Posts Tagged With: Mbale

MILESTONE MOMENTS

A guest post by the wonderful Gypsy Queen who opened her mind and heart to the ways of a bartering nomad. She showed me love, art, inspiration, creation and fed me words of wisdom which I adhere to every day (well, most days).

She comforted me during every hospital visit where I was at the whim of the doctors. She introduced me to a bounty of awesome friends. And she provided a patient ear to chew on whenever my heart and soul needed unraveling

If you’ve ever met her, then you know she truly is an Unbound Gypsy Queen.

Check out her amazing talent on Facebook:  Unbound Ether Photography.

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From the Gypsy Queen:

Please note, I don’t call or refer to myself as the Gypsy Queen but do so here because the Nomad King has generously given me this title in his memoirs and for continuity’s sake, I must respect that in this missive.

It is necessary to admit that I never thought I’d be looking at the opposite side of the Indian Ocean before me. The same trade winds that blew north along the eastern-facing Kenyan coast one year ago, are the ones that are blowing along the western-facing Indian coast, where I am sitting now, one year later, in the little seaside village of Ashvem in Goa, India.

It has been several months now with this testimonial on my plate of things to devour, process and respond to. From day one with the Nomad King, timing has been everything and this missive to The Universe is no different.

Milestone Moments in one’s life have to be patiently awaited for, and even then, it’s only in hindsight do we realise the beauty in those moments. All the pieces of the puzzle needed to fall into place to bring you to that Milestone Moment. When that last dot joins the rest, completing the circle and finally, realisation sets in.

I think of it as Resolution.

Yesterday was one of those days for me. Almost one year ago the Nomad King and I first collided on our paths in Kilifi Creek along the Kenyan coast. I was living and helping build Musafir the boat, and grow the community that surrounded it.

Little did I know that this scruffy, ruggedly handsome Nomad that washed up on our shores was about to jump start my life and put it straight into high gear. Unbeknownst to me at the time, he was exactly who I had asked The Universe for, just two weeks prior to our meeting.

Ro and I

© Aleks Leigh, 2016

But that’s a different story.

Freedom has always been a major theme in my life but never once did I imagine that I was about to be exposed to a new kind of freedom, one I only vaguely knew existed, let alone imagine my own journey taking a radical twist the day the Nomad King and the Gypsy Queen met.

I have the spirit of a gypsy, one who must simultaneously follow the wind and intuition, the stars and the dusty road, the fires of the heart and rhythm of the earth, for they are all one and cannot work alone, in order to truly be happy and healthy in life.

The day we hit the road for the first time a new kind of adrenaline became known to me. My whole being was vibrating with a sensation, a whisper almost, of a whole new world tingling at my fingertips. Each physical step forward, packs and tents and camera equipment included, was a step towards the Unknown.

And what greater high than the Unknown?

Every facet of bartering and hitch hiking reminded me of a way of life that addresses the need for living simply that is almost entirely lost to us today – in theory and in practice. Traveling without money, relying on the kindness of strangers to voluntarily take us to the next destination and then, conjuring faith in humanity, all the while constantly renewing this personal relationship with the earth’s geography, space and time.

All vital aspects of bettering one’s connection to the pulse of Life and The Universe.

I thought I was already pretty well connected, so imagine my surprise when I discovered I had only just scratched the surface, that below sat a locked box of life’s mysteries and the Nomad King held the key.

And open that box I did! Quickly. For the road has many teachers, and one must keep up! Every lesson learned on the road with the Nomad King made up for every wasted day that I spent trying to get an education in formal schooling.

He showed me then, and continues to show me a thousand different ways how a person can give and collect love and kindness. Every barter was a gift that we received and a gift we gave in return; a pure exchange of respect and compassion. Every story swapped, every song, every article, every photo, every second of footage, every peal of laughter, every meal, every sanctuary, every kilometer, hug, handshake and ‘hello’ is given and received in gratitude. Very quickly this cup of gratitude spills over, washing over one’s being like a glorious swell.

A surfer’s wet dream.

Though I have bartered many things in my life, I never fully realised the power that lay in an exchange devoid of anything that even remotely smells like money. I’ve always loved to barter, little keepsakes and presents sent out and returned into the world; reminders of a kindred spirit’s touch.

Sometimes leaving something behind in a place that you may never return to again is like leaving a piece of your legacy. It has always felt like that for me with every installation the Nomad and I created together. A part of our story, not just a barter, but a mark that we were once there. That we loved, laughed and created something beautiful . Something that place inspired in us. Our response to the world in the form of beautiful artwork, song, written word.

