My Rwenzori Story: Day 4 – Elena!

IMG_3832

Michelle at Omukandege

On the night of the 3rd day, when the guides came to brief us about our journey and next destination, they warned us that we were going to climb much higher up, they told us that if we experienced any symptoms of altitude sickness, like loss of appetite or vomiting, we should immediately tell them, so that they could arrange to bring us down to a lower altitude. They also told us that the temperature at Elena was minus 4 degrees and that it was not advisable to bathe in those kinds of conditions out in the cold. That news was a blow because we had become accustomed to our warm 2 minute baths at every camp stop so far. We would just have to make do for that one night at Elena.

IMG_3833 (1)

BT looking beat

That morning before we set off, I observed leadership at work, as one of the guides assembled the porters and gave them instructions for that day. I watched in silence as I thought – there is leadership everywhere you look. There are different styles of leadership, different types of leaders, and different situations that call for leadership. We often downplay it, but leadership is very critical in all facets of life. It was great observing leadership on the mountain, far away from the ‘madding crowd’.  At the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder what was happening back in Kampala. What were the new leadership challenges emerging? Had the youths arrested the previous week for demanding fair play for all presidential candidates been released? Had the former Prime Minister finally been allowed to embark on his consultative process for his candidature? Had the UPC finally resolved their internal party wrangles? Had the MPs listened to and incorporated the citizen’s electoral reforms in the Constitution Amendment Bill? How were we going to resolve our national leadership question?  Since I had no access to radio or newspapers, I let these questions go and focused on the task ahead – which was to hike from Bujuku to Elena.

IMG_3837

Joy wondering why….

The walk up from Bujuku was through some bog. It wasn’t too bad, but it’s not necessarily comfortable walking through bog. After the bog we climbed up a very steep ridge that led us to a long metallic staircase. Going on the staircase that day, it literally felt as if we were climbing to heaven! I thought I would be able to take pictures of the staircase, but being quite afraid of heights, I just could not fathom standing at the top of the stairs and taking a picture while looking down, so I abandoned that project. The staircase led us to a resting place called Omukandege, which is derived from the Kikonzo word Ndege, meaning airplane. The place was named after a plane was sighted on this part of the mountain, way back in 1938. From that resting place, on a clear day, one can see the three main mountain ranges; Mount Stanly, Mount Speke and Mount Baker.

I took pictures of my colleagues when they arrived at Omukandege and the look on their faces told of the grueling climb to that point. We rested for about 10 minutes enjoying the view from that vantage point, and then we began climbing even higher. That was the thing that amazed me the most about Rwenzori – just when you thought you had surely climbed the steepest part of the mountain, there was always a steeper, more challenging part to climb right ahead of you. The climbing was endless and relentless!

IMG_3866

Peter at Elena

We had been told that since Elena hut was small and the place was cold, the porters would carry our bags to Elena and then go back down to Bujuku Camp. As we climbed the steep ridge after Omukandege, some of the porters were already making their way back to Bujuku and were literally running down the mountain. I always marveled at these men – how, despite the loads of luggage they carried on their heads, and despite the fact that we often walked on ahead of them at the start of each day, they always managed not only to catch up with us, but leave us far behind!

As we climbed higher towards Elena, the vegetation started thinning out and in the place of vegetation, there was rock. From Elena onwards to Margherita Peak, there is hardly any plant life to speak of. This is because the higher one goes, the less the oxygen there is, and so not many plants can thrive in such conditions. After climbing the steep ridge from Omukandege, we stopped at a rocky place to take a break and have some lunch before proceeding to Elena Hut. From this resting place, we could see Elena, but to get to it took us another 40 or so minutes round and round some large rocks. Because of the roundabout way we approached it, Elena Hut would be visible one moment, and then invisible the next. We called it a ghost hut!

We finally arrived at Elena, and true to the guide’s word, the place was cold! The inscription on the board above Elena Hut reads “Remember that global warming is real.” Indeed, as we had been told by our guide, about 100 years ago or so, the snow and glacier on Rwenzori stretched from the peak all the way down to Elena, which stands at 4,541 meters above sea level. However, due to the effects of global warming, the snow and glacier have receded so much so that, the guides estimated, IMG_3855in about 20 to 30 years, there will be no snow on Rwenzori.

An additional challenge to the Rwenzoris is the mining work that takes place the base. The guides said that Government has issued new mining concessions over the past several years and while the companies appear to be mining downwards, the fear by the locals is that the companies could also mine horizontally into the mountain, and thus affect the vegetation and ecosystem of the mountain, to the detriment of tourism. As one guide said to me “We need you people of Kampala to fight for us, to help us protect Rwenzori.”

