Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Bakiga Window: Basketball at Sundown

The crowd begins to grow at the sun begins its decent behind the hills.
Any sporting spectacle becomes twice as spectacular when you’re out in the African heat. Having exerted myself once this week during Tuesday’s staff versus students football match, I am happy this time to be sat on the grass as a mere spectator. 

It is Friday 15th April and I am nestled in amongst an ever-increasing crowd of students, watching teh twisting narrative of a basketball tournament unfold in the afternoon sunshine. The tournament, organised by one of my students, Frank, started just a little after 3pm and is slowly, but surely, reaching its climax. 

The teams are comprised of groups of boys from different dormitories, or form classes. Each team arrived full of eagerness and anticipation at around 2.30pm to the empty court positioned on a sun-baked hillside. By the time that the tournament had got underway, a crowd of around thirty students had assembled behind the backboards. 

This setting for a basketball competition has to be amongst the best in the world. I know that this simple flat surface carved into a hillside may not match the world’s most advanced arenas, but this afternoon it seems to be coming close. With the competition rumbling on, with the unending green of the cultivated hills of Kabale district providing a backdrop, the crowds continue to grow. 

Now, as the competition reaches its zenith, with the intensification of the sporting battle kicking up clouds of dust that rise up to waist height, the number of spectators has increased to at least three hundred students, staff and passers-by. 

Due to my own personal excitement of admiring the picturesque location, my concern over my burning mzungu skin and my ignorance of the rules of basketball, I cannot recall which team actually emerged victorious from the heat haze. Either way, as the leader of bazungu group, and in the absence of anyone with an OBE, I was called upon to present the trophy and make a brief speech. 

The whole afternoon leads me to reflect that often we are so concerned with entertainment being something that can be found on a television set, that, if anything, sporting contests like Frank’s basketball tournament remind you that entertainment is something much simpler and more wholesome than all that.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie


Cover image (c) HarperCollins
Christmas in the Kelly household means a few things: seeing Gran in the morning, a midday trip to the Falcon Inn, a mountain of food, an animated film, sleeping, drinking and then a Poirot murder mystery on TV. This year, being on the Agatha Christie binge that I am, I figured that I would have a read of a Poirot novel to get me in the mood.

Having focused my Poirot reading on the Middle-Eastern mysteries so far with the intrigue that they present to the reader, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is a much more traditional Christie novel. All the necessary elements are there: the big house in the countryside, a rich old man, the ‘black sheep’ of the family returning, mysterious strangers, jewels and a squabbling family.

The story starts on December 22nd and centres on a family Christmas to be hosted by Simeon Lee, a millionaire who made his money in South Africa as a diamond miner. Alfred and Lydia Lee, his son and daughter-in-law respectively, live with him in a large country house as Alfred runs the family business.

After many years of seemingly not caring for his family, Simeon Lee decideds to invite all of his sons and their wives to share Christmas with him. Reluctantly, his children accept. Also invited to the planned festivities is his hitherto unknown granddaughter, the exotic, half-Spanish Pilar Estravados. The final guest to party, arriving uninvited and unannounced is Stephen Farr, the son of his former business partner in South Africa.

Prior to Simeon Lee’s demise, a number of uncut diamonds go missing from his safe after he has shown them to Miss Estravados. Superintendant Sugden is called to look into the theft. Later that evening Simeon Lee is killed in a noisy and bloody battle, in an apparently locked room. Chief Constable Colonel Johnson attends the crime scene and brings along his friend to help look into the case. His friend is, of course, Poirot and as you would expect, it is not long before Poirot takes the lead.

As the investigation unfolds within the confines of the mansion, it appears that many of the characters are not what they seem, or who they say they are. Everyone has a potential motive and just when the reader is becoming sure of the guilty party, Poirot reveals the most unlikely of perpetrators during a gripping denouement.

Again, Christie uses a different structure to entice the reader. Choosing to separate the action into the seven days from 22nd to 28th December, allows us to see the disparate Lee family considering the invitation to Christmas, coming together, observing the tensions grow, all before the trouble erupts.

So, if you want a break from the family, or from stuffing the turkey this Christmas, take a trip back to 1938 with this novel, and thank God that your dinner will be a lot simpler than that of the Lee family!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Bakiga Window: Don't Piss Off The Fish!

The view from the swimming jetty on Byoona Amagara.
The air is always surprisingly crisp around the edges of Lake Bunyonyi first thing in the morning. The sun starts to come up around 6.30am, but the heat takes a short while longer to break through the low-lying mist and clouds. 

It is Tuesday 19th April and I am lazily dangling my feet into the cool waters of Lake Bunyonyi, from a jetty on Itambira Island. This time of the day is the most peaceful on the island and at first the only other noise is the lapping of the lake's deep blue waters against the legs of the jetty. 

After a few minutes of acclimatising my legs to the exceedingly cool water, I slip into the lake and momentarily my breath is knocked out of my lungs. The extreme contrast with the early morning air temperature comes as a serious shock to the system – but it makes you feel alive. I give myself a few minutes of splashing around, just long enough to kick start my body, before I emerge once more from the water to take in the view. 

The time passes slowly and after around thirty minutes, by which time my colleague Grigorios has joined me and is swimming around in front of me, the sound of deep bass drums starts. A collection of small dots in the distance, dancing around in groups of five or six, start making their way down the sides of various islands that occupy the lake, including the far tip of Itambira Island, headed for the shorelines. 

Then, emerging from the base of the islands appear small dugout canoes to collect the dots and provide passage for them to their school on Bwana Island. Suddenly, my daily bike ride through Warwick racecourse as a child seems to pail in comparison to the dramatic daily commute for the pupils of Bwana’s primary school. Of course, for them it is normal, but for me and my group of bazungu it is something of a spectacle. 

"Please do not pollute the lake, it pisses off the fish!"
As I leave to start packing up my tent for the journey back to Kabale, I stop to read a sign next to the stairs, at the end of the jetty. It explains a set of guidelines about how not to piss of the fish – an important thing if you live on an island

Furthermore, it reiterates the importance of the Byoona Amagara resort’s desire to balance out the revenues from tourism, with the desire to be socially responsible for the whole of the local community – fish included. For that reason, my band of bazungu will continue to return year after year to enjoy the lake and not take it for granted. There is nothing better than eco-tourism with a sense of humour.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Bakiga Window: Your Life is a Product of Your Decisions

"Your Life is a Product of Your Decisions."
As you move through life, you realise that moral teachings come in a variety of forms and from multitudinous sources. It maybe from a particular holy book, or even from a wise village elder – it may even be that the writing is on the wall.

