August 25th – Have you ever tried packing while a curious young mind wants to know what each of your belongings is for? Gladys’ son Ndhego was fascinated by the contents of my rucksack and camera-bag, and I was happy to explain but simultaneously had to convert myself into some semblance of an Ambassador for a Ministerial meeting.
My (ever so slightly crumpled..) suit and safari boots had to replace my usual shorts and sandals, but Ndhego was stomping around in my boots. We achieved a truce when I presented him with a YoG sticker and my old gilet (now replaced by the one from Park National Kahuzi Biega, courtesy of the warden). And to further lighten my load, I gave Gladys the page proofs of Planet Ape for her conservation education work and accepted a lift to the British High Commission.
The British High Commission had fixed up a meeting with Hon Serapio Rukundo MP, Minister of State for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, and he was his usual ebullient self, giving a great YoG interview on Uganda’s forest policy and plans for reforestation projects as well as the central role that gorillas play in the nation’s economy thanks to tourism.
After shopping for an external hard drive on which to back-up all these interviews, I was dropped at the bustling bus station. Seeking the fastest bus to Kisoro, there was some discussion and I climbed aboard an earlier bus to Kabale rather than wait three hours for a late bus direct to Kisoro which wouldn’t arrive until 2.00am. Crowds of people carrying all manner of luggage were jostling between the colourful buses; every so often a bus would shunt back and forth, belching black fumes in an umpteen-point turn, and yet amazingly no-one was squashed (and there were no fist-fights today!).
Some time later than promised, our bus began the delicate manoeuvring towards the totally crowded exit and – inches at a time – we slowly escaped into the equally crowded street. The conductor had placed me near the front, and just before we left, a young man sat next to me. As we picked up speed leaving the traffic jams of Kampala behind, we introduced each other and I asked if he knew this was the UN Year of the Gorilla. He did!
Brian explained he had heard it on the radio (in fact in a report from my press briefing the night before the Great Ape Health Workshop, which I attended for UNEP/GRASP, the Great Apes Survival Partnership) and at first had found it difficult to believe, “It was as if someone had woken up one day and announced that this is the International Day of the Hen!” he grinned. I asked if he’d say that again on camera, and he gave a great YoG interview, going on to say how on reflection he saw that it was a good idea, and that gorillas need the attention such campaigns bring.
Over the next few hours, we got to know each other quite well and bit by bit he revealed his story. He had just finished high school and won a place at University to train as a social worker. His father had died when he was two weeks old, and his mother died a few years later. He had been brought up by first one aunt then another, but none of his relatives could afford the fees (about £1,000 per year for three years). His ambition is to work with children orphaned by disease, because he knows what they are going through – and something about his quietly determined manner makes me think that somehow, he will succeed….
It was getting dark as we sped along, and somehow this transformed the ‘Express’ bus into a giant Matatu (the shared taxis in East Africa that stop and pick up and drop off passengers anywhere). It was nice of the driver to drop people off near their homes but as a result, it was nearly 11.30pm when we pulled into Kabale. My laptop battery was flat and my own batteries were flagging a bit, so I checked into the Skyline Hotel for a princely 15,000 USh (about $7) – with electricity, a clean bed, en suite shower and a loo that flushes – can’t be bad!