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We drove all day through Uganda, admiring the beautiful countryside. I got a photo of four dormant volcanoes in a row - beautiful. Everyone was getting a bit delirious from riding in the truck, plus it was Christmas Eve, so when we pulled into the hotel at Mbarara where we were to camp that night, everyone but Jim and Tom screamed out that they'd pay a supplement and get a room. It was Christmas and we were going to splurge. Rich and I had to cook Christmas Eve dinner, so when we'd stopped at Kabale earlier that afternoon we were in charge of doing the shopping.
At the market we got all the veggies and I found a corral at the back where they were taking live cows and slitting their throats for butchering. The locals were all taking turns holding the bucket that the blood was flowing into. I showed Rich this place and he got up really close to the dying animals while I stood a good thirty feet away. It was only after one of the locals asked him if he wanted to hold the bucket that he'd decided he's had enough. He came back and got me and we headed back into the market to try and find a main course for dinner. We already had all the veggies and after watching the cows we didn't want any meat - that was about the time we passed the chicken section of the market.
You can't get a dead chicken in Africa - there's no refrigeration, and you've got to pay someone to kill it for you. We figured it couldn't be that hard to find someone to do it so we wandered over to the chicken peddlers, and the second we mentioned we wanted two live chickens there were about four locals surrounding us, each with a live chicken in each hand. The locals didn't treat the chickens like an animal - they were more a physical item. When we were bargaining over the price the locals would wave the chickens around over their heads of our price was too low, thereby upsetting our possible main course causing them to cluck loudly. After much negotiating and explaining that when we returned to pick up the birds we expected them plucked, no head, no feet, no guts - all for the exorbitant rate of Sh5,000 (US$2.25 each). With the negotiating done they asked me which ones we wanted. I guessed the only way to test a live chicken was to reach over and feel their chests to see how fat they were. I wasn't that practiced in squeezing live chickens but I choose a couple that seemed pretty well fed. We headed back to the truck to wait the forty five minutes for the cleaning to be done.
After everyone had gotten checked into their rooms at Mbarara Rich and I began cooking Christmas dinner. We had fresh chicken, two hours old, peas, carrots, fresh mashed potatoes and banana custard. After two hours of work (sans shower and shave, for everyone else was already cleaned up) we served our Christmas masterpiece dinner. Rich and I served ourselves and sat down, ready to eat this magnificent dinner we'd worked so hard to prepare. I took my knife and tried to cut into my chicken but . . . the knife just slipped off the meat. I held the bird down and tried to get the knife to take hold but my cutting device just bounced off the meat and landed in the mashed potatoes. No one had told us that you're supposed to let a freshly killed chicken drain for two to three days before cooking it. The peas were crunchy, the chicken rubbery, the custard on a borderline O.K. basis, the gravy ended up being dumped in the grass, but the mashed potatoes were all right. Rich and I made our exit to go get cleaned up as the rest of our group fought with the rubber chicken and crunchy peas. After showers it was time to shave - two weeks not shaving does give you that mountain man look. Rich hadn't shaven in something like nine weeks (since we left Egypt) and he had a full beard. After wrestling over my electric razor with the beard trimming attachment I shaved then passed it on over to Rich. When we started our safari Rich had his beard, so all the people we'd met since had never seen him without one. Rich shaved, but it was hurting him too much so he left the moustache, which made him look Italian. The change was remarkable - he looked so different with only a moustache.
I was following him to through the hotel bar, just to see the expressions on our friends' faces when they saw him. Everyone was pretty shocked at the change and started to give Rich a bit of a hard time. We ordered drinks and started chatting to Jim for a while when Jim called Rich "Guiseppe" because of his moustache. Shortly thereafter Rich excused himself to go to the bathroom while Jim and I moved into our next gin and tonic. During Rich's absence the rest of the people from the truck arrived in the bar, but no Rich.
About ten minutes later Rich appeared - sans moustache - and boy did he shock a few people - even me. Every time I looked at him I would start giggling - it was such a change. I've known him for five and a half years and even I had a really hard time controlling my laughter; actually I didn't try to control it at all. Everyone was totally tripping off the fact that Rich had made two separate appearances and looked entirely different at each visit. It was strange, but people began to get used to Rich's new look and the atmosphere just became more festive as the evening wore on.
