She stood in the hospital ward leaning her head against the narrow space between two doors. Her black hair was braided in neat rows that wrapped around the back. Bent with exhaustion, she did not seem to notice us passing or to be aware of the small crowd of patients camped on blankets in the corridor. Her posture said that she had been waiting for a very long time. Maybe no longer than others scattered around the hospital and camped outside on the grass, but with a heaviness that verged on crashing through to the floors below. Her dogged vigil spoke of a mother’s love for a child she could no longer protect, unable to console, bereft of remedies, offering her solitary gift of presence. In this chaotic, somewhat scrubbed ward filled with strangers, at least she had a place to stand.
I have camped by many rivers, from the high country of the North Platte where it crosses the Wyoming border to the sandy bottoms of the San Juan, but never have I watched my step so carefully as this morning on the banks of the Nile. Gorged with water that spills out of Lake Victoria and substantial tributaries upstream, the river at Chobe is a quarter mile wide, swirling around tufts of jungle rock outcroppings and mixing great eddies along the shore that are the perfect depth for bathing hippos. I wanted to get close but was aware that, in spite of their tottering gait, hippos guarding their territory are impossibly fast for their girth. As the watchman put it, they are “too fast” and can even rush up a slope when so inclined. Even more threatening were the Nile crocodiles that float, hidden from the eye, in the “river frosting” vegetation shaken loose by Keruma Falls upriver. A croc can easily snag for lunch an unsuspecting warthog foraging by the river or a human engrossed in IPhone. I checked that my sandals were firmly secured and edged closer, snapping a few shots while Hippo extravagantly cleared her huge bowels. My best chance came when she threw her mouth open wide in my direction. For some reason, my picture came out blurred.
It is Dec. 22 and our class in Eastern Africa begins in ten days. I have intended to start blogging even as we prepare for the trip…..but, it seems I have been so busy with the details and logistics of making the class happen, that I have not had time to write. Eight students are on board and I am one of three professors that will be learning first hand from community development efforts on the ground. UCCS is partnered with the Global Livingston Institute in Denver and, particularly, Jamie Van Leeuwen, who has led a number of groups to Eastern Africa in recent years. Cerian Gibbes from UCCS Geography and Environmental Science is the third member of our teaching team. I will endeavor to provide some updates and commentary as the class proceeds.