Saturday, October 29, 2011


It has been a rough two weeks in Ngara.  School is fine, but we continue to have water, power and now sewage problems.  Our septic tank was apparently full, so when we flushed the toilet (which was not often due to lack of water) it backed up and came up out of the shower drain.  We had that lovely hot water shower put in a couple of months ago, but have never been able to use it because the running water does not work.  We manage to get a couple of 15 gallon buckets of water about twice a week, so we have to limit cooking and bathing.  Drinking water is most important.  Now the city is apparently out of oil, so there is none or limited power in the region.  Forget cooking and boiling water without electricity!  Time to get out of town for awhile!

So I am back in Kigali for the weekend.  I left after my classes at Ngara Secondary School on Friday.  I was on the bus when Breana texted me that she is at the hospital having tests due to headache and joint pain.  We both threw up on Wednesday for some reason.  I was taking antibiotics for a bad burn I got on my leg from a piky piky motocycle last week, so maybe I was spared whatever is bothering her since I felt better right away and she continued downhill.  Luckily our fellow volunteers are coming from Rulenge to visit on Saturday so she will not be alone.

I am staying at the Stipp Hotel in Kigali's Kacyria district.  It is about $100 a night with breakfast but quiet and has free wifi.  I walked to Top Tower because I enjoyed the chicken curry so much last time I was there. They had taken it off the menu but made me some anyway.  I ate in the 8th floor lounge with the 360 degree view of Kigali.  Sunday I went to the supermarket downtown to stock up on some things (ramen soup and potato chips, mostly).  I also had to buy more conditioner because I finally got to wash my hair after two weeks but brought two bottles of shampoo by mistake!  Then I had a Chinese lunch at the Great Wall restaurant.  I had a combo meal with a chicken dish, a beef dish, rice, and soup.  I also had an egg roll and glass of wine.  I got so full that I left most of the beef dish and half the rice.  I am so used to a limited diet that I just can't eat a lot of food.  I had to go back to my room and lie down to let my stomach readjust.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


The night at Entebbe was not restful.  I was staying in a single story block of rooms apart from the main 4 story building.  Around 10 p.m. a man checked in next store and it was immediately apparent that the walls were paper thin.  He was very loud, ordering people around.  Then thankfully he went out, but around 2 a.m. he brought a girl back with him and it was VERY noisy for a couple of hours after that.  I got up at 6 to catch my morning flight.  Don't ever stay at the City Inn in Entebbe.

Entebbe airport is the site where the Israelis fought terrorists to release hostages in an airplane, made famous in a Hollywood movie.  They are still conscious of security here.  I had to get fingerprinted coming in.  There are big concrete barriers in front of the main building and on the road up to it, so that you have to walk from the parking lot up the hill to the departure area.  Actually, I would feel better if they did that at LAX, instead of just having speakers blaring "the white zone is for loading and unloading of passengers only."  There seems to be no shortage of people willing to blow themselves up in vehicles rigged up as bombs.

I took a taxi to Kigali city center, back to the Okapi Hotel.  I spent time putting pictures in my blog,  catching up on email, and doing laundry.  I had not expected to go to Uganda so I didn't bring my camera /computer connection so game park pictures will have to wait.

The next day rained pretty much all day so I relaxed.  I walked to the supermarket downtown when the rain let up a bit and bought some things you can't get in Ngara (pretty much everything there, but I was limited by what I could carry).  Besides food, I bought a belt, since I have lost so much weight my pants won't stay up.

 I found out that the hot water in my shower sprayed all over the place.  I asked to have it fixed and they said they would do it right away.  I thought it was done, but when I went to take a shower at the last minute I should not have been surprised that it wasn't.  TIA again (This is Africa!).  So I went home with no shower for 3 days and no hair wash for a week to find that our home had not had running water for 11 days!  At least most of my clothes are clean.

The trip home was uneventful.  I took a taxi to the main bus station then a Sotara Tours bus to Resumo at the border.  After crossing the border I got in a taxi to Benaco, the transfer point for Ngara.  After the transfer, we started out with only me and the driver in the front and two adults and a child in the back seat, but as we went on we ended up with 7 people in the back seat, 3 adults and a child, plus all the luggage, in the hatchback section, and 4 adults in the front bucket seats.  I was sitting half on the parking brake and it was difficult for the driver to change gears.  My seatmate was a retired teacher from a village near Ngara.  He was dressed in a suit and carried a briefcase.  He is 61, and told me the mandatory retirement age in Tanzania is 60.  I will be 60 next month, just before end of term, so I don't feel so bad about planning to leave at that time.  I don't think I could make it another term with this diet and trying to get back and forth to school in the rainy season.  The water and electricity situation is just another irritant.

