Friday, January 21, 2011

Les Journaux Africains: Green Hills Hotel, Kabale, Uganda - 07:02 09/04/2010

Amazingly, we have reached Friday and suddenly the sense that time has escaped me trickles through my veins. I am sure that Greg and Jeff are feeling this too as today is the last full day of decorating that they have open to them before we head off to Lake Bunyonyi tomorrow afternoon.

With that said, I was the first down to breakfast again. In front of me I have a couple of 'Spanish' omelettes, stumpy bananas and a cup of black tea. I have been sticking faithfully to excluding any lactose - as well as the usual gluten - from my diet and, to be honest, I am gagging for some proper milk. 

Regardless, with my breakfast in front of me, I feel at home here. The view from the verandah of the Green Hills Hotel, with its high vantage point over Kabale, is a view that will forever be visible in my mind's eye. At this time of day, with the low-lying mist blanketing the valley, it is beautiful - truly beautiful.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Les Journaux Africains: Green Hills Hotel, Kabale, Uganda - 19:15 08/04/2010

The darkness has crept along the tops of the valleys once more, like black ink seeping through blotting paper, and I'm settling down to a cold Fanta after a busy day.

Just when I feel that everything is slowing down, Carrie presents me with the entries for the poetry contest. So much for an early night!

There are roughly thirty poems for me to go through and, having cast a cursory glance through them, some are of a really high quality. Perhaps I can arrange with Sebi to make an anthology of their work to go into the KHS library.

Now to dinner - what a short entry - I'm guessing it will be another 'African Buffet'.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cobra Verde by Werner Herzog

Having recently read and reviewed the novel 'The Viceroy of Ouidah' by Bruce Chatwin, I sought out a film adaptation on LoveFilm. What I found was a German-language film called 'Cobra Verde' directed by Werner Herzog and starring Klaus Kinski as Don Francisco Manoel da Silva.

The film, as with the novel, starts in Brazil. We see a dusty and desolate land ravaged by drought. The near silence during those opening scenes followed by the snarling expression on Kinski's face serves well to set the scene for what is, for all intents and purposes, a very dark tale. The sense of foreboding in Kinski's face, though, does not then prepare you for how two-dimensional the film's characters  and story line become.

Chatwin's novel, as I have discussed previously, does remarkably well to weave such a rich tapestry of characters into such a small number of words. Herzog's film falls short of this. Rather than seeing the complexities of da Silva's character and life evolving over the course of the film, we are presented with Kinski's maniacal snarling interspersed with minutes of near-silent mumbling.

It is interesting that this film, although wonderfully shot, is called "masterful adaptation of Chatwin's novel" as it deviates so wildly from the novel at times, and yet borrows from the narrative quite closely at others. Perhaps the representation of the King of Dahomey, in all his eccentricity is best captured, but even this character falls flat, just when the audience feels that they are beginning to get a clue about him.

To round things off, there are the almost gratuitous scenes of bare breasted African females, playing the role of the Dahomey amazon warriors, followed by a half-naked choir of teenage girls. Yes, there was a regiment of amazons in Dahomey, but their depiction in this film seems at odds with history.

The deviations from the excellent novel text are too frequent and so, if we forget that the film is meant to be an adaptation and judge the film on its merits as a film, then I think that this film is as schizophrenic as Kinski's portrayal of da Silva. Herzog, revered by many as a a great director, has in my opinion got this film wrong and any praise should go to the cameramen on this production for some beautiful cinematography.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Les Journaux Africains: Edirisa, Kabale, Uganda - 16.10 08/04/2010 - Part Two

All photos © 2010, J. Vanderpool.
As Grace walked off into the dust of the main road, my dinner date arrived. By way of saying thank you for the lovely birthday cake, I offered to buy lunch at the Little Ritz for Sister Eva, a hardworking and open-minded nun with Caritas Internationalis. We both went for the option of grilled chicken, chips, salad and Fanta.

After lunch, we headed off to the Catholic convent school on the edge of town. As we bounced down the dusty backstreets in Sr Eva's Nissan car I thought to myself how liberating it was to be away from the main group of staff and students for a while and to be doing some exploring alone.

