Saturday, April 25, 2015

Enkuto Eratukura #2: The Way Home

Pictures of aeroplanes aren't fun, so here's some fabric in Kabale Market.
Wednesday 1st April 2015 - 11.30pm

With the plane finally in the air around 9.30pm, the opportunity to relax finally came about. I was sat in the middle aisle of seats on a row with Raman and Fabio; behind me were Suweyda, Hannah and Idil.

It was interesting to talk to Suweyda and hear about how she is currently getting on at college. She made quite an impression on my student teacher, Nimah, and I last year. She had a most impressive aptitude for being late to lessons on a Monday morning and somehow getting away with it by using ‘Puss-in-Boots’ eyes in the style of the character from Shrek.

Aside from her school life, she couldn’t help but talk about recent events in the news concerning aviation, namely the crash of the German Wings flight over the Alps.

As she was going through the amateur dramatics of ‘what if it happens to us’ scenarios, a white woman with a Southern African cut in with, “you’ve just about as much chance of being hit whilst crossing the road.” 

Of course the woman was right, but there is nothing quite like a bit of Crucible-style hysteria to spark a teenager into life from time to time.

I got talking to the woman who, it turns out, was Zimbabwean. I go into my usual preamble about never having been, but that my father had lived as a boy in Zambia and had visited the country then known as Rhodesia.

After being raised in Zimbabwe and then having kids there she eventually decided to follow in her daughter’s footsteps and move to the UK. She has now been living in the Scotland for 10 years.

Dozing against the woman was a youngish child. Her grandson. For the duration of our conversation the boy didn’t move once, despite him using his grandmother’s side as a pillow. 

They were travelling for a visit to family members who the little one had yet to meet. She was, for the most part, positive about her return and the Zimbabwe that was awaited her.

“When you’re in the town, Kwekwe, it could be like you are in any other town in Southern Africa,” she started. “It’s just when you head out into the countryside that the situation can become more dangerous or edgy. But, in many ways, that is like anywhere in the world.”

I asked her how stable the economy was now for your average Zimbabwean and whether the Zimbabwean dollar was coming back soon.

“Well, we have some dollar bills for use just in Zimbabwe,” she replies, “but it’s still effectively the US dollar. 

“As for the economy, let’s put it this way: if you want a whole 200 box of cigarettes you’re talking about paying the same price as a single pack in the UK, but something like a flat-screen TV is up to $1000 at times.”

“Really?” I ask a little shocked. “Isn’t it typical that, despite the state of the economy, you can still kill yourself by smoking yourself to oblivion?”

“Yes, but at least there aren’t queues for bread any more,” she says.

I’m enjoying our chat about Zimbabwe when the drinks trolley comes along and blocks our conversation. When the trolley finally disappears, she goes back to reading her book and I contemplate getting some sleep, if only Suweyda would stop trying to discuss aviation disasters.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Enkuto Eratukura #1: Running for Departures

A focused approach to packing is the foundation of a good trip.
Wednesday 1st April 2015 - 9.30pm

Having Parents’ Evening for the toughest year group isn’t the ideal preparation for flying out anywhere let alone Uganda. Only my relative experience in making this journey allowed me to be as calm as I was.

At 6.05pm I finished talking to the last parent only for my lift, a science teacher at my new workplace, to get drawn into discussion with another parent. I took this opportunity to change out of my work clothes and pack her car ready for the trip to the airport.

By 6.15pm we were on the road and making moderate progress over the Hammersmith flyover and through the west London evening traffic. As a newcomer to Fulham Cross, it was nice talking to a member of staff who’d been there for twenty or so years. Having just switched workplace, twenty years’ service seems a long way off, and a rather unrealistic target.

The rest of the group had gone through the check-in procedure by the time that I arrived at Heathrow and check-in was closing within the hour. Give or take the ‘streamlining’ of Terminal 2, whereby you do most of the work yourself – printing baggage labels and scanning passports – before you queue up and someone sends your bags off to the plane, the process was smooth, if a little edgy time-wise.

I finally caught up with the group near the gate after spotting the golden glint of Jen’s hair. They’d all had the time to eat and amble through the duty free; I arrived at the gate a little flustered, out of breath and hungry, having had just enough time to purchase two Fantas, a new Moleskine notebook and a packet of crisps.

The group were all there; familiar faces and newer ones. Former students of mine: Khadija, Amal and Suweyda; new William Morris students: Abirna, Sina, Idil, Huda, Hannah and Molly. Making up the staff contingent were: Tash, Jas, Jen, Raman, Fabio, Tamera and friend of [the All Our Children chairperson] Liz’s called Sarah.

Getting to the airport on time for the 9pm flight was a job in itself, but having successfully got this far the enkuto eratukura or ‘red roads’ of Uganda seemed so much closer.
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