It is Friday 15th April and I am taking an hour or so out of the day to wander around the Kigezi High School compound, to talk to a few students about their experiences here and to keep an eye on what my own students are up to.

As I cast my eyes about, I notice that in a slight change from last year, the messages promoting good moral values are no longer just on miniature signposts planted into the flowerbeds; they are now painted using stencils onto the walls of the classrooms around the main central quadrant.

The sign that imidiately catches the eye of most tells students to, “avoid pornographic films.” Indeed, I am later to learn that there is a photograph, taken by one of my own students, with that very message in the background and me in the foreground. Nice.

"Love your Father and Mother and you will live longer."
It does seem to me a very un-British way of dealing with morality. In the UK we don’t really seem to openly discus moral values – they are supposedly implicit in our actions perhaps, but not so glaringly displayed. I don’t know whether this is a good or bad thing, as I must confess I’ve not really considered the matter that deeply.

For many bazungu the messages provide an often-humorous insight into how issues relating to morality are dealt with in a country that is in step with its religious and moral compass. Many of the other messages talk of God and of respecting your mother and father.

Regardless, one of the messages seems to resonate more than any of the others. This message reads, “Your life is a product of your decisions.” Momentarily my students become reflective. Not solely reflecting on what they have been experiencing during their weeklong stay in Kabale, but also reflecting on their own education back in the UK. Maybe a small reminder, from time to time, does come in useful after all.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

From a Crooked Rib by Nuruddin Farah

Cover image. © Penguin Books.
I stumbled across Nuruddin Farah’s novels when searching for something written by a Somali author. Perhaps due to the conflict that has raged for years in Somalia, it is very difficult to find much from Somali writers published in English.

From a Crooked Rib was published in 1970 and tells the story of Ebla, a young, orphaned, illiterate nomadic girl, who runs away from her encampment. She takes the decision to leave upon learning of her Grandfather’s intention to marry her off to an older man within their Jes (a group of families living in an encampment together).

She firstly escapes to a town, Belet Amin, where she finds her cousin and his pregnant wife. She also finds a guide and confidante in a character known only as the widow. Things seem settled until, yet again, Ebla finds her freedom compromised by a male character – this time her cousin, whose wife and child Ebla has been nursing.

In her haste she leaves Belet Amin with the widow’s nephew, bound for Mogadishu – still called Mogadiscio due to the novel being set prior to that area of Somalia’s independence from Italy. Here, far from escaping the oppressive presence of masculinity, Ebla finds herself even more controlled by it.

The Somali society Nuruddin Farah describes has a proverb reading that, "God created Woman from a crooked rib; and any one who trieth to straighten it, breaketh it." This proverb is taken from the story of Adam and Hawa - the Islamic version of Adam and Eve. To Farah, this proverb seems to predetermine the fate of women within Somali society to be of a lower status than men throughout their lives.

So, at a time when many African writers were musing on values of tradition and the notion of independence, Farah, far from telling a tale of a rural girl trying to survive in the big city, is actually providing a critique on what he sees as an inhumane and hypocritical traditional society.

To Farah, Somalia of 1960/70s is a place where women are second-class citizens to be bought and sold, by others, like cattle at market. He sees it as a land where, from a young age through to sexual maturity, women have no real ownership of anything – even their own bodies.

In spite of the serious themes of the novel, there are many moments of humour that mark out Ebla as a likeable character who the reader finds themselves really rooting for. A particular comedic highlight is when Ebla sees an Arab woman in a niqab leaving the widow's house and runs away believing she has seen jinn or ghost.

When I told some of my Somali students that I was reading a novel written by a Somali writer they laughed. One even asked, “Do Somalis write novels?” 

The answer is a resounding “yes”. Furthermore, I would recommend From a Crooked Rib to anyone who feels that it is high time to read a tale from a part of the world that hitherto remains off most Westerners’ literary radars.

Note: Not being an expert on Somali culture, this review is of a literary work of fiction and is not my personal critique of Somali traditions, the Islamic faith or Somalia as a nation.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Bakiga Window: Exploring the Backstreets

Phone networks ensure that Uganda's shops are as colourful outside as they are inside.

The backstreets of any town are always a treasure trove of hidden gems. They obscure from the casual traveller or commuter a great deal of real life - a life missed from the main road. Kabale is no exception to this rule.

It is Wednesday 20th April and the midday sun is engaged in a battle with dark rainclouds for ownership of the Kigezi skies. This morning I have been at the Taufiq Islamic School and now I am exploring some of Kabale’s backstreets alone, something I have never had chance to do before.

Upon leaving the main road, I cross an open square, past the Edirisa, and head down Nyerere Avenue. Along this street I don’t stir much curiosity in the local people and pass the Kabale Milk Centre unnoticed. Here young boys on bicycles precariously balance heavily laden milk churns on their luggage racks before riding off into the distance.

I reach Nyerere Drive Road, turn right and then right again shortly after passing by the modestly named Amazing Pub.

I find myself in a small street with a dead end. I have a look around the buildings and discover that the majority are small businesses, mainly inns, with the exception of the last building. This building advertises its services, quite simply, with a hand painted wooden sign, reading, “Male Circumcision and Dental Service.”
A limited, but interesting choice of services available at this backstreet clinic.
I am puzzled for a moment at the unusual combination of services offered by this establishment and laugh out loud to myself thinking about the conversations that may take place inside; something like, “I’ve got a problem with my upper-right wisdom tooth, left molar and my foreskin.”

After a few minutes I am aware that someone is speaking to me, having emerged from one of the shadier looking inns across this small road. Conscious of the fact I am in a dead end and no one knows my whereabouts, I start to walk back to Nyerere Avenue.

The man catches up with me. He begins telling me that he is an alcoholic and wants some money to buy a locally produced drink made from sorghum. Sympathetic as I am to anyone in such a situation, I decide that I am not willing to get myself into a dodgy situation up a sidestreet. 

