Crossing the Line

We apologize for not posting this yesterday, but we were in a more remote area and our wifi router wouldn’t grab a signal.

Today’s 65-kilometre ride was for Naginda Sylvia and Kirumira Augustine. There are only two days of riding left which is hard for me to fathom.

Rain. wind. crocodiles. sun. cats. equator. dirt. traffic. interview. roadkill. spiders. kids. bedbugs. fishermen. That’s the gist of today.

We enjoyed our last interaction with Dennis at breakfast and left around 8:30 to make the meeting with Luke, the reporter, at noon. We rode the main highway between Masaka and Kampala so traffic was steady, but still felt safer than riding on the North Shore at home. Today the road was lined with fishermen, selling both fresh and dried tilapia, for miles. We rode right into a rainstorm and the rain was mixed with sand, snot, spray and a few tears on my face and bikegloves as we fought a headwind. It was a miserable moment. Suck it up! I couldn’t draft behind John because the kick up of gravel and spray into my face was just too much. But we crested the hill, saw the sign for the equator and my energy was renewed.

We met with Luke as planned after he startled us from behind, riding a motorcycle and filming us. We then sat down with a Coke and he told us a little bit about his business. He’s part of an organization that owns three newspapers and two broadcasting stations, but he’s thinking of retiring from that business in a couple of years to start a vocational school instead. We answered some very general questions about how things have gone so far and what we thought of Uganda. He took some notes but then took out his old video camera and proceeded to ask us exactly the same questions but with the camera right in our faces. It was very strange and made me really uncomfortable and forget a lot of what I wanted to say. He took some more video of us riding, but the camera was swinging all over the place as he balanced himself of the back of a boda so I’m not sure how it will turn out. We took some photos at the equator which had an awesome marker that I was happy to not miss this time. So that was the first line we crossed today.

The second line we crossed today was the one that goes over our comfort zone. We booked a room at the Buwama Crocodile Farm, being lead to believe it was a reptile refuge and somewhat of a tourist attraction. What it is in actuality is a place where old crocodiles come to die and baby crocs are sold to locals for food and to South Koreans to make handbags and shoes. Romeo and Juliet, the 60-year-old pair, have been bred to keep the business running. And Benjamin, an 80-year-old man-eating croc from the Nile has been brought here to live out the last of his possible 20 years. Apparently, he’s known for eating 60 people.

After lunch (which I’m so thankful we had before getting here!!!) we rode about twelve kilometres out of the way to get here and it’s been the first place that made me want to get back on the bike and ride further. Their focus is obviously more on the crocodile harvesting and less on accommodations. Based on the price, we thought we knew what we were getting because it was higher than some other places we’ve stayed so we thought it would be decent. There is no electricity, no running water, spiders, a disheveled ‘restaurant’ with spiderwebs everywhere, an actual bulb-less lamp on the floor of the bathroom for the light, and the worst part – bedbugs. Oh, and the floor actually moves from all the tiny ants crawling around. I showed Naomi (the worker) the bedbugs and she laughed, saying, “Oh, those aren’t bedbugs. Those are just insects crawling around.” Yeah. IN THE BED! It was too late to find anything else (without being sure anything else even existed that we could pedal to before dark) so we are pulling out the tent tonight and pitching it in the room itself. It’s gonna be a long night. To be honest, this is actually kinda what we expected to have to do for the entire trip so now we are 100% more grateful that it wasn’t like this from the start. I would’ve faked an injury to avoid living like this and my standards have never been five-star hotels. But hey, I told too many people that I wanted to “embrace all that Uganda had to offer.” I guess that would have to include bedbugs and ants and no running water. I’m just thankful I have an option to not embrace them literally, as John has been lugging our tent around this entire country still unused. I asked John if he would have carried the tent this entire time knowing that we would only need it for this night. He laughed and without hesitation said, “Absolutely!”

The setting outside is quite beautiful though. It’s right on Lake Victoria so there is a nice breeze and there are hundreds of birds feeding in the grass and making their different calls. There are cows grazing, fishermen out on a little peninsula, and laughing children sliding down a hill on banana leaves. That’s the thing I have learned about this place. For as hard as it is, there is stunning beauty all around if you just open your eyes. But John did just say, “I kinda just want this day to go away.” It’s only 4 pm.

Today we are reminded that suffering together builds a bond. And cycling can bring you to special places physically and emotionally… even if the bugs come along with.

