Gretchen arrived Sunday night to the great delight of everyone at Kisa Primary. In addition to her warm and jolly self she brought great treasures of books, recent old new Yorkers, a donated digital camera, program discs for my computer, a new croakie for my glasses, new pants and t-shirts for me and some do-not-open-until-christmas-presents. Monday we hung around Nansana and I showed her around the neighborhood. Tuesday she survived her inaugural trip into Kampala in a Uganda taxi with near-aplomb. Wednesday we hiked into the countryside to visit Wamala tombs…the resting place of King Suuna of Buganda who died in 1856.
For More Uganda Journal entries from October & November, 2007, go the the archive.
Friendly, at the airport. No customs inspections at all. Lwanga and Jimmy met me their Toyota wagon and we headed of to Nansana, passing through the outskirts of Kampala. Entebbe, the old royal capital of Buganda is 27k from Entebbe.
Nansana is 7k from Kampala. The country seemed enveloped in a unending pall of smoke. Most of it comes from wood and charcoal cooking fires in homes restaurants and roadside food stands. There’s some trash burning, and there’s a lot of diesel and gasoline exhaust. Traffic was very congested, though it was around 10 at night. The roads were full of cars, bikes and motorbikes, while the darkened roadsides were jammed with thousands of little shops, most of them a garage wide, with iron gates, lit with candles and kerosene lamps, often with charcoal cooking fires smoldering just outside the doorways…each one representing an entrepreneur trying to scrape out a foothold in the cash economy.
Unemployment is high, and anyone with no job, but some brains and ambition soon becomes a retail entrepreneur in groceries, take out food, cell phones, video rentals, hardware, hair cutting, and dozens of others.
There are no streetlights. Nor are there any banks of lighted buildings because there was no electric power. This is my fourth day in Uganda, and I still haven’t been in a building with electricity coming in from the outside. Lots of places have generators. The Kisa school generator runs for 4 or five hours each evening. On the highway the huge major brand gas stations are brightly lighted from their own electric power. As we got closer to Kampala, Lwanga waved his arm and said, there’s the city over there, you’d be able to see it if they had the power on. But all we could see were darkened hillsides. The smoky air and the twinkling candle and lantern lights in the shops created an atmosphere of a rural village, though in fact we were in the most urbanized part of Uganda.
The school is a cozy walled compound of several buildings linked by walkways, classroom buildings surrounding an assembly field, and dorms for 50 or so of the 500 students.
Most of the teachers just come for the school day, but several university students who teach and assist in a variety of ways live at the school also.
It's very crowded. Lwanga’s bedroom/office is crammed to the ceiling with books, boxes, old equipment and supplies. There’s no place for me to even store my radio stuff and at this point no place that could be used as a studio. There’s talk of building a new office/classroom structure, but that’s a several months long process that has not even entered the design phase.
I spent the day unpacking, meeting the school staff, and eating terrific meals cooked at the school including cassava, yam sweet potato, roasted Banana, roasted pumpkin, rice, jack fruit, pineapple, avocado, chicken, fish, beef stew, boiled greens. The food is wonderful. It is cooked on open fires in big pots set up on bricks in one of the school buildings.
I have a room in a little motel across the street from the school called the Njovu Rest house. It is clean and comfortable, but many of the guests play music and football games until late at night and the sound reverberates around the courtyard. Same infrequent electrical service here, but I do quite fine with my collection of flashlights, book lights, and candles. I have my own toilet and shower, and there is cold and cold running water. Since this is on the equator, cold is not very cold, especially after the sun has been beating down on the water tank all day.
The weirdest thing about the motel is the doors to the rooms. They are heavy welded steel with bars across a little narrow window. You secure the door from the inside with two bi iron deadbolts, and you do the same when leaving by reaching in through a little hinged hatch in the door which you then padlock. So when anyone enters or leaves their room, there’s a tremendous amount of clanging and clatter.
I gave my first guitar lesson today to one of the assistant teachers, Olivia, who is a student at Makerere university business school. She’s training in human resources and wants to work for a big corporation, but everyone says there’s a very high rate of unemployment among university grads, and job prospects are dim. She’s working at the school because her uncle is Jimmy Kiboku who runs the non academic side of things at the school.
