Recently I tried to put down some recollections of my Dad's family that I could pass along to my kids and future generations. It got me to wondering 'Where did we come from?' and 'Who were all those Herrimans that came BEFORE my grandparents?'
I started searching and found out we got here in 1639, 20 years after the Pilgrims landed. And a lot of interesting things have happened in the family since then. Click the link to read the fascinating history of the Herrimans in America.
Herriman Family History
January 2016, I met my daughter Erika in Raleigh where she officiated at the women's basketball game between Duke and Boston College. Before the game we joined marchers in downtown Raleigh for the M.L.King day celebration.
March, 2015...the Namungona Children's Art Center opened in a converted shipping container, staffed by [url=http://ugandart.com]Uganda Art Consortium [/url]volunteers James Nsamba and Farouk Mukwaya. Over two thousand Ugandan children have taken part in our free workshops since we started in 2008. Now we have our own building.
We've been holding classical music house concerts at our house with an organization called Groupmuse.com which matches up musicians who want to perform with music fans that want to hold house concerts. On September 18 last year Anne Rainwater played Bach's Goldberg Variations for an appreciative audience of 27 music lovers. In May, Mosa Tay played Bach Cello Suites.
Karamoja is one of the poorest districts in Uganda. Its vibrant traditional culture is being reshaped by powerful outside forces including money, modernization, and education. See my photo/video/essay on Flickr.
Bank of America lost Bertina Jones mortgage modification documents twice, then foreclosed on her house. The banks law firm has been accused of forging thousands of false mortgage documents including their own authorization to act as the banks law firm. Young activists from Occupy DC are working with Jones to get her house back. Freddie Mac, who bought Jones' house at the foreclosure auction, offered to talk things over with Jones after Occupy held a spirited demonstration at a Freddie Mac office in DC. Listen to the podcast.
More pictures Here.
The November 17 Occupy DC march to Key Bridge was remarkable for its peacefulness, while in the rest of the country, Occupiers were getting arrested, clubbed and pepper sprayed. Few in DC wanted to really block the bridge. In DC, it would be a federal crime, while other spans like Brooklyn Bridge and the Steel Bridge in Portland are only covered by local laws. This march showed a lot of labor support, which could be crucial for keeping the Occupy Movement going over the winter.
More Photos Here
I found some lively art work down at the occupy DC encampment in McPherson Square. DC artist Ray Voide did a nice job of capturing the spirit of the encampment in his acrylic-on-cardboard paintings. The Rosa Parks banner was especially striking.
More Photos Here
I went down to visit the Occupy DC folks in McPherson Square a few days ago. Amongst the unwashed and the over-educated I found a startlingly diverse group of middle class strivers, residents of suburban cul-de-sacs, left-leaning professionals and even a banker who was fired because he was too generous to people trying to re-negotiate their mortgages. The gathering had all the trappings of Occupiers you've read about in the press: Intense efforts at consensus, wiggling fingers, mike checks and free food. See more PHOTOS HERE.
Listen to the Podcast
Lawrence Kayinamura and his family only moved into a real house in 1995. Before that, they were nomads, herding cattle through the broad plains of Ankole, living on the milk, blood and meat of their herds, erecting small huts of sticks and thatch for shelter, independent and self sufficient, even prosperous. It was the wealth of his cattle that let Lawrence make the switch from nomad to homeowner. He traded part of his herd for a piece of land in Rakai district, just outside his Ankole homeland, then settled into a different routine, taking his cows out every day to his 60 acres of grass and bush, with a bore hole well for watering, and some stables and enclosures to keep the herd safe at night.
I was there one day as dawn broke on the sleeping herd. Geoffrey, the herd boy, scooted around from cow to cow, taking the morning’s milk, which nourishes the humans in this family, as well as the calves. Lawrence walked among the drowsy cattle looking for any signs of disease or discomfort. He had lost 12 cows recently to malaria, and didn’t want to lose any more. The heat of the sun here, just a few degrees south of the Equator, was hard on the cattle too. In half an hour most of the herd was on their feet, anticipating the morning foray into the wild pasture outside the enclosure. The huge placid beasts were pretty quiet, with only occasional lowing. When they moved together, their huge horns clattered softly against each others, like soft, off-beat maracas.
It was the morning routine.
I was visiting Lawrence's farm near Mutukula on the Tanzanian border with my friends Mathias and Jovia Tusiime. Lawrence is Jovia's dad, and she was raised in the Ankole cattle culture with her 15 brothers and sisters.
The Ankole used to bleed their animals and drink the blood, or cook it into a solid cake, (tastes something like liver, Mathias said). But with the increased use of vaccines and antibiotics, it’s no longer safe for people to ingest cows blood. Milk and meat are still ok, though. Lawrence and Edisa raised 15 children while they tended the cattle, though not all of them survived childhood, and two of the boys did not survive adulthood. Some of the boys went to school. But Jovia, Mathias’ wife, left school after primary 3, because at the time, her family lived pretty far outside the cash economy, they couldn’t afford school fees, and they never stayed in one place long enough.
Now, Lawrence is 73, and I think he’s glad he doesn’t have to wander endlessly with his cows. But he built a little hut across the highway from his house, and he stays there with the cattle when he has to move the herd to the pastures across the road.
