Friday, May 22, 2009

The Uganda Diaries: Main Street, Kabale - 18.35 06/04/2009

Whilst we, that is Kenneth, Teequay, Rebecca and Ruby, were waiting for Adam to pray in the mosque, the most magical of events took place.

We were stood on the street near to where some muslim ladies were selling their wears, men were fixing something and some others were selling hot corn on the cob, when a small Ugandan boy, perhaps only three years of age, came and grabbed me around my legs, hugging me.

I asked him who he was. He didn't respond. I stooped down to his level and tried again and he responded "Nasingal". I then asked him if he was happy - he said "yes". Have you had a good day? "Yes". I then told him to go and find his mummy and daddy - he said "yes" and scurried off. I loved it. He wasn't scared and seemed happy to have met me.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Uganda Diaries: Kigezi High School, Kabale - 18.12 06/04/2009

And so I write having spent the day at Kigezi High School and its surrounds. When I arrived at the school, I did so with trepidation and a fearing the thought of being thrust into a classroom full of expectant Ugandans, but soon had this fear allayed.

Karina informed me that Penninah was heading towards the nursery and, with no resistance, I opted to join in. The walk back down the hill from, Kigezi - for Kabale is quite a hilly area - provided me with the opportunity to talk with Penninah and to find out more about her; four children and an artist husband.

The nursery was a delightful little place. The smallest, as in the youngest, class were quite clearly upset by our arrival; a bunch of strange, smiling mzungu faces that were giggling and 'ah-ing' a lot. The older year groups were a little more understanding of our presence and sang us songs; the lyrics of which included:

Your mother can let you down,
Your mother can let you down,
Your mother can let you down,
But Jesus never fails!

Following on from this, we took boda-bodas back up to the High School. Imagine this: eight 125cc motobikes, wailing along the streets of Kabale, the poorest streets of Kabale, each with a cargo of young mzungus - myself, Karina, Adam, Emma, Angela, Louise, Stefan and Fran.

At this point I should reflect upon the 'Poor Quarter' - for I don't want to be seen as a foreigner blinded by awe. The streets, as with many off the beaten track, are just dust and mud. This mud is a vibrant red. The roads here though are even more devastated than those of many other areas. They are pockmarked by potholes. The houses are minute. Many of these homes appear to be bursting at the seams; bulging with children in rags and women caked in red dirt. The people look tired, as though they are scrimping for survival. I am reminded of William Blake's London of the 19th Century:

I wander through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

At the High School we got back to work and me, Melissa, Karina and Stefan headed off to class 1A. In this class I observed Penninah lead the session - an English class of 45 people. At the end, following very little input from myself, I was asked to "say something". I made a rambling speech that included a reference to one of the characters names in the text that they were reading - a certain "Uncle Tom". I informed them that I was a 'Tom' and an uncle too. My Ugandan name, it would now appear therefore, is Uncle Tom.

I taught 'Search for My Tongue' later on to a Senior 5 class - the equivalent to AS Literature. It went very well and one of the class stood up and thanked me on behalf of the class. After this we went to an outdoors assembly where we had to address the crowd with a microphone. Each person, in turn, took the mic and said a few words that were received, in turn, by applause. Weird, but I loved it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

White South Africans Joining the BNP?

Occasionally, when getting on the tube at Wimbledon, I like to vary my early morning reading by picking up a copy of City AM or The South African - both of which are relatively well-written papers, especially when compared to the likes of the Metro.

Today, when I picked up my copy of The South African, I was stunned to see the headline 'UK Saffers Flocking to the BNP?'

The use of the question mark in the headline perhaps indicates that the publication is itself unsure of whether or not this is true, so what is it based around? The article seems based around the Cape Times' assumption that voting the British National Party, a "far-right party", would better "suit [South African ex-pats'] traditional South African values".

The South African goes on to quote from anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, saying that many with a history of hate crimes in South African have joined or contributed to the BNP. Included amongst these is "Arthur Kemp (pictured), a Holocaust denier linked to the murder of ANC [African National Congress - a predominantly black party] leader in 1993, is the most prominent African in the BNP's ranks". Kemp is then alleged to be "running the party's website and [was] spotted last week handling their campaign leaflets" for the upcoming elections for the EU Parliament.

The first thing that gets one's attention here is the irony of the situation. Is the BNP, a party that claims "immigation is not working" seriously using immigrant workers to do its dirty work? This seems a strange development, but it is not unlike the BNP to show inconsistency in its attempt to win votes at the ballot box. It is perhaps testament to the average IQ of their supporters that such an inconsistency in their policy goes unnoticed.

Secondly, this article intimates that, Post-Apartheid, there are still people out there that hold and support the kind racist views that destroyed South Africa's reputation in the first place. I sincerely hope that fools like Kemp are not endemic of modern day white South Africans living in the UK.

