Safari with my whole family
We skipped out of Kampala at six in the morning to avoid more than an hour of packed, stand still traffic. We passed through the city so fast I hardly recognized it without all the taxi vans, bodas and swarms of people. Getting out of town provided me with my favorite sight seeing activity: watching life happening out in the country. Everyone lives outside and uses their small house for sleeping and shelter from bad weather. I love to see the women bent at the waist washing in the brightly colored plastic tubs that are on the ground. I marvel as I see them sitting on a stool cooking a meal for the whole family in one pot over a small charcoal fire and propped up with a stack of bricks. I can see naked babies getting their baths in the same colored tubs. There are children playing games, running, climbing trees and carrying the yellow jerricans full of water to their mamas. Someone is always using the dried grass hand broom to sweep away the clutter from the packed dirt courtyards around their huts. And no matter what there is always laundry hanging to dry on a line, or on the tops of bushes. The old women in their brightly colored African dresses with their hair wrapped high in a matching cloth sit on benches and shell beans, peel potatoes, peel green bananas and keep a close eye on the children. There is a strong sense that life here has a robust family connection and central purpose. It blesses me to see it happening.
The one word I would use to describe this way of life is : ACTIVE. Everyone is always moving vigorously. So I don’t need to wonder why they pile their plates high with food and yet keep such fantastic figures. The Ugandans think it’s absurd to see someone go “jogging” just to get the exercise from it. Their life is one constant stream of exercise and they might not even realize it is so good for their health. Of course I sometimes let my mind wander and wonder how I would hold up living life in an African village. I’d like to believe I could do anything and enjoy the adventure in it, but this one is a challenge. The further away from the cities the village is, the less likely there is to be electricity. Pumping my water from the community well, if it has one, and walking a long distance with it every day would be a shock to my routine. I’ve learned to do the laundry and I’ll admit I am longing for my washer and dryer after only three weeks. Cooking outdoors and eating on a straw mat under the shade of a tree for every meal would be most enjoyable. Those things all come in last place when I consider two important facts about village life here in Uganda. One, the scenery is breath taking; they are the sort of views that get a high property price tag in any developed country. I could soak in vistas like this every day and never tire of their majesty. Second, the people in Uganda are extraordinary in their welcoming and opening up to strangers. The whole reason our adoption began in the first place is because I fell in love with the people of Uganda and living here for these six weeks has deepened this conviction. I have to believe I could adjust to the life in a village here in Uganda and it wouldn’t be so much of a hardship as it would be for me to adjust to living in New York City. I could do it. I might even stretch to say, I’d love it….for a while.
The four and a half hour drive to Murchison Falls is filled with interesting views of country life so the time passes and it’s hardly noticeable that nine of us are packed inside one van bouncing an active baby on our knees. Donny and Craig especially marveled as I do watching the lifestyle roll by out the window like a living movie. Donny had many questions about what he saw and I could see him realize the privileges we have in America that we take for granted, and how we even stomp our foot and demand with an attitude of entitlement things like hot water, internet connections and keys to the car. Watching and understanding village life in Africa is essential for me to share with my privileged boys so they can have an understanding that life is not always like America. I want them to have open hearts for the people they meet and know we are more alike than different. I want them to be willing to give up their comforts and conveniences and connect with the way many people live in this world. There are no video games, computer marathons, movies or cars for every home. And yet when we look around us what we see is families enjoying each other, children laughing and making up games, and people everywhere having face to face communication. I saw a group of young boys playing football (soccer) with a ball made from newspaper taped in the correct form. There may not be electricity coming from sockets in the wall, but the human connection here is electric. I think I could opt for their way when I see how rich their lives are with deeply connected relationships. It is what I struggle for at home in America and my enemies are all the things they live without. We have to put our cell phones in a box so we will not be tempted by the texts that flow continuously. We have to keep the tv switched off on purpose. We have to keep our computers locked up so there isn’t abusive use. We have to block out “family time” in our week so we aren’t always gone in different directions. All of this so we will have to interact with one another and realize how much we thrive on our relationships.
