The next morning we had a late breakfast at 730 and made the 3 hour trek to Lake Buyonyi in a swirl of accomplishment and awe still lingering from the gorillas the day before. I was messaging a lovely girl named Natasha from the West Coast that morning, pretty much the whole drive, I don’t really fancy American girls but this one was interesting and was using me as the typical escapism from a recent breakup. All the same, for a short time she was so in tune with my universe. She was a dancer, and I think dancers understand the universe better than the rest of us. It was a wonderful conversation that lasted hours while the service went in and out during the drive through the mountains. We talked about LaLa Land and I forced her to listen to Michael Jackson, and she forgot her troubles for the brief moment, if nothing else, I did that little thing right, helped that person forget about the grief of the west and just let Michael take over her bones. She said it her self “you turned my mood upside right, I’m really fucking happy: MJ did it, I owe you!” nothing like being prescribed some Michael to turn things around. She was about 8 months off a breakup; it happens bi-monthly nearly now, the gorgeous girl on the rocks with her boyfriend or husband, looking to find escape and all the wrong answers in this hopelessly romantic traveler. I always play along, very few people stay in touch anymore so usually it just those lonely, newly single ladies keeping me company via text and the magic of Instagram expiring messages. Fact is though, over the years, dozens have played this little game with me, and not one has ever had the courage to book a flight. Plus I could never really afford them visiting anyway, having visitors usually ends up costing me double how I usually travel. It is continually so fun writing them poetry and making them swoon. Perfecting my magic little portal of love. Its all part of my contribution to humanity I guess, playing that role for them while they try and figure out who they are again after their breakup. I just typically end up being tossed aside once they find someone stable and closer to their home, someone who isn’t nuts and has all the adult shit. Then I’m all alone again, knowing how it would end the whole time, I don’t know if I hold out hope for typical relationship things or if I just enjoy providing the service to get people right again.
Having Natasha texting me, gave me a little hope with the whole Molly situation. I was wielding so much more power now, knowing that I wouldn’t have any whiff of desperation on me and Molly couldn’t remove my confidence or knock me off this perch in the least when she decided to drop her bomb. I was starting to consider that this new strength I was wielding was a combination of many things. Although something deeper was happening in my life, something that I attribute to Amoti the Omufumu and his potion he had made me.
Once I arrived at the Birdsnest estate, on Lake Buyunoni, the deepest (crater) lake in Africa (900 meters deep). The Birdnest was another of my favorite places I have stayed in Africa. It was lakeside and they had little cabanas across the lake only reachable by canoe. I had the best suite in the place, a wonderful dinner and a gorgeous girl in Kampala messaging me after stalking me on Instagram.
I flirted with her for while, she invited me to come dancing in the city if I would come home early. At the same time felt a little guilty, because in such a short time Natasha from home had captured my attention, captured my heart briefly. We agreed that the first tap number in LaLa Land was the best and she just melted my heart, while she finished a bottle of wine, and let me know she was just like me, at least a little, and it made me so happy to know someone, anyone could connect with me after what seemed like forever since anyone had an interest similar to mine. I feel so fucking isolated so frequently, someday I’ll end up going the Hemmingway, I understand why he did it. He experienced so much; he bore witness to the entire world, wars, espionage, fisherman, hunter, adventurer, writer, plane crasher and heavy drinker. He was surrounded by people, suffered depression like I do and just couldn’t find anyone that could understand everything he felt in his heart and the only answer he had left was a shotgun. May the gods feed him honey. They only allow heroes in the Elysian Fields, and Ernest was definitely one of those.
The Birdsnest was so wonderful and relaxing (especially while I was killing multiple bottles of pinotage per night sat by the fire, writing and carrying on) so good in fact that I decided to stay an extra day, fuck the expense, it was going to kill my money, but I could give a fuck now, I had let go of control. I had about $600 in expenses to pay out in tips, extra nights etc and about $700 in my account. I had three remaining hundred dollar bills, one dated post 2009 the only type they will exchange in Uganda and the other two from 2003 were useless in Uganda so I would have to save those for South Africa.