Breana has been back at school this whole past week, but said it was a waste of time because there were very few teachers and students there.  The teachers go to other schools to monitor the Form 2 and 4 exams.  She and Lauren both got sick in Mwanza last week on their vacation, she with an intestinal parasite and Lauren with a bacterial intestinal infection.  Both are on medication and OK.  I was not sick during my whole vacation, except for a stomach ache from eating too much at Chobe, so I guess it was good I didn't go with them.

The day I got back, I saw on the news that Obama is sending soldiers to northern Uganda to catch some rebel leader!  I was just there and the state department website said the bad guys were gone.  What is the real story here?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


I had a full day in Kampala.  Breakfast at the Ruch Hotel was pretty disappointing after those fabulous buffets at the game park lodges.  I did manage to get some eggs, sausage, fried tomatoes, and toast (white bread again). I spent the morning feeding my blog into the computer via hotel wifi before venturing out into the city.  The area I am staying in is pretty nice and has sidewalks, but still lots of traffic so you feel like you are taking your life in your hands crossing the street.  I did not see any traffic signals or lanes, so the cars just seem to push their way through the traffic circles.

I walked past parliament to the national theater.  Behind it is a crafts market with about twenty stalls.   This was plenty for me since I did not have much Ugandan money.  I bought 3 batiks, which I love.  A lot of the wood carving, drums, pottery, etc looked like stuff you could get at a Pier 1 store, and I can't carry them anyway.  

On the way home I stopped to look at the most expensive hotel in town, the Serena Kampala.  The grounds are lovely.  I had lunch at the main restaurant, sitting in a quiet outdoor area overlooking a garden, waterfall and lily pond.  You pay for this ambience, of course.  Lunch of grilled tilapia and vegetables was about $15 and a glass of white wine was about $10.  Thankfully, a bottle of water was only about $1.50.  Price was not as big an issue as finding someplace in town that would take a credit card.  The manager was very friendly and when I was done eating he gave me a tour of the other restaurants and bars at the hotel, as well as the health club and outdoor pool area.  All is very beautiful, elegant, and tasteful.  They have the longest lap pool I have ever seen, which connects under a bridge to a large swimming pool and kiddie pool.  The health club was gorgeous, with a lot of new looking, sturdy exercise equipment and a separate wood floored aerobics room.  The health club was huge and there was nobody in there except the two gym guys.  The pool had been empty except for two wazungu girls.  The restaurants and bars, however, had a lot of customers, all black.  

I spent the evening catching up on my blog, since I have not had internet capacity to post in about six weeks.

The next morning I took a taxi to Entebbe and checked into the Central Inn, a fairly inexpensive place at $50 including breakfast and transportation to the airport.  After the crazy traffic in Kampala, Entebbe seems like a quiet and green lakeside resort.  I walked through town and you can see Lake Victoria along much of the main road.  I stopped at Anna's Corner (  It is run by an Italian woman about my age who came to Africa many times for the animals before settling in Entebbe three years ago to run this combination crafts store, internet cafe, community cente, coffee bar and restaurant.  The money goes to support local charitable causes.  The outdoor restaurant was a beautiful thatched roof patio overlooking a garden.  I had a tuna sandwich on toast for the first time since leaving the USA, as well as a salad and beer for about $7.  Afterwards I sat down with Anna in her office for about an hour and chatted about our lives in Africa, living in Entebbe, etc.

I continued walking down the main road to the post office, where I mailed Matt's birthday card.  It takes 14 working days to get to LA, so watch for it, Matt!  I walked down a hill towards the lake to visit the Uganda Wildlife Education Center.  There were many school buses and a long line to get in.  Prices are 5,000 shillings for Ugandans and 30,000 for foreigners (about $14).  I am leaving this country tomorrow and didn't have that much money, so I just went in the gift shop and looked around.  When I went out, I met a motorcycle driver (called bulas here?).  He said he would take me back for 5,000 shillings, but accepted 2,085 when I told him that was all I had left.

Monday, October 10, 2011


In the morning we left at 7 a.m. to catch the ferry across the river.  Almost immediately after we crossed, I saw a large tree with about 30 large birds scattered among its branches, which I was told were Marabou storks.  On the side of the road I also saw an Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, a rather large bird so called because he prefers staying on the ground to flying.  There were many crested eagles, which are black with white wing tips.


The morning drive was all dirt road, but after a couple of hours we took a 12 km detour on a much rougher single lane dirt road to the top of Murchison Falls.  I did not expect much, since the falls did not look like much from the boat at a distance the day before.  The top was totally incredible though.  Imagine a wide river of class 5 rapids forced through a 23 foot channel: really high water pressure, lots of spray, and two rainbows!  My guide and I were the only people there, which made it even better.

