I am not a photographer, and would never claim to be. But these are photographs that I took of a few of the participants of the palliative care training course for francophone Africa that is currently being held at Hospice Africa Uganda. Some of these photos are published on the African edition of ehospice.
Category Archives: Uganda
Think you know about fish and chips? Think again. I used to think I knew about fish and chips, that wonderful institution of the British diet, until I visited Uganda that was.
“This is good, I mean really good”, said my partner glancing up from the massive plate of fish and chips that sat between us.
I however was not wasting crucial seconds with peripheral tasks such as talking; after taking another swig of my ice cold beer I was straight back in, my fingers pushing together the crumbling bits of perfectly cooked Taliapia.
As we scoffed down our freshly cooked food, the smoke from other barbecued fish drifted through the packed restaurant and out into evening sun. We were sat with views out onto the very northern tip of Lake Victoria just outside of Kampala.
The restaurant in which we were sat was lined with charcoal barbeques cooking that day’s intake from the lake. All around us small groups of local guys were huddled around old rickety wooden tables on which large shared platters of fresh fish rested.
We had been lucky, when we arrived after a day’s walking, all the tables were taken. Within seconds of entering into the shade of the restaurant though, what looked like a full table had been rearranged and we had been squeezed onto the end.
We shared our table with three Ugandans, two locals from Kampala and another just visiting from the Karamoja region in the east.
All three of the men sat with that happy contented look on their faces that gave away the culinary experience they had just enjoyed. Looking around I could see this same look on faces of men all around me. Each sat leaning back on their plastic chairs, one hand on their belly and the other around a cold beer bottle.
I struggle to think of an image that better embodies the Ugandan understanding of contentment.
As I ate, I listened to the guys sat at our table chat about how Ggaba had the best fish and chips, not just in Kampala or even Uganda but, so their beer induced conversation went, in the world.
As they spoke I found myself thinking though, “What about British fish and chips – our national dish?”
Then it dawned on me, these fish and chips were, by far, the best fish and chips I have ever had in my life. No country pub, inner city chippy or homemade meal from the UK had ever come close. They were simply delicious and they were supported by the most wonderful of ambiences.
In a conciliatory backlash to my own thoughts, I joined in the conversation with the comment, “these fish and chips are even better than in the UK you know.”
The guy on my left responded, “Really?”
I half joked, “yeah, and we invented the dish.”
My new Ugandan friend from Karamoja, a restaurant worker himself it would turn out, swiftly responded, “ahh, I am afraid that is a common misconception my friend. Fish and Chips were bought to the UK by a Jewish immigrant in the late 19th century.”
I responded dumbly, “oh”.
A later Google search would tell me that there is at least an element of truth in his assertion. Who would have thought that it would take a Ugandan to educate this Brit on his supposed national dish?
I left the restaurant that evening with the sun slipping behind the hills. The air was light and there was a low level of noise in the fruit and veg market that surrounds the harbour.
I don’t think I could imagine a nicer place for a wee Ugandan style culinary master class.
This is an article that I wrote for the Africa edition of ehospice.
Mutagubya Bruno is the son of Lawrence Ssenyonde. Lawrence has cancer of the prostate and needs oral morphine to relieve his pain. Bruno recently talked to ehospice about what life is like caring for a family member in severe pain.
On the outskirts of Kampala, Mutagubya Bruno lives with his mother and father. A small alleyway leads to a neatly kept garden that is lined with palm trees and freshly hung clothes on a washing line. Bruno breaks the conversation he is having with his mother as a small delegation from Hospice Africa Uganda arrive through a side gate to their house.
In the living room, the three health care professionals sit in a line craning their necks to try and listen to Bruno’s father as he describes his pain. As Bruno’s father speaks, one of the nurses sorts through her case notes. She glances at the previous dosages of oral morphine Bruno’s father has received.
Throughout the conversation Bruno sits on the edge of a worn-out arm chair opposite his father looking on.
This is just a moment of my life, nothing more…
I was sat with a cold beer in hand. The evening air was still warm and insects collected around the lights that were illuminating the garden in which I was sat. There was live music in the background but I had predominantly let it slip over me as I sat with some friends chatting happily. Half a dozen new friends in this new country sat in my immediate circle, all their shadows cast inwards from the overhead light. Dotted around the garden though were a dozen other similar groups, most of whom were newly made friends of mine.
What caught my attention and drew me out of this social haze though was the silence, the break in the music. The silence rippled into other’s conversations and soon heads were turned to look at the silent small stage.