Back to School With a Smile

Today’s dusty but beautiful 75-kilometre ride was for Nanyonga Edith and Nanziri Viola. We have five kids left to ride for and then all fifty-four will have been represented. I hope you have had a chance to check out many of their stories on our website.

We were so happy to wake up to relatively clear skies this morning. We had our last breakfast on our island rest stop, said goodbye to James and starting riding around 8. We stopped at a store/bank to get some money and there was no one around inside. A few other teenagers gathered inside the store as well that sold radios, TVs and other electronics. We waited for about ten minutes, and while we were confused, everyone else just patiently waited when a guy finally rolled up on a motorcycle. It was his store, but who knows where he was or why he opened shop before he could be there. What we were really struck by though was that no one was looking to steal anything. They just all waited for the owner to return.

The actual riding has gotten easier over time, although I can tell that the repetitive nature of pedalling is breaking down my body slightly. I’m looking forward to mixing things up by hiking and paddle-boarding when we get home. The bike though, has become a wonderful tool to bring us to the next lovely soul, heartbreaking story and unique daily experiences.

We pushed hard to get to the ferry, but thought we had just missed it. We had been passed by the oncoming cars that had just come across the lake and still had about a half an hour of riding to go to the landing site. Well, our timing was perfect. We rolled up, brought in our passports to register on the manifest and the horn sounded for loading. On the ferry we noticed a teenage boy who slowly edged closer and closer to us as we stood next to our bikes on the deck. Finally, he must have mustered the courage or his curiosity just got the best of him so he started talking to John. We chatted with him for the length of the journey. Emmanuel, a high school student, had to go back to Kalangala town on the island to get his school fees before he was allowed to return to school on the mainland. His mom and dad are fishermen and he has to wait until they catch enough fish to sell to make his school fees. He says it takes a long time sometimes, but he was excited to return to school now after a month of work with his father. He was very happy to be getting back in time to complete his final exams and see his friends. He was very interested in hearing about Canada, especially the climate. He got my email address before we parted company, us on our bikes and he crammed into the back of an overloaded car.

We are back in Masaka, but staying somewhere different this time as our last place was in a pretty sketchy part of town and above a pretty popular bar. We rolled in with the familiar relief that comes with seeing the name of the hotel we’ve been looking for and I went in to register. The room they showed me looked just fine, but at the time I failed to notice that they were still building an additional floor on top and all of the construction that was going on in the building. They were literally working on every single room around us for hours, hammering, sawing, sweeping dirt off the roof that fell onto my clothes I had hung out to dry. It was a loud operation with lots of commotion as they were trying to get a huge water tank lifted up three stories to the roof. There were multiple men on the roof with ropes that cascaded down to the tank that they attached to a stick that they put inside. There were a couple of guys on the middle floor with long skinny logs that they used to push the tank away from the building so that it could get pulled up and over the rooftop’s three-foot lip of cement. Keep in mind that as they hung over the roof, there were no safety harnesses or precautions. The boss was yelling directions from the ground as the men lifted and struggled and yelled at each other while the housekeepers all laughed at them and joked from the ground. Everyone cheered when they pulled it up and over the lip, the ending to what was, no doubt, a long work day. Although it was loud and a little annoying, I was impressed with their problem solving skills and ingenuity. Plus, meeting Dennis has made it worth it.

I could see immediately that Dennis had grabbed John’s heart when I saw his face after I came out from registering. John usually uses the time that I’m getting the nigh’s room to strike up conversations with the workers who are curious about us and come to check out our bikes. I could hear it in his voice that he thought this boy was special. Dennis is an 18-year-old who is in his last year of secondary school, studying hotel management. He works and studies intermittently because he is sometimes forced to take long breaks in his studies to make money for school fees, sometimes as long as a year. He feels guilty about depending solely on his mom’s hard work for school fees so he does what he can, when he can, to help. He makes only $26 a month for working eleven-hour days and he is very good at his job from what we saw. He cried when he spoke of his mom who has trouble making money enough for him and his siblings to attend school. His father left them and “doesn’t care about them” but he says he still loves him because he is still his father and he wouldn’t be here without him. Dennis is bright, animated, hilarious, hard-working, and loves to talk. He was so authentic and vulnerable that we were deeply touched by him. He was shy when he told us about a new girlfriend and tried to hide his tears when he spoke of his parents. He couldn’t believe how old we were and acted out what a regular 50-year-old lady in Uganda looks like – bent over and hobbling with one hand on her back. He said John looked 35. You can see why we liked him so much. He said, laying his hand on his heart, “My troubles are African troubles, but I have hope and I am so happy.” He had a soccer game this evening. He plays as a striker and promised to score a goal for both of us and then proceeded to show us the victory dance he will use when he scores.

