Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Uganda Diary Day 1: Planes, brains and automobiles

3rd April 2012 - Tuesday

So here I am 33,000ft above the Mediterranean Sea, heading south to Entebbe airport in Uganda. I've got a wing seat, which is always my favourite – I've not flown scores of times but I do usually seem to end up near the wing. It never ceases to amaze me that those two flat planes of wing can lift a massive metal bucket off the ground.
After 3 hours the TV channels have finally started working, and while this wasn't a huge problem as this is a night flight and we'd kind of got used to the idea, I had just exhausted the dozen or so crosswords in Mum's magazine, so that's good! Chances are it'll break again in a bit [It did.] Either way this will be my last bit of telly for a week and a half, which I'm actually quite pleased about. Although there is phone signal in Kabubbu I won't be using it. In fact there's a couple of things that are already pleasing me about this trip:
  • Going low-tech. I tend not to buy into gadgetry anyway but it'll be nice to be in a place where no one else does either. You don't realise how little you need those things until you stop using them.
  • Packing light. I'm looking forward to wandering about looking like a total scruffbag and this being totally acceptable. Besides wearing a skirt to town and church there's no real need for fashion where we're going. You'll be lucky if I brush my hair all week.
  • The heat, although I'll have to watch it as I burn like a lobster. It'll either be fine weather, in which case I'm desperate to see the stars at night, or thundery, which is some ways is even better.
  • Leaving London
    The experience. Obviously as a volunteer I'm going with the aim of giving, but I'm trying to be humble enough to realise I'm going to gain from this too. Stepping outside your own culture often throws issues back home into light, as well as the ones already facing you in your new location. I'm expecting to be challenged physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually too. It may be painful at times but I know in the past I've come out of those times refined or grown in some way.
  • The chance to draw, maybe make some poi to play with (why didn't I pack them?! So stupid!) and do whatever it is I do.

Nervous about:
  • The experience, as above. It'll be demanding in a lot of ways, and I may not like what it brings into light and what that will mean for me once I get back home.  For full details, see my Lent post.
  • The heat, and the subsequent possibility of being bitten to death by insects.

Right, I'd better try and get at least a few hours sleep before we touch down. I'll update you later, when I'll have a whole new country to share with you!
I'm sorry, I thought I'd stopped writing but I have to tell you. I turned off my light and suddenly what I can see out the window is almost indescribable. There is the dark flat geometric silhouette of the wing, light affixed to it's tip. Above us the night is a deep Prussian blue and the stars are bright and familiar – I see Cassiopeia now. Below us are scattered clouds, and below that... I can't tell you. The map says we are still over the Med, but every now and again I see pinpricks in the dark. Are these boats? Liners and cargo carriers on the shipping lanes? Are they the scattered islands I know are down there somewhere? Or are we over land already, and these are the lights of small villages? Everything is oceanic blue, like flying through water, bar the yellow light on our wingtip.

03:46am Ugandan local Time

We just hit land, a little west of Cairo. I had the luck to look out the window at the exact moment the sea became the lighter shore, and the twinkling lights began again. The towns are smaller that at home– there's a sparkling string of fireflies along the coastline, but then blackness. Occasionally one light, maybe, or a cluster of a dozen at most. So different to England. As we get further inland there's almost nothing down there.  The ground looks like a clear night sky we might see at home, but the distances between these isolated clusters of glimmers are so much larger. The gap of a half hour drive, then one more lonely light. This land is vast beyond reckoning. Right now, my nose pressed to the plane window, I can see only three settlements, all of them with no more than a trio of yellow lights each. How on earth can I sleep now?
Nothing. There's nothing down there now, It's wonderful.


From the air, green. Everything seems to be grassy with a lot of trees. Not hilly but... gently hummocky. The land rises and falls. The main roads/tracks, what few there are, are the colour of the dirt, which makes them striking obvious against the darker green. Smaller tracks flick off them. A lot of buildings, but not tightly packed.  Instead clustered around fields or junctions in the roads. Only the motorways are tarmacked, the rest is a peachy/orangey/red colour.

