I am covered with the painful bites of Tsetse flies. The irony is that, while they used to cause the dangerous Sleeping Disease, now they prevent any chance of sleep while I am up most of the night with the sensation of legs on fire. Sleeplessness has forced me to reflect on the past few days.
While Sunday December the 13th was surely one of the worst days of my life, December 15th was one of the best. What was remarkable and moving about the experience of seeing both lions and elephants up close and in the wild was that there was an eye to eye connection between us. We were the only car and therefore only humans for miles around and as we approached the tree the male lion looked at us directly. He knew we were there. We knew that he knew and we knew that we had disturbed him, not a lot, but enough to make him get down from the tree. Once he was down and let out an irritated roar that seemed to express irritation that his nap had been interrupted, one of the females watched us. At one point she looked me straight in the eye. I imagine she was saying “yes, I know I am beautiful and extraordinary, now leave me alone to sleep.”
Elephants cannot see well and the large male that approached the car ahead of the others knew we were there but couldn’t actually see us until he came close. At that point he stood and looked directly at us. I cannot express in words the feeling of looking into the eyes of a wild animal, who not only acknowledges you, but knows that you are no real danger to him. All the animals that we passed on our two safari drives were extremely curious and stood and observed us in pretty much the same way that we were observing them. On more than one occasion there was a direct eye to eye connection. Yet none were as powerful as the moments that passed between us and the elephant and between us and the lions.
The most disturbing thing about our car crash, more so even than the two thousand dollars it will take to fix the problem, was the attitude of the people who came to watch the aftermath of the crash. My girls are only 9 and 12, yet they have seen a side of human behaviour that many people never witness.. I can’t help but imagine how it would have been in Canada, where I know that people would have run over to help, offered us assistance and probably even invited us into their homes. Men would have eagerly rushed over to see what they could do and would have grouped together to push the car over to its rightful stance. There would have been no discussion of money, only concern for our well being. I know that many will say , well what can you expect when these people have nothing and they regard you, due to the colour of your skin, as richer than they can ever hope to be? Well I reply that in that case something is rotten in the state of our relationship with each other. When the inequality between people is such a divider that it stops us from seeing each other as members of the same human race, I despair. Those people had no compassion. They had been taught, somewhere down the line, that we deserve none. Yet how many people in the Great Shiny West, who have never stepped foot on this continent are more than happy to open up their wallets and show compassion by helping poor Africans in need?
We are nothing more than a walking dollar sign to them and it might be the prevalence of aid that has turned these people into victims with no pride.
We left the Wilderness Lodge at about 10 am once our driver arrived to take us to our next stop, the Ndali lodge. The drive was in the region of about 4 hours north through Queen Elizabeth Park, a little more since we needed to stop at a garage to have the brake pads attended to. To approach the lodge it is necessary to climb up a steep mountain past villages where men and women sat chatting beside large piles of drying corn and past boys pushing heavy bicycles laden with matoke. ( This is a member of the banana family and the staple food of all Ugandans.) Finally we reached the very top where the lodge sits on a ridge, one side facing a crystal clear crater lake, where we sat and enjoyed some lunch, and the other side, where the cottages face, an undulating valley of lakes, mountains, tiny villages the size of dots, and finally in the misty distance the sharp peaks of the Rwenzori mountains. The stunning contrast between the two views had me flitting between the two, camera in hand for the first hour of our visit. Like a soft patchwork blanket in shades of green the valleys are spread like a feast below the little infinity pool. It was a scene of calm bliss.
This is a region famous for its crater lakes. These were formed eons ago by volcanos and today they look like silver pot holes from a distance. I have longed believed that there is nothing more soothing to the soul than the ability to look as far as the eyes can see. Nothing obstructs this fabulous view and the changing lights helps the view transform, especially in the hour before sunset. Much of that hour was spent in the piping hot bath, complete with window and view, that I gratefully climbed into at around 6pm. I love a good hot bath, and a bath with a view is one of the joys of life.