I cried a little when he left. Let me tell you his, education is the number one thing these kids desire and the number one thing their parents work so hard to provide. I am so encouraged to confirm our purpose here and with our project. Paying for a child to attend school, who has no other means to achieve that dream despite the tireless work and sacrifice of the entire family (if they even have one), is a sacred act. I am convinced. There is no better gift.

Homestretch Starts Tomorrow

It wasn’t raining when we woke up and stayed sunny all day. We are hoping for the same tomorrow when we leave to head back to Masaka. We ride about 38 kilometers, then take a ferry and then ride another 38 kms back to Masaka.

If it’s raining, it’s raining; there’s not much we can do about it and that’s why we brought rain jackets. We would just really like to avoid the mud as it wrecks the bikes, our clothes and my mood.

We went for a little ride today, got some money, water and soggy cookies and then explored a bit. I spent some time this afternoon talking with James, the waiter and bar tender here. He is super helpful and always goes the extra mile. I was asking about his wife who, he said, was born on this island and has never left. I asked him more about this because we have not met a single man in Uganda (except in smaller villages sometimes) who actually lives with his wife and children and I wondered if that was as common as it appeared. He told me that it’s very common because people have to go where the jobs are that pay the most. Yes, there might be a small restaurant in the small town where his wife lives, but the pay would not be enough for school fees for his two children. So, just like all the others we have had contact with, he lives here on the property of the hotel. He goes for three months at a time between visits and only gets to stay (without pay, mind you) for ten to twelve days before he has to return to work. Can you imagine that? He knows his children need his influence and he regrets deeply that he cannot see them grow and change. It made me very sad to hear how hard that is on the family, but he’s committed to caring for his family in the best way he can. We have seen this same situation in EVERY accommodation in which we’ve stayed.

Flavia, the 28-year-old housekeeper who has worked here for two years, shared the same story. Her boyfriend and family live on the mainland and she only sees them every three months or so. She says people do not travel to the island from the Entebbe side very often. One reason she said is that people are afraid to cross the water. It takes about three and a half hours to get here on a ferry from Entebbe and Lake Victoria is ranked as the deadliest body of water of its kind on the planet because of the number of deaths recorded each year (a mixture of lethal weather, poor communication and lack of resources are the three biggest cause of the high fatalities). The main reason that people don’t come over though is that the island has a reputation for having an abnormally high rate of HIV/AIDS and so when people move here, she says their loved ones “feel abandoned” and so then the families “abandon them and write them off.” They assume they will have other sexual partners over here and contract AIDS as a result. I’m sure that might come as a result of only seeing your partner four times a year, but James and Flavia say that assumption is wrong and has not been their experience. I left the conversation feeling both sad and helpless.

And now, for the last of your questions:

Question: What is the first thing you want to do when you get home?

Answer: We are really looking forward to spendig a day with Hannah at the Coast before driving back to Nelson and seeing Dylan. After that, we really want to eat some popcorn and sit on the deck in total anonymity and walk the streets without anyone noticing us.

Question: Have you seen any snakes?

Answer: Thankfully, only small dead ones on the road!

Question: Are there any Christian churches/ people in the villages that you might go and say hi to?

Answer: Every Sunday has been a cycling day so far so we have not taken the opportunity to do this. Truthfully though, I’m not sure that we would as it would be quite a distraction for the congregation and too overwhelming for these two introverts. We get enough attention as it is. We are going to attend church with Pastor Vincent next Sunday as the ride will be completed and we want to say a word of thanks to them for their prayers and support.

Question: With it being a tribal country – would it be right to assume that in the rural areas Christianity is rare or non-existent?

Answer: Our experience has been that no matter how remote we are or how small the village is, the people will do what it takes to get to church even if it costs them money to ride a motorcycle taxi, or walk long distances. We know the tribal traditions exist, and some are quite dark, but we have not experienced anything related to the witchcraft that we know exists or other unfamiliar traditions. The three main churches represented here: Catholic, Muslim and Christian. We have seen a pretty equal representation of each.

