Uganda Wildlife Education Center - Entebbe, Uganda.
Feel free to ask me why I choose to spend time living in places rife with critters I cannot stand. I’m not sure what answer I’ll give; frankly your guess is as good as mine. First hour in South Africa, giant spider and deathly poisonous snake infiltrated my camp. First 5 minutes here in the jungle environment of Uganda I found the guy below crawling out of the shower drain. My first jungle pet. I tried to wash him back down, but the showerhead wasn’t equipped for this.
There was no way in hell I was going to sleep, let alone get up in the night to pee, knowing that thing was crawling around. So I decided to coral him into a wastebasket with the single kitchen knife that exists. I expected to have to have coax him along, maybe have to fend off a vicious attack when he felt threatened (I was fully prepared to scream and run), but as soon as I touched him with the knife, he curled up into this magnificent ball like a seashell, his armor was hard and brittle. So I took him outside on the porch and let him go. I have to say, he was pretty cool rolled up in his spiral. But not welcome otherwise.
I imagine as I’m sitting here typing this, two others of equal or greater creep factor have crawled on up to say hello. While I was staring down the sink drain brushing my teeth, I could see small creepies crawling around. This, I can tell you, will be one of my greatest challenges, not freaking out over all the bugs. Call me girly, call me wussy, call me lame; I won’t deny the truth. Oh, and there are gecko-like things on the wall.
But my little abode is pretty sweet otherwise, with a little porch area with flowering bushes. A living room with couch, desk and even a TV (haven’t tried to see if it works yet). Bathroom and 2 bedrooms and a big sort of industrial-type kitchen… obviously in the past it was used in another capacity.
I ended last night’s entry at the above paragraph. As I was closing down my laptop, a gnarly 3-inch cockroach made its way across the floor. Another pet. There is a mosquito net over my bed. I hadn’t noticed any mosquitoes in the house, so I originally thought I wouldn’t use it. I turned out the light and snuggled into bed. About 30 seconds later I heard the beating of massive insect wings and then a loud “thunk” as said insect made a rough landing on the wall. I turned on the light and arranged my mosquito net.
The sound of legions of insects partying in the night air beyond my window is quite magnificent, though. I don’t mind them as long as they stay outside. At home when I get up in the middle of the night in my mountain home, it’s utterly silent. I think a visitor to my house from here would be completely freaked out by the silence. It must seem like the world has died. I think I would fear the night much more, thinking darkness is a killer.
The morning bird songs are spectacular. I couldn’t even guess at how many different species are pulling the sun into the sky with their voices. Isaac told me that Saturday morning a lady would come fetch me at 8:30 to show me where to eat breakfast and show me around. I forgot this is Africa. I was ready promptly at 8:30 with a growling tummy.
I waited outside sitting on the porch. And waited. My tummy twisting into ever tighter knots. Bees hovered inside delicate pink flowers beside me. I studied a bush of green leaves with pink and white splotches on them. Hedges of yellow flowers smiled brightly at me from across the yard. Teeny tiny ants formed ranks on the porch and an endless supply of soldiers streamed down the pathways they’d marked for themselves, completely unfathomable to me why they go where they go in such precise patterns. Bird were still saturating the air with their calls and I saw several alight onto tree branches, leaving soon thereafter. I sat watching the wild little world around me, entranced, while ever so slowly starving to death.
Finally a lady came walking through the yard. She had her sweater turned up and full of small fruits. I figured this was the lady who was supposed to meet me. She had me try one of the fruits. Meh. It was OK, but my tummy was ecstatic with the presence of something in its midst. I soon realized she wasn’t my escort but she told me how to get to the restaurant (“the rhino bar”) where I was to take my morning and evenings meals. So I made the executive decision to abandon my waiting post and strike out in search of food.
It’s a perfectly lovely walk down a packed-dirt road through the jungle to the restaurant which is perched right on the shore of Lake Victoria. It was a little more daunting when I had to walk back home after dinner in the dark when, having only walked the way once that morning, I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going. And by dark, I mean dark. This bird is always along the road in the same place.
Another day, I’ll bring you on this walk with me.
I eventually hooked up with the lady who hooked me up with Henry who was supposed to give me an orientation to the facilities. But one of the zookeepers didn’t show up for work, so instead he had to work. I followed him around for a bit learning how to clean cages until he handed me off to the fellows working in the chimp exhibit. Spent a lot of the afternoon just watching the chimps on their island. There are 11 right now, endlessly entertaining. I’ll tell you more details about them another day. They are quite excitable and have a great little community tool ...
