Saturday, September 11, 2010

News and multimedia updates

Just returned from Hoima and seminar #6 (of a total of 24). Photos of the Hoima workshop, and some of the others, are now posted at a new site dedicated to shots taken at the seminars.

Also, I continue to receive positive feedback about the radio story I did (posted here) about how one radio journalist changed the lives of six orphans. If you haven't heard it yet, try it. Two columns about the journalist and her orphans are also posted below.

Death on the Nile (well, not really...)

From the Parkville Luminary

ON THE NILE RIVER, UGANDA--When I flew into the water, the power of the rapids dragged me under, and smashed me so hard it tore the helmet off my head and snapped the string holding my glasses in place. It was like being repeatedly and rapidly punched. I felt the tremendous pressure against my face, which must have looked like the contorted, smushed faces of the pilots who do those g-force tests.

I thought I was going to die.

Since I am not writing this posthumously, I obviously survived my encounter with some major-league rapids on the Nile River in Uganda, near the source of the Nile just north of Lake Victoria near Jinja. Whitewater rafting is big business here, so I decided that since I was in the neighborhood that I’d have to give it a try.

(Photo--NY Times)

When I entered the staging area, I immediately noticed that I was twice as old as everyone else there. I quickly discovered that my rafting mates were all Peace Corps volunteers on an outing, and were all fresh out of college. I was fresh out of college in 1984. A smarter person would have abandoned ship at this point, realizing that this activity is for the young, and that young-at-heart just won’t cut it when you’re thrashing about in some rapids trying not to drown.

Being equally stubborn and obtuse, I found myself stepping onto a big rubber raft and into possible oblivion. I had rafted before in Colorado, so I figured this would be a breeze. Of course, my rafting in Colorado was 20 years ago, and consisted of grade 2 and 3 rapids. These were 3’s, 4’s, and 5’s. (Experts grade rapids on a 1 to 6 scale, with 6 being so intense that rafts can not go over them, only kayaks, according to our rafting guide Eric).

My raft-mates were five enthusiastic, energetic 20-something ladies ready for adventure. As we began, I wondered if I was stuck with them for the day, or vice-versa. As it turned out, I think we made a great team.

The first rapids weren’t too frightening, a little like an intense log ride at an amusement park. This wouldn’t be so bad after all, I thought. Eric said the second rapids were grade 3, sort of medium-harrowing. As we slid into this maelstrom, I wasn’t worried—the trough didn’t seem that low, nor the waves that high. I was wrong. As we hit the trough, all five ladies and I (but not Eric) were jettisoned from the raft, which never did tip over. I don’t mean that we just plopped over the sides. No, this was much more like the unequivocal ejection one might receive from a burly barroom bouncer.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when I hit the water, nor should it have come as a shock that the current was so powerful. Still, no mental preparation can steel you for this terrifying experience. I was probably under water only five seconds or so, but of course it seemed like an eternity. I tried to swim up to the surface, but was held underwater and pushed downstream. As I finally bobbed up, I noticed my glasses and helmet were gone, but damn, I was alive. I had floated maybe 50 yards away from the raft. One of the kayaks buzzing around (a safety precaution) picked me up and ferried me back to the raft. I was stunned, frightened, and exhilarated.

Fortunately, this was the only traumatic experience during the six hour trip. We successfully navigated grade 4 and 5 rapids for the rest of the day without capsizing or being ejected, and it was a blast. There was one little incident, however. During one nasty rapid, the six of us were crouched in the raft, hanging on for dear life to a rope on the side. As we were sliding about, the young lady behind me, Amy, lost control, and her foot slid underneath me. I teased her afterwards about our new-found intimacy. Without intending to be funny, in referring to what she felt with her foot, she said, “I thought it was a rock.” All six of us cracked up, and I told Amy that yes indeed it was a rock.

It was comforting to me, after a day of feeling old and out of place, to confirm that I can still can still rock with the youngsters.

1 comment:

  1. Now that is an adventure!

    I'm stuck wondering if you were able to see after you lost your glasses? (I've been wearing glasses/contacts since I was 8 and am "legally blind" without them.) And, do you have a back-up pair?