The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love...Kenya

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Uganda vs. Kenya

I am back from Uganda safe, sound and somewhat depressed…but I will get to that in a moment.  First, RAFTING!  Can I just say that it was two days of big water and big fun.  The Source of the Nile is AMAZING.   The rafting runs for about 30 kilometers and has several class 5 (by the way, class 6 means "Death" or you just can't navigate it, and class 5 rapids were attached to some seriously wicked class 6 ones).   There were twenty-three PCV's from my training group out that day.  My boat mates were good friends Willie da man, Kiesha Queen, Terrific Tara, Madame Shanita and the legendary Kirsten!   We had an unbelievable time.  First off, two of our folks had no swimming experience, and generally as a group we are the Goof Troop.   Our boat guide was guiding his first trip with customers as well.  When we have fun, we do it up right!  This river is no joke, but we managed almost all of the rapids without carnage or flipping while all our other friends were flipping boats like it was their jobs.   We had to paddle through some flat sections that had crocodiles also (though, didn't get to see any of them).  I was leisurely paddling with my leg hanging over the side and my guide asked me to put it back in, and I did for a few minutes.   But following directions wasn't my best subject in school, so out went my leg again.  Then ANOTHER boat's guide said to put my leg back in the boat.   But neither of them said why.  Well, a few moments later some kids were swimming near a big rock and yelling "hello" and "how are you" to us when our boat guide (Henry the Head Case) remarks, "those kids are going to die one day soon, there is usually a big croc who swims and suns right there."   Well, now I know that they wanted my leg in the boat so that it wouldn't be a savory croc snack.  I love the Nile; it was a truly beautiful place.  


The only rough spot of the day was the very last rapid called "The Bad Place," and needless to say, we hit it with gusto!   So, it was a savage class 6 for a large chunk, so much so we had to portage the boats (carry them around).  There was one line to take that was a class five, but you had to hit that line solidly.   Well, we were fairly cocky, having not spilled or dumped out all day, but the look of the place was still intense.  So, we get into the boat and paddle hard out, but miss the line and immediately shoot straight into "The Bad Place" where we just get smacked HARD.   We are all scattered to five directions.  I am rescued by a safety kayaker, and am just fine.  I can't see any of my other friends at first.   But as the kayaker is getting me to the side, I see one of my friend is caught is a wicked hole that is gushing and won't let her go.  I just see her helmet bobbing up and down as it is pulling her.   I am yelling at my safety kayaker to go get my friend.  And this company is just awesome, they kayakers nothing but stellar.   It is just a horrible spot and it takes a bit to work through the water to get to her.  He pulls her out, but we are all pretty shaken from this.   My other friends ended up further up river from my spot and had a rough ride too.  The video shows us just hitting a massive brick wall of water.   That was how the first day ended, us jazzed, freaked, sunburned and stunned.  Good times…


Only 7 of us decided to raft the second day.  It was the exact same section of the river again, but no river is ever the same way twice.   This new mixture of folks ruined the no flipping mojo, and we were flipping like it was our job.  Henry the Head Case was our guide again, he was just awesome and the day was radically different.   So, we hit the rapids and did some flipping, and I got to swim some class 4 and class 5 rapids, which was fun in it own way too!  But, when we come to the flats this day, the sky goes dark and the rain begins to fall.   At this point, it is only drizzling, but it has come with a very chilly wind.  As we progress with the slave boat stroke through flats, it begins to rain hard.   Now, it is beautiful in a way.  The water is hitting the water with awesome force, and at points the rain is driving so hard we have to put our paddles in front of our face to prevent bruising.   It is so cold that getting into the river is like getting into a sauna.  Now, this might sound miserable, but keep in mind, I WAS RAFTING THE NILE .  We went through one class 4 in a driving rainstorm.  When the wave hit the boat, all of us in unison say. "Ahhhhhh" because is it so much warmer than then above water.   Boy, did I ever get my money's worth!  When we get to "The Bad Place" this day, the portage is harsh because of all the slippery mud.   My mind is a little apprehensive considering the previous days experience, but I figure I have paid good money for this event, how often am I here, and this rapid isn't going to win.   So, Henry tells me what went wrong the day before, and so this time I get in the front of the boat to make sure we paddle hard enough not to miss our line.  Sure enough, we blow through, hit the right spots and conquer a seriously kick-ass rapid.   But as we shot by the spot that had sucked my in the day before, it was just surreal.  That spot is huge and cruel.   I am shocked that we made it through alive and injury free (it is a class 6 spot, so I guess now I have done a class 6 rapid).  When we hit near the end this day, we all just start celebrating, ignoring the fact that we aren't out of the rapid yet.   It was beyond words.


And for Uganda…simply paradise.  I have taken to calling Uganda "Xanadu" because it is so radically different from Kenya.   There were so many differences that it is hard to explain, especially to those who aren't living here and haven't become accustom to Kenya.  Just crossing the border, Carole and me spent 2 hours marveling at how clean Uganda is.  Their schools didn't look as dilapidated.  Every kid we saw that was school age was in a school uniform and headed to or from school.   The hospitals we saw had three ambulances parked there (most in Kenya don't even have one).  The kids playing soccer were playing with an actual ball and wearing shoes and socks.   There was actual grass on the soccer fields, not just bare dirt (from over-grazing).  We were a lumbering bus of 17 Americans and still the 5000 kids we passed on the road didn't SCREAM, "How are you" and "Hello Mzungu" at us.   The road, fields and compounds weren't over-grazed.  Every square inch of free space wasn't hoed and cultivated within an inch of its life.   And get this:  UGANDA IS POORER THAN KENYA!  That is the most infuriating part of it.  In one bus ride I comprehended the ravaging level of corruption in Kenya (didn't know I hadn't before though).   Uganda has suffered under some of the legendarily EVIL dictators in Africa (Idi Amin, etc.), but Ugandans were the kindest folks I'd met in ages.  I am in love with Uganda.  It is so green and beautiful and friendly, I just want to eat it up with a spoon.  Don't get me wrong, I still like Kenya and Kenyans, its just frustrating to know that a country with a similar history (British Rule, etc.) has managed to make use of its limited resources for the good of the community (they were proactive with the AIDS crisis early on, and now it is nearly under control, the only sub-Saharan African country to do so), while Kenya is so starkly different.   Kenya isn't land locked, has a bigger and varied tourist industry, potentially more sustainable infrastructure and regional areas that could grow enough food to feed the whole country.   But none of this is happening in a way that benefits more than the few, and people seem to just accept it.  I find myself even just accepting it.   These are the things that crush you some days and make ones time here feel futile, and nearly a waste.


Well, that was how I spent my weekend, what did y'all do?  By the way, by going to Uganda, I am one country closer to my goal of visiting all the countries on the planet.   Twenty-two down, only 145 to go!


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