At the end of the day I got to hold hands with one the adult chimps through the fence. I think I will not get to have the degree of physical interaction advertised to me, but I will still get to be right next to them. It may sound stupid but holding her hand was absolutely endearing. She wrapped her soft finger pads around mine and held my fingers. I was surprised as how soft they were. Their knuckles, of course, are leathery and calloused, but the inside of their hands are soft. She was so gentle and I just looked into her sweet little face while she wrapped and unwrapped and rewrapped her fingers around mine.
While I was sitting with Robert, with whom it sounds like I will be spending a lot of time watching the chimps from across the moat, Nicholas, another zookeeper showing me ropes, came up with his cell phone and said I had a phone call. Naturally I thought he was kidding. “You know someone named Innocent?” he asked me. “You have a phone call. Someone named Innocent is calling for you.” Nicholas was smiling widely. Well, as it happens, I do have a Facebook friend named Innocent with whom I’d corresponded with about coming here. He works on the Ngamba Chimp Island, a chimp sanctuary founded in part by the UWEC. Because Nicholas kept looking at me smiling, I finally said this. “He is calling for you,” Nicholas replied. “You are teasing me!” I said. Then he handed the phone over.
“Shara, this is Innocent. How are you?” Sure enough, it was my Facebook friend. He knew when I was arriving, and turns out he is very good friends with Nicholas and actually knows many people at the UWEC as he worked there formerly. This was just too funny to me. There I am, my first full day in Uganda… Uganda, mind you… watching chimpanzees, and I get a phone call.
I ate lunch with Robert in the staff lunchroom. Full full of questions and some pretty hilarious ideas about America and Americans. Even though everyone speaks English as one of their 3 languages (tribal language, Luganda, and English) I can’t always parse the words through their accents so I often have to ask them to repeat something. Robert was asking me something I just couldn’t understand. I asked three times for him to repeat and finally I just stared blankly at him. “Your tattoo,” I finally picked out. I just didn’t expect this word/phrase at all. “My tattoo?” “Yes.” I was surprised that he’d seen it because I was wearing a shirt with sleeves (I have one on the back of my shoulder). So I pulled my sleeve back and showed him. “This?” I asked. “Oh, you have a tattoo already!” he said with no small amount of surprise. I was very confused, then. Finally, we hammered it out… he had been asking me when I was going to get tattooed. Apparently in his tribe this is something people do before they get married, tattoo the name of their beloved on their chest or stomach. “Everybody gets a tattoo?” I asked. “Yes. Don’t you do this?” He seemed genuinely shocked. I tried to explain that not many Americans have them, though they have greatly increased in popularity recently, and how there is a common (mis)perception in America that all people with tattoos are unsavory characters. (I assure you, dear reader, I am quite sweet and savory.) It took him awhile to wrap his head around this.
My sleep schedule is a bit off. So I’m actually up typing this at 4:00am. Had been tossing around awake for the last hour and a half, so decided to just get up. I don’t have internet in my house, I have to go to the front office. But I can type up in Word and download photos. I keep getting dive-bombed by small inhabitants of the night. But I have opted not to turn the light on and see who my companions are. I simply flail blindly at them when I feel them. My mutant cockroach pet has moved into my bedroom. If it were a normal-sized bug I’d just step on it and squash it or something, but this thing is way beyond stepping on. It’d be like trying to kill a mouse with my foot. Can’t do it. So we are cohabitating in a very uneasy truce.
Some flowers from my yard:
The last thing I should tell you for now is that I throw like a girl. Yep. That’s pretty much the story of my last couple days. For lunch and afternoon snack, the chimps are out on their island and we have to throw food across the moat to the island. I suck. Simple as that, and my arm is so sore. From first cutting up buckets of food and then pitching it. I’ve never played ball sports in my life, so my arm is utterly atrophied in regard to these muscles. My pal, who has been accompanying me in all chores (technically the other way around), has been very supportive and is convinced I will be a pro by the end of the week. We’ll see. I’m skeptical of his optimism. We’ll see. I don’t know that an old girl like me can be taught new tricks. Below is a selection of the floral life in my yard. Very lovely.
Today is Easter. The grassy yard near the restaurant and the lake shore has a small stage set up and kiddie carnival rides of the tiniest scale you can imagine. Families have their blankets spread out and kids are dressed to the nines or nine-and-a-halves running and screaming as the vervet monkeys chase them all over the place. Just as in South Africa, these critters occupy human settlements to forage for human scraps and can get a bit aggressive. Having them chase the little children in their beautiful shiny dresses and bow-tie suits is priceless.
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