The cry of the mountain is very clear. Will we heed that cry or will we turn away and look the other side?

My Rwenzori Story: Day 3: The Bog!

IMG_3763

Dancing on the board over the lower bog

Think horror movie. Think of a sound track to the scariest movie you have ever watched and play it in your mind. Think of a guy with a cape, eyes covered, suddenly jumping onto the stage and shouting in a very loud voice – THE BOG!

That’s what I felt like on Day 3. This was the famous bog day and my, had we heard and read about THE BOG on Rwenzori! I had conjured pictures in my mind of quick sand, of how one misstep would mean that you would sink into the mountain or at best, remain stuck in one position, like Lot’s wife when she looked back at the city of Sodom. I didn’t tell my other climbing mates that these were the visions playing in my head. I didn’t want them to think I was going cuckoo!

IMG_3781

Standing in River Bujuku

Every evening before we went to bed, it became common practice to have a review meeting with our guides. They would come into our hut, find us huddled together for warmth, they would stand together in a line and prepare to deliver the highlights of the journey of the next day. On the night of Day 2, the three guides came in, stood before us, waited until our banter died down and then told us about THE BOG. There was to be a Lower Bigo Bog and an Upper Bigo Bog. And there was a board walk over the bog. Philemon, our lead guide, said he had scouted the place we were to walk on Day 3 and was glad to report that since the place was dry, we wouldn’t have too much trouble walking over the bog. Still, my heart thumped and my head reeled. I had learned, as all mountain climbers do, to take the guides word with a large pinch of salt. When they say something is easy, you multiply the hardship for yourself by 1,000. So when Philemon said the bog was dry, in my head I pictured an overly soggy sludge – waiting to suck me in and hold onto me tight! One of our climbing mates from RMS had coined the slogan “Miss the Log, Enjoy the Bog” – to warn us about staying on the logs once we hit the bog area. I suppose that was meant to guide and re-assure us, instead, it scared me the more.

The morning of the second day was a sunny though chilly day. We woke up to a clear blue sky and we were able to view Mount Stanley and the Margherita peak. They seemed so near yet to far away. The glacier around the mountain looked daunting. I tried hard not to think too much about it. We had breakfast, put on our rubber boots and set off towards THE BOG!

IMG_3815

Joy and Lake Bujuku in the background

I was pleasantly surprised to find that, thanks to Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), there was a long board walk over the bog which enabled us hop, skip and jump right over it. In fact, walking over the Lower Bigo Bog, we hardly encountered any bog. I was elated! I danced. Michelle, one of my climbing mates actually took a picture of me dancing on the board walk. The board walk is a long trail of slabs of wood nailed together over long pieces of wood and suspended just above the bog. When I found I had nothing to fear, I became ecstatic. Even the Upper Bigo Bog (for some reason, when the guide spoke about upper bog, I thought we were going to walk through bog while climbing a steep part of the mountain…) was no challenge at all. But we were told that during the rainy season, the bog actually gets problematic, the board walk is slippery and people have to walk more carefully in order not to slip off and land into the bog. We were also told that before UWA built the board walk, hikers would have to jump from tussock to tussock (mounds of earth with grass growing on top of them), in order to avoid falling into the bog. That kind of jumping made the bog walk an arduous task.

After the board walk, we rested by River Bujuku and once again, I sat right in the water, atop some protruding rocks. The sun was out, the weather was lovely, the day was pleasant, the view was scenic – what more could a girl ask for? After the rest by the river, we walked on through steep terrain, until we came to Bujuku Lake, a quiet, serene place tuckeIMG_3824d away in Bujuku Valley. We took in the sight and just marveled. Many times words fail me in describing just how beautiful and scenic Mount Rwenzori is. It’s one of those things you have to see with your own eyes, one of those things for which a camera lens does not even begin to capture the essence of. The beauty is soul deep. The beauty makes you marvel at God the Almighty, the Creator. The beauty makes you literally stand in awe, with jaw dropped. The beauty of the mountain is like being let in on a precious jewel and it’s totally humbling to think about how honored you are to be among the few Ugandans who will ever see such raw and undefiled beauty. The mountain experience is a worship experience like no other.

IMG_3830

BT and Peter at Bujuku Camp

We walked through the bog by Bujuku Lake, as we made our way to Bujuku Camp. Once we arrived at the camp, we went through our ritual of the two minute bath and had some tea. That evening we watched the sun play ‘catch me if you can’ with the clouds. The sun would appear, high up in the sky and just when we were warming ourselves, thick clouds would come crashing into the valley from all sides and erase any semblance of the sun, and with the clouds came a cold chill. Then after a few minutes, the sun would come out again and the clouds would come chasing after it again. This ritual went on until nightfall.

