Monthly Archives: December 2016

Days 4&5 – All the animals

  • Ugandan Kob – many
  •  Birds…so many birds
  • I think that was a pair of lions?
  • Hippos!
  • Baboons on the car

And those are what my notes resembled from day 4 and early day 5 of our recent trip to Uganda. Because the schools were not open on the weekend in Nyaka and Kutamba, we spend Saturday and Sunday morning touring Queen Elizabeth National Park before arriving in Nyakagyesi at our accommodations for the week. While this isn’t a ton of time to tour this gorgeous part of the country, we certainly made the most of it.

The lakes, craters, savannah, jungle, forests, and everything in between are truly stunning. It is an impressive section of Uganda with two growing seasons, an abundance of wildlife, and the opportunity see a variety of African ecosystems in only 24 hours. As the day began, I started writing down what animals we encountered. My list quickly disintegrated after the first flurry of furry creatures astounded my Michigan eyes.

img_5247  I know this one is kinda hard to see but that is a pair of lions, male and female, walking across the road in front of our car the same way we might notice a couple of whitetail deer. Amazing. What is even more amazing? The fact that we had just passed a young man on a bicycle with two gigantic bunches of bananas. He was riding on this same stretch of road on his way to the lake where he would sell the fruit, use the money to purchase freshly caught tilapia, and then ride back to his village to sell the fish and begin the whole process over again the next day. I was impressed by his entrepreneurial spirit but shocked by his willingness to ride on a road that had honest to goodness lions waiting in the wings. That was early in the day and truly set the tone for the next 12 hours of travel. We were in a strange and beautiful new place.

In addition to the lions, we say water buffalo, Defasssa Waterbuck, Savanna Elephants, Warthogs, a Leopard (see the previous posting…crazy…https://multidenominationalthoughts.com/2016/12/09/day-4-what/ ), Nile Crocodiles, Topi, Baboons, Vervet Monkeys, Mongoose, Monitor Lizards and Black and White Colbus Monkeys, just to name a few species that crossed our paths. img_5307img_5413

We started and ended our day at the Enganzi Lodge ( http://enganzilodge.com ) just offer the Kasenyi Savannah Plains of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Our drive took us to the Mweya Peninsula on a boat cruise through the Kazinga Channel. It was a stunning and overwhelming day. I’m delighted we took the time to have this experience. It truly was once in a lifetime. Pictures, stories, and lists of animals will never do justice to what we actually saw and experienced. All I can say is thank you to Kasozi Robert, our guide from Bic Tours who kept us safe, happy, and healthy throughout the whole trip. He exceeded expectations in all ways possible.

Our lodge included private yurts for each couple or individual. The walk to the each cottage was down  steep hill where we overlooked the beautiful Savannah Plains. The views couldn’t have been better.

The next morning, Day 5, was a travel day to get to Nyaka. On the way, we drove through the Ishasha Sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park, an area especially known for the tree climbing lions. We were never promised we would see anything but sure enough, we did! Again, this stuff felt like something out of a movie. I’ve worked and lived in Alaska an even then, surrounded by wildlife, I never experienced anything like the great Ugandan outdoors.img_5594img_5602img_5616img_5623

The other highlight of the drive to Nyaka was the troop of baboons. They were everywhere while driving but this particular group was interesting because it stopped when we stopped and one very curious baboon jumped up on the car and began to lick the windshield. Enjoy the video!

After all of these adventures, we were finally on our way to Nyaka. We arrived at the Kigezi Forest Cottages in the afternoon and quickly settled in for the night. Jamie, Robert and I went for a 5k run out to the school and back. I COMPLETELY forgot about the hills. That was more than I was prepared to do. I felt like garbage during but great afterwards.

With all of the traveling we had experienced the first 5 days, I was quite ready for a break and a bit of stability. I fell asleep easily and quickly that evening! I was ready to see the Nyaka students again and truly looking forward to a great week with this amazing organization.

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Day 4 – What?!?!

This’ll just be a piece of Day 4 but I promise, it is memorable. Actually, it’s a bit brutal so I don’t recommend this video for the faint of heart. It was truly unbelievable when it happened and I’m still a little grossed about by what we saw. Look, I’m a hunter and I’ve seen my fair share of the animal kingdom that saddens, astounds and amazes. Yet nothing I’d ever seen before prepared me for this one.

Day 4 was our one full day of “sightseeing” in Queen Elizabeth National Park. We were out looking for wildlife and we saw it, to say the least. I’ll post some pics of the other highlights in another post and let this one stand on it’s own.