Through the life of a Gypsy and a Nomad many kilometers are traversed, many souls encountered, many connections welded together on a string, like beads, each individual but essential in completing the Whole.

So from place to place we travelled, each time making a mere outline, allowing the dots to complete themselves, not worrying about plan B (at least not the Nomad. I, on the other hand, had to learn that there is never a plan B), and simply trust in the process.

Many a time the Nomad gently tossed my philosophical ideas about The Universe back at me – The Universe will never give you more than you can handle, being a favourite. An undeniable truth (among others) that would always bring me back to my centre and the moment I’d let go of fear and doubt, the road would magically open up again, sending us just the right ride, or just the right barter, right when we needed it the most.

For example, 70kms shy of our day’s final destination at the lakeside town of Kisumu, Kenya, while waiting for almost an hour by the roadside with barely a car stopping for us and with the sun setting, I frustratingly asked the Nomad what plan B is.

And he looks at me simply and says, “There is no plan B. Just plan A – we get to Kisumu.”

It took a while, but the moment I resigned myself to whatever fate befell us, a pick-up truck slowed down and the kindest driver the road has ever sent me (I say ‘me’ because I know the Nomad has met many a kind driver and I don’t want to take anything away from them), not only took us to Kisumu, but paid for our bed and a couple of meals for our bellies.

On the latter half of our Ugandan trip in Mbale, the Nomad fell terribly ill and between a dozen bathroom calls had to be rushed to the hospital with a horrendous ear infection.

The kind souls of Sukali Hostel where we were being hosted, let us stay for days without insisting that he perform. Insisting he get better first, feeding and providing us shelter without question.

Cut to yesterday:

This Gypsy is in limbo at the moment, hanging out along the coast while my new roomy and I await our monsoon retreat to begin in our new home in the hills of Goa. My friends Adrien, Justine and Emma left on their mini-vacation to the big, bad city of Bombay, leaving me to my own devices.

Having been back in India almost a month now, I’ve had to shift gears once again and adapt to a more conventional way of life here. Namely, paying for transportation, accommodation and meals.

Earlier this week I found some distant relatives in a wonderful creative space called Vaayu where artists, travellers and surfers flock to during the cooler, busy seasons. The end of the season is upon us, most places have shut and the majority of people have begun heading for the Himalayan foothills where life is much cooler.

On Thursday morning I made a sincere intention, took a leap of faith and approached the Vaayu tribe to see if I could barter work – any type of work – for a bed. Though there are many people out there who are doing this, it was the first time I was approaching a community/business to let me in, without having any money to offer, alone and in India.

They have never been approached in this way either, although they do host an artist residency program which attracts a very colourful group of people, which has made them open to the barter way of life and those that live it.

Needless to say, they accepted my offer and even offered me three meals a day. So here I am now, working on this piece, reflecting on my life and watching the last dot connect itself to all the other dots that have led me to this moment, closing the circle – a Milestone Moment that marks the end of one chapter in my life and the prophetic beginning of another.

As the Nomad King likes to say, “The end is the power of the beginning.

And I have all this because one year ago, a scruffy, ruggedly handsome Nomad washed up on Kilifi’s shores and I followed my gypsy heart.

I’ll call this, Resolution.

 

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Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Kenya, Uganda | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

HITCH HIKING IN UGANDA – PART VIII

“I’m almost tempted to drive you to Jinja myself,” Nabifo said as she pulled into the petrol station as far out of town as she could go.

“So let’s go!” I said.

“Yeah, come with us!” GQ threw in.

“I’m expecting a large group,” she said sadly.

 

 

We hugged as we parted ways, setting up shop just outside of the petrol station (a pump and a shack). After a weekend of an upset stomach and an inner ear infection that had me face my demons and a wet climb up Wanale Falls, GQ and I were finally on our way to Jinja – our last stop on our Ugandan adventure.

A truck pulled up but the driver wanted money. Ten minutes later a bakkie pulled over.

“I’m going to Kampala,” said Frank.

“Are you passing by Jinja?” I asked knowing that he had too.

“Yes.”

“Can we go with you?”

“No problem,” he grinned. “Let’s go.”

Frank was a telecommunications engineer. “I work on the mobile towers,” he said.

“Do you climb them?” I asked.

“Sometimes but most of my work is on the generators,” he shrugged.

“You probably drive around all over Uganda with this job,” GQ added.

“Yes,” he said.

“Gotta favourite place?” I asked.

“Western Uganda.”

“Yeah, that place is phenomenal,” I reflected on our time in Rubuguri.

“I just have to get my co-worker to sign this paper,” Frank said as he turned off the road and headed through a small village to the nearest mobile tower, a menacing metal structure standing at about 60 feet. He called out to his mate who guided him to another tower that then lead us to the third tower where we finally found him.