The house is modern, with standard Ugandan architecture; metal roof, walls built from bricks made on site. But it still doesn’t have electricity, despite high tension power lines passing 100 feet away. There’s no running water either. When I asked for a glass of water, I was offered milk. The milk is delicious. Thick and creamy, usually served hot.
More photos from my visit to Lawrence and his family in my facebook album
Paulo Kasumba has no cell phone and no fixed address, so I can never find him, but he seems to know when I am back in Uganda, because within a few days he shows up at my door with new songs, and new plans to cut a cd so he can break into the commercial music market.
He’s one of the most remarkable characters I’ve met in my visits to Uganda, an itinerant street musician who wanders the roads and byroads of this sprawling city playing his songs on street corners, in market places, and anyplace he can gather a crowd.
He’s bizarrely dressed…in a style something like a forest satyr with boots that look like they were sculpted out of moss, and tattered jeans and shirts. He wears sunglasses with only one lens and a beaded headband. He carries a vicious looking homemade slingshot in his shirt, that he takes out to ward off thieves and ruffians who sometimes plague him. Wandering the streets makes Paulo an easy target for petty robbers who would attack him even for the small change he has collected on a day of wandering and busking.
Paulo writes his own songs, that fit perfectly his husky voice and his rap style of delivery…he’s like a pure version of hip hop. He writes about sex, politics and God with equal intensity and frequency. He also makes his own instruments…called adungus. The adungu is an 11 string harp, a traditional Ugandan instrument that is habitually played in Ugandan ceremonies and dance performances. But Paulo has re-conceived the instrument…his current adungu is over 7 feet long and weighs about 65 lbs. Its so big he can’t fit it into a taxi cab, but can occaisionaly be seen riding on the back of a boda boda carrying the enormous harp, creating the impression of an otherworldly vehicle careening down the crowded street.
Traditional adungus are made of plain wood and animal skin stretched over a hollow body. Very little decoration or style is involved. They’ve been made the same way for centuries. But Paulo’s adungus are elaborate almost phantasmagoric creations of color, melted plastic, lots of jingling metal junk, straps, suitcase handles, interesting street trash, model soldiers and guns, bottle caps. But they still have the basic 11 strings with friction tuning pegs, and a stretched animal skin under all that decoration and personalization that Paulo has added.
Paulo hasn’t adapted well to modern civilization. He’s illiterate. Doesn’t speak English, an official language of Uganda, and a standard requirement for commerce, government, education. He lives day to day, and has never held a salaried job. He couch surfs with friends and relatives, and has never had a permanent place to call home since he left his village 20 years ago. His life style would easily fit into the pre-colonial patterns of life..the wandering musician or troubadour, moving from village to village…singing for his supper . He’s never driven a car or received an email. He can use a cell phone, but has never had a phone number. He’s enormously inventive and creative, but has never found a wide audience, because his medium is personal and intimate. No tv screen, or even radio speaker separates Paulo the person from his audience, and consequently his audience is too small to support him very well. He’s totally charming and engaging, full of jokes and good humor, and at the slightest urging he’ll burst unto song.
As I said, he’d love to make a cd. Also he dreams of having a place of his own where he can have a workshop to make adungus and other musical instruments to sell.
If I could figure out a way to help him, I would. But for now, I'm just enjoying the music.
Stone Cold, a new movie by emerging Ugandan film producer Tri-Vision focuses on a father who forces his school age children to work full time in domestic service and in a stone quarry. Tri-Vision co-founder Joseph Kakembo describes Tri-Vision as "Something like an NGO, because we are trying not just to make films, but to develop the film industry in Uganda, training people and establishing standards. The standards set by Stone Cold are quite high. The film uses professional actors and skilled professionals in in every phase of production including lighting, cinematography, sound, sets, costumes editing. SEE A SIX-MINUTE TRAILER
The actors are paid, but the film crew is not. In fact the technical staff all contribute from their own pockets to finance the production of their movies. Stone Cold is the third Tri Vision film.
SEE A 6 MINUTE TRAILER
At a quarry in Kajjansi between Kampala and Entebbe I met several children who work full time crushing rocks for a living. The sturdier kids work below ground level, with sledgehammer, wedges and picks to break chunks of rock off the rock face. The chunks are sent up topside where crews of adults and children, often whole families, sit on the ground hammering the big chunks to break off smaller pieces for use in paving and concrete making. There is a compulsory education law in Uganda, but at least 15% of school age children are working full time and are not in school. Even the free public schools require some fees for books and materials and food. Many families cannot afford even these minimal fees. See more pix in the gallery.
I'm in Uganda again 2 years later. I'm here mainly to supervise the Uganda Art Consortium projects and to see if I can kick-start the radio station plan. I'm also checking in with a couple of kids who I'm helping with school fees. And I'm hanging out with old friends, doing some carpentry at Kisa School and generally making a nuisance of myself. I've also filed two radio stories, one on Freedom of the press which was aired on KBCS, KPFW and KSER last week. archived on KBCS
. My story is about 20 minutes in from the start of the program. I just filed my second story about gay rights activists in this worst place in the world for gay rights activists. It should air on KBCS June 2.
The photo is of me, Jimmy Kibuuka and Andrew Musoke at an "introduction ceremony" an important Buganda cultural tradition which takes place before a wedding.
I made a side trip to Rwanda in May, to attend the Arts in Health Care-East Africa conference with some of my colleagues from Uganda Art Consortium
. More later.
