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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Adjumani blew me away

If someone posed a simple question to name Uganda's most beautiful district, it would no doubt send many heads spinning as to which one would take top spot. But to many who have been exposed, it cannot be denied that Adjumani is one of those exceptional districts, if physical attributes and natural beauty are anything to go by.

At whatever angle, Adjumani simply surges forth round an enviable expanse of land. Raise your head and you will see a magnificent sky hovering over you like a giant umbrella or still like a summo wrestler staring down a little boy.

Located on the southern bank of the Nile, just before it runs into Sudan, Adjumani is said to have the largest equatorial forests in northern Uganda. Not only that. It's mainly Madi-speaking community, together with the Lugbara (from Arua and Yumbe districts), Acholi (fromGulu, Kitgum and Pader districts) and Kuku, Zande and Bor (Sudanese refugees) sound so musical that even when you don't understand it, just listening to them go on speaking is such joy.

In Adjumani, young girls and old women alike wear beautifully decorated armbands, while nice earrings (locally made) dangle from their ears. I noticed that most old women had virtually no teeth but seeing them expose their open gaps through broad smiles, it struck me that I had never seen smiles so genuine and beautiful.

Having fallen profoundly in love, I dug deeper and learnt that Adjumani elders are respected such that their decisions are binding to the members of the clan. In the true sense of madi culture, those [very old men and women] who die are accorded a special ceremony of dancing and rejoicing called mure, a deserving farewell as they join the ancestral world.

Only a poet can paint a better picture of the break of dawn or sunset in Adjumani. In the morning when the sun glides out of its sanctuary, it looks gigantic, round and pompous while in the evening as it sets, it slowly changes cladding itself in a well fitting orange-like outfit, so dear to the eye.

This enchanting district was formed just eight years ago from then East Moyo County of Moyo District. It goes without saying that Adjumani's beauty is simply unrestrained. Its gladdening airfield, comfortable murram roads and oh, that water transport that links it mainly by ferry to Moyo and other overlying districts confirm this.

In fact, 46.6km2 of its 3,128 sq. km of the district is water, so radiant against a backcloth of vegetation. It is this body of water that introduced me to an unforgettable experience –just like Jesus of Nazareth, I walked on water! Ok. It was not the physical walk, rather we were on a very sorry looking ferry that sharply contrasted with the unruffled waters of the Nile.

It was a mega ferry with a boxy shape and a wooden floorboard. Before our adventure, an argument that actually ended in fistfights between some of the sojourners and the ferry managers had ensued. The marines wanted the ferry to transport four Prados and a dozen of us while the travellers insisted that was too much a load for a ferry that looked haggered.

When the ferry men finally relented, we bought our roasted potatoes, smoked fish [tilapia] and mineral water and jumped on with uncertainty as to whether we would dock safely. As the ferry shovelled its way through the waters I realised we had no life jackets on an adventure so exhilarating at the same time harrowing. Stories of island ferries that slam into piers amid high winds and kill hundreds of crewmembers came to mind but I quickly dismissed them.

On the water, I met and made friends with Mr John Afua, a smiling old man with a deep voice who spoke good English. He was once a senior office messenger for Produce Marketing Board, Arua Branch but fell from grace when sickness earned him a sack. Afua now lives off handouts from good samaritans.
During our one mile cruise, Afua told me that it cost Shs300 to cross to the other side on a ferry. It shuttles cars and other bulky goods; in fact no seats were visible for the passengers. We stood holding on to the cars as we floated on, facing the far-reaching beauty of the river.

It was a serene Friday evening and the sun could be spotted meekly slicing its way home as we enjoyed its unobstructed view. The water muffled after the ferry but most fulfilling was the amusing little stories that got us to the other side. We had reached the end of our destination and had to disembark when we were only beginning to enjoy our sail.

Published in Sunday Monitor, April 2, 2006