On Saturday and Sunday there is a steady stream of visitors for Jimmy at the school. He’s also the district administrator, and elected political job, and people come to him with problems to solve. Most of the problems are disputes about inheritance of property. Someone dies and wants to leave more property to one offspring than another. Then the slighted offspring goes to court and comes to Jimmy to try to get the inheritance turned around.
Into Kampala with Lwanga, a curious day. We actually went to the Rotary club meeting. Lwanga is a member. So I met lots of Kampala small business folks who were all very jolly and just as boring as stateside Rotary club members. The we struggled around in the Kampala traffic running small errands and sightseeing. Found what appears to be the only actual coffee shop in downtown Kampala with mediocre brewed coffee…no espresso. There must be a Starbuck's here somewhere. If I could get on the internet, I’d google it.
Uganda Independence day…my gmail session at a local internet café interrupted when the power went out. I think these are official government power grid roving blackouts, and they are completely arbitrary and unscheduled. Some of the university students at the school said millions of hours of homework and term papers have been lost through these power blackouts. My timeless prose of yesterday can never be retrieved, but here’s what happened on Independence day: nothing.
Jimmy said he thought they might have an independence day celebration at one o’clock and assemble all the kids and sing the national anthem. About 50 children live there at the school. These are mostly orphans and rescued children of some sort or other.
But the independence day cel. Never happened. Jimmy wasn’t too enthusiastic about it anyway. Because he sees it as backing the government, and Jimmy’s in the DP, an opposition party.
Around noon, Jimmy and I walked down to Hoima Road and finally found an electrical adapter I could use so I could re-charge my computer batteries. Actually its very handy…a four slot power strip that accepts every plug configuration known to man. The power was off, but they turned on the generator so I could charge my computer and I hung out with the children for the rest of the afternoon showing them my pictures on the computer.
Later, Irene and Andrew, one of the younger staff drove into Kampala to go to the national trade fair where zillions of average Ugandans jammed into the fairgrounds to see huge displays of Uganda-made dish pans, clothing shoes, housewares and food, and German-made machine tools. In the evening we watched some of the speeches from the big-wig independence day cel. Then we watched Venezuelan soap operas with dubbed English sound track. These are extremely over-acted and melodramatic, and everybody thinks they are hysterically funny. For supper we had pea soup, roasted banana, pumpkin, and cassava, and for tea they handed me a huge plate of raw sugar cane which I’d never had before. It’s just like stuffing refined white sugar into your mouth and chewing. We could get the Internet here at the school for $350 installation + $50 a month. I’m thinking of financing that because I think it’s the only way I’m going to have reliable internet service for posting pictures and big sound files.
They’re asking me to teach a guitar playing class. This seems highly impractical, since there is only one guitar, and I’m one of the least qualified people in the world to teach other people how to play the guitar. but I'm thinking of developing it into a singing and public speaking class, and maybe produce a radio play or something.
Thurday October 11
A few days ago I was up on Hoima Road looking for the internet café and I met John Kabuye. When I wandered into his stationery shop to ask directions, he was playing a little hand made one string fiddle I later learned is called an endigidi. I asked him a bout it and then asked if he would play for me and let me record some of the music. He offered to invite one of his friends Joseph Lukoda over to play too, so we made a date for two days later at 4. When I came back, we set up a make shift recording studio in the back of the shop where he could still keep an eye on the front door. The music is on a five note scale, and most of the songs are stories or narratives, Everything is oral tradition, there are no written words or music. John learned to play music as a child, and said his relatives often at around playing music together. He learned all the songs by word of mouth. I expected to be there just for an hour, but once they started playing, they couldn’t stop and song after song poured out of them. I ended up staying there for over three hours which got e into trouble back at the school. When didn’t show up for lunch, they decided I was lost and sent out search parties looking for me.
As I looked around the shop, I noticed there were several drums stacked up on the shelves along with stationery supplies, and cases of soda pop. Eventually I asked John about the drums and he took one down and played it while Joseph continued singing. It was an ngalabi or long drum. It’s about 4 ½ feet tall and about 16” diameter, and tapers down from its widest point. It has a deep rich bass, and lots of higher notes created by pressure on the skin. I also noticed a big rough-hewn wooden contraption on the shelves which I suspected was a musical instrument…indeed it was a madinda 12 or 14 note marimba r xylophone, and john eventually dragged that down and set it up and played alomg with the endigidi. An hour or so later another musician , Charles Lwanga, walked in to the store and sat down at the madinda while John went back to playing drums.