Everyone was hanging out in the bar, so Erin (our Canadian hitch hiker) started getting us to sing different Christmas carols with her. It was when they started singing the Twelve Days of Christmas that I really got into the Christmas singing. I'd planned to sing the "Twelve Days AFTER Christmas" with Brenda the next morning (incorporating the new verses I'd written while on transit in Zambia) but I couldn't resist so I stopped everyone from singing the twelve days and said, "We've all heard the 'Twelve Days of Christmas', but do you know what happened on the twelve days after Christmas?" I then started singing the song solo since Brenda didn't know the words yet, to a bar full of our friends we'd made over the course of the past five weeks. Here's a full draft of the song which I'd learned at least twelve years before. Verses one through seven are the original song while verses eight through twelve are the new and improved verses written as a result of boredom while in transit on a safari truck.
The Twelve Days After Christmas
On the first day after Christmas, my true love and I had a fight.
I chopped that blasted pear tree down and burned it just for spite.
And with a single car-ar-artidge I shot that blasted par-ar-tridge,
My true love, my true love, my true love gave to me.
The second day after Christmas I slipped on me old rubber gloves,
And very gently wrung the necks of both those turtle doves.
My true love, my true love, my true love gave to me.
The third day after Christmas, my mother she caught the croup (cough-cough)
And so I used the three French hens to make some Chicken soup.
The four calling birds were a big mistake for their language was obscene.
And the five golden rings were completely fake and they turned my fingers green. (Ech!)
The sixth day after Christmas the six laying geese wouldn't lay.
So I sent the whole darn gaggle to the A.S.P.C.A.
On the seventh day what a mess I found, all seven of the swimming swans had drown,
My true love, my true love, my true love gave to me.
The eighth day after Christmas I went to the milkmaid's chalet.
I'd planned to video them dressing for their work that day.
But to my despair I let out a cry, as each of the girls munched another's hair pie,
My true love, my true love, my true love gave to me.
The ninth day after Christmas I went to a Shriner's soirée.
The whores were late, the men irate, so I gave the dancing ladies away.
On the tenth day past but to my chagrin, for the ten leaping lords had been getting stuck in,
My true love, my true love, my true love gave to me.
Eleven days after Christmas the pipers had all gone astray.
I rang the local drunk tank to find that they had been at play.
The twelve drummer boys were completely gay;
they'd joined a ballet troupe and were on their way,
My true love, we are through love, and said in so many words,
Frankly dear your Christmas gifts are for the birds ----
(four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree).
Everyone was in rally good moods, so we all sang nor Christmas carols and had a few more drinks before closing down the bar. We were ready to keep partying so Rich and I took everyone to our chalet to let the festivities begin. It was so perfect - we'd been given a free-standing chalet, large enough for you to set up three tents in the bedroom/sitting room alone, plus it had a huge bathroom and all the floors were concrete so they were spill, burn and boot proof. The perfect stomping ground for a bunch of Christmas revelers from our safari truck.
Thanks to Rick and Jenny doing their stuff at the Zairian border - no wonder Jenni looked so worried - the jay fay arrived and we had a smoke. Everyone from the truck was there (except for Jim and Mike who'd passed out earlier) and everyone partook in the passing making the evening just flow along. Tom had brought his air mattress (which doubles as a swimming pool raft) to our room and was vegged out on it on the floor. I went and sat next to him and Brenda sat across from the two of us on the bed. We were all wasted - everyone in the room was wasted - and we were all really relaxed around each other so anything could happen. Brenda, Tom and I were talking about Christmas carols and singing when all of a sudden Brenda, who'd been a little reserved up until now, broke out into song singing some popular song from Australia. The thing is that her voice was amazing - it was a really good singing voice, and she'd been hiding it from us the whole time. It turns out that her grandmother was an opera singer.
After Brenda's performance Tom, who's also got a really good singing voice, sang a bit while lying on his mat. Everyone had the spotlight for a while and it was really positive. Stefanie, who's wild when she's sober was jumping around and even put on our own personal rave environment with flashing and spinning lights and bee bop music (provided by herself) for thirty seconds. Of course she had to improvise for the lighting by flicking the lights on and off and waving an illuminated flashlight over her head. Tina, the New Zealand police woman, was doing summersaults across the room, head stands, and giving Stefanie and Jenny drink driving tests - by the book. Too bad everyone was too wasted to know who was "winning". At about 2;30 a.m. everyone filed out, or more we poured everyone out the door onto the grass, with Jenni being the last one behind. After a few minutes of chatting she announced she was gong to be sick and promptly opened the door and went and got sick on the grass. She came back and said "Merry Christmas" to us and went to her room to bed.