Question: Would you do this trip again and if so, what would you do differently, if anything?

Answer: I would probably not do this exact trip again, but only because I would like to see and experience new things and places. I don’t know if I would feel the desire to bike in Africa again necessarily, although it would be kinda cool to bring other people over and experience things from a fresh perspective. Would we do anything differently? Knowing what we know now, we would not drag a tent and sleeping mats for seven weeks considering the cheap accommodations that are so plentiful and the now-obvious safety issues with camping. We would have carried more jerky and less oatmeal knowing that breakfast is always included with a hotel stay and trusted meat protein is hard to come by. I do, however, want to encourage anyone who rides a bike or loves people and adventure to come to Uganda and experience the same generous hospitality, beautiful people, amazing landscapes, safety and affordability that we have found here. We are thrilled with our choice to come here to bike tour and will never forget our time here.

Question: You wrote that you get comments from men along the way – and some of them very inappropriate. Is that representing the view of women in general in Uganda, or is it more because you are white that you get those comments?

Answer: I think it’s a little of both. I certainly stand out as a woman riding a bike because after seeing thousands of men riding, we have only seen a handful of women on bicycles. The comments like “I love you, baby” and “Marry me now” are, in my view, either a joke or things they have seen on TV and videos. They watch a crazy amount of Bollywood TV and the themes are always about relationships from a male-dominated perspective. I don’t want to make a blanket judgment on the culture here because we know and have met many amazing men here who love and value their wives, daughters and mothers. But we have seen many interactions between men and women and it is a very male-dominated culture. We knew this before because of the other work I’ve done here with Martial Arts for Justice with victims of gender-based violence. But even the example of the woman on the ferry with the two restless children is what we have seen time and time again. So, again, the simple answer is that I think it’s both their attitude towards women and my white skin and what they think that represents.

Question: What are your Top 5 experiences from your trip?

Answer: This is a tough one to answer, especially because there have been so many good things. Of course, seeing animals in the wild and raging waterfalls is something I will never forget. But the first moment I reached the Nile and saw the magnitude of its size and power, I was humbled to tears. It felt like a very significant moment for some reason and I was so happy to be sharing the experience with John.

My heart is warmed and my spirits soar every time I get a high-five from a stranger on the road. I would say the encouragement from the people has been a huge highlight that I was not expecting.

A scene I cannot get out of my mind was the four little siblings that silently watched me from a distance with their arms all wrapped around each other as it symbolized to me not only the poverty that was obvious, but the resilience, hope and comfort that comes from relying on others.

The significance of the young man who paced me up a relentless hill on a difficult day was a highlight for me. He didn’t leave me and seemed almost protective as we pedalled together in silence.

And finally, meeting the Get Schooled students that we had the honour to meet before the trip and anticipating the final celebration with them is what this whole thing is about. I’m humbled to meet them as they are the real heroes in this story and should inspire all of us to never give up hope.

Question: Do you notice any difference in how outgoing and friendly little boys are compared to little girls? Does it seem that the girls have been encouraged to be more shy and reserved or are they just as curious and gregarious as the little boys?

Answer: We haven’t really noticed a big difference in this but the boys have been more likely to chase or run alongside us for longer periods of times. The girls are just as likely to ask for money, scream in excitement, wave, smile, and call out, “muzungu!” from hidden places along the roadside.

Question: How can we support your efforts?

Answer: First of all, let me say this was an actual question and not added by me. I’m so thankful that people are still asking this question. I have been overwhelmed with the support we have received already and we have had people ask how they can continue supporting the Get Schooled children. One man has even committed to sponsoring a child until he or she graduates. I’m so humbled by this level of commitment. So, for those of who want to continue your support, you absolutely can. To provide more than just one year of education for these children would be beyond my expectations and into the realm of miraculous. If you want to continue to support Get Schooled and give these children a real chance to rise above poverty, please let us know and we can get that set up for you. I will continue to do whatever it takes to maintain oversight of any level of support that is given.

One Week To Go

After a good night’s sleep, we woke up to rolling thunder and sheets of rain again. We are always so thankful that the weather has cooperated with our rest days so well this entire trip. It was a lazy day as the rain kept us from exploring the island on our bikes as we had intended. It’s not lost on us that we will have this ride wrapped up in a week!