The convent school, named after a local bishop whose name escapes me already, was of great contrast to the Islamic primary school that I had visited earlier in the week. There was secure compound with a guard, neat, uniformly build buildings with a house for the nuns and dorms for some of the children. The gardens were well tendered and the buildings had windows.

I was given a tour of the premises and was greeted with rapturous applause and singing upon entry into any of the rooms. I was intrigued to find a pair of mixed race children; the first such I had seen in Uganda.

Greg and Rohan painting the high bits.
With time running out, I was offered tea with the Headmistress, Sr Eva, and a more junior nun. We had time to discuss the differences between our countries' cultures, morality and the infamous Anti-Homosexuality Bill that is being proposed in the Ugandan Parliament.

As we left the kitchen, we passed the vocational education unit for post-primary school aged girls. It was amusing to see the reactions on their faces at seeing a male over the age of eleven in their compound - and a white one in a cowboy hat at that!

Sister Eva, thankfully, was able to run me back into town - good because I had only a small idea of the route back. She took me on an alternative route into the suburbs, through throngs of students finishing school and past the municipal stadium to the Edirisa.

Once at the Edirisa, I walked into the room that is to become the Kabale Arts Centre to find Greg, Jeff and a merry band of our students helping out. Also in attendance was Ruth, who was covered, or so it seemed, head to toe in paint.

I picked up my bag of plaster, mixed it with water on the floor and carried on where I had left off yesterday. Following Jeff's rampage, whereby he pulled out all the remaining old screws and nails from the walls, I had suddenly found I had a lot more holes to fill. At around six, Greg suggested that we call it an evening to finish the decorating job once and for all tomorrow - I have found myself a table to write at whilst I wait for him to finish. I am glad the day is slowing down. I am tired.

Fantastic photo by Jeff Vanderpool of Rahima and Lul, two of my students.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Les Journaux Africains: Edirisa, Kabale, Uganda - 16.10 08/04/2010 - Part One

Being that my last entry into this journal was made at nine o'clock this morning, you might get a hint at how busy I have been.

The day started with a misty stroll down into the town. The air was particularly heavy this morning, pregnant with the threat of heavy rain, but this gently subsided by the time things got going at Restore Lost Hope - a centre for street children opposite the Little Ritz in the town.

Before getting into our activities, we were invited to introduce ourselves to children. After each of us had said our names, the children would beat out a rhythm on a drum and clap their hands. The children then, accompanied by the adult helpers, danced and sang a song of introduction, native to the local Abanyakigezi people.

My activity focused on storytelling and I had Grace Kamie helping out, along with Thomas and Tugce - two of my students from the UK. Many of the children at the centre could only speak the local Rukiga language and so, thinking on my feet, I devised a plan that involved Grace translating.

Four of the braver students would tell a story in Rukiga. Grace would translate as the children took it turns to tell their stories, with myself and the English students writing the stories onto an empty storyboard drawn out on A2 paper. So that the children could begin to associate words with 'real' things, the storyboard was then illustrated by the remaining twenty or so students. The stories involved a lot of wicked stepmothers and lonely children.

Despite my earlier worries, the process went well, with the children being genuinely proud of what they'd produced together, with minimal fighting over crayons.

At the end of our time at the centre, it was time for Grace to return home, towards Ntungamo on the 1pm coach. Having paid for her bus fare, by way of small thanks for all her hard work, and with a few, or rather a lot, of tears shed, we said our goodbyes.

This entry is continued Monday.

Les Journaux Africains: Green Hills Hotel, Kabale, Uganda - 09:00 08/04/2010

The expression 'Street Children' conjures up some interesting mental images and, indeed, some very sad mental images - ragged clothes, dirty faces, et cetera.

After one of his solo visits to Uganda, Greg found a small centre called Restore Lost Hope (RLH), just opposite the Little Ritz, in Kabale town centre. The purpose of RLH is to provide some sort of learning space for children whose parents, if they have any, can't afford to pay for education and so would otherwise be left to roam the streets of Kabale until they were old enough to get a job.

