Don’t Sell Water to the White Lady

Today’s eighty-kilometre ride was for Nansubuga Brenda and Nankabirwa Vanessa. We are almost running out of kids to ride for so we must be nearing the end!! As we mentioned before, the various areas always highlight a natural resource. Today’s was palms. There were palm trees for the last 30 kms where workers were harvesting the fruit, of it can be called that, and loading it into trucks to be taken away to make palm oil. I didn’t like the smell, but John didn’t notice it.

I woke up irritable and feeling, for the first time, that I’m done with all this and want to go home. The young people in the shops didn’t help my mood. We needed water before we left the city and it was like a game of “let’s not sell water to the white lady.” They tried overcharging me so I said no and then they acted like they didn’t have any when I saw it sitting right there. Even though it was embarrassing for me, I hope they didn’t see the irritation on my face as I walked out to ask the next guy.

This interaction set the stage for my mood the entire morning. We left on a very narrow, extremely busy section of Masaka and trying to follow John closely while watching behind me for traffic, ahead of me for potholes and both sides of the road for signs signalling our turn all at the same time was too much for my irritable self. I didn’t want to see anyone, say hi to anyone and thought if I heard the word ‘muzungu’ one more time I was going to punch someone. Thankfully, a little bit of downhill and lack of people helped to melt away my morning mood and I felt normal by the time we reached the ferry gate at 11:00. We had pushed hard to get there before the next ferry was scheduled to depart at 11:30.

The police checked our passports and the bags on John’s bike (the lady looked at my bike and said he didn’t need to check mine because I wasn’t carrying anything with what I thought was a scoff, but it could have been the remnants of my sour mood) and after they asked about all the curious gadgets, we were good to go. We never did see them check anyone else, but they had been friendly at least. We waited in the hot sun until the ferry finally came around 1:00, drinking a couple of pops and talking to boda drivers as they waited with us and musing at the “No Smocking” sign. Once people find out we’ve raised money for someone, they sure want a piece of the pie. I showed one guy the cut out photos of the Get Schooled kids that I carry with me and he thanked me for working hard for Uganda’s children. He’s been the first one to do that instead of saying he ‘also knows a lot of orphans who need school fees and can I help them too.’ I was grateful.

The ferry ride was not nearly as chaotic as I had heard it might be, although getting down the ramp was like riding on the roads. I was glad I didn’t bail right in front of everyone bumping over the lip that was lifted above the concrete and then pedalling hard up to steep ramp. As soon as the gate opened, the cars, trucks, bodas and us on our bikes all lurched forward and raced on, passing each other on all sides of the single lane that lasted 300 feet. And then suddenly, we were all on board and there was plenty of room for everyone as we sailed away from the dock.

Of course, we were the only non-local people on the entire ferry and that is getting tiring, I have to be honest. We can tell others are talking about us because we hear the word ‘muzungu’ and it’s always accompanied with laughter, so we just surmise they must be making fun of us somehow. They might not be, but it sure feels like it a lot of the time. I wish I knew enough Luganda to turn around and say, “You know I understand everything you’re saying,” in their language just to make them stop. There was a young mom sitting directly across from us trying to placate her two babies who kept hitting each other in the face, whining, drinking precariously out of a pop bottle and just fidgeting in general, nearly falling off the seat multiple times. The man she was with looked almost old enough to be her dad and I assumed he was the father by the way the woman was talking exclusively to him. He was totally oblivious to her situation and didn’t lift a finger to try and help her. The older baby squirmed partially out of her lap so I grabbed his feet and I distracted him by playing with his feet. Before I knew what was happening, the young mom had thrust the baby into my arms and there he stayed for the remainder of the ride. I didn’t mind helping her at all, but the baby’s diaper was wet and soaked through my already sweaty shorts. But at least the baby didn’t look at me like I was weird or cry, which is what babies usually do when I hold them.

The biking itself was not too bad today, but it still felt difficult. I’m not sure how I managed the really hard days we’ve done previously as now I’m pretty much done after about 80 kilometres, let alone 100. After today’s ride, I sat on the cold tile floor shoving spoonfuls of orange Nutella into my face with a plastic spoon. We definitely didn’t eat enough today.

