FEBRUARY 28th – MARCH 11th

A mug of porridge, with neither milk nor sugar entices this schoolboy in Kashambya Primary.
Kashambya Technical School girl.

So what of my contract in Tanzania..?

Despite my apprehension: not really knowing why I was there or what was expected of me; the mental discord that I am in ‘travel mode’ and not confident changing to work mode; the fact that I’m really not a film director – all aspects that weighed on me while I waited – I had a really good time and thoroughly enjoyed myself! It’s good for confidence that my peers still consider I have something to offer; I bonded instantly with, Amin, the young film maker from Dar es Salaam, and the hospital director, Mary. “You’re CRAZY!” she kept reiterating when we met and she heard the stories of matatus with 25 passengers and the fact that I’d hired a motorbike taxi to search for her hospital. “You’re CRAAZY!” But perhaps my most valuable contribution, that my American colleagues couldn’t have offered, is my now fairly deep understanding of African life. “You UNDERSTAND!” she exclaimed as we talked of the jealousy she incurs in her uneducated community, despite bringing them a state of the art hospital in the bush. “I never met a mzungu who understands how these people are so jealous and just think I am a rich mzungu, when all the time I am using my OWN money to help them..!”

Mary, born in Kashambya, trained as a doctor in USA, and now struggles to provide her people with a state of the art hospital in the bush.

Mary is a chubby, voluble American citizen, born here in the village near Bukoba, in north western Tanzania near the western shore of Lake Victoria. Daughter of educated parents, her mother was her champion, and willed her land in the village. As a now American citizen, she’s not allowed to buy land, but can keep land she inherits: hence the hospital in the bush. And despite her extreme generosity – “Of course, as a doctor in US for six months of every year, I earn well, but I’m spending so much of it here…” – her locality is envious and jealous and tries to subvert her efforts, and the Tanzanian government does nothing to help, mainly putting difficulties in her way: they resent outsiders coming in and aiding their people, when the politicians get no credit and, I guess, no corrupt cash for involvement. Oh, Africa can be disillusioning when you scratch below the surface of the safari tours and glossy tourism.

Mary and Gertrude, mother of a boy badly injured in a motorbike accident discuss how he was saved by what his friends insisted on calling the ‘mzungu hospital’.


On Monday, Mary was still busy and reluctant to take time to meet me. I felt I needed to do something at least and made my own visit to discover the hospital out in the bush. I’m glad I took the initiative as I was then prepared for our first day’s filming.


A serious storm boils over Lake Victoria.

Amin, the cameraman, was flying in from Dar es Salaam, delayed by some hours as a dramatic thunderstorm raged across Bukoba. I watched from my balcony as lightning flashed and the deepest slate clouds boiled over the lake. His plane turned back to Mwanza on the south side of the lake shortly before landing in Bukoba, which has no radar at its small airstrip – and is justifiably cautious after an accident that killed 19 passengers in November when a plane tried to land in bad weather and plummeted into the lake before reaching the runway.

Amin, a pleasure to worry with, as the smile proves.

It was early evening before Amin knocked on my door and we could chat. We conversed for an hour and a half, bonding immediately and instinctively. He’s about 28, studied at film school in Turkey and is deeply committed to his trade. He works hard and with a smile. I so enjoyed his company, and when you like the people with whom you work, you invariably do better work. Mary came to introduce herself and have supper with us. It’s a Catholic hotel, considerably fancier at $45 than I usually inhabit. I had six pleasant nights, with a balcony overlooking the lake, as big as an inland sea, a simple bar and quite good food.

Establishing shots at the lake’s edge.

On Wednesday, we set to work. We’d shot lists and suggestions from our American colleagues, but most of them turned out to be pretty irrelevant to the actual situation on the ground. It’s a fledgling hospital with few patients. It suffers from the fact that most people nearby haven’t even a couple of dollars to spend on treatment.

Spensioza, our first patient, with very low bp.

An elderly woman was the first patient – one of just two during our filming. “Just give me the medicine, I don’t want to see a doctor,” she insisted. Doctors cost money. But with a blood pressure level that was dangerously low, Mary had to do tests to find the reason. In the end, she had to offer to pay the ECG cost herself, a few dollars.

