Monday, March 9, 2009

Everything is Connected: Part I, pictures

These two male chimpanzees were sitting on a branch about twenty-five feet above our guide, my two colleagues and me. All together about eight males, two females, and two babies were in the trees just around us or down to the ground for short periods on this morning. They acknowledged us with an occasional glance, but seemed rather unconcerned and even apathetic about our presence. When a pack of baboons came through they yelled a bit towards them as a guard dog might bark at a noise through a fence.

The main preoccupation was the high-ranking female who was in heat. All the males preferred to mate with her as she had proven to be fertile and delivered healthy babies already. She was being a bit elusive however. The whole dynamic played out around a hierarchy with her at the top and a dominant male who had to fend off mid-ranking or up-and-coming guys who fended off the lower-ranking males. These tough-luck Tommys could not get within fifty meters of her without getting screamed at and possibly a blow to the back or head. So the scene was two to five-minute quieter periods of grooming among cliques and maneuvering that more or less maintained rank order in proximity to the prized female and ten-second to minute-long periods of screaming, chasing off, and near boxing matches before order was (momentarily) restored.

This is a stretch of the "Royal Mile" in the Budongo Forest. Now the road to the Budongo Conservation Field Station, it got its because King Kabalega of the Bunyoro Kingdom had it created for his hunting and bird-watching expeditions in the late 1800's. The site to this day is considered one of the best bird-watching sites in the world with over 300 species observable in a very small area.

King Kabalega was in power when the British made Uganda, the "pearl of Africa" its protectorate. The king strongly resisted the British's effort along with the help of rival kingdom Buganda to take control of his land and people. Unsuccessful, he was exciled to the Seychelles islands. Despite this loss, the Bunyoro Kingdom is still intact today, one of four that remains as a constituent of the Ugandan nation.

This is a family's set of dwellings on the edge of the jungle. Ten years ago this land was probably forest but it was slashed and burned with the hope of higher-yielding fertile soils. Unfortunately few farmers here have knowledge of crop rotation or how to make natural fertilizers so land is used until its nutrients are sapped and then new land is sought. Now that the forest is protected from slash and burn practices, farmers are in desperate need of new knowledge and materials to help them keep producing.

In those huts may live a man, his wife or multiple wives (each wife would have her own hut) and children or brothers or friends and their wives and children. The roofs are several layers of thatched grass on walls of packed mud held together with stalks of elephant grass. The floors are usually packed earth. Different structures may serve as a kitchen, outhouse, animal housing or any number of other functions.

These children were the daughters of a butcher who had received a grant from Village Enterprise Fund. They played peek-a-boo with us while we sat with the butcher over some jackfruit and heard an upbeat story of his success so far. He recently was able to purchase a cellphone that is greatly facilitating his ability to take and prepare orders for customers.

We will visit the family again in a year and look for standard of living improvements such as permanent walls, corrugated metal roofing in place of the thatched grass or the clothing of the children. It's good that these girls have tops and bottoms, but none of them have shoes. By next year the ideal picture would be them in their new shoes and school uniforms perhaps even with a book under the arm. Primary education is free in Uganda but uniforms and books must be payed for by the family.

No comments:

Post a Comment