DAY SIX, SEVEN AND EIGHT
Feb. 15, 16 and 17, 2018
Today, February 6, was a very long day. We drove from Rwanda to Nyabuhikye, Uganda. Edwin's mother, Jolly, came from Uganda. We were going to visit with many of her relatives and friends.
In Uganda, cars drive on the opposite side of the street. We passed over many hills of which Rwanda is known. It is after all called The Land of 1000 Hills.
Both Rwanda and Uganda are very hilly with lots of hairpin curves which makes riding on the left side vs. the U.S. right side scary. Loads of slow trucks going up the hills and fast down the hills. We saw fewer cars and fewer motorbikes, which are seen throughout both countries. Young men own the motorbikes. Some are used as taxies. We also saw tons of people walking to the small towns. Africans walk everywhere. Compared to the U.S., there are very few cars. Most cars are in the cities and some in the larger towns. Of course, out of country tourists drive cars as well. So, walking is a necessity; even in the pouring rain.
I had to mock myself and all other Americans to Edwin. I said, “In the U.S. if people must park more than five parking spaces away from their destination, we complain because we think the walk is too far.”
When I first arrived, my "U.S. perspective" was that we Americans are spoiled. Now, however, I know Africans are the spoiled ones. If we walked more (I mean seriously walked) maybe obesity wouldn’t be such a problem. People live longer in both African countries by walking up and down the hills; and, you see very few fat people. Most are trim to thin. Of course, the U.S. isn’t laid out constructively for walking. For us, exercise means walking our dogs or going to the gym. Here in Rwanda and Uganda, the outdoors is the gym!
It’s amazing to see people walking while never giving it a second thought. Many of them are carrying things, sometimes heavy objects in their arms and on their heads; yes, on their heads. I marvel at those who carry baskets and such on their heads while balancing them without dumping anything. Then there are the people on bicycles who transport goods and people. Thus, it’s not unusual to see bicyclists hauling doors and other large items such as excessively large bags of vegetables to and from town.
Yesterday, we barely missed scrapping Edwin’s SUV as we passed a bicyclist who was carrying long metal rods balanced on the back of his bike and sticking way out on both sides. I’m guessing he purchased the rods to take home for a home project. The man must have a honey-do list. Those who carry the large, packed full bagged vegetables must push their bikes up the hills. Often, if the cargo is too heavy there will be two people pushing one bike.
Water is a premium in Africa. Unless you live in a more modern house with plumbing, you must go pump water to take home. Many of the bikes are loaded with yellow plastic cans like the ones we use to carry gasoline home for our lawnmowers. In Rwanda and Uganda, these are used to transport water; lots of water back home. The people in the hinterlands collect water from the rivers. In Rwanda, and especially closer to large towns, there are pump stations where people fill their yellow cans.
The other vehicle seen a lot, especially in and around the towns and cities, is the motorbike. Most of the riders are young males, and, they are crazy drivers. They pass you on the side most available to them at the moment, left or right, and they cut in front of cars and trucks with impunity. There are many motorbikes and some bicycles used as cabs. The bicycle riders seem to be a little more cautious as their motorbike counterparts. Of course, any sane bicycle rider must recognize that his vehicle doesn't maneuver as easily, thus, caution is imperative. I can only imagine the courage it takes to climb on the back of a motorbike as the rider whips in and out of traffic with speed.
In Uganda, the riders on both motorbikes and bicycles sometimes sit sideways and it’s not uncommon to see three to six people on one motorbike. Like I said, to a newbie, it’s shocking but entertaining. Edwin laughs at how dangerous some of the drivers are and at multiple people on one motorbike. At crossroads, the motorbikes turn right in front of you, never giving their maneuver a second thought.
Car drivers, Edwin included, drive fast, very fast. If I wasn't gasping, or crunching my water bottle, I was looking down. At one point, I had been looking down, but looked up, then said to Edwin, "I'm going to concentrate on my lap. It's not as scary to watch." He laughed of course. He's a very good driver, but still scary fast.
