Claire’s trip week 13
Christmas is coming and boda men are getting greedy!
3rdDecember to 8th December.
Christmas has arrived in Uganda!! It came last week. The shops are playing hymns like ‘Thine be the Glory’, ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’ and ‘Peace is flowing like a river’. I am sure the music will get more Christmassy as time goes on. You can buy artificial Christmas trees and lights and baubles and bigger room decorations, like dangling stars and things. There are swags of artificial greenery with baubles and lights draped along the edges in shopping malls and big Christmas trees adorn centre areas. You can buy kettles with green ribbons around them and washing machines with rosettes on. It is all very festive but outwardly, in the street though, you would never know, it’s all behind closed doors so to speak!
Christmas is coming and boda men are getting greedy! They are also getting into the Christmas spirit by demanding more money at the end of every journey, and one or two occasions I have had to ‘escape’ because of their aggressive attitude. I always agree a price before starting a journey, but lately when you reach your destination they demand more money and don’t not like it much when you refuse to cough up! On one occasion I arrived home quite late and the boda guy said it was ‘far and uphill’, as if that made a difference the bike has an engine, mostly no lights, but an engine anyway! and he demanded more money and I had to bang on our metal gate and call for Bosco, our security guard, who in true Ugandan style eventually arrived and opened the gate so I could get in to safety. On another occasion I was getting off at Tuskys and the boda man said it was ‘far’, everywhere is ‘far’ to a boda man, I said it wasn’t and that that was the price we had agreed, so turned to walk away and he followed me on his bike saying ‘you are making me feel like a bad man, just give me one more thousand’. I felt like saying you are a bad man for wanting more money but I kept on walking and he followed so had to go into Tuskys and hide there until he gave up and went away! Anya and I shared a boda and the guy had been drinking so we got off paid him and had to get another one. I was not sure whether the boda guy the other day was just angry and shouted at everything and everybody spasmodically or whether he had Tourette’s syndrome, which I hope he didn’t for his sake, but it was scary all the same. There are Three hundred and ninety nine thousand boda drivers in Kampala alone and so I have a lot to choose from. Haven’t used them all yet!
When I moved into the flat I bought a gas hob with two burners but, in a very unlike me fashion, as I go everywhere with a tape measure in the UK, bought one without measuring the space it was going to go. To the left of the sink is a sort of square-ish piece of kitchen work top and it was going to go there, but because it was too long two legs had to be over the edge meaning it was on a slope towards to the floor or two legs were over the sink which meant it sloped towards the sink. Either way it was on a slope and it was also too high so I couldn’t see into the saucepans and had to stand on tip toe. I have never felt as short as I have since living here – I spend my life standing on tiptop or jumping up and down! So I decided to get a table made for it. Underneath our office is a technical workshop where they seem to make anything out of wood or metal for schools e.g. tables and chairs, shelves, science test tube holders and racks for drying things in Art etc. I went down after lunch thinking this was a good time to go. I don’t think they were expecting a woman and not a muzungu women, so wrong on two accounts, so they hurriedly continued to climb into their overalls some getting in a tangle ‘cos they were trying to be so quick. It did not seem to make a difference that I had occupied myself with looking at the things they had already made, as I was too far away from the door to escape. Never mind! Anyway when they were ready about 4 or 5 different guys came over to try and help me and between the lot of us we managed to understand that I wanted a table made out of wood. One guy asked me ‘how big?’ so I said 90 cms tall, 75 cms long and 40 cms wide. He wrote this down. ‘Shelf’ was the next question asked ‘no, I want to be able to keep the gas canister underneath it‘, I must remember to keep it brief but just ‘no’ seems so rude! This was received by blank looks and the guy who had written the measurements said something and a guy stepped forward. I thought he was going to try and help translate. He was eyed up and down and then another came forward. I had no idea what was going on (so what’s new!) and a word was written on the piece of paper with measurements. I asked ‘How much?’ keeping it nice and brief, and they all made the ‘u’ sound they make when not sure. I was bit embarrassed by now so said they could let me know BEFORE they made it. The next day at lunchtime one of the workers came and said 99,900 shillings (not quite £25) so I said ‘ok, thanks’, but confirming ‘no shelf’ and nothing underneath! A few days later a man arrived in our office and said to Generous ‘ten’ is not enough, it transpired they had made the table and he was the driver demanding money for transport costs to take it home for me. Generous explained and I took it home with Donald in the minibus for free.