Sharing Kira’s home land with the whole family is building groundwork for our future of raising her to be both Ugandan and American. She will come home with us and have dual citizenship. As I said, we began our adoption because we love the people of Uganda, so we intend for her to participate in her homeland as she grows up, to know her people, and understand their ways. For our whole family to know and understand where she is from is an essential ingredient in making her heritage and culture real for her. This is what I call priceless. It’s also crucial that we all fall in love with our little nile jewel at the same time because togetherness defines family. They are indeed in love with this girl. It is phenomenal for me to watch all of the boys instinctively do what they must do to entertain her and get a smile or giggle from her. When she giggles, it’s the highlight of our day for everyone. That simple truth gives me reason to feel so happy and blessed. They stand in line to hold her and entertain her, but when it comes time to change her diaper they are quick to disperse. I have assigned this job to each of them with most pitiful outcomes. Jack has yet to follow through with the request. He is the master of escape. Kevin complains the whole time. Jordan exaggerates his dislike for the chore with moaning so much so that she cried the whole way through her diaper change. Usually, she’s full of smiles and sweet face to face interaction. He got scolded for that. Donny, he has no problem with it. I think he even imagines himself as a father in his near future. Loving her gives him an insight into how protective and responsible he will be when he has a child of his own, and this is something that doesn’t frighten him. It motivates him to choose his career wisely so he can support a family he hopes to have. I have to admit I am proud of his maturity at age eighteen. Now, all he needs is to meet the girl God has for him to be his wife. He’s got his eye open that’s for sure, he might even have spotted her. I won’t tell.
When we arrived at Paraa lodge the boys were convinced that Uganda/Africa is the most interesting place they’ve ever been. And then the lodge with its beauty perched on a hill overlooking the Nile River and its serenity and quiet convinced us all it’s as close to heaven on earth as we might ever get. We were greeted with cool washcloths and a glass of mango juice. We lounged until lunch where we sat on the verandah overlooking the river. Kira sat at the table in a high chair and proceeded to crumble bread, drop spoons, and reach for everyone’s food. I apologized to the waiter for what she had done, and he said, “no problem, this is part of her work” and he tickled her neck and smiled into her eyes. Do you see why I love the people here?
In the afternoon we took a river cruise to see the waterfalls. It was a double decker boat filled with people from all over the world. There were eastern Europeans, Italians, people from the UK, Australians and some Africans. We were the only Americans on that boat. We were quite the spectacle, perhaps as interesting to them as the hippos, elephants and crocodiles. It was a hot afternoon so we saw so many elephant at the river edge taking a drink. I felt everyone’s eyes on me as I carried a Ugandan baby on my hip and catered to her as my own child. They watched me until they knew for sure we must be adopting this baby. By the end of the boat ride, many people had cooed to Kira in their native tongues, and the Italian grandmother had a good twenty minutes with her in her lap for a playful snuggle. When we were in Italy and our children were small the Italians flocked to touch and smile at our children so I wasn’t surprised when she reached out her hands for Kira and she leaped into them. And Irish family with three and five year old girls saw us arrive with a dark baby on my hip and it was the first time the girls mentioned to their mum the difference in the colors of the people. “Mummy, why does that family have a dark baby?” The mom later explained to me that our presence gave them a good way to explain love for all people and the beauty of adoption. We have no idea how many people in this world God has planned for Kira’s life to touch and bless. I am shaking my head in awe of the way our great God will use little me.
I demanded Patrick, who runs Bridge Africa where we stay, allow us to bring our favorite driver, and friend, George, with us on safari. I used my little stubborn American arm cross with a smile and got my way. We receive George into our family like one of the brothers and to share our intimate family time with just anyone won’t do. Normally drivers are sent to sleep in little shacks with the staff but I wouldn’t have it. I booked two triple rooms and a double so George could share with Donny and Jordan, and eat meals with us. He thanked me several times for including him in this way. I couldn’t imagine it any other way. He is a freelance photographer so we enjoyed talking shop and it was fun for me to pass off my camera to him as he explored my equipment and shot our family. Unfortunately by the end of our trip he had his heart set on a 400mm lens for shooting wildlife. He will find one on ebay I have no doubt. After our boat cruise, the boys and Emily took a swim and they convinced George to give it a try. He has never learned to swim. Donny spent a lot of time teaching George the essentials to swimming. I teased him it is necessary for him to know how to swim so when he gets married this coming June he can take his bride to the beach and be able to save her. It was fun for me to sit on the lounge chair with Kira playing between my legs and watch everyone enjoy eachother, and all the while hear the hippos honk and snort in the river below and sip my milky spiced African tea.
