Saturday, May 14, 2011
Over and out.
Monday, May 2, 2011
- The ‘suit men’ who walk around dressed in 10 jackets one on top of the other in the midday heat trying to sell them to passers by.
- The ‘maize men’ who work in the maize mills and occasionally emerge in to the sunlight covered from head to toe in white dust like apparitions from the next world.
- Little kids screaming ‘maazzuuungguuu!!!!’ as if I’m the most exciting thing they’ve ever seen, even though I come past twice a day, every day.
- Boda drivers standing at the side of the road tipping their motorbikes 4 feet in the air to get the last drop of petrol out of the tank.
- Goats in comic places (doorsteps, backs of bodas, one trying to rest its hairy chin on my knee in a crowded matatu).
- The ‘lawnmower men’ balancing two strimmers vertically upright in either hand on the back of a boda like medieval knights in a jousting competition.
- The boda drivers on the way to Saaka who yell ‘Abwooli I loooove yooou!’ and try to jump on the back of my boda as I drive past. The joke never seems to wear thin for them…
- Chirpy, flirty, yellow-clad prisoners shouting rude things in lutooro.
- Double beds on the backs of bicycles (only seen that once - it was impressive!)
- 4 adults + 2 chickens + 1 suitcase on one boda
- The beautiful, regal, ever-present Rwenzori mountains.
- Banana trees, crater lakes, thunderstorms, blue skies, fresh air, cows with big horns, matooke on bicycles.
Thursday, March 31, 2011
So why then am I leaving? It’s a good question, and one I have been asking myself fairly regularly since accepting a job in West Africa. But more of that later…
Meanwhile…lots of rain since the beginning of March. Pretty cold here in FP although KLA as sticky as ever. Trying to do a zillion things at once – finalise MMU’s ten year strategic plan, get life skills/career guidance off the ground, goad my hopeless unit in to becoming something vaguely passable, start up a fundraising short course, coax students in to taking over termly magazine, develop a grand plan for solving the university’s financial woes. Kind of semi-succeeding with some things and miserably failing with others. Usual story. Meanwhile shamelessly neglecting my smallholding. Vegetable patch has been reclaimed by the jungle. Abwooli the hen came to a sad end when she tried to befriend a pussy cat (curiousity killed the chicken in this case). Atenyi and Atooki are once more on egg strike (perhaps because I usually only remember to feed them every third day). Glad there’s no such thing as the RSPCA in this country.
And all of a sudden I have only 6 weeks left to go.
It’s all a bit of a wrench. I feel I could very happily continue bumbling along here indefinitely. But this irritating, naggy little voice keeps whispering things like: you’ve been a volunteer for two years, it’s frankly ridiculous at your age, it’s time to stop farting about and get a proper job. Humpf. Unfortunately I can't really argue with these home truths. So no extension for me after all. Instead I’m off to the rust- and mould-inducing heat of Sierra Leone. It's all happening a bit too fast for my liking. Slow down, slow down. This is Africa after all.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
It was advertised as 4-6pm but I’ve been in Uganda long enough to know there was no point in arriving until at least 5.45. There were a good few thousand people at the sports ground, mostly in the bright yellow t-shirts of the NRM that had been handed out liberally over the preceding week. We were frisked on entering. It was an unusual kind of frisking - more an evaluation of my feminine attributes (the lady gave my boobs a squeeze and patted my bum) than an effective screening for bombs or guns. I proceeded with some speed into the fray.
The sports ground was flanked by two stages. Revealing of the savvy nature of Museveni’s campaign, the biggest one was for the musicians and dancers, while a far smaller platform on the other side of the grounds was dedicated to the political candidates. Well over 60% of the Ugandan population are under 25 and really aren’t that interested in the crumbling regime of a crusty old sexagenarian president. Clearly mindful of this, Museveni has given himself a makeover of cool. One of his most effective campaigners is indeed Bebe Cool, Ugandan’s favourite popstar, who accompanies him on most of his rallies whipping the youthful crowds in to a frenzy with his muscle-bound torso and high-energy songs. Either by accident, or by careful design, the president’s famous rap incident has evolved in to the catchphrase of the campaign ‘Do you want another rap?’ ‘Yes, ssebo!’. (Even I joined in for that bit!).
So a strange but clearly not un-deliberate situation emerged whereby the warm up speakers (NRM candidates for mayor, MP, LCV, women MP etc) were in direct competition with the entertainment stage. Both were fighting for the attention of the crowd, although generally the musicians appeared to have the upper hand. Once or twice, a boring speaker was cut short by the volume being turned up on the music stage. The crowd absolutely loved the spectacle and after thirty minutes of this hilarious carry on, a fantastic, high-spirited, excited atmosphere had been generated.
