This week has been incredible. I look back on what we have done, and I can't believe this has only been a week.
We had the opportunity to take a trip to go gorilla tracking. We have been told that it is something we need to do while we are here, and didn't realize we would be able to get there so soon during our mission. What an amazing experience. We flew to Rwanda, and immediately from the airport got in a safari van to drive to the area where we would see the gorillas. We crossed the border back into Uganda, and went to the Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest. It was a long drive, but closer to Kigali than Kampala. Two thirds of the drive was on paved highway, and then the rest was on a dirt road.
The views were stunning. Absolutely Beautiful.
While we were on the dirt road, it was raining pretty hard, and there were areas where the water rushed right across the road. I was afraid the road would be washed out at times, but we were okay. As it got dark, and we were still driving, every now and then the lights of the van would all turn off. The driver would put on the brakes, fiddle with the switch, and then it would come back on. There were steep cliffs on the side of the road, and people walking down each side. When the lights would go off, it was pitch black. As he would come to a stop, we kept thinking, "I hope he stops before we go off a cliff, or I hope he stops before he hits someone." It happened at least six or eight times. It really felt like we were on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, or in Jurassic Park. The only thing missing was dinosaurs. And, if we slid off the side of the road, it really wasn't just a fun thrill, it was real! We made it to the Silverback Lodge, and were able to have a nice dinner before going to bed for the night.
|In front of our room at the Lodge|
|Looking out away from our room. The views were incredible.|
We bought a picture from this cute little guy on the road. He wanted 5,000 shillings for it. I gave him 500 shillings (about 15 cents) I don't think he drew it himself, he had a whole stack of them. Haha.
The next morning, we went to the Uganda Wildlife Authority, just down the road from the lodge, and we were briefed on the rules of gorilla tracking. There are 3 families of gorillas, and there were eight people assigned to each family. The family we were assigned to was supposed to be easy to get to. It is a family of sixteen gorillas consisting of the Silverback (the father/leader of the family, this one is 40 years old), the Blackback (he will lead the family when the Silverback no longer can, this one was 14 years old), 4 or 5 mommas, some adolescents (3-5 years old), and even babies. One was a month old, another one was 3 months old. The gorillas roam free wherever they want to go in the rain forest. There are "pilots" who go out at 7:00 in the morning, and they go to the place where the gorillas were the day before, then they follow their tracks to see where they are. They will radio to our guides and let us know where to hike to, to see them. On the day before we went, this family of gorillas had been very close to the edge of the rain forest. The hike had only been about thirty minutes. So we were assigned to the "easy" family. In fact, there was an elderly woman, Sarah, who was assigned to go with our group while her own family members went on a "harder" hike. As we started to hike to our gorillas, the guide said he hadn't heard back from the pilots yet, so he wasn't sure how far the gorillas had traveled. Our hike ended up being quite long and hard. Steve and I were fine, but poor Sarah, the elderly woman, was really struggling. When you go, you can hire a porter to hike along with you. The porter does everything from holding your pack, to helping you up some of the steep hills, to helping you cross streams, etc. We hired a porter, and there was a point where the trail was very steep, he held my hips from behind and just kind of pushed me up the hill. It was actually really nice, and made the hike so much easier. Sarah had a porter as well, but she was still struggling. He was holding her pack, and holding her hand, and she still kind of fell to her knees a few times. After my porter "pushed" me up the hill, I turned to him and told him that Sarah was really struggling. I asked him to help her, so that she had two porters. One to push and one to pull, and just make sure she didn't hurt herself. Working on the orthopedic floor of the hospital, I have seen the results of falls in the elderly, and didn't want to see anything like that in the middle of the rain forest in Africa. He would turn to check on me, and I'd tell him I was fine, just stay with her. I was glad we had hired him for that reason alone.
|With our porter, Caleb. This picture is quite the optical illusion. (This mission is really stretching Steve! Or.. He's really experienced some growth!)|
It turned out that the gorillas had traveled quite a ways, and we ended up hiking 2 1/2 hours into the forest to see them. But, WOW!!! It was incredible! We stood ten feet or less from them. The entire family of gorillas were all together, laying around, munching on berries and leaves. They didn't seem to care at all that we were there.
