My relationship with water except the one I drink and use in the bathroom was no- existent until yesterday when it turned abusive, then exhilarating then almost romantic.
A combination of work, an opportunity to be interviewed by CNN, recklessness and the wrong friends, had me rafting on River Nile. I have always wanted to try it. Wearing the helmet and life jacket felt like preparing for an epic battle. I couldn’t wait to have a picture taken in my rafting gear.
It was all fun and games until I fell in the water for the first time for a training session on what to do in case the boat flips in the middle of the rapids. I decided in that moment between breathlessness and yelling at me not to panic, that I had drunk enough River Nile for the rest of my life.
I wanted out. There were 8 of us on the team and I was ready to be labelled, ‘chicken’ “quitter” and every other name that comes with giving up, what I was not ready for was dying in the name of the Nile. I was so scared I could swear I felt my troubled heart shaking. Pep talk was fully launched by the rest of the group.
“Just focus on your breathing”,said Daudi as he practiced with me.
“ DNA,we are all scared I promise, but we got you. We can’t let anything happen to you.” implored the Kreativ Adikt
“Sunshine you will be so glad you did it after,” encouraged adrenaline junkie Joanne
“It’s going to be fine, you got this”, Bob said.
“ Fionah, listen ,nothing is going to happen, you will actually have a good time, ” Joel Jjemba , another very reckless soul voiced.
“This river is 1000% safe. It is the safest in the world. There are no crocodiles, There will be kayakers at the end of every rapid to get you in case you end up being a swimmer. The safety boat will go ahead of us and you are wearing a life jacket just lie on your back, breathe and someone will get you, stated the comically accented instructor, Big J.
It went on for a while and my answer to everything was,
“No I will not be partaking in this cup of crazy, thank you. I am out of will. Take me back to the shore. See you later. I just graduated. I am too young to die.”
I thought I had convinced them to let me go when I was asked to leave the boat and join the kayaker, except I did not want to get off the boat into the water. I managed by the power of an unexpected push from Big J. The team continued their training as I enjoyed my kayak ride to what I thought was the shore. I relaxed, closed my eyes and started a conversation with Sula the kayaker.
I have never experienced so much treachery in my life than when I realized that Sula was taking me back to the boat not the shore. My heart hurt. It’s not like I could swim my way back to the shore. I could hear the rapids or what we named, “the sound of recklessness”. The only shot I had at surviving the Nile was getting in the boat, holding my oar, putting my game face on, and hoping that God doesn’t punish us for the stupidity we had engaged in, despite missing the training.
We stayed on top of the first rapid for a few minutes as we waited for the filming crew to set up. It gave me an opportunity to summon whatever brevity I had left but it helped to have no choice.
We got our signal to go and down the rapid we went. Big J kept yelling things like, “Paddle forward, harder, get down….”. I have never followed instructions so dutifully in my life.
The first one was a 3 meter waterfall named “overtime”. I was staring at it’s beauty, floating at the bottom, and whispering a “thank you for not swallowing me”. I was feeling things too. A little thrill. A little fulfillment. A desire to worship God in the beauty of His creation. A need to break into a victory dance among other things. We went through two other rapids. One named “retrospect” and the other whose name I have forgotten. Which you can blame on the amnesia caused by the events of the last rapid- Itanda it is named.
The short story is it was the highest or the fastest I don’t know. These rapids are measured in numbers. 6 is the toughest of them all. Nobody rafts on it unless they have the training and have signed in what Big J called, “The Black Book”.
Itanda was a 5. Big J did not tell us that until after. Prior to that, someone asked if the boat was going to flip so we can have the full experience.I hoped not but Big J had a mischievous look on his face
Also unlike the first 3 rapids we rafted on, we got a chance to see Itanda beforehand. All I saw was whiteness. All the fear at the beginning came back to me, but it was go big or go home time. I had come too far. Nothing was going to get in my way. We double checked for the tightness of the helmets and life jackets, waited for our signal and set off.
I did not raft on this one. The last thing I remember is holding on to the rope of the boat, realizing I am out of the boat and letting it go. I was not going to fight the Nile.
Remember those instructions? The only ones I remembered were, “relax, lie on your back, breathe, and don’t die.” I floated, disappeared into the waves, came back up and floated some more until I got to the bottom of the rapid. This all happened in the shortest quantity of time. A kayaker saw me or I him and I found my way to the boat. Out of the 8 of us, four stayed in the boat when it flipped or did not flip. Control freaks I shall call them.
During my rapid dance with the waves, away from the safety of the boat, I was not scared anymore. I gave up control. The powerlessness of that moment was liberating. I can’t explain it in anymore words than these, except dare you to try it at least once.
What we were told by the people of Raft Uganda is, only a handful of Ugandans participate in these activities on River Nile. I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t even know they exist but now that you do, go either with us on the next #koikoiug trip or with your other reckless friends. Lose some control and drink some of that Nile. After all we are the source. Let’s tell these Ugandan stories.