After dinner we went to bed early because breakfast was again at six so we could be on our safari by seven. This is torture for teenagers to get up so early on vacation, but the promise of the African wild life helped them to comply. When we awoke the heavens had opened and the rain was making a racket on our balcony. By the time we loaded into our hired safari vehicle it had cleared. I could feel the apprehension in the crowd clear away in the same way. The two previous times I’ve been on safari in Uganda, we take the game drive in the same vehicle we come from Kampala. But I learned for this trip to hire the one from Paraa. I did this primarily so the whole group could poke their heads up through the top and enjoy the vast expanse of landscape. What I didn’t realize is we would definitely be dependent on the four wheel drive. The mud and slosh would have prevented our game drive early in the adventure. It began to drizzle and even rain but the kids wouldn’t give up. They got rain soaked and cold watching out the top while I huddled under my raincoat with Kira on my lap thinking nothing can spoil a safari, not rain, mud, or even hiding lions. The whole experience begins with the land and your head in the open air taking it all in, then when the animals appear it is a bonus. We saw plenty of animals. It’s just unbelievable to see countless giraffe walking across the horizon feeding on trees, endless antelope, water buffalo with their personal egrets taking free rides on their backs, Jackson hartebeest galloping in front of the truck, and warthogs feeding from their knees. At the delta where the Victoria Nile reaches lake Albert and the Albert Nile flows north toward Egypt we stopped to get out and observe the hippos. They honked, snorted and grunted for our entertainment. Some yawned wide so we could photograph the insides of their mouths. Some young bulls got annoyed with eachother. We just marveled. That’s when George showed the kids they could sit on the edge of the top of the truck to ride the second half of our safari. That might have been the highlight for them all. They screamed when we went over bumps and shrieked when the twenty or so elephants rushed from the bushes on the left and passed in front of our truck to disappear into the bushes on our right. They were so close Jordan claimed he could touch one. It was the exhilarating point of our trip for them all, the experience they will tell their children about when they are old and wise.
It is impossible to ruin an African safari even with rain, deep tire sucking mud, hiding cats, sickness or a crying baby. No one will ever remember those things. They will only remember how their world expanded when they saw Africa stretch before them for as far as they could see in all its wild beauty.
We were able to lounge, lunch and rest at Parra before we took another Nile Cruise in the afternoon. This time George used his connections to snag a private, smaller boat for us. We were able to go right up close to the hippos where we could almost touch them, not that we would. We saw so many crocodiles smiling and sunning themselves on the banks or swimming stealthily in the water beside us. I shared my camera with the boys and they caught the camera bug as they were thrilled to photograph the wildlife up close. It was fun for me since I’ve been on this cruise so many times already to see my boys have the same exuberant interaction with the experience that I had my first time.
We did not take the cruise back, but we were dropped off on the other side of the river so we could hike to the top of the falls with a guide. It took us an hour to climb the rocks and take in the sights of both water falls. Craig strapped Kira onto his chest and she didn’t make a peep. It’s her favorite place to “hang out”. This gave him a sweaty workout. We all worked hard to reach the top, and the view of the Nile river crunching between six meters of rock to fall hundreds of feet with crashing thunder was worth it for us all. George drove around to meet us at the top of the falls. He took our family picture there with the falls in the back ground. Our first family photo as a group of seven. Kira was baptized a LaTorre by traveling with us for the first time. We don’t slow down, or miss a sight and she kept up with us like a little champ. She’s going to do just fine in this family we are all sure of it.
We left the falls to drive back to Kampala. She slept in my arms the entire five hours. (There are no such things as car seats here in Africa) The whole group slept alongside her. I couldn’t help but take in the night sights of the villages with burning kerosene lamps to light their continued activity. Nothing satisfied me more though than the sight of my little sleeping baby and her peaceful, beautiful face nestled against me. I thanked her for giving us the excuse to bring the whole family to Africa so we could make these memories with her. We all agreed having a safari for a Christmas present was far better than having lots of presents.
My friends, I’m going to post this without pictures in case a baby needs me. I will sort my photos and post them as soon as Kira will allow me!