16-Mar-2004 -- When I started making plans to visit Uganda, it seemed this just might be my big opportunity to lay claim to a confluence point.
The first obstacle, of course, was conveying to my Ugandan friends just why I would want to wander around out in the bush to find a spot on the map where there wasn't anything. The next obstacle was the map I purchased in Denver Colorado. I hate to name names and point fingers here, but the map of Uganda made by International Travel Maps, 530 West Broadway, Vancouver, B.C., Canada, V5Z 1E9, is a full degree off. It is missing 34 degrees East and has it labeled as 35 degrees. I consulted this map and dutifully created a waypoint on my GPS set to 2 degrees North, 35 degrees East. When we got to the nearest village, I started pointing east as the direction I wanted to go. The rest of my party became quite uncomfortable with the idea. That way was Kenya, not to mention the Karamojong. The Karamojong are one of the fiercer tribes of Kenya and regularly invade the nearby villages to steal cattle. They are armed with machine guns and use them without question on anyone who even looks like they are intruding on their territory.
So we dispensed with that map, found another map, and discovered that I should have set my GPS to 34 degrees rather than 35. Now the GPS indicated we should be heading west. Big sigh of relief from the crew. So off we went down the nearest road until the GPS indicated the confluence point was off at a right angle. This didn't dissuade our driver, John, in the least. Left turn it is - off through the bush. We bounced over the terrain, followed little trails meant for single file foot traffic, and drove smack dab through the middle of several compounds. Much to the amazement of the people living there. Not to mention the surprise of seeing a white man in the front seat of a truck. Finally, about one kilometer from the spot, we hit terrain too tough for the truck, so out we got to make our way on foot.
Did I mention it was hot? This is northeastern Uganda: high plains, and the peak of the dry season. It is dusty and dry and hot. Really hot. And then there are the thorn bushes. Soroti district in northeast Uganda specializes in particularly nasty thorn bushes. John was amazed at the thing in my hand that would point first this way and that as we negotiated around particularly nasty thickets toward some spot I had never ever seen. I kept the countdown – six tenths of a kilometer, five tenths of a kilometer, three tenths, one, 80 meters, 50 meters, and then I found it!
I had a big grin on my face and I was obviously excited. The rest of the crew looked around and couldn't see anything special. Crazy mazungus (white men). While I was getting ready to take the pictures of the site, a small group of the locals appeared. Houses are very evenly distributed throughout the bush. The place looks uninhabited – especially in the middle of the day when the proper place to be is in the shade. But it doesn't take much out of the ordinary to draw a crowd. If you look carefully at the four cardinal point pictures, you will see a conical thatched roof in every one.
The local folks in the group photos are from the compound to the east. They were curious and friendly, and happy to participate. If a crazy mazungu wants to tramp around on their land and take pictures – that's fine with them. The crops don't get planted until next month when the rainy season starts, so no harm done.
The rest of the people in the picture are from two organizations: The Teso Rural Development Trust, a microfinance institution that makes very small loans to the poorest people in the area. They use the few shillings they borrow to buy a few items to sell in the market, or buy a cow. With a cow they can have milk every day and sell a little to pay back the loan. The other organization represented is a school, Learning Empowers Uganda. I'm working with this school to purchase treadle-powered sewing machines and create classes to teach ladies from the refugee camps how to become tailors. For more information on my trip, you can check out my travel log. For information on the non-profit agencies in the USA supporting Learning Empowers Uganda, see ACT with Genius, or Explorers Foundation.
I apologize for not taking a general picture of the area. I didn't re-read the instructions for the taking of photos until I got back to town. I'll do better on the next. Promise.