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essays | places


exploring the topographies of humanscapes



Kitende / Uganda · 2017   one room house



   Passing up on the Gorillas at $750 was just as easy as passing up on them at $1,500 In Rwanda. My wallet was nowhere near that thickness. I couldn’t or wouldn’t even afford a bed. All my Ugandan nights were tent nights, most of them so starry, it’d make your soul spin. Swimming in Lake Victoria wasn’t recommended. Some snail parasite. Locals did it. No matter. I met up with Niko. One time we asked one of the boda boda drivers if we could rent his motorbike. No problem. Fun day. Ugandan landscapes were deep, the humanscapes deeper. I dipped a few toes into these waters, not more.


a glimpse

Boy in front of Lake Victoria, Uganda

passages   UNSEEN, UNHEARD | What if you were unseen, unheard? Where would you look for solace, whom would you call upon?

passages   MONSTER IN THE WEST | Daggers for teeth, we eat their jungles, feast on ill-gotten shiny minerals we can’t digest, starve them with our greed. We harness their kids to propel a petty consumption that consumes the planet, scorching the straws they clutch at, flooding the hopes they sow. And when their land is raped and their life scarred, once their only survival is being repotted without roots, we shut our eyes and hearts and doors. We are the monster in the west.

impoverished single mom in Uganda with her child
Brick made from mud in Uganda

passages   BRICK LORD |
A summer's work
Mud burned into brick
Soil fruit in his hand
Blocks growing from the ground, layer by layer
His blood in them, his scrapes their scrapes
All colors earthy in this dirt rainbow
A son's son and a father's father
Glass bead cataract eyes with a vision
Youth in his age, warmth in his strength
Always helper
A giver this builder
Building more than just a building
Giving more than just hope
Giving love 
To those children in his care
Packed like sardines in the old dorm
School principal, custodian angel
The first step always the right step
A long time coming, a long ways away
Brick kingdom lying dormant underneath the drapes
Large shirt, but he larger, larger than life
Few know his name
Mud hero



Lake Bunyonyi / Uganda · 2017   workplace wonder

Lake Victoria / Uganda · 2017   skinny chairs






places / stories

Lake Bunyonyi / Overland Terror & Ghost Nonprofits


Lake Bunyonyi / Uganda · 2017   underwater land


The lake was a complicated body of water, riddled with nooks and crannies eating into the shore, and myriad islets scattered all over it like gemstones. I pitched my tent in the lushest corner of some hotel’s lakeside garden, where an overland invasion was taking place. Overlanders always feel and behave like some sort of tourism warriors, as though they own the place – the place being Earth. Some particularly arrogant specimens were descending onto two staff with a scolding anger-fit about some outlet that didn’t work. “Who do you think you are to talk to them like that,” I jumped in to the rescue that wasn’t needed. The staff had already shrugged it off and chalked it up as Westerners, but I was set off like an indignant baby bomb. “What?” He looked at me like he’d never heard someone say something to him before. I repeated it like a dictation: “Who-do-you-think-you-are?” I don’t remember the rest of that conversation, only the shy giggle-smiles on the staff’s faces. The whole thing was quite funny to them, and I think they’d already put me on the same white-weirdo list as the others, because my part in this was just as absurd to them. Fair enough. I left that place before long. They weren’t interested in the photos I’d taken to trade for my bill. The bill was due whereas the future marketing reward of the photos was utterly vague.


Lakeside hotel at Lake Bunyonyi in Uganda

Lake Bunyonyi / Uganda · 2017   lakeside luxury


I relocated to the park-like backyard of another hotel right by the lake, where I was the only guest for the most part. This time, I settled the photos-for-lodging-deal up front, and even though there was some disagreement about the exchange rate when I left after some ten days, the staff and I had a good time home alone together.



Lake Bunyonyi / Uganda · 2017   in charge with a smile


Lake Bunyonyi / Uganda · 2017   putting on a show for local tourists



Lake Bunyonyi / Uganda · 2017   a campsite not too shabby


Lake Bunyonyi / Uganda · 2017   tent pet


Every time I’d go for a walk along the lake, a different young guy would approach me with a different young ghost-nonprofit – orphanage, women quarry, etc. – which could all use money, but would dissolve into thin air a few questions later. Cannot be visited. Cannot produce any documentation or evidence. I only ever passed up on the donation, never the conversation. Nice guys.


