Murchison Falls

Posted February 26, 2007 in Uganda

I am a tourist. And there is quite a bit of tourism to be done in Uganda. The book Gen gave me for Christmas, 1000 Places to See Before You Die, lists Murchison Falls as a must-see. So I did. One down, 999 or so to go! (Okay, actually fewer. But well over 900.)

When growing up, I never expected to go on safari. It seemed too expensive. But there were six of us (from the Mulago guest house) and so we got a great deal. We had two nights in a fancy hotel (with buffet! I ate so much!), two game drives, and a boat ride near the fabulous Murchison Falls on the Nile. Three of us got off the boat and hiked up the falls.

Pictures speak louder than words. Here are some low-quality ones. (It takes ages to upload things from Uganda; but rest assured, I have the high-quality ones and I'll publish them at some point.)

The sunrise on Saturday:
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We ran into a herd of giraffes:
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Me next to a hippo in the Nile (about 5 feet away from it, in fact):
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Murchison Falls:
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Jay sitting near the top of the falls. Jay, Andy and I were all sitting there before this picture was taken, and I captured a video of the rolling water. Spectacular.
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So, what was going through my mind when taking these pictures? Culture shock, actually. The place is packed with tourists, and most of them won't even speak with their (Ugandan) servants. The tourists are largely snotty and boring; and the Ugandans are for the most part fascinating. This was my first taste of reverse culture shock, and it made me sick. I spent in three days what the average Ugandan would earn in four months. And the average Ugandan doesn't exist (because there's a huge rift between rich and poor), so I spent in three days what probably 90% of Ugandans would earn in, say, a year or more. And that was a ridiculously good deal.

I have nonetheless acquired a license to track the mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest on March 17th (another one of the 1000 Places). The license alone to visit the forest cost more than our entire trip to Murchison Falls. I am again quite torn; but the gorillas are a must-see, and I can't exactly not-see them.

It's funny how the world works. About a thousand gorillas (near extinction) exist, and they create maybe a few hundred jobs in southwestern Uganda. Meanwhile, in the North, hundreds of thousands of Ugandans suffer through disease, poverty, and torture the likes of which we can scarcely imagine. To me, hundreds of thousands of human beings are far more important than a thousand or so gorillas, no matter how many researchers live with them for a year and make a movie about them. And yet, tourism brings a lot of money into the country. And as cool as it would be, you can't trade the welfare of a thousand gorillas for the welfare of hundreds of thousands of people.

And the reason is, the unfathomably rich (and if you're reading this blog, you likely fall into this category) would rather see gorillas than help people. And despite how sick I may feel about it, my actions speak louder than my words: I'm going to see the gorillas, too.

Yes, my cynicism has begun. I have yet to write parts 2 and 3 of my experiences with culture shock. Stay tuned for those.