This morning, we - a group of teachers, students and Grace, who will be acting as my interpreter - are heading down to the centre, not really knowing what to expect, or how things will work out.

Myself, Tash and Hanka did some preliminary planning a few weekends back, involving a carousel of different activities. I'll be dealing with Storytelling and who knows what will happen.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Les Journaux Africains: Edirisa, Town Centre, Kabale, Uganda - 18.50 07/04/2010

Photo © 2010, Matt Jenkins.
I spent a decent amount of time this afternoon setting up a creative writing competition for the Senior 6 class with their teacher, Sebi, and Stefan, one of the WMSF group. Stef and myself had come up with a plan earlier in the week whereby we would share a double lesson with Sebi's group and look at creative writing around the themes of 'Freedom', 'Celebration', 'Noise' and 'Singing' - we had been looking at the poem 'This Room' by Imtiaz Dharker.

The students had seemed a bit skeptical about creative writing at first as the Ugandan Literature curriculum doesn't allow for much creativity - it is worth noting that the Literature curriculum in the UK was similar until quite recently. With Sebi on board, an amateur poet and at times a lone voice in the school, we know that by Thursday evening's deadline for entries that there will be plenty to judge.

The lesson had to finish early as a whole-school assembly had been called following the beating of a student from a another school - it would appear that some students may have gotten themselves implicated. All students and school staff were in attendance along with the local police superintendant; a man as scary as the armed prison guard with whom me and Nick DS had come face to face last year. The bazungu weren't invited, but I stood chatting with Sebi for a short while, observing the proceedings.

After the usual, protracted daily goodbyes, I headed into town with a group of others on foot, bound for the Edirisa.

Photo © 2010, Jeff Vanderpool.
Upon arriving at the Edirisa, somewhere I had sometimes in the past thought of as being a place where mzungu backpackers hide from the real world, I was enthralled to see the effort that Greg, Jeff and a band of local helpers had put in.

Every fixture that I remember as being there from the year before, in the main café room, was gone. The room was a complete shell where once there had been bookshelves, tables and souvenirs for sale. Paper had been laid out on the floor, pots of paint were waiting to be opened and dead plaster lettered various corners of the room.

I know that the room will be successfully transformed into the Kabale Arts Centre by Tuesday, it's just that,  looking at it at the moment, it seems inconceivable. I guess it will be something like 'Grand Designs, Uganda'.

Whilst waiting to head back up the hill for some dinner - I'm hitching a lift - I started to plaster a couple of holes in the wall. It is an immensely cathartic experience and I feel that I have something of a knack for it.

Tomorrow, along with a few other commitments, I will return and continue helping out. I have my eye on a wall that needs a bit of reconstructing with a touch of plaster. Hmm - a new career?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Haiti: Do you remember?

All photographs © 2010, United Nations Development Pr.
Eske ou sonje Ayiti?

It was a year ago that I woke up, looked out of my bedroom window, and immediately started to moan about the snow that had fallen overnight. I busied myself worrying about how I was to get to work through the mounds of white stuff that had fallen. By the time I had gotten to work, the snow was the last thing on my mind.

A devastating earthquake had hit Haiti and a country, already on its knees, found itself beaten down further. My only response at the time was to donate money to the Yéle Foundation and to write a poem, rebuking myself for my preoccupation with the weather. As the pictures came in I became upset, frustrated and angry. I wanted to be there. I wanted to help more than I was able to.

My immediate frustration was taken out on the prattling of my liberal friends using their usual litany of '-isms' rather than worrying about assisting with the humanitarian suffering in some way. I have learnt; liberals can be as conservative, or stubborn, as the neo-liberals they abhor.

So, one year on, where does Haiti stand and where do we stand?

Haiti still stands in ruin, it would appear. There have been a number of documentaries and news reports of late and, although I have been unable to catch them all, it seems that so much has yet to be done and so much suffering continues to this day.

Remembering that roughly 200,000 were killed by the eartquake and to date is is thought that 130,000 people have been affected by the outbreak of cholera in the country, the scale of the suffering becomes clear. Add to this the growing frustration directed by the population towards to the UN - an ubiquitous presence over the years. Stir this all up with allegations of 'orphaned' children being unlawfully taken from the country to America, an inconclusive, and frankly confusing, election process and a thousand prisoners running around following the destruction of Port-au-Prince's Penitentiary. 