Having rounded the corner, back towards the hustle and bustle of a main street, I make my escape. Whilst new friend is looking in the opposite direction, I disappear into the Amazing Pub to buy a copy of the Daily Monitor. The man carries on walking up the road into the distance.

Later, having looked at my map of Kabale, I realised what a pitifully bad job of exploring the backstreets I had done. Despite walking for felt like a long time, it would appear that I was only ever about two minutes walk from the main Kabale-Kisoro Road. Next year I must try harder.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Black Mischief by Evelyn Waugh

Cover image. © Penguin Books.
It is unfortunate that, although thoroughly enjoying this book, you can't help but feel a little bit dirty for having read it and liked it. That said, Evelyn Waugh picks apart the colonial world of the inter-war years wonderfully and treats most parties involved with the contempt they deserve. 

The story itself follows the story of a fictional African island state of Azania. Their Oxford-educated monarch, Emperor Seth, starts a programme of reforms to modernise his country. Emperor Seth recruits an Englishman, Basil Seal, who, needing something to do with his life, decides that working in Azania is a great idea. 

So with a cast of characters designed to add an element of chaos to the story, things move forward at quite a pace. The French consul, Ballon, becomes increasingly disgruntled with the modernisation plans, as do the church leaders - especially when their place of worship is threatened in an infrastructure building programme. 

Inevitably, all roads lead to a coup d'état and Seth is overthrown, to be replaced by his senile, and hitherto incarcerated uncle, Achon - who promptly dies during the coronation. 

One assumes that a lot of the story and the references to different ethnic groupings, and their relative characteristics, is based upon the author's time as a reporter in Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia). There are many striking similarities between place names in Azania and Ethiopia, and there is something very 'Haile Selassie I' about Emperor Seth. 

In Black Mischief, Evelyn Waugh goes to town with mocking and satirising just about everybody who had an involvement in East Africa in the early twentieth-century; the British (pompous and out of touch), the French (paranoid and sly), the Africans (disorganised), the Arabs (greedy) and the church (getting involved in subverting the government). 

This is an interesting personal take on East Africa and is very much of its time. Some might argue that Waugh's treatment of the Africans in this story is racist at points - one example is the naming of one female character 'Black Bitch' by her white husband and this is before we consider the connotations of the title. A counter to this argument would be that because just about every big player gets the same treatment, the humour wins out.

For further critical reading: http://www.js-modcult.bham.ac.uk/articles/issue4_greenberg.pdf

Monday, October 24, 2011

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

Following on from my first foray into the world Agatha Christie's Poirot earlier this year, I couldn't resist picking up another novel from the collection. Similarly to last time, I selected a novel set in the Middle East, this time in the British Protectorate of Mesopotamia, what is now Iraq.

Published in 1936, and set prior to Poirot's most famous case, Murder on the Orient Express, this novel is centred around a group of scientists on the site of an archeological dig - something close to the author's heart as her second husband, Max Mallowan, was himself an archeologist. Most of the action doesn't take place at the dig though, but rather focuses around the claustrophobic confines of the staff compound.

The narrative starts with a preface by Dr Giles Reilly, who goes about introducing us to our narrator, Nurse Amy Leatheran. Nurse Leatheran assumes the narrative, retelling the story of what happened subsequent to her employment by Dr Leidner, one of the archeologists, to look after his wife; the rather jumpy and increasingly unbalanced Mrs Leidner. 

In a typically Agatha Christie way, we have a group of characters so disparate in their personalities, that they actually become believable. In addition to the nurse and the Leidners, we have: a lover, a drug user, an angry lady, a Bertie Wooster sound-a-like, a stroppy daughter, a French priest, and for good measure, a dead first husband.

When Mrs Leidner gets killed after having seen strange apparitions at the windows, and after a local Arab man is seen peering into the compound, it seems that any number of suspects could be responsible. Cue our favourite Belgian detective to come and sort out the situation, but not before another murder can be committed.

Nevertheless, this novel contains as many surprises as you would expect from this writer and this genre. Poirot is typically masterful in discovering the truth, despite having no real proof. The tension within the walls of the compound is unbearable, the murders ingenious and plot is not what you would expect.

Poirot starts his revelation of the truth with, "Bismillahi ar rahman ar rahim". Telling us that it is, "the Arab phrase used before starting out on a journey," and this storyline is quite a journey.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

World Food Day 2011: Food Security

Mass catering at Kigezi High School, Uganda.
In one of my endless Twitter conversations with Inii Ukpabio, I recently learned of something that had gone hitherto unnoticed in my knowledge of development studies. It related to different types of security and the fact that there was such a thing as ‘food security’.

Unknowingly, I had already shown some awareness of the issue of food security in East Africa by looking at the choices families may have to make between food costs and education, and also when looking at aid distribution during the current East African famine.

And so, being a latecomer to the international development party, I scratched my head a little and then realised what a massive issue it really is and could continue to be for the world and in particular, to my beloved corner of East Africa.

In Uganda, where the shilling remains so weak and inflation so high, the implications on food security are seriously high for the average citizen on the street. In the urban environments, wages aren’t going as far as they once may have done and this means that households will have to tighten their financial belts.

The knock on is, that regardless of Universal Primary Education and Universal Secondary Education, families may find themselves with the choice between being able to adequately feed themselves and being to educate their children or get medical help should it be needed. The need for such choices shouldn't exist in the first place.

This isn’t the only problem though facing many. There are an increasing number of reports in the press about multinational corporations buying large tracts of land directly from various African governments. The Guardian newspaper, in this time of serious food insecurity for East Africa, reported as recently as October 14th that a UK-based forestry firm had evicted a possible 22,000 people from their land in central Uganda – many of whom would have been subsistence farmers.

Rwandese tea plantations on the Kigali-Gatuna road last year.
The impact is profound for rural communities. Many could be forced into the unfamiliarity of urban communities with the higher rents and general living costs that this entails. Many others will have to deal with the loss of self-sufficiency and the extra few shillings that could be made selling surplus produce at markets. Either way, all would have been left facing disputes over land with much higher powers - powers they don't have the resources to fight.

In a recent Oxfam report, one such evictee, Francis Longoli says, ‘I remember my land, three acres of coffee, many trees – mangoes and avocados. I had five acres of banana.’ He continues, ‘my land gave me everything from my living to my children’s education. People used to call me Omataka – someone who owns land. Now that is no more. I am one of the poorest now.’

