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Scouting Project Sites in Uganda

"You shouldn't go to Zanzibar, it's not safe" Dr Kone is telling me in the lobby of his seaside hotel in Dar Es Salaam. After the government landcruiser had extracted Neema and I from the bush where we'd been working with the Hadza we had taken the local buses down to "Dar," a long day's journey of bus-riding. Here in the largest city of Tanzania I was meeting Dr Kone, whom you will recall is the governor of the province the Hadza are in, to discuss how the project went and what should be done for them in the future.

"Even if we lose the election, I will still want to help the Hadza people I think," he says in his soft spoken way, looking off into the distance. I can believe it. Apparently the bush school we saw there was well as the water pump were both put in with his own money. He strikes me as a very kind and caring man.

"But don't go to Zanzibar now, it's always been the most remote and unruly province, it won't be safe during the election." he cautioned me. And so I changed my plan which had been to meet with members of the beekeeping cooperative on the smaller island of Zanzibar (Pemba). And it's probably just as well I did, as a few days later there were riots in Stone Town, the main city of Zanzibar, the police ended up using tear gas to break up crowds, the polling stations were shut down ...

And so instead of going to Pemba Island, I took buses back up to Nairobi, in Kenya, which took two days, and from there took an overnight bus into Uganda. At 2am that night as lightning flickered in the western horizon we all got out of the bus, walked through the border control checkpoint (where I bought my visa), and reboarded the bus.

In Uganda I was to meet some guys from a local development agency called AHRIS, whom I'd been put in contact with through ApiTrade Africa, if I recall correctly. I had literally planned to spend maybe a weekened in Uganda and then see if perhaps things had settled down in Tanzania. It turns out the guys from AHRIS wanted to take me to several locations of potential beekeeping development projects!

In their Kampala headquarters, AHRIS teaches women to make sandals. In the countryside they (at the time) had built 17 wells for communities and 55 latrines for schools. I large part of this work I think was funded by the Mormon church I think.

Alex (the AHRIS director) and I boarded a bus the next morning to head up to northern Uganda -- a town called Bweyale. Apparently there's a refugee camp near there and a lot of development work goes on in the area. The town was more like a large village -- broad streets, no two story buildings, most traffic around town on foot. Outside a few main blocks of central town there were "suburbs" of huts. The little local hotel I stayed in was mostly filled with people from UN agencies.

The disabled persons group.

We spent several days in Bweyale, visiting a different group every day. There was a women's group, a beekeeping group, a disabilities group, and an agricultural co-op in a nearby town. Alex had also set up a demonstration apiary just outside of town. It was nice, with many reasonably well maintained topbar hives, and a hut with a lock on it for keeping equipment, all out in a field surrounded by flowers. One problem though is that because there was a family's huts about 100 - 150 meters away they wouldn't open the hives during the day. This is a common problem I'm sure I'll mentioned with nearly every project. It's hardly worth learning anything about beekeeping if you're going to do it at night when you're fumbling in the dark, and I rather feel the huts were far enough away (behind two tree-lines!) that they were being a bit overly cautious. A time honored ritual I've become very accustomed to played out wherein I got Alex to agree to a compromise of opening the hives the hour before sunset, he arrived late to pick me up, and by the time we went out to the hives it was by flashlight light under a brilliant canopy of stars. I hadn't brought my new beesuits to Uganda since I had thought I'd only be having a brief meeting, so we were using their local ones, and the super crawly bees of course started getting in our suits pretty quickly. I have to give the young men who were working with me credit for enduring a heck of a lot of stings before we were finished. Personally I think working with bees is much much more unpleasant at night than at day, since in addition to hardly being able to see you end up with them crawling all over you and significantly more likely to get in your suit.

Altogether I think Bweyale would be good place for a project since there's so many interested groups there, the demonstration apiary, a decent hotel, and probably anything else one might need. AHRIS is eager to support a project but they don't have a budget for it, and neither do I (despite my fundraising this past project left me personally in the hole a few thousand dollars)

After a few days Alex and I left Bweyale in his car and headed south along the main road back to Kampala, skirted the city on its ring-road and headed west, spending that night in another rudimentary and adequate local hotel for around $5 a night (across the road from a big tourist hotel with rooms for $100 something a night). The next day we continued over the rolling banana plantation covered hills to the west, eventually coming among tea plantations and then to the town of Fort Portal up in a mountain pass, where we had a delicious lunch.