That evening at Bujuku, we tried on our crampons and harnesses again, just to make sure they fit right. As we sat around our little dining-cum-sitting room table, we told each other stories about ourselves – things we didn’t know about each other. That was a moment of great insight and it helped me appreciate my climbing mates even more. After dinner, we sang a song “We Have Decided to Climb This Mountain” (set to the tune of the song “I Have Decided To Follow Jesus”). We sang the song loud and proud. We declared that there was no turning back and that we would make it all the way to the top of Mount Rwenzori!

My Rwenzori Story: Day 2 – Rock Stars!

The first night on the mountain was chilly. From that night on until we descended, I slept in two sleeping bags. I had bought one in the US when I visited in March, and then I bought a second one at Game Store in Kampala– a sleeping bag that could withstand conditions of minus 3 degrees. My sleep gear also consisted of warm pajamas, a thick pair of socks and a warm sweater. During the night, I became a bit too warm and took off the sweater. Mountain nights are very long and very dark. The first night we slepIMG_3725t at about 10:00 p.m. but it seemed like it took forever for the first light of dawn to appear.

We didn’t dare shower in the morning. The quick run in and out of the freezing shower the day before was just enough to keep us clean for the 2nd day of the mountain. From that day, we learned to use wet wipes for the purposes of the morning ‘bath’. And the wet wipes were always cold! Imagine waking up from the sleeping bag you had spent all night warming, and then having to place a very cold wet wipe on your body. Not fun at all! The mountains teach you speed. We became quite adept at doing rapid morning clean ups before having breakfast.

Day 2 was the day we started our ‘compulsory’ oats for breakfast. Our chef, Jacob, advised that oats porridge was good for maintaining strength as we climbed, so we had oats as a staple for breakfast all the days that we climbed the mountain.

photo (79)

Snake head

We started our hike at 8:20 a.m. We climbed up Nyabitaba ridge and descended into the Mubuku River valley and crossed the Kurt Schaffer Bridge where underneath River Mubuku and River Bujuku meet as they flow all the way into the Nile River. We stopped on the bridge to take pictures. We were suspended high up overlooking mighty rushing waters, foaming and frothing at the top, crashing over boulders, winding their way down, and way past where the eye could see! It was truly an amazing sight, a beauty to withhold, tucked away in the mountain.

Day 2 was also the day we became rock stars! That is, we became stars at climbing rocks. Rwenzori is full of rocks of all sizes from the tiniest you can imagine, to the biggest of boulders, and this day we did a steep walk through, over, around and on rocks upon rocks for what seemed like an eternity! As we climbed through the rocks that day, every so often we would hear the sound of the river in the background. Always there. Always re-assuring. It reminded me of God’s promise to be with me even to the end of time. Always there. Always re-assuring.

IMG_3744

Joy with one of our guides

The vegetation changed that day from tropical rain forest, to Bamboo forest. These bamboos are quite large! I asked our guide whether like the Bagisu, the Bakonjo ate bamboo, to which he replied in the negative. Other vegetation types we encountered that day included lobelia, everlasting flower and a snake flower (it’s head is shaped like a snake). We saw old man’s beard (some light green yarn-like vegetation that is all over the mountain) and there were lots of moss covered rocks. We also walked through some bog – our first introduction to it. Bog is a thick, deep mud that you can sink into, and get stuck in, if not careful.  At some point I stepped into the bog and when I lifted my foot, my boot was stuck deep into the bog. One of the guides helped me pull my boot out of the bog.

Our first resting place was at Nyamileju hut that has since been abandoned. It’s an open hut with benches. We stopped for a brief snack and then walked on. Our next resting place was Nyamileju River and I sat on a stone in the river and had my lunch. I wished I could replicate that scenery as part of my daily dining experience! Imagine being able to eat in a river, while water is flowing all around you. It’s totally serene, totally mind blowing, totally energizing! I was sad we had to leave that place.

IMG_3754

Michelle at John Matte Camp

As I walked that day, I reflected upon what mountains bring out in a person. We often run away from mountains, yet maybe we should be running towards them. Mountains are about strength, about focus, about stamina, about staying power and all these are important for leadership. I wondered about subjecting our aspiring presidential candidates to a mountain climb. How many would summit? What would they learn and change about their leadership? I wondered if I could update my CV to reflect the fact that I have climbed mountains. How was I putting the lessons I learned on the mountain to use?