Anyway, before I took it home I went down to see the table and to pay, but a little while after lunch this time, so they had time for overall climbing! There were 5 or 6 men sitting outside in the sunshine and they all said something and one man came forward looking quite worried and sheepish. He slouched his way across the workshop with me in toe being followed by the others. I felt as if I was in the queue for helping to pull up the ‘enormous turnip!’ We rounded the corner past some small tables and chairs and thought ok I can cook on my knees, that’s fine, when I saw this lovely table, but….. it was tall- 90 cms, in what world of measurement???? I looked at it and they looked at this guy and they said’ he is to blame, it’s his length’. I said ‘thank you it’s a lovely table,’ thinking more tip toe cooking! They charged me 90, 900 shillings (about £22). I later learnt that they do not use tape measures but do it by the length of someone and so the first man who came forward earlier was obviously not the right size but this man was considered to be. I think it is a case of rebuilding the Ark using cubits, spans and other bodily measurements – he was a tall guy; I didn’t like to mention that they had not put a shelf, true, but they had put a bar across so I still can’t store the gas canister underneath, but I have my table, the tall guy was pleased that I was pleased and although it’s a little on the high side, everything worked out well and the hob is flat!
On the walls of many houses is written ‘This plot is not for sale’ on one occasion it said ’This plot is not for sale. If you try I will sue.’ This all seems a bit odd so have been trying to understand the house buying and selling system it is really complicated, not that I want to buy a plot or anything, honest! Although for about 100 million shillings (about £250,000) you can buy a mansion like palace in the country with loads of rooms and where it’s quiet, with about 20 or more acres. Still not interested, not even tempted! Anyway, I asked Donald, who else, and he said ‘when you die, or you live in another place, your relatives come and sell your house. Your children ‘u’ (throaty sound) have nowhere. You come back, find your house has gone, ‘u’, they have forged the papers and all things and ‘u’ ‘u’ that’s it. I suggested that it was probably a good idea, in that case, not to fall out with your relatives if they can sell your house while you are away or when you die. ‘Yes, it is. The relatives ‘u’ ‘u’…. I asked if it was worrying and he said (Starting to beat his chest) ‘That’s why you tie things up to Lawyers (This is a funny picture in my mind of people hanging documents off Lawyers. I’ll try it out with my solicitor when I get back. Will she appreciate being adorned with all my documents, I wonder?!!!) But they are ‘u’ ‘u’ bad, so bad. They sell your house if they know you are dead, using your numbers and ‘u’ (shakes his head)…. ‘That is why we live by God’s will.’ This was obviously a really difficult subject and makes sense why there was an essay written on a hording around a building being constructed. ‘This plot is not for sale. It belongs to a family. They have children. If you buy this plot they will starve and die.’
Much of the land here is not fenced off and looks to all intents and purposes and (to those living in houses!) that it is waste land. People then start to plant a few crops. They tend the crops and then move their chickens in and then perhaps a pig or two, and then they build what amounts to a shed which they live in and then they can lay claims to the land. Since I have working at NCDC this has been happening to the land owned by Kyambogo University and so they are having to spend the university fees on fencing off the land and so can’t pay the lecturers and so both the lecturers and students have been striking and rioting – lecturers ‘cos they are not being paid and students because they are not being taught. (I am against striking, but if the UWE spent my salary on fencing I might riot and strike!)
