Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Africa is Still Alive - Part One

The most striking difference between Uganda and home is just how alive this place is. I know it’s an overused stereotype, but in this place humans are just one species living amongst a constantly roiling tumult of ever moving biological processes, and not really controlling them at all. I think of Vancouver as a very ‘living’ place, with eagles and seals easily visible from my balcony in the AM, huge flocks of geese and crows spread across the city by day, and skunks and coyotes prowling the alleys at night. But this place just brims with life on a much larger scale and it makes our temperate environment, with its clear-cut mountain sides and opportunistic racoons scavenging in the garbage seem frail and cold. One hears stories of how much more life was in North America when Europeans first came; the skies were black with flocks of carrier pigeons and geese and the rivers so thick with fish that they would brush by your hand if you put it in. It feels like it’s still to some degree like that here. Natural life hasn’t lost here, isn’t being managed yet.

The most basic life here is the red earth. I’m not sure if the photos convey it, but the soil everywhere is a deep red/brown colour that stains everything that touches it, kinda like walking on a giant pile of compressed red/brown chalk powder. The soil is so fertile, and because we are at the equator and get 12hrs of sun all year round, stuff just grows. Even though we are technically still in the city, it feels very much like a jungle. Any patch of land that is not in use goes back to forest very quickly. There are patches of jungle, and I mean JUNGLE, sitting between two large buildings on what would just a be a vacant lot elsewhere. Next to my compound is a construction site on which a house is being built. On the day I arrived a truck dumped a load of topsoil for use in landscaping (I noticed this because it was annoyingly loud). 3 Days later the dirt pile, still untouched by the workers has an array of foot-tall ferns and weeds growing from it. Nothing sits useless around here, not even for a second.

My Mom says that you can judge the health of an eco system by the number of birds in the sky. The sky in Vancouver, and even more so in the Okanagan, is filled with birds. Seagulls, crows, pigeons, and occasional ospreys, hawks and eagles. While it seems healthy, it pales before Kampala. This sky here is thick with BIG birds in what I can only describe as a prehistoric throng all across the city. At any point one can look up and see 20-40 forty large birds of prey swooping, swinging, and gliding around overhead. Most common is a hawk called a Kite that is about the size of the bald eagles one sees over Vancouver, but with the commonness of the seagulls. They are huge birds, and strong acrobatic flyers, and are ubiquitously soaring and sailing on the thermals rising off the streets and rooftops.

Even more striking is the Marabou Stork, a pterodactyl like crane that stands about 4ft high and easily has a wingspan of 6 ft. These massive birds are constantly overhead, sometimes swooping as low as 20ft, causing their prehistoric shadow to cross over you. In the downtown, they slowly glide between the buildings and perch upon their edges, gazing down upon the city like skeksies ruling their roost. In the early mornings when they rise, they swoop across the houses and you can hear the whooshing of their wings, and then they let out deep guttural caws like slow, oversized ravens. It’s kind of shocking to see so many large birds living quite comfortably above, and in such a dangerous and chaotic urban environment. I’m quite fascinated by them.

Closer to the ground there are a number of singing birds that seem to be jackdaws or corvids of some kind. They are rather witty and spunky seeming birds and love to sing up a storm. They are at least as sing-ee as any parrot and have at least as many different song elements as my dear pal Amaretto (who I miss terribly, Hi Buddy!). Of course I love bird songs and I think their constant trilling is a lovely soundtrack to this place.

Finally it wouldn’t be the third world without chickens. They are everywhere. Scruffy, mangy, and I believe mostly ‘wild’, by wild I mean without a current owner or keeper, wandering through the streets, gutters, roads, pecking away at the garbage. Walking by an overgrown vacant lot, one can stop and see a dozen chickens, parents and babies, scrounging around through the foliage and trash, almost like feathered rats.


  1. Thanks for the sky ballerina picture, I played with it in my mind for a bit.

  2. you know Adam, i am in the wild exotics of San Francisco and LA this week and had drinks last night with a guy who was the product acquisition guy from Sammy. we pitched him BIRD and he was still talking about that game and how authentic your passion was about the game and birds. some things never change huh?

    p.s. we need to revisit Bird and pitch it again.