FOR a veteran, if I may use the word, of the National Parks with many visits going back to the difficult days when the groups driving through the animal trails very rarely consisted of indigenous Ugandans, this Christmas was both a pleasant and dismaying eye opener.
My Christmas in the Park, managed by www.shiyaya.travel crowned my year of tourism landmarks and promised me that 2016 would be even bigger for Uganda’s tourism sector, especially local tourism (you, me and ours being tourists) – which means that we have a lot more work to do.
The vast pleasantness of my trip lay in seeing so many Ugandans in the Parks, but ironically that also dismayed me somewhat at a few turns and corners – literally, when the car accidents occurred.
On one morning, three accidents took place within a radius of a couple of kilometres, and all appeared to be caused by the reckless driving that had my group worried from the time we entered the park and noticed a disparity between the “40kph” signs and the speed at which most vehicles were actually progressing.
On a side note, I did find it uplifting to see a young government-employed Ugandan doctor squeezing his family into one corner of their vehicle in order to accommodate a bleeding accident victim, giving the man first aid at a nearby hotel, and then putting a major break into the family holiday by driving the injured man to the nearest health centre.
This doctor’s dedication to his Hippocratic Oath and service to the public still causes me to applaud him mentally every time I recall the sight of him cleaning up that patient with his family standing round in a calm state of holiday. For a fleeting moment the thought occurred that perhaps having lost his father in a motor vehicle accident, this young man was even more invested in helping the victim that day, but I put it aside and saluted Dr. Charles Ayume once again.
His was not the only display of random kindness by Ugandans in the park; hours later, we came across a Chinese fellow whose car had lost a tyre right at the top of the Murchison (Kabalega) Falls and was frantically trying to make his way to Masindi to get it fixed.
The vast number of visitors made it easy for him to hitch a ride on a tour bus full of Ugandans – another change from our situation just a few years ago, in which one was often lonely at the top of the falls, communing closely with roaring nature – but along the way he spotted another van with a spare tyre that would work on his van.
Stopping the van, this Chinese fellow made desperate offers in exchange for the use of the spare tyre for the two or so hours it would take to get to Masindi, have it fixed, and drive back – including hard cash, the purchase of two brand new tyres for the loan of one, and handing over his tour group as hostages for as long as it took.
When the van gave him the tyre free of charge and asked that he simply leave it behind at the Shell Masindi, he failed to understand the offer. Consulting his mates, the group had an animated discussion and variously asked the van owner to clarify how, exactly, he was benefitting from this.
“I am Ugandan. You are enjoying Uganda. We are kind. I will trust you.”
The entire group was licked, and presented solemn handshakes while proclaiming in halting english about how good Ugandans are. I added them to my mental applause list.
About an hour later, I bumped into Tegrasi Ndozireho, a uniformed Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) Ranger with a smattering of bray hair, cradling a baby in a kangaroo pouch strapped over his military fatigues.
The sight was odd, as “Bring Your Baby To Work” is one of the last incentives I’d expect Wildlife Park Rangers to have.
He laughed and explained that he had taken the baby off a tourist so she could enjoy the experience at the top of the falls in safety and in its fullness. So he stood under the shade and rocked the little child to and fro for a while as the grateful mother traipsed about.
I couldn’t hug him, but he got signed up for mental applause as well.
There were more and more instances of these surprising bursts of Ugandan kindness and dedication to duty. Enough to make me believe that we are really ready to make tourism more than just a catchphrase by government officials.
WE must make tourism in Uganda our own, and make it work on our own as Ugandans.
2016 will be the year Ugandans realise how we ourselves can make tourism in Uganda benefit US. Iitwe. Ffe. Iife. Sisi.