Talking about things written on walls: when I was in the Post Office, the other day collecting some jeans, which arrived here on October 10th and I was informed on 20th November!!!! On the wall in a frame was written this: The Postal System alone can do. The need to communicate mail across National Frontiers despite the march of time and advent of telecommunications – has remained constant to this very day. The expansion of the world’s Postal system represented by 170 nations of the UPU staggers the imagination. For ever our latest technology and instant delivery services cannot do what the postal system alone can do. Get the mail through. Anywhere on Earth to any recipient at very little cost. (Well, what can you say? I think you need to understand it first! But just having postmen would be a good place to start!)
The concert was amazing, not due to the playing or singing but the organisational practices. We were meant to have a dress rehearsal on Thursday but there was a big funeral for Rosebuds husband (not sure who she is but obviously a well-known couple) which started at 3.00 and was still going strong at 7.00 showing no evidence of nearing its end so we practiced at the music school. Four of us were late because we did not the message the venue had changed. Still, never mind! During the rehearsal more music was given out which we had not seen and was the rest of the music for the concert on Saturday. Talk about cutting it fine!!!! On Saturday we arrived at the Cathedral to find there were about 6 weddings one after the other. All the wedding parties waiting in groups outside the church waiting to go in. Each wedding has about 500 people and so it was like Trafalgar Square on New Year’s Eve, but posher, much posher! So we were in a hall. We practiced from 4.30 to 7.15 without a break then we had to get changed for a 7.30 kick off!!! Tired or what!! Anyway, because we hadn’t had the opportunity of standing in place we tried to do in the hall. Alice a tall lady standing in front of me was asked to swap places with me. This went down like a lead balloon as she said ‘I am tall. I sing up and out.’ You can’t argue with that so she stood in front of me. No worries. During the first half we wore red or blue scarves which went alternatively – red, blue, red, blue. Not a difficult concept but……..and during the second half we wore a leso (lesso) it is like a thin blanket and this one had stripes down one side and the sopranos wore then over their right shoulders with the stripes facing out and the altos wore them on their left shoulders with the stripes facing out and then they were pinned with a safety pin at hip height. How many people don’t know their right from their left?
The concert was o.k. though there were a few small hitches like missed entries etc. On Sunday afternoon we met again in the Cathedral for a rehearsal at 2.30 and practices until 5.15 for a 5.30 concert. People were in the church waiting! Not very professional. One of the hitches was that the soprano’s scarves did not go red, blue, red, blue and we had not had time to sort this out before ‘cos the practice was so long and in the 15 min gap we had to get changed again. So while the orchestral interlude was being played Harriet, a really frightening English women who thinks she is in charge, sitting in the choir stalls opposite me, motioned that I had to swap my scarf because I was now standing next to an alto with a red scarf so I had to be blue. So I changed my scarf to blue, just lucky I had both colours in my bag! But then had to persuade Alice to blue instead of red. Remember this all in silence and Alice is sitting in the pew behind me. I silently gave Alice a blue scarf so when Christine arrived she could have Alice’s red scarf. Christine had not reappeared after the break and sauntered in later just in time to sing and putting on a scarf! I explained what was happening to Christine silently because the orchestra was still playing. So she turned round to Alice to ask for her red scarf only to find to my horror that she had taken off her blue scarf and replaced it with red as this colour suits her better!!!!! And would only give Christine the blue scarf. So now Christine and I were both blue. The alto Muzungus were all wetting themselves laughing ‘cos it must have looked like some sort of cheap pantomime or silent movie! Christine said it didn’t matter because she was going to stand in a different place for ‘song 2’ as she needed to stand by the soloist in case she needed to sing her part in case she failed!!! Why would she??? So the scarves would be wrong anyway. I had lost the will to live and was beginning to get the giggles as it was like trying to herd cats in silence. The best I can say is that we started singing in a scarf at all, the colour being immaterial.
I am sorry this as gone over my usual three pages, I just wanted to tell you about the concert but it was an experience never had before and perhaps hopefully at Easter not repeated in the same way, but I am sure they will have something in store to amaze and astound, they usually do!
With all my love and thanks for your prayers and continued support.