Walking into the school to look over a student’s shoulder seeing his study of “visible and invisible trade” catches me off guard in this remote school location. We have come to this region of Africa to visit the gorillas of the Bwindi Forest. Yet more engaging is a four-hour community walk with a local guide offering glimpses and surprises of Uganda’s rural life.
Smith, our guide, leads us along a path, the village “streets”, where we visit with Ambrose, a medicine man. We sit down with him to learn about all the different plant treatments. He only speaks the Swahili dialect and French with Smith translating. My French is a little rusty and brings smiles to the conversation! His work with plants, vast knowledge passed down for generations and now integrating with the health services at the regional hospital is fascinating.
Following the trails between the tea and banana plantations, we visit a farm. Two women are making banana wine and banana gin, village-style. The two day old gin tastes pretty good … more like tequila. Definitely drinkable! The wine, not so much. Later we try banana beer, a thick frothy concoction, another craft brew maybe?
Meandering further into the village, we chat and play with children, we get a real feel of the community vibe. Enock, the headmaster of the Bohuma Community High School, invites us in and shares a little about the school for 160 students, ranging between 13 and 18 years of age. He introduces us in the open-air classrooms and at the outdoor kitchen where the cook is preparing lunch over an open fire. Half the students board at the school. The other half are from the village and surrounding area. Smith tells us when he was a student only a couple of years ago, he walked the 17km to and from his secondary school before this school was built closer to his Bohuma home.
We chat with the villagers going about their business along the “street”. It is amazing to watch the women carry everything on their heads, and I do mean everything you can think of. A definition of green transport!
Down by the river, an eclectic Pygmy gentleman shows us through their settlement. The Ugandan government resettled them from the Bwindi Forest due to the challenges for available lands encroaching on the gorilla habitat. Obviously I stand out a little at 183cm among this gregarious troupe where “tall” appears to be about 153cm! We meet families, see some of their forest skills, like fire starting, and watch them do an impromptu dance. They appear to have settled well … a village within a village.
We end up at the Bwindi Community Hospital, which serves 100,000 people in this region. Because of this large area, community health nurses ride motorbikes to get to and serve the surrounding villages. (A program partially funded by the Canadian government). The journeys can be 45km taking 2 hours one way. Aida, a well-spoken woman from the communications team gives us a tour. Her mastery of English is impressive, which we learn is from watching American television! We visit the different wards, operating room (a little rustic to say the least) and the steel box shipping containers holding the x-ray department and pharmacy. It is incredible the level of care provided by this small hospital.
A fascinating morning in the village gives us a great feel for warmth of the Ugandan people. The few US dollars charged for the tour helps contribute to the cooperative community efforts. It was a great glimpse into the way of life in this remote community on the edge of the Bwindi Forest and the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.