Murchison Falls overlook

Rapids squeeze into ...

this small gap...
...causing mist and rainbows

In the afternoon we drove a few more hours and stopped at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.  There used to be hundreds of rhinos in Uganda but poachers took advantage of the civil unrest in the 1970's and 1980's, so that by 1983 there were none left.  Asians evidently value the horns as aphrodisiacs so there was a good market.  In 2001 Kenya donated a pair of white rhinos to the Entebbe Zoo.  A ranch donated a 30 year lease on land for the sanctuary and the US Wildlife Federation gave a grant.  Kenya donated four more rhinos in 2005 and Disney Animal Kingdom in Florida donated a pair in 2006.  After a sixteen month gestation, the American female and one of the Kenyan males had a baby in 2009, named appropriately Obama, the first rhino born in Uganda in 30 years.  The same pair recently had another baby named Malia, after President Obama's daughter.  The total rhino population is now 10.  When they get to 30 they plan to start introducing them back into the wild. They eat only grass and can weigh up to two tons, proving you can gain weight on a vegetarian diet.

Obama, the white rhino,  has a Kenyan father and American mother

white rhino

our guide at the rhino sanctuary shows us the cattle that co-exist there

Uganda koe

Our small group of six people drove a ways into the park before tracking the rhinos through the bush.  Our instructions are to always stay behind the guide, walk in single file, and if the rhino gets annoyed or charges, move near a tree and be ready to climb or stand behind a large tree.  I was able to see Obama and the mother and calf he had hooked up with since his own mother pushed him out so she could take care of Malia.

After lunch we pushed on to Kampala and I checked into the Ruch hotel.  Most of Kampala that I have seen (sitting through a few traffic jams) is pretty poor, but the hotel is near the Parliament, embassies, and National Theater, a more prosperous looking area with sidewalks and lots of trees and flowers.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


I enjoyed a buffet breakfast at Chobe again overlooking the Nile River with hippos and water buffalo.  We left at 7 a.m. for our 5 hour game drive through Murchison National Park.  We went through several different ecosystems along the way,  from thick acacia forest, to savannah with predominantly fig trees, then drier savannah with Borassa palm trees, then to rainforest by the Albert Nile.  I saw lots of Jackson's hartebeests, Uganda koes,  water buffalos, baboons, warthogs, and giraffes.  There were lesser amounts of bushbucks, vervet monkeys, and elephants.    I only saw a couple of oribis, a small antelope that was licking up salt from the road.  And I only saw one lion, a female who was hiding in the shade of a bush flicking her ears and moving her head around.

Typical African mud houses

Uganda koe

Jackson's Hartebeest

Water buffalo

Oribi looking for salt

Water buffalo are considered the world's most dangerous animal


After the drive we checked into the Paraa Safari Lodge and had lunch.  The decor here is "early African explorer,"  with the closets made to look like old steamer trunks and decorative touches like old typewriters and navigational tools.  The public rooms are named after explorers like Speke, Livingstone, etc.  I have a big balcony in my room with huge rattan chairs that overlook jungle, pool, and river, although there is too much vegetation between the hotel and the river to be able to see any wildlife.

My room at Paraa Lodge

Paraa Lodge pool overlooks the Albert Nile

Close detail in my room looks like an old travel trunk

The movie "African Queen" with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn was filmed in this area.  In 1954, Ernest Hemingway and his wife were sightseeing in a small plane and crashed in the river just below Murchison Falls, then camped on the shore with the crocodiles while the world reported them dead.  The plane that rescued them exploded and crashed, so that then they were really hurt.

In the afternoon I took a 3 hour boat trip to the falls and back.  The boat was a two level pontoon named "African Queen," of course.  There were about 15 fellow travellers, including Ugandans, a Norwegian, Englishman, Swiss, and a group of American black musicians. It is all preserve along the way, so we saw a lot of wildlife, including tons of hippos, waterbucks, water buffalo, and lots of crocodiles.  I only saw one elephant out in the open, who was taking a bath.  You mostly see only the protuberant eyes and wiggly little ears of the  hippos but we were able to see many out of the water.  The guide says they sunburn easily and the skin does not heal so they stay in the water most of the day.  There were so many types of birds I don't remember them all, but there were a lot of African fish eagles, white herons, egrets, and kingfishers.  We could not go right up to the falls because of the current.



African fish eagle

Murchison Falls

water buffalo

Dinner was another luscious buffet.  I am trying to push the protein while I can get it, but find I miss the vegetables if I do not eat them, even though I have never eaten so many vegetables in my life as here in Africa.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


I have two weeks off for midterm break.  Bree has only one so she and Lauren shot out of here for Mwanza that first Saturday to meet up with some other volunteers there and generally have a good time drinking and dancing the night away.  I hung around to enjoy some solitude and take care of Poa, the cat.  We had several days that week without water or electricity, but when we had it I was able to wash my sheets and the floors.  Still haven't washed my hair for two weeks.

