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Umoja Festival Bonanza

I love the last quarter of the year, well starting from September (who doesn’t love September except that hallucinating Greenday guy)….It’s always usually so “like kool” filled with parties, meeting “summers”, old friends back for Christmas, the sales in most shops, and the festivals! The best part of it, the FOOD whoa! Another story-

The time of endless festivals is upon us again now that the year is concluding. As usual- some are terrific with lots of variety. These last months is when we see well-proclaimed  international artists making there way down here for over- rated, over charging, anti-climactic shows among others. And local artists fighting to launch their albums before the next year. We are not complaining. We love them and we will keep on going even when we grumble all the way.

But there are actually some REALLY GOOD less hyped-up shows that are most often free and extremely entertaining. Like the Umoja Flying Carpet festival that happened a couple of weeks back and ended with a grand show at the Ndere Center on Friday September 30. For those who missed all the shows Umoja Flying Carpet amalgamates about 80 artistes from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Norway performing with a live band in the area of music, dance, circus and acrobatics.

It was nice to see an mix of different cultures express themselves differently in their music and dances. Who said white girls cant dance? These ones from Norway could give Beyonce a run for her money! From contemporary dances to mixes of hiphop- the girls brought the roof down.

Another fascinating group were the acrobats from Ethiopia. Ive never been humans being tossed up in the air so high like bags of maize! They got the whole crowd gasping with Ohs and Ahs of amazement. Their flexibility is out of this world like this contortionist who did a whole 360° circle with her legs while partially lying on her chest!

The festival ended with a bang with a wonderful display of fireworks and everyone joining the dancers on the stage for the last dance. What a way to enjoy and celebrate music dance and acrobatics from all around the world.

Till late next year, we will surely be looking out for the Umoja Flying Festival!

Rwanda, popularly known as the Land of a Thousand Hills is a beautiful, lush and scenic country located in East Africa. With Tanzania in the east, Uganda in the north, D.R. Congo in the west and Burundi in the south, the landlocked country geographically covers part of the western arm of the Great Rift Valley that extends from Ethiopia, through the heart of East Africa-down to Mozambique. Like other East African counties, the Rift valley has blessed Rwanda with amazing and varied geographical features unique to the country. The Western and Central Rwanda is dominated by volcanic mountains, giving the image of a thousand hills sinking into mist-filled valleys between. This elevation gives most of the country a cool temperate climate and provides enough rain to leave the country intensively green all year round giving the impression of “Eternal Spring”. The Eastern part of the country is characterized by more moderate slopes rolling in to the great east African plains and swamps, home to the varied wildlife. Rwanda is also noted for its stunning lakes including the deep crater Lake Kivu, Burera, Ruhondo, Muhazi, Rweru and many more smaller lakes.

The diversity of Uganda’s landscape is all attributed to the Great Rift Valley, twin cracks in the Earth’s crust that carve through East Africa from the Red Sea to Mozambique for a distance of 3,500km. In Uganda this amazing geographical feature is 500km long located on the Western border. The Rift Valley is dotted with a collage  of mountainous escarpments, volcanoes, gorges,swamps, grasslands, hot springs, lakes and rivers! 25% of the country is covered by water with famous features like Lake Victoria- the world’s second largest fresh water lake, River Nile- the world’s longest river starts its 6,500km journey north at Jinja and what most people don’t know, about 200 crater lakes dotted on the Rift valley like blue gems on a giant green quilt.

Some of these lakes contain fresh water, and others lacking inlets or outlets are saline filled with mineral salts. The most famous of them are the Katwe twin craters found in Kasese in Queen Elizabeth National park- well not exactly in the park but bordered in three directions by the park.

At this location coarse salt is still mined the way it was done over 500 years ago. Men, women and children all work at the mines for a paltry income. Workers extract three main products from the lake: blocks of rock salt used in curing hides; high-quality salt crystals that can be sold as table salt; and salty mud that is used as salt licks for cattle. The highest paid workers- the men get only UGX 60,000 per week, about USD 25. Children have to quit school to help their families in the salt pans.

Working in such an environment surrounded in pool filled with ammonia, sodium, sulfur all year round is not healthy. The coarse salt eats through any opening on the skin and people use super glue, tire straps and even condoms to protect them from the harsh conditions.

