Saturday, September 24, 2022

Back to Africa AGAIN: Part 3 - A Day in the Buhoma Community

 January 9, 2019

A Day in the Buhoma Community

I woke up with very sore leg muscles from the hike yesterday.  Trust me, a hike up steep hills on muddy paths through the jungle is NOT a walk in the park!  I was a bit worried that I wouldn't be ready for our next gorilla trek coming up the next day, but a gentle walk through the local village just outside the park helped me return to normal by the end of the day.
The road from Bwindi to the village

Rob and I browsed through the village looking through the shops filled with homemade crafts and wooden carvings.  Naturally, we had to buy a family of carved gorillas to add to our collection of African animals from previous trips, and I also purchased some trivets made from recycled, felt-covered bottle caps.  
Buhoma craft shops

Buhoma community

One of the shopkeepers told us about various programs, such as Bike4Women, that provided instruction to the local people in traditional crafts.  This is the traditional tribal land of the Batwa, known to us as Pygmies, which is now considered a disparaging term.  These people were driven from their lands in the mountains, sadly in part because of the efforts to save the mountain gorillas whose numbers by the early 1900s had dwindled to less than 300.  The gorilla conservation program has been a success, but the Batwa people, an ancient tribe that had lived side by side with the gorillas for centuries, were marginalized. As forest dwellers who clung to traditional ways, they were looked down upon by their own countrymen and discriminated against by some government policies.  Some of the local programs were developed to offer skills and aid to the Batwa people, who often live in extreme poverty.

Batwa people

Rescue Africa Uganda and the Rescue Grand Orphanage Program

A highlight of our day was our visit to the local orphanage.  The school leader, Pastor Nixon, introduced us to a group of the children who performed a song and dance for us and shared some of their artwork.  He also showed us the current, and woefully inadequate, housing for the children and described their on-going efforts to build better schools and dormitories.  Rob and I pledged to send some help to them, and we have since learned that our contributions have been used to make the adobe bricks to build more school rooms.  Through our ongoing correspondence with Manase Twinamatsiko, the Director of Rescue Africa Uganda, which oversees the orphanage, as well as the elementary school, the high school, and a program to support women, we have been able to follow their progress. 

A performance by some of the orphans

Rob with the orphans

Building new school rooms

Manase with his community

Manase with two of the children

Below are more of the programs supported by Rescue Africa Uganda.

The covid pandemic struck a year after our visit, and it was devastating to learn how badly this already poor community was affected.  The loss of tourism meant the loss of jobs for the young porters on the gorilla treks, the loss of sales opportunities for the craftspeople, and the loss of the usual government contributions to the community.  In normal times, the government of Uganda shares some of the income from the tourist visits to Bwindi National Park with the people of the area.

I was very affected by the news from my friend Manase how badly the community has been affected.  This led me to create a GoFundMe page to support the children of this community.  If my readers are interested in helping this effort, you can donate any amount, large or small, at this link: Support an Orphanage and Schools in Uganda!  

Back to Africa AGAIN: Part 2 - First Gorilla Trek

 January 8, 2019

The Gorillas of Bwindi - First Gorilla Trek

The long-awaited day was finally here!  Rob and I were up and dressed at 5:00 a.m. After a quick breakfast in the lodge dining room, we walked the short distance to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Visitors Center where we joined about 46 other visitors from around the world.  As we approached, we could hear the drums and songs of the young women from the "Bike4Women" neighborhood project.  The women, dressed in green with colorful raffia skirts, danced energetically, with wild gyrations and leaps into the air.  A line of singers accompanied them with wonderful African harmonies.  One of the dances had one of the women dressed as a young man about to go through the circumcision ceremony, which is done when boys are about 10 to 12 years old...OUCH!)

Coffee at dawn

Bike4Women dancers

Representing a circumcision ceremony

After the dancing, a park ranger talked about the local projects that benefit the local communities, the history of the Batwa people of this region, and information about the gorillas themselves.  There are now about 1,000 mountain gorillas, all living in the volcanic mountains at the juncture of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  About 400 of these gorillas live here in the Bwindi Forest.  These live in several family groups.  The large group of visitors was divided into groups of eight - the largest number of visitors allowed to visit each gorilla family per day.  Our little group would be tracking the Rushegura family.  Our guide, Solomon, gave us a lesson on gorilla etiquette and some rules for our behavior, and we set off on the narrow jungle trails up the mountain.

The Rushegura Family - by the time we saw them in 2019, it had grown.

Young men and women from the local villages work as porters for the visitors, and they were invaluable, doing everything from carrying our water to helping us across streams and up the muddy slopes of the damp forest.  We hiked for about two hours, enjoying the sights of the jungle - a pair of giant snails mating, the lattice of a strangler fig tree, and vines strong enough to swing on!  Our new acquaintances, Marc and Gillie, were part of our group.  They would use this trip to learn more about gorillas for use on a future sculpture project.

Rob with our wonderful porters

Crossing a jungle stream

Giant snails mating

Interesting growth on a jungle tree - a fungus?

Strangler figs send their vines up a tree, eventually killing it and leaving
an open lattice of thick vines

The jungle of my Tarzan dreams - vines strong enough to swing on!

Rob talks with one of the park rangers during a rest stop.

Eureka!  Our chances of finding the Rushegura Family was good, but not 100%, so I was very excited when Solomon suddenly got a call on his walkie-talkie from the trackers who had gone out early to scout the locations of the gorilla groups. We turned off the trail and plunged right into the brush, with our guide and porters hacking away at the thick vegetation with machetes.  And suddenly, there they were - a family of 16 beautiful gorillas.  The huge silverback, Kabukojo, kept watch over his family of several females, juveniles, and babies.

Our first glimpse of a gorilla

Our porters withdrew into the woods while we visitors lined the edge of the clearing where the gorillas were resting, eating, and playing.  

Kabukojo, the Silverback

Kabukojo spent most of our visit lying on his belly quietly watching over the activities of his family.  Toward the end of our one hour with the family, he rose and gave a grunt, and the family followed him into the jungle.

The Mothers

The mothers in the group spent most of their time sitting and eating the abundant vegetation all around them.  A white flower on the bushes seemed to be a favorite treat.  They ignored us completely but kept a watchful eye on their lively children who climbed all over them.

The Youngsters

The youngsters were the most fun.  Unlike their passive parents, they were on the move constantly, wrestling together, leaping into the trees, jumping all over their patient mothers, thumping their little chests with rapid drumbeats.  We had been instructed not to approach them, but there was nothing to stop them from approaching us, and some of the curious youngsters ran right through out group - one of the ambushing us from behind and attempting to snatch one woman's camera bag right off of her shoulder!  

Rob visits with a curious young friend.

It was hard to get photos of the active youngsters!  They were always on the go!

All too soon, Solomon gave us a two-minute warning, and after exactly one hour with the gorillas, we trekked back to our lodge...muddy, hot, exhausted, but completely exhilarated by our fantastic adventure!