Just as it was reaching its peak, in a masterful moment of event engineering, Museveni all at once glided through the centre of the crowd on top of a landcruiser. An omniscient, omnipotent deity, smiling paternally at the crowds, seeming to bear the message that the Movement, and by extension himself, are above music, above politics, above all things. The speech that followed was largely forgettable and delivered in rather tired and slightly bored way. However it hardly seemed to matter as the magic spell had already been cast. Even the crowd’s angry response to the failure of the agricultural advisory service (which the president cleverly channelled towards a scapegoat woman manager) seemed to lack any real vehemence since everyone was too drunk on the party atmosphere. I too found myself a little intoxicated by the spirit of the event and as we left, just for a moment, seriously contemplated buying a Museveni baseball cap.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
A quick summary of the last 3 months. All going well at MMU. Finally managed to get some money for infrastructure, which has hugely helped the case for my department, the so-called Planning and Development Unit. I think it’s no coincidence that we have since been given a new staff member. This is good news for me because finally I have someone to train in resource mobilisation in a genuine capacity-building way. She is young but keen and seems to be pretty on the ball. The same sadly cannot be said of the existing members of the department. What else? Have enjoyed facilitating a strategic planning process, out of which a reasonably solid 10 year plan will soon emerge. Have also enjoyed piloting a fundraising training course with some very appreciative third year students. Hope to turn it in to a short course before I leave. Other side projects– careers service, alumni office - moving on slowly but steadily.
Outside work my serene, rural life continues. Chickens and lettuces are my main preoccupation. Both are flourishing. Have also taken up bread-making and other culinary experiments. Am struggling to learn Lutooro, although I hope a renewed new year’s determination will move things on a bit.
Had a lovely xmas and new year with Mum, Lettice and Duncan. Saw more of Uganda than I had seen in the previous 18 months. It was a fun, action-packed three weeks: we dodged night-time buffalo in Murchison; laughed at lions slumped in comically uncomfortable poses in trees; we perfected our mazungu corkscrews on Lake Bunyoni and we saw the only four zebra in Lake Mburo (apparently there are 15,000 more, but we saw no sign of them). I was a bit embarrassed to discover what a skewed view I have of the country, having spent all my time in affluent Kampala or the fertile bread-basket of the west. The area around Murchison opened my eyes a little to some of the harsher living conditions in the drier north. Feel I need get about more.
Meanwhile starting to wonder about life after VSO. Still have plenty to do at MMU and not sure if I will have made that much of an impact by June. Thinking about extending while also keeping my options open.... humpf. I've never been very good at decisions.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
This week I got a taste of public healthcare in
Buhinga hospital, the regional referral hospital, is quite an eye-opener for a sheltered, privileged westerner like me. Everywhere you look, huge queues of people sit patiently, resignedly, despairingly in some cases, waiting for someone to help them. On the congested wards, sick people lie on shabby, closely-packed cots, elbow-to-elbow with no dividing curtains. Patient privacy doesn’t seem to exist as a concept. When I went to the surgical ward, I found a group of about ten doctors and trainees bunched around a bed examining a post-operative patient. Any other patient who was well enough was craning their neck to hear the prognosis of their neighbour, while another group of people were poking their heads through the glassless windows like it was some kind of spectator sport.
There are none of the reassuring hallmarks of hygiene and sanitation we take for granted in a western hospital. No comforting smell of disinfectant, or nice clean patient gowns or well-stocked storerooms full of gloves and drugs and catheters. I found myself trying not to breathe too much in case I picked up something nasty. I thought of how things work back home, with patients demanding more and more for information, explanation, choices and services. Here people are passive, disempowered, powerless. They don’t, or believe they don’t, have any right to claim for a good service. They just hope if they wait long enough a doctor, with God’s will, will help them get better. And if they can’t be helped, so be it.
Trying my hardest to blot out the queue of 150 people patiently waiting people in outpatients, I realised I would have to start throwing my mazungu weight around if we were to have any chance of getting out of there in one day. As it turned out, I didn’t really need to do much weight throwing, as everyone seemed happy to bend over backwards to accommodate my requests. I was ushered up to meet the surprisingly young surgeon, who finished his rounds then came straight away to see Rosette. In five minutes, he had diagnosed a persistent infection and proscribed an x-ray, antibiotics and physiotherapy. Meanwhile I diagnosed him with a dreadful bedside manner and hopeless communication skills but attributed this to being overworked, underpaid and the fact that gruff, unapproachable doctors are clearly the norm in