The Elgon bunch – Rich, Cindy, Mike, Ashley, and Esther – awoke early on Saturday to hike up Mount Elgon. A minivan drove us up into the mountains and we passed through the “Village,” where some of Mbale’s poorest people live. Living in the mountains, most of these families have very limited access to resources like running water, medicine, and schooling. Their greatest resource here, however, is the forest. We saw entire families carrying wood from the trees. I could not believe the amount of weight that some of the little children were bearing on top of their heads. Everyone was very friendly, though some of the children were afraid of the “Muzungus” (white people).
After a very bumpy ride, we made it to a check-in which would be the starting point of our hike. With three guides, we began making our way through the jungle-canopy. Every so often we would come into a clearing, where there would be a community or some farm fields, but most of the hike was through the trees and up steep rocks. The flora and fauna was beautiful. We saw wild bananas and beautiful flowering trees and we took pictures of breathtaking views that simply won’t be done justice by our cameras; we met a chameleon, took snapshots of colorful birds, and ran into a few troops of fire ants, which was not too pleasant.
We cheered when we finally made it to our destination, Wanale Cave, after two hours of hiking and climbing. (I didn’t realize that it would be an actual cave!) Standing at the mouth of Wanale, I saw what I thought were cobwebs lining the cave ceiling. Mike was quick to correct me, however; they were spider webs – most of the spiders were shriveled up, but not all. Let’s just say I didn’t go too much farther into the cave. After a short rest/snack break up on the rocks (and getting attacked by a daddy longlegs), we began to make our way down the mountain.
“I’ve Seen the Rains Down in Africa”
As we were leaving the cave, it began to drizzle, so we would have to hurry to make it back to the van. The light rain quickly turned into larger droplets, so one of the guides cut off giant leaves from the wild banana with his machete – umbrellas! The large drops came down harder and harder, and soon the path that we were walking on turned into a muddy river. I tried to stay out of the water for awhile, but my tennis shoes became soaked through anyway, so I gave in.
Then the winds came. It was raining sideways, and not an inch of me was dry anymore. I finally tossed my “umbrella” aside because it was now in shreds, but I worried that my cameras and interview notes inside my backpack were getting wet. We finally came to a small community and hid under the shelter of a family’s metal roof. They ushered us inside to get warm and to wait out the rains. Mike ran back to look for his camera, which he dropped when he slipped in the water. I checked my backpack, and sure enough, all of my papers were soaked at the bottom because I had a pool of water in my bag. Meanwhile, poor Esther was shivering because her body was not used to being so cold. We all hugged onto her to surround her with body heat.
Finally the rains subsided, and we trudged the rest of the way down the mountain. The path brought us out into a small village community, and everyone and their dog came out to see the wet & muddy “Muzungus”. We began walking back toward the van, and all of the little boys in the community started chasing after us, yelling, “Muzungu, Muzungu!” We humored them by taking a few pictures and letting them look, but then we hopped into the van and headed back to Elgon Hotel.
After our [cooler-than-desirable] showers, Esther, Mike and I headed into town on a boda-boda to do some shopping. Then we joined Cindy and Rich back at the hotel before heading to dinner with a group of about 15 Dutch people from the Netherlands that we met at Mt. Elgon. (Ironic that I thought I could Dinner was very entertaining with such a large party and not too much overlap of language. We brought them to eat at our favorite restaurant in Mbale that serves fresh tilapia. I ordered a fillet with a side of stir-fried vegetables and chapati.
Remember the Candidate Conference at the hotel that I wrote about before? There has been excitement here all weekend, and voting took place on Saturday night. Very surprisingly, the Mayor of Kampala lost the vote for candidacy, but there was still plenty of celebrating by the victor’s supporters…ALL NIGHT LONG. The party was right outside our window, so it was tough to get rest. When the music was finally shut off at 5AM, we got some rest. Luckily, Sunday was a good day to sleep in.
