Thursday, December 18, 2008

circumcision season

for the past two days, jessie and i stayed in a village called sipi, nothing more than a dusty row of about a dozen buildings where one can buy washing-up powder, sugar cane, and petrol from glass coke bottles. it sits on a hilltop looking up to mount elgon and down onto other hills and valleys and then farther out into flat plains of eastern uganda. three spectacular waterfalls run through it, the reason for our visit. we checked into a hostel called the crows nest, offering the best views of the falls and the land below. there were 14 cabins, each able to house four people, but we were the only visitors save for a pleasant german couple who would leave the following morning. arriving on tuesday afternoon after a sweaty ride from jinja to mbale, then another from mbale to sipi, we took a walk through the village, stopping to order fried bananas at a local restaurant and bar that, to our surprise, sold cold drinks! after an hour and a half, the bananas came, as did the sunset, our cue to head back for the evening.

we sat at a table near the hostel's office, watching the largest waterfall, behind which we noticed a string of flickering, moving torches, far in the distance. we would later find out that this was a procession for a circumcision ceremony, one of several we witnessed in the streets of small ugandan towns on our travels. these parades of people march through the streets, whistling and chanting, waving cloth and sticks. they are led by the boys who are to undergo the cut, painted white with soil, fear in their eyes. they will be taken to a compound where they will stay for the night, recieving lessons from elders on manhood. they won't sleep, they are too scared. the next day they will be laid on beds and circumcised one by one, and leave the compound a new man, no longer a boy. this usually happens at age 12 or 13, joseph, our walking guide tells us, and in groups as large as 50 (even in tiny towns like sipi).

after a night of little sleep due to the winds that swept down the mountain, rattling the tin roof under which we lay, we set out for a 5 hour walk through the hills. we walked past thousands of coffee plants, banana trees, and naked children shouting "hallo!" as we made our way to the third waterfall. we went for a swim in a pool above the second (water as chilling as the irish sea), and dodged bats in a cave beside the first. after stopping to buy cold water from a stand in sipi, we retreated to our beds for a well-deserved nap. at dinner, we met a couple from dublin who had been invited to a circumcision ceromony the following day. they asked us to join them, but unfortunately it ended up not working out for them or us. by nine this morning, jessie and i were squeezing into a shared taxi, the last two passengers in the vehicle. it was meant to carry eight, the two of us made it fifteen. in mbale, jessie and i split up, her to kisumu via busia, and me back to jinja where i'm planning to relax for a couple of days, maybe volunteering at an education org with a woman from cork who i met earlier in the week. i shared my seat with two hens, a rooster, and a chick, who constantly pecked at me as the baby in the seat ahead screamed at the sight of my white face. this time it was 25 on a fourteen seater, i could feel the sweat gathering at the creases of my eyelids.

now i'm back on the nile, about to go for a swim with adam, alan, and david, a few street kids from the area who i met on monday. they've shown me where to jump to ride the rapids while avoiding any rocks. there is loads more to share about this week, from stories of slapping drunken expats to taking local food for a late dinner in a mud hut in bujagali, unable to see what i was eating even by the oil lamp on the slanting table.

however, the internet here has been incredibly slow, and there are people waiting to use it right behind me. that, and the nile is calling. i can't believe i'm leaving this part of the world on wednesday, that it's just a week til christmas. i'll be sad to go, but i can't wait to see all of you!

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