Governments shouldn’t be fooled into believing that signing away land to multi-nationals for economic reasons will result in a better existence for the populous. Many of these deals, even if they are to be with a food production company, are unlikely to bring any direct benefit to farmers or their communities.

So, as I reflect on my state of relative financial security and my strong personal food security on this World Food Day, I consider the future for people like Francis. The Uganda I know, with its little patches of cabbages and beans, hugging the sides of buildings and hills across the countryside, shouldn't be allowed to suffer for the instant financial gratification of governments. 

What many people want, as they tend to their shambas, is to be the masters of their own destinies, to have safe houses and to be able to provide food for their families.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Right Kind of Aid II: East African Drought Crisis

Umi, three months old, in a medic's arms.
Anyone with a heart, or even a scrap of interest in their fellow human beings, will find it hard not to have been moved by the scenes of hunger and desolation coming from the Horn of Africa. Countries such as Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Sudan are having all been affected in some way by an immense drought that has it the region. Eritrea may also be affected, but according to the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) data is hard to come by there. At a time like this the support of a foreign government towards an affected group of people shows the great degree of compassion that people can show to their brothers and sisters around the world.

Indeed, it can go some way towards restoring my faith in humanity – especially where the Western powers are involved. In this spirit, on the 6th July, the UK Government stated that the size of their assistance will run to £38 million pounds (just under $61 million at mid-market rates) which, according to DFID is going to Ethiopia. This money is designed to assist the 3.2 million people who DFID believe to be at risk there and will be enough to feed “1.2 million people for three months” (DFID, 2011).On the 6th July, Andrew Mitchell, MP for International Development, added, that “the UK has also provided strong support for Kenya and for Somalia in the last financial year, funding emergency nutrition, health, water and sanitation and livelihood support activities.”

Why is it then that, in spite of this great act of kindness from one government to another, that I feel a little uneasy? The answer lies in the way in which foreign aid is dealt with. Questions that come to mind include: how is this to be distributed? Who is going to be responsible for its distribution? What measures are going to be put into place to prevent a similar crisis from happening again in order to ensure the long term ‘food security’ of East African people?

Some of the biggest problems with foreign aid are the strings that can come attached. In the case of the Horn of Africa crisis, DFID hasn’t made clear, publically at least, of any stipulation for the aid being sent to Ethiopia. This is not always the case. In 2005 the US government pledged $15 million over five years to fight AIDS – the conditions were that money would go primarily to pro-abstinence programmes and steer clear of clinics offering abortions (Moyo, 2009).

Then there is also the risk of aid getting into the wrong hands. According to Dr Adwok Nyaba, the SPLA – to some a rebel militia group, to others Southern Sudan’s de facto military until independence last week – had been diverting food aid away from the needy. He said, “[S]ince humanitarian assistance is only provided for the needy civil population, the task of distribution of this assistance fell on specially selected SPLA officers and men who saw to it that the bulk of the supplies went to the army” (ESPAC, 1998). The net result of this meaning that suffering citizens are left wanting.
Save the Children are one of the charities on the frontline in East Africa.
So how can we work with aid to ensure that it gets to those who need it the most? It is a difficult question, especially when you are dealing with food and unstable regimes. In the case of Somalia the people have not only food security to worry about, but their own physical safety too in a country where the government is seen as practically ineffective. Al-Shabaab did state on the 6th April (BBC, 2011) that they would allow food aid in, but how far can they and will they be trusted to not use the relief aid as a weapon against their own people?

Ultimately, programmes to manage the distribution of aid have to be loosely co-ordinated by an overseeing body, the UN for example, but I feel that in as many cases as possible governmental involvement should be kept to a minimum. The responsibility of ensuring people can survive these testing times should lie with good-intentioned NGOs. The governments should be busy in the meantime coming up with strategies to ensure that this kind of humanitarian devastation does not happen again.

Simply providing a lump-sum of money to a foreign government will not do. Simply providing bags of grain to a government to pass on to its people will not do. Well-managed distribution of food, by groups free from political bias, religious bias and desire to ruthlessly profiteer from the vulnerable, acting independently of governmental interference is the only way. Even then, this should only happen as a starting point in a longer-term strategy to deal with firstly the refugee crisis growing in northern Kenya as a result of the Somali civil war and secondly the food security of the people of the Horn of Africa region.

How this can be achieved, with all of the world’s nations’ vested interests, I do not know. It is my sincerest hope that the money pledged to Ethiopia by DFID will be managed in a way that only benefits the people who actually need the assistance – not people looking to make money off the destitute. I also hope that this money is free from any political terms and conditions.

As for the other countries affected, I hope that suitable donors will come forward to assist in their management and survival through this potential catastrophe, but we must all recognise that, as people who love and care for Africa, as people who have Africa running through our veins, it is partly our responsibility to hold rogue elements to account whilst ensuring the survival and eventual flourishing of our brothers and sisters who may currently be suffering in East Africa.

This article was first published on 16th July 2011 on Africa on the Blog. All photos are copyright 2011 Save the Children UK.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

The Bakiga Window: The Closest Thing to Eden?

The view over Lake Bunyonyi from Itambira Island.

The sun is setting to my left as I sit looking out over what could be paradise on earth. The trees are helpfully beginning to mute the warmth of our most powerful star as it sinks lower and lower behind the line of hills to the West.

It is Saturday 16th April and I am sat watching the evening sky paint its moving picture over Lake Bunyonyi, from a vantage point on the Itambira Island resort of Byoona Amagara.

As with every year, after a week of attending meetings, organising my own students and working on education projects with various institutions around Kabale, we retreat to Lake Bunyonyi to relax and reflect for the weekend. As with previous years, we have come with a group of Kigezi High School students and staff.

I will admit, that at this moment, I am leaving all and sundry to their own devices and, although I am sat with two close colleagues, no one is speaking and I am glad of that fact.

This place is so unspoiled by humanity – I guess I mean large numbers of westerners. The resorts, be them around the banks of the lake or on islands in the middle of the lake, are all eco-resorts and live symbiotically and peacefully within the environment.

It is the purity of these surroundings that encourage your heart to bare itself. You think about your time in East Africa, the friends you’ve made, the things you’ve seen and often your failures to complete certain projects. This is a place that ideas grow within your soul. This is a place where you resolve to improve yourself, rather than demand improvement in others.