As badly as the day started, it ended well in equal measure. We found a reasonably-priced place to stay on the shores of Lake Victoria. The sand is beautiful and the water looks so inviting. There is no way we are swimming in it though as it, like all other lakes in Uganda except Bunyonyi, has Bilharzia, a parasite that penetrates human skin to enter the bloodstream and migrate to the liver, intestines and other organs. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? It doesn’t even need a hole in your body to enter – it just penetrates the skin. Yeah, no thanks. Despite what lurks in the seemingly-clear water, it does look lovely and is filling a hole in my heart being away from our lake this month. Plus the bird species are ridiculous in number and the monkeys are amusing. In our post- ride calorie-gorge of pizza (of course) and chicken (also of course) that replaced both breakfast and lunch, I felt so content to just be feeding my face and I just kept saying, “I’m so happy right now.” John added his own musings with, “This has got to be one of smell free-est countries I’ve ever been to.” Our room is nice, the shower is hot and we have a couple of tv channels. We are going to use these next days to gain our strength to push through these last days of riding, visiting some of the kids’ schools, seeing Vincent’s farm, talking to the media, and of course, the party. I’m feeling grateful to be here in Uganda and here in this space, but also grateful that we get to head home soon and see our friends and family. We miss and love you all.

Bananas In My Spokes

Today’s 73 kilometre-ride into Masaka was for Kimujuni Gillian and Iga Simon Peter. It was all pavement with 3000 feet of climbing and the first ride I didn’t slather on the sunscreen for. I need to remember to wear some tomorrow. Ouch.

John didn’t sleep well last night. Maybe it’s the knowledge that we stayed in an area that is so overrun with ticks that despite the use of toxic chemicals, which is actually killing the cows but can’t seem to harm the tics (there was a two-day conference about it at our hotel). Or maybe it was the chicken pizza we had for dinner that looked awesome and had huge pieces of chicken that turned out to be mostly bones. Not a stray little bone, but an actual full neck, wing and parts of the back. How does somebody normally eat this? Most places we stay in have the working quarters very close, if not right outside our window, and the workers work late and start early. So, needless to say, it’s usually loud as windows are always open-air at the tops (with no way to close them) and we are usually at the mercy of early traffic sounds, birds, and said workers for our wake up time. Last night was no exception. John thinks he’s not sleeping because he is not getting enough exercise. Ha! He even went for an extra little ride yesterday and still didn’t sleep until midnight and then woke up at 2 and read for another hour. We were on the bikes by 8:30 this morning, fuelled with eggs on toast and fruit. We ordered English coffee because the waiter said it was with milk, which is how we like our morning cup. He only brought hot milk, hot water, and sugar. Well, thank goodness for Starbucks Via!! We are getting dangerously low on those little packages of heaven so we are in rationing mode.

Today’s scene-of-the-day was a helpless chicken strapped to the back of a big box on a boda boda with a single piece of rope, flattening the poor guy tightly as if he was being kidnapped. He was still alive, of course, and looking around enjoying the scenery. I started laughing and the banana that I was eating on the fly broke off and fell right into my spokes, flipping banana up into my face and onto my clothes. For all I know, he was about to be delivered to someone who ordered fresh chicken and chips. Oh, and another amusement from today was that I had a lady just come right up to me and ask, “What’s wrong with your skin?” I didn’t know what she was talking about. Like, the tattoos? What? Oh, the freckles. She must be asking about the freckles. We had to explain to another person why our skin changes colour in the summer. It freaked him right out.

We have covered over 1100 miles (1770 kms) by now and every day, there seems to be a theme of what vendors are selling from their roadside stands or making with strenuous labour. One day it’s pineapple; the next day is bananas, tea, coffee, avocados, potatoes, tomatoes, etc. Two days ago, it was bricks. We would see pit after pit of muddy clay with men and children slinging mud into wooden forms and carefully laying them out in piles. They would be absolutely covered from head to toe in mud and their smiles were that much brighter coming from faces speckled with clay as if they’d just had a mud fight. Yesterday’s theme was charcoal. Tall piles of charcoal shards lined the roads off and on for 50 kilometres, wrapped in shredding white tarps while women organized new batches as their babies and children sat in the shade of the piles. And today, there was not one single pile of charcoal, but I noticed more slate than normal – the kind you would use in sidewalks or driveways. It’s been very interesting and also rewarding to know that we are covering enough distance to see differences in the available resources in the various regions and the people making full use of those resources to provide for their families. Tomorrow’s theme will be fish because we are headed to Lake Victoria.

