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Claire’s Uganda Trip

I have learned that there is definitely a hierarchy of life here, at the bottom are chickens

31st November to 9th November, 2013.

claireI have just completed ninth week in Uganda, how time flies when you are enjoying yourself! In some ways it seems as if I have been here forever, but in other ways it seems as if I have only been here a few days.  I think I was and am quite naïve as when I was planning to come I thought people are people and that we are all much of a muchness. In some ways this is true, we are all people we all laugh when we are happy and cry when we are sad and bleed when we are hurt, but in other ways we are just poles apart which I think leads to the frustrations on both sides.

As you know through my previous notes there have been times of frustration but also times of joy and every day I learn something new or need to use my imagination and ingenuity to solve problems. We had a violent storm the other day with rain the same as experienced on the Ark! The sky went dark the wind howled, the rain pelted down in sheets and thunder and lightning racked the sky, fingers of light seeming to search for something to reach out and hit! A power cut was the result of this mayhem. Laura and I were both at home and suddenly she started rushing about closing windows and said that last time she was ‘too late’ and there was a flood in every room. I started to rush about too (it’s amazing how many windows you have when they are all open and they all need closing) only to find Laura running out of the kitchen shouting ‘moth, large moth!’ I then went into the kitchen and saw the most enormous moth that you ever did see in the sink. I knew I had to just pick it up or else I would be in the hall with Laura, so I scooped it up gently in both hands and reached over the sink, quite difficult when you are not very tall, until it could feel the air on it’s lovely furry glistening wings when I hoped it would get the impulse to fly. However, I was concerned it was going to get battered to bits but it flew through the bars and onto the balcony outside. It was quite a business shutting the windows because firstly you have to undo the mosquito grids and then reach through the fixed security bars to the latches which prop the windows open. Anyway we achieved it together, and made a cup of tea, what else! and sat on the other balcony leading off the living room which has a roof and then sat and watched the storm. It was great but scary and it made you feel really quite small and insignificant.

After the storm had died down, but before the power came back on, Laura went out and as the sun again appeared I decided to open the windows. I now had a new challenge on my hands… Laura as you know is taller than me (re: the first and second mosquito net hanging episodes) and I couldn’t reach the bolts at the top of the mosquito grids. I tried jumping which was no good so I looked around for a long stick in order to pull the bolt thing that sticks out, down to release it. (I need to get a stick because I seem to spend my life looking for one and never finding it because I don’t have one!) I then tried doing it with the computers external  mouse cable which worked great until I  thought I might damage it and so looked for something else; that was when I  hit on the idea of using my hair brush. I now know why there is a hole at the end of the handle, it is for undoing and doing up bolts on mosquito grids. Success was achieved, air entered the flat, sunshine poured in and I could breathe again.  Another problem solved!

I seem to be putting on weight which is what I can ill afford to do and I have wondering why.  I thought that it was because I don’t do any exercise. I did bring my gym/running things, but I didn’t bring my trainers although I could buy a cheap pair, but I fall over anyway even when I don’t run; but then it occurred to me that the meals here, if you eat out as often as I do 2 or 3 times a week with friends, as we meet in cafes or restaurants, and they don’t like it if you eat your own food, are mainly carbohydrate. On Friday night the VSO people met at an Ethiopian restaurant called Fasika and on the menu it said ‘All our meals are served with rice, mashed potatoes, boiled potatoes and chips’. Lots of carbs here I think! I so wish I had shared a meal with Alison, so did she! Anya said she had a meal the other day with nine carbohydrates on the same plate: rice, boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, chips, matooke, posho (a ground nut paste like peanut butter but purple!!!!) bread, Injera (‘J cloth’ as mentioned previously) and cassava. This is part of the culture and many people only eat one meal a day, not surprising! You are not very hungry again for ages afterwards. I

I  have just had my first sugar cane… It’s very fibrous and chewy, a bit sweet and sort of watery when you bite into it. It’s ok but I wouldn’t want a plateful! You suck the life out of it them spit out the dry fibres, nice! It looks a bit like packaging material when it’s dried from being spat out, it must be good for something, but what? I know could I weave it into a long stick because the fibres are very strong! Very useful!

I have learned that there is definitely a hierarchy of life here.