We finally arrived at John Matte Camp at 2:45 p.m. When we arrived, we found the our chef had graciously warmed some water for us to bathe and we each took rapid baths – 2 minutes tops, because on a mountain, water is hot one minute and the next it is cold! You cannot waste warmth on a mountain. Warmth is not to be taken for granted at all!

During our climb that day, one of climbing party noticed that one of the guides had a torn boot. We made a decision to give away our boots at the end of the climb. We also gave away other items in the ensuring days as and when we noticed needs among the support team.

For supper that night, we had fish fillet, chapatti and cabbage. We also drank lots of tea. We slept just after 9 p.m.

My Rwenzori Story: Day 1: Walk in the Park….Sort Of…..

I was woken up by the sound of my phone receiving charge from the socket in the wall. I had left it there the night before. The RMS folks had told us that the generator would be switched off at 11:00 p.m. and be turned back on at 5:00 a.m. in the morning. Since I had set my alarm for 7:00 a.m., I snuggled further into my bed to ‘catch’ the last 2 hours of sleep that I had left. I got out of bed at around 7:15, took a shower (this time the water was lukewarm), dressed up and headed out for breakfast.

As I walked out of my room, Rwenzori stood before me, tall and imposing, looking down at little, puny me. I felt a chill run down my spine. With bravado I did not feel, I threw back my shoulders and marched towards the dining room, like a soldier on a mission. Breakfast consisted of fruit (mango and banana), Spanish omelette and toast. I washed this down with 2 cups of coffee. AfteIMG_3692r breakfast, we took some pictures as we waited for our guides to show up. When they came, they introduced themselves and then started on the business of fitting us with crampons. Crampons are metallic spikes that are fitted onto climbing boots and that help with grip on snow and ice. We were to wear these on the day of our ascent to the peak. We had a good laugh watching the boys wobbling around as they attempted to walk with the crampons on, because it’s like walking in high heels.

After the crampons, we were fitted with harnesses which were for using on the day of ascent as well. The harnesses would enable us be tied together by rope while on the glacier to provide guidance and stability as we walked. After the crampons and harnesses were fitted, we made our way to the Rwenzori National Park gate – about a 20 minute walk from Mihunga lodge.

The park gate rose before us – a magnificent triangle with a big welcome sign. We stopped by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) gate, signed our names in, and then went past the gate and stood before a wooden board to receive our briefing. On the board was a map of the central circuit trail which we would be doing throughout our seven days on the mountain. The lead guide, a very friendly and humble gentleman called Philemon, pointed out the various stops on the way as well as the various vegetation belts we would encounter along our trail. The names were all too many for that first morning, so I took a picture of the board for future reference.IMG_3697

We then started our hike at 11:15 a.m. About 15 minutes into it, one of the guides (we had 3 in all), stopped to show us the 3 horned chameleon, one of the wonders of the Rwenzori. The guide told us we were lucky to see one so soon, as they are a rarity on the mountain. The 3 horned chameleon is a sight to behold. It’s colors are clear, crisp, beautiful and the pattern very intricate. You can tell that there was great attention paid to detail when that creature was made. We were told that our sisters in the animal kingdom are into color, so the male species had to be created exceptionally bright, otherwise no attraction and hence no procreating was ever going to take place.

We stopped briefly by Mubuku River, a loud, raging river, with huge stones. We stepped on the stones and took some pictures. We also lapped water from the river. It was clean and cool and very refreshing! We walked through the tropical forest zone anIMG_3703d our guides showed us different trees and spoke about their uses. There is a tree, whose name eludes me now, whose bark is used to treat up to 42 diseases including heart disease and cancer. We were shown a tree that is able to ‘prevent’ divorce. We were shown a tree whose leaves are known to bring good luck. Not wanting to miss out, I plucked a leaf off for myself, and pasted it into my journal.

We crossed the Mahoma Bridge and then walked to the Omusinga’s resting place. The Omusinga, King of the Bakonzo, commissioned the resting place in 2011, when he hiked part of the Rwenzori. We stopped at his resting place to have our lunch of banana, bread with peanut butter and a small packet of mango splash. The walk up to the Omusinga’s resting place was nice and easy. It was much more pleasant than the start to Elgon or Muhabura had been, so I wondered why the fuss about Rwenzori being a difficult mountain. The sun was out, the breeze was light, the walk was calm, and the banter was plentiful. We were in high spirits!photo (78)

After the Omusinga’s resting place, the ‘real’ hike started. We climbed Panga Ridge which is a very steep, very long hill.  There is nothing in the terrain of Kampala City that even comes close to comparison, so I won’t even try. We started sweating as soon as we hit the ridge. It was that steep! The ridge led us to the first camp, Nyabitaba, which is 2,660 meters above sea level. We got to Nyabitaba at 3:09 p.m. very tired, very sweaty and out of breath! We showered as quickly as we could, given that the water was freezing cold! We were allocated rooms to sleep in – the girls in one room, the boys in another. The rooms have bunk beds and are very much like dormitory rooms in any boarding school. The main difference is that the mattresses are nailed into the bed-frames, to ensure that no one damages or walks away with a mattress.

