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Enkuto Eratukura #6: Travellers' Paradox

A boda-boda guy arrives near the market in Kabale.
Saturday 4th April 2015 - 5.00pm 

Liz, not assuming that we’d be delayed by so long, had arranged a meeting between teachers from the ominously named ‘Committee’ to take place with teachers from WMSF, Coombeshead Academy and me from Fulham Cross Girls’ School.

The Coombeshead guys had had a late night on Thursday for similar reasons to us, but, after a good night’s sleep sharing with a donkey down in the middle of Kabale, they looked distinctly fresher than us. The meeting was essential and thus unavoidable in order to establish a programme for the next few days, but my health was at a low ebb.

What started as a bit of a sore throat during Wednesday’s parents’ evening had turned into an all-singing, all-dancing cold; in the heart of Africa.

As I was reading William Fotheringham’s biography of Fausto Coppi, who died of malaria after visiting Burkina Faso, I was struck by a bout of paranoia about my cold. Thinking of Evelyn’s advice concerning tonic water, I robbed Raman of a cold and flu tablet and armed myself with a bottle of cheap tonic in lieu of anything better at the hotel.

The meeting was, despite our fatigue, a successful on. We managed to work out a rough programme for the various CPD activities to take place throughout the week with minimal fuss.

With a draft schedule finalised within an hour and a half, we rounded up the students, who had been busy chatting with their Coombeshead countrerparts, and headed out for some orientation.


Amongst the many meanderings and ramblings of the day as we wandered through Kabale's town, one of the more interesting exchanges occurred when we arrived at the football field where the street children were playing.

Upon our arrival, a few of the children started running towards our group. This was swiftly followed by a minor stampede. There was hugging, hand-shaking and greetings in English and Rukiga.

This brought about the obligatory posing for photographs, which I opted out of.

Whilst some of the children started to sing and dance, Tamera came over to Jas and I and said, “I feel weird.”

We looked at her a little puzzled. Tamera is a little strange and so her confession wasn’t out of the ordinary.

“Did you eat something dodgy?” Jas asked.

“No,” she replied quietly. “I feel really uncomfortable with everything. It’s a bit like we’re here and this is all a show; like we’re coming to observe animals at a zoo.”

Tamera, half-Egyptian, half-English, and well-travelled is used to seeing people in different settings and scenarios around the world. Her observations are generally well-informed.

After some discussion we decided that what she was describing was classic Travellers’ Paradox; whereby, in order to try and have a broader experience of the world you travel somewhere new, only to find people singularly showing you what they think you want to see.

“You can’t have a natural interaction any more,” she lamented. “What are we actually doing here? What is our purpose?”

I suppose, aside from the regular arguments about neo-colonialism and voluntourism, there is the question raised about what one’s intentions in coming to work in Africa actually are.

For myself, the friendships and the opportunity to take West London teenagers somewhere new is and has been the biggest draw over the years. Allowing them to have their own existential debate and to learn about something, on the ground, that many students of their socio-economic background wouldn’t be able to. For me, the Bob Geldof “feed the world” mentality of my first trip has long gone.

That said, this didn’t stop the discomfort over feeling that the children feel as if they had to put on some form of show in order to impress us. They really don’t; we would have happily learnt from them and helped where we could regardless.

All we require is a little normality and the chance to learn about others without feeling that we’re in a strange parallel world.

Whilst Tamera was finishing her explanation, a car pulled into the playing field and group of boys, who weren’t part of the project we were visiting, got up from their slumber and ran over to it.

These boys were in a really untidy state. Unlike the children at the centre, these boys didn’t have the look of children who were cared for and most looked as if they were under the influence of some strange narco-stimulant cocktail.

The car they ran to was in good condition, and, after some initial herding around the car as it come to a halt, the boys started to form a line. One occupant of the car emerged with a camera. The boys briefly arranged themselves for a photograph.

Something was then passed out of the driver’s side window to the children and they dispersed, running in the direction of the town, leaving the field they were occupying completely empty. Being some distance from them, I couldn't see anything conclusive.

No one but Jas, Tamera and I seemed to notice this peculiar moment. Was this duo benevolent or in some way manipulative? I was not sure that we would find an answer during a stay.

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