Just before I left Uganda in October, I was able to organize a two-day workshop with children in the Namungona neighborhood in Kampala, and another workshop at the Infectious Diseases Institute at Mulago hospital. Here's a video
of the Namungona workshop.
I just got back home from 8 weeks in Uganda and a week in Pakistan. In Uganda, I stayed at Kisa school and did some volunteer work there. (see recent Photos in the gallery)
I also spent time on Uganda Art Consortium business...organizing art workshops at a primary school in Namungona and at the Infectious Diseases Institute at Mulago Hospital in Kampala. Over 125 kids and 200 patients at Mulago attended the workshops. Another workshop was planned for the childrens' wards at Mulago this week, but I haven't heard yet how it went.In my luggage I brought back about 50 oil paintings and other artworks for the show in Washington D.C. at Howard University in February 2010. I'm cautiously hopeful that two of the artists, Matias Tusime and Hassan Mukiibi will be coming to Washington for the show.
The Radio Project
...to build a community radio station in Kyotera in Rakai District where the AIDS virus first appeared in Uganda...is on hold because of the riots in September. Let me explain. The week I arrived in Uganda, street demonstrations in Kampala and several other central Uganda towns were broken up by the police. Over 20 people were killed, 600 arrested, 5 radio stations shut down and more than 20 journalists arrested on sedition charges. The protests were about a dispute between the federal government and the Kabaka (king) of Uganda...a traditional kingdom that is part of Uganda. The government wanted to curtail the Kabaka's right to travel within Uganda. The protestors objected. Anyway in the wake of the riots, the govt. decided not to issue any more new radio licenses. We had applied last January for a license for Rakai Radio, and felt we were on the verge of getting it. I had hoped to spend part of my visit there doing some initial organizing work on the station. But now its not clear when a license might be issued. Govt. is clamping down hard on all media, and the ruling party is going to be on edge until after the elections in 2011. I'm afraid we might have a long wait before we get our license.
While in Uganda I reported several stories which were broadcast on WPFW in Washington DC, KBCS in Seattle and KSER in Everett WA. I reported on the riots, then a separate piece on press freedom. I also produced stories on the work of a group of AIDS volunteers, and on the contentious issue of the tradition of bride price in Uganda. A group of men and women are suing in court to stop some of the worst abuses of bride price which has led to women being sold like commodities the highest bidding suitor.
Here are links to the stories:
AIDS Volunteers in Uganda
Press Freedom in Uganda
Bride Price Vs. Womens Rights in Uganda
Food Price Inflation
Tororo Wedding Music
I also produced a video of a visit I made to Tororo, about 200 miles north of Kampala of a performance of traditional wedding music and dancing by a group that was arranged for me in Magoro village near Tororo about 200 Km north of Kampala.
You can see the video here.
I departed Kampala Oct. 28 and flew to Islamabad, Pakistan to spend a few days with my friend Tarik Zia and his family. Tarik is a TV reporter in Islamabad, and his wife Masooma is a teacher. They have a precocious 4-year old, Daniel. They live with Masooma's parents, Said and Saeeda Ul-Haq in a suburb of the city. Tarik took me to his newsroom and introduced me to his colleagues. I interviewed one of the reporters who had just returned from being embedded with the Pakistani army in South Waziristan conducting operations against the Taliban and Al-queda. I'll be producing a radio story on that interview later this week. Pakistan was hit by two more major bombings while I was there...one in Peshawar in a crowded market that killed 150 people and another in at a bank in Rawalpindi, a suburb of Islamabad, the day before I left which killed 35. As a result of the continued terror attacks, everybody's pretty tense. Special security measures have been taken at all schools including guards, blast walls and barbed wire. Daniel's school has been closed for two weeks because they haven't completed their security upgrades yet. There are military checkpoints on all major roads, and retail trade is down substantially.
We took a trip about 400 Km north to Lahore, the ancient capital of the Moghul Empire, and today a bustling thriving industrial and commercial city. It's full of culture including restored palaces and mosques, Punjab University and excellent food.
One of this country's most colorful features is that almost all big trucks and many busses and other commercial vehicles are elaborately painted and decorated in elaborate traditional designs...I mean every inch of the truck inside and out is decorated, with bells hanging from the mudflaps, and elaborate prow-like structures jutting out over the cabs. So Tarik took me to visit a big outdoor workshop in Rawalpindi where the fancy trucks are built and rebuilt and painted and decorated. Here are some pictures of the painting and other work being done on the trucks. I think I'll make a video or a radio story about it when I get home.
Judging from the two urban areas I visited Pakistan seems modern and thriving and very energetic once you are outside the capital. But there are vast areas of rural poverty that suffer from lack of schools, infrastructure and social services. That's where fundamentalist revolutionaries are making their biggest strides, taking over local government...providing schools chasing down criminals, and murdering local government officials they deem corrupt or insufficiently religious. That's where the country's future will be decided. The Pakistani government has a long way to go just to win the hearts and minds of most of its own people.
