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Intel Education Service Corps: Days 14-18

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Note from the Blog Manager: Follow Donna, one of the Co-Program Managers for theRotation Engineers Program, as she serves as part of the Intel Education Service Corp (IESC) in Uganda. The IESC is a program that allows Intel employees to work with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in developing countries all over the world. You may want to catch up with earlier posts from her first week, before taking in her final installment below.

This week brought more adventures for three of the other Intelers and I as we traveled to Jinja on a day trip..This included a trip to Bujugali Falls on the Nile River! These are really a series of impressive rapids—world class kayakers would drool at such a site. Between Kampala and Jinja you pass through beautiful rolling agricultural land—primarily tea and sugar cane—both consumed in great quantity here. Jinja itself is an interesting place: it was one of the district government centers established by the English and thus had a small white population, but because of the number, type and size of agricultural production and processing it quickly became a center for East Asians (Indians). The result is that there are some beautiful old homes and gardens outside the busy commercial center. The main streets also reflect this colonial history—lots of small shops set back from the street with deep, shady esplanades to protect shoppers from the sun..

Over the last week and certainly one of my lasting impressions of this trip will be the MUD. We’ve had long heavy rain nearly every night and the whole country seems to be stuck in the mud. But while our little adventure was sort of fun and made for good stories (and photos), the reality is that for the local population it is the norm. Everything is coated in mud—the cars, the animals, the sides of buildings. Since so few roads are paved to get anywhere or do anything you have to contend with this constant problem. Yet one of the most common sights is a ‘car wash!’ In spite of it all the people work hard to keep their motorbikes and vehicles clean! And while we slog along in washable sneakers and sandals, the locals are more often wearing stylish shoes which somehow stay clean! I’m in awe of the nicely dressed men and women perched on the back of the local low-cost motorcycle taxis (boda-bodas) as they slip and slide but manage to stay upright—at least most of the time!

Later in the week we headed to Kasese and to Queen Elizabeth Park. We met Benjamin (our guide) and decided to stick in the grasslands in hopes of finding lions which are more plentiful in this park than in Murchison. We drove and drove with nothing to show except lots of kobs, warthogs and a couple of buffalos. As was the case in Murchison, the guides are in constant contact with one another by cell phone—checking in to ask who was seeing what where. But even without knowing a word of Lugandan it was clear that they were all coming up empty—the big cats were proving to be especially elusive that morning. Benjamin began to give Elly (our driver) instructions to drive off the official track and circle around a number of euphorbia trees in one area. Euphorbias are the most common tree in Queen Elizabeth unlike Murchison where it was the acacia that was most common. At the base of each tree there is a tangle of small scrub bushes and lantana. We circled several trees and then there they were! About seven females with some cubs carefully concealed in the scrub bushes! Of course we clicked away until finally they got tired of our presence and joined their cubs. SUCCESS!

We had another early start because the plan was to drive to the Lake Mburo Park where the only zebras of Uganda are located. It was a cool, misty day with occasional rain. Again, striking countryside—often quite steep but cultivated in most cases all the way to the summit. The most common crop was cooking bananas—miles and miles of them. Some are so far up the hillsides that it was hard to imagine how the people are ever able to get the huge stocks of fruit down to the road so they can be transported to market. We also passed through more enormous tea plantations, some in pristine condition. When we got closer to the park we moved into ‘cattle country.’ Every direction you looked there were herds of the cows with those amazing horns—some 3’ wide. They look so dangerous but so far I’ve never seen a single cow act aggressively.

Tomorrow we have about three hours of driving to get us back to Kampala and then Entebbe where I have a hotel room reserved for the afternoon/evening in the same little Airport Guest House where I started this African adventure. This will give me a chance to wash off the latest layer of Ugandan red dust before getting on the KLM flight at 11:30pm. Feels rather nice to come full circle…ending where I began.

I’m definitely in the frame of mind to head home—it’s been a long time and I miss my husband terribly. With that said, it was an incredible experience and I’m glad to have shared it with all of you! See you on the flip side!

**Note from the blog manager: Donna shared her experience of meeting ‘Walter’ (Ibrahim) and Kenneth during her time in Africa, tugging at heart strings around the world. Donna, along with some of her friends and Intel colleagues, have come together to explore different ways to help the boys and their mother (Edith) work towards a more promising future. As of this writing, we are pleased to say that the entire family has been set up in a new home in Mukono (their first home with a cement floor AND electricity), and that both boys are enrolled in school!

Ibrahim expressed great interest in keeping in contact with Donna. When told that someone would scan his letters and email them to her, he apparently insisted on seeing how it’s done. So, his teacher who provides computer lessons is going to show him. We have a strong feeling that he’s an engineer in the making!**