However, what I remember most, the photograph I treasure above all others I have taken, is the photograph I did not take at all:
Coming back to our lodge from one of the treks, I saw a young boy perhaps six or seven years old, walking along the road. His head was slightly too large for his body, I thought, and
appeared even more so because his hair was clipped very, very close to his scalp.
With his right arm, he carried a bunch of bananas, which he clutched to his chest. In his right hand, he held a jug for water.
On his back, he was carrying his brother, who could not have been older than three or four, and he supported the younger child with his left hand under his brother's rear end.
He was on his way to the river to fetch water, a journey of about five miles, each way.
I barely began to raise my camera, getting ready to take the picture that embodied the very heart and soul of Africa. And just as I started, his eyes met mine.
I smiled slightly. He did not. His eyes were almost vacant. Haunting.
I nodded to him, then lowered my camera. I did not take the photo, not wanting to impose myself on him, or make him feel self-conscious.
As we drove on, I started thinking about the things I was doing when I was six or seven years old. Whatever they were, I was certainly not loaded with the responsibilities that young
HOW IT WAS DONE:
AN IN-DEPTH 'PRIMER' FOR PLANNING THE TRIP TO UGANDA
This story draws heavily on several recurring themes in our travel book. The first theme is not to let yourself or others limit your imagination. The second theme is the value of working
with professionals. The third theme is, "If we can do it, YOU can do it."
We had originally planned to return to Africa in August 2004, but I sustained a severe back injury that forced us to cancel. I was bitterly disappointed because we had enjoyed our first
African trip 'to the max', and wanted to do it again. So, as soon as I felt physically able, I began anew with plans to make the journey, but this time, I added a country we had not considered before:
I wanted very much for Nancy to be able to see the "Gorillas in the Mist", made famous by Jane Goodall.
This would become the most arduous and physically demanding trip we have ever taken, and required the most money, time, effort, and collaboration. There is no way we could have done
this trip without an enormous amount of help from a fairly large support staff. And it cannot be done on-the-cheap by someone physically challenged. This is because the distances involved require the chartering
of small private aircraft, increasing the cost considerably.
By mid-September, 2005, feeling strong enough, I sent this e-mail to our travel agent in England:
"... I write now because I have made enough progress to be certain we will be able to travel once again. To that end, I want to re- set the African trip we were forced to cancel,
but with some modifications. Rather than go to Mala Mala again, let's replace that with Uganda. We would love to see the "Gorillas in the Mist" and whatever else you feel will make the spectacular trip
you had planned for us even more spectacular."
Our agent contacted the appropriate people in Uganda to see if such a trip would even be possible, and relayed their reply message to me:
From Stephen - We can certainly help your client with a wheelchair, as long as we can address three areas: Getting the client to and from Bwindi - We can transfer the clients by
air, although we may need a larger aircraft than normal for this. The Camp - The Gorilla Forest Camp is not currently accessible, but I am pretty sure we can convert Tent no 1 to make it accessible, and
to put ramps in between this tent and the public areas to make sure the client can get around when she is in camp. We will, however, have to carry her up and down the main steps of the camp from the road.
The Tracking - Ironically, this may be the least of our problems. We can have the client carried up and down the mountain on a stretcher-like device, and all we need is a relay team
of about 10 porters to make this work. This will add to cost, but is possible. Please let me know what your client thinks from my comments. In my experience, we have always relied on our disabled clients
to advice us on what ideas work best for them.
I wrote back to our agent:
"I am so 'psyched' about this possibility! Please relay these details to your people in Uganda:
We have experience with Canadian bush pilots and flying in small DeHavilland aircraft. When we went to Churchill for the Polar bear migration, we were easily transported in a 6 seater
plane from which one seat had been removed, to allow the access to get Nan into the plane, then replaced the seat so there was no sacrifice of available space for other passengers. It was slow, but no
Because of the distances, there is no question we would fly into the camp, rather than brave the less expensive, but interminably longer car transport.