Like I mentioned, we are in Masaka tonight and the weird thing is, we could be back at out starting place in only two days if we pushed it, but our flights can’t be changed and we are looking forward to the party with the kids. Vincent and his team are working very hard to honour the kids and make a great event. So we are “slowing our roll” and taking advantage of the extra time to do some things we’ve never done before – like board a chaotic first-come-first-serve-every-man-for-himself ferry ride to bike around some islands in Lake Victoria for a few days. Stay tuned to find out how that fiasco goes.

So far, we have had some good questions coming. We are writing answers and will post them on our last day of rest so please keep them coming. They don’t need to be significant or meaningful – we’ve even had questions about toilet paper. So, please ask those burning questions and we promise not to say who asked them.

No Flats On the Flats

Today’s embarrassingly-short ride of 63 kilometres was for Nannyonga Catherine and Namagembe Jane.

It seems the rest day yesterday did the trick and the relatively flat terrain certainly didn’t hurt. I only needed one fifteen-minute break! Everything is feeling much better with the exception of my right knee on the inside which feels pretty bad when we climb, and now when I walk. Good thing we are back on flatter terrain. We were going to go through Mboro National Park, but last night we changed our minds, figuring we had already seen the animals highlighted in this particular park on previous trips. I just wasn’t willing to pay $200 USD just to have a picture of me biking by a giraffe or a zebra. Plus, there are definitely many other interesting things to look at just by staying on the road, such as three guys trying to lift a motorcycle to carry on top of a mini-van, or the massive herds of Ankole cows being herded alongside a very busy highway. The bummer today was the glass which littered the shoulder way more than in any other stretch we have covered. They reuse glass bottles here and so if we can only source pop in bottles, we have to drink it right then and there and leave the bottle with them. I’m not sure why so many broken bottles were along this stretch, but I also saw a lot or broken mirrors and an entire windshield broken into bits in the ditch today. We were super grateful to arrive to our destination without suffering a single flat.

Up to now, we have really only seen nine white people in three small groups across all of Uganda. Today, however, vanload after SUVload after busload were bombing down the highway in the opposite direction. What are they doing? Sight seeing in the nearby game park? Helping in schools or hospitals or NGOs? Probably any or all of those things. I’m always curious about what brings people here. Their faces are usually pressed up against the windows and they seem to fall into one of two categories when they see us biking on the side of the road. Either they are completely shocked like everyone else over here (I was walking about a mile into town today to get some water and a white guy passed me in an SUV and I read his lips yell out, “What the heck?”). If they are not surprised, they seem disappointed and act very nonchalant, completely but very obviously ignoring us – like their experience in another culture has somehow been lessened when other white people are set into the picture frame. I think if and when I come back to Africa, I will try to avoid the “group design” for a trip. In the past when we have been part of a group, like one we went with to Haiti to work with orphans, the locals simply flipped us off when we drove by. Maybe they feel like we are treating them like mere attractions for pictures and Instagram posts. On this trip, the thing I have enjoyed the most is that the bikes, and the speed they dictate, have allowed us to blend into the culture and become part of it as much as possible. I hope that interacting at the tiny fruit stands or saying hi as we ride by the roadside vendors has been an encouragement to them. They always seem to react with a broad smile and some even have a good laugh once we’ve passed. They could be laughing at any number of things, but what their excitement and body language suggests as most likely to us, is that they assume we can afford a better way of transport and that we are choosing to sweat up these hills and, in John’s case, carry such a ridiculous load, strikes them as completely ludicrous. I mean, if white people’s jaws drop open when they see us, imagine how the Ugandans feel.

Tomorrow’s ride will be a bit longer and in heavier traffic as we get to Masaka. Keep the questions coming for our Q & A post coming up in a few days!!

