Tag Archives: birds

Kampala and the sisterhood

Kampala. I love it green, and raining, the water mirrors the day. We are slowly coming to an end, a term is ending and a break is nigh. We are hopping on a jet plane and heading to Bahrain to explore and see and find and learn. We will find a house, a school, maybe a job. We will start the slow move from one life to another as we imagine where we’ll be next year. No rain, just dry, no green, just desert, no children carrying water and majestic woman wearing bananas atop their heads, something new and different instead.

The Parrots and Hammerheads call to one another in the tree outside my window and I wonder what the sounds of the future will be. Will a call to prayer take over the bird calls?

I had a night or two recently that were different, one an evening of French folk, chic with their perfectly placed scarf, chain or glasses, the kisses and laughter better in French. There was good taste in the air with language and culture tying threads around the crowd.

Another a night of girls; talking, musing, wondering, hoping. I was the oldest, the only one married, the one who was meant to have some wisdom tucked between the folds of experience. We talked by candlelight of choice, hope and compromise and I sensed real friendship, the kind girls have whether they are 13 or 32.

And I thought of my sisterhood and how I miss it. One or two nights a year is not enough. Then I thought of all the wonderful women I have fallen in love with and then had to leave. I could never survive the highs and lows without the women. I build walls around my heart and say “no more!” And then I do it all again, the love, the wistful nights wishing we could all live happily in a commune of wine and candlelight.

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Photo # 16 London City of Parks

Scenes from a London Park.

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Filed under Great Big Shiny West, Photography

Swamp Jam

Driving in Africa is a dirty affair.

A rather odd Sunday. At least compared to those in Montreal Skiing, those in London staying out of the snow and all cosy with the papers or those in Trinidad on the beach, also those who did anything today other than wake up and go searching for rare and near extinct birds called Shoebills.

The Shoebill is an enormous bird, sort of like a stork that is very rare, there are only 138 in all of Uganda and between 2000-8000 in the world, mostly in Sudan. Bird watchers spend thousands of dollars to fly here and seek out these birds, but then bird watchers also spend thousands to fly to Trinidad to see the ugly and elusive Oil Birds.




We woke up at the crack of dawn, with bleary eyes threw together a picnic and stumbled into the Beast ( with fingers crossed). An hour and a half south west and we arrived at a spot by a papyrus swamp where our friendly guide, Hannington, directed us all into dug out boats. For the next 3 hours we drifted through the swamp searching for the Shoebill and  got tangled in thick lilly pads, stuck in dense swamp ( I named it a Swamp Jam) and looked longingly through binoculars, hoping, searching and waiting for this ugly grey prehistoric creature to appear.



Finding a Shoebill is like coming across an elephant in the swamp. It is enormous and unexpected. I am not a bird watcher and I was along for the ride and the day out, more than the thrill of seeing a bird, however weird and rare it maybe.


I never got close enough to take a picture as I was standing at the back of the third boat with lots of tall people standing in front of me, but I did see it and its very strange beak through my trusty binoculars. I also saw it fly away, and it has quite an elegant flight style for a bird so large and ugly.

Here are pictures to show you what all the fuss is about. How sad that I had to download it from Wikipedia. The shame of it.




The question, of course, is what kind of shoe is that exactly?

Far more delightful were the gorgeous Lillies that covered the swamp like a lush purple blanket. Some were so pale as to be almost white, some closer to pink and some deep purple. I couldn’t take my eyes of them.



These I did take. Thankfully.





And one for my toe.

Something different for a Sunday, non?

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Heaven is a place called Bunyoni.

cow view

 


I think I have found heaven and its name is Lake Bunyoni. To be more specific, it is one of 29 islands in the lake and is called Bushara Island. How to describe an island in the middle of a lake, small enough to walk around and never be lost, yet big enough to be completely alone? There is something nostalgic about being on a lake with docks that harks back to summers in Canada; but this was most certainly Africa, from the sounds of the drums, to the Crested Cranes, the cows and goats, the electric green Chameleon and the song like quality of the local language.

It is a dusty and very bumpy 8 hour drive ( 11 hours if one of your party loses her clutch ) but it is worth every minute of the drive. The name Bunyoni means lake of little birds and I now see bird watchers and their little binoculars in a whole new light. I am not going to suddenly start pulling out notebooks and frantically writing down the name of birds, but I am amazed. Birds are twitchy, nervous, skittish creatures, always looking around for the next crumb or the bird round the corner who might come by to swipe it. I have never appreciated their sudden movements, finding them a little too startled for me. Yet, lying still on a deck chair in the sun, in front of my safari tent, it was hard to read with all the bird drama going on around me. Diving and swooping they were possessive of their branches and I noticed that they never hop in a straight line. I had to go all the way to Bushara to sit and really look at birds.

We slept in permanent tent structures and lived without electricity, hot water or flushing loos for 4 days, and it was quite magical. You could feel your pulse dropping as the birds called and the drums from the lake beat an invitation to church. We ate by candle light, walked back to our tents with torches and zipped ourselves up for the night. We travelled to other islands in a dug out canoe, carved from one of the tall Eucalyptus trees that cover the island. It was chilly, which came as a welcome change after the heat of Kampala and it was bliss to wrap up in a sweater and sit beside the fire place in the evening. The thick black night offered us a theatre of star gazing and the mornings arrived with an orchestra of bird song.

I did not see our children. We travelled there with two other families and the mix of children was perfect. Throw a few younger boys into the mix and the girls shake off their pubescent concerns and turn into rope swinging Tom Boys. They ate together, slept in facing tents, swam together, and generally ran all over the island with joyous abandon. There is little opportunity in Kampala to walk freely, let alone run wild, so this was a chance for children to live for a few days in a strange kind of kid heaven. Wrapped up in an idyllic state of perfect childhood they managed to spend days together, problem solve together and despite the lack of lashings of ginger beer bare a close resemblance to the Famous Five.

We took two trips to other islands, one to explore a former leper colony, now a secondary day and boarding school, and the other to hike to the top of a peak to gasp at the 360 degree view of the lake. We also had the chance to walk around Mukoni Village. The life of an African child is one of joy and barefoot freedom, and we were followed all the way back to our canoe by 6 children singing, skipping and laughing. They had quite special names, a case of an English word turned into an African name. Gift, Grace, Secret, Marvelous, Innocence, Adamson, and Frank ( whose parents must have found such names inappropriate for a young boy.) The children proudly sang us an English song they had learnt in school, happy to show off their English to the Mzungus. ( white people.) Dressed in torn, muddy clothes they sucked sugar cane with the widest of smiles. Joy and openness ran across their faces. They must be aware that once they grow up a life of hard work awaits.

It was hard to leave the island. I cannot think of anyone we know who would not find it a magical place. I know we will return.

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