News of breaking thoughts and random enthusiasms.
Arrived back in Seattle April 2 after 6 months in Uganda. I feel like Uganda is in my blood now, and I am making plans to go back in 2009. There are many projects I left unfinished. 1. The radio station. It's virtually impossible to get a broadcast license withing 50 km of Kampala. But I formed an alliance with some radio minded people there, and they are investigating other possible locations for a station. So the radio station is still alive, and that's the first thing I want to work on when I go back. 2. The art consortium, ugandart.com is up and running, and I think it will continue with only minimal involvement from me. 3. Kisa school is thriving in every way except financially. I'm hoping I can find some ways to help improve the physical facilities and stabilize their finances. Which leads me to 4. Gretchen and I are creating a small investment fund to help some select Uganda businesses get started. Our return on the investment would be channeled to Kisa school, or other education and child welfare activities. We see this is one step up from micro lending. Most micro lenders are financing small retail shops or farming and gardening. We'd like to help kick-start enterprises that provide jobs and and returns to investors. We have 3 or 4 prospective enterprises in mind. More on this later. 5. Two other areas of interest for me are the labor movement and press freedom in Uganda. The labor movement in Uganda is weak and tiny suffers from corruption like all other parts of the economy. But workers rights are clearly and forcefully laid out in the Constitution and labor laws, and there are substantial opportunities for organizing if the resources could be found for staff and start up costs. This bears more looking in to. So far there is no presence by U.S. Unions in Uganda. Press Freedom: The Uganda govt. been making half hearted efforts at media intimidation. They call editors in for conferences with presidential assistants; last year several editors and reporters at Daily Monitor were arrested and charged with libel for a story about the Attorney General's wages; in Western Uganda, two radio stations were shut down, then re-opened by the courts. Its a consistent campaign to keep editors looking over their shoulders and worrying about whether their next story will land them in hot water. I'd like to do some reporting on the issue when I go back. Its something I just didn't get around to while I was there.
Its really good to be home. But big chunks of my heart and mind remain in Uganda and I think I'll be returning there mentally, physically, emotionally and electronically many times in the next several years.
Dandaloo recording studio in Namungona, home of the Uganda Cultural Troupe was destroyed by fire March 1. Jeffrey Ddongo, head of Dandaloo was sitting in his car outside the studio at 11PM when he said the studio exploded in flames. The space was completely incinerated within 10 minutes he said.
Universal Designs Artists and Artwork in the same building was severely damaged by water and smoke. Several months of work by 7 artists including dozens of paintings, carving and jewelry pieces were destroyed. James Nsamba, Director of Universal Designs said the artists’ consortium would begin immediately to restore their workspace and produce new artwork to replace the work that was destroyed. All of the 30 or so items listed on the Ugandart.com website were destroyed.
Ddongo had just finished recording master tracks for a CD for Paulo Kasumba, the itinerant singer and odongo player. At first we feared the tracks had been lost to the flames. Fortunately, Jeffrey kept a back up at home, so production of the CD will continue as soon as the fire debris has been cleared away and some new equipment can be purchased. Jeffrey lost millions of shillings worth in audio equipment he had painfully accumulated over the years. He has vowed to start over again from scratch and continue his mission of offering music training to street kids, and preserving traditional music
Yesterday I met with some of the staff and members of the flower workers union, Uganda Horticultural and Allied Workers. There are 9,000 workers in the flower industry in Uganda on 21 farms mostly in the Entebbe area on the shores of Lake Victoria. 3,000 are covered by union contracts, though not all those pay dues. The union was formed in 2006 mainly through the efforts of Steven Barasa, a long-time flower industry employee who worked his way up into a management position. He was fired by his long time employer because his boss noticed he was too often a workers advocaterequently took the workers’ side in implementing company labor policies. Barasa thought his firing was illegal and threatened to sue. They settled out of court for 7 million shillings. Barasa took the money and paid his rent and kids’ school fees for two years, then appointed himself the full-time union organizer for the flower workers of Uganda.
