Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Alone at last..

I am sitting here by the fire pit, trying to warm up after a freezing shower. It's quiet as can be except for the bird calls and the wind rustling the trees and it just occurred to me that this is the first time I've been alone in 5 weeks. Sylvia and all the staff have gone home for the evening, there are no other volunteers here tonight. It's just me out here in the forest in the middle of nowhere. I have to admit, I'm kinda loving it!
Tomorrow morning, bright and early, I will be taking some of the orphaned baby chimps for a "bush walk" to get their little muscles moving and growing. Can't wait!

Traveling to Zambia

8.18.09 @ 11:30pm

The plane that carried myself and 11 other Zambians from Johannesburg touched down at the teensy Ndola airport around 6pm yesterday evening. After going through immigration and grabbing my bags (which all happened in the same little cement block), I began pushing my way through the men crowded around the backdoor, eagerly searching for a piece of paper with my name on it. I received an email a few days back stating that my transport for the 4 hour journey to Chimfunshi Sanctuary could no longer come because they do not like to drive at night. I hadn't really come up with an alternate plan, maybe I would just hitch a ride to the closest hostel.. but that idea wasn't very appealing with all my cumbersome luggage. But fortunately, as I was pushing my way through the crowd, a Zambian man with a wide, sweet smiling face appeared out of nowhere and said "ah yoo Jehsikahh?" Christopher had come after all and like an angel, was a comfort and relief to travel the last 4 hours of my tiring 18 hour journey with. He told me all about growing up in Zambia and some of the issues that they are dealing with here. As we drove through the rural northern part of the country we passed mine after mine, where they are extracting cobalt, malachite and copper from the earth. I asked him how it was possible that northern Zambia had remained largely conflict free when just a few km north of us, in the DRC, violence and turmoil is raging over raw minerals (tungsten, tin etc) that fuel the western world's hunger for technological advancement. His reply: "we are not ready to give up our peace" followed by that sweet African musical laugh that you hear so frequently.
About an hour outside of Ndola we began to see bush fires, which seemed to increase in size, intensity and frequency as we drove further. Once the sun had set we drove directly through large fields which had been set ablaze, filling his old truck with dark smoke. I began to drift off around 7pm but was woken by the truck aggressively swerving sharply left and right. Christopher started laughing and said "in Zambia, it is the opposite.. you are drunk if you drive straight". As my vision focused, I could see large sections of the road missing, the remaining asphalt was punctuated by enormous pot holes. All this didn't seem to slow Christopher down though. He maintained his bat-out-of-hell speed even down the last 15 km off road through the bush to the sanctuary. The cacophony created by the rocky trail and his rattling truck was silenced only for a few seconds at a time when the wheels left the ground and we went flying through the air before slamming back down to the ground. At this point I couldn't help but laugh deliriously and we laughed the whole rest of the way to Chimfunshi.

Home in Uganda

8.18.09 @ 10:45am

I got to Entebbe airport this morning safely and quickly. As I made my way through UWEC, stumbling inthe darkness at 4:30am, loaded down with my pack, my Camelbak, my camera equipment case and an enormous African drum, I was nervous as a cat that my transport to the airport wouldn't show. Well that's not exactly true. I knew he would be there; Ugandans are entirely too hospitable and polite to not show up. It's just that I was half expecting African time to kick in and he would come rolling up in his truck at 8am with a big ol' grin on his face.. at which point I would have missed my 7:15 flight. While I waited, a uniformed guard with an AK-47 materialized out of the darkness and asked what I was doing. He wanted to wait with me to ensure my safety and we soon saw James' headlights coming down the hill in the distance. The men helped me load everything in the back of the truck and we were on our way. We passed through various military checkpoints (more armed soldiers, more explanations) and finally arrived at the little Entebbe airport. I managed to save my last 40,000 shillings to pay for my room and transport and was also able to check the drum (hallelujah!) that I insist on hauling all over Africa to bring home to Oteil. I caught up on some zzzz's on the four hour flight to Johannesburg. I stayed out a bit too late last night, having dinner and drinks in town with friends before a very tearful goodbye and catching a ride on a motorcycle back to UWEC. I have to admit that I'm really sad to be leaving Uganda. Of all the places I've traveled, Uganda really holds a special place in my heart.. because of the beautiful, lush land and amazing wildlife, but mostly because of the incredible people that I have met here. Our friend Peace said to us yesterday afternoon "you are lucky because you now have two homes. You will always have a home here with us."

