In front of me is the wide mouth of the Nile River, where it pools out from Lake Victoria near Jinja, Uganda, and begins its very long journey all the way to Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. The opposite bank is pressed and folded with cultivated fields, as I imagine it’s been since humans first started farming along the Nile thousands of years ago. On our bank, which I can see from our hotel balcony, long wild grass wades into the water. I’ve seen gray herons and white egrets disappear into the blades.
The two palm trees in front of me squeak and squawk with bats. Hundreds of them have come to sleep away the hot day underneath the collapsed leaves near the trunk. I’ve watched them fly unsteadily into the branches, latch on, and then use their hook-like elbows to climb into the shade. They look like discarded rags that have wiped away the night. Now the bats have disappeared, and I imagine they’ll swarm out again at dusk.
I like bats, a sort of underdog of the winged world. I can hear them in the trees, settling domestic disputes and cracking jokes with noisy uproars and then more gentle, Gremlin-like coos. These are Nile River bats, and they must have special bat status because of their location. There is probably a hierarchy for who gets the most cool, comfortable spots in the trees.
So far, I have loved being in Uganda. Everywhere you look here something is green and growing. Along the side of the highways, there are red and purple flowering trees, huge stretches of tea bushes, groves of evergreens, and hundreds of other plants that I don’t recognize. Many of the trees look ripe for monkeys, and I’ve spotted a few in the highest branches. I’ve also seen truckloads of green bananas, piled in gigantic bunches like a meal for King Kong. He probably retired here.
I cannot blame Mr. Kong--the people of Uganda are some of the politest I’ve ever met. It is bad manners to have any conversation without first saying, “Hello! How are you?” And then you must genuinely listen to the answer and perhaps offer a handshake. Only then can you ask, “How much for a bottle of water?” This is the same case when you relate to the boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) drivers. You cannot just go up and say, “How much to go to the pharmacy?” You must first find out how the driver’s day is going. This makes every single exchange feel just a tad deeper, just a bit more in touch with the fact that we’re all people, not just bats fighting for a better spot on the palm tree.