On the edge of Lake Nabugabo, about 30 minutes past Masaka, you’ll find a small compound, squeezed in next to a resort and a convent. This research station is my home for the next month of my summer. I’ve already been here a month, and I’ve settled in quite nicely!
The research station was founded by Dr. Lauren Chapman and Dr. Colin Chapman to study fish and monkey ecology, respectively. They’ve been researching on this lake for over 20 years, but the station I am living in is only two years old. The fish team walks down to the beach and takes the small motorboat into the swamps and bays to look for weakly-electric fish and cichlids to tag. As for the monkey team, we’re living on our study group’s territory, so we find them at their sleep site and follow them all day to study their every day behaviour and to perform feeding ecology experiments. They sleep so close that I sometimes wake up to the sound of tiny feet scrambling across my tin roof, as the vervet monkeys cross our compound.
The station is home to about 6 people. We share three sleeping cabins, each with a spacious balcony where we can work outside, shaded from the sun while enjoying the breeze off the lake. Julie and I share the Kingfisher cabin, so monkeys are the centre of attention. We’ve got a few pictures of them up on our wall, but the really telling part is the smell of bananas that lingers our room. To keep the bananas we use in experiments from all ripening at the same time, we keep the ripe ones in our room away from the others that are still green!
In the makeshift laboratory, the fish team keeps tanks for their experiments and our field assistant Matovu stores and processes his fruit samples. And there’s a freezer stores monkey fecal samples. As a rule, we do not keep food in it next to test tubes of frozen dung… and serves as a constant temptation of enjoying a rare, cold beer.
The kitchen keeps our food safely out of reach from the monkeys, but we’ve got an ongoing battle with rats. There’s a gas stove for cooking, but that’s the extent of our appliances. To keep the kitchen well stocked, we go to Masaka once a week to visit the general store, the farmer’s market and the bakery. We walk into the village to get fresh fruit and veggies from the local vendors. And, every few days, our neighbour’s son comes by to sell us avocados, mangos, papaya, and other fresh crops from their farm.
Next to the kitchen, there’s a storage room, an extra bedroom, and a shower room. There’s no running water, so a bucket of water and a bar of soap do the trick. As a treat, we sometimes heat water in the kettle for a hot shower. More often than that, we just rinse off in the lake. At the back of the compound, a shed doubles as home base for a local fisherman, Xavier, who works out of the fish landing next to our little compound.
For me, this research station beats any 5-star resort. Sunrise over the lake is always worth getting up for. It’s the motivation needed to get out of bed at 5:45 am! The strong breeze that brings waves to our beach serves as a small reminder of my hometown on the St-Lawrence river.
Needless to say, I’m quite happy to call it home!