Uganda: Problems and Prospects
Uganda has been hard hit by food price inflation...over 50% in 2009 alone for many staples... and many are getting less to eat and paying more for it. Wages haven't increased at all. Unemployment has increased too, though it's hard to measure because the newly jobless usually try to scrape together a little capital and peddle used clothing or vegetables or housewares on the road or at a small roadside stand. Most people have some relatives back in their home village, where they can go if things get too bad. Some of the rural areas though have been hit by drought and floods. And in the North, agriculture has never gotten back to normal after the devastation on LRA wars that ended a couple of years ago. Government is just now getting serious about forcing people in the IDP camps to go back to their home villages and plant crops. Overall, I'd say Uganda is in a little worse shape than my last visit in 2007. Most people I met are angry at the government for incompetence and corruption...anger that fueled the September riots. But I don't think the current government is in any danger of overthrow or defeat at the polls. The army was built on the guerrilla forces led by Yoweri Museveni who is now the president, and most of the generals are Banyankole like him. Museveni, of course, also appoints the electoral commission that will set the rules and certify the results of the 2011 elections.
Union Organizing Drive
One more thing...In the last few days before I left, I tried to set an union organizing drive in motion. A Ugandan friend is a field rep for a local micro lending agency. When she told me about her deplorable working conditions I got her together with organizers from COFTU one of the two national labor federations. COFTU sent six staff people including the Organizing Director and a General Secretary to the meeting with my friend. A meeting with a larger group of workers is scheduled for this week. Turns out that Ugandan labor law is pretty strong...in many ways better than our NLRB. Recognition is automatic even if only a minority of workers sign up, and there are stiff penalties for employers who trample workers rights. The wage earning labor force (industrial, teachers and civil service) is small, but 15% now belong to unions. The vast majority of workers are in the informal sector ...small retail, day labor and contract workers like security guards and taxi drivers. But COFTU is opening a major effort this year to organize these workers.
http:/ / www.bcc.ctc.edu/ kbcs/ downloads/ One_World_Report/ OWR_20090917/ OWR_20090914_Uganda-protests- TH_Edit2.mp3
Last week made another trip to Tororo where some wonderful people put on a lovely performance of traditional Japadola wedding music. Check out the You Tube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POQBUG4Vd1M
The Ugandan Government has been cracking down on radio stations and journalists in the wake of violent clashes between police and protesters in early September.
Uganda has a diverse, vibrant media scene with over 50 radio stations, three TV networks and a mix of daily and weekly print publications. Press freedom expanded greatly in 1986 when the current government took power and guerrilla leader Museveni became president musette.
But government is blaming the media for instigating and stoking the protests which swept through central Uganda early in September. Five stations had their licenses yanked in a broad warning to media throughout the country to watch their mouth when it comes to politics. At least 20 journalists, photographers working the street protests were arrested during the violence
A popular talk show host was jailed and charged with sedition, and new bill has been introduced in Parliament to license journalists with the ability to pull the licenses if the government objects to their reporting.
Despite periodic government efforts to muzzle the media, the nation has a strong tradition of independent journalism.
Peter Mwesige's column in the monitor was canceled several years ago under government pressure when he criticized the ruling party. The former columnist and journalism professor is now a media consultant. He told me government attacks on the press will continue and become fiercer as we get closer to the 2011 elections. There's widespread dissatisfaction because of economic issues, and Museveni's re-election strategy will feature rigging votes and silencing dissenters, Mwesige said.
Andrew Mwenda is founder and editor of the Independent Magazine which has been a persistent critic of President Museveni and the ruling NRM party since it was founded in 2007. I was able to interview him just a couple days before he was scheduled to appear in court on sedition charges. He cheerfully quoted to me the motto on the back cover of every issue: “You Buy the Truth, We Pay the Price.”
Mwenda says he expected government would try to silence him when he founded the magazine in 2007. So it didn't come as a surprise when he was himself charged with sedition after he wrote unflattering comments about President Museveni in an editorial.
The government attack on the media is "A sign of weakness...the last kicks of a dying horse," he told me. He says Museveni's winning margin has steadily declined in the last three elections, and that its virtually impossible for him to win without a run-off. The 18-30 age voters are a majority, and won't vote for Musevini, Mwenda says.
Mwenda was charged with sedition weeks before the September riots. He responded to the charges by filing a lawsuit in constitutional court claiming his right of freedom of speech was threatened. The sedition case can't be heard until his constitutional claim is ruled on.
I also interviewed a top government official...the Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity who told me this whole idea that journalists should be allowed to write or say anything they want is "Very Strange." The Minister, James Nsaba Butoro says western ideas of media freedom are not appropriate for Uganda. He likened the Kampala protests to the Rwandan genocide, and said the government had to act quickly to avoid disaster. He told me the government should train, license and supervise all journalists.
Its hard to believe the government is serious about the licensing law, but its clear that threatening and intimidating the media is part of their election strategy. So far they haven't intimidated Andrew Mwenda who told me the Sedition Law, under which he is charged for defaming Pres. Musevini is unconstitutional. "I broke the law yesterday," he said, "I break it today and I will break it again tomorrow."
Aids is on the increase again in Uganda, despite years of effort, and strong signs that the infection rate was declining. In 2008, 7.5% of the population was infected, up a full percentage point from just 3 years ago.
The A to Zed Childrens Charity In Wakiso District works with over 400 children including orphans, children born with aids, and families struggling to escape poverty.
Aids once infected nearly 15% of the population. Hard work in the last 20 years brought that figure down dramatically to 6.5 % in 2006. Now it is on the rise again...to 7.5 % of the population in 2008.
Over half the population in this area is under 18, and nearly one in five of those children have lost one or both parents....many of them to HIV. HIV appears to be spreading most among married couples, with the result that thousands of children each year are born with HIV, and then their parents die.
