Is this reality TV? No, it isn’t, as one would assume on watching Perez Wamboka who abandoned city life for the forests of Eastern Uganda.
As many yuppies start a life with dreams of looking for employment, buying a car or a dream house, and starting a family, this dreadlocked sixty-year-old from the slopes of the 4321-meter Mt. Elgon in Eastern Uganda had other ideas.
Frustrated by the rat race after trying his hand as a house gardener in Nairobi, Kenya, where he lived and worked for his lady boss in the 70s, he returned home to start a new life.
“I was over-worked during my youthful days in Nairobi, which left a negative impact on my life. I now want to rest without any inconvenience from anyone in the name of a boss, wife, or children,” said Wamboka.
He then embarked on planting trees on his 2.5 ancestral land, and as he and the trees matured, he decided it was time to move into his new forest in peace and quiet, or so he thought. For after 35 years, he was recently discovered as the latest tourist attraction by the Bududa district from where he hails.
He has a routine, emerging out of his windowless hut made from banana fiber in the neck of the woods, when three times a week he tends to his vegetable orchard, and gathers firewood and food. His clothing is also organic, for it too is made from banana fiber – enough to cover his groin area.
Wamboka is as much an unwitting champion for the environment as “Silent Springs” Rachel Carson or Nobel Laureate Wangari Mathai, although without the Ph.d. accolade, for he has long believed that forests are good for the ecosystem as they are a good source for firewood and honey, and are of medicinal value. “In fact, I rarely fall sick. All my medicine is picked from the forest,” he says.
For a region that has borne the brunt of landslides owing to wanton deforestation causing massive loss of life and evacuations within the past ten years, Wamboka’s lifestyle seems to have vindicated him for he has remained shielded by his forest.
As a matter of fact, his own relatives are beginning to reap from guiding visitors to see this enigma. His own uncle guided a press team from the local NTV Uganda station to witness his nephew’s lifestyle. Although he was initially welcoming, Wamboka was apprehensive of the only female in the group and had to be convinced by his uncle to let the visitors into his territory.
Asked by the same lady journalist about his love life, Wamboka grudgingly replied in the local Gishu dialect, “No woman can come and stay with me in the forest. Besides that, everybody has their own lifestyle, and this is mine. I cannot force another person to live the way I live. Besides, at sixty, I am too old!”
The authorities have since taken notice of his contribution to conservation of the environment and recommended that he earns carbon credit for this. Hopefully he will accept the cash token. There are also plans to gazette the forest for visitors which will ensure its sustainability since there is no apparent succession plan.