Local woman gains understanding in Uganda
Jan Joslin, a 76-year-old volunteer in the Nevada State Railroad Museum store since 1995, recently returned from three weeks in Uganda and, she says, from an experience of a lifetime.
The opportunity to travel to Uganda came by way of Joslin’s friend Joyce Scozzafava, whose brother, a photographer, has worked with the indigenous Pygmy people for nearly four years and started the Batwa Development Project for them.
“I thought, ‘who goes to Uganda?'” Joslin said, “but it turned out to be an unparalleled experience.”
Joslin stayed at a hospital compound built in 2000 by a Dr. Scott Kellermann who was sponsored by the Nevada City, Calif., Rotary Club. The emphasis of the project, Joslin said, was on the Pygmies in Bwindi.
The government took over the land they had always lived on in order to build the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, an upscale national park for gorillas.
“(The Pygmies) were basically hunters and gatherers who were displaced, pushed out,” Joslin said.
“The hospital has grown into quite a complex from what started as a table under a tree,” she said.
Joslin said that while there, they spent all of their time with the people – visiting schools and hospitals.
“We even picked up goats to deliver to the people for their settlements. They’re just now learning to grow their own food and be self-sufficient so they don’t have to wander from place to place,” she said.
The three main causes of death among the Pygmies are malaria, HIV and malnutrition, she said, adding that the people are just beginning to learn about nutrition.
“There are fruits growing everywhere, but they don’t eat them. Their main food is matoke, which looks like a banana, and it’s terrible, with no nutritional value,” Joslin said, “but the fruit is delicious. We had watermelon, bananas and pineapple on the table every day.”
While there, they also did some hiking.
“We were at 4,500 feet and we climbed a mountain to 6,000. We walked with the people on a one-foot-wide trail up to a new cultural center that shows their heritage, and they put on a show for us,” she said.
“They’re so happy. Everyone sings and dances everywhere – at school, at church, everywhere,” she said.
She said another memorable part of the trip for her was “bar-hopping.”
“It’s a two-block town with such poverty – cement houses, no lights, no running water, no toilets, but there are ‘rest houses’ for tourists at $350-$750 a night,” she said.
There were a lot of European tourists staying there, and she said the rest houses are quite common in Uganda to use tourism to help boost the economy.
Joslin said the government is stable in Uganda and that she never felt threatened while there.
On the first day, however, they stayed in a little guest house next to the Congo and were shown a trap door in the floor. They were told to use it should anyone come across the border, she said.
“The best thing about being there was that there was no racial difference. It didn’t matter who was white or who was black. It was astounding. I can’t tell you how wonderful that was to experience,” Joslin said.
It was the end of the rainy season when they were there in November, so there was a lot of slippery mud, but temperatures couldn’t have been more pleasant with days in the high 70s and nights around 55 degrees, she said.
The only disappointing aspect of the trip, she said, was that she wasn’t able to see the gorillas.
“We looked for them every day and we heard them many times, but we never saw them. It was kind of disappointing because that was one of the main reasons why we went there,” Joslin said. “We had monkeys right down on the porch, though.”
Joslin said she would like people to help the Pygmy elementary school children with their educations. For $150, a child can be sponsored for one year.
“Getting them through school and into university – that’s the hope of the country. I just want people to know that they are worthy of our support,” Joslin said.
• For more information about the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, go to http://www.uwa.or.ug/bwindi
• To sponsor a child’s elementary school education for one year for $150, call the Kellermann Foundation at 530-432-3201.