On the first African trip, we stayed in Chobe Chilwero for 4 days and nights, in unmodified quarters which were most comfortable 'as is'. Though it was not a tent, the construction,
that is, raised with steps, appeared similar to those we are apt to encounter in Stephen's camp.
In Chobe, they furnished us with a length of 3/4" plywood, reinforced underneath, which we used as a ramp both to enter our bedroom as well as to get into the dining hall. It worked
well, yet there was always staff to help me up and down stairs if the need arose.
I am currently working with a fellow attempting to motorize Nan's 'dune buggy' wheelchair. If successful, this modification should make things much easier for us. It is being done in
consideration of my recent back injury- which I refuse to let irrevocably alter our traveling mobility.
As for using porters, the wheelchair has a frame that is easily able to have long poles lashed beneath it, suitable for carrying like a sedan chair. Fully assembled, the chair weighs
35 pounds, and Nancy adds another 138 pounds at her heaviest. The wheels can be removed and carried separately, thus reducing the weight by close to 11 pounds, making the overall weight approximately 160
pounds. I assume the porters will be local people, paid according to local scale, which should not be excessively expensive, so visiting "Misty Gorillas" is something sounding more and more possible."
Then, I received the following e-mail directly from the camp, and answered the questions they asked within the text of the e-mail. My responses are marked by #####:
From: Patrick Shah [mail to:email@example.com]
Sent: 21 September 2005 15:03
To: Colette Ingledew; 'Steven Mukiibi'
Cc: 'The Far Horizon (The Far Horizon)'
Subject: RE: Berger
Thanks very much for your reply. Some questions I need to ask so we can begin preparing a proposal: In the aircraft, does Nancy need to sit in her chair and have this lashed down to
the floor, or will she sit in an aircraft seat with the chair stowed?
##### She will sit in aircraft seat. Wheelchair is easily collapsed and stowed. Could we have a picture of the chair, especially the mounting points where the poles are to be lashed
##### Please go to www.landeez.com to see picture. I envision removing the wheels and placing poles through the horizontal rectangle of the seat frame, or lashed to its side. Carrying
the wheels with us, whenever we get to final destination, remove the poles and set wheelchair on the wheels.
What is the nature of Nancy's disability?
##### She had a series of strokes 18 years ago. Since then, we have traveled the world, and have made 8 landings in the Antarctic in this wheelchair.
Does she carry any specialized equipment with her, and does she need a separate dedicated care giver?
##### She carries only personal gear, nothing specialized. I am her dedicated care giver.
The track can take up to 8 hours in physically demanding terrain (thick bush and steep slopes) with high humidity and high temperatures. Does Nancy think she will be able to cope, albeit
in a sedan chair?
##### She is unable to walk, save for small distances and a few steps. More than that taxes her limits. She is otherwise quite physically fit: She rides a stationary bicycle for 32 minutes
daily, averaging 10 miles or more each time. You will agree- that is impressive.
August is a good time, and we do have availability during that month The main areas that we will have to build in extra costs: A larger private aircraft rather than just the standard
##### I may not be understanding you correctly here. Do they not have 4 seater planes wherein Nancy and I could fly together, along with the pilot and a third passenger? Otherwise, I
could get her into the other seat of a Piper Cub in a true two seater, but I would have to show you how to get her out at the other end. It is not insurmountable.
More porters and an extra guide on the track Possibly a specialist guide for the disabled throughout (not absolutely necessary)
##### We have never needed a specialist guide, and do quite well within small groups.
A private vehicle for transfers
##### We can transfer into ordinary autos- as we do at home. Our car is not specially fitted, and Nancy can get into a step van if supplied with a small stool. It bears repeating, she
is not paralyzed, just limited in the use of her legs. We really do get on quite well in situations you would not think possible for a person using a wheelchair.
Please revert back with any questions you have- and many thanks for extending yourself to help us make this dream come true!
Nancy and Nate Berger