Note: This was written in Fort Portal, Uganda over two days just after the ride
The image only highlights the local flora and morning light of the tropical savannah near Kahihi, Uganda but its framed by homespun humanity and dotted with animals found only in zoos and childrens books. I put the camera away after I made this photo because I’d been living behind it taking pictures of primates in the previous days. I looked at the light in this picture and decided just to observe. Moments later, in the same landscape, 5 African elephants grazed to the south. Many of the 16 other people in the 6 seater car I was in chattered about the elephants but the driver was really focus on getting us to Casese as fast as possible to make his turnaround. Ahead in the road it looking like there were some cattle. It was a herd of 20-30 water buffalo waddling across to greener pastures. One of the infants next to me in the front seat and held loosely by his mama stared at my white skin. I smiled at it and it returned the smile. Children are genderless to me here. The other mother next to her was sleeping and her baby poured like molasses onto the driver until he nudged the mother awake. Something that would be frowned upon and derided in my own land but here it is so common to just hold your baby in the car with no extra precaution. Safety is not considered in East Africa. Safety is a luxury. One of the children vomited, luckily the one closer to the driver. There was a sense of solidarity between some of the others and myself as the driver shuffled and spoke rapidly as the vomit moved toward him. In the rear view mirror there were silent smiles. With each slight bump the cars shocks reach their limit adding to our discomfort. It is easy to take the simple comforts for granted when you are at home and each day here I am reminded of that. One has to be careful to restrict your sense of entitlement here. Actually I am quite content to be with 5 people in the front seat. When I arranged the ride with the taxi man he gave me the Mzungu price which maybe 5-8 times what the others pay. It also means sitting in the front. When we stop at some brick/mud huts some colorfully dressed women come out and talk to the driver. Their eyes flash back and forth between me and the driver. I get out to stretch but am scolded for doing so. “Mzungu, we go!” More than not I am referred to as mzungu. Other than that it is usually “sir”, a holdover from British colonial days, I reckon. But don’t get me wrong, it’s a polite country compared to ‘merica. Now again up the road there is some chaos. A box truck is stopped and surrounded by something. As we get closer I see it is baboons. It’s like 80 baboons. They could care less about whether we want to get through because they have found something to eat on the side of the road and are shoving it down their throats. They bare their teeth at my driver as he berates them for slowing his ride. He beeps and drives into them. They slowly and reluctantly part but it takes a minute to get through. On the left I see a sign for Queen Elizabeth National Park. We speed on kicking up dust in our wake. The driver floors it and we reach a new top speed. Three elephants are crossing the road ahead and the drive shows no sign of slowing. This is counter intuitive to me and, I think, to my passenger counterparts. I can’t understand a word they are saying but the chatter volume increases get louder each millisecond. I sense more than my own fear. We speed by and on the other side a huge bull elephant. The light adding to its magnificence. I hope I will always remember this image. Now the car begins to slow. I assume the road is going to shit. It does. Dust pours in the open windows and babies head bob with the washboard road. A boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) approaches in the other lane. The driver waves him down. They speak quickly and he jumps out motioning for one of the women to get out and get on the boda-boda. Now another approaches and he signals a man to get out who rides off with the boda-boda. He gets back in scowling at one of the babies. Loser. We start off, hit an intersection with pavement, turn left and pullover immediately.
On the min road he empties the cre with the exception of 5. We are street legal. He pulls my seat belt over me and tucks it under my butt. There is nothing there to click togther. I smile and gesture but before I can finish I am dismissed with with a wave and a scowl. We head off gain and my head begins to bob. I want to stay awake becasue I am a complte nerd and want to get a picture at the equator. There must be something there that says there is an imaginary line here. I can’t reach my map to see where we are. I scan the horizon constantly. An 18 wheeler is heading on a head on crash course to oblivion with my side of the car. I make a strange noise and pucker. When I open my left eye just in the periphery I catch something. I turn cracking my neck (which will haunt me for days) and there it is. The giant silver ring. The equator sign. I pull out my camera to take a shot but instead of shooting I turn it off. I am devastated. I came all the way from Alaska for that shot.
Every picture is worth 1000 words.