Last day in the rainforest


Today is our last day up in Kibale Rainforest.. and our last day to finish all the work that we have been doing for JGI (Jane GOodall Institute), CSWCT (Chimpanzee Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Trust), UWEC (Uganda WIldlife Education Center) and UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority). Tomorrow we will head back to Entebbe to do a showcase of our work for the directors of these organizations and the team will split to go our separate ways around Africa from there.
We crawled out of our tents extra early this morning and ate what some of us believe to be our very last bowl of porridge in our lives. (I still quite like it although most everyone else can't stand the sight of it by now.) We've been working hard all day.. I've got most of my galleries completed.. now I'm just dealing with the painfully slow internet connection.. makes uploading 90+ images a nightmare! Since we won't have time to get it done today, Conor and I plan on finishing our print ads for CSWCT on the truck during the 12 hour ride back to Entebbe.
Lucy, Katie and I cooked way too much veggie stew for dinner last night so the team had it again for lunch. We also made some really great homemade bread over the fire to go with it which was extremely yummers. After lunch, we had all settled back down behind our laptops and a full on African thunderstorm blew in with a quickness. Everyone was scrambling to get the equipment and wires covered when the rain started pelting down sideways.. Jonathan ran for the generator to get it switched off. The flies on some of our tents came loose in the wind and Leslie and I got soaked as we tried to quickly fix ours.. but we were too late, looks like I'll be sleeping in a wet sleeping bag tonight!
Off to wrestle with the PH gallery..
I love and miss you guys!
Oh yeah.. There's a job opening in the Congo working with gorillas for a digital media person who can speak french. My french conversational skills are seriously lacking after years of being away.. and I don't think Teily would be too keen on me running off to the Congo for a year. But wouldn't that be amazing??

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Chimpanzee Trekking


Today was one of the most amazing days, not only of this expedition, but of my life. Looking back on it, I still can't believe how fantastic it was. I wish I had the time to thoroughly describe my experiences today.. but work is calling and I must be brief!
5 members of our team crawled out of our tents before the sun rose this morning and hiked out through the tea plantations to the UWA headquarters to begin trekking through the rainforest in search of the chimpanzees. We had all prepared ourselves for the hours of hiking ahead and for the possibility of not encountering any of these elusive creatures. Yesterday, the ranger told us that they hiked for 8 hours straight and saw them around 150 yards away at the end of the day. But I didn't care.. I was happy to be heading back into the rainforest. Amazingly enough though, around 7:30am, we had been hiking for 10 minutes or so and all of sudden the quiet of the rainforest morning was shattered by the sound of chimpanzees screaming all around us. We all froze on the trail, absolutely shocked by the powerful chorus of the community (and at our amazing luck!). When the vocalizations died down, we quietly ventured a little ways down the trail and rounded the corner to see a large adult male walking about 15 feet ahead of us. His huge black and silver muscular body was a sight to see so close, and he seemed to not even notice our presence, despite our awkward muzungu feet stumbling across branches and vines. We tried to be as silent as possible as we followed him and he led us directly into the center of the group. As chimps are feeding, they are fairly quiet, so it came as a surprise to all of us when we looked up and saw chimps of every age and sex all around us, staggered throughout the trees. One subadult male was about 10 feet from me, casually feeding on the palm tree seeds that they adore so much. Little infants were scampering through the tree tops just above him, their mothers feeding and lounging nearby. WIthin this particular community, there are 120 members, 20 of which are large adult males. Quite a few of those males were within the vicinity, and several times they broke into their display behavior, crashing through the trees and beating on anything nearby as we ran to get out of the line of fire. It was remarkable how swiftly an entire community can move through the forest.. after a relatively quiet feeding session, one by one they began to disappear and before we knew it we were running through the dense rainforest, leaping over fallen trees and crawling through the undergrowth, tripping over vines and scraping through sharp foliage, in a desperate attempt to keep up. The government limits the amount of time that humans are allowed to be with the chimps in the wild. We definitely overstayed our welcome, and after a couple hours, turned to hike back to headquarters. On our way back, one young female was lounging in a patch of sunlight right in the middle of the trail. We all stopped and studied her beautiful face before she nonchalantly and fluidly stood up and disappeared back into the forest. I feel so fortunate to have been able to be inside their world today. Its something that I will never ever forget.

