We roused ourselves early and headed down to the village while the morning mist was still floating through the valleys. The scouts arrived in their bus, in which we loaded cases of bottled water for transport to the big playing field, where the races would be staged. Yoly asked me to keep an eye on the office, which she needed to leave unlocked for helpers who were coming and going during the set-up. She dashed off before I could ask how long she’d be, or how I was supposed to know who was picking up supplies vs. stealing supplies, things like that. I stepped inside to see if I could round up some useful items like paper and markers for signs, string and scissors for hanging the banners, etc.
That’s when I noticed that the office was full of chickens, who were now wandering through the open door and into the road. Chickens?!??!? No one said anything about chickens. I’d been in the Big Beyond office a couple of times during the week, and had not seen any chickens. I’ve also been in many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of offices in my lifetime, and could not recall ever encountering chickens as a fixture.
But. This is Africa. What do I know? Nothing. Maybe the chickens got in through the back window, or maybe, just maybe, they were there for a reason. I rushed out to the road to shoo the chickens back inside.
That turned out to be a good move. A little while later someone came to relieve me of office-watching duties. When I finally caught up with Yoly, I learned that the chickens were the prizes. The Grand Prize, however, was a baby goat, being held elsewhere.
Now what? People were arriving, milling around. There were tarps and poles in a heap, stacks of chairs, a pile of boxes of bottled water. I found Alex looking around her, quiet. Way too quiet. “Alex,” I got her to look me in the eye. “You have an army of people here, ready to help. All you need is to tell them what to do.” She nodded, but said nothing.
I found Yoly and Nick again, and urged them to start giving directions. Once I started picking up tarps and poles, several men and boys materialized to help. Yoly decided where the starting line would be, and the scouts were put to work stacking the boxes nearby and hanging the banners. There were many questions, but no answers, so we just did whatever occurred to us. Amy and Michi worked on setting up the registration table. It was mobbed with people wanting to sign up or check in before they even had pencils and paper. I ran over with some of the twine we were using to tie the tarps to the poles, and tried to lay out lines to keep the eager contestants from crushing the table.
The scene was chaotic. Hundreds of people were arriving, far more than had ever participated in the three previous years of the event. I tried to attach guy lines to the tarp shelters to keep them from falling over, but as soon as I turned my back, someone would move or undo whatever I’d just done.
The boxes of water were quickly emptying, and gangs of boys were kicking the boxes around like soccer balls. The field was quickly being littered with shredded cardboard and empty plastic bottles, and kids were making a game of stomping the bottles flat. Some of the scout leaders were leading contestants in stretching and warm-up exercises, while others provided face-painting and other entertainment for the children.
Meanwhile, the P.A. system had come to life, and the emcee was welcoming everyone and starting to provide some direction to the crowd. The volume was turned up to eleven, and the speakers shrieked and squawked like a parody of the worst sound system you’ve ever heard. He was speaking English, but between the heavy accent and the appalling distortion of the sound system, I couldn’t understand a word of it.
I gave up trying to impose any kind of order or stability, and started taking pictures. The biggest challenge was being in the right place, with my camera aimed in the right direction, to capture the start of a race, for example. I didn’t know when a race was going to start, or which way they were going to run, or from which direction the runners would return.
I decided to try to get some shots of runners out on the long-distance trail run. I hired a bota bota (a small motorbike and driver) to take me up the mountain to the next village, where the runners would emerge from the forest. I got there just in time to snap the frontrunners careening down the hill through town. I walked uphill along the course, photographing spectators, a herd of goats scattering before the runners, and a contestant who stopped to share a bite of lunch with some construction workers. I climbed to a point where I could see the road emerging from the forest and curving along the mountain like the edge of the world.
When I walked back to the village to find my bota bota (I’d asked my driver to come back for me), some of the locals called me over to a house. A young man, a contestant, had collapsed as he came through the turn. They had him sitting in the shade and were giving him water and sweets. He was conscious, but looked dazed. There was a whitish crust around his mouth and on his arms. “I think he needs salt,” I said. Electrolytes. No one here could speak much English. “Do you have any salt?” People shook their heads, made tsking sounds. They understood, but disagreed. Someone pointed to the powder coating his skin as if to say, Look, anyone can see, he’s got too much salt. Someone proffered a cookie, from a box. I tried to think what local foods contained potassium, sodium, magnesium. “Do you have bananas? Potatoes?” They looked at me like I was crazy. Just then a bota bota pulled up. The driver, who spoke a little English, introduced himself as the uncle of the runner. I urged him to take his nephew down to the field in Ruguburi, find any mzungu, and ask for medical treatment. That would get him to either Charlotte, the nurse with the scout group, or to whatever “first aid” station Yoly had arranged, and if nothing else, the ride would help cool him down. As the others helped the young man onto the bike, I suggested that someone else should squeeze on behind him, to make sure he didn’t pass out again and fall off.This entry was posted in Travel, Uganda, Vacation 2016: East/South Africa