“Hello boss,” he grinned at me.

I grinned back playing the part. Company vehicles aren’t allowed to have non-company passengers in them. Once the paperwork was signed we hit the road and continued on our way. Frank wasn’t married but had a girlfriend in Kampala, where he lives.

“I plan to marry next year,” he said. “But I have a son.”

Mbale to Jinja is a two-hour drive through green rice fields that line the road and vast papyrus plants and wetlands.

“You have a beautiful country,” GQ said to Frank. She had told this to every driver we had, reminding the locals of what they have. “And Ugandans are so friendly and generous.” Also good to remind them that not everyone is an asshole (unless they’re from Birhalwe).

Before reaching Nalubaale Hydroelectric Power Station in Jinja (previously named Owen’s Dam which submerged Rippon Falls in 1954, named by John Hanning Specke, the first European to reach Lake Nalubaale which he christened Lake Victoria. He discovered the source of the White Nile back in 1859) we passed the big roundabout where the Ling-Ling Chinese restaurant on the highway towards the town of Jinja is located.

It was here that we were to meet Teresa who, along with Saleem, co-manages the Nile Porch River Lodge and The Black Lantern à la carte fine-dining restaurant, a Jinja institute. This barter was all GQ. I just tagged along looking pretty. But I was also throwing in the usual: play a few gigs, write an article and GQ was to create an art installation on which I would be the pretty assistant.

The Nile Porch River Lodge (NPR) is wedged between the Nile River Camp (NRC) and the Nile River Explorers (NRE. Who knew Jinja would be a town of acronyms?) where I had played for food and bed when I first entered this great country.

We were on the lookout for the Chinese restaurant. Luckily, it was built in the Chinese architectural style so it stood out like a kangaroo might in the Serengeti. Frank pulled over and we hopped out just as three boda-bodas made their way over.

“We go?” one asked.

“Sure,” I grinned. “We go – over there to meet our friend. I dunno what you’re doing though.”

They shrugged and biked off. What is it with these bodas? Its as though they’ve never attempted to use their feet other than to change gears on their bike. They seem perpetually glued to the seat of their two-wheels, just hanging around, pouncing on unsuspecting foreigners, scavenging like hyenas.

Perhaps I should carry a sign that would read: ‘Have legs, will walk’.

Teresa was already in the car park when we trekked over. She drove us into town to pick up her carpenter, Ronald, before we headed off to the lodge where I met Saleem and their two incredible kids, four-year-old Kanaya and six-year-old Khaleel.

“You guys can stay in tent 8,” Teresa said, as we were shown around the vast, green property. “Bingo really likes trees,” she referred to the owner as we walked among the tall jack-fruit trees.

“Looks like tree testicles,” GQ remarked.

“There’s a visual,” I grinned.

Teresa laughed. “Bingo planted all the trees here,” she continued. “He was the first one to put a raft on the water when the Bujigali Falls were still falls.”

According to local legend, the falls are the sacred site of the Spirit of Bujabald, embodied in a man, Jaja Bujabald, the 39th incarnation – the spirit doctor – who lives by the falls. The 95-year-old fella (four years ago. May have aged since) protects the community by performing rituals at the falls using local plants and herbs for medicine. There have even been reports that he can walk over the water (hmm, what would Jesus do?).

During the ’94 Rwandan genocide dead bodies dumped in Lake Victoria would float all the way to the Bujigali Falls and were wedged on the rocks. It was Jaja Bujabald that removed and buried them. His prophecy is that many people will have to die and others will fall mad if nature is destroyed and the dam built (enter ISIS).

About four years ago the Ugandan government constructed the dam even though they promised that the last dam would be the last dam. It turned Bujigali Falls – which were the first rapids when you went white water rafting – into a lake.

Next year, the Ugandan government is yet again constructing another dam that will turn the rest of the rapids into a lake and end white water rafting in the region forever and cause irreversible environmental repercussions that would affect the already decimated Lake Nalubaale.

Our tent was a combination of concrete and canvas. We had our own shower, toilet, a choice of double or single bed and even a lounging area.

And then there was the view. Here’s a picture since I can’t really put it into words:img_7938

“Not a bad barter,” I hugged GQ as a yellow-billed kite swooped around looking for prey or that perfect twig to add to its nest it had built in the tree off the porch of the restaurant.

“Quite chuffed,” she grinned. “Our word for pleasure.”

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Uganda | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ON A PERSONAL NOTE – EARY DAYS

© Stephanie Helber, 2014

“Argh,” I awoke suddenly in the dark. Something was trying to rip out my left ear drum. “Jesus,” I moaned, clutching my ear. The Gypsy Queen woke up.

