Here’s the ground I’ve covered over the past four months (straight lines = flights) – and so much space left untouched! Roughly: 1 month Uganda, around 2 weeks each in Rwanda, Tanzania & Zanzibar, and Malawi, 1 month in Zambia … and already 2 weeks in South Africa 😉
Everywhere I have travelled in Sub-Saharan Africa, the picture is the same: women busy themselves, day in, day out, to do most of the work, chores and otherwise. I may exaggerate, though honestly, I don’t think I do when I say that Africa is run by women, especially in those fields that are run efficiently. This, obviously, excludes politics and a lot of admin. There you have it, I’m happy to stand accused of exaggeration and over-generalization, because I want to make a point. I do not care much for explanations that include the word “culturally”, I just share observations. Cultural practice, in my view, is a choice, and no explanation or excuse for anything.
Driving to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in the early morning hours (5:30) is like entering a magic world. Mist hangs in the valleys below as you proceed at an altitude of around 2300m. The name derives from the local Runyakitara language(s), and means something like ‘place of darkness’. This has been a forest forever, and it is as primeval as a forest can be in the 21st century.
For the impatient ones, here’s some Gorilla video caption. [switch to HD]
via Fort Portal, Queen Elizabeth National Park, and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
From Mbale, where I was delayed because of my leg injury, I drove towards Jinja to meet my Göttingen colleague Katharina and her family. Some 10 km before I reached their place, and just as I was overtaking a truck, my car broke down. I barely managed to drive it onto the curb, with traffic coming up from in front, and a mad driver close up behind me. I was lucky, nothing happened. Except that I was stuck, had no clue where I was, and it was an hour or so before nightfall. Yes, I was quite worried. The prospect of being stationary in the dark, or even to leave the car behind with all my stuff in it to find somewhere to stay, was not exactly encouraging. I had to do something, stupidly, my phone still did not connect to local networks. The last sign I remembered seeing on the dashboard was the oil warning, so I tried to top up with oil I bought from a fuel station that I could see in the distance. That wasn’t it, so I hailed down two boda-boda drivers, and they fetched a mechanic.
You easily remember Oryema once you have seen a recent picture of him: blond dreads, and a hint of a blond tach. Now that’s something you don’t get to see often. I admit I am not a fan, unlike when it comes to his music. A true revelation for me, immediately reminiscent of Ayub Ogada, and thus it didn’t come as a surprise to me when I learnt that the two collaborated on some pieces.
I’m out of the bush, and hours later I get to Gulu, the most important town in northern Uganda. I have covered Gulu and its more recent history and contribution to literature elsewhere, so I shall skip it here. I liked the place, went out to a club, did my first photo tour around the market. It was here that my idea for a photo series was born – African Women at Work.
Gulu is also the town where Okot p’Bitek was born. A friend from Zambia (hey there!, you know who you are 😉 ) recently introduced me to his best-known book, The Song of Lawino (1966). It’s a wonderful lament of a wife about her all-too European husband. He, Ocol, will respond later, in The Song of Ocol (1970). Very interesting author and scholar – read more here and here in German.
It started with Collins at the Red Chilli Camp in Murchison Falls Park. Collins told me about his desire to make a movie about an underdog guy who after a lot of fighting leaves the forest, a victor. He has it all in his mind, perhaps unsurprisingly. For he immediately went on to present a lively, if at times horrifying account of his brother, who had joined the UPDF to fight Joseph Kony‘s Lord’s Resistance Army.
Touchdown in Entebbe. Welcome Africa. Full contact.
I’m lucky. Not only was I able to retrieve my mobile phone from the rented car which I dropped at 4:30 am at Berlin Tegel because my flight had been cancelled and I was put on a later one, late enough for the car rental to be open. No, I was also picked up comfortably at the airport by Suzan and her husband Simon, and taken to their house. I stayed for almost a week, and was perfectly entertained by the two, especially with a BBQ at which I met some amazing people – a fish farmer, a clothes designer, a nurse and psychotherapist, a special duties pilot. And of course my hosts. I had known Suzan for three years, but we’d never met in person, so that was exciting enough. And I liked being around them, hearing about their future plans and all.