Back to Uganda

Recently I posted a riddle on social media. It went like this.

It was a 4-jab day. Typhoid. Yellow Fever. Hepatitis A and B. Where am I going?

I got all kinds of guesses: California, Montana, Portland’s homeless camps, South America, the Nile, and Mogadishu from a friend who said those were the same shots he got to work there and that he hoped that isn’t where I’m going. I’m not. I’m going to back to Uganda. The nation in Africa where agriculture once took me is calling me back.

Returning to Uganda came up organically (pun intended) at a Leadership Idaho Agriculture (LIA) banquet last year while I was making polite conversation with the man seated next to me. Cedric Nwafor, a charismatic young man from Cameroon, met LIA leaders Rick and Dorita Waitley while working at their Washington, DC hotel. They became friends and he came out to Idaho for ten days where he discovered his calling: using technology and innovative farming techniques to address hunger and poverty in Africa.

“Uganda. Wow!” I said to Cedric over roast beef and potatoes in Boise. “I used to live there, and I’d love to go back someday. LIA should do a trip to Uganda.” Yes, he enthused.

Cedric told me his family raised beans, yams, and legumes by hand in Africa. He remembers walking across acres of fields, carrying heavy bags, hungry, and wondering how he could help make things better for his family, his people. Idaho agriculture, it happens, showed him.

He saw that a farmer with a tractor here can do in a day what it took his family in Cameroon a week to do by hand. So, he returned to Washington, DC, and started a nonprofit he calls Roots Africa, linking farmers to farmers, students to students, and universities to universities for Africa’s betterment.

Cedric believes that Africa doesn’t need charity, it needs changemakers. So that’s what he does. He nurtures them. As much as I want to revisit Uganda, I also want to meet his changemakers. Though my father didn’t call them that, he was in the same business there. He was a Fulbright Scholar working on research to determine what plants livestock choose to browse in a field and determine their nutritive content. I had my fifth birthday in 1961 in Entebbe where I attended a British school and brought home to the US an English accent.

Oblivious to political matters then, I didn’t realize that though it had one of “the most developed economies” and “strongest educational systems in Sub-Saharan Africa”, within a few years it would have “descended into political turmoil and internal conflict that lasted more than two decades” (CIA World Fact Book). In short, Ugandans had a rough go of things after we left.

As I grew up in California, Uganda gained independence, exchanging a Queen and the British Empire for a Republic and their own Cambridge-educated Kabaka (King)-turned-President, Sir Edward Mutesa. So began the Ugandan First Republic followed by the Second Republic during which brutal dictator Idi Amin distinguished himself. During the Third Republic a series of successors lasted 68 days, 327 days, 10 days, 207 days, and four years and 222 days before the military overthrew the President. Afterward, two generals governed Uganda for less than a year. The Fourth (and current) Republic began in 1986 with the election of President Yoweri Musenveni, who is still in office and credited by supporters for bringing peace to Uganda. Detractors disagree but he’s held office for over 37 years and shows little interest in leaving. Turmoil persists.

According to the World Fact Book, now “Uganda faces numerous challenges that could affect future stability, including explosive population growth, power and infrastructure constraints, corruption, underdeveloped democratic institutions, and human rights deficits.” There are over 42 million people in Uganda and as the median age is 15.7 (according to a Jan. 2021 article from the BBC). A new youth-based voting bloc seems to be taking shape. In addition, 1.4 million refugees have poured in from surrounding countries. The US State Department warns that travelers should reconsider plans to visit Uganda due to terrorism and criminal activity. Simply put, Uganda’s political landscape is yet unsettled. It’s not the kind of place I usually go, but I’m going anyway.

Talking with Cedric that night in Boise I had no idea that a little over a year later I’d be invited to go with Roots Africa to Uganda or that this week I’d be sitting in a travel clinic, arms outstretched, getting shots to prevent Yellow Fever, Typhoid, and Hepatis A and B. I got a prescription to avoid Malaria too for good measure (thanks to Tim Cahill – My Malaria, Adventures in delirium. Or, why I’m on a steak and gin-and-tonic diet, for my health, Outside Magazine Online, 1994). I had no idea I’d ever again set foot in Uganda let alone meet Cedric’s changemakers.

When I decided to go, I didn’t remember a lot about Uganda except red earth, green trees, vast grasslands, and flat-topped trees. But as I thought about going back, memories emerged from the earth and trees like thirsty lioncubs going to a waterhole. I remembered in quick succession.

My three-year old brother and his friends taking small ivory tusks to march into the jungle for a few hours. My mother’s fear. A verdant front yard that sloped down toward Lake Victoria. Stories about someone breaking into our hotel room to steal the blankets we slept under while my parents were at dinner. A tank full of crocodiles that snapped when a man tickled them with a very long reed. A mushroom-colored snake bigger around than my arm slithering across the road in front of our car. Dad trying to run over it. And a story we heard about such snakes attaching to the bottom of cars to attack a driver when he got out.

I remembered a slippery bridge next to a rushing waterfall in the jungle. Watching women scold and spank my brother for walking over their grasshoppers that were drying on a cloth in the sun. Fireflies, torrential downpours on the roof of a metal Quonset hut, and flashes of lightning with thunder that terrified me. Stoic bare-breasted women with large plugs in their earlobes and babies on their backs posing for photographs. Sitting in a parked car on the vast savanna with our cook while my parents were hunting. He told us stories about full-grown, savage lions hiding in the bushes, watching. 

Suddenly, I became thirsty for Uganda. I wanted to go back. Who knows what changes have taken place since then. I hadn’t thought of these memories, fragments of images dimly recollected, in years. Uganda infrequently surfaces in my consciousness, usually when I smell something fleeting that I can’t identify (but that always causes me to exclaim under my breath, “Africa!”) I want to know what that is.

And now agriculture, the industry that took me to Uganda to make memories is taking me back to make new ones. I get to go back. Back to those memories, back to Uganda.

15 comments

  1. I am glad to hear you were able to return to Uganda. I hope you gonna write more about your trip – I would read it with great interest. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Like

      1. It’s my pleasure that you wish to visit once more. Actually things have really changed and the environment is nolonger the same. It’s okay to keep me updated about your experience via blogs. Am enjoying it.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s