One such thought I am having, as I look out over this small bay, relates to the local population of Bunyonyi. At this moment, one of my biggest failures is my lack of knowledge about the rural communities here.

After three annual visits to Kabale, I am getting a good idea about many regional quirks. I can even say a few things in Rukiga – albeit very bady. I understand that if one of my Bakiga friends tells me they’re going for a short call, it doesn’t mean that they are off to use their mobile phone.

All well and good, but life is different for rural communities and I know that. Embarrassingly I haven’t visited the school on the Bwana Island that lies to the right of this natural picture frame in front of me. In fact, I haven’t visited the small village to the north of Itambira that lies to the right of my natural picture frame.

So it is, that as the sun continues to set, I whisper to myself a resolution: next year the men, women and children of Itambira and Bwana will be my educators and kill off this ignorance I have of their communities.

Friday, September 09, 2011

The Bakiga Window: Taufiq Islamic Primary School: Part II


In a manner so typically Ugandan, Yasim approaches silently and politely asks whether he can have a word with me – it is one of those ironies that a word has to be had in order to have a word with someone. Irony aside, he has heard back from the Sheikh and arranged an appointment for me.

It is Wednesday 20th April and once more I find myself en route to Taufiq Islamic Primary School. The morning started in the usual way: waking up sleepy students, ensuring that everyone had 'taken' breakfast and had a supply of bottled water, and then walking with the group down the hill, into the town. At the foot of the hill, the group scattered into many fragments, with everyone off in search of their own adventures. I head straight on, past the noise of the metal workers, over to Taufiq.

After having had to beat a hasty retreat last week, I was unsure of who would be in my reception committee.

Teacher Bright was the first to greet me, before taking me inside to meet with the Headteacher Lule, a member of the PTA called Yusuf and a third gentleman, also a member of the local Muslim community.

After a few minutes, I noticed that there seemed to be a distinct lack of children around, but thought little more of it. Perhaps they were all at the Mosque. Maybe lessons started later on a Wednesday morning. After a few minutes of general chat we proceeded over to the other side of the Mosque.
The Primary 7 class doing their best not to burst into laughter.
Walking past some slowly crumbling houses, we turned a corner to see the new school buildings. Built entirely from wood chopped down from the Mosque's grounds, they looked great under the morning sunshine, but I could imagine in the coldest months they could become very cold, very quickly.

Getting closer I could see that the children were all huddled in one of the larger classrooms and a wave of excitement broke out amongst them. It was clear that all the classes had been grouped together in anticipation of my arrival.

The children were left waiting a little while longer as I went into a different classroom to sign the guestbook and for Lule to explain more about the school. He had prepared a selection of documents for me including files of some of the neediest pupils and a detailed termly budget for the school. 

The pupils in the file are all orphans and are being educated free of charge by the school. Members of the local Muslim community care for them at their own expense. There is no doubt that after talking to the Lule and Yusuf, it is clear to see that many members of the community are very poor, but their collective resolve to make their lives better is abundantly clear.

After around twenty minutes, I went to the classroom next door to be greeted by a hundred or so smartly dressed children. The boys all wearing white atqiyah and the girls wearing white ahjiba. Luckily for me no one started crying, instead they all patiently asked questions about the United Kingdom - a favourite being "Did you work for the Queen and is she a nice boss?"

It was a great experience to spend twenty minutes chatting with them. It was evident that what Teacher Bright had said before, about there not being many visitors to the school to see the children, was true. They obviously enjoyed the experience of having someone new showing them some interest.

My real work now starts in working out strategies to help the school in the future, and developing a close working relationship with them.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Bakiga Window: Taufiq Islamic Primary School

The Primary 6 class 'revising'.
The sun is relentless this afternoon. After a typically rainy season morning of mist and showers, the clouds have parted and I can feel my skin beginning to cook under Uganda’s wide blue skies.

It is Wednesday 13th April and I have delegated my group leader responsibilities for a few hours, in order for me to go about following up on something I promised I would last year, namely visiting the Taufiq Islamic Primary School.

When I visited last year, my immediate reaction was use a selection of adjectives, all with negative connotations. This wasn’t as a reflection of the school as an organisation, or of the small, but hard-working, Muslim community who look after it, but more focused on the cramped conditions that the boarding students had to live in.

So it was, that after a short lunchtime meeting with the father of a student from Kigezi High School, I followed the path down to Taufiq: past the ladies selling bananas, weaving my way through the hive of activity that is the taxi rank, through the clattering of men working on bits of metal. There I met with Teacher Bright.

After signing the guest book and chatting about whether much had changed in the year since my last visit, he started to take me on a tour of the inner courtyard of the main building. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before a Primary 6 class, who were meant to be revising for a test, saw me and began to look excitedly at their mzungu visitor.

I asked the teacher whether this small class was always this excitable. He replied, “not really. Most visitors to the school aren’t here to see the children.” I asked whether I could meet them and he obliged.

The pupils took it in turns to ask questions and either giggled or gasped in response to any answers I gave them. At first the questions were about England: “Do you really have a Queen?” and “Does it really rain all the time?” The questions moved on to “do you have Muslims in the UK?” I then informed them that in London, where I teach, most of my students are Muslim. This surprised them, but also brought smiles to their faces.

At this point a phone call came through to teacher Bright. There were reports coming through that a mzungu was visiting the school and the Sheikh hadn’t been informed. I took this as an indication to leave, albeit feeling somewhat disappointed, and I made my way back to the road.

Later that night, Yasim, the KHS bus driver and a member of Kabale’s Muslim community saw me walking home, still in a melancholy mood and called me over. He had heard about the mix up at the school and was able to inform the Sheikh that I was good man, a friend of Islam and someone without ulterior motives.

I was left waiting on a phone call to see if I would get a formal invite back to the school later in the week.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Coucher de Soleil en Normandie


Whilst London was gripped by fleeting madness, I was fortunate enough to be in Ouistreham, France. It is a small coastal resort in the Calvados département in Basse-Normandie. The weather was extremely good, with the exception of the last day when the rain made a brief appearance.

