Archive for Thursday, December 6, 2001

A wild discovery

Thanks to frequent flyer miles, Eudora family opts for cultural experiences in Uganda and Kenya

December 6, 2001

When the Beck family discovered they had accumulated enough frequent flyer miles for a vacation, Todd and Natalee Beck thought about snorkeling. Instead, they opted to dive into the cultures of Uganda and Kenya.

The couple took their oldest child, Jacob, with them on the three-week journey. They stayed with friends doing missionary work in Uganda and did some exploring in nearby Kenya.

Although both Todd and Natalee had traveled outside the United States to destinations like Ecuador, Nicaragua, Singapore and Saudi Arabia, the sheer quantity of ever-present people made this experience different.

"They were always out," Todd said. "You were never alone."

Because few tourists especially white tourists visit the country, the Becks were somewhat of a novelty. Even playing a game of soccer could draw a crowd.

"The people there are just so impressed (tourists) would want to spend their time and money there," Natalee said.

But compared to some other countries he's traveled in, Todd said, Uganda had a friendly feel.

"In Uganda I felt like an outsider, but I felt welcome," he said.

Natalee said she was amazed at how hard people worked for things Americans take for granted. Even in Nicaragua, she said, she had never seen women carrying so many things water, children, items from the market all at the same time.

"They don't seem to have to work as hard to get water," Natalee said.

When the three packed for the trip, the Becks decided against taking T-shirts, flags or other items that would identify them as Americans. But when people knew where the family was from, they would express their condolences for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks despite civil unrest that has been a common occurrence in Uganda.

"They'd say, 'We're praying for your country,'" Natalee said.

As a veterinarian, touring a game park in Kenya was a special experience for Natalee. The family got to see giraffes, rhinoceros, elephants and other large animals up-close.

"I don't usually like flamingos, but when you see that many" Natalee said.

There were so many flamingos, she said, it looked like someone had circled the ground with a pink magic marker.

In some ways, the Becks said their vacation was a bit like camping. Convenience foods were non-existent. Every meal their friends prepared was made with raw ingredients from the market. If they wanted a sandwich, the bread was made from scratch.

Going to restaurants was a different experience, too. Even though the menu may show 50 different meals, only several may be available any given day. Since everything is made from raw ingredients, like at home, dining out could take several hours.

Chicken and rice was the common meal for them, although they tried game meats like ostrich.

"If you can eat rice, beans and chicken, you can eat anywhere in the world," Todd said.

The Ugandans' version of fast food was chicken cooked on a skewer, like a shish kebob. But drive-through fast food in Uganda means vendors cramming the chicken through open windows to solicit a sale. Fortunately for the Becks, they had been warned to roll up their windows.

"There were probably 20 pieces of chicken on our windshield," Natalee said.

Jacob said vendors always took an interest in him, too. Although he summed up his experiences in Uganda and Kenya as "cool," the third-grader also has specific memories, like getting the car stuck in a mud hole in the game park or feeding a giraffe. He learned how to say "cat" and "dog" and how to thank children for a game of soccer in one of the 70-some Ugandan tribal dialects.

The differences Jacob noticed included houses made of thatched roofs, and all the people had short hair, he said.

Having the opportunity to share another culture with their child was a valuable experience, Todd said.

"We're really glad to get the opportunity," he said. "It's important to experience other culturesbut it's especially important for kids.

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