Staying the extra day absolutely the was the right choice. That day I asked Charles to take me away from the tourist bullshit activities that they were advertising and take me back up to the mountains to find a true Batwa Pygmy village, there were village tours locally, excursions through the hotel with the tourists, but after the ex soviet block assholes I just was ready to do something not in the books. What followed was an experience that left me in awe, so much so that on the hours ride home I had to fight the tears behind my sunglasses. I was so overwhelmed all I could say was fuck over and over and over. I assume it was everything that was happening to me, all chimpanzees, gorillas in the literal mist, all these experiences jammed together at a break neck pace, finally the only place for all that emotion that had built up was to just leak out of my eyes. Learning from the Batwa people and their history was one of the richest, exciting, sad and motivating moments in all my years of travel.
We went high into the foothills and eventually waited on a guide to contact an elder for the Pygmy Batwa tribe named Rwamahamamo high above Lake Buyunoni near a place called Muko. I would have to be escorted by an elder so that the rest of the tribe would be comfortable with my presence. About an hour later an old woman, two elderly men and a younger man with a staff greeted me. For the most part everyone I saw initially was short, with a couple exceptions, I was the only white person for miles and it felt good to be in the presence of something so genuine. The Rwamahamamo was a large tribe of about 70-100 people; it was difficult to tell exactly. The Batwa people are one the original hunter-gatherer tribes in Africa, some theorize that they are the first. They once lived in the same areas as the gorillas. In the insanely steep mountains and thick bush they would live off the forest. The Batwa believed that when their gods were creating people they gave some height, some wealth, and when it came time to create the Batwa, wealth and height had already been gifted to the other people so according to their theology that is the reason the Pygmy are short and have no wealth, but their gods did give them the forest.
For thousands of years the Batwa Pygmy people lived thick in the bush collecting all they needed from the jungle, gathering the plentiful plants herbs and fruits and killing what they had to in bush meat. It is a common misunderstanding that the Batwa would kill the Mountain Gorilla. This incorrect belief is one of the reasons it’s very common that other tribal people of Rwanda, DR Congo and Uganda are hateful towards them. The Batwa were exclusively in these three countries right where they meet, where the forest is the most plentiful. In 1991 the Pygmy people, all of them, from all the areas of the 3 countries were forced from their ancient homeland and lifestyle due to the imbalance poaching had created to establish the national parks that protect the endangered Gorillas. After being evicted from the forest, all the different tribes were left to fend for themselves, without any wealth or land or knowledge of how to survive beyond the forest.
The area near Muko where the Rwamahamamo now live
After some brief introductions the Batwa elders walked me around and I was invited into a couple homes, which were made from bamboo, leaves and branches, much simpler than something fancy like a thatched roof. Very simple and what looked to me like hard living. Inside were makeshift cots with no mattress, no padding at all with the exception of being covered with leaves and sticks for supports.
On the very top of the hill was a school that had been built by an NGO, for the children of the village, it was like something out of the movies, all the school children of all the ages were brought in to sing me a little song and greet me in English.
Walked around further and more and more of the villagers seemed to be arriving out of nowhere coming out to greet me as we marched further around the hilltop. The views were breathtaking of the lake below us and stretched on forever. Among the elders was a 94-year-old woman was fun, she wasn’t exactly friendly, but she had this wild magic about her. When I would take her portrait she would go crazy and shake her head and make funny faces. She was 94, grew up in the forest and was the true witness to the whole tragedy of her people.
The further I dove into the village and its history my heart continued to sink, these marginalized people, ripped from the land and way of life and forced to change, forced to become farmers when all their people had known for thousands of years was to gather and hunt in the jungle. They now tend crops and count on a very small NGO to look after them and the very very few tourists that happen to make it their way and pay them in food for the whole village. I was so short on money, but still I was able to give them most of what I had, enough to purchase 35KG of millet for the entire village. It fucking killed me I couldn’t do more. That’s when my emotions really started to kick in and my eyes go so much wider.
They wore smiles, they had spirit, but they were all hiding a deep seeded pain, every single member of the tribe, but none more evident than in the eyes of the Elders. They believed that their gods had cursed them, driving them from their homes and way of life. The entire identity was torn from them. There is only 3000 Pygmy left, they are dying out. This is the first time I’m my life I have seen the pain horrors of ethnic dissemination. This hit me more ways than one; I grew up in America where the Native people were destroyed. I grew up reading about “Cowboys and Indians” which made the battle for the soul of North America romanticized and completely reflected the victors control of history. It makes me realize why the American Natives fought so hard, with everything to lose and no chance of winning. What honor and spirit we have destroyed. Like all things in America, as its dying, I’m am still part of that problem, and I’m happy to let it burn to the ground, America doesn’t deserve America any longer. Its people are over privileged monsters that are so greedy they’re finally consuming themselves. In the eyes of these strong but sad Batwa people I got a piece of the larger picture, this is evolution, the evolution of culture and technology. The future of our species is simply going to destroy itself. We divide each other over color and map lines, language and that makes all of us savages. That doesn’t mean I won’t put every ounce of my energy for the remainder of my life into trying to open the eyes of the blind only to fail. I’ll happy to fail to try to save the world from its people.
