Thursday, February 18, 2010

R&R Number the First (Parts One & Two)

On the Road 6-Feb-2010, 12:48 PM

Driving Goma-Kigali (I mean, obviously, being driven). This is my fourth time on this route. It is impossible to describe the beauty. Imagine Heidi in the Swiss Alps. Replace the Alps with fluid waves of green hills. There you go: That’s Rwanda. The first time & second & third time that I made this trip, my eye was glued to the viewfinder of my camera. My camera was glued to the window.

This time I recognized a lot of the road. It is probably one of the most beautiful drives in the world. I am familiar with it – the greenery, the thick brown rivers, the thin cascading falls. I didn’t feel the need to document every square centimeter of it. It is nice to feel that it is no longer a brand new sight that could POOF up and disappear at any second. I didn’t feel the necessity of recording it in electronic pixels. I sat back, relaxed, and let the beauty wash over me. I drank it in.

Kigali 2:24 PM

Sitting in the Kigali airport, waiting for my (35 minute) flight to Entebbe. My body is, I mean. I would like my mind to catch up to it. My mind is engrossed in imaginary discussions with colleagues and donors. Physically I have left the office. Mentally? No.

Omg omg I just went over our itinerary. It is so packed. Ten days, six cities/towns. Omg. I will need a vacation from this vacation.

The stress of this takes away the stress of the office, like when you stub your toe hard and it hurts so much that you forget you had a headache. But this isn’t PAIN. This is VACATION. Or, to be specific, R&R. REST and RELAXATION.

But FLYING, which I will soon be doing. It is a shedding of skin, a detachment of your self from your earthly life. Goodbye cell phone goodbye internet goodbye everything. Worldly worries stay behind on the ground while you climb miles up into the atmosphere. You heft them back up when you land, of course, but maybe not all of them, and they seem somehow lighter, anyway, because the muscles of your soul have had a chance to rest.

Entebbe 8:15 PM

Entebbe Airport. For my first two-some hours here I thought that I didn’t recognize it. I was picturing myself last December in this airport waiting to fly away. But when I remembered that I am in the ARRIVAL wing and not the DEPARTURE wing and when I pictured myself ARRIVING in East Africa for the first time ever, then. Yes. I remember it distinctly. Here is where I was stumbling with my duffle bag, bleary-eyed. Here is where the driver was standing with the sign. There is where I hugged my old classmate/colleague J, back when we were on speaking terms, and he made the hour-and-a-half trip to greet me, before some shit hit a couple of fans.

And now here I am. I am so mystified sometimes by the passage of time. Here I stand waiting to meet my cousin, C, in this same spot. I will go hug her as she drags her bags. Did the woman whom I just bought my new Ugandan SIM card from work here last year? What about the guy at the bar with the big sign that says MILKSHAKES but that doesn’t actually sell milkshakes? If I had been awake enough to look around me a year and a half ago, would I recognize them now today? Have they been coming to work constantly day-in day-out in, between my Entebbe Airport bookends? What is it like to be them and to be familiar with this waiting lounge like the back of their hands and to not be bewildered by finding themselves back here? Life is weird.

Life is weird. When was the last time I saw C? Six years ago in the mad bustle of her big brother’s wedding? I am writing this in my journal while watching people walk past drag themselves past scan the crowd for friends scan the crowd for signs that say their names. These are people from C’s airplane. Their faces are presumably somewhat familiar to her as she has just spent 10 hours trapped in a speeding metal canister with them nine miles above our world. Possibly in the future one of these people who is passing me by now will be a friend of mine or a colleague or an acquaintance. After all, one of my friends here in Goma was living in Eritrea half a decade ago when I visited it as a tourist. He could have shuffled past me on the street one day. And! My mom and dad grew up several blocks from one another and didn’t meet for three decades. They probably passed each other once in the airport, once in the street, once at a school dance, and had no idea. In the future one of these people may be someone I know/work with/like/dislike and his face will be so familiar to me and so obvious. Like today it is obvious that the word Haiti means Earthquake and the date 9/11 means fear and it is unimaginable that one month and one decade ago no one knew that. And several years/centuries from now no one will even remember that. I wonder what it means to “keep a grasp on reality” or “you’ve lost all grip on reality” because reality is fluid. You can’t grasp a river.

