What Happens To You After Visiting Kidepo | A koi koi story

I’m half present in a 9am class on Easter Tuesday (no, this is not a thing, but I think it should be) when I hear the professor say, ‘Oh my God’ in response to a question. I burst out into laughter. It is a very distinct one which cuts through the room like an unexpected loud fart. Everyone until now has been dead silent in the awkward way people don’t know what to say after not seeing each other for long.

“Why are you laughing,” he asks. And it takes all of my home training to not burst out again. I’m sorry sir, I say with a sheepish smile and he quickly drops it maybe because I don’t look naughty. I’ve been told I have an innocent face. Whatever that means. I’ll need to work on not laughing whenever someone says oh my god otherwise innocent looking faces cannot save you forever.

KoiKoiUg did this to me. There are things I’ll never think about the same way.


You are looking out the window of a moving bus while a house music mix plays on the stereo. This all feels very movie-like. Thoughts. Soundtrack. Other faces on the bus. You don’t want to go back to your ‘real life’. Overdue deadlines. Unresolved fight with a lover. The state of the house. And you forgot to call your mother, didn’t you? You sigh.

Someone is passing around a book for everyone to sign. Very high school-ish, you think. In one of the sections, you have to write what you thought of the trip. There are variations of ‘this was fun’. You settle for;

Why haven’t I done this before?

and pass it on to your seatmate who, after three days, you have learnt is a celebrity on Facebook. In fact, you watched him write his latest post. He does a post every Monday that his followers eagerly wait for. In this one, he knights Pastor Kakande as the man of the week, Edwin Ruyonga as the fool of the week and everything else is about the trip, which for him was made possible by Airtel. The post has 84 reactions in about 20 minutes and a buzzing comments section.

The 7-hour journey back into the city is quiet and cold. All the excitement has left the voices so much that no one complains about the house music. It was a serious riot when you were going. Only Sheebah and Fik Fameika were allowed on the stereo. If we were going to party, we would do it right. Not like white people. Never mind that there is a white person on the bus who also would rather 5 Vinka songs in a row over house music. No, she didn’t say that.


Aerial view of the UWA campsite – Apako
Shot by Mu

If #KoiKoiNE were a movie, the part where we arrive at Kidepo after 12 (13?) hours on the road would have Who Let The Dogs Out playing in the background. You know, like what happens in The Hangover movies?

We would check into our rooms and jump on the beds in slow motion while the fluff from the pillows flies around in a dreamy way before we begin our misadventures. But we are, well I am, tired and sticky and hungry and oh god have we reached the end of the world? This must be the end of the world no doubt.

I’m finding it hard to breathe through my nose after all the dust and irritated and itchy and ready to sleep. How do people have traveling for a hobby?


There is something to be said about the determination of photographers to take a good shot. My girlfriend says if they had an option to, for example, stay out all day and catch the sun at all its stages, they would. It amuses me. And also um, inspires me?  While we sleep, they wake up before dawn to catch the sunrise. Every single day. That’s a beautiful thing, I think. I’d very much rather have all my hours of sleep and look at their photos later thank you.

I catch all the sunsets though. Yay me! My favorite is the one right after the game drive.


The sunset in Kidepo Valley National Park.
Shot By Mu

You have wanted to ‘go away’ for over two months now. Going away could mean anything really. It is only when your girlfriend asks you to go away with her for an Easter break trip that you realize that yes, this is what you want. What you have been wanting. Exactly what you need. Can I carry my computer, you ask. I have a lot of work to catch up on, you say when she asks why you would do that in a way that makes it seem like a ridiculous question. You don’t carry it and in retrospect, how ridiculous! It would be the proverbial person who sits on a bus carrying luggage on their head they have an option to put down till they reach their destination.

There is some comfort in knowing everyone else on the bus left obligations behind because sometimes you just have to say fuck it, I cannot come and kill myself. Pius, he reminds you of this every time it looks like someone is holding back. Imagine traveling 700km and not having fun. Imagine working hard and not enjoying your money. It could never be me. He, along with Cindy Wright are the life of the party bus.