Finally around 4 pm, the rain stopped so John went out for a little recovery bike ride. Only a kilometer from where we’re staying is a huge soccer game going on with thousands of fans and tarps lining the outside of the field so that people couldn’t see without paying a 5000 shilling admission (about $1.50). As a result there were many people hanging off trees and standing on top of trucks in order to see the match between this main island (Bugala) and another island. All of the locals knew about it and it was even being broadcasted on the radio. John continued on his ride and on his way back he had to descend a very steep, long, muddy road. On his way down he caught up to a motorcycle (who was taxiing people up and down the hill to the game) and, as per usual, John enjoys a good draft on the downhill so he pulled up closely behind the guy. But when the motorcycle transitioned from a muddy road to 100 feet of broken, wet, slimy pavement, he locked up his rear brake which immediately threw him into a skid to the right. He over-corrected and his boda whipped around to the left, throwing the poor helmet-less driver about twenty feet down the road and his motorcycle went rolling right in front of John. John, of course, feathered his brakes as he saw this unfolding and quickly jumped off his bike to help the fellow. He lifted up his motorcycle for the driver as the guy brushed himself off and climbed out of the ditch. He couldn’t speak English but appeared to be very appreciative to get help with his motorcycle. As John continued back to the lodging, someone walked across the road right in front of him without looking so John had to hit the ditch himself. Thankfully, he kept his bike upright and the fellow apologized. Life continues to move forward in chaotic Africa.

Here are some more questions and answers to those burning questions.

Question: What are you dreaming up as you go along the road as your next challenge?

Answer: Honestly, most of the time I am dreaming up how I am going to finish this challenge! But now that we are close to the finish and I have more confidence in my abilities, I don’t dream about a new challenge as much as I marvel at one’s ability to embrace other future obstacles and work through them. I do find myself thinking about how to make this project sustainable so that the kids can continue their education. That would be a miracle and have a true lasting impact which has always been my goal. Also, because of my work with Martial Arts for Justice, I also dream about starting a program here in Uganda where Gender Based Violence (GBV) is rampant and many women and girls would benefit from our program that pairs self defence training with trauma counselling. On this trip I was reminded in small ways of how often women are treated poorly and left to fight for equality on their own. But I can see great strength in their spirits and have real hope for this country.

Question: What do you do when you have to pee at night? Or are you so tired that you don’t have to get up?

Answer: I don’t usually have to go in the middle of the night, but when I do my main concern is trying not to wake John because he is such a poor sleeper and has a hard time falling back asleep when awoken. For John, the biggest issue seems to be how to not stub his toes on the lip that ALWAYS goes into the bathroom, hitting his head on the lower door frames or slipping on the floor still wet from the bedtime shower. He combats these inconveniences by putting something like a rug or shoes or whatever’s available by the ridge to remind him it’s there or take the hit instead of his toes, hanging a towel or some clothing from the door frame as a visual reminder to duck, and laying a previously-used towel on the bathroom floor to make it non-slippery. So far, his techniques have worked. For the outhouse scenarios, John never makes it that far and usually just pees out the door.

Question: How are you guys sending updates every day and getting wifi?

Answer: Good question. Although we’ve had some accommodations that advertise having free wi-fi for their guests, we have found that it is pretty unpredictable and with intermittent power outages, fairly unreliable. In anticipation of this, I bought a small wi-fi router over here that could be used exclusively by us wherever we went. Truth be told, it’s been very handy, but also seems to work somewhat sporadically. We work together on the blog in our evenings (your mornings). I usually do the first draft and then John adds his awesome story-telling skills and sense of humour and then we choose the day’s photos together. We have appreciated any feedback you’ve been willing to share about our blogs.

Question: What does a normal day look like for a Ugandan family?

Answer: We can only answer this from what we have seen and from no realm of expertise, but I can tell you these people work hard. Because we are on the equator, there are only ever twelve hours of daylight – from 7 to 7. We hear people beginning their days as early as 5 am and finishing as late as 2am. The people who work in the hotels are up early and up late, living in the same place as they work and they get paid very little. In the villages, I would guess that the days start equally as early as parents rouse their children for either school or chores, depending on the economic situation. Every region seems to mange school attendance differently based on the facilities and available resources. Some are day schools and some are boarding schools and many offer both options. It might be a first world assumption that school is a full day from about 9-3, but here there seems to be no standard for time spent in school or the quality of education they receive because all education is based on fees. Students often attend in shifts – as many as maybe three per day. Sometimes we would see students going home as late as 7pm. So although we don’t know the ins and outs of daily life here, we can attest to the work ethic and the fact that they have no time to relax or recreate.