I left  for Kigali on Thursday, October 6.  It was the usual ride in the taxi for 3 hours with 4 people in the front two bucket seats, then bus for 3-4 hours after crossing the border at Resumo Falls.  I had to laugh when my taxi driver in Kigali almost got a ticket because I wasn't wearing a seat belt.  Tanzanian cars are typically 30 year old Toyota Corollas and seat belts unheard of, for how could you manage that with 4 people in front and 6 in the back?

I stayed at the Hotel Okapi downtown, a bargain for $50 including breakfast, hot water, and wifi in the rooms.  I walked to the Hotel Milles Collines, the real "Hotel Rwanda" from the movie, to see how they could charge $350 per night.  I was disappointed to find a 70's style boxy hotel with metal facing and small grounds and lobby.  It must be the fame from the movie, because I could see no great reason to be there except that it backs up to the UTC mall.

"Hotel Rwanda"

The two days I spent in Kigali they had HUGE thunderstorms in the evenings, the kind that sound like the roof is going to cave in.

On Satuday I flew to Entebbe in Uganda to check out that country.  It was a last minute decision to go, since bookings were full for the things I wanted to do in South Africa and everyone told me how dangerous Burundi was.  I called the day before and set up a 3 day safari to Murchison Falls.  So here I am in Uganda with my own personal car and driver, who picked me up at the airport.  On the way out of town, our brakes slipped on a downhill slope during a traffic jam and we hit a boy who was clinging to the back of a truck and had roller blades on.  The boy was able to walk (roll?) away, so I guess no harm done.  That is the first and only time I have seen rollerblades in East Africa.  I think most people can barely afford shoes. 

Morris, my driver in Uganda, in front of our Land Cruiser

We are spending the first night at Chobe Safari Game Lodge.  On the way in (18 km down a single lane dirt road) I was able to see guinea hens, baboons, and Uganda koe (like a deer).  My surreal moment was when a flock of giraffes crossed the road in front of us and I looked to the side and saw more than 20 giraffes amid the acacia trees, all seeming happy as can be.  Giraffes seem to be one of the few animals that you can feel smiling.  I don't know why that is, maybe because they look just utterly ridiculous so you have to smile.

Chobe Safari Lodge is gorgeous.  It sits on beautiful grounds in the middle of Murchison Falls National Park, the biggest national park in the country, and miles from anything else.  It and two other lodges are owned by an Indian family, who redecorated two years ago.  According to Morris, my driver, the lodge was headquarters for the rebel leader during the civil war in Uganda in 1999.  The soldiers also took over the other lodges and most of the park.  More recently there were problems with soldiers coming over from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which is just across the river from Murchison Falls.  My guide and the state department website both tell me all the bad guys have been banished.

My room at Chobe Lodge.  The hippos are outside at night
Anyway, the lodge is fabulous.  You can get a one hour massage here for $30, but my priority was washing my hair, which hadn't been done for two weeks due to water problems where I live, and I hadn't had time in Kigali.  I then went and sat on the balcony, which fronts the whole back side of the hotel and overlooks the  Nile River, which drains into Lake Victoria.  I sipped white wine ($3 a glass and very good) and chatted with an American who works for an environmental waste management company in Texas.  He is helping them with their recent huge oil find north of Murchison Falls.  The government wants to extract oil while minimizing environmental problems in this sensitive area.  Kudos to them.  As it turned to dusk, we watched the hippos come out of the river to feed on the grass.

The pool overlooks the Nile River

Can you see the hippo?

Breakfast overlooking the Nile River

Dinner was buffet style.  I ate outside overlooking the river and continued to watch the hippos.  My protein starved body enjoyed rack of lamb, nile perch, and pork tenderloin.  The meat seemed to almost melt in your mouth, not like the meat in Ngara that needs several minutes chewing time.  They also had spinach spaghetti with meat sauce, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, and some other delicious items and desserts.  Not surprisingly after being on a mostly vegetable diet for months, my stomach actually hurt after I left there.  Worth it though.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Rob shows off his going away present (African material) to his boss, Jacko

Concern staff in Ngara.  Guess which one is Rob?

Breana dancing

Sadly our neighbor and wonderful helper Rob is leaving us and going to a new post in the Congo after a vacation at home in England.  He works for Concern, an Irish NGO that brings good water to the villages.  Concern put on a fabulous going away party at Paradise and invited the Wazungus in town, since Rob is the only one who works for them here and they know he is friends with the few white people in town.  We all ate and danced the night away.

Rob models a Masai blanket, his going away present from Breana