We were driving through a grassland section of the park when our guide, Robert, stopped and turned around because he saw a group of Ugandan Kob acting strange. He wondering if they saw or sensed something we didn’t. Turns out there was a leopard in a tree that was just hanging out in a branch. Beautiful. Majestic. Magnificent!

And then the leopard got of the tree…and this is what we watched.

Again, not for the weak stomached. You have been warned.

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Uganda isn’t that far away, is it?

“It really isn’t that difficult of a journey. Just a few flights to get there and a couple of van rides. You’ll be fine!” I lied to my wife and our traveling companions. “You won’t even notice how long you’re sitting in an uncomfortable seat across three continents. It’ll just fly by.

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Still smiling after hours and hours of travel

I know it’s a sin to lie but what if the lie is intentionally offered in love? That’s good right? I’m still on the side of good?

Days 1, 2 and 3 were full of travel. We left Detroit just before 2 pm on Wednesday and arrived in our hotel in Kampala at 1:00 am on Friday. So, yeah,  it was a substantial trip. I’m not complaining…much.

Actually, I’m probably the least adaptable in our outstanding group this year. The other four are adept travelers who seem to roll with the punches and for that I am eternally grateful. Like any group, one naysayer or Debbie-downer has the potential to bring everyone into a state of frustration. I can proudly say our group is laughing at potential adversity and seems so well suited for an experience like this one.

We departed from Detroit, though one of our group members, Jamie Morris, flew in the day before from Phoenix so he gets the medal for longest trip. Good on you, Mr. Morris.

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Jamie and Andrew looking impressed.

The rest of our group includes Kurt and Pete Guter from Williamston, MI, and my wife, Rachell. Our common bond is the connection to the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project (https://www.nyakaschool.org). Last year I led a much larger group of individuals from The Peoples Church of East Lansing, the congregation I pastor, (http://thepeopleschurch.com) to visit Nyaka. Having a smaller team was already providing for a different experience. It is just easier to manage a small group of five versus more than a dozen individuals. More bags, more personalities, more potential pitfalls, and just more…everything can be more of a challenge. Additionally, the trip last year did not include any couples or family members. It is a very different thing to travel with and share accommodations with one’s spouse than it is a friend or stranger. That said, last year’s group went from strangers to friends quite quickly in the course of two weeks in Uganda.

We flew from Detroit to Newark, enjoyed a short layover in New Jersey, and then proceeded from NJ to Amsterdam on a Delta International flight. All in all it was an uneventful, quiet, and tiring trip. Does anyone REALLY get any rest on an airplane? I think Pete nailed it when she said, “I never really slept, I just passed out from time to time.” Yep, that about sums it up.

That would have been enough of a trip to tire anyone out but we still had two flights to go. So, after a couple hours in the Schipohl Airport in Amsterdam (one of my favorite airports in the world, by the way. Who doesn’t love stroopwafel?),img_5152 we flew nine hours to Kiwali, Rwanda. Our stop in Rwanda was short enough to forbid us from leaving the plane, but long enough to make you want to leave the plane.

 

After that, our final flight took us to Entebbe, Uganda, sight of the infamous international highjacking incident and subsequent raid that was highlighted in the movie “The Last King of Scotland.” Honestly, that is what I have learned most about people’s perceptions of Uganda. Whenever I have talked about Uganda, the majority of people know it related to Edi Amin’s brutal dictatorship, the Entebbe Airport Raid, or “The Book of Mormon.” None of those are great associations for this incredible country and it is such a shame.uganda-04 This developing nation is beautiful in land, people, and spirit. It faces many of the problems experienced by other developing countries (unemployment, poverty, pollution, corruption, and instability), yet it has thrived in the past decade due in large part to a coordinated effort by the government and people to improve the education, infrastructure, and investment into the nation. Granted, my interpretation is biased though I stand by the reality of and improving forecast for Uganda.img_5238

Upon arrival, we passed through customs and met our congenial hosts from Bic Tours, the preferred tourist company for Nyaka and the same organization that guided my previous trip (http://www.bic-tours.com). Our host/driver/guide, Kasozi Robert, was with us the entire trip. He was knowledgeable, approachable, and exceedingly helpful. We were spoiled by his leadership, enthusiasm and willingness to introduce us to his blessed country.

The night we arrived, we were shuttled off an hour away from the airport to the Hotel Africana in Kampala, the capital city of 4 million people. We were all so exhausted at this point, that we simply escaped to our rooms and immediately fell fast asleep. As you can see, this was our first mosquito net of the trip…though definitely not the last. img_5153There is something oddly charming about sleeping in a canopied bed, even if it is a netting designed to prevent you from getting malaria. Still, magical…in that non-malaria kind of a way.