Wakiso is a semi-rural area within easy commuting distance of Kampala. The population has doubled here just in the last 10 years. Several local grass roots organizations supported by international donors and NGOs have organized to help deal with the aids crisis. The groups work together to provide services and education to children and their parents dealing with HIV-Aids in their families.
A-Zed pays school fees for over 200 children whose parents cannot afford them. 200 more children are part of another A to Zed program which provides family counseling on HIV and other health problems, and financial management training and business loans for parents. One of the biggest problems for families needing health care for HIV is the simple matter of transportation to the hospital.
Volunteers work with the families to help them cope with the challenge of living with HIV Aids. Teddy Nansekka is one of those volunteers:
Teddy is one of the most successful volunteers in the program. She develops great rapport with her client families when she tells them that she too is living with aids. Teddy contracted AIDS when she was raped by a soldier during a period of intense fighting in her village in 1990. She was stunned when she learned she was HIV Positive.
Gradually, with the help of her family, her pastor, and sensitive counselors, she learned how to live with her diagnosis, and thrive and lead a fulfilling life. She's raising her own two children as well as her niece and nephew who were orphaned when Teddy's sister died of AIDS a few years ago. She supports herself selling vegetables from a roadside stand, and from hand crafted jewelry she makes in her HIV AIDS survivors group.
But she also felt a need to help others in the same situation.
Betty Muhangi is a volunteer with TAAPA another organization working to help AIDS families in Wakiso.
Muhangi thinks aids is on the increase because the government and community groups relaxed when the first declines in new infections were posted.
Muhangi says the Ugandan Government needs to increase its efforts in public education and to provide more support for groups like TAAPA and A to Zed.
Another local NGO working against AIDS in Wakiso is KIFAD. KIFAD, trains AIDS victims in new job skills so they can support themselves and their families. Many survivors of the HIV AIDS epidemic are single mothers with few job skills. Kifad just celebrated the first graduates of its tailoring class. 20 women from families hit by AIDS were trained in a year long program to be skilled tailors. A new class with 18 students started the following week
Kifad, Taapa, A to Zed and other grass roots organizations here in Uganda share the goal of empowering HIV Aids victims to take control of their disease and their lives. With funds from international donors and energy from local volunteers they are struggling to stem the growing tide of HIV Aids.
Listen to the full story on KBCS: http://www.bcc.ctc.edu/kbcs/downloads/One_World_Report/OWR_20090924/OWR_20090922_Uganda_AIDS_TH.mp3
In the Photo, Teddy Nansekka and her niece Elizabeth.
Nansana, Uganda Sept. 19
Yesterday I set out to find Josephine Namuwawu, the young woman that Sally Donart, Gretchen's mom and I have been helping with money to pay her school fees. Josephine, 18, is one of three siblings. Their Mom died last year, and the kids kept the house, but have little income except what the 17 year old brother can bring home from casual construction jobs. Josephine and her younger sister Justine have been in school at St. Elizabeth's, but Josephine had to stop going because she had no money for fees. Justine would soon have to drop out because she can't pay this years fees. The fees are about $80 for each three month term plus a little extra for shoes, uniforms etc. I went out to the school, St. Elizabeth's. It's a highly regarded secondary school in Wakiso and most of the graduates go on to university. I asked the head master to help me find Josephine. After interviewing a few of her friends, we found her sister Justine in class. She has a different last name, so the school didn't realize they were sisters. Justine was called out of class me and told us that Josephine was at hoe and didn't have a job. Fortunately the girls live near the school. Justine led me through some dusty back lanes about 1 km away and we found Josephine at home in their neat little two-room brick house. She was actually studying her lessons against the time when she might get back in school. We all trooped back to the school together, and I got Josephine signed up to start class again on Monday. I also learned that Justine hadn't paid fees for this term, and Josephine owed for last term as well. I paid all the outstanding fees, so both girls are back in good standing. There was enough money in Sally's gift to buy the girls some new shoes, to pay for Josephine's last term final exams, and to leave them with a little spending money. I now have good contact with the headmaster, so I'll be able to make sure the girls stay in school.
Kampala, September 13, 2009
The streets of Kampala, Uganda's Capital were filled with smoke and violence Thursday and Friday last week, as thousands of demonstrators protested the federal government's efforts to restrict the movements of the Kabaka, or king of Buganda.
Uganda has for years been considered one of the most stable and peaceful African Countries, but the capital Kampala and a wide surrounding area exploded Thursday in violent clashes as police and army units fought demonstrators protesting government efforts to restrict travel by the Kabaka, head of the traditional kingdom of Buganda.
At least 20 people have been killed and hundreds injured and arrested. The government ordered 5 radio stations closed for inciting violence including three stations owned by the Kingdom of Buganda. A popular radio talk show host was arrested and the Uganda Journalists Association said the police have been targeting and assaulting reporters covering the violence.
I witnessed some of the violence In downtown Kampala Thursday morning as demonstrations were broken up by police and soldiers. In response, demonstrators, known as Nkobazambogo, or Buganda youth vigilantes, set fires and barricades in the streets and pelted police with rocks and and bottles. Police charged and chased demonstrators down the narrow downtown streets around the taxi parks, firing teargas, and beating and clubbing demonstrators and bystanders alike. By mid-day, protests had spread widely throughout the city and the surrounding suburbs. Virtually all major roads were barricaded and traffic including busses and taxis came to a stand-still for the rest of the day. Thousands of weary workers trudged for hours in the dark to reach their homes.
