After yesterday’s post from the Nile River, I was reminded of an earlier stop on that trip at a flooded Ugandan river along the Congo border.
Actually, we were crossing that river, on a submerged bridge surrounded by water. Our van was silent, the motor turned off to prevent river water from being sucked into the engine and our driver David was cautiously steering while boys from a nearby village pulled and pushed us by hand across the impasse.
Water is at the heart of East African life. When it’s raining, everything is submerged or in mire. When it’s dry season, it becomes so scarce that villages reach the brink of disaster – little or nothing to drink, none to grow food.
The irony of our situation was that here was so much water it was making movement nearly impassable, yet these same villagers would have to walk miles with large jerry cans to area “bore” holes for drinking water because the river was so terribly polluted.
There are, I think, “defining” moments on every journey that help the traveler focus on what his or her trip is all about; what is “taken away” as a permanent part of life’s experiences. Writer’s moments, if you will.
This river crossing was the essence of our trip. Here was water beautiful to behold and a key transport route for food and supplies, yet also the cause of disease and destruction. Water creating tourism and recreational opportunities for a downtrodden region, but undrinkable without treatment.
When we safely reached the far side of that flooded river, David handed the boys a small payment then reached into his bag and took out a bottle of water for each of them. “They’re thirsty,” he said, matter-of-factly. “And you can’t drink the river.”