Lake Bunyonyi in Uganda

Lake Bunyonyi / Uganda · 2017   lovable lake


Young man at Lake Bunyonyi in Uganda

Lake Bunyonyi / Uganda · 2017   friends for one walk


Lake Victoria / Beer, Rolex, Stars

Starry night at Lake Victoria, Uganda

Lake Victoria / Uganda · 2017   galactic ceiling


Lake Victoria, Uganda

Lake Victoria / Uganda · 2017   Niko and his stars


I arrived after dark and tried to find my way down to the lake. A convoy of women and kids was headed that way too and took me in. They said it wasn’t safe for me alone, which added to my perceived safety just as much as it subtracted. Down by the lake someone pointed me to Niko’s tent, and we had delicious beers and more delicious rolexes and the most delicious stars. He’d cycled his lazy butt all the way from Rwanda, while I had bussed my even lazier butt. We had quite a few laughs to catch up on.


Kids at Lake Victoria, Uganda

Lake Victoria / Uganda · 2017   men in the making


Ferry on Lake Victoria, Uganda

Lake Victoria / Uganda · 2017   rain calling


Rope on a ferry on Lake Victoria, Uganda

Lake Victoria / Uganda · 2017   from rope to twine


Kitende / Survival Artists

Kitende / Uganda · 2017   home is this


I didn’t have time to volunteer in Uganda, but that’s a lie. I didn’t make the time because I wanted to go to Ethiopia before leaving the continent. I did visit a nonprofit in Kitende though that came recommended by someone I’d met in Kigali. “Chigali” and “Chitende”, they would pronounce it in Uganda.

Being a single mom is not easy from what I gather. Neither is being raised by a single mom. Evalyn knows that because she was that child. With her Kampala-based nonprofit she supports others to make their experience a little softer.

All the single moms we visited raised at least three survival artists in their kitchen-less, bathroom-less, plumbing-less 9 square meter houses.



Kitende / Uganda · 2017   Christ as a roommate



Kitende / Uganda · 2017   solar kitchen



Kitende / Uganda · 2017   indoor fire


We also visited a boarding school, where a hundred kids lived in a single bedroom with 10 beds – head-to-head, toe-to-toe, head-to-toe, like Tetris blocks. “They don’t know anything else,” Evalyn said with compassionate warmth. It was the summer break, but some students were studying hard in one of the classrooms.



Kitende / Uganda · 2017   principals


Kitende / Uganda · 2017   ambitious summer break



Kitende / Uganda · 2017   brick shower 


Kitende / Uganda · 2017   think sink


Entebbe / Tent in Ruins

Entebbe / Uganda · 2017   carving silhouettes


I’ve never slept in a Ugandan bed. From Lake Bunyonyi to Lake Victoria to Entebbe, there’s always been a friendly and juicy patch of grass for me to pitch my little fabric house. Shaped like a casket and loyal like one, my tent had been my go-to home throughout large parts of Africa, much more so than in Asia or Latin America. Sure, it had started to leak at some point and I could never figure out the where and how, but retiring it never crossed my mind, not even when sandwiched between puddles on either side of my sleeping pad. Until that one day a little boy happened. It was the grandson of the hostel owner in whose sunny and rainy garden I’d set up camp. When I came back that day, the damage was done. My then was in ruins. Somebody had seen the boy leaning on it, and the fiberglass poles had snapped like twigs. It took one little boy to demolish what the winds of the world couldn’t touch. His young grandfather was digging a hole in the garden when I approached him to get his take on the matter. He got defensive and loud to the point where I thought he would just put me in the hole, that perhaps he had shoveled it for that purpose, but when he realized that I simply wanted a solution, not gold, he lightened up enough to talk business. He took me to his blacksmith where we spent some two hours while the guy made replacement poles for me. From iron. They were rigid as iron and heavy as iron. My fiberglass poles had been light as blades of grass; now I was carrying an iron-clad, medieval torture device that weighed a few stones. The leak was worse now. But at least the new setup was in line, fashion-wise, with the potato bag that had replaced my tent’s original bag in the Philippines.



Entebbe / Uganda · 2017   a road




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