10:29 PM

Good GOD I just reread what I just wrote. Thank GOD I am in the process of going on vacation.

10:45 PM

C, where aaaaaaareeeee yoooouuuu?

Kampala 7-Feb-2010, 5:34 PM

C landed & we made friends with a taxi driver & he took us (listening to our family gossip gossip gossip) to pretty Red Chilli Hideaway and lovely Kampala. Kampala has seven hills like ancient Rome and the hills are covered in red terracotta roofs like ancient Rome and there is laser bowling in Garden City mall. Oh. I do like Kampala. The pool advertised on the Red Chilli website turns out to be about 6 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet and we laugh and laugh at that, because we are on vacation and nothing can bother us.

Best thing ever: Everything is in English. And I can even rationalize that this is good for my French, this break. To learn math and history in high school you have to get enough sleep and dream dreams so your brain can process the information. This rest for the language-learning center of my brain will be healthy for it and I will return to Goma speaking French like a true Froggie, or at least not like a 16-month-old child.

I am glad to be going back to Kitgum. To have truly lived someplace you have to leave it and then go back for a visit. Seeing it afterwards cements your memories, your relationship to the place, your friends.

Murchison Falls 8-Feb-2010, 2:49 PM


2:54 PM


Omg so cool. This is my first time in a National Park. National Parks hold rebels. This one doesn’t anymore, although the founding owner of Red Chilli was killed here in 2005. (Everyone says he was a very nice man.)

When I lived in The Gambia, I used to suddenly remember that I was in AFRICA and feel dizzy as if I were on the wrong side of the world and might suddenly fall up and off. That doesn’t happen anymore. But the tourists on this Red Chilli tour with C and me, who are wearing their shorts, showing off their pale-almost-bluish-white legs, keep mentioning something like that. Can you believe we are in AFRICA? Wow, so this is AFRICA.

But Uganda is so different from Rwanda, from eastern DRC. Long stretches of deep flat plains, dry savannas. Such a different beauty.

4:04 PM

Looking out over the flat dry land I can pretend I am on Nantucket the summer I turned 21 driving in a car with Caroline and Mattie.

When I used to drive in the car on Nantucket that summer with Caroline and Mattie, specifically the stretch between Town and Siasconset, I would look out over the moors and pretend I was in AFRICA. That was before I had ever been to AFRICA and when I was head-over-heels in love with the western-created idea of AFRICA.

4:29 PM

Three of the eight people on our tour have US southern accents and are working in a “baby orphanage” in Jinja. The skinny Caucasian woman with the dark braided extensions in her hair is “running” the “baby orphanage”. She came here for the first time last summer for six weeks. This time she is here for three weeks. She is spending three days on “safari” with us. When she is in the States and not here (which is 82% of this year by my quick calculations), a Uganda “girl” runs the “baby orphanage” “for her”.

Rachel, be nice. Be nice, Rachel, and understanding, and generous. Remember the intercultural mistakes that you make all the time and have sympathy. And don’t think too much about those 16 babies taken from their communities and what will happen to them when this skinny woman gets bored and moves onto her next “project”.

And tell your friends in Jinja to look in on this place.

I don’t need to hang out with the “baby-orphanage” workers. Give me the silly innocent self-consciously touristy tourists for my company this week, please. We shall wear fanny packs and sandals with socks and we shall take thousands of photographs and giggle to each other at our luck seeing ELEPHANTS! and LIONS! and GIRAFFES! and be happy.

5:01 PM

Murchison Falls waterfall is spectacular power power beauty and THE NILE.

We are breathing in the spray of the Nile – every sense experiences it. Our skin eyes the roaring in our ears our mouths our lungs.

5:10 PM


5:16 PM


5:21 PM


10:34 PM

My cousin and I sat ourselves by the Nile tonight and caught up on the last 18 years of each other’s lives. She is a professional skydiver who is in law school at Yale. I live in Congo.