After chimp trekking we spent our afternoon doing something almost equally as amazing... we met back up with our team, loaded up on Nox and drove to a primatologist named Julia Lloyd's "compound", nestled deep in the forest. Julia is a British woman who has been living in Uganda since the early 90s, researching ecotourism, chimpanzee habituation and conservation. It was fascinating to be able to see a primatologist working in the field who has so successfully melded her lifestyle to meet that of the locals. Her living/work space consists of 3 huts, one is her office, one is her home, and one is a guest house. Keeping her company are 4 rescue dogs, all just as quirky as you can imagine an African rescue dog to be. Julia is such a breath of fresh air in her objective perspective of conservation issues in Uganda.. After traveling around for the last 4 weeks, meeting various conservation organizations, all possessing unique and somewhat political agendas, it was great to meet an individual who is such a "heavy hitter" in the conservation world who has managed to have her research work successfully impact conservation without forming alliances. She's the real deal. What an inspiration..
More to come! Once I finish my web work! Love you all bunches!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

UWA Community Projects


In an effort to protect the rainforest and all of it's inhabitants, the Ugandan Wildlife Authority has invented various methods of providing alternate means of income and energy, while simultaneously increasing national pride, for the local villages surrounding Kibale. As a source of income, locals are resorting to the bushmeat trade, laying snares and mantraps for catching duikers and bushpigs. Chimpanzees, gorillas, and other primates inadvertently get trapped and unless rescued, die of sepsis, gangrene, loss of blood or as prey to other animals in their weakened state. To help provide different sources of revenue, UWA has worked with women of the local villages to sell their (sustainable) crafts (baskets, jewelry, wood carvings etc) in tourist hotspots, establishing beehives in local villages to produce beeswax, shoe polish, furniture polish, candles etc, digging ponds for fish farming, planting pineapple fields and so on.. Also, the local farmers have been having problems with elephants destroying their crops, so the UWA has worked with the farmers to dig trenches lining the perimeter of the rainforest to prevent the elephants from passing over. After our team had a morning meeting with the Conservation Officer of UWA, a few of us were fortunate enough to be able to travel out to some of the villages to witness firsthand the projects that have been set up.
Half of our film team, our 2 anthropologists, our project coordinator and myself packed into the back of a UWA ranger's green pick up truck for the considerable rides through the rainforest and between villages. To say the ride was bumpy would be an enormous understatement.. I think a lot of us are going to have bruises as our bodies took the hits while we tried to protect our camera equipment! As more UWA officials piled on at each stop, we packed in more tightly in the bed of the truck. At one point, I counted 12 people around me. I lucked out for most of the day and was able to stand up right behind the cab and hang on to the roll cage as we sped down the dusty roads in the hot African sun. I honestly felt like I was in a movie.. while we were traveling to the rural villages on the outskirts of the forest, we drove through some absolutely unreal scenery, huge mountain ranges on either side, bright green tropical forest against the red roads and bright blue skies.. At one point, David, who was standing next to me, hanging on for dear life, hollered over the wind "Jess I bet you never get to do this in America!" There have been many times during this expedition that I have felt so empowered. This day was definitely one of them.