A few hours further along we got off hte main road and rumbled up a country road parallel to the Mountains of the Moon (Rwenzori Mountains) wihch had loomed up ahead of us, and forty minutes later arrived at a small town. Met with a local co-op here and visited their beehives. Then we drove to another location way up the side of the mountain, from which there was a spectacular view of the green surrounding countryside. The villagers here had coffee beans laid out on sheets to dry but were hurriedly taking it in as I arrived since the rain was coming . It looked like a beautiful place to do a project, and the people looked quite impoverished. Couldn't visit the beehives because the tracks were too muddy. One young man said "are you really coming back? because people are always telling us they will come and help and then they never do." I felt bad because I couldn't guarantee I'd be back, but I really do hope I can.

After sheltering under the (thatched) eaves until the rain stopped, we headed down the mountain and continued on south to the town of Kasese. I think we were going to meet another group in the vicinity of that town that fell through, I don't know it was two years ago, but I ended up having having two days off to explore. Got to visit the place where the equator crosses the road just south of town, went on a boat tour on a local lake and saw many interesting birds, and went an a very arduous 17 km hike up to a mountain lake and back down. Either due to something I ate, my immune system weakening from the exhausting hike, or a combination of both, I as feeling fairly sick the next day. On our way back north we stopped at an eco-tour of some wetlands I had said I had wanted to do, but I could hardly enjoy it because I just wanted to find the bathroom because I was feeling so unwell.

From here we went up into a valley north of Fort Portal and after briefly meeting with a local beekeepers in the co-op office we headed down to the hives, which it turns out involved walking for several kilometers along extremely muddy slippery tracks. Keep in mind my guts were still destroyed, but even if I would have been willing to go "ease myself" in a normal forest it was just trackless marsh off this trail. Several times we had to cross small but rushing creeks by walking over logs. I probably would have enjoyed it if I wasn't feeling miserable. The beehives when we got to them were amongst cocoa plantations. Apparently even though it takes some processing to make chocolate out of the pods, local kids still enjoy eating the pods, so they plant beehives among them to discourage the kids.

After retracing our steps and getting back on the road, we stopped at another location where a beekeeper showed us his hives, and by now I was feeling a bit like "yeah, yeah, that's another hive, yep." Continued on to yet another location, and I think Alex had more planned but by now it was late in the day and I just told him no I really am done for the day please. We drove to another small town down at the end of the valley and checked into the little local hotel there. My dinner wouldn't stay down. I went straight to bed feeling pretty awful.

I've got this photo somewhere else on the webpage but this it was taken along the muddy track here described. the girl is collecting cassava leaves for a sauce for their dinner.

The next day I was feeling a fair bit better. My immune system is pretty good like that. We drove all the way to Kampala, which took all day. Arriving in Kampala just as the sun was setting, and rush hour traffic had completely and utterly clogged all the roads, it was taking hours just to get across the city. Alex, who I believe is approximately in his fifties, then told me "my eyes really aren't very good and I can't see very well in the dark, would you mind driving?" And thus I embarked on one of the more terrifying experiences of my life: driving at night in Kampala traffic. It was on the wrong side of the road for me, shifting with the wrong hand, there were pot-holes big enough to wreck the car, no one else is following traffic rules, people in dark clothes (and skin!) are walking across the road willy nilly, and there's all these motor-bike (boda-boda) drivers darting in and out, whom I've been told are often former child soldiers with PTSD and no life skills so they drive boda-bodas for a living, and you don't want to hit one of them even if it's not your fault or "they will all gang up on you and maybe kill you!!" pressure!

Finally got to my hotel and Alex took a taxi home. The next morning I had arranged a meeting with a USAID representative at the US Embassy, so we navigated through the awful Kampala traffic in the morning to get to that, and then I was off to the bus station to head back to Nairobi. Was in Nairobi just long enough to have my phone and wallet stolen while waiting for a bus at night, with the loss of most of my photos, then flew out with a 12 hour layover in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which would have been absolutely lovely had I not been entirely pennyless at the time.

Altogether I felt it was a very productive visit to Uganda with ample ideas for places to have future projects if I can just find some funding.


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