Dr Sampson, the medical officer in charge, with Bryana and her baby, Namala.

The second patient was a young woman with a small, very cute girl who had almost died from pneumonia. “I had to discharge her with an intravenous drip,” Mary told us. “It’s against all regulations, but the mother has no money. But she has done well by her daughter. She’s attended every day for treatment.” By the third day, little Namala was walking herself, constantly unable to draw her sad little eyes from the mzungu.

Namala, who almost died of pneumonia. Saved by Kashambya hospital.
She didn’t like the treatment, though.

We filmed around the area for two days; establishing shots of the hospital and environs; women hoeing in their fields; at the primary school that Mary provided 20 years ago (“Just look, no maintenance since I handed it to the government. It was so clean and well cared for…” It requires great tenacity to achieve anything here.

This will be home to the giant new scanner, the only one for 100 miles. Yet Mary struggles with government regulations.

I took many photographs, a great excuse to get more portraits. We shot all over the new hospital, empty wards and the new imaging centre for which Mary’s American philanthropist is soon to supply a scanner that will rival anything in the province of Tanzania. Yet the government won’t even construct a gravel road to the hospital and puts endless challenges in Mary’s path. I can only conclude that there’s nothing in it for government officials…

Gertrude was sowing groundnuts in her field.

On the third day of work, Mary organised a blood drive at a local technical school. Blood is rarely collected here, and a valuable resource.

A blood drive at a nearby technical school. Students were happy to donate in exchange for rare treats: a bottle of pop and pack of biscuits…

We filmed and photographed happily, despite torrential rain outside. The school was grim: having fulfilled most of what we’d come to do, I wandered off to the boy’s dormitory and kitchens. Tell a western student that they must live like this and there’d be a revolution. “Oh, I studied in a place just like that! That’s not poverty, it’s reality,” Mary dismissed the harsh conditions of the 25 young men in their miserable dorm, with its grubby foam mattresses, draped clothes and concrete floor beneath iron bunk beds.

“It’s reality…”
The technical school kitchen. Diet? Maize ugali with minimal soup of onions and tomatoes probably.

We worked, but we partied too. We all got along so well. Amin and I had our professional links and Mary and I were linked by my understanding of African life and the ‘other’ life we both live amongst more complacent Americans and Europeans. I hope we’ll meet in Massachusetts in due course, and maybe at Kashambya again. In the end, all my reservations came to nothing.

Happy donor.
A bottle of pop and some biscuits…

I hope we made good film, but it’s very different from the one my American colleagues imagined. “Much better, more personal and powerful,” Amin summed up our three days’ efforts. I know I got fine pictures, which gave me a confidence boost too, and the fact that we all worked so happily, with so much mutual respect was terrific. We all believed we’d done a professional job – and we’d thoroughly enjoyed it at the same time. What more could we ask? We dined on Friday night with a lot of pleasure and were sorry to end our time together. Having heard of my undignified arrival and so shocked that their photographer and video co-director rode a 12-seater minibus packed with 25 adults, three babies and all their bags and baggages, Rahym, the project manager, insisted that the project would send me back to the Uganda border by private car! I didn’t demur…

Children queue up for a mug of plain porridge at school. For some, it’ll be all they eat today except plain maize ugali.


Despite being on expenses (!) there’s not much advantage when travelling in Africa by public means. However much privilege I enjoy I have only the choices available to my fellow men and women… Much as I’d like to flit across Lake Victoria by air (actually, would I..?), there’re no flights to get me nearer my African homes. I am condemned to the matatus again.

Leoncia, hotel manager at Bukoba.

Making an early start for the journey back, I was driven away from the hotel overlooking the lake at 7.00am. The kitchen is unreliable, with breakfast scheduled to begin at 6.30. In the end, I had just time to grab a sausage, a pancake and throw down a mug of Milo. On this and six biscuits and half a litre of water, I survived the next 14 hours. It’s not surprising that I have notched up TWO belt holes by now: two inches off the waistline.

Winni, lab assistant.

On my ghastly ride to Bukoba last Sunday, I saw none of the scenery from my contortions in the minibus. Now, I rode in style. The driver didn’t speak English so I was at liberty to relax and gaze at the fine, wide views of rolling savannah grasslands and fir forests. The road was quiet, the driver considerate, and traffic laws are observed and roads maintained in Tanzania. It made for a more relaxing journey than the ones to come later, in madcap, disintegrating Uganda.