Life is weird.

Our fathers are brothers. Her family lives in California and my family lives in Pennsylvania. Through total bizarre chance, at the same moment that C and I are watching the sunset, our parents are having brunch together in San Francisco.

C and I agree that we would love to be a fly on the wall of that brunch and we wonder what our moms and dads think/say about us.

Murchison Falls 9-Feb-2010, 6:18 AM

We are on a ferry on the Nile crossing to the north bank where the animals are and we are all of us taking photographs of the sunrise like it is the first day of creation and we are the first people to see the round red ball shoot up to illuminate our newborn world.

And look. There right in the line of red reflected on the water of the deep river. Hippo ears, hippo nostrils, hippo eyes. Peaking up.


Ziwa 10-Feb-2010, 3:56 PM

Yesterday was lions elephants giraffes oh my. Today is rhinos.

Yesterday we saw two lions sitting by the side of the road, close to us, as if daring us to come closer, basking in the sun with big bellies. The sun also shone down on a ripped open deer a few feet away. Blood & gore & brown velvet skin.

We saw an elephant banging his trunk again and again and again against a tree, trying to force these funny orange-colored coconut-shaped seeds to drop. We saw a baby elephant from so far away which was omg so cute and omg we just loved it and oh wait no that’s a rock.

Crocodiles lazed off of beaches and swam near our boat in the Nile. When hippos saw our boat approaching, they almost always swam TOWARDS it, not away, which provided us with a small and pleasant kick of adrenalin as fight-or-flight instincts shook themselves awake and stretched.

Today we are at Ziwa rhino sanctuary, a protected ground for eight adult white rhinos and three newly born rhinos. During the chaos of the post-Amin era in Uganda white rhinos went local extinct. These here were tranqued in Kenya and in DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM in Florida and shipped here in big crates, the remnants of which lie beside the guesthouse like humongous discarded boxes on the day after Christmas.

A small family of South Africans, speaking Afrikaans to each other, runs the sanctuary. The youngest befriends C and me and keeps us entertained, taking us back in the bush to see the rhinos a second time, showing us discarded python skin beneath a thorny tree, taking us to the edge of the sanctuary to climb a small steep hill to watch the sun set over the stretches of papyrus and grass. When he talks about animals he says the phrase had the privilege of a lot which is lovely. He had the privilege of seeing a weaver bird build its nest and he had the privilege of seeing a newborn lion cub. When he talks about poachers he tells us his detailed torture-fantasies which is less lovely but there you go. He doesn’t want to kill them he wants to keep them alive in cages for a few years just so he can do to them what they do to animals. He says that some poachers like shooting chimpanzees in their stomachs because the apes will scream and thrust their little fingers into the gaping wounds to try to dig out the bullets before they die in pain. He says that white rhinos are calm but black rhinos kill people every year and so are “good for poachers” meaning they thin the poacher herd.

On the Road 11-Feb-2010, 6:16 PM

The South Africans are kindly driving us down to Kampala so that we can catch a bus up north to Gulu. This is a ridiculous round-about way to go but oh well. We climb out of the car in the chilly air of the Ugandan morning so the South Africans can smoke and we talk about how safe Uganda is, that we can do this, no problem. Even though we are still a few hundred kilometers north of the Equator, because it is morning, there is the Southern Cross in the sky, and we point to it and watch it shine.

The South Africans are playing mixed CDs with Afrikaans music, the Grateful Dead, South African singers, and – I swear to God, just at the point that the sun is rising – Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World.

Kampala Bus Park 12:34 PM

The larger Kampala bus park is the eighth wonder of the world. We are at one of the smaller parks. It’s lively, too. Our bus coughs black billows and bounce bounce bounce rumbles out and up to the North where I have friends who are waiting for me.

[More tomorrow...]


tumwijuke said...

Rachel in Goma?

Welcome back!

lea said...

I can't wait for tomorrow! Thanks for sharing.

Rachel said...

Thank you both!!!!!! xo!