“What’s wrong?” she asked worryingly.

 

 

“My ear,” I winced. It was turning into a helluva weekend. First the stomach bug that had me running to the bathroom every 20 minutes and now this. By the time the sun rose I was in agony. GQ took the initiative and looked up the nearest ENT specialist. We hopped on a boda-boda (well, GQ hopped. I staggered) and waited 40 minutes to be treated in the Mbale clinic.

“You have an inner ear infection,” announced the doctor. “I will give you three injections for immediate relief and treatment.”

Injections? What the..? “Why injections?” I countered through the pain.

I’m not a fan of pharmaceutical medicine. I don’t get sick very often and when I do I usually prescribe myself whatever solution nature provides. Usually swallow sliced up raw garlic (natural anti-biotic) and drink lemon-honey-ginger tea. It might take a bit longer to recover but my body’s stronger for it by not using pharmaceuticals.

“One will treat the infection, the other is a painkiller and the third is a steroid to bring down the inflammation.”

I despise painkillers. They trick you into thinking there is no pain by numbing the affected area. But they don’t take the pain away. So while you’ve numbed the pain, any action you do could affect the injury\infection worse and you wouldn’t know it – because you’ve numbed the pain.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), I’ve had my fair share of pain. A traumatic treatment of my severe sinus issues in my early twenties has given me the ability to tolerate pain on a level that would have Guntanamo Bay prisoners (hi NSA) confess to killing Tweety Bird.

And if that wasn’t enough, it was an ENT specialist that had given me that trauma and ability to suffer that amount of pain.

“I don’t want painkillers,” I grunted.

“Please, mister, it will ease the pain for you –” the doctor tried to reason with me. GQ also tried to convince me otherwise.

“No painkillers,” I seeped through clenched teeth. “Just fix me up.”

In my state, I wasn’t exactly friendly with the doctor. In fact I was quite hostile but this was coming from the trauma I had received a decade and a bit before. Memories were returning in a flash flood. It was the only time in my life that I had threatened to kill another human being (the doctor treating me) and meant it.

I’ll save you the gory bits for the memoirs but let’s just say that what he inflicted on me had me screaming at a level that cleared out the waiting room in the hospital. I don’t blame the doctor when he then demanded that we go from the clinic to the hospital where, “I will feel safer in the environment there as I’m currently not comfortable in this situation,” he said.

I copped some words from GQ about how I antagonised the good doctor and created that environment. But it was hard to put into words what I was going through and not just because of the pain I was in, but the memories that were consuming me were putting me in a hateful state against this institution that represented that specific traumatic event.

At the hospital we waited on the bench and were summoned into the room within fifteen minutes. It was full of nurses and interns all surrounding me.

I had managed to scoff a bit at the ridiculousness of the situation, that somehow, I had managed to make this doctor feel so unsafe that he needed a room full of people that might need – should it come to it – subdue me. I had no intention of pouncing on anyone. Even if what I was projecting was animosity towards everything these people represented, it wasn’t personal. I know these folks are out to heal me but some things can’t be erased.

GQ sat with me and held my right hand as my left was chosen for the injections. I can handle needles. It wouldn’t be the first jab I’d receive. But it was the first time that I was getting injected in the vein on the top of my wrist, right where the hand and joint meet. I managed to convince the doc that I didn’t want or need the painkiller injection. The antibiotic stab was a standard needle pain. My head hung low. I stared at the floor knowing that I was about to go through some serious shit on a personal, emotional level. I had no idea how destroyed I would be by the end of it.

When the doc began with the last injection, the steroids, he had to do it in the slowest way possible.

“This will hurt a bit,” he warned before inserting the needle.

I clenched.

“Breathe,” GQ reminded me, encouraging me with words. If it wasn’t for her, bad things would probably have happened – mainly to that doctor who had nothing but good intentions.

The pain the slow injection caused consumed me. It opened up the dam that blocked the traumatic past cracking it wide open, flooding the valley of the now with memories I had suppressed for more than a decade. My head collapsed on GQ’s shoulder and I let the tears flow.

I hadn’t cried from physical or emotional pain for more than ten years and it was all coming out now. I’ve always sought for a way to be able to open those tear ducts, to cleanse myself but I could never find it. I was lost but I certainly didn’t want to be found like this. It released a lot. I felt lighter. Slightly weaker at the knees but emotionally, I was lighter. I had dealt with that past trauma and came out on top, stronger (but for that moment, not at the knees).

GQ apologised for not seeing it my point of view.