Question: Does John ever question all of the stuff that’s packed on his bike? If he could go back and re-pack for the trip, would he make any changes?

Answer: John tends to be a pretty practical person and so the extra weight is annoying only because of the lack of efficiency and the risk of doing damage to his rims. But fortunately, the extra weight has allowed us to ride together more easily as the extra weight slows him down just a tiny bit.

It is true that he has commented a number of times about how he could have done this trip with a lighter and therefore faster bike. We knew that about half of our gear would hopefully never be used since most of it is for potential emergencies: accidents, sickness, mechanical problems, food preparation and sleeping solutions. We had anticipated the ability and need to camp, but due to the serious lack of safety and the abundance of cheap hotels, some of our camping supplies have also been unnecessary.

Thanks again for all the questions and we have some more to answer for tomorrow. If anything else comes to mind as you read our blogs, please just email us at getschooled50for50

Inquiring Minds Want To Know

We woke up to the familiar sound of waves crashing on the beach and I had to remind myself where I was. The sky was dark but the air was warm and it sounded like we were on the ocean. What comfort to have sounds from home. Breakfast was pancakes and sausages and Spanish omelettes which are standard fair here, even in the smallest and grungiest of hotels. If you’re like me who didn’t know what that is, it’s an omelette made with onion and green peppers. We always mix a little hot chocolate into our instant coffee and each cup seems to taste better than the previous one. The icing on the already-awesome cake these next few days is that Michael, the hotel host, found the Tour de France for us on satellite tv!! We are continually blessed beyond belief by every single provision. Water when we need it. A cool breeze on a hot day riding uphill. Sweet smiling faces and high fives when we need encouragement. A cloudy day with no rain. Bad weather only on rest days. I could go on. But to be holed up in a great place on a rest day while it’s pouring rain outside and the Tour is on the television is almost beyond our blessing meter.

I went for a walk today to see if I could find any monkeys and ran into three delightful people: Deborah from Rwanda, new wife of Dr. Godfrey from Uganda and their friend, Wilfred (or Freddy). We had a great conversation and they asked me what I saw as the main differences between Rwanda and Uganda. They appreciated my understanding of the two cultures and I was thankful I could have an authentic conversation about it. They agreed that Rwandans are way more reserved and care deeply about what the outside world thinks of them as a nation, no doubt due largely to the trauma they have suffered as a nation. Ugandans feel more free, but also admit their nation is more chaotic and “really disorganized.” Godfrey expressed that Ugandans like money too much because they will sell their children for child sacrifice, which would never happen in Rwanda, according to him. He expressed the truth that every country has their own faults and problems. Rwanda is clean, but can feel oppressive and paranoid. Ugandans are free, but disorganized. This has been our experience as well. They asked me why I wasn’t afraid to walk around by myself. With a laugh, I pulled out my mace and showed them how it worked, but when I told them I also had a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, they seemed way more interested in that. And although I haven’t trained in TKD since John’s accident, I have drawn from my training a lot on this trip to persevere, maintain self-control and try to tap into an indomitable spirit no matter what comes. I also feel relatively confident in my ability to do enough damage to at least run away in most situations that I can imagine happening over here.

After we parted company, I came upon two other men, one of whom was drunk and asked me to give him money. “I don’t have any money,” I said aloud. “But I do have some pepper spray with your name on it,” I said, under my breath. Thankfully, they left me alone but he later found me again on the beach. He was talking to me but I couldn’t understand him so I tried to speak to him in Luganda because that usually de-escalates sketchy situations. He got really mad at me and yelled with a slur, “Why aren’t you talking to me in English? I am talking to you in English! I said Mama! Mom! I called you Mama!”“Ok, see you later,” I called over my shoulder trying to put some space between us and walking to a different area of the hotel so he didn’t know where I was staying. I hadn’t needed to be worried because he just walked off down the beach still talking to himself.

Because we are getting so many questions from people (thank you by the way and please keep asking!), we are going to spread them out over the next few days. Here goes:

Question: Is the toilet paper in Uganda

a) John Wayne style: like in Eastern Europe–rough and tough and very efficient. Leaves behind painful abrasions until you have built up the appropriate callouses.

b) North American style: soft and fluffy, sometimes too cushy to properly do the job for which it was designed.

c) South-east Asia style: a murky tub of water on the left side of a very scary hole in the ground. Inquiring minds want to know!

