Into this world

It is a few minutes past three o’clock in the afternoon and the coaster is roaring through the Kinyara Sugar Plantation negotiating a hill. Inside the coaster, silence screams all over the place. Some passengers are asleep with helpless bodies tilting along to every turn the coaster makes. Others have since woken up and listened on to the quarrel of the engine limping upwards the rugged surface of the potholed road. Conversations have since died out. Books loosely held in hands half open with no more motivation of reading on. Everyone looks on. This is the third day on the road driving from one forest stop to another learning about the work of the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) in the communities neighboring Budongo Forest in Masindi and Hoima districts in Western Uganda.
27 years ago,JGI launched out to do its work in Ugnada in a bid to promote primate conservation around forest neighbouring communities. This came as a result of decreasing number of chimpanzees believed to, once, have been around one million but have fallen to less than three hundred thousand in Africa. Jane Goodall, a conservationist and primatologist took it upon herself to promote the conservation of these endangered species in the 1960s.
In Uganda, JGI established its services in areas in the Albertine Rift. These are known for having the highest accommodation rates of primates. This region covers twelve districts mainly in Western Uganda.
In three days we could not exhaust all the projects JGI is involved in in Masindi and Hoima alone given that the places are far apart and yet the organization runs very many activities. The institute is fully involved with established offices that take care of the various activities. Robert Atugonza, the Natural Resources and Livelihood Officer of JGI in this region leads us on a very interesting, adventurous, exciting and yet excruciating journey.
On the very first day of the trip after making a soft landing in Masindi, we set off for Kapeeka communities to see what the communities are doing in line with promoting conservation in the outskirts of Budongo Forest. Kapeeka is a one hour drive through the overly layered green hills and plains of Kinyara Sugar Plantation punctuated with small pockets of forest reserves lying low in the valleys where baboons find accommodation. It is a common sight along this route to see baboons crossing the road to find sugarcanes to eat. Kapeeka is a small trading centre north of Kinyara town. It is a home for working people. At 4pm when we get there, men and women carry their farm equipment on their shoulders as they make way home. The day has come to an end. Old men sit by round tables sipping on local gin with eyes cast to the road. Children run around in a chase screaming at trucks dropping off plantation workers from the fields.
The evening comes with its daily routine of small meetings, the wet path from the borehole and the dust hanging in the air all living signs of a day coming to an end but not on our side. We are interested to learn about the works of the people of Kapeeka. And we are glad to spend the rest of the hour with Arii Emily touring his projects. He is one of the beneficiaries of JGI. Soon we make our way out of this active and vibrant trading centre tracing our way back to the hotel to plan for the following day.
On our second day, we drive east of Masindi Town. This time round, we are headed to the Budongo Eco Forest. We make a stopover at the Budongo Eco Forest Lodge which is run by Uganda Lodges Limited. Here, we meet Evelyn Bingi, a guide who is to lead us to a chimpanzee trek. At the lodge, we meet Peter Oyet, the lodge custodian. Peter tells us the facility at the lodge was constructed by JGI with help from USAID. It was then handed over to Uganda Lodges for management. The team takes a break as it tours around the magnificent wooden piece of art that harbors all the freshness of the forest. Evelyn is a super guide. She has the details of the forest on her fingertips. She has been on the job for the last ten years. For this reason we are safe and set to begin the trek not before we tuck in our trousers in the socks should the red ants choose to feast on these forest strangers.

Peter Oyet shares details about Budongo Eco Forest Lodge. Photo by Ninno Jack Jr

We walk 7 kilometres into the forest with the minimum noise ever before we can find a mating chimpanzee couple romancing up the tree. I lose track of Evelyn’s guidance. Her word, I lose. Her command, I forget. I miss out on the details of the couple’s names. Every chimpanzee has a name. In the 1960s, Jane Goodall through her research at Gombe in Tanzania, she realized the close resemblance of mannerisms and character between chimpanzees and human beings, and she thought that chimps too should be called by name other than numbers as was the case with all wildlife. Since then, chimpanzees have had a privilege of being addressed by name or rather by the pronoun of their gender.
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The chimpanzee couple before a massage session. Photo by Ninno Jack Jr

The search for other chimpanzees yields no fruits as the team is already rowdy and silence has since been forgotten. After an hour of extra tracking, we decide to call it a day. We drag our tired bodies out of the forest, at a pace half that we had while walking in. Jackets and hoodies that were covering faces have since been pulled off, tied in the waist to let sweat have some breathing space. Our lady friends have since lost all their makeup and neither are they willing to remake up their faces at this time of the afternoon. The rule had been clear; not to carry food to the forest. The drums of hunger and thirst are beating loudly. We jump onto the coaster rich with a chimpanzee trek gone well. We reserve our experiences for ourselves and only marvel at the EVELYN. She is so adorable in the way she does her work but most importantly her vast knowledge of the forest. We bid our endless farewells to her. She waves back at us with a very wide smile.
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After the chimp trek with Evelyn Bingi, our guide. Photo by Ninno Jack Jr


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