One friend, the person who had perhaps made the biggest effort to make me feel welcome when I arrived to this new country was on the stage. She was due to leave in the coming weeks to head back to her home, Holland. The stage lights shone up on her and those who had been dancing looked up expecting, waiting, and anticipating.
Then it happened, that moment….
She broke out with the impromptu band with the most earth-shatteringly-good voice. Everyone was either in silent awe or whooping in delight. She held a presence on stage that is hard to describe. Her voice though carried in the night air, each note hanging for an improbably long time. The dancers in front of her half danced and half stood transfixed.
Personally, I sat towards the back, unable or unwilling to move. I sat transfixed as her voice glided effortlessly around the silent circles of friends. I sat back on the garden furniture and sipped my beer. I think that I was, in that moment perfectly contented.
This is an article that I wrote for the African edition of ehospice news.
“The African Palliative Care Association (APCA), in collaboration with The Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa (OSIEA), the Open Society Institute (OSI), the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Uganda and the Palliative Care Association of Uganda (PCAU), has launched a series of publications on legal and human rights issues in palliative care.
This article was written for Cotswold Outdoors Community Blog.
Mount Moroto stands at 3,082 meters above sea level in the Karamoja region in the north east of Uganda. Over the last few decades the region has witnessed war and conflict which has left its peaks predominantly unclimbed. Recently there has been a large-scale amnesty on guns and dip in the levels of violence. Steve Hynd from the Mountain Club of Uganda took this opportunity to see what the mountain has to offer.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to Karamoja. They describe it is as:
“largely lawless. There are frequent road ambushes and tribal clashes. Small arms are widespread and there are regular deaths or injury from gunshot wounds”
As it turned out, guns were the least of our problems…
We were travelling in a convoy along a dirt road which locals had told us was impassable during the rainy season. It was Saturday 30th March – the rainy season was due to starts on the April 1st.
On the road, there were a couple of hairy moments; wheels spinning on steeply banked rivers edges, deep mud that resulted in everyone getting out and walking but it was, in a 4X4, passable.
Two and half hours and 45km after leaving Moroto town we arrived at the small mountain village of Tapach.
Tapach sits at the head of a valley tucked in underneath the imposing ridges that lead up to the peaks of Mt Moroto. The village boasts stunning views of the plains of Karamoja that stretch out away from mountain.
Living with some of the best views high on the side of the valley we found Friar Gerald – our only real contact in the village.
With a warm smile he greeted us while glancing at our mud covered cars before asking, “How was the road?” The only honest answer any of us could muster was, “passable”. He grinned a knowing grin and said, “It will be fine along as it doesn’t rain”.
As we waited for the ‘guides’ to come back from the fields where they worked, I asked the Friar a little bit about the valley and the region. We talked about the lasting legacy that the conflict had on the village.
On the drive in we had passed a number of UPDF army camps and I asked if they ever came to the village and the Friar responded saying,
“They keep themselves to themselves nowadays. I think that’s better for everyone”.
Clearly the memories of what happened in the region had not gone away. In 2007 Human Rights Watch described a government disarmament drive headed by the army in their report, “Get the Gun”. The report documented wide-spread use torture and a number of murders.
As the Friar said, perhaps it is best they keep themselves to themselves.
The guides soon arrived though and we started snaking our way up the hillside behind the monastery. The climb was tough going and this was extenuated by the 5 litres of water we were carrying as the guides were unsure as whether or not there was any water available on the mountain. The hot sun beat down on us as we huffed and puffed our way up the valley side.
The collecting storm clouds offered us only occasional shade.
Within an hour we were rewarded with panoramic views. In one direction there were the endless plains of Karamoja, on either side deep valleys with small hutted villages and in front of us the peaks of Mt Moroto.
By mid-afternoon we had climbed around 1,000 meters. High in the mountains the heavens opened in spectacular fashion. The intensity and consistency of the rain slowed our progress as we picked our way across rocky ridges and up steep muddy slopes.
About an hour before dark we stopped high on a ridge to pitch camp.
The guides collected wood and lit a fire, the rest of us erected our tents and prepared food. On the equator the sun sets in a blink of an eye. For a brief moment though the storm clouds were silhouetted in front of departing sun before darkness descended on us.
Trying to not think about the rain and the state of the road back to Moroto I closed my eyes and let sleep take me.
The next morning we awoke before light and set off in a slow drizzle for the summit leaving our tents pitched on the ridge. The short walk took us through thick forest that clung to the ridge top. We scrambled up steep scrub land making the final assent with anything but elegance. Just under two hours after leaving camp we stood on the summit of Mt Moroto.