The origins of the current dispute this week date back over 100 years when Buganda and three other traditional monarchies were stitched together by British colonialists to create the modern state of Uganda. The kingdoms, Buganda, Bunyoro, Toro, Busoga were allowed to keep the trappings of royalty and a shadow of statehood but with limited legal authority when the current Uganda government was formed in 1992.
The protests were sparked when President Yoweri Musevini said the government would not allow a proposed visit by the Kabaka on Saturday to the town of Kayunga. Kayunga is in an area that was taken away from Bunyoro Kingdom in the 19th century by the British, and annexed to Buganda as a reward for cooperating with the colonial rulers. Both Bunyoro and Buganda claim the area today.
I made my way home in the early evening on the back of a boda-boda, a small passenger motorcycle, a cheap, fast and often thrilling form of public transportation in Uganda. The Boda could go where cars were blocked and my driver nimbly steered us between rocks and concrete chunks stacked in the road, piles of burning trash and tires and abandoned vehicles. At several points along the way we were stopped by demonstrators and urged to offer cash contributions to the Kabaka before we could continue on our way. Vehicles that tried to pass through the barricades without stopping were pelted with rocks. As I alighted from the boda-boda, gunfire exploded less than 100 yards away, as army units crashed through a street barricade, firing their guns in the air. About two dozen demonstrators and spectators scattered and ducked for cover.
The protests brought substantial hardship to many families, even those not touched by the violence. Virtually all Shops, factories and offices closed out of fear of the spreading violence.
Jimmy Kibuuka the director of Kisa Primary School where I am a volunteer is a leader in the Democratic Party, one of three minority parties opposing the ruling NRM headed by President Museveni. He says the government is using the disturbances to harass Democratic Party leaders. Several of his DP colleagues in Nansana have been arrested in the last 2 days.
Late friday night the Kabaka insisted he was going to Kayunga the next day, and President Museveni vowed he would not. But Saturday morning the Kabaka blinked, and announced he will postpone his trip.
This defused the protests, and there was only scattered violence Saturday. Most roads were cleared and it was possible to travel in and out of the capital. But the police announced they will continue to arrest those they call leaders of the protests in the next few days. As the smoke clears in Kampala and a shaky peace returns, all the underlying tensions and conflicts remain virtually untouched, and the prospect of further confrontations remains very strong. More photos here.
I was very happy about the results of the Ugandan art show. We sold 25 artworks and dozens of jewelry items and raised a small pot of money to send to the artists in Uganda to continue their work with orphans and hospital patients. I stayed in Seattle for several weeks after the rest of my household (Gretchen and most of my stuff)had been transported to our new home in Washington DC. As soon as the art show was over, I packed up all the artwork and the rest of my stuff and drove to DC in my little red truck. So far I've got my DC drivers License and Library card, and have 80% of the boxes unpacked. Now looking for a place to hold a Ugandan art show here in DC.
A major exhibit of new works by eight contemporary Ugandan artists will be held May 8, 9 and 10 at the Ballard Bookcase Gallery, 4611 11th Avenue NW in Seattle.
Proceeds from sales will support art classes and workshops in Uganda for AIDS patients and AIDS orphans, street children, and children and adult hospital patients.
Children are also trained in making beaded bracelets, necklaces and other jewelry they sell on the street to raise money for school fees, and buy food for their families.
Over 100 oil paintings, watercolors, wood block prints and other works will be displayed and available for purchase. Prices range from $45 for some 8x10 watercolors, to $250 for large oil paintings.
The exhibit will be the largest show by Ugandan artists ever held in the U.S.
Several artists in the show including Matias Tusime, Hassan Mukiibi and Kizito Fred Kakinda are well known to galleries and art collectors in Africa and Europe. But this will be the first exposure outside Uganda for others in the group including James Nsamba, Kennedy Baguma and Hadson Mbabazi..
The Uganda Art Consortium and its website
were established in 2008 by Seattle area residents Tom Herriman and Rees Clark to support the charitable work of the Ugandan artists, and provide a way for them to market their artwork.
A reception will be held to open the show, 5-7 PM on May 8. Hours for the rest of the weekend are
Noon-9PM on Saturday May 9 and Noon-5PM on Sunday May 10.
The Uganda Art Consortium show is part of Ballard Second Saturday Art Walk.
It's not just the big banks...my little (50 branches in WA and OR) Northwest bank, Frontier, has just been slapped down hard by the FDIC for risky loan practices, inadequate reserves and sloppy management. Read the FDIC Report here.
George Donart, (gretchen's brother) and Michelle Champion got married and invited me to sing three songs
at their ceremony in the backyard of Michelle's parents near L.A. March 14. That's Gretchen to my left, Sara,(Gretchen's sister) Peter (Michelle's brother who performed the ceremony,) and the bride and groom.
