For me the Ugandan trip is over. Everything will be a decrescendo from the gorillas. Tomorrow we travel to Lake Mburo National Park. The hope of seeing a leopard is dangled in front of us like a carrot in front of a donkey. It is meant to keep us going and our interest up. But it doesn’t work. I am treading water until I get to Entebbe and the airplane home.
The trip to Mihingo lodge is broken by views of ordinary Ugandan life seen from the windows of a speeding land cruiser.
Small boys hawk guavas along the roadside. Men haul bundles of sticks. Women haul benches balanced on their heads. In the town of Ntungama we pass a Universal Health Care Clinic. A sign advertises X-Ray and Ultrasound Scan. The clinic is in a ramshackle building, doorless and dusty. We pass another shop. It appears to be selling decorative floor covering. The building is decrepit and worn. Outside a man is talking on a cell phone. Two very modern cars are parked in front of the store. These scenes send mixed messages. Is the country poor? Yes. Is it extremely poor? Well, yes. But who owns these cars? And how does that man pay for his cell phone?
We pass men hauling bananas on bicyles. We pass the town centers they are hauling them to. We pass the trucks that load up on the bananas hauled by the men on bicycles. We pass vegetable markets and butcher shops. A shack of a building with a rusty corrugated iron roof that looks like a storage facility for aging farm equipment has an awning with a sign that says Ruti Peoples Clinic and Laboratory Services. When we reach Mbarara, I see a sign announcing Mbarara University of Science and Technology.
The sign is part of a gaudy advertisement for Coca Cola. Everything I see is incongruous. You have to live in a place for a long time to know it. These split second scenes might as well be messages from outer space. I haven’t a clue to where I am and who these people are. It is a strange feeling this, looking at a world that I don’t belong to thinking that perhaps I could.
Just before I enter Mbura National Park a herd of Ankole cattle cross the road. A herder as thin as the staff he is carrying is shepherding them out of our path. My wife, Nancy, asks Cliff to stop for a picture. She stands up and pokes her head out of the top of the land cruiser. When she does, the herder picks up a stone and hurls it at her. It is a warning shot across our bow. It sailed high over Nancy’s head. I have the feeling that had he wanted to, he would surely have hit her. He picks up another stone, this one much bigger. He threatens us with it. Cliff tells him to put down the stone. That is no way to act, he says. Then, negotiating, he says, “You put the stone down and we will leave.”
The herder lowers the stone but he doesn’t let go. Cliff puts the land cruiser into gear and slowly moves away. He says the herder was worried that photographing the cows would take away their spirit. It would make them worthless. I have been to African ten times now. This was the first hostile act I have ever seen.
The Ten Commandments, under one interpretation, forbid graven images. So, too, do Australian aboriginals. So, too, does the herder receding in the distance behind us. He is, I think, what a prophet of old looked like.
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