I want to first apologize for taking so much time to finish the post. Our trip to Arua was about a month ago and I should have had this post out a while ago. Arua was such an amazing experience for both Jess and I and I’m glad I get to finally share our journey with you.
Arua is about an 8 hour bus ride from the capital city of Kampala. The main reason for our visit was to retrieve Tabans school papers so we could start looking for schools here in Entebbe. We were at the Entebbe taxi park around 8 am and arrived in Kampala around 9 am. From Kampala we took a large bus to Arua town. At the back of the bus were a total of 6 seats. Typical Uganda transport they easily crammed 9 people in. We didnt pay for a half a seat but thats what we got. For almost 7 hours we road knees jammed together and arms tucked in. It was a long hot and sweaty ride. We drove through Paqwach where we saw the nile river, elephants, and baboons. The land quickly changed and was incredibly beautiful. The area was vast and wide open with tall grass and palm trees.
At each stop people rushed the bus in hope to sell food and beverages. It’s the same at each stop, chicken and goat on a stick, peanuts and crackers, and luke warm soda and water. We arrived in arua town around 6 pm. Taban told us we would take a pickup truck to his village of Agi in the morning. We were relieved to climb off the bus and I thought surely a 3 hour ride in a truck would be better than the bus. We found a hostile in Arua town and stayed the night there. We decided to play cards before bed. Taban did not know any games we did of course so we taught him a few simple games. We started with go fish then moved on to bs which we called liar so Taban could better understand. He picked up the game quickly and soon came to life. He came up with what Jess calls “Tabanisms.” Taban is usually quiet and reserved which made these sayings all the better. You also have to understand that Taban like alot of Ugandans use broken English. It sometimes takes them a bit to process whats being said and to then respond. So when he quickly blurted out these “Tabanisms” during our card game we couldnt stop laughing. The object of the game is to get rid of all your cards. If your caught lying you have to pick up the entire discard pile. In this particular hand Jess and Taban where all over me, calling my bluff at every turn. At one point Taban called me out and I had to pick up a large stack. While picking up the stack Taban said with a laugh, “Caleb, you want to die in prison?!” Jess and I laughed uncontrollably for several minutes and at later times at the thought of it. The next came when Taban played his last card thinking he had won. Jess and I called him out and he had to pick up the whole stack. He then said, “I made it to the finals but failed to bring home the trophy.” Jess and I again started cracking up. These sayings were probably a lot funnier if you knew Taban and it was kind of a had to be there moment but we felt they had to be shared.
The next morning we arrived at the Arua taxi park to head to Agi. This portion of the journey we traveled by small pickup truck. The vehicle was about the size of a single cab Toyota pickup. Among people these trucks carry extra cargo as well as passengers belongings. We climbed into the bed of the truck. After about 20 minutes and 10 or so passengers, Jess and I asked Taban what we where waiting for and why we weren’t going. Taban said they where waiting for more people. Jess and I thought with 10 people in the back among all the cargo and 4 more in the cab the truck is surely full enough and we should be going.
We couldn’t have been more wrong. Jess and I sat next to each other sitting on a large bag. Jess was facing the front while I was looking out the side. After the bed was full they started loading people on the tailgate and others on the side of the truck with their feet inside. People where even sitting on top of the cab. By time we where fully loaded my lower half was similar to a catchers squat in baseball and with so many passengers crammed in I could not rearrange or adjust. My lower half was pinned in an unmovable position. I told Jess I wouldn’t make it this way for 3 hours. She thought the whole situation was comical but I was not happy. As for Taban this was nothing new. During the ride Jess counted a total of 22 poeple in this small truck. We couldn’t believe it. I was sitting upright and the man behind me (who we later discovered was sick) was using my back as a rest for his hard head. He would often dig his head into my back or lightly hit his head against me as one would fluff a pillow. After about an hour my legs and feet where almost completely numb. Luckily in another half hour the truck stopped to unload a few passengers I slowly pulled my legs and feet from the others and started climbing over people. It was like crowd surfing to the back of the truck where I sat on the tailgate with my feet hanging over the back.