I was at the border at 8.45. Formalities were polite and friendly. Once again, I paid my $50 and walked into Uganda, slopping through the thick brown mud of Mutukula once again, only this time, after rain, it was sticky and disgusting. Only the customs officer made any issue of my entry, insisting on going through every corner of my – very small – backpack, opening every bag and case. I haven’t much respect for authority at the best of times, but when I know officials are just trying to make a meal of their petty power, it evaporates completely. “Why don’t I just tip it all out on your floor?” I asked, doing just that, dirty washing, bag-bottom debris and all. “I’m going to have to repack it anyway because you’ve turned it all upside down.”

Matatus were waiting up the road. I waited the customary hour for it to fill – this time with 18 passengers (remember: they are called ‘18 Condemned’ in Ghana!). The fifty miles or so to Masaka are potholed and broken; now we splashed through deep slippery pits of mud as well. The car crashes and bounces, the passengers shaken and battered, the driver sharing his seat with a noisy woman. How can he drive, forced against the door with three passengers on the front seat? Well, I call it ‘drive’… That implies a certain regard for vehicle, passengers and life. That’s not the way here. None of the passengers can drive themselves, so no one actually COMPREHENDS the dangerous practices on these roads: freewheeling down any slope to save a soupçon of diesel as profit for the driver – who doesn’t own the vehicle. We’re overloaded for the same reason: the extra fares go to this lousy driver.

We are squeezed into an undignified space, eighteen strangers condemned to face their chances together on this road with undisciplined users, corrupt police just there to collect bribes, in unroadworthy vehicles on broken roads. A voluble argument breaks out in this small space. Everyone has an opinion and wants to share it, loudly. I’ve no idea what it’s about; something to do with the woman who’s sharing the driver’s seat. She got out and went to a shop, delaying us all, and got back in the car with no apology. Everyone’s yelling at her now, but she’s arrogant. Eventually, it seems the passengers all vote to throw her out, and happily she disappears. The driver still shouts his justifications. This harangue is going to go on and on. I delve in my bag – on my contorted knees of course – for my earplugs and retreat from it all. When the conductor tries to move me to a smaller seat, (I already have to sit sideways with my feet in the door foot well), I play the grumpy intransigent mzungu. I’m not moving. The man next to me is big enough for two as it is. The vehicle is dangerously overloaded so the driver can make a few extra bob – at the expense of safety and comfort. Comfort! Hah! Most of the passengers are shouting into mobile phones. It’s odd how people have so little sensitivity or shame about sharing their intimate conversations with strangers these days. I hate making any call in public, with others listening.


At 2.00 in the afternoon – I got up in Bukoba at 6.45 – we cross the Equator once again. I’m back in the northern hemisphere. A few souvenir shops and another school called Equator Primary. There must be dozens along this imaginary line across these countries. We’re still at least two hours short of ghastly Kampala. It’ll take the last hour and a half of this awful journey just to get into the city. I don’t intend to stay there this time, I’m going right through the horrors of the decaying city and its seething population. No one talks to me on this journey. It’s not so friendly down here as it is in eastern Uganda. But at the end of the ride, it seems that James, a young man beside me now, in a shiny blue suit, is also going on to Jinja this afternoon. “In that case, I’m going to follow you!” I say as we emerge into the frenetic mess of Kampala and matatu conductors and touts descend to hassle me. James know where we are going for the next matatu: it turns out to be only a quarter of a mile through the busiest streets I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s Saturday afternoon and chaos. There are tens of thousands thronging the streets, battling with boda-bodas riding the wrong way through pedestrian precincts (‘Strictly cycles only’) and the gross flashy cars of the Big Men, forcing their arrogant, proud way through these broken streets. Those who consider themselves above the rest of us, put on their hazard lights and drive forcefully, pushing peasants out of their road. These really are the nastiest manifestation of humanity in Africa.

Kampala, a warning to the world…

Somewhere along the trial of this ride, I get an excited message from Alex: ‘We have our first camping guest at Rock Gardens!’ Good, things are finally taking off for him. I’m on my way back too. He’ll be happy.

