Claire’s trip week 17
12th January to 19th January
Chloe decided to relent and get the 9.00 am one instead. We later heard that the 6.00am had crashed and the majority of people had died.
I have found an amazing new reason/excuse for being later for a meeting – my boda driver didn’t turn up, was late or got lost. Delete as applicable. A new take ‘on the dog ate my homework!’ I needed to go to the VSO office to discuss a situation with Lillian, the person I go to get advice. I won’t bore you with the details, but a couple of tricky situations occurred at the same time and I needed advice before they turned nasty and ugly which both had the potential to do. My boda driver was indeed late and when I asked where he was he said ‘I’m coming’ then he rang me and said he was on the’ Kyambogo University Campus under a mango tree’. How vague is that! Anyway, he eventually turned up and I got to my meeting about 10 minutes late which is quite good in Ugandan terms. Lillian, true to Ugandan form, was nowhere to be found and then about 15 minutes later I had a message saying that ’she is in a meeting with a new volunteer and could she possibly borrow three of my minutes’. It was more like 10 of my minutes, but who’s counting, and at least we met and hopefully things are on their way to being solved.
We are in the middle of an electric storm, I love it! It starts like a tiger stealthily stalking its way round the hills with a slow steady growl in its throat and as it prowls about, the growl intensifies until it pounces, strikes, and roars at its unsuspecting victim. Then it’s like the whole of nature succumbs to its threat and cries out for mercy. The tiger continues its threat and the crying continues until the tiger grumblingly relents and the crying quietens into sobbing, eventually dying away as the tiger wanders away into the distance waiting for its next opportunity to pounce. Sometimes though, through frustration the tiger, either feeling proud of its victory or finally admitting defeat, suddenly growls and lurches forward again for the final time, until silence! Nature quivering in its wake. So majestic and powerful; but how little are we in the scheme of things when there is so much natural energy? Exciting! For company though the tiger brings with it horrid little storm flies and mosquitos which act like little dive bombers invading, nipping and gorging on any bits of uncovered flesh. This triggers in me a sort of weird irregular clapping routine as if accompanying some unseen musical tune or rhythm, suddenly shouting out ‘Got it!’ or ‘Missed it’ adding a type of chorus line.
I have been reading a book by Dr. Nick Wooding who took over as medical superintendent from Ian Clarke who built a medical centre in Mokono, which is a few miles away and is where Donald and Generous live. Ian also went on to build a hospital at Kiwoko in Luwero, which is about an hour and half away from Kampala. Ian is very well known in Kampala as he has done many things to try and improve health care and he is a local counsellor for the Muyenga district. In this book, by Nick Wooding, there are some rules of the road, of course not official ones, a spoof on the driving here, but they are so true!
Blind overtaking. If you are overtaking, make sure that it is on a blind corner or just below the brow of a hill.
The killer coach. Right of way belongs to the strongest. If it is a cross-country bus (the killer coach), vacate the road.
The sacred cattle priority. Cows are unversed in the Highway Code, knowing only how to use their horns. When roaming the highways and verges they have rights of way and rumination.
Save electricity. Do not switch your lights on when it is dark – this will waste the battery and give away your position to oncoming vehicles.
Use every special sense. If it is night time and a single light approaches, listen carefully for the sound of a truck with only one headlight working.
Blind your opponent. Put your main beam on when passing a vehicle. This enables the next oncoming coach to make a blind approach.
Never ask directions. Most people in rural areas cannot drive: if asked for directions they will send you down a narrow pathway (entirely scriptural) when there is a very large road close by.
Electric rule. If you are giving someone a lift, be careful when they say they are just going down the road- the ‘just’ can turn into 50 miles.
Take a picnic. Taxis are only licenced to carry 14 passengers in the first layer: luggage may include fish, DIY articles, hens and the odd cockerel. You will not go hungry or unsoiled.
It’s the vehicles fault. If something goes wrong, it is never the driver or the rider’s fault.
Don’t stop at accidents. If you hit someone, never stop to help or you will be lynched. Go to the nearest police station and ask for sanctuary.
I have experienced all these situations either as a boda rider or a car driver and referring to number 9 when I was in Fort Portal at Christmas I saw someone putting a goat in the very limited space behind the back seats. They sort of folded it up and put it on top of all the bags and suitcases, but this took a minute or two as it is tricky to fold up a goat sufficiently to go in a space about as big as a 70 litre suitcase. As soon as the driver folded up one pair of legs the previously fold pair would pop out again and so it took 3 men to get it in – two, one for each pair of legs and one to shut the door. Poor goat not only did it have to suffer this indignity and discomfort, but it was probably someones Christmas dinner!!!
Chloe who lives in Ibanda in the Westen region, says the only time she prays is when she is on a ‘killer coach (number 2). I am hoping to go and visit Chloe some time. I already constantly pray on bodas so wonder if ‘killer coaches’ will have the same effect. It was a miracle really a little while ago Chloe was going back to Ibanda from Kampala and she was going to get the 6.00 am coach and Brenda from VSO said to her ‘don’t get that one get a later one. You don’t want to have to get up that early’. Chloe said it was ok, but Brenda was adamant so Chloe decided to relent and get the 9.00 am one instead. We later heard that the 6.00am had crashed and the majority of people had died. What a good thing Brenda was adamant and Chloe decided to change her mind.