The music itself is based on simple repetitive melodies, sort of similar to a group of folkies jamming on old joe clark over and over again. Some of the songs are old, but some of the songs were more contemporary, a referred to the wars that wracked the country in the 80’s and 90’s…not political…but the war as seen from the point of refugees. John said a lot of the older songs were obscene.
We were constantly interrupted by customers wandering in to have copies made, students with their school papers, or to by pens or soft drinks. John sells a wonderful banana drink that he buys in bulk from somebody else and rebottles in 12 oz capless bottles…but he keeps it cold. He has generator power to run his copier and cooler when the regular power goes off. Fortunately the power stayed on the whole time I was there so he didn’t have to turn on the generator. All three musicians were devoted Christians…catholics I gather. Joseph is an organist and John sings in the choir. It was a wonderful afternoon. I’m going to see if they will come over to the school one day and give a concert for the kids. And I’m going to put together a program of the music for KBCS.
I’m still so jazzed just by being here I can hardly stand it. Today I went off on my own for the first time…took a minibus taxi into town. The Kisa people were appalled that I would want to go alone. Andrew, my chief minder, wanted to come with me and drive me in and lok after me. But I insisted on going alone. The 14 passenger taxi runs along the main road, Hoima road into town, stopping to pick up passengers as it goes along. There are no marked stops. The driver honks anytime he sees a pedestrian going in his direction. Everybody hopes they will be the 14th person to get on, so the driver won’t be making any more stops for pick ups until they get to the end. The end in Kampala is New Taxi Park, a vast sea of dust or mud in the center of town where there must be 5,000 of these toyota minivans at any one time. From there you can walk just about anywhere or take another taxi, or ride a bodaboda…a scooter, moped or motorcycle that picks up passengers and takes them for short trips, weaving in and out of traffic in the most terrifying way imaginable. I don’t think I ever want to get on one. Anywy, I found a pretty good bookstore and two good coffee shops, one with wireless internet. I bought a little alarm clock in a shop, another electrical adapter and a bag of passion fruit from a vendor. From the second coffee shop, I walked to the national museum which was very nice. It was about a mile or maybe 1 ¼ miles and pretty hot, but not bad when there was a shady side. Great displays of colonial, precolonial and prehistoric. The Africans 5,000 years ago looked a lot like the Orkneyans of the same period…making ingenious use of local materials, inventing tools, trading stuff back and forth. It was a slow day, so a very nice lady guide glommed onto me and insisted I see everything. They even have a resident musician who let me play duets with him on the Madinda and then played a solo on the ngidibi…the little fiddle played by my friend in the copy shop who let me record him on Wednesday. After that, I found a fair trade crafts store where if you went in with $100 bucks, you could come out with armloads of very cool baskets, carvings, jewelery and all kinds of pretty nice stuff.
I stopped in a computer store and priced a desktop printer I might buy. It’s the HP D1460 and it was 90,000 shillings which is about $50…same price I would expect to pay at Fry’s. If you get a chance, could you price the same model for me in Seattle? Just curious. Only one bad thing happened on my trip…my camera was stolen by a pickpocket. Fortunately, I had downloaded all my pictures, so I’ll have to get a new one next week. The money is working out pretty well. My R&B is about $8 a day, so I paid that and paid for the internet hook up, and all the other odds and ends of things I’ve been buying and I still have pots of shillings, and a couple hundred bucks in US currency. Plus Lwanga has the $thousand that I gave him to transfer for me when he left in August.
But what I started to say is its just so exciting to be here, so stimulating. The kids at the school are incredibly cheerful and hardworking and affectionate, and physically they are stunningly handsome. The society is frothy mixture of traditional culture that is being walloped by free enterprise hustle. There’s a lot of petty crime and large and small scale corruption. People work incredibly hard, but most people are still incredibly poor. There’s very little road building equipment, for example…its all done by hand. Bicycles loaded with hundreds of pounds of wooden doors, bananas charcoal, re-bar, god knows what else, sweating men are pushing these bikes along the street in and out of traffic. Bought a pineapple from a front yard fruit stand just down the road from my motel and snacked heavily on when I rolled in from my city trip. They are juicy and sweet. I’m really tired. I’m going to the bed. I’m listening to moonswept on my ipod. All my electronic gear is charged up. When I hear the Muezzin n the morning, I hope I am recharged too.