James directs me to the next matatu going to Jinja, so called ‘Source of the Nile’, where the great river exits Lake Victoria. There used to be impressive falls there, until the government blasted them away for a hydro scheme. Now the town broadcasts its tourism status, but I visited the ‘Source’ a few years back: a place of plastic debris, dust, filth and tawdry bars. But this visit, I just want to break my long awful journey. We get to the matatu and James starts to back away. “I thought you were coming to Jinja?”

“But I don’t have money for this bus, I will go and get another…” I thought it was a standard fare, maybe not. So I offer to pay his fare, telling him that his protection of the mzungu from all the touts and cheats is worth the £2.50. A mzungu is like a magnet. We get the front seats, so I can witness all the ghastliness of what’s probably the busiest, most frustrating road in all East Africa. Millions of vehicles crawl this way every day, on a broken road, single carriageway, with 22-wheelers staggering up the hills and everyone fighting through the densest traffic and filthy, obstructed roadside towns filled with crazed motorcyclists. Sometimes we dash forward three abreast in desperate overtaking; at others we delve off into broken mud streets in hectic towns, a pointless attempt to get ahead of the jams, rolling and bouncing on informal mud roads between shacks trading so much Chinese crap it’s mind-boggling. And those proud men force their way with their hazard lights flashing, better than the rest of humanity. We got in this minibus at 4.00, left at 4.45 and it takes three and three quarter hours to travel 51 miles… Less than 14 miles an hour… It’s just awful. I never want to see this road again. It’s little more than a traffic jam fifty miles long. Fancy being condemned to LIVE here and use this dreadful road. It doesn’t bear thinking of…

The smiling mzungu fascinates a small boy.

I reflect as I watch the appalling antics of a million drivers, that this is how I used to travel for all those years before I became a biker. The stamina and sheer cussedness are still there, but I’ve become used to my independence, the ability to go where I want, stop as I wish, detour on a whim, investigate. No, I don’t want to travel like this any more, unless I am forced by circumstances. It’s not that I’m getting too old – perish the thought! – but I’m not enjoying this experience.

Kampala madness.

Darkness falls, now we’re dazzled by errant lights, or sometimes there are no lights at all. It’s SO dangerous, this pitted road with the crawling 22-wheeler containers – with their faulty brakes and mad drivers. We’re approaching Jinja very slowly. It’s 8.30 at night, and I set out at 7.00 this morning. So I decide to do something I almost never do: book a place to sleep ahead. I’ve got internet on Mr Bezos’s phone, so I find a hotel on the horrid booking dot com (I even have to write it that way to avoid links and cookies being forcibly downloaded to my writing). I’m on expenses! Why not use the convenient method? But it’s interesting that it’s the worst value I’ve had on the several last trips: usually I just pole up and look around, then bargain a room in the best looking of choices. Most travellers these days lack the confidence to do that, so they get ripped off by an all-engrossing, intrusive internet giant instead. This place is double the usual tariff I pay, and not worth it. Still, I’m not paying – but I still resent the poor value. It’s only a night, I want to be away early for the journey home to Sipi.


In the morning, it’s another one hour twenty minute wait for the matatu to fill up to leave for Mbale, the biggest town near Sipi. I pride myself that at least with this long wait, I get the front seat again. But to my consternation and irritation, it turns out the minibus is only going to Iganga, twenty miles up the road. I am shoved unceremoniously into the cramped back of another bus to Mbale, a madcap race behind a fast driver who constantly throws the car into neutral to coast down the slightest slope at 50mph with 19 passengers in the back. I wonder how long it’d take to stop this heavily overloaded vehicle with all the sacks of vegetables on the roof when the brakes fail. They will one day, for maintenance is an unnecessary expense. I have the same experience in what I hope is the final minibus up the mountain to Sipi: the driver tells me he’s going no further than the bottom of the hill and I must take a boda the last 15 miles. No way! I bargain with a taxi car and buy a couple of pineapples while I wait. But the car is almost twelve pence more expensive than a motorbike, so no one wants to go in the car unless they have heavy sacks to carry. I wait. I give the driver an ultimatum: five more minutes and I’ll be forced to take a boda. He grumbles. I wait. Then a smart tourist car from the most expensive Sipi hotel pulls up and asks if I’d like a ride. Would I like a ride! And Ramazan drives me up the hills. He’s a local tour guide, who organises treks to the top of Mount Elgon, several-day hikes. He also works at the expensive hotel. He knows Alex and I do good marketing-speak all the way up the mountain, such that he says, “I’m not dropping you in the centre! I’m coming all the way to Rock Gardens. I need to look at it. I have many guests for whom it may be just what they want: a taste of African life.” Exactly, I agree, that’s what we’re trying to create. And happily, we have a guest too right now. We show Ramazan around and give him some of the brochures we printed in Kampala. I really feel that Rock Gardens may begin to take off now, with this marketing.