Here's a great song
about the closing of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer by the wonderful singer/songwriter Heidi Muller. In many of her songs, Heidi links vivid images of the real world like coho flashing in the Bay, or the watching the stars in the night sky, with deep emotional meaning. In this song she talks about the PI like it was an old friend, or a familiar house that's just been torn down. She gets the Wauwona in there too. Heidi wrote the song last Tuesday (March 17) and sent it out to the media the next day. I heard it on John Sincock's Lunch with Folks show on Friday on KBCS. Heidi lives somewhere in the green rolling hills of West Virgina now, but judging by this song, has never really left the Northwest. (Photo: Heidi Muller and Bob Webb.)
A great Ballard restaurant, A Caprice Kitchen at 1418 NW 70th is hosting a small exhibition of works from Uganda Art Consortium. I was able to fit about 12 paintings onto the walls of the tiny 10 table place. The food there is terrific...all natural ingredients, inventive menu, under the direction of the intensely charming owner/chef Anne Catherine Kruger. I hung the exhibit today. But don't forget the big Ugandan art exhibit in May
at Ballard Bookcase.
A Caprice Kitchen
We just got the inspector's report
on the house we're buying in Washington DC. It is a basically solid house built in 1939, about the same age as me, with similar defects in plumbing, roofing, settling in places etc. Its the first house I ever bought without a front porch, though it has many other fine attributes including being right across the street from a park (with 6 shuffle board courts,) and being 3 blocks from the DC Metro.
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.
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.
From Graeme Brown, Orphir, Orkney:
Great to hear from you, Tom, and thank you SO MUCH for your journal with the superb pictures and music, and thought-provoking reflections. It has been wonderful to be able to listen to the music and to feel myself back in Africa again. I am very intrigued by what you wrote about Ugandan capitalist society. I personally feel very uneasy about good education being left to the private sector. I guess the poor are left with very poor education, if they get any at all. However, when I read what you wrote about Makerere, I recognise that it may be beyond the capacities of the state or the university at this stage to organise good public education and perhaps this is the only way in which education can be organised at the moment. It takes time to learn the skills of organisation required for good educational institutions, or, indeed, for good government! We in the so-called developed world are still struggling with this! When we worked in Nigeria, I discovered how enterprising the people were. Capitalism thrived. When we worked in South Africa during the apartheid era, nobody was allowed to trade on the streets as this undercut the vested trading interests of the (largely) white trading sector. This all changed when freedom came. A South African friend, Margaret Legum, a first class economist, but one with a profound sense that the present form of the capitalist system is not working in that country, has urged the present government there to introduce BIGS, Basic Income Grants, a regular grant of money made to every citizen to enable folk to begin to trade in a small way, as they do in Uganda, and, thereby, to get the local economy moving and to give poor people a chance to improve their lot. The real problem is shortage of available resources for folk to start to trade. She also urges, incidentally, that South Africa should now do what every other strong emergent country (China, India, Korea, Taiwan, Chile) has done and close its borders to the outflow of capital and force capitalists to invest in
South Africa. This makes huge sense in the South African context. Again, it allows the capital resources, generated locally, to be made available to the local people and not to be exported for investment in the United Kingdom or the U.S.A.She also urges the introduction of a Tobin Tax on any capital which does flow from country to country, the money from which could be used to aid developing countries. So, while she reckons that we have to work within a capitalist system, it needs radical overhaul. I think that this is where I am also at the moment.
Lastly, in regard to private education in Uganda, the churches, though private, have some experience in this field, and should be doing something to draw poorer children into a good education system. I hope that they are.
2007-11-03 - Walking home on Hoima road one day last week, I passed this guy who appeared to be carrying a large ship model. After a quick doubletake, I realized it was a musical instrument…some kind of harp. I talked for a few minutes, and he offered to play me a song for 500 shillings. I unhesitatingly accepted his offer. He turns out to be a charming guy with a crooked, winning smile a gravelly voice, and a very energetic performing style. His name is Paulo Kasumba. The instrument is an udungu. The sound box is made of wood with an animal skin covering, and a long neck coming out of the box. From neck to tail it’s about 5 feet long. The wooden body has dozens of pieces of metallic junk attached to it… old suitcase handles, bent nails and appliance name plates. Some are for sound (they rattle, clatter and jingle) some for handling (the suitcase handles) and some are just for looks. It has ten tunable strings, each tuning peg is fancifully unique, and the body and neck are painted. I dragged him back to my room with me so I could record some of his songs and take some pictures. I asked him if he would sell the instrument or make me one. He offered to make me a similar one for USh 300,000 (about $175) or to sell me that one for USh 600,000. Dennis the concierge at the motel warned me the guy could be a charlatan, and not to give him any money, but I gave him USh 10,000 to buy materials and he said he would come back in a week and show me a prototype. I didn’t know if I would ever see him again, but he came back exactly a week later as he said he would, and said he’d rather sell me the original, because it would take too long to make another one, and he needed the money. I said fine, got the money out of the bank the next day and we completed the transaction. I’m now the proud owner of a handcrafted, genuine, Ugandan udungo.
About two weeks later, Paulo turned up at my place again with his new udungo which he had just finished building. He was back on the job as an itinerant musician. His new instrument is a structural twin of thye one I bought from him but mine is much cooler looking I think. Paulo gave me some lessons and showed me the tuning. Then I asked him to perform for my P4’s who were meeting in a few minutes. The other teachers were kind of appalled, I think, but the kids loved him and stamped and cheered at his songs. He totally charmed them, just as he charmed me.