And a merry Christmas it was - a group of people who didn't know each other that well four weeks earlier had managed to become really good friends and celebrate the holidays in Africa together in the merriest way possible. Everyone said that they'd had a very merry Christmas Eve.
25th December 1992, Christmas Day, Mbarara, Uganda -
So much for leaving at 8:00 a.m.. We woke up at 9:00 a.m. feeling very slow, but not hung over. We all piled into the truck by 10:00 a.m. and had, I think, the most relaxing day of driving we'd ever had because everyone was so out of it from our Christmas Eve party. We drove all day, stopping at the equator, where there's this large monument to take pictures and wander around, arriving that evening in Entebbe, a resort town that sits on the edge of Lake Victoria - the largest lake in the world. We handed out our Christmas gifts (we'd all drawn a name out of a hat a week earlier0 and I received a shell on a piece of string from Raewyn. I made Jenni a portable backgammon set made out of some cotton material I'd sewn into a drawstring type bag to keep the pieces in.
After gifts we went to the resort and had our Christmas diner of fresh BBQ'd fish and chips - just like what you'd get in Malawi - it was great. We sat there talking after dinner until the largest spider I have ever seen outside the Smithsonian descended down from the roof of the hut we were eating in. The thing was big, black and white spotted and must have been about two inched long (it's torso). If it had lowered itself into the ashtray there might have been a space problem keeping its legs inside the tray. The girls all got up and moved away as the waiter grabbed the arachnid's web it was hanging from and tossed it into the bushes.
We left the diner table and headed over to the outdoor disco which was absolutely blaring all sorts of different music (none of which I'd heard before), We hung out there briefly but we were still knackered from the night before. We headed over to the truck to hang out and use the phone - the jay fay was still with us from Christmas Eve - before crashing out.
26th December 1992, Lake Victoria, Entebbe, Uganda -
When we woke up today the music from the disco was still blaring away. Don't know what the management was thinking because I certainly didn't see anyone dancing at 6:00 a.m! We jumped in the truck and made the thirty minute drive to Kampala and made a bee line to the Sheraton Hotel for breakfast. After all of us had been not eating that well through Zaire, an all you could eat breakfast at the Sheraton on Boxing Day was something like a God-send. For a mere Sh10,500 (US$9.70) you got everything your heart desired - including a chef to cook you as many omelets as you could eat. Plus you even got things you hadn't seen in weeks: cheese, bacon, fresh fruit that wasn't bruised, milk and even apple juice! Every single person on our safari truck pulled out the plastic and charged breakfast as a special Christmas treat. In addition, we were all ravenous from our week prior in Zaire.
After breaky I headed to the Telecom Center and picked up the special AT&T phone they'd come to personally install in this office. Pick up the phone and twenty seconds later you're talking to an AT&T operator. Nice touch - thanks guys! Talked to the family at 1:00 a.m. California still technically Christmas and told them a bit about what we were up to. The next call was to the U.S. Embassy to see what the Kenyan situation was all about. The dude at the embassy said there was an official travellers advisory out stating that U.S. citizens should not go to Kenya due to possible political unrest as a result of the upcoming election. Good to know, but I didn't want to spend any more money flying to Nairobi when our truck would be there in a few days.
Back to the truck where we travelled through western Uganda to Jinja, famous because it's the source of the Nile, at Lake Victoria. The hotel was just down the road, and in keeping with our theme of "the colonial tour of Africa" our truck pulled into the driveway of the hotel, we drove the truck around the landscaped traffic circle as though we were inspecting the place before we'd actually show our faces. After the "inspection" we piled out of the truck and immediately set up our tents right in the middle of the landscaped traffic circle, with the best grass we'd seen in weeks - perfect for camping.
We all were ready to party a bit more since we'd all been so tired on Christmas Day proper, so we headed into the hotel bar and started drinking once again. Dinner time rolled around and our safari truck signed up for the all you can eat BBQ out on the patio. After eating them out of house and home (we ate all the food they'd brought out to cook) we watched some traditional dancing and had more drinks before crawling into the tent to go to sleep. We are to leave for Kenya tomorrow so I'll do some journal housecleaning here.