Elio, Precious and Alex go hiking.

Elio is a charming young man from Berlin. He’s camping in the garden. I laugh when Alex tells me that he phoned, having seen the website and been attracted by pictures of the gardens, and asked, “Do you have a tent?” (Apparently, it’s the norm for hotels like this to supply the tent. I assumed the camper brought his own.) “Oh, yes!” Alex assured Elio, the scurrying about while Elio came up from Mbale, finding said tent! An ex-army friend had a tent and agreed to sell it to Alex, who had no money! So Elio arrived to find a brand new tent ready for him, despite Alex’s debt that would be paid when I arrived.

Elio (a Greek name, he says) is just 19, and has been volunteering in Tanzania and now wants to explore more of East Africa. A mature, curious fellow, his company was great. These days, I find myself often becoming a mentor or inspiration to younger travellers, a role I relish. Old enough to be his grandfather but humble enough to be equal, we had good conversation and chatter till late nights around the fire pit. “I shall really miss this place!” he declared on his third and last evening: just the reaction we want. He became part of the family in a couple of days: ‘Uncle Elio’ to the children and hugged by Precious. This is what can make Rock Gardens special.


Precious made it all the way!

On Monday we hiked again, the pastime I’ve come to enjoy so much here. Precious has been eager not to miss out, and the prospect of young Elio’s company encouraged her to join us. Alex and I gave her an hour before she was asking for a motorbike to take her home. To our amazement, she walked ALL the way from Sipi to Kapchorwa, a huge distance of at least 12 to 14 steep, hilly miles, a feat of endurance that not one of her neighbours and friends would even consider possible. She was proud and is looking so much better than a year ago, when her weight was increasing and her confidence in this jealous, envious ignorant village decreasing. I’m happy to see her doing so much better, especially now Rock Gardens is perhaps just beginning to burgeon.


While we were out walking for the day, an unfortunate but typical event occurred. Someone broke into Elio’s tent and stole two small banknotes, maybe six or seven pounds in value. But the story tells so much about the thinking of Uganda. The thief was young Abraham, who’s been working with us, and for whom Alex has been finding small jobs. Now, he will probably never come back, and certainly will get no more valuable support from Alex. It’s the usual short-sighted thinking: a quick few shillings, rather than the ongoing support for a hard working young boy whose father just disappeared one day. Few on this continent plan or think for the future: the value of long-term support – or a quick buck, once off. They’d rather steal a dollar today, than reap a dollar a day for the next months. But the example filters down from the very top of the hierarchy in this crumbling, immoral country. A quick corrupt buck now is valued more than the wealth of integrity and work. All the way to the top… It infiltrates Uganda society, infected all down the social chain. I’d considered helping Abraham to go for lessons with a local building school…



It’s a rich irony, an irrelevant farce, that Wednesday was International Women’s Day: in this culture where women are expendable slaves. The local council had allocated 300,000 Uganda Shillings for celebration – hardly a generous gesture at something under £70: enough to buy guests a packet of sweet biscuits and a bottle of over sweet soda that will boost the shameless profits of the Coca Cola Corporation, who licence almost every single-use plastic bottle that infests the Ugandan countryside and environment. However small the meaningless gesture to International Women’s Day by the local authority, 180,000 shillings was instantly corruptly ‘diverted’ – without doubt into men’s bank accounts, leaving just 120,000 shillings, just £27 to commemorate a day that really has no relevance in this medieval country. It’s just how things work here. It’s blatant, shameless and expected by the cynicism of the population, who’ve watched this corruption all their lives.