The first camp was quite busy as we found other climbers who were descending the mountain. Two of them, German brothers aged 68 and 72, had both summited and we envied them as we wondered whether we too would reach the peak of Rwenzori.

That evening we danced again as we waited for our dinner. After dinner we tucked in quickly as it was fast becoming cold. Day 1 hadn’t gone too badly. As I closed my eyes, I wondered what Day 2 would be like.

My Rwenzori Story: Setting Off

before setting off

The team just before set off

I’m not a very good packer. Never have been. I generally left that role to my mother who did it diligently for me right up till I was 30 years old when I left my parents house to do my Masters degree (I hope one day someone can invent a personal packer, I’ll buy the whole stock!).

Packing for Rwenzori was both exciting and harrowing! Exciting because finally, the day I had been working towards since the beginning of the year had finally come. Exciting because I was about to climb a third mountain in the space of 7 weeks. Exciting because of all the people who were excited for me, for us as Rwenzorilings.

But it was also harrowing. The week to the climb, I had felt a growing anxiety in the pit of my belly. It was the anxiety about the unknown of climbing the Rwenzori, but also of the known from the few stories I had read from friends that had done the climb before. It was the anxiety borne from the fact that a friend or two had told me they would only give me money for our mattress campaign if I scaled the mountain. I thus knew that part of our success at fundraising hinged on whether or not I reached the top of  the mountain.  To top it off, while praying for Michelle and I at church, the leader prayed for us as we prepared to climb the ‘real’ mountain. We had heard it before – Kilimanjaro is a walk in the park, Rwenzori is only scaled by the most qualified of mountain climbers. I had to keep fighting off the anxiety. It was not funny!

I packed for literally the whole of Sunday 12th July. I went over my things again and again,making sure that I had not forgotten anything. I had written a check list and I went over it three times. Usually, I enlist my house help to pack with me. This time, I packed alone. I wanted to be alone with my thoughts, to contemplate again the journey before me, to make sure that I was ready for it in my spirit, to make sure that I would not chicken out.

Packing continued the next morning on Monday 13th, the day we set off for Kasese. Two of my climbing mates were picking me up from my house so that we could proceed to my office where we would pick up the rest of the climbers. I was expecting them to pick me up at 7FullSizeRender (9):45 a.m. They arrived earlier. I said my brief good byes to my family, I told the boys that once on the mountain, I would not be able to speak to them until after 7 days. It was sad breaking that news. Whenever I am away from home, I make it a habit to call my children at least thrice every day – once before they go to school, once after school and when I can, once before they go to bed. So not being able to call them was going to be tough on me.

I packed my bags onto the car and off we went to my office. When every body was packed, we took pictures by the car, prayed together and then set off for Endiro Coffee shop at Kisementi to buy our last good cup of coffee before hitting the road. At Endiro, we bumped into two friends – one the proprietor of Endiro and the other Bev, who was resplendent in a very colorful African outfit. Bev is preparing to launch a poetry session at the mountain – maybe Muhabura. I wished her luck.

We jumped back into the car and headed out to Kasese via Fort Portal. Fort Portal is the town of my marriage. My husband comes from Fort Portal and I had invited the climbing team to lunch at our home in the village, en route to Kasese. My mother-in-law, who loves to host visitors, was excitedly looking forward to receiving my climbing mates and I. I had visited her with a friend of mine, in early June and while traveling that road, I had told myself that the next time I was on that road, it would be to head for the climb. And here we were. I really felt like a lamb being led to the slaughter. I tried to push the dark thoughts away and think only happy thoughts – this was the day the Lord had made, and I would rejoice in it (as much as I could). I would rejoice in it partly because July 13th is my little sister’s birthday. I was sad not toIMG_3649 be around to celebrate her birthday with her, so instead, I called her, put her on speaker phone and my climbing mates and I sang a loud and hearty “Happy Birthday” to her. She wished us all the best with the climb.