Non-union workers earn between 80,000 to 100,000 shillings a month…about $50-$60. Age discrimination, arbitrary discipline, forced overtime…all the typical practices of non-union employers the world over are found in abundance in the industry.
The union has managed to push up the rates to between 100,000 and 120,000 shillings and at the same time build job security, a steward system, and raise job safety issues on the farms.
Protective clothing and equipment for workers handling pesticides has been a big issue. So has age discrimination, as employers try to rid themselves of older workers.
The union operates out of a tiny office in Entebbe. Barasa travels around by taxi and boda-boda to meet with workers and negotiate with managers. The union is making a big effort right now to train rank and file leadership in labor history, grievance, handling, negotiations, organizing and other union skills. I visited one of the classes last week in Entebbe. As I walked into the hall, I heard the 28 rank and file leaders singing Solidarity Forever. I felt right at home. I gave a little speech and explained the horses on my Teamsters hat and that it was my Teamster pension that enabled me to volunteer my time in Uganda. Later, Barasa took me to one of the nearby farms where the union has developed a mutually respectful relationship with management. I had a chance to chat briefly with some of the workers, and the manager of the farm and to learn a little about flower growing. Everything was coming up roses at this farm. Cute little roses about an inch in diameter with 18” stems…about 7 hectares under cultivation and shipments of thousands of stems each week to Holland.
This struggling union gets advice and support from NOTU, the National Trade Union Federation and from the German labor unions which have a support and training NGO in Kampala.
After we toured the farm, Barasa headed to Kampala where he was putting final touches on a grant proposal he was sending off that day to potential donors in Germany. The proposal, for $120,000 would let the fledgling organization buy an automobile, some office equipment, allow them to hire an office worker and put two full-time organizers in the field for the next two years.
It was deeply moving and inspiring to see this baby union intensely engaged in the work of protecting workers on a daily basis and in building an organization that can improve the lives of thousands of workers and their families for years and years to come.
I never thought my name would ever appear in the sports pages of a newspaper unless it was mentioned that I was Erika Herriman’s father. But I merited mention in an article in Bukedde, Uganda’s Luganda language daily when our football team won a city wide tournament Feb. 1. The clipping is pictured above. The translation of the article follows here:
They have got a manager
The youth club of Nansana, after realizing that there are plenty of white coaches in Uganda, decided to stick on Tom Herriman, an American citizen who lives in Nansana to be their club’s Manager. It’s because of Tom Herriman that the club won the trophy in the under-14 tournament at Nakivubo that was organized by the Saved to Serve Foundation.
Nansana beat the Namasuba Freedom Stars 3-0, in the finals. All goals were scored by Zaakey Luboyera.
Scroll down in the Journal Previews to see earlier stories about our football team
The holiday football program I started in Nansana so that teen age boys would have something to do during the long winter school holiday, blasted its way through the city-wide football tournament undefeated and won the championship game 3-0 at Nakivubo Stadium Feb. 1.
The tournament was limited to kids 14 and under, so many of the older children couldn’t compete. At one point we had over 50 kids in our program ranging from 12 to 16. Training was held for three hours every day at St. Joseph’s football pitch, and there were scrimmage games everyday as well as matches with some neighboring teams.
The tournament was sponsored by Saved to Serve Ministries and included 25 teams from all over the Kampala area.
Our Coach, Tom Kirunda, won the medal for best coach in the tournament; our first string goalie, Tedeo Sande won best goalie; Nansana player Zach Luberya won for top scorer (10 goals in the tourney); and Kenneth Kato won the best defender medal.
The Nansana program was open to all 12-16 year-old boys and girls in our neighborhood. Unfortunately, no girls showed up for any of the trainings. I’m hoping to find a local group to sponsor program next year.
