Claire’s trip week 14
One day I was a bit late for work and went and explained to Mathias why and he leaned back in his chair laughed, held out his hand to shake mine and said ‘Welcome to Africa!’
9th December to 15th December.
Work life here seems to be slowing down somewhat and this week has been like working on the Marie Celeste! Most peoples leave has been cancelled over the last year because things have been so busy here, what with the writing and rewriting of the new reformed curriculum in conjunction with all the consultants from the UK, and so people are taking it now. Although they have had a whole year without leave it makes sense to take it now as we ‘break up’ on Friday 20th December, as they don’t come back until the 2nd January so they will have a nice long break.
They need it though, I think it has been a really tough year for them. It has been a funny week because I have run out of work. This has never happened to me before, here or at the UWE or in school, and I have not been sure what to do. Sometime this week I am assuming there will the training on Inclusion which was cancelled from last week, but no-one is here, and I have planned next week’s training and so now it’s tricky, what does one do other than skype ones friends??? As I am not used to it I feel sort of awkward. The last time a lot of people went on holiday was in October and we couldn’t get into the kitchens because they were locked and this time the ones of us who are here can’t get into the toilets. I have since found out that when most people are on holiday they turn off the water to the toilets and so, Oh dear!!! This could be a very long week one way or another!
Still I have my notes to write so here goes! I have spoken a bit about Health and Safety but I have seen a certain incident twice now. It involves a small boy, a big car and large pair of iron gates. The boy is about 3 years old and quite slight in build as are most 3 year olds. The first time I saw him he was sitting on the bonnet of a big white car eating a sweet corn cob (maize). This was amazing to me as the car was being driven along the dirt track which leads to my flat. No vehicle can go fast down this track as it is pot-holed and bumpy but the car was moving at a good walking pace and he was not holding on! Amazing, how far was he going to be driven like this? And what was even more amazing was that he was sitting directly in front of the driver so not sure how they could see anyway but this was obviously not a problem for either the small boy or driver. I thought that perhaps the car was full of people and so sat him there so they could keep an eye on him. This is not such a crazy notion as people get crammed into and hang off matatu’s and several people share one boda and so sitting still on the bonnet of a car is probably just another way of taking a lot of people from one place to another. However, the car was not full, it had the driver and another small child. The other day I saw just how it takes place and I think it might be an ‘after school treat’ like being allowed to buy sweets on a Friday after school or having chocolate finger biscuits from the baker who called or having a bottle of Corona from the Corona man! The other day this same small boy was confidently walking down the dirt track and I wondered what he was doing out on his own, but he didn’t seem to mind. Then this big white car drove up slowed down and stopped and the small boy climbed up onto the bumper and sat directly in front of the driver again! A sweet corn cob was passed out of the driver’s window, which he gratefully took. I stood to one side to let the car pass and they continued down the bumpy pot-holed track. When they came to some large heavy metal gates the car stopped, he climbed off the bonnet, with maize in hand, and opened the gates, the car drove in and he shut them shouting ‘Bye Muzungu’. The distance travelled was a good 200m.
As I have said before things here are not necessarily certain especially in the way of amenities e.g. electricity, water, internet signal, radio waves, mobile signals etc. I am not sure what it depends on but when it is thundering or threatening to rain then everything seems to stop. Last week I got up thinking I’d have a lovely shower, but when I turned on the tap it just dribbled. I turned it on more and the dribble stopped so I closed the tap a bit, sometimes the water doesn’t come out if the tap is fully open; but by this time the dribble was no more. I went into the kitchen, but alas the same. I realised that we had no electricity either so great ….no water or electricity! My hunter- gatherer nature then kicked in. On my way out I saw Bosco cleaning the stairs, with water…. Where did he get that?!!! And asked him to help me. ‘I’ll go see tank’ which he did climbing up this straight up ladder to look at our tank on a sort of tower outside. He said ’no water in tank’. Trying to find out why would have needed an interpreter so I said I’d phone the landlady. He said ‘Me too’. Anyway the upshot of this was that she sent a plumber and by the time got home there was water. Quickly I had a shower, great, but then the water went for three days. I now had a choice wet wipes or the issuing of pegs, wet wipes won the day! Over these three days we had very intermittent electricity and so for three long dark and dirty days the order of the day was candles, a paraffin lamp and wet wipes, similar to camping really! But we survived, what else is there to do? Other people had water but we were in the same boat for electricity. One day I was a bit late for work and went and explained to Mathias why and he leaned back in his chair laughed, held out his hand to shake mine and said ‘Welcome to Africa!’
This got me thinking about mobile phones, and their signals so asked and the reason why they all have loads of mobiles is one for each network as the signal ‘keeps going down’ but if you can’t afford a separate phone then you keeping swapping Sim cards using the one that is working at the time, well that explains that then! Another mystery solved from a couple of weeks ago! I think everyone should have MTN as I have never known it cut out and so must have been really lucky. The Ugandans also have a great trick; they ring you and say ‘Hello Clayer’ and then ring off so you have to phone them, sometimes they don’t speak, but whichever way you pay for the call. Clever A!
One thing I have learnt here is not to be subtle. Barbara and I met last week for coffee and she said ‘Do you think there is a toilet?’ I said ‘Just ask’, so she said to the waitress ‘Is there anywhere I can wash my hands?’ ‘Yes’ was the reply ‘I‘ll bring warm cloth’. These warm damp cloths are lovely but not what is required when you need the loo!