Monday October 15
Trenching for the foundation for the new kitchen started today. Irene asked me to postpone start of my class one more day because there was no school last Friday because of the Muslim Eidd holiday, the Muslim holiday, and there were some tests to make up. So I went into Kampala to buy a camera to replace the one that I had pick-pocketed last week. Prices were not as cheap as I had hoped. I settled for a canon not-quite-as-good as the one I lost, for a little more than that first one cost. All the camera shops are run by indians who have returned despite the mass expulsions in the 1970’s by Idi Amin.
I spent a leisurely couple hours at the Pap Café, a homey espresso and internet café near on Parliament street that is frequented by sharply dressed Uganda business types and scruffy white foreigners like me. Not many Americans. Germans, Scands. And Italians. Some brits. But very pleasant to sit and read the papers, catch up on e-mail, glance at CNN and the NY times just to make sure I’m not missing anything.
The government is making a big deal about the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that will take place in Uganda in November…sprucing up the downtown area, replacing eroded sidewalks, painting curbs etc. Sort of a Potemkin village effect…and I’m sure most of the foreigners won’t see beyond the painted curbs. They’ll be whisked around in Limos, and spend most of their time at some national park resort.
Bought some blank CDs to back up my photo files. Sunday I walked out Hoima road away from Nansana and got into a slightly more rural neighborhood, rolling hilly countryside with wide undeveloped areas, and red-roofed houses dotting the hillsides. Here and there you’d see solar panels for electricity …that’s what we want to get at Kisa school also. It’s a $10,000 project. I’ll be sending out a fundraising letter to my e-mail address in a few days…just as soon as we get the broad band set up here at the school. As soon as that happens, I’ll start blogging too and posting photos.
I walked about 5 miles Sunday afternoon. Walking is about the most exercise I get. I still think about getting a bicycle, but the traffic is terrifying on Hoima road, and the side roads …every one I’ve seen so far…are badly rutted and eroded…so no burke gilman trail here. Bikes are beasts of burden in Uganda. Recreational bike riding or any kind of pointless-but-good-for-you-and-fun-too exercise seems like a concept from another planet.
Somewhere around half the people I encounter in my walks around the neighborhood will engage me in a friendly way, exchange greetings. They love it when I greet them in Luganda. Many people want to talk to me…especially the kids. Out walking Sunday I had two separate conversations with 18-20 year olds who wanted to talk about America and practice their English with a native speaker. One guy kept asking me about what sounded like soresn-nigger…turned out he was enamored of the governor of California. “I want to get to America…can you help me get to America? Have you ever met Bill Gates? Have you ever met Mike Tyson? What’s the best career? What’s the best way to get rich?”
I taught my first class today and it was quite an experience. I was surprised to find 50 kids jammed into the room. I was expecting 30. Just to be safe I had made 40 handouts. I had envisioned pulling the desks in a circle, but there was barely room to turn around. and there was a big pot-hole in the concrete floor right in front of the blackboard that I kept tripping on. With two classes, that means I’ll have nearly a hundred How’m I ever going to remember any of their names? The students were 11-12 year olds. They all stood up and said good morning in unison when I came in…they do that for everybody. I introduced myself and explained where I am from and gave them a quick geography lesson.
For the music lesson, I taught them ‘you are my sunshine’. We read the words out loud, then sang it through three times. Then I asked them what the song was about…who was lying dreaming? Why did he cry when he woke up? Why did he describe ‘you’ as his sunshine. Pretty soon, the kids caught on to what I was getting at…getting them to look for the story in the words, instead of just memorizing the sounds. There’s a lot of rote learning in the classes. It’s the predominant teaching style. And I was trying to get away from that a little which is hard with 50 kids in the class.