Going on Safari

8/8 - 8/9/09: Queen Elizabeth National Park

Our team has been working extremely hard these last couple of weeks, and the work is no where near finished.. but we all decided to head to Queen Elizabeth National Park this past weekend to go on safari and have a wee holiday (I've been hanging out with British folks too much huh?) I'll have to keep this brief because the amount of work I have to finish in the next 4 days has got me all sorts of wound up.. I have to build a section of the website for PH and retouch tons of images for the anthro and edu teams to use on their sections of the website.. not to mention the PH daily blog and features...
Ok so- Safari: saw elephants, buffalo, warthog, gazelles, kudu, a lioness, a leopard, hyenas etc etc.. There is a "loft" type deal behind the cab of Nox, which opens up on top so you can hang out the roof and take photos from about 25 feet up. I hung out there all day photographing and got a great tan.. But that's about all I got. I really have a renewed respect for wildlife photography in Africa. It's so difficult to get a great image! One day, when I can afford it, I would like to hire a driver/truck/with a tripod mounted in the bed, rent the appropriate equipment (I need a lens that is about 3 times the one I use now) and take a few weeks of doing nothing but safari photography. I haven't actually made it through the images yet, so maybe I've got something.. we'll see. I'll be sure to post some when I do!
We ran out of gas to cook with, so we've been cooking all three meals a day on an open fire (which takes about 3 hours or more), so when my turn to cook for the team comes around I can pretty much kiss my work day goodbye.
Camping in Queen Elizabeth was amazing.. the climate was different from the damp, cool weather in the rainforest that we've been in this last week.. we were back in a more arrid spot (and personally, I was loving it).. we pitched our tents beside Lake Edward and as soon as we arrived, saw hippos in the water. Hippos are the 2nd biggest (animal) killer in Africa (behind the mosquito of course).. and everyone was wary of wandering off from the campfire that night.. we could hear the hippos all around us. One of my fellow web teammates, Conor, got out of his tent in the middle of the night to tink and came back to find a hippo standing directly in front of the opening of his tent (which was about 10 feet from mine). He quickly got back to Nox and was clinging on to the side before he was able to break into the back of the truck and get out of danger. Unfortunately he had to sleep in the back of Nox because the hippo wasn't moving. In the morning, everyone said they could hear the enormous creatures munching around their tents all night long.. I was so exhausted I didn't wake up once though.
We also had another creature to be wary of in Queen Elizabeth. There were large, netted traps set up throughout our campsite.. it's victims: the tsetse fly. The tsetse fly causes "sleeping sickness".. that's all I can remember from my African Issues course from my Zoology program.. When I have some time I want to look into it more.. All I know is that I managed to not get bit by one during the course of the weekend, but when we were all loaded up in the back of the truck and headed back to Kibale on Sunday, I felt a sharp bite on my ankle and looked down to see a nice plump Tsetse fly make his escape. Luckily, I haven't fallen into a coma yet, so I think we're good. :)
To and from Queen Elizabeth, we crossed the equator. On the way back, we hopped out to take a snap...

Catching up.....


So it's been a few days (ok almost a week) since I've had a chance to sit down for longer than five minutes and write in.. my apologies family! It's been a really amazing week though, filled with rainforest treks, working with local school children, visiting remote villages, sleeping in a treehouse deep in the rainforest, going on safari, camping at 3 different amazing campsites and sleeping in a tent surrounded by hippos!

On Wednesday, Leslie (primatologist), Gemma and Katie (video crew) and myself decided to book the treehouse at Chimp's Nest for the night. Although it was pretty rustic, it was absolutely glorious having a warm bed with clean sheets, blankets and a pillow. The treehouse was deeper into the rainforest than our team's campsite was, so we hiked in about 20 minutes before we rounded the corner of the trail and the circular treehouse, about 75 feet up in the canopy came into view. We climbed the near vertical staircase up and threw down our packs to explore the tiny living space up in the canopy. The staff had lit a fire to warm 50 liters of water for our showers (yay for hot showers!) and the water smelled strongly of wood smoke. There was a window looking out into the treetops in the shower and as I washed 3 days of dirt off, a monkey (I believe it was a L'hoest) scampered across the limb a few feet from the window! To my delight (and my teammates horror) there was a fluorescent orange snake on the front porch too. After our showers, we hiked back up to Nox to have dinner with the rest of our team, had a beer at the thatched hut bar at Chimp's Nest and hiked back (accompanied by a guide for "protection") to our treehouse. We all fell asleep under our mosquito nets on our soft comfortable, clean beds, listening to the sounds of the rainforest.

The Primate Handshake is working with OLPC (One Laptop Per Child), an organization that is supplying laptops to schools in underdeveloped countries. An American guy named Ian Wrangham who is working at Kassisi Primary School, a couple hours from our campsite, won a grant for 100 of OLPC's "XO" laptops. We've had 2 of the little green laptops on our expedition for our team to fiddle around with.. so we went to Kassisi to work with the school children and receive feedback about their operating system and software for OLPC.. and our web team is working on developing some new software and games for the OLPC. Every time we've visited a school, interacting with the children has been such an amazing experience for all of us, but Thursday was particularly magical. Walking into a dark, cement school house room, packed with 90 students all huddled around their little glowing screens, grinning ear to ear, you can't help but be a bit taken aback. There isn't any electricity, they work by the little sunlight coming in from a few small windows, the 1400 children at the school are fed porridge for lunch every day.. the cards are certainly stacked against them, but their education is being enhanced so much by these little machines. The children were so excited to "show off" what they could do on their laptops. It was fascinating watching what they had already learned in the 3 weeks that they had had access to their computers.. A lot of the children at Kasiisi are orphans, but with the XOs, children in developing countries worldwide have been able to go home and teach their parents, grandparents or aunts & uncles how to read and write. How amazing is that?