Another occasion which could have done with a bit of subtlety was when my landlady’s sister-in-law brought me round a plastic carrier bag full of clothes. The material was lovely, but not what I would wear, it had really big brightly coloured patterns. Apparently it is Ghanaian material which does not fade! I Anyway at home just for fun I tried on a dress and got stuck and Laura had to rescue me by pulling it up over my head. My hips were obviously too big!!!! The next week I took the clothes back to her and she asked if I wanted any of them and I made gentle excuses. ’But’ she said ‘they are lovely, why you not want them’ I tried to wriggle out of it and she then said’ But I wanted you to have nice one, and I want your money.’ Subtlety is not a strength! Which made my resolve not to buy one even more strong. I possess only one equality out of their idea of rich and white!
Talking about being white is it wrong to have a sort of ‘Ah’ feeling? I was getting on a boda when another boda man said something to my boda guy and he said quite loudly ‘She’s my muzungu’. ‘Ah’ that was nice! Last week Laura had a minor boda accident, she is ok but after having fallen off was very shaken up. I said last week that they are getting greedy and taking a few risks and on my boda on Sunday I thought I was going to be in an accident. This car just drove out straight in front of us and how the guy stopped I have no idea. I just held my breath, but we all survived and the boda man turned around and shouted at the car driver ‘I have a muzungu!’ I am glad we all survived but would it have been different if I had not been a Muzungu? I hope not, but life is cheap as I have said before.
Conversations are changing they are not so every day, as the people I mostly talk to realise I am interested in their culture and want to learn. One conversation was a bit surreal really. It was threatening to rain and thunder was rolling around and I just quickly wanted to go and get some vegetables from my lady, but I was too late!, the rain came! My lady owns a shop about 2.5 metres square. Her shop is in about half of this and she has a toilet and very small room at the back. She sells basic vegetables and the first time I went to her she said ‘You come back, I give you bonus’ and she was right I did go back, but not because of the bonus, although it was a good business ploy, but because she is lovely. I had bought what I wanted when the rains came really heavily and she gave me her stool and told me to sit and wait, which I did for a bit. In the corner were a few coals and this evil looking brew in a small pot, although it did not smell. I asked her what she was cooking as I thought it might have been her tea. Through very broken English, she explained that it was medicine and to cut a long story short they take this evil brew after menstruating as it ‘clears you all out’. I did not like to explain that the digestive and reproductive systems are different, and if it works for her then great, but an unfamiliar idea and concept for me!!
I went to a carols by candlelight service on Sunday at the Cathedral which was lovely, but you had to buy a hymn sheet for 2,000//= (50p) and in the back under ‘Special thanks’ was to ‘Shoe Heel Centre,’ The Almight God (no ‘y’) who has enabled us in achieving everything’ and another entry to ‘The daughters of the King for the decoration and ushering the service!’ A range of special thanks I thought! To my knowledge I have never been ushered by a Kings daughters before, and what with feeling like the Queen the other day, I think I must be living the high life!!!!
I have been trying to take a photo of a wasp as there are a lot about at the moment. They are nearly as big as dragonflies and have a defined head and one pair of defined tissue-like wings. Their body is just a very thin line that you can hardly see and then they have a much defined back end. They have two antennae, two long dangly legs and four small crawling legs, (sounds like the 12 days of Chrsitmas song) One defined head, two lacey wings, three….., but I would have to have ‘four, instead of five crawling legs’!! Anyway they drift through the air and hover about, and in a funny sort of way quite lovely, but apparently they sting badly. I’ll try and photograph one, but I have not seen one land yet. Oh, yes I forgot to say, but a couple of weeks ago I was bitten by a big grasshopper just after I had eaten a smaller version of one, perhaps it knew! It ‘bit me on the ‘little’ finger so’ of my left hand, not my right! And yes I did let it go! They have quite a sharp bony little bite and it surprised me so when I had to remove an equally big beetle, not a cockroach, from the Kitchen I picked it up in a tea towel!
I forgot to say that last week I bought a hand blender. I decided this because the fruit is really cheap and huge and I can’t always eat it all as fruit so thought smoothies and vegetable soup, with the vegetables of course, would be a change. The man tested the blender to make sure it worked and luckily I realised just in time that it only had a two pin plug which is really weird as all the sockets are three pin, so I said to the shop man ‘Do you have an adaptor?’ his reply was ‘No, you only need a pen lid.’ I thought it was me not making myself clear again, but he seemed to think nothing of it and took it to the till for me. It was meant to be 48,000//= (£12) but at the till it was 60,000//= (£15). When I enquired why they said ‘this one has a box’ so I said I’d have no box, but after a bit they gave me one in a box for the original price. Hooray another success over the Muzungu tax! You have to be so careful! Anyway, when I got home, and this is where you must not try this at home children!! I found a pen lid. I was not sure what to do, so after thinking about it, realised that what you do is get a biro lid and wiggle it into the top hole of the three pin socket, the Earth, making sure the switch is off, pushing down or up the little switch thing inside which allows you to insert the two pin plug in the lower two holes of the socket. It was scary to do the first time and now I just go jamming lids into sockets Willy Nilly! No problem! But it still seems to go against all my grains to stick things like biro lids into plugs sockets, but it works. I now have a plug in the kitchen with a blue biro top sticking out of it! Ah, the beauty of it!!! Perhaps I should be an interior designer instead! Think of all the other things that could be done! Ah, the world is my oyster or perhaps a nice bit of cheese!!
I have a new boda guy called Kiwe (Kiwi) as Katumba seems not to be around much at the moment, and when I told Donald he said ‘Kiwe?’ and I said’ Yes, as in the fruit. ‘The fruit‘? Yes’. ‘U’ was the reply. ‘Is he black’? I said’ What sort of question is that, but yes of course’ (has he ever heard of or seen a white boda guy?) ‘He would have to be, it’s what we polish our shoes with, that’s Kiwe and that’s black!’ It was like playing some sort of weird word association game!
Anyway, I had better stop writing now, but I’ll write again next week. Happy Advent. Claire xxxx