We got to Fort Portal at about 2:30 p.m. We had a sumptuous lunch prepared for us by my mother-in-law and my husband’s two nephews and one niece. The lunch was great and we ate to our fill. It was the typical Ugandan buffet – hot steaming matooke, chapati to rival any done by a Musoga, Irish potatoes, pilau, fried pork, beef stew, ntula with carrots, groundnut stew and avocado. It was a meal for kings! After the meal, we took pictures with my mother-in-law and then we set off for the one and half hour drive to Kasese. I was told later, by one of the nephews of the home, that my mother-in-law had wondered what kind of punishment we were under by our office, to make us climb the Rwenzori. I totally felt her!

At Mubuku trading center, I called Ronald, our contact from Rwenzori Mountaineering Services (RMS), and he came over to meet us and led us to the RMS lodge at Mihunga where we would be spending the night. The road was quite bumpy and rocky. The ride was not comfortable at all. The closer we got to the lodge, the more imposing the mountain became. It was quite threatening, to say the least. It’s like the mountain spoke to me saying “I dare you!” I wanted to flee! I wanted my mommy! But I had to man-up, so to speak.

Upon arriving at the lodge we were welcomed with a glass of mango juice and then we were shown our rooms.  I shared a room with Joy.IMG_3652 We had a cup of tea together, as the whole team and while we waited for supper, we decided to dance. We danced to keep our spirits high. We danced to keep warm. That place was cold! One of the songs we danced to was “I Will Get There”, (by Boys II Men), a song that we had elected our theme song way back in February, once we started preparing to climb the mountain. Our supper consisted of matooke, steamed rice, fried chicken, boiled pieces of goat meat and groundnut stew. For dessert, we had pancakes.

The manager of the RMS lodge came to greet us and applauded us for making the best decision of our lives – i.e. the decision to climb Mount Rwenzori and he asked us to encourage many more Ugandans to climb the mountain. We all glanced at each other trying not to look apprehensive. We were glad we had made the decision. We were glad the day had finally come. We were glad for the journey mercies to Kasese.

We bade each other good night and we retired to our bedrooms. My room mate and I tried unsuccessfully to have a hot shower that night. We did what we could to clean up, got into bed, prayed and went silent.

The next day – July 14th 2015, was D-Day – the day we would finally climb the mighty Rwenzori!

Letter to My Climbing Party……

Today we hit the road to Kasese. Tomorrow we start the climb of the ‘real’ mountain, as a friend of mine called it yesterday.

As I think about the climbing party, we’ve come a long way. I think of all the workouts we’ve done together, the long walks, the meetings to prepare for the climb, the mountains we’ve climbed in between, the hours spent in down town Owino Market shopping for mountain gear, the many texts and phone calls exchanged. We’ve come a long way.

I wish each one of the climbers the very best. It’s been a pleasure walking this journey with each one of you:

Joy – you have taught me the power of focus, the power of saying no to the flesh and yes to what is good for my body, mind and soul. I have watched you put your everything into the preparation for this climb. I admire your spirit. When you put your mind to something, you give it oshatterne hundred percent. No more. No less. You give your all, and that is admirable.

Michelle – you have taught me the power of loyalty. You stick with your friends no matter what. You love passionately and fiercely. You are like a lioness with her cubs. You have given your all. You have worked hard. You have grown strong. You have supported the cause and the climb. You are in this for the long haul.

Penny – I watched your transition from ‘I can’t’, to ‘I will’ and in there lies your growth. Even when the going was tough, you stayed committed. You surmounted many personal challenges to stick to this goal. We cried together. We prayed together. And I am glad you never gave up. You kept your smile even through the tears. And God will wipe your tears. Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

Bernard – you’ve been focused from the start. You know what you want and nothing can stand in your way. That is courage. That is tenacity. I’ve watched you endure pain and still go on. I admire that in you. I admire your knowledge about all kinds of things. You have a beautiful mind, and you share your knowledge freely. I have been enriched by the conversations we’ve had along this journey.

Peter – I admire all the hard work you’ve put into getting prepared for this climb. I know that a year ago, you had all manner of excuses about why you couldn’t do exercise. And this year, I have watched you put those excuses aside, and you have been on a roll. You’ve gone above and beyond to achieve this goal. I want you to learn from this and apply it to other areas of your life. When you want to do something, you can. Its in you. You rise above.

I feel honored to know all of you. I feel honored to be climbing with you. I wish each and every one of you the very best, not just for Rwenzori, but for life. May the lessons you learn as we climb enrich your lives and may all your dreams come true. Continue to shatter your limits!

