Uganda 2017 Day 13: Chimp Heaven

After a tiring day yesterday, it was hard to drag ourselves out of bed, but we had promised Ramathan that we would visit the children at Katunguru Primary School. We stopped off at Tembo for breakfast. Most of this trip, I have just had toast for breakfast, but today I was really hungry so I had a rolex. The journey down to Katunguru was fine and we arrived at 9.30am to be greeted by Ramathan and Levi, the headteacher.

Our first task was to have a question and answer session with the older children. Mrs Green had P5, Calum had P6 and I had P7. I was fully expecting to be asked about Manchester United or the weather in England, but here is a selection of the questions I had to answer:

What is the European Union and how does it work?

Why did the UK treat Nelson Mandela like a terrorist?

Why was Osama Bin-Laden killed?

Why did the USA invade Iraq?

Why do other counties not like Russia?

I like to think that I’m up to date with current affairs and history, but I had to work very hard to explain my answers thoroughly and I made full use of the chalkboard. I’m currently reading a book called The Rift by a man called Alex Perry, which is all about sub – Saharan Africa. What the book makes clear is how ignorant we are of Africa’s history and how we have imposed our views and ideas upon Africans whether they want them or not. It was therefore really interesting to talk to some very intelligent children whose views were not necessarily the same as my own.

After breaktime, during which Mrs Green and I played netball with some of the girls, we went to visit Katunguru’s new library, which was donated by a US Peace Corps worker called Robert who worked at the school for a year. The building was fabulous and it was well stocked with books. Some of the titles may be a little strange to English audiences – my personal favourite was Akiira and the cannibals.

Finally, we moved on to classes P4 – P1 to say hello to all the children. In each class we were given a very warm welcome, but my absolute favourite was P1. They are taught by Robyna, who has been at Katunguru for as long as I have been visiting Uganda. Robyna always has her class immaculately drilled. When we reached the class Robyna was conducting tests with individual children outside the classroom and some of the children had already been sent home, but those who remained in class were brilliant. They sung us a welcome song, so we replied in kind with Row, row, row the boat. The children hit back with Heads, shoulders, knees and toes. They then totally floored us with a local song which involved a lot of jumping around. We felt that we had no choice but to join in.

We left Katunguru at 1.00pm and headed up to Kyambura Gorge where we were going chimp trekking with a ranger we know as English Robert. I had seen Robert at World Ranger Day and he had made me promise to come and visit him at the gorge, not that I needed any encouragement as he is such a nice man.

We had a bit of a wait when we got to the gorge as Robert had been shopping. We talked to a German couple from Aachen while we waited. When Robert arrived he was very pleased to see us and got ready immediately. The six of us had a short drive before we arrived at our entry point into the gorge. In two previous visits to the gorge, the closest I had got to the chimps was seeing them about half a mile away in distant trees with a pair of binoculars. However, Robert had been out with a group that morning and was confident that a) he knew where they were currently feeding and b) that we could get close to them. Within one minute, Robert had spotted a leopard in a tree, who disappeared so quickly that none of the rest of us saw it. However, Robert could show us its tracks as well as that of a hyena. Ten minutes later we heard the screeching of the chimps and another immediately after we got our first sighting.

There was a group of about 24 chimpanzees crossing the river. We got some photos, but none of them were really clear. However, Robert told us he had a good idea of their route and he would take us to a place where we could get a clear photo. This involved retracing our steps and then twenty minutes of lung-bursting climbs up some slippy slopes. At one point, we heard the chimps screeching and I thought that they were a long way away, but Robert explained that the gorge can make sounds that are near seem a distance away. As usual he was absolutely right. Suddenly, we saw a lone chimp standing guard and then we saw the dominant male up in the canopy. Robert showed us a good route so we could get some clear photos – we snapped away happily. Soon more of the chimps arrived and we got even more shots. Robert told us that he had named one of the chimps, Mweya, and he was so used to humans that you could easily take a selfie with Mweya in the background. On this day he didn’t stop for long enough but he walked within four feet of us as he passed.

We were back at our car fifteen minutes later. It had been an absolute privilege to spend time with Robert, who is a master of his craft, and to get near such magnificent animals. We all thought it had been a very special afternoon.

For the first time in what seemed an eternity, we got back home and it was still light. We all had jobs to do –in my case, blogging – but we were all really hungry so went early for dinner to Tembo. I had their club pizza which was stacked really high and smothered with cheese. It was lovely, but very filling. Mrs Green was delighted with her spaghetti neapolitana.

Tomorrow, we are Mweya based as we are giving Gloria (from P6 in Kafuro) the opportunity to show off her cooking skills at Tembo.

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