Last weekend, I went white water rafting on Uganda’s Nile River. Fear filled my bones for days leading up to the trip, along with most of the five-hour voyage down the mighty waterway. But, I refused to leave Africa without exploring this historically famous river. So, I did it. I rafted the Nile.
White water rapid intensity is measured by grade, from one to six. Grade six is usually considered unnavigable and unsafe to rafters. We took on the Nile at grade five. Experienced rafters like venturing this river for two main reasons: the water is deep, and it’s warm. This means rocks and frigid temperatures are less of a concern when flying out of the boat. It also leaves more time to traumatically count seconds while trapped underwater.
Much like riding along a 15.5-mile movie screen, the afternoon presented continuous scenes that reflected my past three months in Rwanda. We paddled by Ugandan children splashing along the riverbanks and men illegally fishing among the tall brush. Colors of surrounding vegetation bordered our every move, creating a similar natural energy to traveling among the green fields and banana trees that cover Rwanda’s hills. Among the poverty and hardships of East Africa, colors always lingered through the passing days.
In between rapids, we tossed our helmets in the boat and swam through the flat, peaceful sections of the river. The day was hot, the skies bright blue and the sun strong. When I leaned back onto my floating jacket with my eyes closed and face to the crisp air, the stillness reminded me of watching dusk fall over Rwanda’s hills from my Kigali veranda. Undisturbed simplicity.
While each of the eight rapids presented tumultuous hits to our boats and bodies, nothing compared to our final fall of the day. This battle kept us upright just long enough to strike a wave head-on, which resulted in an overturned boat, scattered bodies and the current dragging me underwater.
Of course, the guide warned us about these underwater currents, advising that the best – and only effective – way to battle them was to simply wait. With slow internet, underdeveloped customer service and cramped, smelly busses all part of my daily routine, patience was a value I practiced often in Rwanda. And, I practiced it again here, in the seconds-long eternity I spent spiraling beneath the water’s surface.
I swam often in Rwanda – upstream through crowds of black stares and mzungu comments. The attention I created as a minority oftentimes left me feeling like a white girl in a fishbowl of onlooking African eyeballs. Much like being trapped underwater in the Nile, I channeled my craving for oxygen into focused mind conversations.
At midday, the guides handed each rafter half of a pineapple. We sucked in the sweet, flavorful juices, offering me one final taste of East Africa’s rich tropical fruits. Few days went by that did not include my indulgence in the purity of fruit salads or freshly squeezed juices.
Though anxious for much of the day, this adventure down the Nile offered one of the first opportunities for me to process where in the world I had been for the past three months. Waves dragged me underwater for longer than desired, but beautiful, still flat pools always waited beyond the turmoil. It was the perfect activity to brave on my last weekend in Africa.
And let’s face it…I spent the afternoon floating down the Nile River. I likely won’t say that too many more times in my life.