In December, my niece Lydia Gorham loaned $25 to a group of small business owners in Nansana Uganda. She made the loan through KIVA, a unique microlending agency that matches up individuals with small amounts to lend with would-be entrepreneurs in developing countries who are trying to start or expand small businesses.
The group Lydia loaned her money to has started a variety of small enterprises including prepared food, charcoal selling, farming, brick making, cement reselling and several other businesses. The group is known as the Teddy Kigoli group. Since I’m living in Nansana, they are literally just down the road from where I’m staying. So I decided to visit the people that borrowed Lydia’s $25 to see how they are getting on.
The Kiva funds in Nansana are administered by a local non-profit development agency, Building Resources Across Communities, or BRAC. BRAC’s Nansana Field Representative Catherine Atumanya handles accounts for nearly 500 clients. For efficiency, loan recipients are assigned to groups according to neighborhood. Catherine visits each group once a week to collect weekly installments on the loans, and to help with problems or questions that arise. So Monday morning, I accompanied Catherine on her rounds in a semi rural neighborhood about a mile from Kisa Primary School where I am teaching. The Teddy Kigoli group assembled in the front yard at the home of one of the members, Mutebi Malongo who has 7 children, cares for a niece, and has another child on the way. Mutebi cooks food at home to sell at a nearby roadside stand.
At the meeting, Catherine went over everybody’s account books and collected the installments and interest from each member. She then introduced me to the group and I explained my purpose, and I passed around a picture of Lydia so people could have a first hand look at one of their investors.
After the meeting we visited the homes of two other members. Mukasu Nakadu is a single mother of 7. She was not at home, but we got a chance to meet six of her seven children.
Nakadu buys a 50kilo bag of Charcoal for 22,000 shillings (about $13) and resells it in small quantities. Her profit is about 1,000 shillings on each 50 kilo bag. She used the funds from the KIVA loan to get started in the business. Another member, Jennifer Nalubwama makes kabalagala, tasty little banana pancakes, and supplies them to small retailers in the neighborhood.
We also visited a member of another group, Annette Nakigala and her three children. Annette is a charcoal reseller, but also obtained a loan to buy some piglets which she is raising.
Catherine explained that for many of her clients, their businesses provide the only cash income, and in some cases the total means of support. Most families around here raise part or all of their own food. But they still need a steady flow of cash for school fees, and to buy clothing and other necessities. For more information about KIVA, see http://kiva.org.
Photos of some of the people in this story can be found in the Gallery.
Yesterday, three people were killed by Kenyan police in the first of three days of demonstrations against the Kibaki government. It is likely there will be more violence today. It doesn’t look like Odinga is going to give up and go away any time soon. Kenya is right next door to Uganda, so there has been some spillover of the violence and other problems.
(In case you haven’t been following the Kenya election story, Kibaki is widely believed to have stolen the election. His opponent Raila Odinga is protesting the results with marches and demonstrations until Kibaki steps down. There’s been fighting between the major ethnic groups, Kikuyu and Luo, and several hundred people have died. There has also been some violence and more threatened as Odinga’s forces try to hold mass demonstrations to protest the election fraud. Police have shot some demonstrators, and declared all such gatherings illegal. Most people I’ve talked to here have no doubt that Kibaki stole the election. They say it’s happened here too.)
The fallout in Uganda so far has been slight. The biggest impacts are several thousand refugees in the border towns, and a fuel shortage that has put a big crimp in transportation all over Uganda. Most of Uganda’s petroleum comes by truck from Mombasa, and road traffic from Kenya has been pretty much shut down for the past three weeks. Some trucks are getting through, and some alternate supply routes through Tanzania are being opened up. But the price of fuel is still high, and the overall economy has slowed considerably. If the fuel shortage continues, it will affect jobs, prices, tax revenues, and foreign investment. Because about half of Uganda’s electricity comes from burning oil, there’s less electricity to go round. So that means even more sporadic power supplies.