Starring into the thick mist I wondered how many other had stood where I was now stood. The answer, of course, is ‘not many’.
We made our way down, packing the camp on the way, slipping and sliding in the now thick mud. We arrived back at to the village at about 4pm with a sense of achievement but also dread about what lay ahead on the now sodden road back to Moroto.
Phoning ahead we found out that friends who were driving a Toyota Rav4 had left the village at 11am and were, at 4pm, still not back to Moroto.
I’ll admit now that I was worried – would we get back to the Moroto before dark? Would we get back at all?
Driving back was in itself an adventure. On a couple of occasions water came over the bonnet of the car, and on countless occasions the ground clearance proved in to be insufficient. But, just over two hours later we arrived back to our rendez vous in Moroto – 10 minutes after those in the Rav4 who left at 11 that morning.
I tried really hard not to be smug.
The other car load that left Tapach after us didn’t arrive back until 11 that night, they told me the next day that they had to cut out the seatbelts to use as a towrope.
The whole weekend was a mini adventure. We were not sure what we would find when we left Kampala for this remote region. We had heard stories of guns, torture and of course incredible peaks. But what we found were warm welcoming locals who were slightly bemused as to why we wanted to climb Mt Moroto. The soldiers were courteous though and the locals delighted though that we were visiting.
Moroto district doesn’t yet have the infrastructure or the information to really capitalise on its mountaineering-tourism potential. But it does have mountains that are as beautiful as any in the national parks of Uganda.
With a good 4X4 and sense of adventure there is no reason why you cannot enjoy them as well.
If you fancy the trip – feel free to be in touch.
This is an article that I wrote for ehospice on a new study outlining the cost of living with HIV in Africa.
The African Palliative Care Association (APCA) and Measure Evaluation have launched a new study on the cost of HIV care, treatment and support in Africa.
The study, based in Uganda, found that the average adult with HIV pays out $98 annually on indirect costs such as transportation and time lost to receive care, treatment and support. In addition to this the study estimated that the annual cost of delivering anti-retroviral therapy (ART) was $281 per patient.
The study will have a direct impact on the 1.2 million Ugandans currently living with HIV…
This is an article that I wrote for ‘ehospice‘ about my recent visit to a hospice in Kampala.
An incongruous collection of books sit on the shelves next to hand-made jewellery and other bits of bric-a-brac. I stand and flick through the books for a minute enjoying being out of the hot Kampala sun. As I rummage around looking for a bargain the shop assistant, Joy, begins to talk to me about her role at Hospice Africa Uganda.
Joy is one of a dedicated team of volunteers who make it possible for the hospice to carry on offering palliative care services to patients with Cancer and/or HIV/AIDS. Joy, a recently retired surgical nurse, is clearly someone who is driven by the need to help others. When I ask her why she gives up five days a week to help at the hospice she explains:
A low level of laughter drifts in the air through the wood smoke as we crouch around the flickering campfire. Dotted around the fire are bits of bamboo that protrude from the ground. The sticks are sharpened to a point at one end and have chucks of beef skewered on them hanging over the open fire. The beef both absorbs the smell of the wood smoke and gives off a tantalising aroma.
Bottles of warm beer are passed around the circles while those who have learnt from experience sip of glasses of red wine poured from the box perched within arm’s reach. The sun has long since set on this small campsite in the northern tips of the Rwenzori mountains and the only light now comes from the flickering flames of the fire.
Sat around the fire are members of the Mountain Club of Uganda – a hodgepodge of people brought together by a passion for the mountains. The backdrop to this campfire is the highest mountain range in Africa – The Rwenzoris.
Sat next to me is Tom, a British ex-pat who spends his days working as a photographer for NGOs. He happily tears into the meat fresh from the fire and generously passes it around. I comment on how disappointing my oodles of noodles are in comparison and he laughs a knowing laugh as he takes a sip from his wine.
Opposite me I watch as Daivd, an American law graduate working in the Ugandan courts, chats happily with Manjit, a retired Indian British Doctor who is now volunteering in the International Hospital in Kampala. I catch their expressions in the fire light and their faces give away that they are evidently entering a conversation of substance, the sort of conversation that only occurs after a few beers when you are sat around a campfire.
People begin to pull jumpers on as the fire reduces to embers and the cool mountain air pushes the last of the day’s heat from the campsite. Most people head to their respective tents as the evening draws to a close leaving only the tough or the foolhardy passing around the Waragi. The knowledge of the next day’s walk acts as restraint for some but not all.
As I close up my tent door I listen for a few minutes to the conversation continuing between people who just 24 hours ago were strangers to each other. An ease of conversation created at least in part by the evenings consumption allows for jokes and jesting that would never have occurred elsewhere between such an eclectic group of people.