Lessons From Muhabura: There is Always a Peak

As we started the hike up Muhabura last Saturday, the lead guide told us the climb would take about 5 hours to the top. Five hours into the hike, I was no where near the top. The peak seemed so far away. And the higher I climbed, the steeper the mountain became. I kept asking the rear guide how far I had to go and he told me I was almost there. He repeated it so many times until I was tired of hearing the word almost, so I told him to keep quiet. I was that frustrated. And then at some point, I looked up, and the peak was in sight. I felt such a rush of energy, I ran the few yards to the peak. I hadphoto (77) finally made it!

Every mountain has a peak. That might seem obvious. But that fact is not always obvious during the climb. During the hard bits, in the midst of the pain and discouragement, in the midst of the self doubt, in the endlessness of the journey when all you can do is just put one foot in front of the other, when the peak seems so far away, when giving up seems like a far more attractive option than pressing on, in the midst of the tears, in the midst of all the fears, it’s easy to forget that there is a peak.

But the peak is always there. The climb comes to an end. Your hard work pays off. Your nights of endless prayer and tears pay off. Your commitment to the task pays off. The time spent in the mud and the bog pays off. Your effort pays off. Your investment pays off. Sticking to the course, to the path, through all the hardships pays off. There is a peak.

Be encouraged. You will get to your goal. The celebration point is near. You will make it. Don’t give up. Press on. The peak is in sight.

Lessons From Muhabura: Mountain Climbing Takes a Team

Since I am a novice mountain climber, I am not sure if there are people who climb mountains alone. But if they are out there, that must be one hard task! What I have learned instead is that mountain climbing takes a team and each team member is valuable in their own right.

The mountain team consists of the climbing party and I suppose people choose their parties differently. When I decided that climbing Rwenzori was one of the things I wanted to do this year, I shared this goal with some friends and a few of them agreed to climb with me. We then got down to preparing together as a team. Climbing Muhabura was part of the preparation for our goal of climbing Rwenzori.

On the mountain itself, one is given a lead guide and a rear guide and porters to help with carrying the heavy loads. The lead guide knows the way and shows the way and he also provides information about the mountain. He ensures that the team is keeping the right pace, Teamand he keeps in contact with the base camp from time to time, to let them know about the progress of the climb and to relay any issues that may arise.
The rear guide keeps watch at the back of the team, making sure that all is well from that end.

As we climbed Muhabura last Saturday, my teammates kept me going through conversation and encouragement. We shared food together, we shared water together. The rear guide helped me navigate the difficult parts on the journey to the peak and through the perilous descent. We all made it together as a team.

In the same way, many of the mountains we face take teamwork. What team have you assembled to help you get through the mountain? What roles have you assigned? Are the tasks clear? Do you need someone to pray with you, to talk with you, to listen, to cry with you, to give you advice, to help you carry that heavy load?

A mountain can be a lonely place, so don’t climb alone. Don’t be too afraid or too proud to ask for help.

#FreeKaramagiNow, #FreeUgandaNow

Flipping through the Daily Monitor today, a story caught my eye. The title was “House Condemns Besigye Arrest, Ridicules Amama”. For those who do not know, yesterday Thursday 9th July, two presidential aspirants – one for Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and the other for the National Resistance Movement (NRM), were both arrested by police as they made their way to address their maiden audiences in a bid to consult about their candidature. Besigye is a leading opposition figure and Amama Mbabazi is a former Prime Minister in the ruling Government.

This paragraph in the story caught my eye “Lawmakers, especially from the ruling NRM party, yesterday asked Parliament to clap for the arrest of former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, as they reminded him to reap what he sowed in reference to his prime role in the passing of the Public Order Management Act (POMA).”

My heart broke when I read that paragraph because the MPs were being so short sighted and insincere in their action. For all intents and purposes, laws in Uganda are not made by one person’s vote. I remember that the day POMA was passed, I was rushing from Kabale in South Western Uganda to go join my civil society colleagues in Parliament, so that we could watch the MPs debate this law. On that afternoon the ruling party had whipped their members to ensure that there was a full House in order to guarantee a majority vote in favor of the POMA. So while the MPs are now clapping that Mbabazi ‘passed’ the POMA, they too had a hand in it. They too condemned Ugandans to a blatant violation of the rights to freedom of assembly and association. If they had wanted to, they could have used their majority in Parliament to vote against the POMA but they didn’t.

When they clap that Amama was arrested, they are really showing that they do not understand that they too are to blame. In fact the 9th Parliament has been quite complicit in supporting the violation of the rights of Ugandans. As they were pointing one finger at Mbabazi, their four other fingers were pointing right back at them. What the MPs forget is that the POMA is dangerous to all Ugandans, and so rather than clap that it has ‘caught’ the chief architect, they should be demanding the immediate repeal of that obnoxious law!