The fuel shortage has brought some improvements to my life. The air is noticeably cleaner and there’s less traffic, so breathing is easier and bicycle riding on Hoima road is a little less hazardous. On the other hand the supply of mangoes in Nakasero Market has become unreliable, and the prices are going up.
Part of the mission of Kisa Primary school has been to help destitute children who have been orphaned or whose families have been unable to care for them adequately. Uganda has over 600,000 orphaned children. Many of the parents of these children were AIDS victims. Thousands more children are victims of broken families. Often when the father leaves the family, mothers don’t have the earning power to pay school fees and other child-raising expenses.
In 2007 about 100 children whose parents are dead or absent or indigent are attending Kisa Primary and the school is subsidizing the cost of their education. In some cases where the families have no resources at all, Kisa pays all the costs. In most cases, the school covers part of their costs. The cost of providing room and board for one student is about $40 per month.
Following are the personal stories of some of the children who are currently attending Kisa Primary:
When Alex’s father died, relatives evicted his mother and her children from the house they were living in. The mother sells vegetables in a road side market, but doesn’t earn enough to pay school fees for Alex and his two younger siblings.
Alex is a bright student who is good in math and science. He wants to be an engineer. Alex’s Father died of tetanus resulting from a gunshot wound when Alex was five years old. His mother died a year later of aids. Alex now lives with an aunt and uncle who have 5 other children, and have trouble covering school fees for all of them as well as Alex. His family was able to pay about 2/3rds of Alex’s school fees in 2007.
Both of Jane’s parents died of aids. She lives with a cousin who has three children, but the cousin could not care for Jane’s two younger siblings. Her brother and sister live in the village with their grandmother who is disabled. Jane helps out with household chores such as hauling water and weeding in the garden. The family grows much of their own food including bananas, beans, sweet potatoes and cassava. An uncle helps pay for food for the family. There is no money for school fees.
Jennifer has both a mother and a step mother. When Jennifer’s father died, her mother married a man who already had one wife and several children. Jennifer reports that the step mother resents Jennifer’s presence in the household and abuses her verbally, when her mother is at work or away from the home for other reasons. She says her stepmother has threatened to kill her. The step-mother withholds food from Jennifer. Jennifer’s mother works in a hair salon, but doesn’t make enough money to pay school fees.
Regina was first or second in her class for the last two terms. Her father died three years ago. Her mother is a teacher, but has trouble keeping up with school fees and other family expenses. She comes from a supportive family. “At home they tell me I have to work very hard so I can build my future,” Regina told me. Regina has been getting financial help from an uncle, but the uncle’s three children have been hospitalized for several weeks with an undiagnosed illness. Now the uncle is asking Regina’s Mother for financial help. Regina wants to be a doctor.
Samuel is fourteen years old and is in P5. He’s good in math and social studies and wants to be a lawyer, “So I can help families like mine who don’t have enough money to live properly.” His father died in 1996. He lives with his mother and grandmother. His mother raises groundnuts to sell in the local markets which helps pay Samuel’s school fees.
Our football (soccer) team won its first match 3-2 in a spirited game at St. Josephs January 16. Photo above shows the winning goal being scored. Twenty-two of our players took part against a slightly taller and heavier opposition. Our guys were better at passing and teamwork. The football program has one more week to go. I organized the program at the urging of several Kisa boys who told me they were eager-verging-on-desperate to play football during the two-month long winter school holidays when there is nothing much for young people to do. We hired a coach who turns out to be very skilled and conscientious; and spread the word around the neighborhood. About 30 boys are taking part…eight are Kisa students, the rest are from the neighborhood. No girls showed up for practice. Most of the expense has been for equipment…shirts, balls, and to pay the coach. I think of myself as the George Steinbrenner on Nansana football.
Uganda school children have an absurdly long winter break from school…most of December and January. So I helped to organize an art class and a soccer program for kids in the neighborhood.