Resting, Not Blogging

Hello everyone!! We will not be posting anything significant, funny, or insightful today. We just wanted you to know that we are ok and appreciate any of you still reading our blog and following along. Also, we are taking a few days off to explore some islands in Lake Victoria (on our bikes of course) in a couple of days and wanted to invite you to email us at getschooled50for50@gmail.com with any questions you have about any aspect of our trip, the culture, our experiences, etc. and we will do our best to answer. We love you all!!

Snot and Tears

Today’s ride was for Talemwa Angel and Namweruka Violet and I needed their faces in my field of vision all day. It was pretty nondescript and we didn’t even take any photos today.

It was a relatively short ride ride today, wasn’t too steep or too hot and on pretty good pavement. But my body seems to be rebelling. I am discouraged by how much everything hurt today. My back especially, but also my right thigh, left knee, left foot/toes and left arm and elbow. Whaaat ?!?!

We made it to Mbarara by noon after riding only fifty-five kilometres with only 1500 feet of climbing as we are now coming out of mountains. We dropped from 5400 to 4700 feet. John always rides slower for me to be able to stay with him, but I had a really hard time keeping up the pace today and had to do a lot of self-talk. If I wouldn’t have been worried about being even more of a spectacle than I already am being a white woman on a bicycle over here, I would have just sat in the ditch and cried today. To be honest, I did cry, but because my #1 cheerleader was right there, he didn’t let me curl up in the ditch. I blew my nose, wiped the sweat and tears onto my already-nasty bike gloves and kept pedalling, albeit reluctantly. I thought to myself, “I can always cry in the shower later if I still need to.” Our next ride is another hard day of 100 kilometres through Lake Mburaro National Park, so in order to enjoy that more, we are gonna give this old body a break tomorrow and see if that helps. The place we found for tonight upgraded our room for free so that we had ample space for our bikes. It’s quiet and the shower is hot. And you won’t be surprised to learn that another factor in our decision for a rest day is that there is an amazing pizza (African-style) place only one kilometre away.

I tried to distract myself today by listing in my head the many funny things I’ve seen people wearing on this trip so far. I know many of you understand that third-world countries receive their clothes from people in wealthier countries who give old, used and sometimes out-of-style items to various church groups or NGOs who bring them over here to donate. These items often end up being sold at local shops and markets to those who have no idea what the slogans say, mean or represent. Please understand I’m not making fun of the reality of poverty that forces hard-working people to just take what they can get to provide for their families. More often than not, what occurs to me is how ironic it is to see kids wearing team jerseys that represent such wealth and lifestyles that these kids will probably never see firsthand and have little framework to understand the magnitude of the money spent on professional sports. And Old Navy puffy coats are apparently making a comeback over here when the temperature drops below 70 degrees. Especially the pink ones. So far, my Top Three Funny Things I Have Seen People Wear that I want to document merely for my own memory are:

1. A boda driver wearing a yellow construction hardhat as his helmet – not strapped on, of course

2. An old man of about 60 walking with a cane, wearing a bright red Santa hat complete with the white pom pom hanging off the back

3. A man wearing a t-shirt that said, “I gotta pee.” I don’t even understand how that slogan was a good idea in any country. I have seen shirts promoting the Canadian Olympics, the Green Bay Packers, Shawn Mendez, Eminem, Vans, Superman, Hello Kitty, The Patriots, the Chicago Bulls, AC⚡️DC, the Edmonton Oilers, a threadbare Spiderman costume and all manner of race and 5K event tee-shirts that people realized they will never wear past race day before finally donating them.

It’s 5 pm right now and I’m laying here with a full belly, an unused first aid kit, good wifi and I’m done for the day while the thunder rolls outside and the curtains flap with a cool breeze. As mentioned in a previous post, my kids gave me letters for my birthday and I had to read the one for when I’m feeling inadequate. My kids know me well and their encouraging words lift me up more than they will even know. Although I’m not having a great day emotionally and have doubts about dragging my butt through the last of our two weeks here, I know, deep down, that I’ve come too far to quit now and baring anything unforeseen, it will be accomplished… with a little help from the lovely Ugandans who keep my spirits up with a mere smile and a wave, and my best friend who now lays right beside me, listening to cycling podcasts.