Listen to Paulo's Songs
A Trip to Iganga
Privatization of education appears to be a prominent government goal. I visited Rachel Magoola at her school in Iganga, about 40 miles north of Kampala over the weekend. The school is called Menya Ziabamuzali Primary school. They have about 160 boarding students on a lovely campus in a rural area. Lots of space, trees, grass. The privately owned school is establishing its own private teacher training college...the second or third in the nation. They’ll recruit secondary school grads and train them in the months while school is on break, and when the primary school is in session they’ll do their student teaching right there. MZPS got a bank loan and I ‘m guessing government support to start the training college. They’re building new dormitories and classrooms for the college which will open next year.
I was invited to come to MZPS for the P-7 farewell ceremony. The p-7’s had finished all their course work and were getting ready for national exams that would decide which secondary school…a big career determiner…they would be going to. I went up on Friday in the Post Bus that left from the main post office. The trip took four hours on one of the most battered and heavily under construction roads I’ve ever seen. It was stop and go all the way, dust and diesel exhaust. Friday night Rachel and I walked through Iganga on the busy main street and sat until late in the evening hotel drinking cokes (me) and Guinness (Rachel,) and watched the bustling nightlife from a hotel veranda.
The farewell ceremony the next day was interminable, but the graduates took it all in good humor and spirits were very high. We drove back to Kampala the next day in Rachel’s car and stopped so I could see the source if the Nile at Jinja. Jinja is a beautiful little town right where the Nile flows out of Lake Victoria. They have tour boats and concessions and along the road you can see some of the elegant old homes of the British colonialists.
A Business Plan
Monday night I helped Olivia, one of the university students at Kisa, with her business plan. She’s entering a contest and was looking for ideas, so I suggested an advertising agency to place display ads on the 10,000 minivan-taxis the clog the streets of Kampala 24 hours a day and are really the only reliable way of getting around except for the motorbike taxis that require a degree of faith and fatalism I have not been able to muster.
Olivia embraced my idea, and together we worked out a skeletal plan envisioning huge profits for the agency after 5 years. I tried to think of an enterprise that would combine saving the world with making money, but couldn’t come up with one. Maybe I’m just infected with the scrambling free-for-all business atmosphere here. I helped her with editing and showed her how to make a simple spread sheet. She turned in her proposal today.
My P4 and P5 Classes
I have a P4 class with over 50 students and a P5 class with about 33 students. Guess which one I like better. In P5, I feel I’ve been able at some point to engage the attention of every child. In P4, there are vast rows of desks in the back of the room where the students scarcely know I’m standing up in front. The P5’s are good participators; and volunteer for reciting and performing, though I unintentionally reduced one little boy to tears trying him to get his chin up and his voice audible as we went through a little public speaking exercise this morning. In P4, getting some of the kids to stand up and speak audibly was like trying to pull rusty nails with a salad fork. Especially the girls. These gigantic 12 and 13 years old speak in almost inaudible whispers, with their chins tucked way down in their chests, their hands covering their mouths... edging back to their seats the whole time.
In P5, we’re going to put on a play that Rachel wrote and gave me a copy of. It’s a nice little 15 minute 3 scene deal about a girl running away from home. The P4’s, I think I’ll keep teaching the songs…they like it and at least almost everybody participates at a minimal level. I just taught them Dark as a Dungeon by Merle Travis. Before starting the song itself, I passed out the words and we had a discussion of some of the unfamiliar words…dungeon, dew, labor, fellows, coal, mine, miner, fiend, dope, lust, are a few they didn’t know; and on the possible meaning of the song. That took almost a whole hour.
So I hope at the end of the term, The P5’s can put on their play and the P4’s can put on a musical program that will include Dark as Dungeon, Mill Was Made of Marble, Mail Myself to You, If I had a hammer.
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.
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.
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.
A few awkwardnesses of every day life
When he found out I like coffee, Jimmy picked up a pound the next time he went food shopping. Turned out to be in the bean, not ground, so I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Boil it. That’s how you do it several people said. I said, do you have a grinder? Irene thought a minute and said, yes we have a grinder. We will grind it up for you. The next day as I walked out into the kitchen area, I saw one of the women pounding the coffee beans in a large wooden pestle. I was a little appalled…but nobody else thought it was out of the ordinary or anything. Pretty soon, jimmy and Irene and others were drinking coffee every day along with me. We don’t have a coffee pot or anything. We just grind it up fine, put in the cup like instant and add hot water and wait for the grounds to settle.
Another thing it took me some time to get used to was laundry. I asked where I could send laundry to get done…they said just give it to us. Kids do their own washing and ironing. Doing the laundry for the resident staff and food prep occupies four or five people at the school. So it feels a little odd to see a grown woman who I talk to every day bent over a plastic wash basin washing my dirty clothes. Of course I’m perfectly capable of doing my own laundry as long as I have an electric automatic washer and dryer. But I’m not going to insist on washing my own clothes here.
Meals for the four resident staff as I call them, me and Lwanga, Jimmy and Irene, are served to us either by the kitchen workers, or the female students who work as teachers aides and general helpers. We sit down, meals are brought to us. Everybody else serves themselves. It feels a little awkward, but I think I’m getting used to it. In addition to being the helpful foreigner, I get an extra measure of status because I’m old. I’m an Mzee, which basically means old guy, but carries with it a strong implication of respect and honor. Its not like “Hey old-timer” or “hey gramps, ” it’s more like “respected sir.” I’m getting used to that too.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.