Dear readers, today we have the joy of sharing with you the experience of one of our volunteers, Diane Mukundwa. She comes all the way from the National University of Rwanda and has been with ITFC from September 26th 2011 til early May 2012.
Hi, my name is Diane Mukundwa; I arrived in Uganda on Monday 26th September, 2011 via the Katuna border (with Rwanda). Mr. Robert Bitariho (senior researcher with ITFC) picked me from Kabale and we drove to Ruhija. My first surprise was to realize that from Kabale to Ruhija it was quite a distance compared to the way from Kigali/Rwanda to Kabale/Uganda. It was already dark and very cold when we reached the research station; I was very excited thinking about what was going to be my first adventure after university life!!!
Life in the dorm
My accommodation was in the dormitory. Upon arrival I was welcomed by other volunteers: Donah Ndinawe who had been there a week before me and Moses who had been at ITFC for almost a year. There were many other students and researchers who stayed for a short while in the dorm when I was there, all from different countries; it was amazing to experience all these different cultures. Life in the dorm was very comfortable and organized, and always full of wonders and surprises. Every Tuesday (a market day in Ruhija) we used to make a shopping list and everyone contributed equally.
The fire place was my number one favorite place in the dorm because in Bwindi the cold is serious business! From the dorm window I always enjoyed looking at the monkeys playing in the trees outside, but it was not so good when one monkey came into the dorm and took our bread and some sweet bananas!!! You should have seen a monkey trying to open a locked dust bin searching for banana peels!!
Library and office life.
I have had the opportunity to be involved in a number of projects (all based in Bwindi) like the Multiple Use program, phenology research work and sometimes I also helped with the camera trapping activities. ITFC has a small but very organized library; this has been my office from where I have been entering data from the studies above..
You already know something about the camera trapping project I guess – but certainly not the same way I have experienced!! From the thousands of pictures captured from the field, It was not an easy task for me to accord species names to each, especially that they all in black and white. I had to look very carefully at each one of them, to see which animal was on the picture and name the picture accordingly, that’s when I realized that those field guide books with pictures of different animals are not that just made for tourists!!! I have to admit the days I worked on the pictures were the toughest days I experienced during my tenure in the library – for even when I would finally retire to my bed at night, I would continue seeing the Duikers, Monkeys and Bush pigs moving in my head!!
Field work experience
My adrenalin was sky high when I was crossing Ihihizo and Mbwa River, in the centre of Bwindi, while setting cameras (intended to capture pictures of otters). When Fred, the activity’s lead research officer, asked me if I was a good swimmer it never crossed my mind what he wanted to imply until when I was stuck in the middle of relatively fast moving river waters without the ability of going back, terrified of moving forward. Fortunately there was a field assistant just in time to save me.,
I also participated in phenology work and was blessed to see a forest elephant once which was grazing in the transect. Phenology work involves counting leaves, flower buds and flowers up in the tree, suing binoculars. However this requires some good training and so of the time I resorted to recording data instead.
I also spent a number of nights camping while on the Multiple Use field work. The first night I was in a tent it took me a while to realize that I actually had reversed my sleeping bag; I had put the open part at the feet while I was struggling to breath because my head was in the closed part!!! I was also amused by the special gate improvised to prevent campers from bumping into each other in the toilet,
Every second that passed in the forest was an opportunity for me to learn something new. I enjoyed those ethno-botany stories about Bwindi plants. I also learned how to manipulate some of the tricky instruments used in the field but for sure the bark-gauge is only for strong people!! (I felt the muscles in my chest aching for the rest of the day).
Bwindi is full of wonders; Ruhija is a nice place to stay, though it is very cold. My volunteering period has been very nice and such a great experience, thanks to each and every one who contributed to making my experience unique.