Once again, to be met at the airport! To know that someone has been waiting for you! To see the happy and relieved look on their faces when you arrive! So it is when George, a driver from Planned Parenthood Ghana (PPAG), and Aseye, our in-country AJWS representative, pick us up at Ghanaâ€™s Kotoka International and take us to our home for the next two months.
The AIDS situation in Uganda is one of the better in sub-Saharan Africa, with an infection rate of 7 percent, a far cry from the rates of 20, 30, or even 40 percent found in some areas of southern Africa. The Elisabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, with whom Tayâ€™s Aunt Linda has been for four years, is on the cutting edge of preventing mother-baby HIV/AIDS transmission in Uganda and 17 other countries. But there are numerous fronts to this battle and Elisabeth Glaser is only one of many games in town. On Friday morning, an opportunity arises to see one of these other organizations in action, and we take it.
Twenty-four continuous hours of travelâ€”by overnight ferry across Lake Victoria followed by a series of minivan â€œdala-dalasâ€â€”takes us from Mwanza, Tanzania to the Ugandan capital. Our midday border crossing at Mutukula is easier than expected. As our vehicle slows, touts surround us with their roasted corn, goat-liver-on-a-stick, warm bottles of Fanta, and baggies of shiny-fried beetle grubs; they are relatively calm and curious, and they briefly scatter when I take out my camera, but immediately regroup with smiles, relentless with their wares.
Back on our own, no more luxury lodges or guides or vehicle, we must cross Africaâ€™s largest lake to get to Uganda (via Bukoba), where we will meet up with Tayâ€™s long-lost Great Aunt Linda, granddaughter of the esteemed Dr. Stewart, development worker with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, and one of Tayâ€™s inspirations for continued work abroad, even though they have only met once.
The morning drive along Ngorongoro southwest crater rim is nothing less than a trip through Rohan, the wide, rolling grasslands of Middle Earth. Rolling across the zebra and giraffe-studded hills, among Masai huts and herds, trying to take it all in: what we have seen, what we will see, and what is outside the open windows right now.
Day 2 begins with a stunning sunrise game drive, fiery clouds behind silhouetted baobabs and acacias, a short and plump rainbow above Mount Tangire. Back at the lodge, we eat our five-star breakfast alone, refill coffee mugs, then set out on another long drive, twisting and winding our way toward the parkâ€™s entrance, with plenty of animals and the weather constantly shifting between sunny, drizzly, and fantastic shows of light in between; box lunch is eaten at an overlook above the river, lightly raining as we watch some of the parkâ€™s 3,500 elephants graze below.
The safari is Tayâ€™s idea. Her childhood dream of seeing the plains and animals of East Africa was not realized during her two-and-a-half years living and traveling in West Africa and this is her chance. Me, Iâ€™ve never considered it, donâ€™t really know what â€œsafariâ€ even is, except a used and abused Swahili word for â€œjourney.â€ Iâ€™ve mostly associated it with dweeby hats and vests, rich people in luxury camps, and some vague, Hemingway-esque romanticism that probably doesnâ€™t even exist. I also dislike safariâ€™s non-strenuous nature; i.e. you are not allowed to leave your vehicle in most National Parks (because of dangerous cats and other animals), and I envision being trapped in a metal box all week, sealed-off from so much Africa around me.
Our final night in Zanzibar, the sunset is even more stunning than last evening’s record breaker, and Tay and I unanimously agree to vote it “sunset of the trip,” which is a bold statement considering some of the day’s ends we’ve seen. But the colors, the length, the wide-angle span of it makes it a no-contest, and we celebrate with yet another seafood dinner on the beach. In the morning, in a light drizzle, we pack up and bounce through puddled, potted roads to the airport on the other side of the island, where we board a Precision Air flight to Dar, then another to Northern Tanzania.
Our short time on the white-powder Zanzibari beach coincidentally coincides with (1) a lucky rare break in the low-season rains and (2) a free Friday night performance by Los Jovenes Clasicos del Son, a Cuban musical group near the end of a 40-day African tour, who is staying and playing at Kendwa Rocks, our home for the weekend. The result is an incredible cultural collusion of salsa, sun, and sand which, on the first night, tastes of roasted crab and curry, washed down with a nostril-tingling bottle of â€œStoney Tangawiziâ€ ginger beer.