Here is how to enrich your wildlife safari by standing in the life of a local resident. The activity worked for me so it may work for you as well. You probably should stay at the elephant home camp or any other accommodation within Kikorongo area, to get this arranged perfectly. You will be thrilled by the experience of roasting and selling plantain at Kikorongo junction near Queen Elizabeth national park. The experience is basically living the life of a local woman for one day in her local trade. For a day, you will be serving this locally made snack to both the locals and foreigners in transit, past this junction. Queen Elizabeth national park offers one of the best safari in Uganda but this community encounter makes the experience even better. At the end of the day, you will understand what living in rural Uganda means.
During my visit to Queen Elizabeth national park in 2017, I was terrified to see how the local people survive in this area without a source of water, no electricity, school or any health facility. At first site during the village walk, I saw the residential houses here stood miserable. this tromped my desire to understand the life these people live, before I went on the wildlife safari, to ensure that my experience won’t be spoilt by my own curiosity of life in this community. Asking the residents and guide felt as rude so I kept it to myself. Then I thought of an idea I had read in one of the motivational books. “The best way to understand it is to be part of it”. Yes, for one day I was to stand in the shoes of one local woman. My choice was a woman who seemed cheerful to me. She always had a smile whenever I passed by. I asked my guide to ask her if I can help her sale some plantain (locally called Gonja), in first hearing, my guide thought I was joking, then I insisted and he talked to the woman. The woman was shocked and accepted after a long time of insisting. You won’t believe what was in for me. “This action has changed my life forever”!! The same is likely to happen to you the time you choose to go out of your comfort zone to do this experience, standing in the shoes of a local resident woman near Queen Elizabeth national park.
Well dressed for my job, I had to put on a large hat to prevent the scorching sun. Gonja is sold by bringing it to the cars as they stop in the packing along the road or bring it to the people standing or passing by. We compete for the market with the meat roasters who also bring the meat on skewers, soft drinks and fruits to the same potential clients. We therefore have to work hard to convince the client that Gonja is better than meat, or Coca-Cola an international brand. I was prepared for the challenge that either had to break or build me. On a good note, I made more sales for this woman on that day. It was more than anybody else sold including the Coca-Cola dealers. People wanted to buy the muzungu gonja, probably also because I understood the art of selling and customer care more than majority of the sellers at that moment. The woman was so happy with the result but I was happier and richer with the motivation of leading the whole market in sales. I promised to learn how to roast the next time I visit though I know I will need to work hard to be the best roaster using charcoal without burning either my fingers or the entire stock.
From interacting with the women, I learnt allot about the local life and the role women play for the survival of the family; I understood that these women are the bread earners to their families. Besides not having any social infrastructure in this community, wildlife crossing from the park to the community land and the harsh climate don’t allow these women to grow their own food. Most food is imported to the area, medical care is got 22-30km away, the water (not even safe for drinking) is bought at a price of 50 shillings per liter, a price higher than anywhere in Uganda and the Gonja that I was trading in for the whole day was imported from Congo to Uganda. This whole insight showed me that, this plantain selling business meant everything to the local woman living near Queen Elizabeth national park. I felt proud for spending some time and a few coins in the life of a local woman, an effort that helped six children and one man have a meal on their table that night.
Changing the life of a local woman in Uganda is the best way you can contribute to the conservation of wildlife. It is a great experience going on safari but better to remember that conservation effort will have more impact from the community neighboring the park. It is worth spending an extra day to experience the local life at Queen Elizabeth national park!
To participate in this experience, you can contact the elephant home campsite where I stayed during my visit (www.theelephanthome.com) or any other lodge around Kikorongo to connect you to the local community guide. Please don’t arrange it yourself as you may not understand how things work in the first place. The elephant home is a budget accommodation offering clean self-contained rooms and a long list of activities including the wildlife safari inside the park or the village experiences. Being a community owned and run facility they offer the best prices with a very high level of hospitality, delicious meals and allot of experience about the park and local area.