After a whirlwind of goodbyes at Ndeeba School in Kayunga, a rural farming village in Central Uganda, our bus driver swept us away amidst swarms of students cascading against the sides of the bus to give their thanks.
Some waved. Some leapt excitedly to the windows, delighted at the momentary distraction from classes and ensuing chaos. Some cried.
As we outpassed the last sprinting straggler, shoes long discarded and arms swinging frantically as if on hinges, I couldn’t help but wonder what was coming next – each step further into Africa had truly blown me away with its beauty and natural raw power.
A mystery location awaited us at the end of our volunteer positions, and after a brief stop in Jinja, the bus chugged wearily to a dusty standstill along the banks of the River Nile. Here we discarded everything we owned, save a single towel and change of clothes each. Somewhat baffled, we followed orders and left our luggage amidst the now familiar scattering of red dust that finds its way sneakily into the very crevices of your being wherever you go in Uganda. It even lay in the ridges of the wooden benches on the boat we boarded, and in the sun-bleached lifejackets we placed over our heads.
Following days in the sweltering heat and confined compound of the school in Kayunga, the exhilaration of being exposed to the ‘sea’ breeze was akin to quenching a prolonged and exaggerated thirst – a sensation we were also now familiar with. Passing ‘Welcome to Lake Victoria’ signs bobbing uncertainly on anchored buoys along the way, our amazement only extended further as the driver pointed encouragingly with a toothy grin to a tiny island up ahead.
‘Samuka Island. Yours for tonight.”
An entire island?
The single wooden jetty wobbled precariously as we leapt out, and led to a steep set of steps crawling carefully through some of the most exquisite plants and flowers I’ve ever laid eyes on. Each step further into the deserted plains at the top and towards the solitary visible building seemed to break some unspoken rule – the grasses exhaled flocks and flutters of birds I hadn’t noticed, drawing my gaze skyward and to a view of my first African sunset.
This was swiftly followed by the most peaceful night’s sleep I’ve ever had in a tent.
Awakening before dawn to tentative chirping of hundreds of invisible resident birds around us, I proceeded to climb a viewing tower towards the East of the island.It started off slow – a definite brightness in the distance, complimented by a rising cacophony of chattering and squawking around us. By 6.15am, the colours on the horizon had formed a pinky-blue kind of eerie hue, with an orange glow blending up behind them into a stunning orb of light that rose higher and higher with astonishing speed – by 6.30 the sun had fully risen, and fishermen on tiny gondola-boats were bathed in a fresh warm light as they skillfully trawled the calm sea for their morning catch.