The above picture was taken on the broad expanse of flat sand that makes up part of Gold Beach, in Ouistreham, at sunset or coucher de soleil

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Moonraker by Ian Fleming

Cover image © Penguin Viking
The third novel in the series Moonraker (1955), sees a noticeable shift from the style of the first two. The first noticeable difference is the division of the novel in three parts: 'Monday', 'Tuesday/Wednesday' and 'Thursday/Friday' - in a way reflecting the normality of a working week for many readers. Indeed the first few pages seem to portray a mundane start to an average week at the office for Bond, away from the international jet-setting, dangerous, man of mystery role that we've seen graphically displayed in the previous novels.

The action starts in a low-key manner. M, Bond's boss at the Secret Service, is a member of a Gentlemen's club and has been alerted by the management there about a famous character who insists on cheating at cards, despite his wealth. So it is that Bond is invited to play Sir Hugo Drax at cards, in turn teaching him a lesson and softly putting an end to his unfair winning streak.

Drax's character is one of the most intriguing so far in the series. He has a blurry back-story that we don't have clarified until the novel's end. Also, far from being a typical Bond villain, he is lauded by the British government, the press and the general public as being a national hero - an opinion brought about as a result of his rags to riches tale, heroism in the war effort before being injured, his shrewd economic dealings and his willingness to fund and design a missile, the 'Moonraker', to assist the British in creating a nuclear weapon.

Following a couple of mysterious deaths, Bond is assigned to assist Drax in preparing security for the missile prior to its test launch on the Friday of that week. Working with the cold and overly-professional Special Branch officer Gala Brand, an increasing number of incidents of strange behaviour begin to make Bond suspect that Hugo Drax isn't quite who he says he is.

The second notable shift is that Fleming bases the novel entirely in England and in doing so creates a great snippet of the paranoia at the start of the Cold War in the UK. Preoccupations with powerful weapons capable of destroying entire cities and the fear that anyone could be working for 'the other side' abound through this story and are portrayed in the typically engaging and eloquent prose of Fleming.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming

Cover image © Penguin Viking
So, having read and enjoyed Casino Royale, I couldn't really resist reading Live and Let Die (1954). Most people who have seen the films maybe haven't read the books and frankly they're missing out. What has continued to delight me about the novels is the fact that they are a lot darker and more serious than the Bond films. 

In the second novel, James Bond is called into action to take on a Harlem gangster, Mr Big, and his network of criminality that inevitably leads back to SMERSH. The nature of Mr Big's activities revolves around the selling of 17th Century gold coins in order to bankroll Soviet spies' operations in the USA. Meaning that the locus of the tensions moves from British-Soviet relations to US-Soviet relations - the biggest area of tension during the Cold War. 

From Harlem and the jazz clubs, all the way to the Everglades, it seems that Mr Big's network is endless and this claustrophobia is recreated in Fleming's writing. The story eventually leads to the tropical paradise of Jamaica where Mr Big has his island base. 

There is of course the customary damsel in distress, Solitaire, who is able to see into the future. Having been used in the past by Mr Big to build his operations, she defects to assist Bond before being kidnapped and taken to Mr Big's mysterious island off the coast of mainland Jamaica. 

The action has serious pace, yet the novel does the depth of the characters a whole lot more justice than the film ever could. You really get a sense of the threat of the violence and edginess emanating from the voodoo underworld throughout - something lost in the technicolour campness of the 1973 film. 

Fleming's writing, it is clear to see, had developed by the time of writing the second Bond novel. The plot is a lot tighter and moves fluidly from chapter to chapter, almost always having a small cliffhanger at the end of each. Of particular interest to modern readers are the terms by which Fleming refers to the black characters. Words such as 'purple' to describe very dark skin tone, 'nigger' and 'negress' are all terms that show the novel is of its time - whether the use of such words is racist, or just displaying the mild ignorance of the period, is for scholars to decide.

Review for Live and Let Die adapted from an Ayohcee review previously available on LivingSocial:Books before the closure of that site.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Cover image © Penguin Viking
It was always going to be the case that, after reading a 'new' James Bond novel authored by Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming, I would need to go back to the roots of the story. So, when looking at the vast back-catalogue of Fleming's Bond novels I was surprised to see that Casino Royale (1953), one of the most recent Bond films, was actually the starting point for Bond as a character in the series of novels. 

The first novel follows Bond, a British Secret Service spy, on a mission to a Casino in Royale-Les-Eaux, a (fictional) northern French resort. His aim is to bankrupt Le Chiffre, an operative and paymaster for the Soviet counterintelligence agency SMERSH - a name which means 'death to spies'. Operating undercover as a Jamaican playboy, Bond very nearly comes unstuck at the baccarat table, before getting a little financial help from his CIA friends. 

Job done? Not quite. From here events move quickly as Le Chiffre takes his revenge for the harm that Bond has done to his finances and needless to say, there is woman involved in the mix too, Vesper Lynd (supposedly a phonetic play on 'West Berlin). The story twists and turns with the action slowing down and speeding up beautifully before the unexpected ending. 

Strikingly, the James Bond of the novels is not an invincible superhero and he takes a serious beating at the hands of his nemesis in this novel and is without the arsenal of gadgets that the film directors afford him. Yes the womanising, smooth-talking, cool character is evident, but the book has a dark, almost sadistic undertone that keeps the reader flinching as blows reign down on Bond's body. 

This novel sets up Bond's character magnificently for sequels and showcases Fleming's fantastic ability to capture characters, locations and opulance, as well as darkness, pain and suffering.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Bakiga Window: Enter Stage Right


A young girl waiting for her turn on stage.

A young girl stands nervously biting her nails whilst holding a couple of pompoms. Peering around the corner of the doorframe, into a room darkened by the inclement weather outside, she watches as her teachers perform a number of traditional Kikiga and Rwandese dances. Her turn will be soon.

It is Wednesday 13th April and after spending the first half of the morning at Blessed Academy's out of town nursery, we are now at the main primary school premises in Kabale. It is still raining heavily and the roads have nearly finished their transitions into flowing rivers of red mud.

I feel a tiny bit on edge as the first performances unfold in front of the other class children, the teachers and the small bazungu audience. I guess that the uncertainty comes as a result of watching a show without having any idea of what is going on beyond the obvious aesthetic display.

Questions continually pop into my mind: What does this movement symbolise? Why is that man wearing a straw wig? Is this Kikiga or Rwandese?What are the items that look a lot like giant butternut squashes the girls are dancing with?