One of the teachers stayed in the classroom with me the whole time, translating American English into Ugandan English, which are a little different. I’m glad Mark was there because he kept an eye out for those moments when he knew we weren’t communicating, and helped us get through that.
Then we talked about what makes up a song…melody, story and rhythm, and I think they caught on to that a little. Then I exposed them in just a few minutes to my complete knowledge of musical theory. I drew a musical scale and named the notes, and showed them what the first few notes of Sunshine look like on the scale. That exhausted my knowledge of musical theory, so we sang you are my sunshine again and then the hour was up. The kids clapped and cheered.
My favorite time of day is just as the sun is going down, the air cools substantially and there’s usually a little breeze. Tonight I took the guitar out on the lawn and was playing some of my old favorites. One of the students, a beautiful 16 year old young woman carrying her two year old sister came and sat down by me. I was singing ‘Last thing on my mind’ by tom Paxton…I could have loved you better, didn’t mean to be unkind, well you know that was the last thing on my mind… She asked about the song, and asked me to teach her the chorus. As it got darker, the first stars were coming out, and fireflies flitted across the lawn. There was a gouda-colored chunk of crescent moon in the sky. We sat in the damp grass and sang together in the gathering evening as crickets chirped, and the neighborhood sounds of children playing and supper being cooked floated over the wall.
Termites for breakfast
I’ve now been in Uganda almost two weeks, and I think I’m getting over the slack-jawed tourist phase…staring astonished at the scruffy, scrappy dense, intensity of street life, the incredible physical exertions of everyday work, the bottomless beauty of the faces. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it completely, but I’m starting to organize my days so I can get some work done. Bought some lumber yesterday for a pair of ladders I’m going to make, then I realized I really want some saw horses. While most people here use the ground as a work table, I’m not going to do that. So I think even before the ladders, I’ll build a couple saw horses.
But first things first. Today is the trip to the zoo in Entebbe and the National Museum in Kampala. We’re taking about 40 7 and 8 year olds. Tomorrow I’m going into Kampala to meet Jack Taylor, son of my old friend Edgar. Jack is getting a masters degree at Makrere prior to finishing his PhD at McGill I think. Then I’m meeting up with a well-known Uganda music star, Rachel Magoola. Doug Paterson, African music DJ at KBCS introduced me to her. I think she’s going to take me out in pursuit of some good music. So I’ll start the saw horses on Sunday.
(Note to self: make sure working on Sunday is ok.)
Most people here at the school are intensely religious, mostly catholic. They hold a mass for the whole school on the assembly ground every couple weeks, and many of the staff attend an hour long prayer meeting in the living room every night from 8-9. The songs everybody knows are hymns.
Breakfast this morning was routine…good coffee, hardboiled eggs…until they brought in the termites. They were in a little pink lidded Tupperware container…roasted and salted. You just grab a few with your fingers and pop them in your mouth like peanuts. Sometimes they are stirred into soups or sprinkled on salads. They’re actually not bad once you get over the gastronomic culture shock…sort of nutty flavored. Grasshoppers are even tastier Lwanga says.
2007-10-25 - If you like capitalism, you’ll love Uganda. Free enterprise seems almost to bubble up out of the ground here, as thousands of unemployed workers try to make a few shillings as peddlers of clothing, toys, all kinds of bric a brac. Some just spread a tarp by the roadside in unofficial market areas, and wait for people to come to them. The peddlers hope to build up enough stake to rent a tiny storefront and stock it with something… anything… sacks of rice and flour which are sold by the pound; nails and cement; copy and fax service. Here in Nansana, the typical business premises are about the size of a one car garage. The typical commercial vehicle is a delivery bicycle, motorbike or mini-van taxi.
Bicycles are the primary delivery vehicle for huge stalks of bananas, 100 bags of charcoal or flour or cement, lumber, Iron gates, whatever you can imagine. These are not the 21 speed, graphite bodied, double shocked, disc brake models we’re used to in the US. These are the mack trucks of bicycles. They have one speed, hand brakes and weigh about 70 pounds. The steel frames are strengthened with welded re-bar. When they are loaded, you can’t ride the bike, so you push it, carefully balancing loads that might stick out six feet on either side. So far I haven’t seen one fall over.
