festivities, during work, at harvest festivals, before a hunt, at family meetings or for spiritual reasons and, finally, at death. Drums are the heart beat of life in Africa.



At the conclusion of the program, the children performed their gorilla dance. Silverback gorillas have brough a lot of travelers to this area and have boosted their economy by millions of dollars.

(Next blog entry will focus on the silverback gorillas.)

The children displayed their handmade crafts and were selling them after the program and we gave them a donation to their school. Out of 257 children in the school, 21 have graduated.


After a delightful program, we headed back to our room for the night. It had been a long day and we were tired but excited for the next day where we would encounter a visit to a pygmie village and hopefully see some silver back gorillas.


(To be continued)




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