Africa Guide
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Guide to Africa

Uganda : Lake Bunyoni place of many little birds

The scenery is an endless one of single-coloured uniforms in red schoolyards, of rusted white trucks piled to overflowing with plantains, workers spread like black tarantulas on top. Sitting on bananas looks harder than balancing on cabbages.

The towns you drive through have one street. The coffin making shop has carefully balanced his wares upright on the roadside, all sizes accounted for. The furniture shop has set up an outdoor lounge with thirty 3-seater couches, incongruously sitting on a dirt and rubbish carpet, stick huts in the background. Some have plastic covers, the thick plastic that people use for their roofing, and the rain makes puddles where you'll put your bottom.

Hair salons are made of plywood and corrugated iron. Painted portraits show African men and women with braided hair saying 'Daisy's Hair Salon.' A peeling caricature of a red-lipped buxom Daisy smiles demurely, scissors aloft in her pink-taloned hand.

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Lake Bunyoni
Lake Bunyoni

To get to Lake Bunyoni you drive around hills on a rutted red mud track. Persistent rain makes the valley so many hues of green and the kids run by the wheels, wanting pens, wanting money, wanting lollies. Their houses are long concrete rooms with men sitting outside.

The roads are beyond bumpy. You can't read a bouncing book and your head bangs the window if you fall asleep. Water bottles roll around and damp dirt-stained towels hang on the back of seats, folding themselves on your knees, not drying.

Go swimming. Swim through the reeds to the where the otters flip. In the heat the water is a heavy silk over your body.

From the water, looking up, the cultivated terraces of Uganda's hilltop villages shimmer with waving rows of green and brown and bent backs of red and blue. On the road women balance tied cloth bundles on their head. The men lazily clutch pangas in their long fingers by their sides. Goats stick to the verge, chewing.

In Africa's deepest lake Africa sings. On a Sunday look to the church on the hill with the cross a sharp silhouette against the blue. Individual voices and single claps are illuminated over the water and you lie in liquid, kilometers away, listening to men and women and children making music with God.

The 5 local boys in their dugout canoe, they can't swim. They show you their catch of opaque-coloured crayfish with transparent shells and ask you for food.

An orphanage overlooks the lake with its splattering of islands. A 16-year-old boy looks after 12 orphans of AIDS. The children wear the dresses you gave to your church collection, ones with ducks outlined in corn-coloured stitches and blue flowers on the hem. Mickey Mouse waves from rags on brown backs. Their black hair is shaved short so they are all wearing the same hairstyle.

People used the video button on their cameras to capture the singing and you hear people listening to it on the truck the next day. Prancing forward or shying back against pushing hands they say their name and sing 'pleased to meet you.' Then they laugh and pull your fingers. Show them their faces on your digital cameras. They sling their arms around your neck, take the glasses from your head and wriggle on your knee.

A girl in a pink dress, her floppy collar has yellow polka dots on it and it hangs over the neck of her pink t-shirt. The t-shirt is embossed with the silhouettes of tall skinny trees, with a helmet of leaves. In front of the trees are the same dark pink outlines of breaking waves. In white and yellow plastic, on top of the trees and water, are a hummingbird and a frangipane flower. The yellow and blue stitched lettering says F.R.E.E G.I.R.L.

My first photo of this girl, her chin is down and her eyes are looking up to me. She's not smiling but her mouth is open like she was thinking about talking. She's holding the wrist of her friend, the girl who led the tribal dance and song.

Now she's leaning against my bare skin and next to my white, her eyes are yellow. Another picture shows her with 3 other kids, holding onto a camera and laughing. A vein is sticking out in her head she is laughing so hard.

Uganda Scene
Uganda Scene

Sitting on steaming dirt, at this concrete shell called an orphanage, learning to play the bongos with a 15-year-old Ugandan girl, feel the heat. It's like you are lying exposed to the hot sun and the air is like you are trapped in a laundry with no windows and there are two clothe dryers on full.

Veins expand out tight and the blood rushes so thin and fast it makes you go slow, like your brain is concentrating on your inner liquid instead of your limbs. You find yourself preparing your body to shift. You think about the leg to lift and how your hand should brace. Your pores span acres of skin and you feel them individually, the skin on your back and neck that normally you forget unless someone is touching it.

And then there's the heavy air. It is only when you go swimming, breathing the air that lies on the surface, the body lightens and breath is plentiful.

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