Now for the hard part. The sun was high in the sky and the temperature—already sweltering—was still rising, but it was the humidity that made it nearly unbearable. After trudging up and up for an hour or so we stopped for lunch. I was grateful for the rest, but unable to eat much. I sat with two fellows from the Netherlands and their Ugandan friend, whom they teased mercilessly. I consoled him with the assurance that all the other Dutch people I know do exactly the same thing, and that it’s a sign of true affection. The Ugandan was Muslim and not supposed to eat pork, but his Dutch buddies had their cook make a ham sandwich for him as a practical joke. I ended up giving the poor guy my cheese sandwich.
Leaving the shade was painful. My legs felt heavy and unresponsive. I generally have a lot of willpower and can push through exhaustion, but today that didn’t seem to be working. My brain sent the signals to the muscles, and the muscles didn’t budge. I felt badly because I was slowing everyone else down, but I could only go for short stretches, then had to rest.
At last, a few clouds rolled in and a little breeze kicked up, easing the heat and humidity ever so slightly. I plodded up the final stretch to find my waiting bota driver, who was eager to get going. Not yet, I told him. If I didn’t get some nutritious, fresh juice into me, I wasn’t going to have the strength to hang on for the ride home. I asked him to find a restaurant at one of the nearby trekking lodges.
He pulled up in front of a nice lodge, and I invited him to come in with me. He seemed uncomfortable with that idea, but I insisted. “I made you wait all afternoon; the least I can do is buy you a soda.” He followed me through the grounds to the restaurant, but he clearly was feeling out of place. And sure enough, as we stepped past the bar, the bartender started to challenge him, but I cut him off with, “He’s with me,” before he could say more than a word. The bartender acquiesced with a curt nod. I guided us to some comfortable chairs by a low table, ordered a juice for myself and a Pepsi for my young driver, and did what I could to muster my strength. “You’ve never been inside one of these places?” He shook his head and smiled shyly. “It’s very nice,” he said.
I felt amused, but also outraged, and at the same time, sorry that I made the poor guy feel uncomfortable. The restaurant staff, meanwhile, were also clearly uneasy. The longer we were there, the more likely that a manager or owner would happen by, and what would happen then? I concocted a half-true story in my head about dizziness and low blood sugar and needing my driver’s help to get to the door. The best thing, though, was to just get going. I paid the check and urged my friend to drink up—he seemed to be waiting for permission for every swallow, or maybe he just wanted to savor it.
As we left, though, I noticed his posture was straighter, his expression confident. Whatever else was going on here, this was an experience he would remember.