We reached Tabans village of Agi about an hour later. The whole truck ride we saw many brick homes with roofs made from elephant grass and Agi was the same. As we where walking up the dirt road Jess described the area as quintessential Africa. Houses and dirt roads enclosed by tall elephant grass, beautiful compounds made up of several brick homes with grass tops.
And many mango, coconut and orange trees. Taban taught Jess and I greetings in his language among a few other things. Taban and a lot of others in this area are of the Lugbara tribe. The language is also called by the same name. Nearly every person we passed outside of their home Taban would say, “Mingoni?” Which means “How are you?” In reply everyone would say “Mamuke,” which means “I’m fine.” After about 15 minutes of walking we reached Tabans home. Jess and I thought it was beautiful. The compound was neatly kept and the house like the others was built with dark bricks and elephant grass for the roof. Some of the houses were painted with amazing designs. The bricks on the house where outlined with black paint. They mix charcoal with water to make a paint like paste. The people in this area where certainly very resourceful.
The family, friends and neighbors all came to greet us as we arrived. His mother brought out a large mat where we sat in the shade of a large tree. Taban and the village Elder were the only ones who knew English. For the next few hours we removed peanuts shells and visited with the Elder. Most everyone in this area makes a living by farming. The elder expressed their struggles with the hot and dry climate. The dry season runs for over half of the year. He and Taban say they can go half the year with no rainfall which allows for very little crop yields. They struggle to feed themselves with whats produced and don’t have much to sell. The elder said during those times they pray hard that God will provide enough rain for their crops to survive but alot of times they dont survive the hot weather.
Around 5 pm we decided to head to Yumbe where we stayed in a hostel that night. Everyone thanked us for coming and let us keep the large bag of peanuts we’d worked so hard to shell. We would be back the following day. Again we would take the pickup into Yumbe but this drive would be much quicker. Taban told us about a half hour. We waited at the roadside for another truck to come along. Within a few minutes a truck passed and we waved it down. It was again loaded with far too many passengers but they somehow found room for 3 more. I was again sitting on the tailgate and Jess and Taban where sitting on the side with their feet hanging outside. About 10 minutes in it started to rain. Very rarely does it rain lightly in Uganda and this was no exception. It soon started pouring and everyone and everything was getting soaked. I don’t know if the standard for trucks to carry them but someone pulled out a tarp big enough to cover the bed of the truck. Everyone around the perimeter held on. For some reason everyone in the truck including Jess and I started laughing. We laughed nearly the whole way there. The tarp waived and roared from the speeds the vehicle was traveling. Which in my opinion was way too fast for the conditions. All of the roads are dirt obviously and covered in pot holes. In a very short time the road was complete mud with huge puddles. With our legs over the outside of the truck mud and water was flung up all over our legs and feet for nearly 30 minutes. The truck was going far too fast for these muddy roads and several times it felt like the vehicle was sliding. The rest of the way I was fearing the worst. Praying and laughing uneasily the whole way we made it safely. We walked another 10 minutes in the pouring rain to the hostel laughing and relieved from our near death experience. We sat at the hostel and dried off while drinking hot tea and playing cards. That night while lying in bed Taban and I had a deep discussion about life. He told me most days he hated his situation. He said Entebbe felt like prison. Somedays not eating and sleeping on his clothes on the concrete floor. He says living conditions in the village are a lot of times better. He said he hates seeing his mother and other family members dig everyday of their life and not seeing crop yield in the dry season. He told me he sometimes asks God why he and his family were put on this earth if they mostly suffer with lots of hard work and little results. I asked if he ever felt angry with God. His reply was, “How can someone be angry with God?” I told him I felt that God was giving him an opportunity through friends and family at home in America. A chance for him to finish school to change his life and hopefully his family’s. We talked about the first time we met when we where passing the soccer ball back and forth. He said he was glad to have someone to play with but he was fearing a friendship in his words. He said he was scared of what I might tink of him and his family and how they have to live. He was worried that I wouldn’t accept him. He knows now that Jess and I don’t care about that and that we will always be good friends and will help him where we can.