Despite the differences in age, nationality or anything else, we all there because of an unspoken timeless love affair between man and mountains.
I wake early the next morning before sunrise. The cool dew on the ground soaks into my flip flops as I stumble around half asleep making my preparations for the day’s walk. With a mixture of admiration and annoyance I meet the gentlemen who chose to stay the longest round the campfire and they look surprisingly sharp.
We collectively stumble into a convoy of cars and are driven for a couple of hours to the DRC side of the Rwenzoris from where we will trek over the Bwamba Pass back to the Fort Portal side of the mountain. Everyone sits in a dazed early morning silence as scenery slips pass the car window and we bump our way along increasingly pot holed roads.
We start our accent of nearly 1,400 meters with instant-grueling gradient. The group almost immediately splits into two as people begin to struggle in the now severe morning sun. Once again, with a mixture of admiration and annoyance, I note all of those who remained around the fire the longest striding away at the front. I sigh out loud and convince myself that I am at the back because I am being supportive to the others who were struggling with the heat and gradient.
On the way up I walk the first couple of hours with Stephanie, an American originally from Florida who now lives in the northern Ugandan town of Gulu. We meander together through agricultural land waving at the cries of the local children as we pass them. With good grace and admirable perseverance Stephanie walks up the unrelenting ascent listening to my equally unrelenting views on the Israel/Palestine conflict.
To give everyone a break from the ascent and Stephanie a break from my incessant chattering we regroup and stop for lunch. The views are breathtaking as we look down over the steep slopes onto the plains which stretch out into the Congolese rainforest. From this vantage point you can begin to see why Stanley referred the Ituri Forest as “nothing but miles and miles of endless forest.”
With stomachs filled our small group set off in the heat of mid-day sun with nothing but altitude as relief from the heat. We move out of the agricultural lands and into deep thick rainforest. Walking in these conditions is a continuous contradiction as everything is sodden in the humidity and yet the heat forces a near continuous thirst. Many began to realise that their three litres of water might not be enough to get them over the pass.
Five hours, 1,400 meters ascents and some tired looking walkers later we reach the pass surrounded by thick bamboo forest. A second wind enters the group safe in the knowledge that it is all downhill from then on.
It isn’t long though until the heavens open and hamper our progress. Heavy balls of rain hit the red earthed paths we are following and reduce them to streams of slippery clay. As I pull on my full waterproofs I watch as Manjit smiles to the sky. With a twinkle in his eye he embraces the rain in his shirt sleeves and skips through the thickening mud.
While Manjit dances his way off the mountainside, others slip and slide their way down a series of precarious paths. Red mud marks the bottoms of those who lose their grip while red faces give away that for some the decent is as hard as the way up.
Walking with now almost unrelenting rain we finish our walk on the Ugandan side of the mountain range some seven hours after we set off.
Manjit stands topless as he wrings out his sodden t-shirt while the rest of us peel off our boots. Looking back I see the cloud curl round the hills and cover the path on which we had just descended. There is no hint at how far into the cloud the path goes or how far we had just come.
This small bit of knowledge remains for those who had just walked the Bwamba Pass.
*2 photos taken from Manjit’s blog - http://manjitsuchdev.wordpress.com/ *
Heavy balls of rain lash down, their weight and intensity exaggerated by the tin roof under which we shelter. Looking out, the playground which minutes earlier had swarms of children playing in is now inches under water.
Godfrey, the headmaster of Royal Pride School looks out and predicts that it will “stop in 30 minutes”. I wonder to myself how he can know this, but chose not to question and stare out at the black brooding sky.
I begin to ask Godfrey about his school. He tells me that it is only eight years old and takes in about 280 children. Looking at the 8 small classrooms, 4 of which look under disrepair, it is hard to imagine that so many kids could fit into such an improbably small space.
Inside one of the small classrooms we are met by a swarm of children running and shouting, each waving their exercise books at me showing me their work. As I start to run out of unique adjectives to praise each child’s work, the teacher steps in and starts the process of trying to calm the children. It proves to be close to impossible while the ‘muzungu’ is still in the room so I follow my colleague out into the court yard leaving cries of “Muzungu muzungu” behind me.
Back in the headmaster’s office I ask what the biggest challenges are to the children’s education. Without hesitation, Godfrey responds, “The biggest challenge that these children face is not education, but finding the money for their education. It costs them 30,000 Ush [£7.30] a term. I want them to come for free, but I need to pay the teachers a small salary”.
