Damming More Than a River, A Lifestyle

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As dams go up there are more people than just kayakers that do not support them. In the small Ugandan village of Bujagali Falls it seemed that every one I talked to was angry at the government for ruining a lifestyle.

Walking around the village, the locals would graciously invite me into their shops and carry on a conversation. After the typical bit about myself with some things always lost in translation, I would always revert to the same question, “Do you like the dam?”. Immediately they knew what I was talking about and would start a rant. However, this rant needs to be heard. The first thing said is always a loud, head shaking “no” followed by silence. Then I would just ask “why?”. Here’s is their answer: The people in the area depend on us, mzungeus, to support their families with the whitewater tourism money we bring. My favorite and most heart breaking meeting was when two other students and I went in to buy a chicken for lunch. As our new friend was filleting up our bird we asked him about his thoughts on the dam. He dropped everything and turned to us with pure hatred in his eyes. He looked to us and said, in very broken English “If there is no river, then you will not come to my place. If you don’t come, who will buy my chickens? How will I survive?” That is when it hit me, we are the reason for the success of this small village and why it exists. Without the dam the people that live there are happy, but once the flow stops the people will be forced to get by living on any tourism they can get.

This last February was the last time in history to run the Silverback section of the White Nile. Paddling those rapids was equal parts thrill and remorse. The Silverback has been slowly “improved” by the dam process. By restricting the flow to less channels, Silverback and Headbanger, a new high water rapid¬– Jungle Book has been created. The Silverback moves from a massive football field long tongue to a crashing wave train where you can throw a huge air kick-flip.

After all of the improvements it was time that the destruction began. On the morning of the last day, February 28, the workers were out throwing huge boulders into the river left side of the rapid. As two of our coaches were running the rapid the day before one got out to film and was almost arrested for being a journalist. The police were constantly patrolling the dam site keeping an eye out for terrorists and journalists.

On the 28th the whole river was swarmed by raft companies, kayakers and locals bidding a due to the magical river. There is nothing that can compare to being present for those ceremonies on the last day. Sadly, no one ever will again.