In so many ways, this is a completely medieval country, socially and morally stuck in an ancient ‘cultural’ and ‘traditional’ past where the ‘wisdom’ and power of men is preserved at all cost. Education levels are abysmally low; many aren’t even in school; this country had the longest school closures in the world during the pandemic – despite very low Coronavirus statistics – although it’s widely believed that the government inflated them richly to milk more aid from the international community… Schools were closed for an unjustifiable 22 months.

I’ve come to understand that there’s only ONE route to development: ‘Education, Education, Education’ (to quote another politician who formed delusions of power). Here, it is a low priority. I’ve also come to understand that it’s so much easier for despotic governments to rule over ignorant people, from whom most powers have been wrested.

The mad population explosion here – remember, the average birth rate per woman is seven babies…; pollution – this must be one of the dirtiest countries on the continent; equality – hah, just a joke here; agriculture and nutrition – with the attendant problems of poor physical and mental development; even poverty itself, can be addressed and affected by Education. Pouring limitless money into churches and religion keeps this country in its middle ages. And I see two or three so-called churches (AKA business opportunities) to every school. It’s even more obvious in poor rural areas. The churches take on the role of control and subjugation of the ignorant people; they pay no taxes and aid the government’s programme of oppression. It’s all so simple when people are emasculated by those at the top…

Power corrupts… Why is it that I can point to so few African leaders who benefited their people? Nkrumah, Mandela… and then I begin to struggle. Is it, I wonder, that colonialism trusted, and consequently trained so few local leaders that at its importunately hasty end it left a vacuum open to greed and despotism? Or is it just lack of education that precluded any sense of democracy for the African people? Democratic choice thrives in educated communities. There is rare democracy and rare decent education on this continent… But, then there’s Zimbabwe, the most educated country in Africa, and even that’s in a mess, caught in the treadmill of despotism and conflict. However, they do settle their differences in a relatively adult manner, as their peaceful ousting of the criminal Mugabe testified. Uganda, though, is steadily building the usual dynasty, as the president’s son gains power for the future and opposition is silenced.

This country, Uganda, could be such a lovely place to be. I feel so sad for my educated friends who had the misfortune to be born to an undeveloping country and must strive and struggle in such a cesspit of corruption and hegemony.


Rock Gardens gets a new sign.

I spent four more nights in Sipi, and then it was time to head back round the mountain once again. My 2023 safari is near its end now, just days to go before I fly back to hot water bottles and blankets. The one personal benefit of International Women’s Day was that schools closed (any excuse) for the day, giving me a day with two of my favourite small children. I constantly persuade Keilah that she is equal to all; she can become a doctor, a pilot, a lawyer, a professional woman. She’s only six, but it WAS International Women’s Day! I’ve come to love Keilah so much: a truly delightful, warm, loving girl, with keen intelligence and bright character. Little Jonathan Bean Cheptai is still a rambunctious child, but has also intelligence and cheer. They’re stimulated by loving parents who, despite peer pressure, intend to limit their family to a size they can educate and bring up with whatever privileges can be managed. “Oh, I left that chapter long ago!” jokes Alex with Elio as we walk – and see that just about every young woman has a baby at her back as she carries weighty firewood from the valleys, water from the springs, washes, sows, harvests and keeps the home – on International Women’s Day, as the men sit and drink local brew and ‘marry’ more downtrodden women to produce more babies they can abandon.

Keilah and Jonathan have a day at home with their mzungu.

On the 9th, I must head for Kenya. Precious and Alex come with me by boda-boda to Kapchorwa, where I can get a minibus to the border, 75km away. The rider Alex calls for me, Levi, is actually a good rider; there aren’t many. I say my usual spiel about docking 500 bob for every time he freewheels downhill, but Levi actually knows how to ride in gear. He’s the first I’ve found who isn’t totally confused by my instruction to use engine braking, not his cheap Chinese brakes. In fact, Levi has an Indian machine, well maintained and 150cc, a TVS, in good condition. It’s two years old, he tells me as we ride. Most machines are broken and battered by overloading after two years.