I hold great hopes for South Africa, but have some severe reservations about the political culture there. They are, like Zimbabwe, in need of unity in the government, not a collection of dissonant voices echoing through from the past. I am not convinced that Jacob Zuma's 'coronation' as President will help this, especially as he stands idly by as squabbles with the Democratic Alliance rumble on, thus alienating the white voters more so.

Picture taken from:

The Uganda Diaries: Green Hills Hotel, Kabale - 22.24 05/04/2009

So I have been meaning to write all day but many things have conspired against me - none of them quite as serious as that introduction may have implied.

The day started a little fuzzily after the four 100ml whiskey and Stoneys that I had last night. After clearing my head somewhat and, with the aid of four bananas, getting some energy into my system, we made for Kigezi High School for 'chapel'. This was not chapel as we know it. There was singing, dancing, clapping, a thousand "Praise the Lords" and a smattering of "hallelujahs". The atmosphere was a million mils away from the dour normality experienced within the regular Holy Roman Catholic Church in the UK.

After three hours of chapel a desperate phone call came. Raj, and the rest of the group that had decided against attending chapel, were waiting outside and had been since about three minutes into the preacher's one hour and fifteen minute talk. Thermostat or thermometer I ask?

A large buffet was awaiting us back at Green Hills, the majority of which I couldn't really eat. It was splendid though to meet all of the teachers, staff and students - one of those networking occasions that many shier Thomas Kellys wouldn't have coped with!

After a trip to the Little Ritz with Jeff, a phone call home and walk to town and back, a rather packed, but calm, day was over.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Uganda Diaries: Green Hills Hotel, Kabale - 20.06 04/04/2009

I feel already as though I have been here for a week. I have perhaps experienced deepest Africa more so today than before. After leaving Entebbe Backpackers we made for the Equator via the outskirts of the capital Kampala.

Kampala is extremely dense when compared, like-for-like, with Entebbe. It seems that no one in Kampala is idle. Everyone moves with purpose. The air is thick with the fumes of mopeds (boda-bodas), the dust from the rapidly drying ground, the dying exhalation of diesel exhausts and, somewhat thankfully, the scent of barbecuing food.

As you pass through Kampala you feel like a very white (mzungu) fish in a very tropical fish shop. This continues as the bus winds its way through the suburbs, still just as industrious, but distinctly less smoggy.

At the Equator, enterprising souls have set up craft shops and attempt, using broad smiles and bucket loads of African charm, to sell you there traditional wares; these range from the ubiquitous hand-carved elephants to hand painted pictures/canvasses going for USh 750,000. Poor old Rebecca nearly keeled over when the happy saleswoman broke the news to her! Poor Cherub.

Anyway, I spent no money this time, but made a solemn promise to one retailer that I would "return to him" - to prove this, I shook his hand and took a picture of him, in front of his shop, by which I could remember him. Excessive I know, but he had a charm to him. Another stall was being run by a girl, who I wouldn't have thought a day over fifteen, that had her five month old baby lying upon a blanket, on the floor, under a shelf. At this point I told her all about Cianan, my nephew.

My writing has currently become quite broken; I have been joined by the fabulous Francessca, rowdy Ruby and amazing Anthony.

Our journey continued on through countless townships and villages inhabited by poor, but happy, harmonious people. Children playing with and selling fruit - would you believe it, USh 4,000 for fifty bananas?  The adults all seem so industrious; everyone has their own business it seems. It makes me angry that in the UK so many poor people just wallow in their own self-pity, as opposed to fighting for survival.

This country is beautiful. I have been meaning to mention it for a while, but, the instant I set eyes upon Uganda, I fell in love. I have already resolved, by hook or by crook, that I shall return.

As our journey continued, stopping in Mbarara briefly, I continued to observe the people - the women with the most beautiful of postures, bent-double, everywhere tending to the land, children tied to their backs, all in the searing heat. The females appear to be the labourers here; men are for 'trades'.

For the final leg of the journey I was sat next to Teequay. She is a girl with a 'head on her shoulders'. We discussed a number of divergent topics. Our conversation lasted until sunset and, as darkness and heavy rain descended, we made Green Hills Hotel, Kabale.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Watercolour Doodling

This is my first attempt at playing with watercolours. If you look closely then hopefully you'll notice that it is the view from the top of a cliff, looking out to sea at sunset. It's not great, but no artist am I. It was done by colouring a pencil sketch with watercolour pencils, a cup of redbush tea and my right index finger.

Click the centre of the image to enlarge.

The Uganda Diaries: Entebbe Backpackers' Hostel, Entebbe - 08.16 04/04/2009

It has to be said that I was expecting a particularly anonymous birthday, but that was only partly the case. I woke up around 6:30 after having gone to bed around 20:00 - straight after dinner. I checked my phone and there I found a few messages from home.

