The whistling acacia

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Saturday 18th July

Today, for the first time on this trip, we met with abject poverty. One of the Mission Direct projects with the volunteers is to work with the Uganda equivalent of Sure Start, except it is run by the church and not the council. Their representative took us into the country – the first sign of poverty was that there no wheel tracks to the village, because nobody who lives there has one, and nobody with a car would want to go there.

So our trusty Toyota 4WD minibus coped with goat tracks, river washouts, and seriously obstructive vegetation (and all the bugs on it came into the car) and we arrived at the house where we were to work. A middle aged couple and four children lived in a round mud block structure about 15 feet wide with a straw roof, except most of the roof was missing. Our volunteers will be replacing the roof (with help from local church members – or perhaps the other way round) and paying for the materials.

The family did not smile. That was the biggest thing. They were so poor and malnourished they had no reason to. Usually, the presence of mazungus (white people) makes people put on a happy face, but not this family. I hope they will be smiling again in a few weeks when we have re-roofed them.

Thinking about the Murchison Falls National Park again, one of the oddest plants we saw was the whistling acacia. It has a three way symbiotic relationship with ants and giraffes. The acacia produces seeds with holes. The wind whistles through the holes making a sound which attracts the ants. The ants eat a sap secreted by the plant; giraffes try and eat the plant but the ants sting the giraffes’ mouths and they go somewhere else. Go away and don’t eat our food source, they say.

Talking of food sources, the whole Park was almost emptied of animals during the years of Idi Amin. The guide book says that armies used the Park as a larder. So it is wonderful to see it almost restocked back to pre-Amin days thanks to the vigilance of the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

What do the following have in common: two x 6 foot high bags of sugarcane; a mattress, four children, an oil drum, 15 wooden stools, four x twenty foot poles, and a pile of roofing thatch? Answer – I have seen each item carried on a bicycle (actually the twenty foot poles needed two bicycles – one at each end) – masterful co-ordination required.

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