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Before COVID hit, my wife and I used to travel around East Africa a fair bit, one particular trip I want to chat about this week is when we went to Gulu in Uganda. The place made such an impression on me that I wrote about it in African Vengeance.

Koitalel arap Samoei

The safari was unfortunately due to my brother-in-law’s 95-year-old, blind mother dying of a snake bite in her home in Gulu. It was unfortunate for her having survived Idi Amin’s dictatorship and living in exile in America and Canada for many years only to be bitten by a snake while sat in her compound reading her braille bible. The requests for help were sent out and my wife and I decided to go along and support the family in their hour of need. We flew from Nairobi to Entebbe, then fought the awful traffic to get to Kampala where we were to meet my wife’s sister. Once we had settled, it was decided I would hire a car and then we would drive across country to Gulu. Kampala is a lovely garden city with loads of open spaces. However, there was a large military and police presence with huge, armored vehicles with big machine guns parked on every corner especially at that time during the political campaign period. Democracy is a real luxury that not so many can enjoy.

 

I managed to hire a nice RAV4 from a very friendly hire company. Once I had checked the car over, which is essential in East Africa, we started our journey to Gulu. The drive was about 350 km along the main road stretching from Kampala going north along the spine of the country. The road was fairly good and as soon as we were out of Kampala the roadblocks reduced. When we were about sixty km from Kampala, we noticed the countryside change. There were very few villages, but the earth was dark and fertile and all around us there were plantations growing all manner of fresh vegetables and fruit. The journey was largely uneventful apart from one enormous thunderstorm. The rain came so quickly and heavily we had to stop the car as we could only see a few feet in front. The scenery is beautiful, and the physical features are breathtaking especially the rivers, hills and lakes.

Colonel Meinertzhagen
We reached Gulu at around eight pm and booked into the only hotel in town. The next morning, we went to pay our respects to the family. Apparently, my brother-in-law’s mother was alone in the house when the snake bit her. Her shouts and screams attracted the attention of her nephew who was working on the farm. It was only a matter of minutes before she passed, and there was nothing the family could do as the nearest antivenin was in Kampala over 300 km away! However, the snake was killed after a long search in the home by the relatives who had to burn some tires in order to smoke the creature out. The old lady had been keeping some chickens in her hut for safety and it is thought the snake had entered the house looking for a quick meal.
 
The funeral was set for a few days hence, the formal funeral committee was set up as is the way in Gulu and we were all given our duties. I’m quite good with electricity, so I was awarded the job of setting up and running the generator, as there was no electricity. Many people were expected to attend the funeral as the old lady was very well known in the area with her relatives spread out all over the world, as a result of having been displaced during the war.
 
My brother-in-law is an Acholi, which is a Nilotic tribe linked to its origin from the Nile in Egypt. Their custom is to come from far and wide to attend the funeral. As transport is nonexistent most had walked or caught a bus and then walked. They would be in the village for about a week, so each group set up a temporary structure with a center fire, a small, thatched roof, and a place to sleep.

Under Acholi customs, the funeral of an elderly matriarch entails considerable preparation which had begun in Kampala, then at the local morgue and finally in her home. The body would be displayed in her hut for a full twenty-four hours where people would come and sit and visit her. There are several committees and groups involved to ensure that the funeral process is done with dignity and pomp and a big part of it involved therapy for the bereaved family.
 
There are songs and dance in praise of the deceased, the building of her burial ground, which is like a home, the funeral procession, the daily meetings and sharing of meals and the actual burial and the events thereafter.

I was presented with a generator that had seen better days and would need some nursing to bring back to life, and a jerry can for fuel. I would have to wander the markets of Gulu to find some cabling and lights.

In the next chapter I will be going into more detail about my journey into the Gulu markets and the whole fantastic event that marks the passing of an Acholi matriarch in Gulu and then to Fort Patiko a famous slave trading fort built by the Arabs finally we will visit Murchison falls a spectacular waterfall.

 

We are currently supporting Team Seas which is a project via YouTubers to raise thirty million dollars and take thirty million pounds of trash from the world’s oceans. I am contributing and I hope some of you do too or just pass the message on. This is a wonderful project where we in the social media can really make a difference. You can find them at #TeamSeas.

 

 

Well, that’s about all folks. I hope you enjoyed the first chapter of my trip to Uganda. The next installment will be with the December newsletter so keep an eye on your inbox.
 
Cheers for now
Steve