UGANDA NOTES: When we first entered Uganda from Zaire we were all stressed from our experience with the soldiers so we didn't notice the locals' change in attitudes once we'd crossed the border. Uganda has suffered some horrible war atrocities under Idi Amin. Since the war ended in 1986 the people have become so happy. Just knowing that most people we came in contact with had lived through the atrocities of the was an interesting feeling, but the demeanor of the locals is what striked me the most.
The Ugandans are the happiest people - even six years after their war ended. Every person you'd smile at would return the same smile back to you tenfold. You could actually feel the relief of the people - feel how happy they were to be able to have normal lives again. It was actually a real pleasure to wave and smile at the people from the truck because you'd get more than you gave in return and you could actually feel the sense of relief these people had. Now they could move forward again and get Uganda moving again.
The Railway Motel in Kigoma, Tanzania - In true African form, at breakfast over the course of a few days we'd keep noticing these white bits floating in our tea. I would just skim them out with my spoon because I really enjoy my cups of tea - when I could get them. One morning I actually looked at what I thought had been the skin from the bottled milk that had been poured into the tea - it wasn't milk skin, I'll tell you that. I'd gotten rather a large clump this particular morning and after examining it I passed it over to Rich. We figured out that the cooks had been making our poached eggs for breakfast, but due to the lack of power, or whatever, they'd just use the hot water the eggs had been cooked in to make our morning tea. The 'milk skin' I'd been fishing out of my tea was actually egg white from everyone else's breakfast. Gross - but remember, it's Africa and I'd rather have a cup of tea in the morning than no cup of tea at all.
27th December 1992, Jinja, Uganda -
Today was the day. Today, against my better judgment, the truck left Jinja and headed for the Kenyan border. The Kenya/Uganda border is technically closed for security reasons, but we'd heard that they were letting tourists through. Upon our arrival at the border we could look over the customs gates into Kenya to see a political rally supporting Moi (the current dictator) going on. Wonderful.
We cleared Ugandan immigration and waited at Kenyan immigration and customs while their immigration dudes sorted through everything. He finally cleared the truck and we eased forward into a country deep in the throes of a political learning process. They were learning that democracy is (in my opinion) one of the better systems, but accountability in the process is always necessary. The rally going on was supporting the status quo and these people seemed to be getting into it - possibly because Moi's government was the only one they'd known since most of their births. When the life expectancy of a population isn't over fifty years and a majority of them is in the twenty six year age bracket, then of course they'd support the current dictator and keep the status quo.
Our truck was stuck behind the Moi vehicle (complete with loudspeakers extolling the virtues of the KANU party) and as a result, all the people dancing and screaming Moi support slogans were screaming them at the truck full of mzungus as well. Jenni waved at someone and made the peace sign with her hand, but that person who wasn't a Moi supporter became visible angry and screamed at her. Moi's sign during the election was the peace symbol and making that sign to the locals showed your support for the KANU party. After we drove for a bit Mike turned to me and said that the people weren't happy - they seemed concerned.
No doubt - there were four major political parties in their first democratic election in twenty six years: the ruling KANU party, the DP (Democratic Progressivista), the FORD-KANU party, and the FORD-something (the FORD party had experienced an internal rivalry earlier in the campaign and split into two separate parties.) We were heading to Kisumu to camp for the night, but I was beat so I went to take a nap on one of the back seats. I kept getting awakened by the screaming groups of three hundred people all having a political rally of one kind or another. It just made me more and more nervous because when this many people become involved and they don't agree with the election results then there could be political strife.
We drove towards Kisumu when this bus came barreling down the road, ready to pass us. Africa buses aren't known for their safety standards ad this one certainly hadn't passed any safety tests, for the chassis was messed up and the bus was cruising down the highway at a very jaunted angle. It looked as though it was almost cruising down the highway sideways - it's tail was definitely not in line with the front tires. As the bus passed us its rear slid a bit and hit our side view mirror, shattering it, before heading off down thee motorway in a cloud of black smoke.
We finally arrived at our campground literally on Lake Victoria, where we took everything off the truck. We had another Kenyan registered truck coming to meet us so we wouldn't look as conspicuous travelling around Kenya. I heard Mick was driving "Bush Pig" straight through to Nairobi the next day so I asked him if we could tag along so we could get our flight out of the country ASAP. No problems. It was our last night with all the people from our safari so we tried to spend some time with them. Boz had arranged for some smoking materials for KSh100, and when it came all of us - Rich, Jenni & I were amazed. It was larger then a pint glass and dense - all for US$3.00. We had our last session together, along with a majority of the truck before retiring to bed.