After fighting my enquiring mind into submission, I just decide to let it go and I watch intently as, teachers, and then the children, take it in turns to dance and sing. Everyone from the smallest of P1 pupils to the tallest of P7 pupils has a part to play - in all instances they play their parts impeccably.

The older pupils definitely seem to be feeling the pressure more, and their tension and desire to prove how good they are at dancing to their foreign guests is evident: the nail biting; the shuffling of feet; the last minute rehearsals, off to stage right in the damp and muddy car park. 

Finally, our young girl's time to shine has come. The nail biting stops. She stands upright and walks out of the doorway, obscured from the eyes of her audience.

The old sound system rumbles to life once more, straining under the weight of the bass of a CD version of a traditional song, and after a couple of seconds, our girl appears, followed by an equally eager team of dancers, to take centre stage for two precious minutes.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Appointment With Death by Agatha Christie

As a child I was brought up on a cocktail of television adaptations of Agatha Christie’s work. It is only in my adult life that I have realised just how prolific a writer she really was. My favourite of all her characters was undoubtedly the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. This, combined with my love of Middle Eastern culture, led to choosing Appointment With Death as my first ever Christie novel.

Appointment With Death was published in 1938 and is based in Jerusalem and Petra. It follows the fortunes of a satisfyingly diverse range of characters: the Boynton family and their domineering matriarch; an old friend of the Boynton family; a young female doctor; an internationally renowned psychologist; and a couple of well-to-do English ladies.

We see remarkably little of Poirot at first in this novel, with the exception being when he overhears the words, “you do see, don’t you, she’s got to be killed?” through the walls of his hotel room. To many, this could be throwaway statement, to Hercule Poirot, even when he’s on a holiday, the alarm bells ring.

As the action moves from the hotel in Jerusalem to a camp at Petra, so to does the cast of characters, whose lives seem to be becoming increasingly intertwined. It is here that the elder Mrs Boynton meets her demise.

Christie weaves a plot that results in everyone, from family members, through to the servants on the camp in Petra, all being implicated in the murder of the Mrs Boynton.

The local British Administrator – the region was known as the British Mandate for Palestine at the time – calls upon Hercule Poirot to assist, not in finding a case to bring to court, but simply to find out the truth. This Poirot does impeccably, in his own distinct style, and needless to say the culprit is not who I expected them to be.

Agatha Christie, having travelled to the Middle East along with her husband in the 1930s, seems to have used all of her skills in not just creating a great storyline, but also in embedding this within the setting of British Palestine. You feel at once that you are reading a splendid novel, whilst learning about a very specific time period.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Bakiga Window: Nursery on the Kisoro Road

Singing and dancing in the dark on Kisoro Road.
It feels like I’m on a bit of an adventure this morning. A group of four of us, upon hearing the rumbling of Mugisha Wycliffe’s car coming along the red dirt track, leapt to our feet, ready to run out into the rain, across the car park, and into his old Toyota.

It is Wednesday 13th April and we’re visiting the nursery of Blessed Academy, to be introduced to the children and some of the staff.

Perhaps the most curious thing about the nursery is that it is some 15km outside of Kabale – away from the location of Blessed Academy’s primary age school. It feels strange to be whizzing along the Kisoro road, leaving the other staff and students behind, but mildly refreshing. I have with me: Helen, a member of staff; Stefan, a former student before I taught at WMSF; and Carmel, a current student.

The rain has been falling heavily for most of the night and as such the electricity in Kabale has stopped. With the noisy generator outside the front of Green Hills, it is a wonder than anyone got any sleep. That said, I am thankful to have had any electricity.

The rain continues as we head out into the countryside. Not for the first time ever, the rural parts of Kabale district remind me of Wales. The trees are a lush green and are invariably dripping wet with rain. Thankfully, this road is the best in Uganda and my nightmares of being stranded in a red muddy wilderness soon faded.

Upon arrival at the nursery, there isn’t what I call the ‘50-50 Response’ – whereby half the children burst with excitement whilst the other half runs off crying. Instead the children are all waiting patiently inside the building, sheltered from the rain. When Mugisha had said they were desperate to meet us, he wasn't lying.

Once inside, the first thing that struck me about this nursery was how dark and remote it seemed – it made the Wise Parent’s Nursery, where I had met the lovely little girl Faith, seem palatial. The floor was rough, the rooms small and the resources scant. In true Bakiga style, the children seemed unfazed by this and went about singing a song welcoming us.

The children are always curious about bazungu and took the opportunity to check that our pointy noses were real, to check that the hair on our arms was really attached and to investigate how digital cameras worked. They were also exceptionally curious about Carmel, who is mixed race. They could tell that she was a little bit mzungu, but you could also see that they thought she may be a bit mukiga too.

The exterior of the nursery, with a few brave children waving goodbye in the rain.
Our visit was fleeting. We had another appointment at the building of Blessed Academy in Kabale and with some sadness, after a final round of songs about being a good boy or girl and counting, we had to leave.

It left us all reflecting on how despite the nursery lacking so many basic amenities, how well it somehow gets by. It surely performs a great role for this small rural community, but at the same time highlights how big the discrepancy between the resources in town-based schools and rural schools is, even in a supposed third world country.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Basil D'Oliveira: Cricket and Controversy by Peter Oborne

Cover image © Time Warner Books
It is sometimes difficult for someone who was only seven years old at the time of Nelson Mandela’s release from Robben Island to understand the magnitude of Apartheid in South Africa. I remember watching an old looking black man on the TV in 1990, walking along a dusty street, waving at loads of people and that was it. When you’re seven, you don’t always understand that history can actually happen – you think it is something from the past.

Basil D’Oliveira, or Dolly as he became known, was born in Cape Town in 1931. Being of mixed Indian and Portuguese heritage he was officially classified by the Apartheid regime as ‘coloured’ – what in the UK we would now term mixed race. This immediately barred him from many things in South Africa, the most notable of which was the right to ever be able to play his beloved cricket for the country of his birth, despite his talent.

This excellently well-researched and heavily referenced book by Peter Oborne tells the story of D’Oliveira from his days as a youth in Ba-Kaap area of Cape Town, talking about how he practiced on the cobbled streets of the old Malay Quarter of Cape Town and would play cricket under the shadow of Table Mountain on awful pitches.