As we were driving up one of the hills in Uganda, Edwin spotted a baboon on the opposite side of the highway and off in the grass at the edge of a stand of trees. It was interesting because I had just asked him if any of the wild animals ever wandered across the highway. We pulled over and watched three of them for awhile. Edwin told me that people feed them, which isn't a good idea because it creates a dangerous situation especially for the baboons who begin to expect to be fed. One of the baboons walked up to the side of Edwin's Range Rover, but soon got bored and walked away when he/she realized we weren't offering food. It was wild for me to see the baboons. They wander around like deer and squirrels do in the U.S.
We finally arrived at our destination very late. I think it was close to 9 p.m. We were staying with one of Edwin's favorite uncles, Emmanuel Kafuniza, who lives on his farm. I had to laugh the next morning as we ate breakfast because Emmanuel kept calling me his daughter. That's how he talks to people. Depending on one's age, you're either his son, daughter or, sister, brother. I laughed and said, "Thanks for the compliment, but I bet I'm older than you. I then asked him his age. I think I surprised him because the look on his face was priceless. Then I said, "Well, I'm 70. I don't mind telling my age." He finally told me his age. I was right, I am older than Emmanuel. So, I became his sister.
In addition to his house, there are several buidlings which serve as rooms for house guests. The two buildings which face each other look like a motel. The rooms are nice, and sleeping is lovely. Uganda is located on the Equator, so, during the days, it's warm and the evenings are cool for sleeping with the windows open. It's lovely to wake in the morning to the sound of birds singing.
The next day we attended the fiftieth anniversary of Edwin's uncle and aunt, Geofrey and Jemima Murari. I thoroughly enjoyed the event. In two and one-half years from now, Bob and I will celebrate our fiftieth anniversary, so this was a special event. Edwin and I sat at a table which faced the entrance so we could watch all the people coming in for the event. The men all wore suits. However, many of the women wore traditional tribal dresses which were stunning. Seeing the dresses made me want one. Some of the younger women dressed in more contemporary outfits. However, I must admit, I was partial to the traditional dresses because of how colorful they were.
Day three in Uganda, Edwin and I made the rounds to visit several of his mother's friends and relatives. We visited one tiny woman named Karuhoko. Edwin told me she was his mum's best friend. When Jolly would leave her children to go visit a sick relative or to conduct business as she made money, Karuhoko would keep watch over the five children. It was sweet to watch Edwin's and Karuhoko's interaction. The mutual love was evident. Visiting with Karuhoko was another woman. I found out her age was 94. I was stunned at how agile this woman was. For example, when she got up from the concrete she sat on, she got up like she was decades younger than she is. I thought, I'm glad I'm sitting on a chair and not at ground level because I would embarass myself getting back up. I would look as if I am 94. Then there was a young woman who joined us. She watched me closely and, when I would look her way and smile, she would giggle. Several children also came by and sat, watched and listened. Later, Edwin told me I was the first white person to visit Kauhoko's home which was back in the bush and up a long dirt road.
In the same villiage, there were also others who kept an eye on Jolly's children. We stopped to visit another couple. The husband was in another room taking a nap. When he finally came into the living room area, Edwin's back was to the doorway. The man put his hand on Edwin's head and rubbed it exclaiming that it had been a long time since they had seen each other. It was amazing that he recognized Edwin and the rubbing of the head was a sign of fondness.
We then visited another family on a small farm. Christopher is Edwin's uncle and godfather. We sat with Christopher and two of Edwin's childhood friends under a huge shade tree. For the first half hour, I listened to the four males reminisce in their native language. I could tell from their body language there was a lot of love between the four. At one point, I could intuit that Christopher was sizing me up. He wanted, of course, to know that I was the right person to write Edwin's story. So, when Edwin turned to me and said, "Maribeth, feel free to jump in and ask questions," I wanted to crawl under my chair.
I thought, "Oh, crap, I sure don't want to sound stupid or lame," so I asked a simple, open-ended question, "What was Edwin like when he was a child?" which I thought was a lame question. However, to my surprise, that simple question produced a lively conversation.
At one point, I learned that Christopher had a price on his head during the Idi Amin Dada's eight years of terror from 1971 to 1979. I had forgotten all about Amin until Christopher told me the story of the night he and his family hid out in the bush because word had reached him that Amin was sending some men to kill him and his family. I also learned why Christopher was so intent on the right person writing Edwin's story.
Christopher had hired an author to tell his story of the Amin years. Something happened to the author as he became ill. The story was never told. I took the opportunity to tell Christopher I would love to write his story.
