Born to a Muganda mother and a Munyankore father, I grew up in Buganda and spent part of my formative years in the village of Maguluka in present-day Kalungu district.
I have never been to my father’s village of Kazo in Kiruhura district. I can brag that my Luganda is pretty decent, but my Runyankore was picked up from neighbours and I speak it with a lot of hesitation. So, to many people, I am just ‘tying myself on Banyakore’, as if being a Munyankore entitles me to an allowance!
When an opportunity was presented to me to spend a weekend at Emburara Farm Lodge, exploring the beauty that is Uganda and learning about my roots, culture and why the Ankole cattle is a treasure, I was sold.
Emburara Farm Lodge is a 27-suite boutique lodge set on a cattle farm in Mbarara district, located in close proximity to Lake Mburo national park. It overlooks undulating landscapes and lush green gardens. Designed with nomadic architecture and lifestyle, Emburara picks its name from the tall grass long-horned cows feed on.
For many a Ugandan, domestic tourism has been perceived as pointless and a waste of time and resources. My mother, when presented with an opportunity to spend a week at Queen Elizabeth national park, she shot back at me: “For what? How will seeing animals help me? You fly me to Nairobi and I experience life on an aeroplane than taking me to see wild animals running around.”
I don’t blame her; I was like her, until recently. Uganda’s media is now littered with images of Ugandans enjoying their country. From the Frosty Forest Parties in Mabira forest, to Cocktails in the Wild, Tulambule and group excursions such as Mountain Slayers and Ondaba. A particular regular for these excursions is a free-spirited guy called Dibo Kataala Brown aka Dibo Nakuzambwa aka Diana, depending on which mood he wakes up in that day.
Dibo makes local tourism on social media look like a trip to any popular destination in the world. His experiences shared through pictures and tongue-in- cheek posts on Facebook will make the Emiratis and their desert innovations envious.
Dibo was part of the Ondaba group traveling to Emburara Farm Lodge. I had recently joined Ondaba, a movement that allows anyone from anywhere in the world to share their experiences about Uganda.
The platform was started with some 12 Ondaba ambassadors to promote the beauty that is Uganda, and get other Ugandans to pronounce “I’m So Uganda”.
However, the ambassadorship has grown and spread all over the world in form of people wearing an Ondaba-branded T-shirt visiting the Eiffel tower in Paris, the London Eye, the fireworks display in Sydney, or the Great Wall of China.
We set off from Café Javas for Emburara farm lodge at 10 am, an hour later than had been planned because Muhereza Kyamutetera was late. But Kyam is the guy you excuse for being late, because when travelling with him, not only is he passionate about Uganda’s wildlife, he will also pick every bill along the way.
On board was Herbert Mucunguzi, the general manager of Kwese TV, Donna Ayebare, a banker and myself who would be joined by tourism guru Amos Wekesa, the founder of Ondaba Belinda Namutebi and Herbert Opio.
We stopped at Lukaya trading centre a few kilometres from Masaka town, a must-stop for anyone who relishes the Ugandan travel experience. The stalls have been improved and upgraded to a more hygienic display of sizzling chicken, beef and goat meat. A small pack of 20 pieces of goat or beef sells for Shs 10,000.
By this time, Dibo had turned our van into a mobile disco using a Bluetooth loudspeaker he takes along for every trip. The landscape and scenery along Masaka-Mbarara highway has changed. The mansions atop the hills left many of us Kampala people humbled by the choice of life and luxury over a fresh and organic experience of village life.
When we arrived at Emburara Farm Lodge, a beautiful white mansion stood tall on the right. We had arrived at our destination. Wrong. That was not Emburara; it was in fact someone’s residence. Emburara was to the left, 14km along Mbarara-Ibanda highway, near Nyakisharara airstrip.
This serene place with its well-manicured gardens and grass-thatched huts, would be my home for the weekend. This was village life just like I remembered it back in my village in Masaka, but with more pomp, comfort, luxury, neatness and service.
The staff were caught off-guard when we jumped out of the van and turned up the music to dance our Kampala dust off. I did not even realise what time we had arrived or how many hours we had spent on the road, because we had been too busy cracking jokes and dancing.
The next day I was up by 6am and off to the farm to join the herdsman in milking the cows, or okukama. It was exactly how I remembered it in my village: allow the calf to stimulate the udder, pull it away, then milk the cow and let the calf continue to suckle. I drank the warm milk straight from the udder and nature rudely reminded me, I was not a calf! The whole afternoon I nursed a stomach upset while others enjoyed other parts of the farm.
The herdsman, John Karuhanga, said a herdsman has to create a relationship with the cows. First you must almost never beat the cows as stress affects the quality of their meat and milk.
Every day, the cows are massaged by rubbing their backs to relax them. When we asked why there were no other animals on the farm, Karuhanga said it is not the culture of the Banyankore to keep goats or sheep with their cows.
The Ankole cattle, at least the ones on Emburara Farm Lodge, don’t just drink any kind of water from any pond or even the sterilised tap water. During okweshera – watering the cattle – a special trough called obwato is built and is smeared everyday with soil picked from an anthill. This soil contains iron, which is good for the cows; when they don’t smell it in the water, they look for an anthill and lick it.
The best part for me was learning the cows’ names because this brought back childhood memories: Kyozi, Kiremba, Siina, Bihogo. The dark-skinned cows are Kyozi, while the monochrome cows are Kiremba.
Unlike the exotic breed of imported cattle that graze in isolation, the Ankole cattle graze together as a herd and move in a straight line when going to the watering trough. Karuhanga said this is because the local cattle are a family – brothers, sisters, uncles.
They are born and raised together from bulls in the same kraal, hence they develop a relationship. The exotic breed, on the other hand, are almost always artificially inseminated and hence do not have genetic bonds.
At 6pm, when we were done driving the cattle back into their kraal, we ate dinner by the fireplace and watched traditional Ankole dancers and instrumentalists. By bedtime, I was so tired that no amount of pestering could convince me to make the planned trip to Lake Mburo national park. In fact, the whole group just wanted to sleep, wake up later and head back to Kampala.
On the way back, Dibo’s speaker remained silent for the entire journey and nobody asked for music. Grazing the cattle under the sweltering sun is a very tasking job; only Karuhanga and Norman, the watering boy, can manage that daily.