On the Road Again: Uganda

No De Nile: Today was an extraordinary one we won’t soon forget. (rated GK, good lesson for kids)

With no expectation or any sense of what lay ahead, we left Kampala to head up to Jinga, (pronounced Gin-juh) Uganda, to raft the White Nile. The White Nile is arguably the “source of the Nile” since this portion of the river runs out of Lake Victoria and meanders northward. The whole River Nile is formed from the White Nile, which originates at Lake Victoria and the Blue Nile, which originates at Lake Tana in Ethiopia. These rivers meet in Sudan and then go on their long journey northward up through Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea having by then flowed over 4000 miles. Flowing south to north, the Nile is the longest river in the world.

While Jinga is only 66km away from Kampala, it took a few hours of slow trucks, crazy potholes and goat dodging to get there. After napping through much of the hazy morning drive, one awakens to various shades of the most luscious green tree varieties: pines, pineapple plants, mango trees and beautiful bushes. In this breadbasket within Africa lies the Jinga region that includes fantastic outdoor adventure sporting led by white water rafting the famous and fabulous Nile. It is challenging class 3, 4, 5 water and I admit not a single boat in our group survived every rapid. All boats with experienced rafters turned over at some point during the day, at LEAST once. But that’s a story for another day.

This tale, the lesson of this weeks travels, begins as we observe a simple one man dug out wooden canoe, perhaps 8 feet long, low in the water heading past us paddling UPSTREAM with a load of what appears to be sand piled in the middle of the primitive craft. At first we don’t think much of it. Suddenly we noticed this paddler was using a SHOVEL for a paddle. Yes, a shovel – the type normally found at Home Depot and used for digging trenches, much heavier and unbalanced than a fiberglass paddle – was now used as a canoe paddle. Stacia asks our raft guide, a tall handsome and ripped Ugandan man of about 25, whose quite dark complexion characteristic of Ugandans generally, has been darkened further still by the constant sun in his employ as a raft guide, if perhaps we should offer him one of our paddles. Our guide tells us why he didn’t use a paddle…

As it turns out, the canoe paddler is a Nile River sand digger. He takes his boat out daily and ties to a set of empty plastic water bottles where he has obviously marked his “spot.” Once there and tethered, he dives down 6 meters, fighting the current, with a bucket and shovel where he fills his bucket with sand off the Nile River bottom. Down 20 feet, he holds his breath and shovels sand until he needs to either surface for more air, or leaves his shovel on the bottom when he comes up and dumps his bucket of sand in his carved canoe. He repeats this routine until the canoe is near sinking with sand, at which point he brings his shovel to the surface and uses it to paddle his load of sand to shore, of course still against the Nile’s notable current. He will perform this ritual dive 15- 20 times today until he has filled his bosses pickup truck with sand, truck resting on shore.

What does this man earn for this toil, you might ask?

Oh…about 40 dollars per day, $280 dollars for the week. Of course, less expenses for renting the bucket and shovel.

Seeing and hearing how many people in the world live is powerful “appreciation tonic”, and a living life lesson about how fortunate everyone at home is to have won the genetic lottery. It is for that reason I chronicle the story here. Thanks for listening, and enjoy your weekend.

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