The art class was held here at Kisa school and was conducted by a group of artists who have a studio nearby in Kasubi. They volunteered their time, I paid for the art supplies. The artists want to start doing this as a business…offering art classes to schools…so this was their pilot project. We put together a flier, then James, one of the artists and I, walked around the neighborhood and talked to groups of kids to recruit them. About 25 showed up for the three days of class. The kids made beaded jewelry and woven bracelets as well as drawings and paintings. Check out the "art school" album in the gallery for some scenes of the school and some of the kids' work.
At the end of last term, some of the boys wanted to sign up for a holiday football (soccer) camp in Kampala. But it was so expensive only a few would be able to go, plus the headache of transportation to and from Lugogo every day…about 15 km. So I thought it would be better and cheaper and include more kids if we could have our own holiday soccer program here in Nansana. So we hired a coach, bought a bunch of balls and jerseys and little traffic cones for line markers, and set up our own soccer camp. Today is the first day. 25 boys showed up for the first day. Girls are welcome too, but none have shown so far. Habit and tradition keep them away, I think. They just assume they wouldn’t be welcome, and that they’d have to struggle to take part. We didn’t anticipate there would have to be a special recruitment effort to get girls to play. We started out on a play field near the school, but we’re moving tomorrow to a better field over at St. Joseph’s church. The soccer camp is for three weeks, 5 days a week, 3 hours a day. Supplies for the art classes cost less than $100. The soccer camp will cost about $400.
We're keeping a close watch on the Kenya crisis. Two days ago CNN reported that Kibaki the Kenyan President was in Uganda. The next day, there just happened to be forty Kenyan soldiers attending the New Years Day service at St. Joseph's church in Nansana. Because of the Kenyan blow-up gasoline deliveries to Uganda from the Port at Mombasa have stopped, and gas has doubled in price...now 4,000-5,000 shillings around $3) per liter, and is getting very scarce.
The holidays around Nansana were pretty low key. Of course all the schoolchildren were on holiday. Even most of the orphan children had aunts or cousins or older siblings to spend christmas with. Of the resident staff, many went to Masaka, to the family homestead. Lwanga went to Kabale in Western Uganda to visit relatives. When he returned he was driving a 4 wheel drive Toyota diesel pick-up which he had acquired by trading his station wagon. One night I took a gang from Kisa to a beautiful place called the Ndere Center in Kampala to hear an African jazz concert.
On Christmas Eve, there were only a dozen people still around the place. We watched holiday shows on TV, and I passed out cookies and candy canes. On boxing day, I was invited to dinner at the home of my novelist friend Moses Kiganda and his family.
The next night I went to hear traditional music at the Grand Imperial hotel, one of the great monuments of colonial era Uganda. A friend, Peter Kayango (photo)was the ndugu player. Since there were no classes, I got a lot of work done on non-academic projects. I’m putting up a website for selling African art to help to groups of artists I met in the area. It will be up and running in a week or so. I’m also editing the manuscript of a young Ugandan aspiring novelist. I’ll post a chapter here in a few days. The story is set in the war of rebellion that is just now winding down in Northern Uganda. I also repaired an old junk bicycle I found in the garage. But it has a solid plastic molded seat, so riding on local roads is like sliding down a long flight of stairs on your behind. I’m still sore from the one 5 mile ride I had on it. Also, I painted the wooden shutters on the classroom building a bright green with yellow trim. It really spifs the place up. One of the college students, Patrick, has been giving me Luganda lessons for the past two weeks, so I can offer several kinds of greetings to people I meet, and ask for boiled eggs in the morning. Classes don’t start again until February, so this month I plan to produce some radio programs and send them to the US and to develop some news stories on the school system and press freedom in Uganda, and to get ready for my next term classes. I’ll be teaching public speaking, and I hope producing the play we started last term.
From The New York Times, December 25 2007, by David Tuller
MBARARA, Uganda — At the AIDS clinic here, the stories are brutal. A young cattle herder, infected with H.I.V. along with his wife, tells me that all four of their children died before turning 3.