In the early afternoon, we gathered with the bakery women at Sadina to celebrate Cindy’s birthday. Innocent and I led worship songs, and then a group of young girls – many of them orphans – performed traditional song and dance as a gift to Cindy; we had so much fun watching. One of the girls, Fatuma, is sponsored by Rich and Cindy. They bring her clothes and send her money to pay for her education and other necessities. Fatuma wrote a sweet letter to Cindy on behalf of the other orphans, asking her to help find them “friends from the US” to help meet their needs. It was very touching.
We stayed for dinner at Dinah’s, and Cindy and I helped Esther in the kitchen. We made chicken in tomato-veggie sauce (Cindy’s concoction), traditional rice, and fresh avocado. It began raining after dark, so we called our cab driver to come pick us up. The cost for 5 people to ride home was 3,000 shillings, which is about $1.50.
Dinah Busiku, widowed mother to three, has an accounting diploma as well as a diploma in business administration. She was married at a young age and took her first job with a bank in Mbale. As his career was gearing up, Dinah’s husband Sam (a civil servant) made an offer to buy a government house – a sizeable but charming home on a beautiful landscape in the foothills of Mount Elgon.
Unfortunately, Sam passed away before he was able to close the deal, but Dinah took it upon herself to successfully secure a 10-year mortgage on the home. At the time, she was running a business that she had started, Nimbus Enterprises, a construction supply company. She kept up with the business despite the difficulties and being cheated by many dishonest people.
This continued until Dinah’s entrepreneurial spirit kicked in; her home seemed to be too big for her small family, and she feared that it was a waste of space. She decided to take out a loan to beautify her home and convert it into an inn – Sadina Inn (a combination of the two names, Sam and Dinah). Now, the income generated by the inn goes toward the home’s mortgage; essentially, the home now pays for itself.
After the year-long loan had been paid off, Dinah was ready to move into a new line of business for additional income. Sewing had been a talent of hers since she taught herself when she was very young, but only more recently did she see that her work was quite good and that she could sell it. She first began by selling to friends, but soon word got out, and more and more customers started bringing requests to her.
Dinah decided to open a shop in town, so she began renting a small space and purchased some fabric from Kampala as inventory; she makes more profit when clients buy fabric from her rather than bringing their own. Dinah then took out a loan for three million shillings to purchase three new machines: electric sewing machine, manual sewing machine, and finishing machine. The loan is through Century Rural Bank, which deals primarily with farmers and the middle class, whereas most other banks in town are more selective about whom they lend to (upper class only). The interest rate on Dinah’s loan is 17%, and she also pays a 1% loan fee, 1% commitment fee, and 1% loan insurance fee. She told me that she is relatively satisfied with this bank, but that they charge outrageous late fees if she can’t make a payment on time.
On a typical day, Dinah arrives at her shop at 8:30AM, does her stitching there, and comes home in the evenings to see what’s going on at Sadina (new customers, checking the books, etc.). At 8:30PM, Dinah begins cutting material for the next day until about 1 or 2AM. Her only time of rest is when she is in Church on Sundays or when she is traveling.
Dinah’s largest obstacle as an entrepreneur had been her lack of capital. More specifically, she feels that she lacks some facilities at her inn. As most of her customers are directed to her when the 3 major hotels/resorts are full, they typically expect Sadina to have the same facilities – fully-furnished kitchen so that they can cook their own meals, TVs in bedrooms, etc.
Lack of capital has also led to a lack of stock in Dinah’s retail shop. When people can’t come in and choose materials and fabrics, she often loses business. But she can’t keep up her inventory unless she has the capital.
Dinah has faced many struggles as a wife, mother, and entrepreneur, but she continues to persevere. She tells me that she is motivated by an ambition to be a successful businesswoman. She wants to see her children perform well in school and she wants to build nice homes for them. She is willing to work twice as hard to see them succeed.