We were able to enjoy the hotel’s patchy wi-fi to Facetime our children who were staying with Rachell’s parents in Bay City, MI. They had just finished the Thanksgiving feast when we again realized, “We just missed Thanksgiving!” We spent the entire Thanksgiving holiday in the skies above Europe and Africa. Not exactly turkey and stuffing but it’ll certainly be a memorable Thanksgiving for our family. The children were happy and enjoying life with the grandparents, which was a win for all of us.

We woke up Friday morning around 7:30 feeling surprisingly refreshed, considering we had lost most of a day and our internal clocks were so out of whack. God bless, Jamie Morris…he actually got up early and went for a run in the hotel gym. I’m shamed and inspired…but mostly just shamed. Well done, sir.

We all met up for a splendid breakfast of local fuits, hot drinks, and eggs. From there, we were reintroduced to Nyaka staff we who set our schedule, encouraged our visit, and gave us an overview of the next 8 days. img_5157Today (Friday) and tomorrow we will visit Queen Elizabeth National Park and then arrive in Nyaka on Sunday night, ready to work with the schools when they open again on Monday morning. The end of the week we will head back to Kampala for the world premier of “Cornerstone,” a documentary about Nyaka. The premier will be attended by donors, politicians, and local dignitaries who are supporting the efforts of this amazing organization. It is humbling to be a part of the event.

The drive today was around 9 hours in an eight passenger safari van. We made a stop at the equator and did the requisite “equator experiments,” watching water drain one way in the northern hemisphere, the opposite way in the south, and straight dow on the actual equator. It never gets old. The science behind it? No idea, I’m just a minister. Magic, probably?

We then hopped back in the van and journeyed on another 6ish hours to our destination. Sooooo much driving…

It should be noted that the infrastructure in Uganda, the road system in particular, is not ideal. Some roads are smooth and easy but the majority are dirt and full of bumps, washed out caverns, obstacles, and any number of other challenges. Because of this reality, you are constantly being bounced around the van and the driver is doing his absolute best to make sure we arrive safely. It’s an adventure, to be sure, but not impossible. Just very, very uncomfortable.

Our first full day ended at the Enganzi Game Lodge (http://kabiza.com/kabiza-wilderness-safaris/enganzi-game-lodge-queen-elizabeth-park/), on the border of Queen Elizabeth National Park. We were each given a gorgeous yurt overlooking a majestic valley. Before we hiked down to our home for the night, we were provided with a lovely welcome from the lodge and a curious warning.

img_5237“At the base of this hill are small farms on the border of the national park. Because this is harvest time, the elephants try to get into the farms and cause great damage to the crops. As a deterrent to the elephants, the farmers will stay out all night banging drums, yelling, and firing guns into the air to scare the elephants when they get too close. Do not be alarmed when you hear these things tonight.”

Fantastic.

End of Day 3 (insert gunshots, shouts of warning, and a continuous drum beat throughout the African night).

What a trip…

 

My head is spinning. So much to process and so little time to sit and put it all together. This has been an outstanding past two weeks. Without hesitation or qualification, I can happily say our trip to Uganda to partner with the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project was an overwhelming success. For 11 days, I traveled with my wife, Rachell, Kurt and Pete Guter, Jamie Morris, and executive director and founder of Nyaka, Twesigye Jackson Kaguri.img_6075 This was my second trip in the past two years to work with Nyaka in Uganda. The Peoples Church has supported this outstanding organization for nearly a decade, with the support beginning before I arrived in East Lansing as their pastor.

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Over the next few days I will post a rundown of each day on the trip. Until then, here is a brief list of highlights:

 

  • Visited 3 schools and interacted with over 500 students and dozens of faculty and staff.
  • Toured the Mummy Drayton Clinic
  • Explored the two libraries and support facilities established by Nyaka.
  • Assisted in the construction of a grandmother house that was paid for by generous members of The Peoples Church in honor of Dr. Curt Liechty, a friend and congregant who visited Nyaka in 2015 shortly before his unexpected passing.
  • Attended the world premier of the independent film, “Cornerstone,” a groundbreaking documentary exploring the history, founding, and continuing excellence of Nyaka.
  • Preached and spoke to each school for their devotional period
  • Keynoted the local Rotary club meeting in Kihihiimg_5969
  • Took a day to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park, where we saw all manner of wildlife.
  • Crossed the equator four times – twice by car and twice by boat
  • Ate incredible Ugandan food with even better people in all parts of the country.

There is so much more to this past trip but this gives a good start. I’ll take a look at each day and include photos and video for each day of the trip. Until then, thank you for your prayers while we were away and please know how much the children of Nyaka appreciate your continuing support. Peace be with you and thanks for reading.