Rain patters softly onto the palm-leaf thatched roof. The rigid concrete wall creates an uncomfortable seat, and the kids who press in close against my arms are muddy and damp, but I don’t care. Neither do they. Cupping warm popcorn in their hands, they stare at the rainbow-bright illustrations of the storybook’s pages. For these rural Ugandan kids, a new book is as wonderful and exotic as the snack they are eating.
Honorable Mention 2010 FTF Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
I gratefully soak up this moment of peace, because the past week has been as crazy as the eye-popping patterns that dance across the skirts for sale in Nyahuka’s Saturday market. Was it only a week ago that I stepped off of an Emirates Airlines flight into the chaos of Kampala, Uganda’s capital city? It is incredible that I have this opportunity to travel and live for three weeks with the Johnsons, a missionary family working with a health clinic and a secondary school in Bundibugyo, a western district of Uganda nestled in the Rwenzori Mountains.
Nyahuka, the small Bundibugyo town housing the clinic and school, is quite isolated, so all necessities other than produce and fresh milk are purchased in the city. When the Johnsons and I arrived in Kampala, we stayed at the American Recreation Association for two days. I played with the kids while their parents shopped for two months’ worth of groceries and house supplies—all without the benefit of Sam’s Club.
Finally, on Saturday morning, we woke up early, repacked our suitcases, and then squeezed into a Land Rover with our luggage stuffed, stashed and strapped anywhere it would fit. We sighed with relief as the engine coughed into being—not something to take for granted. (When we first picked up the car at the airport, its battery had died and we had to wait in the heat for an hour as a car lot official jumped-started it back to life.) Thus began the bumpy, ten-hour drive to Bundibugyo. Soon, I understood the jokes the Johnsons had been making about the number of potholes, speed bumps, and potholes in speed bumps on Ugandan roads. They weren’t just jokes.
Ten hours. That’s long time for two adults and one teen to be stuffed in a car with one five-year-old, one three-year-old and one seven-month-old. Traveling with young kids is challenging when you have to deal with precariously unpaved roads and a lack of pleasant bathroom stops or McDonald’s. But the experience of the drive itself outweighed any inconveniences. It was a sweeping survey of everything from the crowded big city to roadside towns to tea plantations to the awe-inspiring Rwenzori Mountains. I tried to record the drive through the Rwenzoris with photos and video footage, but my camera was pathetically unequal to the task. Probably even the best equipment couldn’t capture that grandeur: the glorious expanse of space above the valley below, the rich textures of lush plants and craggy mountaintops and soft skies, and the colors growing ever more vibrant under the glowing influence of the setting sun.
Now, as I huddle close to my new Ugandan friends and watch their beautiful dark eyes gaze at the storybook in rapt attention, I ask, “What story do you want next? This one?”
Charity reaches over, taps a page, and smiles shyly. “Yeh. This one.” I return his smile, and start to read. The drive from Kampala to Nyahuka gave me a broad view of Uganda and gorgeous scenes of nature. But I feel doubly blessed to have this kind of eye-to-eye, skin-to-skin, and smile-to-smile connection with Uganda’s people of the Rwenzoris.
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