The Katwe salt pans which were highly regarded as precious metal during pre-colonial times and the kingdoms of the Great Lakes fought to control them. Before the advent of Arab slave traders, the salt was one of the main goods bartered by the Long distance traders. Today it is not quite as lucrative as it was in the past but the locals still mine the salt in the same way they did years ago.

Since the area is adjacent to the park, buffaloes, antelopes, and elephants frequent the pans to lick the salty soils. The bird life is amazing with flamingo’s showing up in their hundreds when conditions are conducive. Guides charge a small fee for an informative talk about the whole industry.

Next time you are on the Kasese road, just branch over and view this interesting community. You don’t even have to pay park fees because it is outside the park

LMAO- NOT!!!!

If i was in another country looking at all the circus-show-like headlines coming from our daily papers everyday, it would be my favorite comedy dose. Sometimes i even laugh, but that leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth because the joke’s on me. The common Ugandan. Ok. Lets have a re-carp of what am talking about. We don’t have to go very far. Just this week.

Monday. When our dear leader was discussing sky rocketing commodity prices in Arua he suggested that those complaining could be ‘sick’.Well it seems the health ministry should beef up on their facilities- or is it Butabika- 98% Ugandans are in jeopardy We need medical/psychiatric HELP!

And then we suddenly hear he is planning to go back to the Mabira issue and GIVE -Ladies and gentlemen you heard me right. GIVE OUT FOREST LAND to a sugar mogul. This is what he said. “Lugazi plantation should expand as they had planned, before they were stopped by the riots of (Kitgum woman MP, Ms Beatrice) Anywar and her group by getting the degraded forest land they had wanted,” the President said. This was during the NRM MPs most recent caucus. This time at least they defied these statements with others threatening to quit the party. Well, until NAADS envelopes are passed around the whole group including the opposition.

So State House organizes a tour (someone here in the background shouts “OUR MONEY”) to the degraded land in Mabira forest. It was led by the Enviroment Minister Hon.Flavia Nabugere.They drive to the forest, get guides and take a nature walk-sorry nature drive into the forest looking for these degraded areas. But after 2 hours of driving through the narrow paths, Alas. Nothing! They were met with lush green for miles on end. Someone once said that if you planted a walking stick overnight in the soil of Uganda, it would take root before the morning dawned.It must have been a hilarious sight! By the time the journalists gave up the search our Hon Minister had abandoned the group and was in her hotel in Mukono sipping on some sugar-laden coffee. The irony! Ms Nabugere insisted she had seen the missing trees and defended the proposed give away of part of Mabira.“The parts that I passed I could see some free and bare places at a distance,” she said. “If a nation is to develop, it must exploit the environment. (pregnant pause) This is the ENVIRONMENT MINISTER speaking. WOW! I wish i was South Sudanese right now. I would be in hysterics!

And then- maybe they didnt hear about the above news, but yesterday Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi faced parliament to explain the Mabira issue.He refused to give straight answers, and only told a stormy Parliament that the government was drafting a policy on degazetting the “degraded” part of the forest to be used for other purposes. Mbu he was more shifty than that Sirkumstance guy who “bees” on Radio some Saturdays.(but this ka background guy with his bu-side comments) Of course opposition would not swallow. “The Minister should stop dodging the question. What we want to know is whether the President said he was going to give away the forest or not,” Mr Mafabi said. “If it’s true, then don’t you think the best thing to do would be to plant trees in that degraded part of the forest? This is a water catchment area and cannot be given to investors just like that. There must be a process to follow.” Why isn’t this guy the Environment minister? Okay why isn’t The MAN our Environment minister?

Banange, in case you didn’t know rainforests like Mabira et al , are home to two thirds of all living animals and plant species of the planet. It has been estimated that many hundreds of millions of new species of plants, insects and micro-organisms are still undiscovered.

Mabira is one of the only Two places in East Africa where the beautiful Tit Hylia bird has been recorded. It is also one of the few places in Uganda where the localized Forest Hoopoe, Leaflove, Weyn’s Weaver and Nahan’s Francolin are regular!

Tropical rainforests are called “Jewels of the Earth” and are referred to as the world’s largest pharmacy. This is because of the large amount of natural medicine discovered. there.

They also play a major role in the Global carbon cycle. They are stable carbon pools. Clearance of a forest leads to increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide which leads to increase of atmospheric temperatures in other words Global Warming. Rainforests are the Earth’s Lungs!