At the bottom are chickens. I would hate to be chicken here. About 20 are kept in small metal wire cage, with no floor so they have to stand on the rungs, in the searing heat, with some water and seed granted, but not enough. The cages are in a stack perhaps about 5 high and so if you are a chicken in the bottom cage you can imagine what it would be like.

Next come goats.  A piece of rope is tied, I  think quite tightly, around a  leg, normally a back leg but a front one will do, and then the other end is tethered to a post or piece of wood or something that is not going to move and then left there all day again in the heat. They have food of course but no water!

Then come cows. It doesn’t matter if they have horns or not (referred to as horny cows or not horny cows!). They have a rope around their neck which is quite loose and either tied to a post or let loose to wander. They then trail the rope around with them all day and when someone wants to catch them they, the person not the cow, just stands on the rope!

Next come walking people. Life here is cheap and you literally take your life in your hands when crossing the road and so the best thing to do is follow a local and cross when they do. Safety in numbers I guess.

People are split into groups too: at the bottom are women, what a surprise, unless they are at home then they are totally in charge; followed by children and men equally, until the girls reach puberty and  then they slide down the scale to the bottom. Don’t even get me going on this!!!!

Well, next come bodas which I wish wasn’t so near the bottom of the human list as I use them all the time. They are extremely skilled weaving in and out of traffic and finding the shortest point from A to B but they are exposed when it comes to danger. About three times a week when I go to Muyenga or somewhere over that way, on the way home the bodas always drive through the slum as it is the shortest route. (They never go through the slum on the way there only on the way back in the dark!). I learned the other day that boda drivers are often attacked and killed with iron bars in the slum at night so the people can steal the bags of their passengers. I am now a bit worried and am considering not doing this anymore and paying extra just so they stay on the roads. I have only seen one really bad boda accident where a car had gone over a boda bike and its driver. I was sharing a boda with Manjit, a doctor, who obviously stopped to see if he could help, but the man was unfortunately already dead, but the inside of someones head is not pretty! An experience I could have done without. The pictures in my head are still with me! However, they are generally very safe. I was astonished with the response to Manjit’s questions ‘Where is his helmet?’ ‘At home on the table’ ‘Why wasn’t he wearing it?’ ‘Cos he’s a boda man’ ‘He might not have died if he was wearing his helmet’ ‘They expect it’

Next in the hierarchy are matatus, which are licensed to carry up to 14 passengers, yeah right! 140 more like!!!!  Whose conductors just yell their destination at the people in the street, in case they want to go there, while he driver hoots all the time. Silence, so they say, is golden!

Then come small cars, followed by 4×4’s and then small trucks, bigger trucks and lorrys. (I am thinking of buying a big truck or lorry!)

I have never been one to want to ‘do’ graffiti, but I have found a real need for it over here. On many of the walls it says either politely ‘Please do not urinate here. Fine 50,000//=’ (about £12.50) or less politely ‘Don’t urinate here. Fine 50,000//=’. Even men in stripy suits (but no umbrella and bowler hat!) do it. Honestly I’m sure there is no need. Just because you can doesn’t mean you have to! The short cut I take to reach my lift to work is becoming a bit revolting and I was going to explain my journey but now it is not so nice so will forego writing about this now. What with chickens, goats, dogs, children and men and then all the rubbish that is dumped, its beginning not to be so pleasant and I might need to buy some pegs, because there are long stretches where you really don’t want to breathe!

Generous, the lady I work with, said to me the other day that when she was told she was going to have to work with an English person she was really worried as she had heard that they weren’t friendly. Anyway she said that she thinks I am African and have just been born the wrong colour!   I’ll take this as a compliment!

Another custom I found out about is that if you are invited in for breakfast after church, which happens often, then it is expected that you eat all you are given, even if it is enough to feed an army; or they think that you do not like their food. I can do this ok if it is peanut butter sandwiches, although I’m not keen but plain boiled spaghetti or cabbage and cassava is really difficult. Also bananas by the hand and g nuts by the bowlful! Still II don’t want to offend. There is just one small problem that if you do eat it all up they give you more because they think you are still hungry. Not sure yet how to solve this one.

Anyway, we are all learning a lot about and from, each other and there are frustrations and joys on both sides. I still have a lot to learn and I don’t think I have offended anyone yet, or at least I hope not.

I’ll write some more notes again next week so until then have fun and love as always

Claire

xxx

Claire’s trip week 10

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