The edge of Lake Victoria from the air


Oh the things we've seen and it's only 8 in the morning! (It's actually 1:10am)
  • A guard sat in a blue plastic garden chair holding a rifle. Actually there are a lot of men around with rifles. They are security guards. Anything worth anything round here has a rifled security guard. The place we'll be staying has a rifled security guard,
  • The guys in blue camouflage gear, also with rifles, and camped out on trucks are the police.
Boda boda – Little motorcycles whose riders have no sense of self-preservation. They take as many as three passengers, or as much produce as you can balance on it. Sheaves of bamboo the size of an armchair, so many bananas you can't even see the vehicle. There are no marked lanes so they just weave in and out of the traffic as they please. Everyone always beeping -I'm, sure there's some kind of language hidden in there “Get out of my way!” “Here I am” “You go first” "Stop that!" “How's your mother?” I'm genuinely shocked no one has died yet.

Boda boda!
  • The President's house in Entebbe. Nice house. Big. .
  • Lake Victoria, biggest lake in Africa, second biggest in the world, home to Marabou Storks, crocodiles, and the bilharzia parasite. Swimming prohibited.
  • The Storks. They ride the thermals but come down really low and they are the massivest birds I've ever seen in my life. Standing, they are easily the height of a man.
  • Outside of Kampala, the capital, most of the buildings are single story. Little shanty shacks lie alongside brick buildings, or have roofs and fences cobbled together from sheets or corrugated iron and salvaged planks. Our guide, John, informs us that these shops are for “rich people”.

  • As we leave Kampala everything is shops shops shops, with the clumsier marketing you expect outside a city centre. I'm reminded that when people move to cities they seldom produce their own wares any more – rather they buy and sell the produce of others. As usual I question whether or not city life is actually beneficial or desirable, especially in the long run where, as in England, the population no longer has the ability to feed itself.
  • Most of the adverts are painted onto buildings. Even the ads for paint are painted on, which I kind of like. The most common are for Sadolin paint, Airtel phones and, unsurprisingly and a little depressingly, Coca Cola.

  • The outskirts of Kampala


In some ways I think it's too late for Britain. Our main industry now is tertiary. Service. We don't grow or make much of our own any more, and most of what we consume we import, but the world can't just just perpetually build and expand it's cities indefinitely – because who will feed those cities?
I spoke with Geoff (QT founder) over lunch and it seems Kabubbu is already experiencing this. It used to be a rural area but it now counted as part of Greater Kampala, and the land is being sold off to developers, ousting out the resident farmers in the process. This land will only be sold to be built on, so there's no hope of keeping it for families to make a living off. QT is initiating a project to teach the remaining tenants to grow food more effectively to counteract the loss of land, which is great, but it's the same problem I see back home except that it's still early enough to be stopped if only people weren't so greedy for money.

Since arriving I've settled into our 'banda' (hut). It's simply furnished with mosquito nets and camping chairs but more than enough for what we'll need for our stay. We're allowed one 2min shower per day, as all the water comes from the huge rain collection tanks beneath the school, but that shouldn't be too difficult to manage.  It's so warm here that cold showers will be welcome! 

We've also had a tour of what QT's been doing so far; the primary and high schools and all their resources, the HIV testing lab and medical centre (containing one snakebite victim, and one mother with a baby only half a day old) the carpenters workshop, the foster home full of small children who run to you for hugs and want to hold your hand. Walking through the primary school back to the resort I met the sister of the girl my parents sponsor. She recognised me from the photo they'd sent. Everyone seems so pleased to see us and to hear that we are a family, although I do feel like this is mostly because of my Dad and what he's already done here. The resort, while basic, is so well maintained I almost feel as though I'm in some kind of theme park and it's just not quite real. I'm thinking/hoping it'll sink in tomorrow, when we start pitching in with the jobs they have lined up for us.

Not a bad view!
Welcome to Trust High School!

The main hall at the top of the stairs also doubles as the community church

The classroom block


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