Uganda is awash with marvels. For me, it has always been her birds! There is something spectacular about them. One stroll with me, and you will surely catch this fascination that I have for them. Enlivening! And it wasn’t always this way. Not so long ago, I was a graduate teacher of Mathematics and Physics. A great one, at least according to my appraisals and reviews. But that is a tale for another day.
My journey into birding trails back to my childhood at the Haunted communal well. The one deified as home to some of the ancestral spirits in our village. As children, we were dissuaded from visiting this particular well at midday and beyond nightfall. At these particular times, the Landlord (spirits) were out having a chat with their tenants and or taking a shower. It was a superstition, but we were children. We believed as we were told. The huge trees around this well formed a dense canopy. It attracted huge birds of prey hunting after the vervet monkeys that sheltered in the dense canopies of these trees.
I am the 5th born, out of seven children. In Masaka district where I was born, raising children was still a communal affair. It was common to get disciplined by elders outside one’s immediate family. Children belonged to the community. Domestic chores were distributed according to gender. Girls usually ended up cooking, fetching water, pounding and or grinding food. In contrast, boys did the sweeping, slashing and a number of other manual chores.
The games we played got subscribed to along similar lines. The Boys swarmed up, and roamed the land hunting for birds with butidas (catapults) as we girls went fetching water and gathering firewood. Over meals, it was the norm for families to eat together. Only Dad was always served first and ate in isolation. The girls and boys each ate separately in groups, often sharing the meal. Speed mattered, else one ended up with a half empty belly!
Church was an irresistible temptation. One looked forward to that offertory handout. A single coin; 200 or 500 Uganda shillings, to place in the offertory bag. It all came down to how generous the givers felt on any particular Sunday. Sometimes we received something extra to “budengo” (rice balls) and cool-cool bar (flavoured, frozen water pops) after mass.
Growing up, we were never allowed to sit with the elders. One was raised to always be hospitable at home, and whenever I welcomed guests, I thought to go one step further. I would sneak and stay back to sit and have a conversation with them. Mom always scolded me off. “Children are not allowed to sit with adults!” She would insist, often to my public remonstrations.
Somehow, I always wound up at the haunted well. Before long, I had mastered some of the different species of birds. The owls were the easiest because they were considered death’s whisperers. Sighting one so close to your home carried a superstitious intonation. A bad omen. Someone close at heart was going to die. I was quick to wade these ones off, convinced that doing so, was doing all one could to save a loved one. Later I mastered the Hadada ibis and the black kites too.
On Sundays while at the cathedral, one always looked ahead for the loud song. It was always during mass. Very loud and yet very sweet and captivating. I never heard it elsewhere except at the cathedral. The sound I so cherished turned out to be from a malachite kingfisher! A very tiny but beautiful bird. It still holds a special place in my heart.
Back home, it was always a kids galore, and we did what any group of kids do. We adventured. This particular tree had lots of weavers. In the early morning school preparations, the weaver babies (birdlings) served as our timekeepers. Little me always found solace in their prematurity. “They are preparing for school” mother would say. A trick that worked wonders on my attitude almost all the time. I kept assuring my playmates that birds too had workplaces and rested on Sunday because we hardly saw them leave. Little did I know, that deep inside of me, a traveler and a birder was incubating. It’s as if destiny was preparing me for the person that I am today.
Not long after my graduation, it dawned upon me, teaching wasn’t my calling. No matter how much praise I garnered. My spirit kept yearning for something else. Later I gathered the courage, and enrolled for an IATA class. In due course, I met and connected with people in the tourism business. Given my proficiency in Deutsch, trips came around quite easily. I knew so little in the field but I was committed. Intensive research coupled with several consultative discussions with those I found in the business, landed me my first role as a tourist guide. It was fun, engaging, challenging but my heart was always at peace with the experiences. Later, I joined the Uganda Safari guides’ Association. Today I stand a widely traveled Woman. I have had a chance to visit all national parks in Uganda, Rwanda, and some more in Kenya and Tanzania. This has enabled me to learn about East Africa’s wildlife in detail. The animal’s behavior, general lifestyle, eating patterns, habitats, reproduction and so many others. The sight of wild animals and birds sparks life in me.
When free, the birder in me takes over and I can’t help myself. I take short walks by the beaches, the swamps and even in the forests around Kampala. You will find me seated by the lake shores watching the birds fly by or preying on fish and whatever else there is for them to eat. One minute I will point you to a pied kingfisher, a Black-winged Stilt, Pectoral Sandpiper, Egyptian Goose, little egrets and many others. While in the forest areas, I will point to a white-throated bee-eater, then the Great blue Turaco, Ross’ Turaco, grey headed Sparrow, red-cheeked Cordon Bleu, loud weavers, Hadada ibis, the Hammerkop and so forth in an instant.
What a journey it has been. Out of the little disappointed and naive girl sulking beside a haunted rural communal well, this vibrant and pioneering birder emerges. I am grateful to my teachers, friends, and mentors, without whom, I would never have come to this. I have always loved birds. Unknowingly though, especially in my early days. As a child, I replayed their sounds in my mind and labored to recall their unique colors with my eyes shut. Inside my small mind, thoughts pondered over their hiding capabilities, and always debated what they were thinking. I still do.
I love what I do and encourage those looking to travel to Uganda and Rwanda, that a memorable trip awaits, especially if you chose to walk on the wild side of life with us at Ntungo Wildlife Safaris Ltd. Visit us at www.ntungosafaris.com or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org, for more on our packages. We are also available on whatsApp on +256 701 027620.