To check out Ian Wrangham's blog and the Kasiisi children's progress go to:

Rainforest Trek

The handshakers dressed in the chilly darkness of the early morning, eager to make our way into the misty rainforest of Kibale National Park. As we ate our breakfast of porridge, assembled in a circle under the hut, everyone glanced up as the sounds of chimpanzee hoots rose up from the forest. Somewhere below us, a community of chimps were crawling groggily out of their night nests ready to begin foraging for fruits. It was exciting knowing that chimpanzee groups were so close.. and the prospect of seeing them in the wild today in Kibale! After a short hang up (Nox's battery died), we were on our way, passing through the tea plantations as the sun rose higher in the morning sky. We pulled into the rainforest and were again greeted by a troop of baboons lingering on the outskirts of the road. Nox pulled up under a few large avocado trees and we all filed out to begin our trek.

Our team was split up into groups of five and assigned a particular guide through the forest. Our guide, Harriet, was one of the few female rangers at Kibale and has been trekking the forest for 10 years. She was extremely knowledgeable about all the medicinal plants and trees (especially the aphrodisiacs!), the wide spectrum of wildlife and all the signs of their existence (animal tracks, dung, signs of feeding, traveling through etc....) within the rainforest.

As we followed the (surprisingly narrow) path that the elephants had taken, we discovered that the elephants found in Kibale are actually savannah elephants (as opposed to forest elephants). Prior to the 1970's, the elephants traveled freely through Kibale up to Sudan. However, due to human encroachment, around 600 elephants have become trapped within the forest. Savannah elephants are larger in size than forest elephants, but they clearly have adapted to the more dense surroundings of the rainforest. Farmers who have cultivated the land surrounding the rainforest, along with the Ugandan Wildlife Authority, have dug huge trenches to deter the elephants from wandering onto their property and destroying their crops. Elephants began to push the earth back to form bridges out of the forest, so now the farmers have turned to using guns to protect their livelihood.

We hiked alongside their enormous footprints embedded in the soggy earth and spotted an array of primates including black and white colobus, grey cheeked mangabey and red tailed and l'houest monkeys. (No chimpanzee sightings, but we did see a lot of their seed-filled dung!) All around us were trees with enormous buttresses that the chimps beat on to communicate with one another. A rainbow of butterflies fluttered through the shafts of light that slanted through the canopy. Dung beetles sat perched on their prizes and colorful birds called their distinct vocalizations as they streaked through the trees. Lying on the side of the trail were two large African snails in the process of mating. At first glance, their beautiful oblong twisting shells seemed oddly out of place in the middle of the rainforest, better suited for a beach somewhere. But all around us were other-worldly creatures, their lives intricately intertwined in this complex ecosystem.

A few days before I left for the Primate Handshake expedition, Oteil asked me if I knew what made a rainforest a rainforest (besides the obvious answer). I stumbled through my answer, vaguely recalling my Zoology courses in college and immediately went inside to look it up. Today, I was able to see firsthand that damp, verdant, magical place that so many exotic species call home. I am certain that no definitions or descriptions can do the Ugandan rainforest justice. I felt so privileged to have a peek inside such a mystical place on this planet.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Lara Croft

Some of my fellow teammates have taken to calling me Lara Croft. They say that I look like her with my crisscrossed camera straps, big lens balanced on my shoulder, my Lara Croft-esque clothes and my braids and bandanas. Here's a shot that Kirsty took of me photographing on Myende Island the other day...

