By Marie Javins, GoNOMAD.com
“What’s that?” I said, pointing to some straw and mud gunk on the side of our
“Hippo shit,” responded my host, nicknamed Herr Marlboro because of his resemblance to the German Marlboro
I hadn’t been aware of this when the hippo had wandered past our bed on the screened verandah the night before. I’d thought rain coming through the screen was our only concern.
I was living with Herr Marlboro in
The Shadow of Idi Amin
Wildlife Making a Comeback
Many of the safari animals were poached and eaten by during the desperate Amin times, but under the protection of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, they are making a comeback. We regularly spotted giraffes, elephants, baboons, monkeys, gazelle, hippos, warthogs, buffalo, crocodiles, and antelope as we went about our daily business.
Occasionally, we’d see a lion, and one night we encountered a pride of ten adult lions and countless cubs. We never spotted a leopard, but often ran into one UWA ranger who excelled at leopard-spotting.
“Just ahead, turn right by the acacia tree—you can’t miss it!”
We always missed it.
Not So Sweet
One day in early September, I got to know a bit more about the hippos than I’d intended to. I learned that they are not as sweet as they look, and that the statistic about the hippo being the biggest killer in
H.M. and I had gone on a disappointing afternoon game drive in which we’d spotted only some giraffes and gazelles. We waited for the ferry on the north side, which we could see was still loading cars on the south side.
It Seemed Safe...
A hippo was eating grass in broad daylight at the northern ferry landing. H.M. took his digital Rebel camera and headed over. This hippo seem habituated to people so he got closer than he normally would have, within 50 feet. It seemed safe so I followed suit with my film Rebel.
The hippo was covered in fresh scars and deep wounds. Perhaps it had been involved in a territorial dispute or in a fight with a lion or crocodile.
“Click, whirr” went our Canons.
Then, through my 70-300 mm Canon zoom lens, I saw the hippo stiffen and look up. His face changed from “I like to eat grass” to “I will kill you, tourist.” I clicked the shutter. He charged.
H.M. and I both ran for our lives, straight to our truck. We were lucky to have a head-start on the angry hippo as he could easily have outrun us. As we were both about to leap up onto the pick-up bed, the hippo slowed and returned to eating grass.
Some rangers were laughing at us from a distance. We joined in, full of adrenalin. We didn’t really think the hippo could have killed us as we had been pretty close to the truck. But all the statistics of hippo deaths had run through my head as I ran, thinking “Stupid, Marie, very stupid.”
For a moment, my deadline tensions were forgotten. I laughed together with H.M. and the rangers as we crossed the
As pleasant as it was to live in a national park amidst hippos and warthogs, I had to face reality for a few weeks every month. I had rented an apartment in the city of
A large boulevard full of mini-bus taxis (“matatus”) divides
The old city -- which reeks of diesel fumes -- is a chaotic warren of one-way streets, masses of people, and motorbike taxis (“boda-bodas”) hustling for fares.
This is the part of town for bargains and for second-hand clothing from the
Neither part of the city features tourist attractions, but if you are going to
Seven Muddy Hills
“Mzunga, mzunga,” the children would call to me as I walked to the road to flag down a shared mini-bus taxi heading towards my favorite Internet hotspot. A mzunga is a foreign person, or maybe just a white person. I never heard the literal translation, but it was clear from everyone’s catcalls that I indeed was the spitting image of a mzunga.
For travelers without rented cars, shared mini-bus taxis are the best way to get around
Both mini-bus taxis and motorbike taxis always keep the bare minimum amount of fuel in their tanks. One day I stopped for gas three times and only left my apartment once.
Another day, I inadvertently rode the school bus.
I waved down the blue-and-white mini-bus taxi at my usual spot, on the paved road just in front of my apartment.
Mini-buses legally hold 14 passengers, a conductor, and a driver. It is common to squeeze plenty more people in on local routes, especially if those plenty more are small children.
We stopped in front of a small elementary school. A teacher gave some coins to the conductor and ushered six uniformed children toward the bus. The conductor got out and lifted the smallest children, who couldn’t have been more than 4-years-old, onto the first seat.
It Takes a Village
The kids were well-behaved and smiling. They all sat squished together. As their stop came, the medium-size kid squeaked.
“Mah-sow!” It’s the Luganda word for “stop.” English is the official language of
The driver pulled the taxi over and the conductor opened the sliding door. A mother was waiting in front of a three-walled butcher shop. She took her kids from the bus.
We proceeded on until the other kids squeaked “mah-sow.”
The rest of the children disembarked. Passengers helped lift the kids to the sidewalk. Several walked off together down a dirt road. The conductor took two kids by the hands and walked them across the street, before returning to his spot in our minibus.
It does indeed take a village, even in the city.
Marie Javins is a semi-nomadic writer, editor, and comic book colorist. Her blog about writing a book while living in