Arrested youths

The youths arrested today. Karamagi in white beside the lady in red.

Many Ugandan are now dealing with the effects of the law, including 7 youths who were today arrested by police merely for holding a press conference condemning the arrest of Besigye and Amama. No sooner had the 7 youths finished addressing the press, than police surrounded them and whisked them off. Their lawyer failed to get them released because police kept giving him a run around. The police made it hard for people to present themselves as sureties for the 7 youths because as one of the preconditions, police demanded that the sureties must have national IDs. Everyone knows how poorly the National ID project was handled and the fact that to date, not everyone has received their IDs, so to make it a precondition for sureties, is to defeat the course of justice.

The youths were not arraigned before court precisely because police was fumbling around looking for a charge to prefer. Now unfortunately, the youths are going to spend the weekend in a police cell in Naggalama, Kayunga, merely for speaking out against bad governance.

I feel a deep pain when I watch events in my country. I feel an even deeper pain that when we need our leaders to rise above, instead they are playing gutter politics. They are involved in mob (in)justice by clapping when a Uganda suffers injustice – forgetting that an injustice against one of us is injustice against all of us.

While I wholeheartedly join the chorus of people demanding the quick release of the 7 youth and the many others that were and have been arrested under the POMA and other draconian laws, my cry is also for freedom for my country – freedom from tyranny, oppression, discrimination, misrule and corruption.

With raised fist and loud voice I cry out – Free Karamagi Now! Free Uganda Now!

My Country Reminds Me of a Battered Woman

Watching the latest events going on in my country, I remembered an article I penned two years ago – the the imagery still applies today.
Read on…….
My Country Reminds Me of a Battered Woman
(By Jacqueline Asiimwe, 22/04/13)
Yesterday, a group of friends and I were planning some Black Monday action and we agreed to take food to one of the schools which, though it feeds all its children, is not able to give them enough food rations at lunch time and has to make the budget stretch. After the agreed action I was charged with calling the head of the school to set up the appointment – which I did. I called about three or four times and each time the head pleaded with me that the action should not be political/politicized.
Despite my assurances, the head felt he had to make this point several times. It was when we had had the last conversation that the thought hit me – Uganda is currently comparable to a woman in a violent relationship. She knows the relationship is not good for her, but for now, she is too paralyzed with fear to leave and so she resorts to survival. She resorts to saying and doing only what the batterer wants, in the hope that this will not attract further harm. At the same time she lives in fear of the next temper tantrum – because most batterers are unpredictable and they pounce at any time.
This is the exact same thing I see happening in my country between citizen and the state. The state has effectively gagged the population, and Ugandans are now fearful of an all powerful state. The state has shown that it comes down hard on anyone who dares confront it – the pictures are relayed in the media for all to see. The silent message is that we dare not leave the state – our husband – or else….
And so, just like a battered woman, we fear to leave because we lack economic autonomy. The majority of Ugandans are poor and Government is the biggest employer and so in a sense, one fears to bite the hand that feeds them. We are dependent on the state for meager salaries and poor services and we console ourselves that the little is better than nothing – even as we starve, even as our children are not learning, even as we die in droves in our hospitals.
Just like a battered woman, we have been effectively isolated – Uganda has been fragmented into smaller and smaller [un-viable] units called districts, we have kingdoms with subsets, ethnic tensions have increased over the years, we have been pitted against each other, we are suspicious of each other, and we fight each other instead of facing up to and confronting the state that batters us.
Like the battered woman, we are often reminded about the magnanimity that the batterer shows us and we are also reminded of how undeserving we are. We are told that if it wasn’t for certain people who ushered in peace and prosperity – we would be nowhere. We are reminded to be grateful for that we can sleep. The batterer is very skilled at spinning the narrative that without him, we would be nothing, we would be nowhere, and we would not amount to much.
Just like the battered woman, if we ever dare to leave, the batterer sets up barricades. We have seen it before – we are reminded of Luwero skulls, if we should dare walk away from our ‘husband’, or we are told even if someone else wins an election, handing over power would not be so obvious, we are threatened with coups – which conjures pictures of the bad old days we have been through, and so to avoid all that, we stay with our batterer.
People often ask why battered women do not leave a violent partner. Look at the picture of the Ugandan citizen and the state and you will understand why. Leaving is a process – slow and painful, but it must be taken. We must continue the work of helping the battered citizen see that they actually have the power to determine their destiny, the batterer is only a bully, whose power to bully is taken away once the battered decides to take back their power. Uganda is a traumatized, battered wife, but she can be healed. There is still hope for her yet.
We must be that hope for our nation.