Slaughtering Chickens

I'm sitting here at the Chimp's Bar waiting for my lunch that I ordered over 2 hours ago. You really have to get over that impatient American "let's do this RIGHT now" thing in Africa. Everything is in "Africa time".. you just have to smile, find somewhere comfortable to sit and be patient. I saw that they had some form of fried chicken on the menu, and after day after day of mounds of vegetables and rice/pasta/beans, the southerner in me wasn't going to pass that up. But when I actually ordered it, the owner said that he would have to go out back and slaughter the chicken and that it would take 3-4 hours until it was ready. It's funny, I can easily gobble down some good ol' fried chicken.. but when someone actually says they have to go out back and slaughter that chicken to make it, I'm not so keen on taking that chickens life just for my lunch. I hoped that after eating vegetarian for weeks I would be able to stick to it this time, we'll see how it goes!

12 hours to Kibale

August 1st

Yesterday was our first official travel day and we rolled out of camp at 5:45 am, before the sun had risen to warm and brighten the day. Everyone was excited about our 12 hour journey across southern Uganda to Kibale National Park. We passed the hours chatting with one another, taking turns sampling each other's music on Nox's sound system, reading our various primate books and sprawling out on top of each other for a good snooze. At noon, we stopped for lunch on the side of the road and everyone worked quickly to chop up avocado, tomato, onion and cucumber for our sandwiches and some fresh pineapple for dessert. Conor plugged his Ipod up and we grooved to some Thievery Corporation and munched on our veggie sandwiches in the shade of our huge truck.Soon we were back on the road and thanks to Steve, making great time. We pulled into Kibale National Park around 6pm, the windy drive having passed quickly. As Nox navigated down the little dirt roads curving and cutting through the rainforest, the local children came running towards the truck waving and smiling, eager to catch a glimpse of the mazungus inside. On the outskirts of the forest, we passed large expanses of land that had been cultivated for tea plantations. We all turned in our seats, balancing on our knees to check out the amazing view across the rolling hills of row after row of tea leaves, the misty rainforest in the distance.
Nox rolled deeper and deeper into Kibale and the damp, earthy scent of the rainforest enveloped our truck, a striking contrast to the arrid climate at UWEC... we had made it to chimpanzee stomping grounds, a place many of us had only read about in books. Kibale National Park is the primate hotpot in Africa. There are 13 different primate species that call Kibale home, as well as forest elephants, lion, leopard, buffalo, hippo, warthog, sitatunga, bushbuck and over 335 bird species.We spotted baboon troops immediately, they sat huddled in pairs at the edge of the red dirt road, studying our enormous yellow truck with their dark beady eyes. The sun rays were slanting through the canopy and our eyes were scanning the tree tops for any trace of chimpanzees. We drove past a sign for "Chimps Nest", where we would be camping, and Leslie and I looked at each other and grinned, we couldn't help ourselves. For many of us, we have been reading and studying about the African rainforest for years. It is a dream coming true.

Our campsite is fantastic.We pitched our tents in a clearing surrounded by 8 ft. + grasses. After getting camp set up and cooking dinner, we broke out the box wine and split up into teams for a little trivia party, hosted by Kirsty and Fiona. Everyone seemed to have had a good nights sleep, soothed by the sound of the rain pattering on our tents. When we woke this morning, the sun was emerging from behind the storm clouds, warming the day quickly.There is a trail cut through the grasses up to a thatched roof bar and restaurant that looks out over the rainforest. This is where we will be set up working in the coming days. More to come soon!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Evil Ants

Yesterday I wasn't feeling so hot.. pretty sick to my stomach during the night (which sucked because it was pouring rain and flooding my tent) and weak and dizzy during the day. Around noon, I grabbed my roll mat out of my tent and walked down to a nice shady spot under a tree to lay down and chill out. I took some rehydration salts and began to feel a bit better.. thank God. I was mildly panicking because I knew that it was a 12 hour, very bumpy trip back to Kampala to a doctor.. I think that it may have been the spicy dinner and wine I had the night before, combined with the extreme heat, being dehydrated and the big altitude change. I've been drinking tons of water since I got to Uganda, but I didn't drink much on our travel day because I didn't want to make the team have to stop every hour because of my teeny bladder. I didn't realize how quickly you could get dehydrated here though!
Anyways, so the whole point of all of that was that I was hanging up some laundry down under the tree that I was relaxing under yesterday and I made it all the way back up to the campsite before I realized that there were ants biting and crawling all over me! They managed to get down into my boots, up my pant legs and all over my stomach and arms. The ants here are pretty big and they have really big claw like mouths that bite onto you like a tick and won't let go. I've never been attacked by an army of ants before... ahhhh new experiences..


