Following the Nile

Several months I joined a reading club. When we last met, we selected an extraordinarily fascinating book. The plan is to read it and then discuss it soon, when we meet again. That explains why I have now come to the middle of the book by a Norwegian historian and geographer. It is called: The Nile—Biography of a River. It presents quite a challenge, as it has over 500 densely printed pages. But it is downright fascinating to learn more about the enormous significance this river has had throughout history-and still has-for the fourteen countries that depend to a considerable extent on the White Nile and the Blue Nile, and their tributaries, for their water supply (and thus for their development and economy).

Books always take on a special meaning when, as a reader, you have been to the places that are described. During the last four years of working in Africa for the Adventist Church, I had an assignment that took me to almost two-thirds of all the African countries. Some years later, I returned a few times to Egypt and Sudan because those countries were under the supervision of the regional church office (TED) of the Adventist Church at the time, where I served as the executive secretary. Subsequently I was for a short time the director of ADRA-Netherlands, and that brought me to East Africa once again.

The book I am currently reading follows the course of the Nile from the North to the South. From Egypt the author takes his readers to Sudan and the new republic of South Sudan and then to Uganda. In the process, the lakes region of East Africa comes into extensive focus, with special attention for the immense Lake Victoria. With its 70,000 square kilometers, this lake is the second largest freshwater reservoir on earth. We hardly ever stop to think today that it was only about 150 years ago that this area was properly mapped and Western explorers determined that this lake is the origin of the White Nile, which merges with the Blue Nile in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.

The first time I saw Lake Victoria was after a 350-plus km drive from Nairobi to the Kendu Bay, in the northwestern part of Lake Victoria. My destination was the Adventist publishing/printing house (the Africa Herald Publishing House) located there, in the immediate vicinity of the Kendu Adventist Hospital. I had rented a car in Nairobi and remember very vividly three aspects of the trip: the vast tea fields in all shades of green in the Kericho area, the herd of thousands of zebras that crossed the road somewhere halfway through the trip, and the hefty fine for a speeding ticket somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

In my ADRA days I was involved in the construction of an elementary school (of 6 or 8 classes) on Buvuma, one of the islands in Lake Victoria. It was a wonderful project-urgently needed on this island where the poor population lives primarily on fishing, and where at the time a frighteningly high percentage of both men and women were HIV-infected. Representatives of ADRA-Uganda brought me to the island in a motor sloop, where we stayed so long that I missed my flight home from the Entebbe airport.

Several years into my retirement, I taught for a month at Bugema University in Uganda. This Adventist university, which now has about 5,000 students, is located along a largely unpaved road about 65 km north of the Ugandan capital Kampala. During a day off, the administrators treated me to a tourist outing. We drove to the spot on the north shore of Lake Victoria where the Nile has its origin. In a small boat we sailed a short distance from the shore, where we could clearly see how currents in the water form the start of the river that here begins its course to the North.

The following chapters in the book discuss the role of the Nile for Kenya and Tanzania and a number of other countries in that region. This will no doubt also bring back memories of visits I paid there. It was a privilege for which I am still grateful. [And it is nice to think for a few moments of something pleasant in the midst of the atrocities in Ukraine which currently dominate the news.]

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