A diffuse predawn grey, we pull out onto the tarmac on our bikes as the birds and bodas awaken. Three buses are queued in Nyahuka for the cross-country trip to Kampala; they will leave in 30-60 minute intervals, sparsely populated. It has been many months since I was on a bicycle. The lockdowns and curfews and general press of work I suppose. Scott has recently resumed riding a couple times a week, but now on a Saturday he proposes we go on a longer loop together. I know I'll slow him down a LOT but the freedom of the road and the richness of the miles, the opportunity for a shared adventure, wins over my hesitation.
Bundibugyo is beautiful. Most days, my encounter with this district is marred by sickness and sorrow, by need and suffering, by exhaustion and brokeness. So a Saturday morning tour provides a needed soul correction. The little pockets that pull our hours are important, but not the full picture of this place. We covered a wide swath of villages, gardens, homes, trails that can easily remain hidden from road-only tours. There are stretches where the muted mist of the morning, the thick carpet of leaves under the cocoa with their touches of red, the smell of earth, could almost feel like Fall in Appalachia. Others where the sun broke through to highlight the white bark of the cocoa trees like midget Aspens. There are moments of quiet, only the hum of ever-present unseen thick hordes of insects vibrating, trills of kingfishers or more distant soaring calls of the palm nut vultures. Morning clouds lift and sun begins to catch the brilliant red and blue of football jerseys drying on the edge of a rusty roof, the sprinkled yellow and purple of weedy roadside wildflowers. At most homesteads, a kid or two catches sight of us and runs to the edge of their compound to greet, and we try to greet the dozens of people we pass walking on the roads, cycling through Lubwisi, Lukonjo, Swahili and English. Solemn faces break into smiles, and we leave a wake of excited chatter, sometimes speculation, sometimes the person in the know identifying us. Mostly, there is just clarification, the first one is a man, that one is a woman. She is his wife. I don't know when non-binary thought is going to reach the surface in this place, but I often feel a little twinge of sorrow for the pioneers, it's going to be a steep struggle. Teenagers linger with basins, on their way to gardens; four girls march in a line each with a viny bundle of beans still in the pod from their harvest. Almost everyone carries either a panga or a hoe. A segili of steaming charcoal sits perched on a tripod, waiting for the chapati stand to open. Mud and wattle traditional homes abound, brick and mortar upgrades are plentiful, and a few modern upscale cement Kampala-grade homes with glass windows can be seen. Brick making pits of mud marked by their little pulpit of a board nailed to an upright pole, the smooth surface for moulding.
In other words, life. And life abundant. Children, banana trees, talk and laughter; cocoa co-ops and police stations and quiet churches, clothes washing by rivers and perturbed roosters. Bundibugyo is beautiful, and Bundibugyo is throbbing with a pulse of life.
Paradoxes pervade our days and our weeks. This morning, not one. single. mask. seen. NO ONE. Except for the schools and churches being completely shuttered, there was not much to indicate a district under pandemic restrictions. Yet the day before, the staff meeting was a murmur of consternation, more positive cases, an Ebola-level gowned man spraying chlorine bleach left and right, an insistence that we police to be sure every visitor to the wards is properly masked and distanced. So we and the world continue the surreal stepping between a world that is gorgeous and fragile, between the resilient spirit of survival and the weighty sorrows of loss.