12 January 2011

Sipi Christmas

A few of my best friends here and I spent Christmas day hiking up to Sipi Falls. It was not the way any of us had spent Christmas before, but it was a really awesome way to spend our first Christmas in Africa.

To get to the falls, we started off on a small path, red Ugandan dirt, and the mob of children that had met us on the road fell away as we declined offers of guides and told the older kids who started to explain how to get there that we weren't going to pay them to tell us. The path led us away from the road and over green rolling hills covered in banana groves and overgrowth and dotted with huts, we were in the middle of a sharp valley, almost more of a large ravine, maybe a mile across, with the walls rising up quickly on either side and the banana trees in the distance making green Xs and patterns on the sides of the hills, and we greeted people as we walked right through their gardens and we declined to pay more people who insisted that there was an entrance fee and, look, they even have receipt books, so you know it's official (but it's not, and there is no entrance fee, but clever, with the receipt books.) And after twenty or thirty minutes of walking, we could see the falls coming off of a cliff face, just one white streak against the brown rocks and green trees, and just a little farther after that and we could hear the white noise of the water on the rocks below, and just a little farther after that and we could feel the mist swirling around and making us shiver against the wind that would make the waterfall sway to one side, and it was all very Jurassic Park as we passed among taller trees that had raking scratches on the bark, maybe from lions or velociraptors or just because that's how the bark looked, and then we were right at the falls. We still stood up on a smaller hill, some ninety meters below the top of the falls and ten meters above the pool at the bottom (if Martin, a local kid, sporting a Barack Obama shirt, who somehow became our guide despite us telling everyone we didn't need one, was right in his confident statement of the fact that the falls are 100 meters high). So we stood and watched the water falling and shifting in the wind and I said the mist reminded me of Seattle and someone said that makes Seattle sound terrible and I disagreed and then shivered. And we made our way down to the pool where the mist was thicker and we shivered more and walked around and talked about whether we'd rather be a bird living in a nest in a tree or on the side of a cliff, and agreed, cliff, definitely, and if we'd rather have a house where we could hear the ocean all the time or hear a waterfall, and agreed, ocean, definitely, and then we were too cold and made our slippery way back up to the hill where we sat and watched the water fall. And when we'd had enough of being cold and damp and watching water fall off of a cliff, we headed up one side of the valley, along another narrow red dirt path, past more huts, declining more receipt books, picking up a chameleon and watching its perfectly round eyes roll around its head and its mitten hands gripping a stick, and with Martin asking, repeatedly, if we were tired, and with us insisting, repeatedly, that we weren't, we made it to the top, to a guesthouse (called the Crow's Nest, a fact we had to repeat, loudly, many times on the phone with the driver who was coming to pick us up -- "We are waiting at the CROW'S NEST... Yes, it is called the CROW'S NEST... CR-- ... CROW'S ... NEST.") with a small restaurant where we could sit again and watch the water fall, but this time we could do it from a distance and with a beer in hand. And we waited until dark for the driver with heavy rain clouds threatening and drove down the winding road in the dark, with lightning striking where we had just been, back to our guesthouse where more beer and a fantastic spread of Ugandan food was waiting for us. Merry Christmas.

(Side note: I ended up not climbing Mount Elgon. One of my friends had to fly back to the States for a couple weeks, and so I decided to entertain her by traveling to Kampala and Entebbe with her instead, and whether or not she was entertained, I still had fun, and by fun I mean we ate pizza and brownies and got real coffee. But the mountain will still be there, I assume, for the next two years, and I'll definitely do it at some point, and I'm looking forward to it already.)

We had a few more days of relaxing too, just bumming around, sleeping in late, trying to think of names for someone's new kittens (and settling on Susan Sarandon and The Bejazzler, after getting rid of my favorite idea, which was to call them both The Mighty Ducks, though, sadly, a few days later when they got home, they found out, as they put in their text to me: TERRIBLE NEWS. ALL THE KITTENS WERE EATEN BY A PTERODACTYL BIRD. WORST. DAY. EVER.), and at one point I even ate a legit quesadilla and a mocha milkshake, and all of that was really nice too. Really solid Christmas, despite the fact that I think we were all missing our families and traditions from home just a little bit, but how could you not? No Totino's Pizza Rolls on Christmas Eve is a crime.

But, by far, the best story from Christmas:

The whole time we were around the town we stayed at and going up to the falls and even once or twice on the hike to the falls, we kept seeing young Ugandan men, maybe in their late teens or early twenties, wearing women's skirts. Like, there was no mistaking that these were not kilts, or wraps, or something that could, with a certain perspective, appear manly. These were cut for a woman's hips, patterned in bright flowers or colorful paisley. We could not figure it out. We could also not help laughing at them behind their backs, joking to oursleves, "Hey, dude. Nice skirt."

And then we found out why they were wearing skirts. And then it got even better.

All of these young Ugandan men were wearing women's skirts because they had just been circumcised.

Nothing to keep you in your place after enduring an extremely painful (I assume, confidently) rite of passage into manhood like having to put on ladies' clothes.

The best, however, were the guys who'd be shuffling along slowly, one hand gingerly placed in front of their freshly chopped manhood, walking along with a limp and a grimace.

Merry Christmas? Ouch.

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