At the matatu stage, four vehicles are waiting and the touts pounce on the mzungu. I hate this: I’m just money on legs. Thankfully, I can leave the negotiations to Alex. I’m promised the front seat in three vehicles, but there are only two other passengers and I’ll wait a couple of hours at this time of day: it’s already 10.30. I take a plunge: “Have you Levi’s number? I’ll go by boda!”

Someone around us has the number. Levi returns. He calls Alex ‘Uncle’; he’s some relation. We agree a price: £11, instead of the matatu fare of £3.50. But that money will buy him petrol for the 50 mile ride and fare him back to Kapchorwa if he gets no return passenger. I’m on ‘expenses’ anyway! It seems fair, so we agree. I hug goodbye till next trip to my two surrogate children, whom I’ve come to respect and love, and wave farewell as we set off in the bright sunshine. I’ve NEVER ridden more than half a mile without a helmet (except on bodas for a few miles) but now I must sit in the searing equatorial sun for almost two hours on the back of Levi’s little bike. I’ve more time to look about than usual on this magnificent road. I’m travelling light. He rides well, and we reach Suam border by one o’clock – I’d still be waiting for one of those matatus to fill.

JB, Alex and Keilah.

My friend, Harison, checks me out of Uganda’s Covid system – no one else but Uganda has asked this year: it’s another control mechanism. I walk across the unfinished highway bridge, looking fondly at the old broken one still crossing the trickle of the Suam River.

Then… I am embroiled in African bureaucracy for the next two hours! Kenya has put its visa service online – with the most arcane website, multiple demands for information, the assumption that everyone has a powerful smartphone like my Bezos Special and the power and signal to make use of it: here in remote Suam, where there’s hardly even electricity and certainly nowhere to add top-up to my Kenyan number. My Uganda number has been blocked for days, and there’s no electricity in Sipi anyway. Chirchir, the immigration officer is fortunately my friend. He says I really have to wait for approval – which can take up to 72 hours – of my visa, but he kindly lets me go, technically illegally into Kenya. The website won’t take my payment, but he stamps me a visa and lets me go. Next day, in torrential rain, the website still won’t let me pay. I talk to the credit card company in Leicester, the recipients in Nairobi. At last, I have to ask Adelight to drive me to town so I can pay at a bank in cash. Here it takes a few moments, although I’ve been in conversation with the UK and Nairobi for two hours. I wonder if anyone will join the dots and spot that I paid for the visa in a bank in Kitale, Kenya, while I was supposed to be waiting approval in Uganda? Probably not, this is really all about revenue for the government and I can only comfort myself that Britain treats Africans a hundred times more arrogantly and shamefully than this irritation I must endure. Two days later, I am still awaiting confirmation of the visa – but I have the stamp stating three months’ entry, and a receipt for the payment. I have to trust to luck at the airport immigration next week.

So, my trip to Tanzania is behind me. I’m still astonished by the good fortune of getting creative work while I’m on my annual safari! In transport expenses, I crossed the whole of Uganda – and back – for about £40! Despite being on expenses, I had no choice without my Mosquito. Whether the Mosquito will run again before I leave Kitale on Tuesday is looking unlikely. We’re only a little further forwards, even with the new control unit I bought in Kampala.

Stop Press, on Saturday! We (I use the royal ‘we’, as of course it’s Rico who knows these things) now think it is probably something called the Woodruff Key, a tiny piece of metal on the crankshaft/ flywheel about half the size on a little fingernail that has a rather important bearing on the correct timing of spark and fuel. We must source a replacement, so the Mosquito continues to be parked in Rico’s garage until later in the year.

Of such is the fate of my travels: a thousand miles in extreme discomfort – travelling ‘with the people’, mind you – because of a tiny piece of hardened steel half as big as a five penny piece. I’ve only ridden a little over 1000 miles on this safari, the least of my seven winter journeys in East Africa.

Meanwhile, the visa saga continues its tortuous way. It’s been sent back for correction with a request that the photos supplied should be Jpegs, less than 293kb (who takes photos that small?). In fact, the photos I submitted WERE all Jpegs and all less than half the required size. Were it not for my ‘celebrity status’ at the border, I’d be waiting in Uganda… I sit and wait for official acceptance.

Hiking near Sipi.
Another batch. Including banana bread this time.
Happy boy!

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