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