“Sometimes they do.” “What would happen if they caught you? ” “Yes, they do, ma’am,” says the driver, braking so he can talk. One afternoon I’m with a tour group that is tucking pants in socks, spraying for tsetses and gearing up for a walk. Henry has an automatic rifle “just for keeping safe.” “If need be,” he says, “we shoot at the skin of the animal and make it sleep forever. My sneakers scoop up leaves and some kind of beetle, several pebbles and a sharp-edged stick. After hours of crisscrossing Kyambura, Jimmy points out a knuckle print from a chimp who has, at some point in time, passed by. Behind every boulder I imagine hippos, crouching stealthily, waiting to emerge. He and his assistant, Henry, look like infantrymen in dark green uniforms and boots. As we step out onto a fallen tree trunk to cross the chocolate river at the bottom of the gorge. They’re scanning us, eyes and nostrils visible, as we come down to their lair.
Ugandan signs are bold along its roads, clear and bright as its sun. “Grow Faster, Grow Stronger.” “Drink Fresh Water,” urges another. Not far behind in the news and chat cycle were reports about virulent anti-gay bills introduced by Ugandan politicians. Distant, even, from the country’s years of British rule and from former dictator Idi Amin. Here at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, some of these signs display rhinoceros shapes and say: “Beware.” I’ll try. “ALWAYS move in single file.” Then comes the part in bold: “Should the rhinos show any signs of annoyance, you should STAND BEHIND A LARGE TREE IF AVAILABLE. They look like trees that rhinos might eat for a snack. He tells us that there are anti-poaching rangers around who carry rifles. “Kony 2012,” the Invisible Children video exposing the abuses of Joseph Kony’s rebel army, was all over the Internet. Signs of a place where daily life is distant from the wars and issues and debate. And of course, they will see you.” At my first stop outside Kampala, there are still more messages on signs. “The owner does not wish to sell.” Before I came here, Uganda was a land I thought I knew. When he stops in his tracks and crouches, our rhino conga line crouches, too. I ask for a concoction to increase fluid secretion.The attendant, who has coloured hair and heavy make-up, asks me how severe the dryness is, to which I say I only want to increase my fluid levels. They’re calling me to the gym: the gym with a view.