A mother of five, also infected, reports that after her marriage she was forced to have sex with her husband's three brothers, in accordance with tribal tradition.
And most patients I meet say they and their families scramble to survive from meal to meal, never far from the edge of starvation. Many say their H.I.V. drugs have drastically increased their appetites and made them crave food even more.
"Sometimes I am so hungry," a 44-year-old widow says. "It's intense. My whole body is shivering from hunger. Even when I have just finished eating, I am hungry again minutes later. It's such a problem, because I don't always have food."
As a journalist turned graduate student in public health, I am in Uganda for five weeks as part of a research team investigating whether "food insecurity" — a persistent difficulty in finding enough to eat — undermines the effectiveness of H.I.V. treatment.
I am interviewing dozens of patients — anonymously, as is standard in such qualitative research — about what they eat, how much food they have, whether they grow it or buy it and whether the side effects from the medications are worse if they take the pills on an empty stomach. Our team also wants to know whether costs related to treatment limit their ability to cover basic foods and whether hunger forces women to offer men "live sex," or intercourse without condoms , in exchange for food or money.
The study is part of a collaboration between the University of California, San Francisco, and the Mbarara University of Science and Technology, a prestigious institution in this small, bustling city southwest of Kampala, the Ugandan capital. Other patients will be followed for two years to monitor how food insecurity affects their drug regimens, and illness and death rates.
Western donors have increased the distribution of antiretroviral drugs in sub-Saharan Africa. But they have done little to make sure that the recipients do not starve to death or have to choose between paying for transportation to the clinic and feeding their children. Studies like this one seek to demonstrate that packaging food aid with H.I.V. drugs or reimbursing patients for travel can actually improve health and save lives.
Uganda has been hailed for its success in reducing H.I.V. infection, with adult prevalence falling to just below 7 percent in 2005, from 15 percent in 1991. That success is not apparent from my observation post, a small corner office at the ramshackle clinic here.
Every weekday morning, more than 100 people pack the clinic. About two-thirds are women, many swathed in brilliant colors. Men often refuse to be tested or seek treatment. The patients cluster on benches in the hallways, jostling infants on their knees and waiting to see clinicians or counselors and pick up their monthly supplies of medication.
Women, in particular, confront what medical anthropologists call "structural violence," the social, cultural and legal constraints that often rob them of control over their own and their children's destinies.
Their accounts of beatings, neglect and rape, of unfaithful and absent husbands and boyfriends, do not exactly showcase the human male's most appealing qualities. More than one woman tells me she became infected because her H.I.V.-positive partner had threatened her with abuse or abandonment if she refused his demands for "live sex."
"I used to tell my husband that we should use condoms, and he outright refused," a mother of four says in a tone more resigned than bitter. "If I wouldn't have live sex with him, he would refuse to bring home food and take care of the children."
Most of the respondents grow some or all of their own food or they cultivate other people's gardens in exchange for basics. The staples are matoke, a carbohydrate-heavy mush made from green plantains, and posho, a carbohydrate-heavy mush made from maize flour. They are served with "sauce," if available — beans, a paste made from groundnuts, or another protein source. Meat, chicken and fish are luxuries. Many families can afford them just once a year, if that.
To make ends meet, parents have to engage in a desperate triage, navigating between bad choices and worse ones.
If they let their hungry children eat everything that the family grows, they will have nothing to sell at the market. If they do not sell part of the harvest, they will not have cash for the monthly clinic trip for the medication that keeps them alive.
But every time they go to the clinic, they lose a whole day of gardening or other work and spend cash they could otherwise use for the children's diets.
"I feel bad that I have to spend that money for transport when I could have spent it on something else," one mother says. "And then the days I'm at the clinic, of course, I come knowing that I won't do anything that day."
Listening to the accounts of poverty and deprivation, I feel helpless and miserable. I promise myself I will never again take a decent meal for granted.
