July 7, 2012
On one of the last days in Uganda, my friend Colin & I rafted the Nile. THE NILE! Let me just say from the get go that it was as cool as it sounds.
One of the best things about my time in Uganda were all the amazing people I met. Around every corner there were people with fascinating stories and our rafting trip was no exception. Meet the players:
Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear were in Uganda working with AIDS orphans. I can only remember Baby Bear’s real name: Eva. Incidentally Eva is afraid of water and extreme sports. She also has extremely poor eyesight and didn’t wear her glasses.
Next up was our terrific guide, Tuutu, pronounced tutu, although he didn’t seem overly thrilled when I told him his name was also the name of a pink tulle ballet skirt. After we survived each rapid, we’d all put the tips of our paddles in the middle of the raft and lift them up with a hearty, “Team Tuutu!”, which I believe is the Lugandan translation for ‘Hooray, nobody died!’
Johan, a Finnish Red Cross worker, was also in our raft. He was in Uganda helping people recover from the massive mudslides there. He also wore a Speedo, so he’s daring in lots of ways.
Rounding out our boat was Canadian Rob who was spending a long holiday traveling the length of Africa. Johan and Rob would have been thrilled had our raft capsized in every rapid. Such boys.
After lunch a pair of Turkish doctors, Turkish Neurologist and Turkish Pediatrician, joined in the fun, but more on that later.
After learning paddle commands and what to do if the raft capsized, we were off. The Nile was beautiful and to my delight we didn’t see a single crocodile or hippo. We came upon our first rapid, a 3 meter drop down a waterfall, which is as scary and thrilling as it sounds. I’m the one with the big grin on my face, fourth from the front.
We paddled down the Nile enjoying calm spots in between lots of Class 4 and 5 rapids. The funniest part was when we’d approach the rapids, Papa Bear and Mama Bear would describe what the rapids looked like to Baby Bear Eva, who couldn’t see anything beyond the raft. I’m not sure if their descriptions assuaged her fears or not, but it made for good entertainment in between Tuutu’s commands of, “Paddle, paddle, paddle!!!” or my favorite “Get down!” which meant get down in the boat, hold on for dear life and try not to pee your pants. It’s quite a mouthful really. I can see why Tuutu went for the much simpler “Get down!”
Under Tuutu’s excellent guidance I was having an amazing time. The rapids were really spectacular. We even saw a tree full of giant bats take to the sky. Along the shores people fished and went about their daily business.
Prior to my trip, I met with a travel nurse with lots of good advice, but mostly she reminded me not to drink the water. Don’t drink it. Don’t brush your teeth with it. Keep your mouth closed in the shower. I did all those things vigilantly. And then I rafted the Nile.
In the middle of the trip we stopped for a delicious lunch and sadly, the Bear family and Finnish Johan only signed up for a half day of rafting and so we said goodbye. They were replaced with two rafters from another boat, Turkish Neurologist and Turkish Pediatrician, also known as Ahmed and Assad. After asking a few times I still wasn’t clear on who was who. Turkish Neurologist knew a little bit of English, which is far more Turkish than I know, and when he said “Turkey Neurologist and Turkey Pediatrician”, I entertained brief thoughts of doctors performing brain surgery on turkeys and taking care of tiny poultry. My waterlogged brain discerned that perhaps they were doctors from Turkey instead. So disappointing. The doctors were a perfectly lovely addition, even if the language barrier meant that they didn’t always understand when to paddle.
As the trip drew closer to an end, we faced one more class 5 rapid. Much to Canadian Rob’s delight we flipped. Big time.
Colin and Turkish Neurologist were bounced around so much in the rapid and ended up so far away from the raft that they had to be scooped up by the rescue kayakers on standby. When the raft capsized, I found myself underneath it briefly which is not ideal in calm waters, let alone a churning class 5. I kicked my way out from underneath the raft and grabbed onto the rope lining the side of the now upside down raft.
In between getting dunked by the rapids, I spotted Turkish Pediatrician and, there’s really no other way to say this, he was FREAKING OUT! I’m not sure he knew how to swim and the poor guy kept getting submerged and he was on the brink of hyperventilating. His ‘Doctor In An Emergency Mode’ didn’t kick in, but to my surprise my ‘Teacher Mode’ did. It’s the same mode that kicks in when I’m making sure all 30 of my little ones are accounted for on field trips. I held onto the raft with one hand and did a one-handed doggy paddle with the other. I paddled over to him and grabbed his hand pulling him to the raft, where he grabbed onto the rope next to me. Canadian Rob popped up on the rope on the other side of Turkish Pediatrician and I couldn’t help but laugh at the huge grin spread across Rob’s face. Finally we’d capsized and he was thrilled! Turkish Pediatrician was not. He was still panicking. So I held onto the rope with one hand and patted his back with the other. ”It’s okay. You’re okay.” I told him in between getting slammed by the raft and the water.
Our fearless guide Tuutu, clambered on top of the raft and clipped one end of the strap to the raft and the other end to himself. We’d practiced this in the morning. Tuutu was going to jump off the raft, effectively flipping it right side up. Tuutu yelled down at us, “Let go of the rope!” Canadian Rob and I let go and swam a few feet away. Turkish Pediatrician maintained his death grip on the rope. I paddled back to him. ”You have to let go. Tuutu’s going to flip the boat.” Turkish Pediatrician shook his head. And so I peeled his claws off the rope myself and grabbed the back of his life jacket and swam away with him.
Tuutu flipped the raft and helped us all back in. After we cleared the rapid, the kayakers deposited Colin and Turkish Neurologist back into our boat and we all put our paddles and gave a hearty “Team Tutuu!” After which Colin and I high fived because hooray-nobody died!
After the end of the trip we stopped for a delicious BBQ where we relived the glory of the day. In bed that night I prayed that drinking the Nile wouldn’t come back to haunt me and then I swam into my dreams with a huge grin on my face.