Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Uganda Diary Day 2: Welcome to Kabubbu!

April 5th – Thursday

Attended the primary school assembly this morning and watched the William Parker Sixth Formers that are also visiting this week do a play for the kids. Stories seem to be popular, so it's encouraging for the puppet show we’re putting on later in the week. Still not sure how the songs will go down as they are in English and, although most of the kids can speak it well enough to hold a conversation it’s not their first language.
Inside my shared banda, with mosquito nets above the beds

Our banda is really neat. It's a little hut with a surprisingly large bathroom and mosquito net above the bed. It's strangely nice to sleep under a net, like having your own little tent, although the chance of mozzies is slim here because of the cut grass and lack of standing water.  The water we use comes from the borehole pumps or the rain collection tanks. There are bugs though, lots of them. The main ones are giant flying ants who seek out light and then drop their wings. There are piles of wings all over the place but when they're in flight they're really quite beautiful.

12:30pm -  Just got back from the works team painting the inside of one of the foster homes. It needed it; the walls were grubby and brown and smeared with I don’t know what. It had to be sanded down before any paint could go on! Later in the week, when it's done, we may move to a team that is shifting bricks to build a new long drop toilet for the boys at the high school. The kids in the foster home were sweet, about five boys milling around and when we went to clean the paintbrushes one of them helped me work the pump – a little 4/5 year old named Howe. I started whistling as we pumped and he joined in. A few other boys came along chasing bike tyres along with sticks and we got a game going.  They'd whistle a tune and I had to try and repeat it back. These boys don't go to school because they don't have sponsors or guardians who can pay for them. Joseph, who was directing our work, was chatting away to them in their own dialect and I caught the word Mzungu (white person) that we'd learned before we arrived. I asked him to teach me a few words so I could have a bit of a conversation.

Oli otya – Hello, how are you?
Gyendi – OK (reply)
Guani? – What's your name?
Weraba – Goodbye
Webele – Thanks
Webele nnyo – Thanks very much

The boys were great fun and loved seeing themselves in the camera – it occurs to me that they don't have a lot of mirrors round here, so it's not often they get to see what they look like.
The Foster Home
Sue, one of the William Parker teachers and a graphic designer, was talking to Mum about how she had done one art lesson at the high school but didn't have time for a second. When she heard that I was an illustrator she asked if I'd be up for leading a class!  I've never taught a lesson in my life but I agreed provisionally – we have a schedule here which might not be flexible enough. I was pleased to be asked though, and pleased that I felt so enthusiastic about it. Back home I would have been really nervous but here I felt happy to do it. If it worked out I'd probably teach on narrative, finding a story they all knew and getting them to do all the scenes from it to create a comic page.  Sue had been doing typography with them before. As I said, there probably won't be time but I spoke with Lilian, the resort manager, just in case a gap came up. Lilian's a very classy woman, always impeccably dressed, and tailed by her dog who I think is heavily pregnant. Pups soon!
After last night's pretty torrential rain it's a lot less humid. The skies are rarely clear at the moment as it is the rainy season, but while there is usually some cloud it is intensely and constantly warm.

Howe is on the far left.  Joseph is behind.
16:50pm  -  Just got back from visiting the children my parents sponsor, courtesy of Mummy Geraldine's mad driving (Geraldine Booker, QT founder) down extremely bumpy roads in the pickup of a truck. Whoop! In one sense I felt like an imposter as these are my parent's children, not mine, but at the same time they seemed very pleased to meet them in person and match Emma and me with the photos my Mum had sent them. From my point of view it was a great chance to see the range of lifestyles in the village and meet some of the locals on their own turf. We met:

• Martin – Aged 19 and doing his A-levels (he started school a few years late. In England you start attending school at a particular age, but here you attend school when you are old enough to manage the trek or can afford the fees, which is where sponsors come in). He’s obviously very proud of his education and good grades, and has a lot of opinions on farming, politics, history, colonialism, everything. He lives with his grandmother, whose house is bigger and better furnished than most we’ll see here. We get to sit on sofas for probably the only time this week! His grandmother was a very generous hostess and insisted on making some food for us; cassava (looks like sliced parsnip, tastes like chestnuts) and red greens (a kind of red cabbage with salt in it. Tastes like spinach).
• Patricia, whose older sister Victoria spotted me in the school yesterday and spoke excellent English. When we arrived at the house Patricia's mum ran all the way from the resort to meet us. The house is a small hut built by hand from sticks and clay, over six months, and carpeted with mats their mother makes herself from scratch, dying the stalks by hand. Each one takes her a month to make and she may sell one for £2-3. She is HIV positive and the polythene on her roof is disintegrating, letting the rain in. But I don't want to say “only”. It is not “only” a clay hut, because she built that herself, raised two lovely girls who are both doing very well in school and who are clothed immaculately. Her house is neat and tidy, and she is responsible about providing malaria nets for her girls. All this is an achievement. We will see their mother later tonight as she is dancing as a part of an African evening.