“It’s OK,” I mumbled, head down. “You could never know.” I thanked her profoundly. She’s always there when I’m in need of medical assistance. Saying the right words – not just to me but to the presiding staff taking care of me. Without her I’d be a mess surrounded by the dead bodies of medical staff.

But that emotional ride I involuntarily hopped on had exhausted me. I couldn’t even raise my head to the world even though the medicine took immediate effect. I sat silently on the boda-boda back to Sukali and lay quietly in bed for the rest of the day, slowly recovering, smoking cannabis, the only thing that actually takes away the pain.

Doesn’t numb it. It takes it away. So much so that the next day we all climbed up to Wanale Waterfalls in the rain.

The lesson? Face your past if you want release. Face it, embrace it, forgive it and then pack it away because it’s done and dealt with.

And only then can you move forward.

Oh, and avoid ear infections.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Uganda | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

HITCH HIKING IN UGANDA – PART VII

© Unbound Ether Photography, 2015

© Unbound Ether Photography, 2015

“Two rides,” I said to the Gypsy Queen. “I predict two rides to Mbale.”

After a loving and warm night with Ruganzu, Grace and the kids, we were dropped off at the bypass on the road towards Jinja by Ruganzu where we parted ways.

Our first ride was on a truck driven by, Charles, a Kenyan heading to Nairobi via Busia, the main border town on Uganda’s side of the sphere. He wasn’t a fan of Ugandans. Or South Sudanese. In fact, he didn’t much like people but something,

“Told me to stop for you.”

He dropped us off at the turnoff for Busia. From there we hitched another ride on another truck that was also on the way to Kenya only this one was going via Tororo, where I had first entered Uganda.

The turnoff he dropped us at was exactly that – a complete turn off.

“It appears to be that we are in the middle of an African version of Fuckville,” I commented.

The only signs of life were the four boda-bodas and two matatus chilling in the shade. I knew we would be harassed but usually I answer their want of taking us somewhere with,

“It’s OK. We’re waiting for friends,” and the matter is left.

But put two idiots in a round room and tell them to find the corner, you kinda get the feel for what we had to deal with in Fuckville. And it wasn’t enough that they tried to get us to ride with them or get in their matatus (who always have the uncanny timing of stopping and harassing right when a convoy of four potential rides fly past), there’s always one that thinks he’s helping us out by trying to stop a vehicle for us.

“Just go, rafikiki,” I strained, my attempt at remaining calm slowly wavering. “We don’t need your help.”

Eventually the two idiots left and before long a car pulled up heading directly to Mbale.

“Missed by one ride,” I said, referring to my morning’s prediction of two rides. We rode with Ouja who was heading to Mbale for a meeting.

“I work for Child Fund,” he said. “We are working in 39 countries. Maybe you can promote us?” he asked after we shared our Footsteps Through Africa adventure.

“We try to target the lesser known NGOs,” I said politically. “If you’re in 39 countries, you don’t need our promotional abilities.”

He laughed as we hit Mbale, taking the detours due to the broken bridges, watching the waterfalls cascading off the foothills of Mt Elgon, standing at 14,177 feet (4,321 meters). We couldn’t see past the foothills due to the cloud cover but you could feel that something large that nature had created was in there.

Somewhere.

Sukali Hostel is just on the outskirts of the centre of Mbale town. From our room we could see Wanale Falls and the plateau that rises up to Elgon’s peak. We were met by Moses, the manager and that evening after a lovely dinner of spaghetti and a drop of whiskey, we called it a night.

Early the next morning, before the sun was even up, something came knocking on my stomach’s door.

‘Dude, we gotta go,’ it said.

“Gimme a minute,” I responded and headed to the bathroom – an action that would repeat itself throughout the day. In fact that evening I spent 40 minutes in the bathroom. I could barely eat or even drink, forcing myself to take on H2O.

By Sunday afternoon I was a bit better and by the evening I was a little worse.

Shit, and not just figuratively.

“If I’m better tomorrow, we can hike up to the waterfalls,” I suggested after my last run.

Nabifo, the owner and mutual friend of Ruganzu’s, had arrived on Sunday and was keen to hike with us. Just a week prior she had hosted Mbale’s TEDX talk with a strong turnout.

That night, although slightly weaker, my stomach felt settled. I attributed it to the whiskey.

“It looked like the glass wasn’t dry,” GQ had said. “And the tap water here isn’t very good for consumption.”

So I finally swore off all consumption of alcohol. It had taken its toll on me – health-wise. Besides, being an Australian I’ve drunken enough for two lifetimes.

But it was the next day that would render me void of a want to live.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Uganda | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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