Being in the middle of nowhere, literally, is a good way to ‘go away’. There is no network signal. No sign of any civilization except for the little cottages just out there in the wild. So the only ‘life’ are the people going away, and the people whose job is to take care of the people going away. Let’s all escape together baby, shall we?
And you do.

The buffalo faces make great memes.
Shot by mu

You come within 10ft of lions post-coitus. It’s exciting. There are buffaloes every 20m. they make great memes. Their faces. The giraffes stare at you to figure out what you might be doing with those things you put on your eyes and snap snap snap away. They could not be bothered. They walk away so gracefully. You find a crocodile sunbathing. It can see you through the corner of its eye. You can tell. It disappears as soon as someone comes close. You sit at the bonfire and waterbucks and kobs and antelopes pass by whenever. This is living. This should be the living. You have no worries except for what happens when you have used up the solar power. Which isn’t really a worry.

We could get used to this baby, won’t we?


Before I could share it with someone, it looked like other people had thought of it too. Kidepo Valley could be Wakanda! This not because I (finally) watched Black Panther in the same week I went there.

I mean think about it. It is in the middle of nowhere. Or the end of the world. But how self-sufficient it is, my Lorde! I highly doubt they buy food. If they do, they’d have to travel about 6 hours in total to be able to do that. So my conclusion is that they don’t. they grow it. They don’t suffer with UMEME, they use solar power. They have two rivers which is where I think the water comes from. Now, this is in the Park.
The communities around the park do it even better. All I can say is white people really ruined our civilization.

One of the Karamojong communities in Kaabong. Let’s say Wakanda.
Shot by Mu

And speaking of white people, how Kidepo came to be gazetted still does not sit well with me. It’s something I need to think about. In short, two people, probably men, were flying over the region and saw lots of animals so they gave the communities who lived there four years to find other places to live so it could be gazetted. Let’s not unpack this today.


Again, if #KoiKoiNE were a movie, the part where you leave Kidepo Valley National Park, the soundtrack would be Digi by Ngoni. The people you got away would have had a party the previous night. They would have woken the animals and stayed up all night. The party would continue as you leave. The Leadership would be thrilled to have finished this part of the trip successfully.

If #KoiKoiNE were a movie, there would be people who have found love, or so it would seem. The one day you spent in Kidepo would have brought them together somehow. And the soundtrack for their ‘moments’ would be Soka Lami by Naava. It would be very cute to watch.

There would also be people who came with the love. And it would be one of the lovers’ birthdays. And Diamond Platinumz Hallelujah would play while you hike down to Aruu falls.

We’re losing it. It’s not a movie.


While we were at the Aruu Falls, Pader Uganda this happened.
Photo credit: Nze Eve

By the time you get to Aruu falls, you are wondering if there is anything you haven’t seen. You are tired and hungry and just…can we go home, please? But it’s water. Water is good for your soul. Apparently. You go for it.

The guide says it’s a long way step way down and if you don’t think you can handle it, it’s best you stay. You contemplate staying. It does look steep. Really steep. And you can hear your mother’s voice somewhere asking you think of her. How she’ll survive if you don’t make it back up. Remember, the Pius fuck it voice? It’s right there. Imagine traveling to the end of the world and not taking risks? It could never be me.

You join the trek down all the while asking your mother’s ancestors to watch out for her. To think how she would live with herself if you didn’t make it. And they do. You slip several times as if they want to remind you that they are watching over you and nothing bad will happen anyway. You slip several times but you make it down good Lorde, is worth it an understatement? Why do the good things have to be so hidden?

The view is breathtaking. Made even better by half the adrenaline junkies you are going away with stripping to stand under the water. Your ancestors won’t let you do that. Or you think you have tried them enough by just coming down. You don’t join in the madness. It looks like a once in a lifetime experience though.

And for hours you all commune with the water with no worries. Not even what you’ll wear after you leave because all the clothes are wet. Stripping does not make anyone exclaim or look at you with those scary eyes. This is paradise. We could all just be naked and coexist peacefully like this. Imagine that!


Sigh. This won’t end today. The reminiscing I mean. This is a movie. It is ending with the jazz version of Neera.

About the Author
Esther Mirembe is a writer and editor. She writes about books and wine here