My family meets Patricia's

Abd, Dan's uncle
• Dan – he wasn't in but his guardian Abd was. Abd takes care of his deceased brother's children as well as his own, and there are eleven in his house including his new wife. The living room is, again, immaculate, and the size of a large toilet cubicle but we all cram in and he kindly brought out extra seats for us, standing himself. Dan, his brother Ivan (age 20) and two others sleep in a small outhouse nearby, sharing two single beds.

• Edward – His mother wasn't in but his older sister Christine was. He shyly asked for hugs from all of us, and showed us the flattened mattress he sleeps on, which is laid on the floor in the back room. As with the other houses there is no electricity so the room is lit by a handheld refillable paraffin lamp. It’s enough to work by but must be used carefully as it is possible for them to explode.

Each day we will be given a talk by a different Head of Department to help us understand more about life in Kabubbu now and how it is changing. Today’s was with the headmasters of the primary and high schools, explaining the school system, how it works and how it came into existence. The amount of subjects covered by the high school classes and clubs is staggering, especially considering they only started in 2006! They are also the national volleyball champions.

Edward and a neighbour in his house, showing off his new hat

Other discoveries

Weaver birds! (also met small blue and noisy turaco). They are about the size of a starling in yellow, with black patches. They will nest in a tree altogether, making their little bowers. Sometimes the nests slip off a branch and I found one to pick up. Such clever birds! They make an awesome racket right in the schoolyard.

A weaverbrd nest

Jackfruit: Size of a rugby ball, these bubbly-looking fruits are green on the outside and yellow on the inside if ripe (white if not). When our guide John was showing us the town he asked me if I'd ever seen one, and when he saw a man eating one outside the carpenters he grabbed my hand and dragged me over to try some. It was great! It comes off in sections like large rubbery yellow thumbs and you squeeze out the kidney-bean-sized seed before eating the fruit. Tastes like a cross between a banana and an orange, and is sweet but not juicy. Actually all the fruit tastes great out here. At home I don't like pineapple, mangos or watermelon, but here I'm wolfing them down! It may be because for us to have pineapple we have to pick them before they are ripe and transport them thousands of miles in boxes. Here you literally just walk down the road and pick one off a tree. My Rice & Beans Fast is still in effect. Despite the extra activity in our day I'm taking smaller portion at dinner than I normally would have, and I don't feel the need for seconds. I'm trying a bit of everything though – so many new foods to try! The locals fry those big de-winged flying ants and I said that if offered them I would eat them!  I really would too, provided they were fried and I didn't have to chase my own food round the inside of my mouth - I'm genuinely quite interested.

Boy playing the long drum
After dinner we were treated to an ‘African Evening’, where people from Kabubbu came to perform traditional music and dancing to us – kind of like a mini concert. It’s a way of earning a bit of extra cash for them, a chance for us to see a bit of the culture we might not come across on a day to day basis. For me there’s a personal interest too. With a drummer for a father and a music teacher for a mother we were all really interested to learn about music in this part of the world.
Women from the town sang and danced, including Victoria and Patricia's mother who has a beautiful singing voice and did a lot of the harmonies. They were accompanied by boys from the high school and upper primary with drums, and also Ugandan guitar, xylophone (“You don't play it, you punish it!”) and violin. These were played extremely skilfully and at high speed by a boy called Yusuf who also turned out to be quite the compere.
He explained everything and cracked jokes about the 5th Ugandan President and the English Queen (the punchline being “Mrs Queen, may I milk you?”) The women sang songs in both English and Ugandan, including a worship song and an older dance for calling spirits, and then ended on a party number.

Out here the sexy body part is not the boobs but the bum and these women make Beyonce look like a complete amateur. Round their waists they strap belts of fur that flick as they snap their hips about. Their top halves barely move as they do this, very like the belly dancing some of my friends have tried to teach me back home, which was good as they started pulling members out of the audience to join in! I fell back on my brief lessons and joined in with Victoria, Patricia and their mother.

Two dances later I was pouring with sweat.  The evenings here are a very comfortable heat for wearing shorts in as long as you spray yourself against the bugs but I'm getting used to walking around in a mild sweat all day. And this is the rainy season – the colder half of the year!

'Something that's hit me today; I didn't come here feeling sorry for these people, and I've tried hard to avoid the mentality of 'I am a civilised white person, come to assist the poor developing world' but I still had a “them and us” mentality simply because, being from different cultures and partly due to my dodgy skills at understanding accents, I’d subconsciously assumed we just wouldn't click. But it seems that little kids are little kids everywhere, teenage boys are teenage boys, good teachers are good teachers, and wherever you go everybody loves a party. And I have ‘clicked’ with some of them – Victoria is absolutely lovely, as are her family, she she is clever and kind towards her sister.  

I overheard my parents speaking with Lilian about what would happen to the girls if their mother's HIV did kill her. The house is theirs but the land belongs to their aunt, although whether this is as a freeholder or a tenant is uncertain to us. Only one of the two girls is sponsored, so would neighbours be willing to take on the other? Would they be able to keep their house? Would they be allowed to stay together? Circumstances have made their situation very unstable and it's difficult to see what can be done, but it’s important to remember that this is what life is like sometimes, for all of us, and situations like these are not unique to Uganda.

No comments:

Post a Comment