Another bustling business venture is education. There are thousands of private primary and secondary schools all over Kampala and its environs and I’m guessing everyplace else. I talked to one school owner sitting next to me in a taxi who said he started out with three students in one room in his house and now has 100 students and 10 teachers working for him. The school I work at is also a private school. (more about Kisa school later). But it’s basically a business venture mixed in with a strong sense of idealism. The owners, Jimmy and Irene devote their lives to the school, but haven’t yet been able to pay themselves a salary. Their living expenses are paid, and they might make a profit someday, if they can distinguish themselves from the competition which is growing every day.
People struggle mightily to start small businesses because unemployment is very high…over 80% one of the teachers told me. Thousands lost their jobs several years ago when the federal government shifted ideological gears and sold off several big state enterprises, and curtailed funding for public services. Uganda is famous, for example for free primary education. But because of serious under funding the public schools are widely thought to be inferior…fewer than half the students finish and go on to secondary school. That’s a big part of the reason for the growth of private schools. Private higher education is thriving too…with more than 2 dozen (expensive) private colleges and business schools in Kampala. The budget for the world-famous public Makerere University has been so eroded that faculty have not been paid, the on-campus internet service has been turned off, and the government recently ordered the University to borrow money to meet payrolls. Physical maintenance on campus seems to have been indefinitely postponed.
Free enterprise here is unbridled and unfettered, petted and fed, like a prize cow. In fact the government pours billions of shillings into subsidizing certain industries which it hopes will generate jobs and tax revenues. Two years ago the government loaned several billion shillings to an Indian textile industrialist to set up a plant to make clothing for the American market. But last week, they announced they wanted to write-of the loans, because the company wasn’t doing well and couldn’t pay back the money. Altogether the government wants to forgive several billion shillings in bad loans to private companies.
2007-11-18 - Smoke fills Uganda’s air, at least in the urban areas. Exhaust from cars, trucks and boda-bodas, charcoal making, cooking fires and burning trash. (There is very little trash collection in Uganda, so most traders and vendors and homeowners just sweep up debris into a pile and set it on fire). But almost nobody smokes cigarettes here. In fact of the half-dozen people I’ve seen smoking since I’ve been here, 4 were Europeans. This is a great relief especially at nightclubs and restaurants.
AIDS prevalence has dropped slightly here according to UN reports..to around 5-6% of the adult pop. But actual numbers are growing because the population is growing. Hospitals are struggling for money. Nurses and other staff at the Moyo district hospital are striking because they haven’t been paid for two months. And Mulaga hospital, Uganda’s flagship hospital, recently closed its ICU because of lack of funds. When a State Minister, Omwony Ojwok was taken to Mulaga recently with a heart attack that proved to be fatal, his friends had to go out to find a doctor and bring him to a hospital and later had to send out to a pharmacy for drugs the Dr. prescribed.
My health is fine…no malaria etc. I had one day of total collapse because of apparent food poisoning, but I was ok the next day. And I have been plagued with minor colds and coughs almost since I got here. I attribute this to new strains of cold virus that I didn’t have the opportunity to contract in Seattle.
No school today because of CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) in Kampala…school closings part of govts. Near hysterical efforts by media and govt. to appear cool, capable and modern during the visit by 53 heads of state and 4947 assistants, scribes, toadies, hangers-on and factotums. They’ve closed half the streets in Kampala for three days, kicked the prostitutes out of downtown and basically advised people to stay home unless they are in one of the aforementioned groups.
So I did some carpentry work around the school…re-hanging several wooden shutters on some of the class rooms. The shutters were well made…apparently out of mahogany or something similar, but hung with flimsy hinges stamped out of sheet metal. It’s hard to get good hardware and tools here. After that, a bunch of the boarding children and some of the teachers held an impromptu jam session in one of the vacant classrooms with dancing and singing hymns to the beat of African drums.
Last night I took some of the teachers and older teenagers from the school another round of the national basketball championships. Good games, and lots of talent, though some of the best players are sloppy and undisciplined. We were rooting for the Warriors who have a couple really good point guards and a couple of gazelle-like 6’6” forwards who cover the distance from center court to the basket in about three strides. Unfortunately, they miss about half their shots, and were buried by the shorter, stockier, sharper shooting Falcons. One more game in the best of five series to decide the national championships.
