Waking before the dawn

Sunrise over Kazinga Channel

I wrote this while I was on safari in Queen Elizabeth Park.

The stars must be a billion campfires floating in the night sky because the play of light and dark captivates me like only a warm fire can. Every micron of light is magical, as it swirls and glides through the universe towards earth and this moment, as I stand on a small hill above the vernal plains home to Lions, Leopards, and Elephants.

We drive out before the sun begins its climb above the horizon to look for these animals. Being a person who rarely wakes before the dawn I forget how extraordinarily the sun presents the new day to all of life. This morning it shaded the entire savannah with undertones of pink.  While the white trunks of the Acacia trees seemed to absorb the entire splendor, reflecting the changing sky back to the sun.

The Tourist Bubble

Congo Border

This river is the border between Uganda and the DRC.

Today was my last day as a tourist for the next three weeks.  It has been great being guided around Kampala and now the savannah.  I have seen so many things.  At Queen Elizabeth Park, 10 hours drive from Kampala, we spotted many elephants, hippos, zebras, boks (a gazelle), water buffalo and one lion.  We were the only ones to catch a sighting of a lioness as she shaded herself under a bush.  A good day is just one sighting of a lion. How interesting to gauge the luck of a day by just one animal.

My first animals was the Zebra as we passed another game park. The Zebras were intermingling with a herd of cows, so the cow herder let me walk with him towards the zebras.  I was just 20 feet away from the Zebra’s as they chewed grass with their cattle cousins.  My first big animal was a herd of elephants, including a “tiny” elephant about 1 week old.  I was so excited, especially as it was pouring rain and pounding wind just a few minutes before we spotted them.  They were maybe 20 feet from the car.  I realized in that moment just how much we take for granted the wildness of these animals if we only ever see them in the zoo. However, it wasn’t until I saw the lion, not 15 min drive on a slow road from my hostel, did I realize how dangerous the savannah really is for people, though really its more dangerous for the animals then for me. Then today I stepped in the muddy footprint of an Elephant and I was again reminded of just how insignificant I am in this landscape.

Tomorrow we drive to Buhoma, which is near Bwindi (the most south western part of Uganda). There I will stay for the next 20 days working with the pygme tribe called the Batwa.  It will be very mountainous and “cold” though I think it will likely not get below 70.  I will be glad to get out of the bubble and join the rhythm of a community.  Part of me was grateful for the tourist bubble I was isolated in, as the bombardement of new sights, sounds, and life has been a constant.

Today as we took a rest, from the 110 km drive on a dirt road with potholes big enough to hide that baby elephant, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) border was pointed out to me.  As we sat by the Ishasha river, a campsite for tourists visiting the park, the DRC border was just on the other bank.  I guess I expected more armed guards and people on alert, versus the serene river and the playing hippos.  We did spot the soldiers compound just a few minutes away from the camp site.  With the DRC and Rwanda so close, the reality of human vulnerability is hard to push away, and for that matter the vulnerability of our humanity.

As I left the Church of Uganda’s Bishop’s office in Kampala, I prayed, ” Please God let me hear and see what you called me here to see. May I tell the stories that you wish me to tell.” I prayed for strength and vision.