By Caroline Ariba
“Wait! Is he a missionary or some kind of historian back from the dead?” I caught myself silently wondering while looking at the white fella that now shared a hearty laugh with friends at The Pagoda Lodge in Gulu town recently.
He had one of those faces you only see in the history books; a missionary, explorer, or something of the sort.
His beard, you know…ahem, the wild but also tamed kind of beard, no, not rebellious, just a bit traditional…yes, that is the word, traditional.
Chris pins up the Baker trail signpost at Fort Patiko. All photos/Caroline Ariba
Turned out, it was none other than Chris Baker, great grandson of Samuel Baker and within the same table; chatting away with a wild smile was his brother David Baker.
Boy oh boy, that Chris Baker, he is a spitting image of his ancestor, hell, he could pause as Sir Samuel Baker risen from the dead!
That aside, let us start from the beginning, right? The day before, I received a call from a friend a t The Pagoda Lodge in Gulu town saying that it was confirmed, explorer Samuel Baker’s grandsons were going to be at the lodge ahead of the Baker trail.
Chris Baker blows a traditional Acholi instrument.
The very next day, I hoped onto the bus and headed for the Lodge in anticipation of a one on one with the family of the man that shaped Uganda’s history.
So upon arrival, as I walked into the cozy lodge, to my left was a large table with two white fellas and a couple of black fellas immersed in dinner amid steamy conversation.
Quickly, I introduced myself to a beaming waitress and asked if those were the Bakers, indeed they were and they were hosting the Head teacher of Sir Samuel and a few of the School’s staff to a buffet.
“Hello Carol, please join us for dinner,” the Bakers chorused when I was introduced by the Lodge’s director Christine. A few minutes later, I was on the table with the whole team, now joined by Christine enjoying a sumptuous dinner and immensely great conversation.
The writer, Baker pose for a photo with the guardians of Fort Patiko
First was the head teacher Sir Samuel Baker School, Lacere Churchill Olanya, and he explained why the school was named after the legendary explorer.
“You see, there was a lot of slavery here in the north and Sir Samuel Baker was the one who brought an end to it!” with expertise he explained.
He said that in 1953 when the Government then started a government school, there was no better name than that of the man that freed the slaves. “But also, the Baker family has been really helpful, they have donated computers, solar panels, art materials scholarships and so many other things,” he said.
The sun sets on the Albert Nile
Then the Baker brother took to explaining why they were in the country that they obviously loved so much. “We are here to start a Sir Samuel Baker modern day trail, you know hung sign posts to guide those interesting in his this trail,” David Baker said. And indeed, the very next day, they were headed for Fort Patiko, about 20 or so kilometers from Gulu town.
There they were, the people of Patiko, (a little village where Sir Samuel Baker and gorgeous lady Florence called home), dancing and twisting there wastes to the tunes of the drum, whistle and calabash. It was as if they leaved in a world of festivities, dance and no worries.
The men showcased their ‘machoness’, whilst the women twisted and clipped their feet, jumping up and down in excitement. See word had gone round this village that the Baker family would be spending the day with them as they hung g up one of the many signs that trail the journey of the Great Sir Samuel Baker.
Not even the slight limp in his walk was about to stop Chris Baker. Soon he was seen shaking to the same tune as the villages’ people, and yes, like Chris Baker, we all were victims to the fine Acholi tunes. It was kind of sad that David Baker had to rush back to town after he suddenly didn’t feel too well, but being the jolly fella that he is, there was no telling where the tune would have led him.
This lot was intent on making sure we felt at home, and feel at home we did, taking a stroll through the gorgeous Fort Patiko and touring all the tiniest of spots until there was nothing left. Upon return, the dancing crew was not yet done, all the Acholi dances were still way to come. It was a kind of one stop center for the Acholi dances; boy did these folks know how to make people feel welcome.
There was no doubting, the love and respect they had for Sir Samuel Baker could move mountains. No, not even the skin baking sun was about bring this party to a halt; they danced and cheered, danced and cheered, and danced and cheered some more. Everyone danced; even the toddlers could be seen holding a calabash to join the elders in dance. All one could do after that was smile in their sleep ahead of the journey the next day.
West Nile next
Patiko was a success, the Baker brothers were still high from it, and it took everything for them not to head back to Fort Patiko. But you see, next on their journey was the Karuma bridge, a signpost to create a modern day trail of their great grandfather’s journey which will boost tourism in these spots was lest there too.
At the Bridge, we did not have the dancing people, but rather nature’s own showcase of the baboons silently went on. Observing from a far, the lovely baboons and monkeys looked on as the sign was put up. I bet they wondered what was happening. If only they knew, that might be another reason they get a banana thrust their way, right?
There next stop was West Nile, specifically the Heritage Safari Lodge on the banks of the Albert Nile in Nwoya district, right before Apac town. A beautiful journey it was, the Hippopotamus lounging on the banks, the birds hitting high notes, it was perfect. Upon arrival at the Safari Lodge, there weren’t Acholi dances or anything, but a refreshing kind of welcome.
Glasses of fresh passion Juice, served by ladies with the never ending smiles kept flowing our way. After a three course lunch, we were treated to a tamarind juice, the one juice that Sir Samuel Baker is said to have praised in his journals.
As if that was not enough, the Lodge had prepared a tree planting ceremony whereof each of the brothers would plant a tree and have it named after them.
And oh, The New Vision tree was also planted right next to these trees, yes, I too got to plant a tree. As the excitement wore off, it could be seen, everything was at ease, even the hen that proudly sat on her eggs in a basket hanged up on the trees was at ease.
The modern day Florence and Baker trail had been started, now we can only wish that more of this happens, who knows, we might be the one destination for the explorers and grow the Tourism industry.