As we talked, I indicated that my childhood was also wrought with pain. It seemed important to divulge that information because, as I explained, it takes the experience of pain to learn compassion and empathy so that one can tell the story of pain, and terror. Christopher spoke after I told my story.
He looked at Edwin and said, "You're very fortunate to have Maribeth tell your story." Later, Edwin relayed to me that Christopher expressed that he was impressed with me and was especially delighted as I spoke with passion and used my hand to touch my heart. He even mentioned that, on my next visit, I would stay with him and his family. I am proud that I opened up and made the impression Christopher needed to hear for Edwin.
I must admit, I have always been embarrassed by my emotional sensitivity. Growing up in the U.S., showing emotion, especially with tears in the eyes, is frowned upon. Men don't show such emotion as it's thought of as a sign of weakness. For me, it's embarrassing, because women, the weaker of the sexes, is expected to show emotion. However, there's obviously something negative about that perception, especially in the work environment and most especially when the woman is in management. My husband, Bob, has told numerous times that I shouldn't be embarrassed because showing emotion indicates that I am sensitive and compassionate toward others. My experience in Africa gave me the pride I have always wanted to feel and Bob has reaffirmed. Africans relish sensitivity. I will never feel embarrassed again. I love that Africans are so appreciative of emotion. They sure could teach America a thing or two.
Idi Amin Dada
I recall those years of Amin. I also remember the movie, The Last King of Scotland, as Amin liked to call himself. He was a monster and murdered a lot of people before he was gone. Christopher's story is a chilling one.
Christopher had a younger brother who resembled Christopher. His brother was a rebel who fought with those who tried to depose Amin. Because Christopher was available, he became a convenient target. Amin would exact his revenge for the brother by murdering Christopher and his entire family which included a baby girl.
One day, Christopher's father told him there was a price on his head and that he and his family were targeted to die that evening. Christopher decided that the family needed to leave their home which served as a trap in order to hide out in the bush close by. As they hid, they could hear big artillery off in the distance hills. They also knew when Amin's soldiers were close by and searching for them. Christopher's wife had to hold her hand over her baby's mouth so the baby wouldn't cry alerting the killers to their whereabouts.
I loved sitting with Christopher and Edwin's two friends, Rogers and Alex, who Edwin later told me were also his cousins. While we sat under the tree Christopher's little girl, Angle, sat on her dad's lap. It was touching to watch the interaction because it was obvious the love dad and daughter share. Whenever I watch a father's love for his daughter, it fills my heart with joy and hope. After all, my own father was anything but loving toward me.
While in Uganda, I heard another terrifying Amin story. Edwin's Aunt Namara was arrested by Amin and scheduled to die in the electric chair. No apparent reason for her execution. However, Amin never needed a reason, he was a brutal, maniac who only needed to imagine treachery to exact revenge. Amin's people made a few attempts to execute Namara. However, she wouldn't die. They finally gave up and let her go, but the brutality of the electricity charging through her body destroyed her brain. Emmanuel, Namara's brother keeps her safe from harm as he also protects visitors. Emmanuel keeps Namara locked up in a separate building. I met her one day and could tell that, at one time, she must have been a sweet woman. Her love for Edwin was obvious, however, Edwin was careful to keep his distance for safety reasons. On our ride back to Rwanda, Edwin relayed to me his sadness at seeing his aunt, who he remembers as a once vibrant, physically beautiful young woman. The brutality of extreme narcissists such as Amin wreaks havoc on so many innocent people, which brings another frightening tale to tell.
After escaping the third genocide in Rwanda, Jolly and her, then two children, lived for months in a refugee camp. One evening word reached Jolly, her friends and relatives that Amin's soldiers were in the camp committing random murder. Jolly, the kids and the other adults broke out of the camp and ran toward the southern hills. Edwin was just a baby who was not yet weaned. Jolly ran with Edwin in her arms. For three to four days they were on the move. They didn't dare linger anywhere. They knew they were still being pursued. Along the way, the group was panicked. It was thought that Edwin was holding the group up, so a suggestion was made that Jolly should drop her baby in the river. However, Jolly refused. On day six, the group crossed over into the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Edwin was extremely weak from not being able to suckle his mom's milk. He nearly died. We have the love of a dedicated mom to thank that Edwin is still here with us. The world would be a lesser place without Edwin Saburhoro. Thank you, Jolly Mpama!
