I decided to start walking back to Ruguburi. One of the race monitors (her job was to check off the runners as they came by and point them down the correct route) and a couple of other young women decided to join me. I’m not sure, but I think this was in part to ensure that I didn’t lose my way, get harassed by anyone, or otherwise get into trouble. It was the kind of message that would be conveyed by the tilt of a grandmother’s head, perhaps a flick of a stirring stick, on the rare occasions that I was quick enough to catch it. (You, go with this idiot and make sure she doesn’t fall off a cliff or get run over by goats. And while you’re down there, make sure the doctors don’t over-charge for treating your cousin.) After a week in the area, I was getting just the slightest inkling of what the community was like. It seemed a bit like one huge, squabbly family. Tourists had become a common fixture, but rarely stayed more than a day or two to see the gorillas. If a mzungu face started to seem familiar, it seemed that traditional rules of hospitality were applied.
Back at the field, the races were done. The good/bad news was that the turn-out had far exceeded Big Beyond’s wildest dreams about the year-over-year growth of the event, and they were short at least 100 T-shirts that had been promised to every participant. To make matters worse, the Grand Prize had escaped (thankfully, the chickens were all there). The crowd was in an uproar.
I learned that the runner had found his way to competent medical care, then I found Karel, and we left the shouting mob and made our way to the local “restaurant,” where Big Beyond had arranged for all the volunteers to have lunch. This consisted of a buffet of stew and potatoes. By observing those ahead of me in line, I saw that if I didn’t speak up, the cook would load my plate with three or four whole spuds. Even if I were famished, I don’t think I could eat that many potatoes, and I really wasn’t very hungry. And you just hate to waste food in a place where many people don’t get enough to eat. “Just one, please.” I held up a finger. She started searching the giant pot for the biggest potato. “No, no, that one will be fine,” I said before she rejected a medium-sized specimen. She looked at me incredulously, then yelled something in Rukiga to the other servers, who all exclaimed in shock and outrage, then laughed. Mzungus are crazy.
Nick and Yoly appeared and reported that they had smoothed things over with the participants by promising that they’d come up with a solution—although they weren’t sure what. For sure, they’d find a replacement for the Grand Prize, but the T-shirts would be much tougher.
There was still an afternoon of music, dancing, and parties to go to, but Karel and I were beyond maxed out on crowds, noise, chaos, drama, and other extroverted activities, so we plodded up the hill to our retreat. Unfortunately, the gates were locked, and the new watchman (a fellow named God) didn’t hear our calls (yes, we stood in the road yelling, “God! Hey, God!). So, we sat on the ground to wait—a staff member would show up, sooner or later.
It started to rain, just lightly. A woman from the neighborhood came by, along with her nine children. They had nothing else to do, so they plunked down across the road to watch us. Mzungu-watching is a thing in Africa. Mzungus are like T.V., or a day at the zoo, even when we’re just sitting there.
The rain stopped. The children started calling out to us and doing little antics, trying to provoke a reaction from us. The mother tried asking for money. After a while, a breeze came up, and a more serious-looking cloud started heading our way. Real rain would not be good for our camera gear. I had seen various farm animals appear inside the compound now and then, so I knew there had to be a gap in the wall, somewhere. I decided to look for it.
I found it pretty quickly, although I had to jump a ditch and scooch down a steep bank to get to it. I was just squeezing through the gap when the watchman, God, appeared, looking astonished. What was this crazy mzungu doing? Why didn’t she walk in through the front gate like a normal person? We went back to the front to let Karel in just before the squall hit.This entry was posted in Uganda, Vacation 2016: East/South Africa