Saturday, 24 October 2009

A birthday by Lake Bunyonyi

Early Saturday and I wake up a year older. Unzipping my tent and I get my first glimpse of Lake Bunyonyi . Glimpse is not really the right word…the lake is literally on the doorstep of my tent. It’s barely daylight and mist clings to the surface of the lake. Directly in front of me is a small wooden pontoon and four canoes each of which had been skillfully carved by hand. An otter dives for fish; yellow bower birds continue to construct their intricate nests that hang from the reeds at the water’s edge. There are definitely worse ways to wake up on your 29th birthday!


We have the day to chill on or by the lake. First up, a brekkie of pancakes and then a little laundry. It’s hot; in fact, it’s stifling. Most of us decide to hire the canoes and cross the deepest lake in Uganda to the island on the horizon. Jon and I shared a canoe. It took us a while to master the art of paddling in an unbalanced, handmade canoe but after a few ‘Msungu corkscrews’ (Msungu means white man; corkscrew is what a msungu does when they first get their hands on a wooden canoe…i.e. go round in circles) we managed to head in the right direction.


On the island is a resort of small wooden cottages. It’s quiet as it is out of season so 12 of us have the restaurant to ourselves. The restaurant overlooks the lake and is open air with plastic sides rolled up. The menu consisted of 4 freshwater crayfish dishes to choose from. Fortunately, we all like crayfish. We ordered and then began the traditional 1.5hour wait for food.


Whilst we were waiting, the waiter asked if we wanted to see some local dance to which we said yes. We waited. The wind picked up; the sky grew dark. When the food finally arrived it was delicious. We tucked in. After eating, we decided to make a quick exit to get to the mainland before the impending storm took hold. Unfortunately, the dancers were already on their way so we decided to stick around and see if the storm would pass.


The dancers were children aged five to twenty. An entire village worth arrived along with a couple of elders. They danced to the beats of a drum and a ukulele plugged into a tiny speaker. A traditional dance involves hugely energetic sequences with lots of foot stamping and whoops of joy. One little girl in a turquoise dress was particularly enthusiastic and often led many of the dances and songs. It was hugely entertaining and put our mind off the storm that was continuing to brew outside.


30 minutes and a small donation later and we were back out on the edge of the lake. The temperature had dropped, the waves had picked up, the wind was blowing a gale…only the rain was left to come. It was a race against time to get back to shore.


We finally hit the shore just as the rain came in. When it rains here it pours so we ended up sat in the shelter of the bar nursing hot chocolates and waiting for the cook team to cook up a feast.


Unbeknown to me the rest of the group was plotting a little birthday surprise. When the cook team finally announced dinner, I headed up to where the truck was parked to find the shelter where we cook and eat decorated with balloons.. After dinner, Henry also presented me with a huge cake with icing saying ‘Happy 29th Birthday Emma’ on it and four massive firework type candles, which when lit, spouted giant sparks at least two foot high (they would most definitely be illegal in the UK). After that, I received a locally designed card signed by everyone. It was a truly great birthday and made up for the fact that I was unable to receive any birthday messages from home that day.

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