I loved our two-plus days in Uganda visiting with all of Edwin's mum's people and experiencing the love they all have for one another. Edwin and his siblings are very fortunate to have such a warm extended family.
While visiting with Christopher and Edwin's two cousins/friends, I had the pleasure of watching from afar the milking of a dairy cow. The cows are milked the old fashioned way, by human hand. Noteworthy was the young calf that hung around its mom and, as the calf's mom was being milked, the baby felt safe and comfortable suckling one of the mom's tits. No human pushed the calf away. Instead, the person milking the mom went about her business accepting the needs of the calf and mom.
Whole milk plays a large part in Rwandan's and Ugandan's diet. However, unlike in the U.S. where dairy cows are treated with absolute cruelty, there are no cruel dairy farms anywhere in either country. As farming is done naturally and organically, so are dairy cows milked naturally. Also while in Africa, I noticed one of my so-called "aging" problems wane. I was totally surprised by this. At first, I attributed my dwindling problem to the mostly vegetarian/vegan diet of the population. Thus, when I returned home, I announced to my husband that I had completely given up meat while away.
Prior to traveling to Africa, I had already given up pork and beef. My challenge was giving up chicken. After all, I hate cooking. Bob does the bulk of the cooking and, although he has semi-given-up eating pork and beef, he had little intention of giving up chicken; and I have no intentions of pushing him toward doing that. Changing one's diet is no different than giving up smoking, for instance. Changing one's diet is a personal decision that no one has the right to criticize. For me, however, I was thrilled that both Rwandans and Ugandans overcook their chicken. There's nothing worse than dried out chicken. Thus, giving it up seemed too attractive to not do, especially since I would be in Africa for nearly four weeks; long enough to adjust mentally.
Since returning to the U.S., I have discovered that my problem is returning. I now believe my aging problem is solely due to the over-use of chemicals in our food, both in the process of raising as well as production process. Unless I move to Rwanda, there is little I can do other than looking for organically grown produce. Myrtle Beach has no Whole Foods. Until one moves to the area, I am doomed to U.S. farming and the poisoning of America with chemical preservatives, etc. The good news, however, I have successfully removed chicken from my diet. Thanks to my trip to Rwanda, I have evolved; and that brings me joy. Too, I've discovered it's relatively easy to prepare vegetables. Oh, and Bob, who is a jewel of a spouse, has begun preparing meals for me without the meat.
As Edwin and I said goodbye to Uganda and his mother's side of his family, he stopped along the road. He wanted to take photos of the river explaining that, when he was a kid, the river was extremely wide. Now, however, with people and farms, the river is narrow and hardly noticeable for anyone who doesn't realize there is a river at all. I sat in the car, with my window rolled up. I was looking at a few brochures Edwin had picked up for me. Suddenly, I felt a presence outside my window. Five young school boys stood at the window looking in at me. School had let out and the other side of the road was teaming with children walking home from school.
I opened the window and said hi to the boys. The boy standing directly on the other side asked, "How ya doing, gorgeous?" or something to that effect. I cracked up laughing, as the other boys asked what I was doing. I told them I was looking at the brochures. One of the boys asked if he could have one of the brochures. Then the others asked as well. I had exactly five brochures, so I handed one to each of them which made them happy. As Edwin returned to the vehicle, he was intrigued by the group at my window, so he took photos. Edwin also cracked up laughing when I told him what the little Romeo said to me. That encounter was one of my most memorable moments. Hell, what 70 year old woman doesn't like being flirted with by a young boy who doesn't know how old she is. I was delighted!
While driving away from the area where many of Edwin's relatives live, we also stopped at the elementary school Edwin and his siblings attended. The building inside and out wasn't much to look at, however, the messages posted around the schoolyard and inside each classroom told me that, as is Rwanda, Uganda is serious about their children's education. The blackboards and posters hanging on the walls were full of lessons for the children to learn. The lessons reminded me of our school system when I was a child. The teachers teach everything, including geography. There were posted questions such as: what constitutes a dead volcano. That's a question important to the region because bordering Rwanda/Uganda and Rwanda/Uganda/Congo are volcanic mountains that rise high into the atmosphere.