My role at the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) is to try and introduce, and in a way re-educate, NCDC staff, teachers and various officials to the notion that all children are entitled to an education through providing inclusive strategies and embedding these in practice. The secondary curriculum has been re-written and to some extent inclusive practice has been considered e.g. for the visually and hearing impaired only; However, there are a lot of amputees, people of all ages even the very young, as the access to antibiotics/penicillin etc is very limited and very expensive; other forms of physical and mental impairment/disability are also prevalent. There are special schools, but these are attended by many students with no impairments or disabilities as the fees are a lot cheaper. The new curriculum has to address the needs of all students from large inner city schools to small far flung rural schools who may not even have the luxury of a school building. Although this was taken after the war in the north of Uganda some schools are still not too dissimilar even now.
The general consensus is that there are 5,501 secondary schools in Uganda and 1,919 of these are privately run, although this is not a confirmed figure as no-one really knows not even the Ministry!! Eventually 2 teachers in each of these schools need to be trained in inclusive teaching practices. However, the training of NCDC staff and others has given me quite a lot of insight into their personal beliefs and traditions and I thought I would share some of what I have found out. I apologise if this is gloomy, like ‘Eeyore in his gloomy place’, but it is the reality of Ugandan life and what I and many other people are working with and are up against.
Ugandans in general, believe that mental illness is attributed to evil spirits and curses and that the cure requires either the services of a witch-doctor or powerful injections. Considering this is mainly a Christian country this seems amazing!
As all medical treatment has to be paid for, and there is no medical insurance, many people, even those living in the towns, still go to traditional healers a ‘basawo’. This is also the term used for a qualified doctor, health worker or any other medical professional. Anyone can set up a clinic and offer services as there is no quality control and no training is required or competence needed. Many people have their jaws broken while having teeth extracted for example. They think the only cause of coma is Malaria and so give the patient Quinine injections which does not help if you are experiencing a diabetic coma for example and so many people die. If children have facial defects then tomatoes are tied onto their foreheads and the offending side of the face is caked in Earth. One mother burned all the way around her child’s head because the people in the village told her the child’s head was the wrong shape and that burning the head ‘all around’ would help!! Because many Ugandans believe that external forces control the physical world they are very sceptical about immunisations and so diseases like measles are rife.
80% of the population of Ugandans live in rural areas, hence number 7 above ‘Never ask directions’. The majority of these people even now do not go to school and have quite different beliefs. They believe that you mustn’t kill a snake because if you do lots of little ones will come out it to replace the dead one.
Uganda has the second highest fertility rate in the world, with an average of 7 children per mother. 70% of children are born at home and by the age of eighteen one in every two girls has had a baby. If the woman thinks the birth is going to be tricky or difficult, they delay seeking medical advice because of the cost, and instead take various herbs to try and soften the bones of the pelvis in order to ‘let the child out’. These beliefs are not just confined to the rural areas as one would expect as ‘educated’ people hold these beliefs too.
Giving blood is not a regular occurrence because of the risk of HIV and AIDS. In an unscreened donor the risk is 6% that the blood will be contaminated and even in screened donors the risk is 2% because there is a period when the virus is active, but antibody levels are too low to be recorded.
Women are often seen as commodities. The man owns everything and the dowry system helps to perpetrate this. A man and a woman can be very good relationship before the dowry is paid and then she becomes his possession, the women mostly become beaten because he believes he owns her. A woman’s children are also the man’s property and if he dies they, the children, are passed on to his family, together with his wife’s possessions.
Weddings are very expansive lavish affairs costing millions of shillings, from 5 million upwards. I know this is not much in English money about £1,250, but when a teacher earns on average between 150,000 to 200,000 shillings a month (£37.50 to £50) should they be lucky enough to be paid at all, 5 million is a lot. Between 500 and 600 people at least will be invited and before the wedding takes place the local community meet to give pledges and contributions towards the cost, but this does not cover it at all. Many couples on return from their wedding cannot even buy a bag of sugar (which is seen as sort of yard stick as it is the most basic necessity of all food and everyone should be able to afford this if nothing else) and remain in debt for many years. Should the couple, sadly break up and go their separate ways, sometimes they can still be paying for the wedding for many years afterwards.
So you can see that the majority of Ugandans live a very hard and difficult life, not only physically, but are torn between wanting the conveniences and beliefs of modern day and world, but still wanting to hold onto their traditional beliefs which at least involve little or no cost. Therefore they are in the difficult situation of not being able to afford the material things or medical care, but still needing help and advice; and so turn to traditional ways – all the time watching the divide between the haves (Europeans) and the have-not’s (Uganda and Africa generally) getting bigger.
Therefore, you can see that my role regarding inclusion is no mean feat and understanding the culture and beliefs is just the first step. Since arriving in Uganda I have tried to understand and find out about the culture and the way life works, but it has taken longer than I thought to make any progress in my role; I am gradually gaining peoples trust through showing genuine interest in them as people, trying to learn ‘Luganda’ and working in the community being engaged in community projects. Through understanding, gentle sensitivity and regard for other ways, I have learnt a lot which has helped me find a balance; understanding how to help adapt and develop the curriculum in order to address the numerous needs without offending or running rough-shod over everything by imposing European ways.
I have started working for a community project called ‘Tomorrows Heroes’. It is a small charity run by a husband and wife and they help ‘street boys’. I help on a Sunday afternoon between 2.30 and 5.30. I was told there are usually about 50 to 60 boys who turn up at the Deliverance Church in Gadhafi Road, but last week there were about 120 in total, as about 50 or 60 boys from the near-by slum arrived as they wanted to ‘join in’. No-one is turned away and although they are not really ‘street’ children their needs are also great and so are being helped. I will keep you updated as to what I do and how things go. It is certainly very interesting, but so awfully, awfully sad that there are so many young boys/men in these situations, but so much hope and expectation at the same time. My question is what about ‘street and slum’ girls as they are very vulnerable and at risk!
Thank you for reading these notes again this week and for your continued prayers and support
With love and thanks as always