Rainforests further cool the air that passes through them. When hot winds pass through the forest the are released cooler than they had been since they soak up moisture from the forest canopy.They are further characterized by huge amounts of rainfall- and in these drought-prone days we really need all the rain we can get.

Mabira is a great recreation area where you can go to escape the chaos of Kampala and Jinja. Conviniently located a couple hours from town it’s a great place to indulge yourself and relax. The setting is amazing, and being in the middle of the forest makes you feel far away from reality, despite being only a couple of km from the main road. The place is good for nature walks, mountain biking, bird watching and picnics with family.

We need this forest. If it goes we shall all suffer. SAVE MABIRA!. SAY NO TO FOREST GIVE- AWAY!

Sunbirds

Sunbirds are tiny jewels of the Old World Tropics. Most are forest birds but others can be found in vegetation patches like the Variable Sunbird, Marico sunbird, Green- headed sunbird etc Many species possess glittering iridescent colors.They are small with long pointed beaks typical of their nectar feeding habits. With these they are often mistaken for their Western cousins the Hummingbirds. Sunbirds will hover at flowers, but they don’t fly backwards like Hummingbirds.

If you have a Bucket list and you haven’t written this one on it- Grab a paper and write a new one with this as number ONE! Conquering the longest river on the world- a 30km adrenalin-filled journey down the Nile. The source of the Nile like any beginning of a river is characterized with some of the world’s biggest rapids, I dare you. One weekend when UMEME has load-shed you for 24 bleating hours, cut a wire. Pick up that phone, make that appointment and head to Jinja for the most amazing day of your life!

Most of you know the Nile from the Owen’s Falls Bridge and then from school trips to jinja where you had your picnics at Bujagaali Falls.

This my friends, is like taking a 10 year-old kid to the world’s greatest Amusement park and just showing them the rides. Then back home….off to bed!

I’ve done it twice and OH YEAH! I’ll do it over and over again! Trust me. Its the most thrilling adventure South of the Sahara.

The adventure begins early- a shuttle picks you up from a designated area, most likely a cafe so that you can have an early coffee and muffin, and then you are off to Jinja. The hard core can add some day-old chicken, goat and liver kebabs- i hear they go well with a hangover.

As soon as you arrive, you are divided into groups, ordered to strip and kitted-up with life jackets, helmets and a paddle. Then you finally get acquainted with the guy who’s leading you to huge grade 3 to 5 rapids! The RaftMaster. Amidst half-hearted cries of “but i don’t know how to swim” and “its sooo cold brrrrrrrrr”, we are ushered down past the Nile High Bungee (but that’s another topic) down to the rafts.

The RaftMaster then gives you a briefing about your whole day on the Nile. He assures that you are wearing High floatation Jackets, and helmets, they have been rafting the Nile for over 28 years and so on. Then on to the boats and off you go. You begin the trip a few meters away from the dam, where the water is deep and gentle. But you hear the wrath of the river roaring- as if challenging you- mocking you at a distance.

The first rapids are gentle between Grade One and Three. These are perfect for Float trips and Jet boarding. Good for families with kids below 15. This is where Mr. RaftMaster flips the raft to get you accustomed to whats coming up later. As the morning cold water hits you and you are trapped under the raft, you will yourself not to panic, wait a few seconds and you get pulled back into the raft. Then off you go!

All the rapids have been named and the RaftMaster explains them and gets you ready to raft over them. Easy Rider, Sibling Rivalry, Bujagaali Falls, Little Gunga and Big brother are the ones you conquer before a lunch break at a tiny Island in the middle of the lake!

Lunch includes delicious sandwiches, fresh juice and hot coffee/tea. After lunch it is a few kilometers of floating by being carried by the current and opportunities to swim in the deep calm waters. Then its back into the raft again to face Wakisi Island falls, Overtime, Retrospect, Super Hole,Bubugo and finally Itanda-The Bad Place!

What a way to tour the Nile. 30kms of the 6650kms-long Nile. The fun ends with a BBQ, free beers and sodas all the way back to Kampala. You get back home and find out UMEME is still playing campersur games of now-you-see-me now-you-don’t. But who cares? By that time your muscles will be sore from all the paddling,you will have made new friends, AND you will still have the buzz from such a great day…..oba the alcohol. Anything works!

 

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