Answer: It’s definitely door number one, but it’s also two-plies that don’t stick together so you have to be careful how you unroll it. It’s normally already wet before use from the shower spraying all over the room. Like in other third world countries, there is usually a little waste basket by the toilet in which to put your used TP, and one place we stayed in hadn’t emptied the previously-used basket. It was ew. Also, the toilet quality is directly correlated to the price of the accommodation. At the bottom of the barrel, you have ‘the hole‘, where aim is critical. Pay a little more and you might get a toilet with no water so you manually fill the tank. The next level up has a toilet, but no seat. Then you get one with a seat, but it’s not attached so you can slide pretty easily. And then you have the luxury level: a toilet with an attached seat and the ability to push a lever for a full flush. Of course, there is also the outhouse version of all of the above.

Question: Do many speak English, is English speaking common, or are you muddling your way through with the little you know of their language?

Answer: It really depends where we are. English and Swahili are the two national languages, but we didn’t hear any Swahili (not that we know enough to recognize it, but we only heard some “Jambos” when we were in the west near Kenya). Closer to the bigger cities, more people speak a little English. Most hotel workers have had some level of English training just from working with customers, but the street vendors and shop owners in smaller villages have little to none. They understand words like ‘water’ and ‘soda’ and ‘thank you’ but not much beyond that. And the little Luganda I did learn was only useful for the first two weeks or so because the spoken language changed as we progressed. There are approximately forty languages and so even Ugandans themselves do not find it easy to communicate if they move about in their own country. Now we are back in the area where they speak Luganda so it’s more enjoyable for me and more entertaining for those with whom we interact.

Question: What’s the scariest thing that has happened on your trip?

Answer: Earlier on, some of the harassment and demands for money were stressful, but now we are used to it and know how to handle it. I have almost gone over the handlebars at high speeds (stupid speed bumps) which had my adrenaline pumping a bit, and riding even a few hundred feet behind John through some places have caused some concern based on the gross comments. Of course, the traffic and pace of navigating through the cities always gets the blood flowing. The scariest thing for me though has been when I went the wrong way and lost John and had no way to find him. I had to work hard to control my thoughts to avoid utter panic. John is not really afraid of anything, quite honestly, but the one fear that comes up (like every day) is tainted mosquitoes. He is convinced that every bug he sees or lands on him – gnats, flies, take your pick – is a mosquito. He asked yesterday if we were in the “malaria capital of the world” because he was getting pelted with bugs on the day’s ride, but we had already gone through it about a week earlier. I didn’t mention it at the time and he didn’t remember where it was. A bug flew into his eye last week and he was convinced he would get malaria from it. I comforted him with the fact that by the time he showed any symptoms, we would be home already.

Question: One thing I am curious about is why the systemic poverty? Is it governmental? Related to access to resources? It seems as though there are barriers I don’t understand. From what you have written the people seem like hard working and kind folks… something (many things?) is stopping their success. Or is success even a western way of framing it?

Answer: This is a fantastic and complicated question and it’s important to understand that John and I have a very limited perspective on this ancient continent. But having said that, I think it’s appropriate to simply share our impressions. Having spent time in East Africa on a variety of trips, it has become apparent that the people, while hard working, are up against three very powerful headwinds.

1. High population which results in extreme competition for limited resources.

2. Lack of education which leaves them doing manual labor with little opportunity for upward mobility.

3. A lack of structural stability because of political corruption (even theft of resources by other countries).

To resolve these issues it seems to me that they would need to develop a tax base that can provide for education. With educated citizens, they could diversify their economy and move it from farming by hand to other more lucrative and efficient industries. But sadly, political corruption often steals the natural resources and any taxes that are collected. This keeps the people stuck, living off tiny plots of land and selling small amounts of produce. The average wage is only a dollar per day and because education is private and also costs about a dollar a day, a very high percentage of people are only able to afford a few years of education for their kids. This leaves the kids to work on the family farm and live their entire lives within a fifty-kilometre radius.

Because the rule of law is scarce and doesn’t allow for strong property rights, financial credit, personal safety and the other structures that young people in Canada build their lives upon, it is difficult to borrow against your future to get ahead. The advent of micro-finance, drilling programs for clean water, HIV / AIDS education and many other tools of the west have been a great help to East Africa over the past twenty years, but there is more to do.