Last Friday Rachel was in town and invited me to go to hear one of Uganda’s best known bands, Simba Sounds at the Ekitobera bar. It was a balmy evening and the music was outside in the garden, with swooping palm trees, and crickets chirping. Rachel’s two sisters Hannah and Esther and her mother Beatrice were there too. Beatrice has been an educator much of her life and now is a member of parliament. She is about my age I guess, with a 40-year old eldest child. But she just seemed like the oldest sister in that group, bantering and joking with me and her three daughters. The band is well known, but there was only a very skimpy audience.
Play rehearsals with the P5’s are going fairly well and the kids have just started memorizing. But we lost another rehearsal day this week because of CHOGM, , so I don’t know if we’re actually going to get to stage a play this term. Last day of term is Dec. 7. I’ve been doing poetry with the P4’s and it is a struggle. I don’t know if I’m getting through at all…trying to get across the concept of metaphor… having them read poems out loud and point out examples from poems; exercises for them to think up comparisons. So yesterday I gave them a homework assignment to write a short poem, and to use comparisons to express feelings about something. We’ll see what happens Monday. I’m already planning next years classes…I’m going to focus of public speaking and writing…reading from poems and prose, and writing some of their own. One of the key things will be to make sure that everybody has a copy of every text…something I haven’t been able to do this term. I’ve had to rely on randomly finding materials to use, and then getting them copied…an expensive and time consuming process. Next term I hope to have text books.
Grass hoppers are not bad, by the way. They are roasted with oil and garlic, and eaten as finger food. The cooks set a bowl of them in front of me this morning, then everybody sort of hung around or peeped through the window to see how I would react. I assembled all my aplomb, and casually popped half a dozen in my mouth. Not bad. The wings get stuck between my teeth though.
Paulo Kavunido and his wife Feibe raise coffee, tomatoes, maize and eggplant on their farm 18 miles north of Jinja near the banks of the Nile. When I stopped to visit with them about 90 Kg of recently picked coffee beans were spread out on the ground in front of their house to dry in the sun. Paulo told me they get about 2,000 shillings per kg, or about 70 cents a pound for their beans. In a good year they’ll pick about 1,000 Kg of coffee beans and earn 200,000 shillings. They earn another 300,000 shillings a year (in a good year Paulo hastened to add) from the vegetables they sell. Tomatoes are a good crop because you get 3 harvests a year from tomatoes… only two crops a year from coffee. The crops are grown on a one acre plot that Paulo inherited from his father. His brothers took off for the city when they were old enough so Paulo decided to make use of the family land. Paulo and Feibe have three children under 4 years old: Edward Kibukka, Mwanje Rollens and Paulo Mutcghumla. They live in a small one-room house built of mud and wattle. But stacked up in the front yard are piles of homemade bricks for building a new house. Paulo made the bricks himself over the past few months, shaping them from mud from his front yard and drying them in the sun. This brick making method is used all over Uganda. After the bricks are dried, they are stacked and covered with straw or banana leaves and a fire is started in a built-in hollow in the brick stack. After a few days the bricks are fired and ready to use. Bricks made in this way last 100 years or more. Paulo said he’s going to start construction of a new house in January.
Paulo and his family raise much of their own food on their little farm. But still have to buy staples like sugar, salt, matoke (roasting bananas…a staple of the Ugandan diet) rice and other things they don’t grow themselves. Their total cash income from the farm is a little more than 40,000 shillings a month, or about $30 US. Everybody in the family seems healthy and well fed. Some financial problems loom a couple years ahead when the children start school. Fees at rural schools can be 10-20,000 shillings a month…an amount that could bust the family’s slender budget. I ‘m hoping to visit them again before I leave Uganda in April.
This Ugandan farm family reminds of nothing so much as the pioneers and homesteaders in the U.S. in the 19th century. Like Ugandan farmers, the homesteaders grew their own food, and figured out the most salable crops to raise for the market; they had little control over the prices they sold their crops for…sometimes selling to wholesalers and middle-men…sometimes selling directly to the public in local market towns. Like Paulo, the homesteaders built their own houses with local materials, worried about how to get their crops to market and wanted their children to get educated and have a better life than their parents.