Anyway, I was the first up and so was fed and watered first and was charged with the duty of waking people up from their collective slumbers. I then returned to the dorm to beautify and clean myself whilst everyone else ate. 

When I was done, I quietly returned to the lounge area, my head firmly in clouds, I was greeted by a loud and rather rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday to you!"

I was completely shocked by this as, at the time, the only thing I was thinking about was getting water. It took me at least ten seconds to fathom what was going on! Even the kitchen staff joined in! Lovely!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Uganda Diaries: Entebbe Backpackers' Hostel, Entebbe - 17.37 03/04/2009

So after a day of various activities, a pause. The rain continued until 3pm and came to a halt whilst I was wandering around the Entebbe Botanical Gardens.

Earlier in the day, during the endless rain, I had bought a Ugandan SIM card with which to contact home, so the Botanical Gardens provided the perfect backdrop from which to make a phone call.

The sun is now shining with the vivacity one expects of an 'African country'. I am sat in the garden of Entebbe Backpackers - I was originally alone, drawing, but a crowd has assembled with the return of Liz from the swimming pool at the Victoria Lake Hotel. I have Hanka, Faye, Jeff, Liz and Karina all in close proximity.

I am told that this beautiful sunshine, in which I now bask, will be gone within an hour - so hard to believe I assure you, but thus is the nature of sunset near the equator. Plans for next week are now being made. It seems there will be a picnic on Sunday to get to know the Kigezi crowd.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Uganda Diaries: Entebbe Backpackers' Hostel, Entebbe - 10.15 03/04/2009

Entebbe Backpackers' Hostel, Entebbe
10:15 - Friday 3rd April 2009

We're currently at Entebbe Backpackers' Hostel and the heavens have opened in a way that I have never before witnessed. Welsh summers have absolutely nothing on this rain. The velocity! The noise!

Luckily the majority of our bags have been moved into our rooms by Richard, a local 19-year-old boy that works here. Breakfast has been ordered - omelets sans the usual bread accompaniment. The room is basic - a dorm for all eight male members of staff. Jeff is going photo-crazy! Grigorios is talking endlessly of eggs!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Uganda Diaries: Beyond the Darfur Mountains - 06.04 03/04/2009

Beyond the Darfur Mountains
06:04 (Ugandan Time) - Friday 3rd April 2009

Still in the air, I am currently somewhere beyond the Darfur, above the River Nile by 35,000 feet. I'm taking a moment to write because, having been woken up by the cabin lights coming on, I looked out of the window...

To my amazement, a dawn was breaking not in the usual near-monochrome of summer in the UK, but rather with all of the colours one usually expects to see in a rainbow. It is, for the most part, indescribably beautiful - I wish for many more.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Razzi's Mint Tea

Razzi had the idea on Thursday night to provide her workmates with some 'Homemade Mint Tea'.

In my head, if someone says mint tea I expect dried leaves in a, perhaps, circular little bag. Not so Razzi. For when she says "mint tea" she means putting a load of fresh mint, picked from her back garden, into a mug of hot water - in my case with a little sugar for good measure. 

It sounds a weird concept; something that Ray Mears might do in lieu of tea bags, but it worked. After a few minutes to allow the leaves to infuse, the tea was drinkable and lovely with it. Noises of general satisfaction abounded and for Razzi, Petros, Jenny and myself the weekend had begun.

The picture can be enlarged by clicking on it.

The Uganda Diaries: Over Europe - 23.27 02/04/2009

Above Europe, on the Plane
23:27 - Thursday 2nd April 2009

Dinner has been served and we're now, as The Byrds would say, 'Eight Miles High'. The usual "oh, you're a coeliac" conversation ensued at serving time - I have become accustomed to it. Anyway, the resultant scramble resulted in me having to east a meal from Business Class - roast lamb cutlets and vegetables. My Mother would be proud!

So, as I write, I am enjoying a mini-bottle of PRIEUR DES JACOBINS and listening to Oasis playing at the Electric Proms. An altogether pleasurable experience. 

I have Carrie to my right (a teacher from another school and a former William Morris student) and Rebecca N- from my tutor group and AS Language and Literature class. A nice couple of thorns for this rose to be between — I jest.

I managed to speak to a few people on the phone from the departures lounge. I am missing her already.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Uganda Diaries: Wimbledon - 16.15 02/04/2009

16:15 - Thursday 2nd April 2009

I have just left Wimbledon on the Underground, bound for Earl's Court. Here I change for the Piccadilly Line to Terminal 5. I have, naturally, spent the majority of the day running about, so, interestingly, the Underground is actually quite a restful experience.

Anyway, the weather is beautiful in SW19 today. The sun feels hot for once - although I don't know if that is the anti-malarials kicking in. I feel a reasonable level of excitement, but my main preoccupation at present is the sheer weight of my backpack; everytime I put it on my back, I feel each little vertebrae scream.
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