Sunday, July 1, 2007

Facing Unnecessary Fears

So when some of the volunteers were talking about going white water rafting on the Nile, I had two thoughts: ‘no way,’ and ‘will I regret not going?’ So, true to my nature, I obsessed about the trip and the pros and cons for four days before deciding to at least go with them to Jinja, for the change of scenery and maybe for the rafting trip.

Jinja was a nice town. Along the way there is this string of take-away stands, and if one pulls over one is sure to be mobbed by people selling passion fruit, pineapple, chicken on a stick, grilled bananas, and drinks. Luckily I was forewarned by an experienced traveler in the group, and told to be ready to order or else face a mob of people peddling their wares and reaching into the van to entice me. As soon as we pulled over at least ten people surrounded the van and began thrusting impaled roasted chicken parts in our faces. I bought some grilled bananas and took photos of everyone trying to decide on the perfect piece of chicken.

We pulled over to eat in a forest of sorts, where monkeys were swinging nearby. The trees were labeled by species, the names of which I could not begin to pronounce. After lunch we hit the road again.

When we arrived in Jinja, we were greeted by street children who were difficult to ignore. We bought gifts in the craft shops and ate at a restaurant owned by an ancient Australian woman. Our colorful, peaceful and sanitary lunch was soon disrupted by Americans. As the sole American on the trip and in the Noah’s Ark compound I found myself constantly feeling the need to defend my county; this feeling was not provoked by anything in particular, just the general awareness of outsiders’ views of American people and culture. The thing about American travelers that annoys me is that they just take up so much space. They are loud and complaining, and constantly comparing everything to the way it would be or should be if they were at home. It’s really annoying and embarrassing.

After lunch we visited the (reputed) source of the Nile, and also Bujagali Falls. Now, when I saw Bujagali Falls, I thought there was no way in hell I was going rafting. I mean, I like my life a lot. I didn’t see any reason to risk it. (I’ll post photos of these falls later, and I should also note here that it was one of the smallest of the big rapid runs.)

Of course, when we got to the Nile River Explorers campsite, the guides convinced me that rafting is fun, easy and safe. Okay, I wasn’t convinced exactly, but I was at least assured enough to be willing to commit. So, we had a couple of beers and sat on the porch of the bar and watched the sunset over the Nile. Later that evening we watched a video of the day’s rafting trip and I felt like I might vomit. But instead, I headed for bed, where I was treated to the drunken serenades of rafters and guides until 2:30 in the morning.

The morning of the rafting trip people were still trying to convince me that it was going to be great fun, and that it is good to face your fears. But, I had to point out that while it is good to face one’s fears, rafting is not necessary. I mean, I think it’s good to get over a fear of necessary things like the fear of flying, since flying is somewhat essential in the United States. But rafting is not essential. And therefore facing this fear of drowning under a huge red rubber raft is really not accomplishing much.

I tried to smile, and enjoy my breakfast, thinking it might be my last. As we bounced along the road I enjoyed the scenery and wished Rachel were there to see all that I was seeing. When we reached the river we divided into groups according to adventuresome spirits. Unfortunately, my group was feeling quite brave, except for Mirjam and me. But we decided to stick together, which meant Mirjam and I were sure to be terrified the entire time.

When we were first in the boats we learned the commands for paddling, crouching in the boat, holding our paddles, and how to hold onto the boat and when. We also learned how to float and swim in order to avoid getting our heads bashed on a rock, and how to escape from underneath the boat. Our guide, Juma, was full of antics about vegetarian crocodiles, near death experiences, broken teeth, and vomiting. He was mostly funny.

We started down the river and I really enjoyed the first few rapids. Bujagali Falls was the first big rapid run, a class 4. We managed to not flip the boat for that one, and I really felt the thrill that everyone was raving about. But then we hit a class 5 rapid and our boat flipped and I got caught under it. It was dark, disorienting, and when I finally (probably 5 seconds later) got out from under the boat I was pounded by big waves. Once I caught my breath I had to hold it again while getting pounded by another wave. I finally found a safety kayak and held on to it until he delivered me back to my raft. I struggled to get back in the boat, while Juma told me to hurry up because we were approaching another big rapid. At that point I opted for the safety (AKA chicken) boat. I could not think clearly and I was still shaky from the near death experience under the raft.

So I felt like a minor failure sitting in the chicken boat as others made chicken sounds. But three others soon joined me, so I didn’t feel so bad. The safety boat still goes over the rapids, but it takes the easiest, safest route over them. I rejoined my group in the raft for a few more class 3 rapids, and one last class 4 run. We didn’t flip, and I was really happy I gave it another shot. I (and most of the rafters) opted out of the optional final run, which was a class 6 rapid and looked like a certain, swift death. Gerben and Timon tried it, and survived, but I had no regrets about opting out of that one.

We enjoyed some beers in the rain and a long ride back to the campsite where we had a barbeque dinner. I met two Japanese tourists, an American living in the United Arab Emirates, and a Belgian U N peacekeeper. We had a friendly debate about American politics, the effectiveness (rather, ineffectiveness) of aid to Africa, and the wonders of travel in Japan. We were soaked and freezing, so the debate (with requisite discussion of President Bush) warmed my blood a little and made the ride far more interesting.

We had a nice dinner and then traveled home to Noah’s Ark, where the directors were relieved to see that we survived. Although sometimes it is difficult to be left out of conversations held in Dutch, I am realizing that it may be to my advantage that I don’t always understand what people are saying. For example, after the trip Lenne told me that Pete (one of the directors of NA) was REALLY not happy that we were going rafting, and reminded them that there are no helicopters or medivac capabilities in Africa. So, I’d say that is one conversation I was happy I missed.

So, I can say I went white water rafting on the Nile. I can say I faced my fears and I can honestly say I never need to do that again.


Dos Blessed said...

i'm even more green with envy! so glad you had the courage to dive in. can't wait to see photos! i caught a smell today that reminded me of was likely nothing close to what you are smelling today, but it brought a smile none the less. hang in there!! thank you for your insights!

Rachel said...

The chicken boat is nothing to be ashamed of!

ArtCricket said...

I, too, am envious! I think I would have been much like you. Glad to do the class 5 once and on to the chicken boat. What a great story and wonderful word picture of your trip.
love and grateful you survived facing your unnecessary fear,

Auntie Karen said...

Amy, you amaze me! Go girl!

Vacancy @ 226 said...

I agree with Rachel: ain't no shame in taking the chicken boat.
Don't feel too bad about being an American in Africa. We were told repeatidly in Kenya that the worst tourists (demanding, complaining, rude, loud) were Italians, followed distantly by the Germans. The Kenyans thought Americans were poor because they rarely saw any of us there as tourists. I'm surprised you saw Americans in Uganda!

Grandmere said...

Wonderful description of an amazing experience. I'm ready for you to get home. LOVE Grandmere

wanderlustjill said...

you know, if you had the disco glasses, you could have gone all dance party usa on those class 5 rapids. ;)

liveleah said...

yeah... chicken boat? i'd be on chicken land.