Oborne tells of his early years in England where he was at first confused by the lack of separate doors for ‘coloureds’ when he went to the pub. The story continues, explaining how he was eventually selected to play for the English national side after a good spell at Middleton CC and Worcestershire.

It is not surprising then that a large portion of this book is given over to examining a series of shameful events that are now known as ‘The D’Oliveira Affair’ that saw D’Oliveira left out of the England team due to tour South Africa. Oborne looks closely at the sinister dealings of the Apartheid government, the weakness of the UK Government and the pandering to Apartheid of the MCC – the governing body of cricket in the UK at the time conspired against D’Oliveira.

Eventually, following a media storm, he was reinstated to the team only for the South African Prime Minister, Balthazar Johannes Vorster, to take exception to this ‘insult’ and cancel the tour.

It is a testament to the author that he manages to weave such a disparate amount of detail together into a clear narrative. He is also very quick not to just lay the blame at the doorstep of the regime in South Africa, but to expose how equally complicit some members of the MCC were and how weak the UK Government’s line on Apartheid was.

This could easily be seen as just a book about cricket, but in reality it is so much more. It tells the heart-warming story of quiet man who saw himself as ‘just a cricketer, and not a politician’ surviving the political quagmires of both Apartheid and the English establishment.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Bakiga Window: On Any Given Day...

The view from the step of the Royal Supermarket, Kabale.
On any given day, the main street through Kabale loudly plays its song. The rumbling of trucks’ tyres provides the beat, their engines the bass. Over this the boda-bodas provides a dissonant scream of a melody. Occasionally solo riffs are mixed in and out by a people asking, ‘osiibire gye’ and ‘agandi’.

It is Thursday 14th April and I am on the covered porch area of the Royal Supermarket in the middle of Kabale town – a kind of focal point for Bazungu resting on the Ntungamo-Kisoro road.

The man in charge of the shop, Bunty, is an Indian. His little brother having been raised most of his life here regularly switches between Rukiga, Punjabi and English, much to the relief of the high number of customers who frequent the store.

At this store Bazungu come in all varieties, much like the flavours of juice. You can choose, English, Irish, American, German, Dutch and even Slovenian. They shuffle in, give a 'knowing glance' to any other bazungu in the shop, buy their goods and shuffle out again. They make me laugh and swear under my breath in equal measure as my instinct is always to be suspicious of people's motives - doubtless they may think the same as me.

Regardless of the little white dots who pass in and out, punctuating the vivid colour of Kabale, the Royal Supermarket is a great vantage point for watching people go about their business. As I sit here I see a dad on boda-boda laden with shopping and a couple of primary school-age children. I see two noisy and glamorous Orange mobile saleswomen talking about everything but mobile phones. I also see some familiar faces of street children nibbling at a raw cabbage.

The beauty of life here is the vibrancy of the people. The cadences in people's voices as they greet each other in Rukiga - a sound a lot more melodic than English spoken by Englishmen and women. The colours of their clothes. The beautiful postures of people walking to or from work.

I could sit and watch this show quite happily until the sun goes down.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

Never one to do things in the most logical of orders, I watched the film version of A Single Man, starring Colin Firth as the main protagonist, before I had read the novella. In fact I had no clue about the existence of Christopher Isherwood prior to watching the film. The film was a fantastic piece of cinema so I decided to investigate the novel behind it.

A Single Man is the story of one day in the life of George, a gay Englishman working as a professor in a Los Angeles college. The narrative focuses an intense light on George's movements and actions from the moment he wakes until the end of the day - maybe that should say the end of his days.

George is living in a neighbourhood that was once bohemian, but has been slowly populated by homogenous, Stepford-esque suburbanites. They all aspire to have clean lives free from anything 'queer' infringing upon it. To this extent George exists very much on the periphery of this way of life with the character of Mrs Strunk as good as saying you're a nice guy, but we can't let you meet our friends because you're gay

Along the way a small cast of characters transect George's day, and most importantly Charlotte and Kenny. Charlotte is an old friend of George's and is desperately lonely having been left by her husband and her son. Kenny is one of George's students who seems to harbour feelings towards George, but never openly expresses it.

All of the events work to highlight one thing, that George feels separate from this constantly-looking-over-your-shoulder, Cold War world, not least as a result of losing his life partner Jim. Strangely, his interactions with Kenny in the evening seem to reconcile George with the world, but his ephinany is never realised.

Thankfully the characters are not as sanitisied as the characters in the Hollywood version of the story. George is not as anally-retentive as Firth's portrayal, Charlotte not as a outwardly glamourous and Kenny is not as stereotypically college-boy American.

Ultimately, this is the sad story of a lonely man, but it is also a great critique on the homogenisation of every day life and culture in Southern California in 1962. There is an ever present tone of cynicism in the voice of George, that although clichéd now, marks the novel as very much of its time.

It seems simplistic to see this novel as a incitement to react against the oppressive force of passing time, yet I struggle to express a simplified idea of the novel's meaning. Any help would be gratefully received.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Bakiga Window: Watching Evening Arrive in Kabale

The evening view from my balcony in Room 103 at Green Hills Hotel, Kabale.
When you've been as busy as I have today, a moment's respite from it all is a necessity. I've met many familiar faces and greeted many new faces and now is an opportunity for thirty minutes of 'me' time.

It is the evening of Monday 11th April and I am sat on my balcony in Room 103 of Green Hills Hotel, Kabale - a hotel that is as familiar to me now as my own family's home in Warwick, in the UK. As the trip leader, my one perk - other than executive decision making power - is a room with a view and balcony.

This time of day is perfect for reflecting on the frenetic pace of the day behind you with all of its counting of shillings and being here or that at such a time. What an irony it is then that Ugandans don't seem to rush around for anything and yet bazungu are quite happy to, exhausting themselves by 6pm. What was it that they say about mad dogs and Englishmen?

Sitting back, even as the smoke from a combination of coal and kerosene burners drifts up the valley, and even though the silence is intermittently punctuated by the beat from a PA system floating in my direction as the wind changes, this moment is still full of serenity.

So as the last glimmers of sunlight leak out of the valley in the direction of the Congo, for now anyway, I will recline in my balcony chair, reflect on a job well done thus far and contemplate the many things left on my programme for the week.
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