The next morning we took boda bodas from Yumbe to Agi. They took a shortcut on a narrow dirt road. The drive was absolutely beautiful.
We arrived much earlier than the day before and Taban wanted to show us around. After greeting everyone he took us inside the house. There where a total of 3 rooms separated by concrete walls. The construction of the roof was amazing.
He showed us around his land where they were planting beans, peas, cassava, and sweet potatoes. He took us past the fields to what he calls “The Bush,” where he hunts dove and squirrel among other small animals. They either hurl stones by hand or make bows. For arrows he says they use spokes from bicycle wheels. Everywhere we went where many orange, mango, and coconut trees. They are all in season around the same months and Taban says it’s a great time. He and his friends go from tree to tree eating fresh fruits all day. Unfortunately for us they’re not ready until November or December. He took us just up the road to the watering hole where they pump their water for the day.
Next he wanted to show us a place where the Nile could be seen far in the distance. It was about a 20 minute walk and we where starting to feel the heat we had been warned about. We sat on a large rock which overlooked the land that went for miles. We sat for a while admiring the view, watching cattle and bodas pass by while snapping photos. We walked back to the house where we again sat and visited with the family and neighbors. Taban and the elder translating for us. After sitting for a while one of the neighbors walked over with a chicken in hand. Or Au as they are called in Lugbara. Pronounced Ah-oo. Taban told us they where giving us this Au as a gift. Jess and I where very surprised obviously not expecting a chicken and we thanked them for the gift.
I was thinking to myself what the heck are we gonna do with a chicken and how will we get it home on our 10 hour trip. Well it turns out we would have to figure out what to do with 3 chickens cause they kept coming. Shortly after another neighbor brought a chicken for us. Then as we where leaving Tabans mother had one of the kids snatch up a 3rd chicken for us to take home.
They thanked us for coming and we returned the thanks for allowing us and for the generous gifts. We headed down the dirt road chickens in hand. Each of us had our own chicken. Taban and I held ourslike chickens, by the legs upside down. Jess quickly fell in love with hers holding it upright against her often stroking it as though it were a lap dog. Jess and I were laughing the whole way down the road and the fact that we where carrying 3 chickens all the way back to Entebbe.
We again loaded into the truck. This time I sat on the cab with my feet resting in the drivers window. Jess and Taban where holding the chickens as I had no free hands. We arrived in Yumbe and again walked to the hostel, chickens in hand. Everyone stared and laughed at the crazy mzungus carrying chickens. From Yumbe we took a car to Arua town where we would again load into a large bus. We got into the car and the driver tossed our chickens in the back. The chickens left droppings everywhere and one jumped on me and was clawing at my back and neck. The driver stopped and let a passenger out and informed us that one of our chickens had laid and egg. Taban carried the egg the entire way home. I jokingly asked the driver if we could pay in eggs rather than shillings. I thought by time we arrive they may have laid a fair payment. I thought it was funny but I don’t think he did. In Arua town we boarded the bus and started the 7 hours back to Kampala.
The chickens now live happily at Judith’s house where Jess stays. They also now have names. Jess named hers Mrs. Feather-bottom, because it lifts its rear feathers in a funny way. The others, Au and Encoco, which means chicken in Luganda.
Aside from the transport I had a great time on this trip and enjoyed seeing how Taban and his family live. Arua is a beautiful place and the people are generous and friendly. I now understand how Taban and his sister Grace got to be as kind as they are. It really was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I will be going back next week for a couple of days. October 9th is Uganda’s Independence Day and Taban says they have a huge celebration in his village that we cannot miss. Please keep Taban and his family in your prayers as they go through difficult times especially in the dry season. Also for Grace, Tabans sister as she is still struggling with six children to feed and care for. Please pray for Taban and I as we travel back to Arua next week. Pray for safety of our transportation. There have been generous donations to Grace and Taban for school fees but we have not reached the needed amount for Tabans school and Grace is always in need of support. If you would like to support Taban or Grace please let Jess or I know via email. Thankyou to everyone for your thoughts and prayers and support.