Tom Herriman's Journal
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News and Views
Smoke, basketball and grasshoppers
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 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.

Journal 20071122

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.