We had no spare time in Uganda, but really wanted to see something….so our last day we woke up at 4:30 am to drive to Jinja, the source of the Nile. The drive was expected to take 2 hours, but shortly after we left Kampala it started to rain. The worst downpour I have ever seen! We were driving at like 10 mph for an hour… When the rain let up we were able to see the small rural towns. We drove through Ugandas largest forest as well as sugar cane and tea plantations. It is a beautiful, green, lush landscape with rolling hills. We drove to a resort that provides boat trips to the source and as we waited for our boat we enjoyed a cup of coffee in a straw hut surrounded by palm trees with a view of Lake Victoria.
The boat was a long wooden canoe type with a canopy on top and a small motor. We claimed in from the “dock” made of rocks and started our short journey. The lake was calm and we were surrounded by the morning fishermen, all in small canoe type boats with on oar and the were fishing with nets or a fishing line (no poles, no lures…just line)
We arrived on a tiny “island” and climbed out of the boat the hear the story. It goes like this… John Speak, a British man, was the first person to identify the source of the Nile. Many had tried and failed before him, but because he spoke many languages, he was able to secure a good local guide and connect with Arabic people who led him around Lake Victoria. Speak began to hear about a small waterfall in Lake Victoira. The local people worshiped this waterfall and believed it was a god. The waterfall had 2 small “islands” on either side of it, so the local people would go and sacrifice their first born to this “god”.
Speak identified this small fall as the source and reported back to England. Missionaries began coming and converting people to Christianity, although many still believed in the waterfall god. This was back in the 1870’s.
In 1952, Uganda built a dam in the Nile to use the water as a source of power. When this happened, the water in the Nile rose and the waterfall disappeared. Now it is just a small area of swirling water. When the waterfall was gone, people still believed in their “god”, but saw him as less powerful. So now instead of sacrificing children, they sacrifice chickens. Also because of missionaries, the current generation has converted to Christianity. Now there are only 6 believers left, who will still come and sacrifice chickens at the source.
What is so interesting, is that this major discovery, this huge piece of history, is just a small island with a single dusty sign, that a few boats travel to every day. I think of the tourism we have here, and how we take advantage, exploit, everyone has to make money from these places in our country, and I appreciate the simplicity of Jinja even more. It is another example of the African culture that I love. Simplicity.
And as I floated down the Nile river, and watched the fishermen in the simple boats, with their piece of string, and as the trees dipped into the river and the flowers bloomed and the women and children washed clothes on the rocks. Small huts were built along the side of the river where the fishermen lived. What is prime real estate for us, only the richest of the rich could live there, were the humble “homes” of some of the poorest in the country.
We think we need so much. We need fancy tourist boats and huge docks and captains in white uniforms. We need fishing boats and depth finders and tackle boxes. Fishing poles, lures, lines and bait that we spend hundreds of dollars on. Yet on the other side of the world, there is a man, sitting in a small wooden boat, with a piece of string, hoping to catch enough fish to feed his family for the day. And maybe sell a few to help pay for school fees or grain.
But this man, poor, aged beyond his years, gets to spend every day floating on this beautiful water, surround by trees and flowers, and birds and monkeys. He gets to gaze at Lake Victoria and feel the sun soaking into his skin. He watches quiet sunrises and sunsets. He does not worry about stock markets and the latest Apple product. He does not get anxious about downsizing and traffic jams and mowing his lawn. I know that he would love a washing machine and refrigerator… he might like a retirement fund and health insurance. So how do we meet in the middle? How do we find the balance between our anxiety and fast pace and his relaxing, peaceful, community focused life. Where we still have the luxury and security of technology, yet know when enough is enough. Will we, as Americans, ever really be able to appreciate the beauty of a sunrise? The gift of flowers growing around us?