Hilarious Arrival (Volunteer Life Part III)

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Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi, the Gorilla Highlands team base; photo by Miha Logar
Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi, the Gorilla Highlands team base; photo by Miha Logar

It was hilarious to arrive at Lake Bunyonyi.

I got out of the car around 10pm, and came down the large, stone steps with just a flashlight on my phone. It seemed like all there was to this place was a fairly big building for dinner, a kitchen, and some dorms. It was really dark since there was barely any electricity in the area. The lake must be off somewhere in the distance.

I had no idea until the bright, early morning that I was in paradise. Coming out of my new home for the next three months to brush my teeth, I saw how beautiful and superb the massive lake and steep hills were, right outside my door.

The birds! So many birds. I’m not even a bird geek (yet) and I’m in awe of the beauty the birds have to offer at this lake. It took me only a few days to find out the lake’s name literally meant “the lake of tiny birds.”

The weather is usually like back home in San Francisco. The place is sort of like a biome, meaning that whatever temperature it is outside of the region, this area around Lake Bunyonyi will always be its own, no matter its surroundings. Perfect for that person that has been travelling, and has always been worrying about the forecast they’re used to being a victim of.

Meal at Edirisa; photo by Katharina Lahner
Meal at Edirisa; photo by Katharina Lahner

The hard thing for myself to get used to was the “classic Ugandan cuisine.” I’m a skinny guy, weighing in at only 125 pounds. I used to have serious eating problems, not eating enough, and the staff meals were not bad, only hard to embrace for a skinny American teenager.

Luckily, we had a volunteer from another part of the States, who taught our enthusiastic Ugandan cook a huge array of meals to make. We now have a beautiful menu of foods, from all over the world. At anytime during the day I can order an omelette, Asian pasta, hash browns, pancake with Nutella, and much more.

We basically have a hostel, where upmarket tourists all the way to rugged backpackers come to find a euphoric place to take it easy, have some beers around a bonfire, and converse about their travels through the world. The world that feels more and more real, the more I hear about it and journey through it. Gorilla Highlands giving me the opportunity to genuinely experience southwestern Uganda is really something to feel blessed about.

Hank Rugg sharing a story at a campfire; photo by Miha Logar
Hank Rugg sharing a story at a campfire; photo by Miha Logar

I began my work with the Video Map the organisation is trying to get off the ground. I gave my help on 37 videos, each one needing colour correction and subtitles before uploaded to YouTube.

One of the cool things that came across during my first month of volunteering was that there was always work, and it was not mundane, overdone or useless. So much of my time back home as a student trying to be employed involved those things…

Out here, there are no barriers. One day I’m doing video work, then hiking the hills and meeting indigenous people. Then I’m tending to a garden for the first time in my life, and from there I’m interviewing a 90-year old musician. Finally I’m writing about my experience doing all these things!

Hank Rugg working on the Gorilla Highlands Video Map; photo by Miha Logar

My first job that I ever got paid for was being a journalist in Oakland, California. Amongst other pieces I produced an award-­winning commentary on my father’s stroke that was played on National Public Radio several times. Expressing myself seems to always bring out the best in me, and volunteering here allows me to do that. My parents were always telling me to always speak the truth and express your feelings about the world, no matter the consequence.

Uganda is a holy grail when it comes to learning about another side of the world. A side that doesn’t get heard enough, and it really should. In India I learned something that has stuck with me. If you have a bank account, working electricity, and clean water, you are in the top 8% of wealthiest people in the world. When I came to Uganda that reality felt even more real and genuine.

Simple open air shower at Edirisa; photo by Katharina Lahner
Simple open air shower at Edirisa; photo by Katharina Lahner

In places where people don’t have two cars for every family, amazing fast ­speed internet, nice clothes, and money to spend on vacations, they can also find happiness. There are unhappy kids in huge mansions with every toy they want and there are happy kids who have no money for clothes and dance around a fire made out of plastic burning bottles. No matter where you live, what you do, or believe in, you can find happiness. As Siddhartha said, there is no path to happiness, happiness is the path.

Eating lunch with some Austrians, Germans and Ugandans, looking at the lake in great sunshine, it seems pretty easy for anyone to find happiness here.

Text: Hank Rugg

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