There is no easy solution to the problems. Millions of pledged aid has yet to be given to Haiti as a result of foreign concerns about governmental corruption and the assumed inability to appropriately distribute it to those in need. Cholera cannot be fought effectively without a comprehensive refurbishment of national infrastructure, such as sewers and water pipes - something that was perhaps substandard already. This, at present, cannot be done without aid and outside assistance. The UN are becoming an object of hate and a target of aggression and, without a stable government... well, we've come full circle, the promised aid won't be given.

I think, for a human being, confused by the diplomatics and politics of it all, someone who cares for others, as I do, and as many others do, the one thing that we shouldn't fail in, is our capacity to remember those who continue to suffer, keeping them in our thoughts and holding onto hope for their futures.

Haiti: Do you remember? I do.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Les Journaux Africains: Green Hills Hotel, Kabale, Uganda - 10.31 07/04/2010

Our students are starting to get into the swing of things now, and the tiredness of being on the trip is manifesting itself two ways: firstly that the dark rings are showing around their eyes and, secondly, that one by one the students are taking it in turns to be ill. 

A rabble of cheeky boys.
Regardless, no visit to Kabale is complete without dragging a band of students along to the Wisdom Day Nursery in the town. Feeling a little bit weary myself, we headed down the hill towards, what I referred to last year as, the 'Poor Quarter' of town. This route takes you past the imaginatively titled 'Pork and Beer' bar with its pig carcass hanging outside beneath the veranda, along a dusty red road inhabited by confused chickens, feral pigs, people going about their daily business and numerous staring eyes.

As we arrive at the nursery, the kids are having a whole-nursery play and learn session outside. As they see us arrive though the corrugated iron gates, silly things start to happen. Looking fixatedly in our direction results in them bumping into each other, falling over, crying and screaming from fear and then running around excitedly.

Undoubtedly they have seen bazungu before, but the mix of shock and excitement becomes all too much for them.

When calm is restored, and after introducing ourselves to a few teachers and children (those brave enough to stay near), we decide to play games. At first we join in some local game which involves being in a circle and dancing and chasing and shouting.

Following on from this I make the decision to introduce the play-school classic, the 'Hokey-Cokey'. After a couple of rounds I regret this decision. The younger kids fall over, the bigger ones bump into each other and more crying ensues. All of this happens to the soundtrack of me singing "You put your right leg in..." et cetera, at the top of my voice, like a prize eejit.

A sweet little'un called Gifty.
Once I'd succesfully injured a score of children with what I though was a fun game - when I was younger anyway - I begged someone else to think of something new to play.

Luckily for me, most of the children enjoyed the game and wished to remain on good terms with me and not hit me!

Whilst we're all on speaking terms, I figured that the time had come for us to get ourselves to Kigezi High School. The day is already filling up with things to do. I have promised to take some of the students along to Greg and Jeff's Kabale Art Centre that they're in the process of setting up at the Edirisa, a bar/hotel opposite the Little Ritz.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Viceroy of Ouidah by Bruce Chatwin

When you pick up this book it is hard to believe that such a thin text will, simply speaking, have such a gripping storyline full of genuine intrigue for the reader. In a mere 100 pages the novel goes full circle in a space of time that some novels take just to get going.

The story centres around Francisco Manuel da Silva, a Brazilian, who, after having come from relative poverty in his native land, finds wealth in the Kingdom of Dahomey - modern day Bénin - as a slaver.

The story is not a straightforward rags-to-riches tale, instead it highlights the ugliness of the protagonist's character and trade as he goes about befriending the eccentric King of Dahomey, before things begin to fall apart for him. 

By the end of the text you are left unsure as to whether one should feel pity or feel relieved that da Silva's sordid existence has come to an end.

Some might argue that the novel does not do enough to highlight the dark manner in which da Silva makes his fortune, but I think the subtlety of Chatwin's narrative does enough to infer that this character is morally and emotionally jaded by his actions in life and his experiences.
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