Hey guys!! Sorry I haven't been able to write in a few days. After taking over the writing for the expedition, I've been busy with updating the PH website & such.. Here is a feature I wrote about Myende Primary School, where we spent the day last Friday.....

Our team woke just before the sun peeked her face out from behind the horizon to the sound of chimpanzee vocalizations this morning. There was excitement in the air as our team savored the pancakes that David and Bethan had prepared. Today, we would be traveling to an island on Lake Victoria to see the local school's environmental drama competitions to be held at Myende Primary School.

Our team, as well as the judges selected for the competition, made the 1.5 hour journey to the island on a long wooden "slow boat". As the boat moved further out into Lake Victoria, storm clouds began to gather in the south. In the distance, we could see the pelting rain that caused the waters to grow increasingly rough. Soon our narrow boat was pitching back and forth and the faces of a few team members were growing a pale shade of green. Fortunately, after a short while, the storm broke as quickly as it came. Brilliant rays of light shot through the dark clouds illuminating our first destination, Ngamba Island. There, in typical warm and hospitable Ugandan fashion, we were treated to coffee, tea and cookies which revived us significantly and we were back on the boat for the short trip to Myende.

When we approached the island, faces of some of the local villagers who had come down to the shore to greet us came into focus. Men with their brightly colored fishing boats were scattered down the beach, pulling neon green nets out of the hulls. After descending a precarious wooden ladder, we were lead up the small path that cut through the humble little fishing village to the highest point on the island. Our team was seated like royalty under a breezy tent, a prime position to enjoy the days festivities. We sat waiting patiently for the performances to commence and were joined by an elderly lady dressed in traditional Ugandan clothes. Everyone's gaze was drawn to this enigmatic woman. It turns out that lady, Nekimbugwe Christin, donated the land on which Myende Primary School was built. The land was passed down from her father to her brothers, all of whom died of AIDS, leaving Nekimbugwe with the responsibility of raising all of their children. The local government-aided school was 15 miles away and the children of the island were unable to travel that distance every day by boat. Our anthropology team spoke with Alonsio Omerikit, the director of the Myende school. His collaboration with Nekimbugwe Christin drastically changed the lives of the children on that island when the Myende Primary School was born. Neighboring Ngamba Island, where the CSWCT Chimpanzee Sanctuary is located, has contributed significantly to aid in the growth and development of the school through donations of textbooks, desks, blackboards and uniforms. As a result, the children are very invested in their environmental studies and are learning about local conservation issues. This interest spawned the first annual Environmental Drama Competitions, bringing in 6 schools from 4 neighboring islands to participate.

Our team was extremely impressed with the caliber of acting from these little children. There were dramatic interpretations of everyday issues that their families deal with, such as hygiene and sanitation, and the relationship problems that they cause. Their plays covered wildlife conservation issues such as poaching, overfishing and the bushmeat trade. There were beautifully choreographed musical performances too. Their little feet kicked up the red dust as they danced and sang in a single file line in the sunlit patch of grass designated as the stage. The various primary schools, easily discernible and grouped together in their brightly colored red, green, white and blue school uniforms were assembled in a wide circle in the shade of several large trees. The Primate Handshake even had a little performance of our own!

Midway through the performances, we were treated to a delightful lunch of rice, veggies, mutake and for the non-veggies amongst us, spicy chicken and beef dishes. We ate our lunches in their red school house while gazing at the walls around us, studying the children's chalk drawings.

When the day's festivities came to a close, the children still showed an astounding amount of energy. They spontaneously broke into song and dance as they made their way back to their respective boats. We walked back down through the village, our surroundings bathed in golden light as the sun dipped low in the sky. The little children clasped their hands with ours and peered up at us curiously when we attempted to hurtle the communication barrier. Our team waited on the beach to board the boat home and everyone from the village, including the chickens, goats, cows and pigs seemed to wander down to see us off. At this point, the school children had worked themselves into a frenzy and were competing in volume and intensity as they sang and danced aboard their boats.

Today was truly a magical day for us all. We were so honored to be included in such a special event for the island children and I am certain that when we lay our heads on our pillows tonight, sweet moments from today will be dancing through our heads.

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