The Batwa continued, through the steep hillsides up and down, trying to keep up with the elders, marching up and down steep hills by people half my height and double my age. I was able to capture a few portraits that I will be keeping to myself, which I do often, moments in time that are so precious to me that I don’t publish them, they’re too intimate, too magical and I would like to be the only one able to transport myself back into that moment. That excited me and made me excited to look into the rest of the shots I had gathered to see if I could tell the story on Instagram.
We arrived full circle to where I met the elders in the beginning. The whole village had emerged to sing a song for me. I told them that it was not necessary, that they didn’t need to put forth the effort to entertain me; I was there to learn about their people. I don’t know why I said that, it was a hesitation and one of my faults. My denial didn’t go over very well, I had just insulted the tribe and I was grabbed by the arms and drug over to watch the tribe. What happened next brought me closer to my Gods.The amount of movement, dancing and rhythm are completely lost in these two photographs.
There was one drum and a woman hitting it with a stick with a baby tied to her back. The rhythm was built on that stick and the unison clapping of all the tribe. Some adding triple and double claps to speed up the rhythm as people started jumping and stomping raising their voices to the sky. I couldn’t help but move, no one there could help but move and dance. I immediately fell into a trance as the rhythm took me over, and the voices became like prayer, the louder the singing and occasional howl and scream got to the point where I could feel it deep into my bones, my soul was outside my body again. I was ascending. It’s difficult for me to write this now with out tears in my eyes. I have had to stop many times on this post to recollect myself and make sure I can tell this story clearly. My spirit was healed in someway and all the fucked up shit I do, all the fucked up horrible things I have done, all the negative thoughts and depression were gone, like they hadn’t ever existed while that song was played. The song made time seem much longer than it was. I have no idea what the song was about, if it was happy or sad, and it didn’t much matter to me except I learned something so valuable about the cultural importance of song, dance and community. The tribe played two songs for me, the second, slower with a heavier rhythm, was even more powerful, so powerful that I still, after hours and days of trying to express it, I don’t believe I can do it justice and therefore I apologize to you, beloved reader, for not being a better poet and writer. What I witnessed that day was the power that music truly has. There in the company of these suffering people I watched the rhythm wash over us all, bring us all together and transform that sadness, suffering and loss into pure magic, a happiness that has lodged itself into my greater self and brought me closer to an understanding of our race of people, closer to my Gods, and closer to the great mystery of how we have strayed so very far from living healthily and closer to our own spiritual centers.
After the song I arranged to give them money to purchase their food and got to watch the entire tribe vote on who would be responsible for the correct dispersement of funds for the food they needed. They chose the younger man with the staff. The main concern I was later told was that in the wrong hands it would be used for alcohol. But seeing the tribe all vote by pointing to this man was interesting to me and made me wonder why he was the most trusted of all the tribal members numbering close to 100 people.
I was so motivated by what I saw that day in Uganda and so disappointed I couldn’t do more that I started a fundraiser to put money together to support their tribe. Within the first ten minutes I had raised $1000 dollars, weeks later it was $2000 and I realized how difficult it is to do any kind of philanthropy work. I have a friend that has dedicated her life to it, which left me in awe of how much of her life had been dedicated to others and how much of herself must have been sacrificed to her many causes. She advised me so much during this time on the correct way to handle money getting to the hands of the right people. One of the most surprising things was be it goods, or cash, giving anything valuable to the men of any tribal community can result in the enslavement of the women of that tribe to sexual mistreatment in order to get access to necessities needed to survive for the women and their children. It made me understand how the western idea of throwing money at things like this was so much more complicated that I could ever had imagined. I had definitely put myself into a position that I wasn’t prepared for, and further was concerned that it wouldn’t end up getting to the correct recipients.