We stayed for an hour, just watching them. The Silverback kept trying to show us that he is in charge. From time to time, he'd thump his chest and run around nudging the other gorillas. They would all get up and follow him, and do whatever he wanted them to do. They said he weighs close to 500 pounds. There were a couple of young ones who put on quite a show for us. One beat on his chest like the Silverback.
Another one grabbed a small tree, pulled it down, and whacked his brother on the head, then they both started wrestling each other, it was really funny. We watched the mothers with the small babies, which were so sweet. At one point a mother climbed the tree with the small baby and when she got to a branch, she lifted the baby and was helping him to pull himself up on the branch. It was really neat to see. After our hour was up, the gorillas decided they had had enough of us, and they all climbed the trees. It was amazing to see how even the 500 pound Silverback climbed the tree with ease. This was an experience I will not soon forget. So AMAZING!!!
Then it was time for our hike back. It did not get any shorter, we still had 2 1/2 hours to hike back. When we had about forty minutes left to hike, the heavens opened, and the rains came down! Drenching rain!! Incredible!! I had a rain jacket that I put on, but Steve was soaked to the skin!! He actually said he really liked it. He was sweaty and dirty from the hike, and the rain was refreshing. By the time we got back to the vehicle, my pants were soaked, and my shoes were completely full of water, and they would make sloshing sounds when I walked. It was pretty funny.
We paid our porters, got our Gorilla Tracking Certificates, which we were told to frame, and we were on our way in the scary safari van, back to Kigali. Definitely something I would highly recommend. If you ever come to Uganda or Rwanda... Gorilla tracking is a MUST!
Now it was time for the mission tour. We had Elder Hamilton, who is the President of the Southeast Africa Area, and his sweet wife Claudia, come tour our mission. The plan was to go to each area of our mission and have a meeting with the leadership, followed by a Zone Conference, and then a lunch. I loved having them here because we have such great missionaries, and I felt like we really had an opportunity for him to feel of their amazing spirits, and see what obedient, hard working elders and sisters we have here in the Uganda Kampala Mission.
He first met with the Elders and Sisters in Rwanda. Then we flew back to Uganda. They stayed at the mission home with us, which we really enjoyed. We spent Sunday with them in the Mengo Branch of the Kampala Stake. The Stake president spoke, and then the primary children sang, "I know he lives". I have been in primary for at least 20 years, and I have never seen anything like this. There was a young boy who stood in front of all the primary children. He was probably 8 years old. He motioned for them all to stand up and then led them while they sang the song. He was so proper, and the children sang out so beautifully. That song always touches me, but having them be led by a primary child was incredible. I couldn't stop the tears. After the song, Elder Hamilton spoke. The one thing I can say about spending the week with Elder Hamilton is, he is such an incredible teacher. In every situation we were in with him I just absorbed EVERYTHING. He teaches in a way that is very relevant to those he is speaking to, and the Spirit was so strong each time he would speak. I feel so blessed to be able to spend a week with a General Authority. His wife was always so kind, and taught the missionaries with power. She serves and supports her husband faithfully. I learned so much from both of them.
We had zone conferences on Monday in Jinja, and on Tuesday in Kampala, and then flew to Ethiopia to wrap up the mission tour. Each area was uniquely different, but the Spirit was strong, and the missionaries were taught wonderful truths that I believe will help them to become better missionaries, and future leaders of the church.
During the zone conferences I presented the Christmas initiative #LIGHTtheWORLD. I have 137 missionaries who are excited to serve those around them: In 25 Ways. Over 25 Days. Today, December first was the worldwide day of service. The AP's dug in the garden of an investigator. They said they had received many phone calls from other missionaries who wanted to tell them of the service that they are doing. It was a bit difficult for me to do any service because my day consisted of flying home from Ethiopia, but when I got home, I took out a plate of dinner to our security guard. He was very happy to receive it. I invite you all to join us in serving as our Savior served. Follow this link to Mormon.org and watch the #LIGHTtheWorld video, and commit to serving each day until Christmas.
Many wonderful things are happening in the Uganda Kampala mission. We are so blessed to be a part of it. There is an excitement among the missionaries that is palpable.