The Long Beginning
When I started to take notes for this trip, I did so just as I had done for several trips before. I began by keeping a diary of where we were going and what we were seeing and doing on a day by day basis. The further I got into this journal, the harder it seemed to be to say anything about any given day. So, I've abandoned the journal and am just going to write what I think instead. This is highly dangerous territory, nothing can be more high-risk than me giving myself chance to say what I think. I'm sure to still talk about what we did and what we saw, but I'm liable to ramble on a bit about just about anything.
This is my second trip to Uganda and, unbelievably, my seventh trip to Africa overall. I've always felt that I've enjoyed each new trip more than the last, but have also been conscious of the massive levels of anticipation involved in waiting two years between trips. It's important to temper one's expectations in line with the nature of the planned trip, the locations and habitats being explored and the guide who will be taking charge.
My first time in Uganda was an exciting one, with plenty of variety of habitat, location and accommodation. It was an arduous trip, with perhaps too many stopping points, but we saw much of the country and what it had to offer – both in terms of birds and other wildlife. It also had its highs and lows for me. We stayed in at least one terrible hotel, I had a severely upset stomach for several days and travelled sometimes a little too far in a single day to cover the necessary kilometres. On the other hand, we saw great wildlife, monkeys, gorillas, elephants, lions, a leopard and many new and interesting birds – including a great viewing of the Shoebill in Mabamba Swamp on our very first day.
Six years later and our plans are a little more sedate. Fewer stops for a little longer should give more time to explore and study in each location. Shorter distances should make for a more restful visit overall and a generally more comfortable experience. Some really high-end lodges should make for a mixture of luxury with the basics for a fair balance across the four weeks of our stay.
Oddly, even a few days before the trip this time, I was having somewhat mixed feelings. I was excited to be going, but perhaps just not quite in the “mood” for a holiday. People noticed this and a couple of friends even commented on the fact that I didn't seem excited enough – or at least not as excited as I had been before previous trips. Maybe it was just that I was returning to places I had visited before, or maybe the past year had taken its toll.
When I started 2018, I had no idea what it might have in store, apart from perhaps this planned holiday at the end of the year as a target to look forward to. That I would somehow manage to fill my year with such self-induced trauma and drama didn't seem possible at the beginning of the year. Once I started down the path I'm now on, I knew that there was no going back and that any difficulties would be of my own choosing, but that didn't make it easier or less daunting at the outset.
So, as another bout of depression began to descend upon me towards the end of the summer, I decided, after a session or two of self-analysis, that I had to make major changes in my life to get the causes of the depression under control. Once you've seen a psychiatrist or psychologist, you come to realize that all they do is make you ask yourself the right questions and find the answers that are right for you. I'm not daft, so I can recognise my own state of mind pretty well now and hopefully figure out the right thing to do to make things better.
I didn't know how hard it would be, but I told someone about some of my recent past and more about myself than I'd ever told anyone except my mother. Of course, I picked someone who I knew was a good listener and unlikely to be judgemental. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was an uplifting and liberating experience that made me begin to see that moving in this direction was not just possible, but something that I had to do.
I decided that it had to be all or nothing. Over the next few weeks I built up far too much internal tension, trying to pluck up enough courage before finally picking a day to start the process of coming out. Miraculously, I managed to tell all my family, friends and colleagues in just a couple of days, all without any major breakdowns. It became easier and easier to say “I'm Gay” with each remaining person. I really did go the full distance as far as telling everyone, not wanting anyone to hear second-hand and wanting everything to be out in the open.
Coming from the time and place that I do, I perhaps expected at least some negativity, even in 2018. At the very least, I'd gone for many years with my sexuality a secret for some reason and perhaps didn't want that reason to be a totally false one. I was gratified and almost surprised that there simply was none. Reaction was totally positive and very encouraging. I had the full spectrum of responses from “I never knew” right through to “About time” and “Of course you are” and still don't know which view really describes me as I see myself. For now, “Gay” fits me fine and sits quite comfortably on my shoulders. I understand some people feeling that they didn't need to know, but the fact was that I needed to tell them for my own benefit.
It is hard to put into words just how much difference it makes to me. I now have a sense of identity that I was perhaps lacking for a long time. I guess I understand why I never felt that I fitted in with society as a whole. I will never be a part of the “Gay Scene” – whatever that may be. Nor will I become a radical seeker of rights or campaigner for a fairer society. All that is realistically in the past in the Isle of Man, and indeed much of the civilized world. Gay people – or for that matter all people – are not more or less deserving: we are all just the same and entitled to the same rights, freedoms and happiness. There now seems – just as a current example – to be an ongoing campaign to make women more important – probably because apparently equality just isn't enough.
The irony of coming out of the closet then going on holiday to one of the most anti-gay countries in the world is not however lost on me. As someone said though “You're not going looking for sex, you're going on holiday” and, of course, he was quite right. Anyway, what fundamental believers in some god or gods think isn't really any concern of mine. They believe what they believe in just the same way that some believe the earth is flat. I don't have the burden of religion to hold me back, but if the believers want to be held back then that's up to them.
As to whether it is a conversation for this time and place, who knows. All I know is that this change in my life reflects itself in my outlook on that life and the places I go and the people I meet which in turn affects how I feel during and after this trip. These books started out as a way to record my travels for anyone who was interested, but they have – at least for me if for no one else – become a way for me to put my thoughts and feelings somewhere other than in my head. Whether anyone ever chooses to read the thoughts afterwards also doesn't matter, the mere act of writing is cathartic.