I want to empty out my pockets and shove dollars at every patient I interview. Instead, I buy them a cup of chai, a milky African tea, from the clinic canteen. The chai costs 300 Ugandan shillings, or 18 cents in dollars. For most, that is a luxury beyond their means.
I wonder sometimes what is the point of researching this? Why not just give food to people so obviously in need? But international donors demand data and documentation. They want proof that an intervention will reduce the total misery index before they will shell out millions of euros for new programs, even if the need appears self-evident.
I get to return home when my work here is done. I will analyze my data, write up my findings and hope that what I have done makes some small contribution to change.
The women and men I have met will trek to the clinic month after month, if they can scrape together $5 or $8 for the bus fare. They will consult with the doctor, grab their drugs from the pharmacy and wonder where they will find enough beans and matoke to feed the kids tomorrow.
A Family Gathering in Masaka
And a visit to the northern war zone
We have been traveling. First, Gretchen and I spent two days at a lovely eco-friendly resort on the Nile overlooking stunning whitewater rapids. There was an incredible variety of birds, and Gretchen was in birdwatcher heaven.
Last weekend we went to Masaka (about 200 km south of Kampala) for the funeral and succession ceremony of the head of Rafael Kibuuka Mukasa, head of the Kibuuka family. Rafael was Jimmy Kibuuka’s father, and Lwanga’s brother. A new Omusika or family head was installed at an elaborate ceremony that included a catholic mass, and passing of spears and bark cloth garments (photo). The Kibuuka family is part of the Mutima or Heart clan, one of 52 clans that make up the Kingdom of Buganda. There are several thousand families in each clan.
Dick Kibuuka Luswata the eldest son of the deceased was selected as the new Omusika in a big family meeting the night before the installation ceremony. Nearly 1000 people attended the gathering, which was held at the family homestead in a Butebele, a rural village south of Masaka surrounded by banana and mango groves and fields of millet, cassava and sweet potatoes. Preparations for the gathering which have been going on for months included cooking mountains of food, brewing banana beer, and building big stick and polyethylene tents. Celebrations including music and dancing went on all night long Friday after Dick was selected as heir. Most rural families keep their relatives close by, even after death. The grave of the late Rafael Kibuuka was just a few feet away from the site of the succession ceremony. And his parents rest in graves in a banana grove just across the road.
We returned to Nansaana Saturday afternoon and the next day set out at 8AM for Kalongo, a 6 hour bus ride plus a 4 hour car trip north of Kampala. Kalongo is in Pader District where the guerrilla war instigated by the Lord’s Resistance army has been winding down. Peace talks between the rebels and the government have been going on for several months, and President Museveni today announced a January 31 deadline for conclusion of the negotiations. The rebel’s tactics included attacking villages to steal food and kidnap children to enslave as soldiers, menial workers and sexual partners for the soldiers. In the attacks, thousands of civilians were murdered, maimed and tortured in the most brutal fashion. Lips ears and limbs were hacked off with machetes, and women who were not taken captive were gang-raped and murdered. Over 3 million people were turned into refugees as villagers fled their homes to escape the terror.
The main purpose of the trip was to visit the IDP (internally displaced persons) village in Kalongo which once housed 60,000 refugees. The population is now down to about 17,000 as more villagers return to their former homes. In Kalongo we interviewed 5 young people who had been kidnapped and forced to serve the LRA for periods up to several years. Over 200 kidnapped children are still being held by the LRA. Their release is one of the conditions being negotiated in the peace talks. I’ll publish excerpts from the interviews here as soon as I’ve had a chance to transcribe and edit them, and I’ll produce some radio news reports based on our trip.
On the way to Pader we visited Radio Palwak in Rackoko a community radio station financed by Dutch and Australian donors that broadcasts to over 3 million people in a wide area across Northern Uganda. The station has state of the art equipment including a 200 foot tall antenna, and excellent meeting rooms and studios. They carry a mix of community news health and agriculture advice, community discussions and music.
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.
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.