Indeed, a small salary it is. Some of the teachers earn as little as 90,000 Ush (approximately £22) per month. Despite the small salary, all of the teachers look engaged and enthusiastic interacting with the children.
With no electricity all of the teaching is done with a blackboard at the front of the class. From the headmasters office I can just see one teacher writing, “My name is…” on the board while a hoard of youngsters eagerly copy.
For many children education of this description is nothing more than an aspiration. 18% of children don’t enrol into basic primary education. Of those that do attend, there is an average dropout rate of 66%.
I ask Godfrey about this high dropout rate and he tells me that one of the best ways to keep kids coming to school is to offer food. Twice a day at Royal Pride kids get a bowl of porridge as well as access to running water. This enough to keep them coming back, as Godfrey explained:
“Many of the children who come to the school don’t have the basics in their houses. They don’t have water, or food. We can give them that”.
Inevitably, teaching in this environment can be a challenge. The teachers have to think about basic sanitation as much as they do mathematics or English. I asked Godfrey if the teachers stayed at the school for long. He answered saying, “When a teacher comes to work here, we sit down together and discuss the types of children we have here. They have to know what kind of community we are in. We have to put aside our own time to go and visit each family at home”.
The more I talked to Godfrey the more I became inspired by the incredible work he was doing with these kids. The place struck me as much as a social project as it did a school.
I asked Godfrey what drove him to want to be a Head Teacher of a school. Godfrey is only 32 years old and I was curious as to what led him to Royal Pride.
With a wry smile, Basiime Godfrey looks out into the driving rain and says:
“This is a long story. I have no mother, I have no father. I was with an organisation”. He breaks off for a second to compose himself before continuing, “Sorry, when I speak about this, I feel like crying”.
Tears start to dwell up in his eyes and roll down his cheeks and I tell him that we don’t have to continue. He takes a step back and says, “Where I came from, it was a sad situation. I was living under a tree. Some people came to us and paid for [me to] go to school. This is all I want to do. I’m sorry…”.
I break off the interview at this point and let all the pieces drop into place around us. Godfrey turns away from me and wipes tears from his eyes. Water drips down onto some paper work through the tin roof as we stand in silence.
Godfrey is someone who has worked tirelessly for these kids because, as he had said to me earlier, “I know what it’s like for these kids”.
As I walk up the hill away from Royal Pride there is open sewage running down the hill to the valley bottom where the school is located. Kids who are not in school peer out at the white people walking in the rain and openly stare in amazement.
I stare back and raise a half smile. Only now does it dawn on me that the kids at that school are the lucky ones.
“Praise the Lord, feel his love rushing though you. Feel him touch your soul. You are saved brother, you are saved”.
I wearily look up from my scrambled eggs and rather soggy toast. The church next door to my hotel has been going for over 3 hours now.
At one point there is a rather terrifying scream before there is an impressively drawn out chorus’ of ‘hallelujahs’.
I leave the last bit of soggy toast on my plate and make my way out into the mid-morning sun.
I sharply step sideways off the potholed concrete road into the red earth gutters as motorcycles and 4X4s swerve perilously close. All the time trying to keep an eye on the on-coming traffic and an eye on the fabulous views that stretch in front of me.
The sprawling city centre sits in the distance as I make my towards the notorious ‘Kabalagala’ area of town. I pass men opening their shops opposite bars that are still going from the previous night.
The bass from a reggae bar seeps out onto the street. It feels like electricity is passing through the tarmac. As I pass each bar I peer in to watch the revellers who are still going, still enjoying the bars of Kampala – the city that truly never sleeps.
Short skirts and crumpled suits zigzag across the dance floors and prop up the bar as they refuse to accept that their night is over.
I walk on only stopping to buy some mango on the side of the road. The seller beams a smile back at me as I hand over about twenty per cent more than a local would – the ‘muzungo’ price.
With sticky fingers I finish my mango and make my way past one of Kampala’s 24/7 traffic jams. Nut sellers squeeze through improbable gaps in the traffic risking their life, quite literally, for peanuts.
These nut sellers seem to move with ease in and out of the traffic as I wait trying to find a break in the wall of traffic to cross into the shade on the other side of the street.
In the shade I am conscious of how quickly the sun has risen. On the equator sunrise is like sitting in a bath as it fills up with hot water – immersing you, the heat surrounding you.
The sun now shines hard on the red earth and strips through any pretence that the new day has yet to start.
This Sunday morning will be spent sleeping off last night’s excess for some, praising the lord for others and for me at least, exploring the maze of streets in the city centre.
As I make my way into the centre, a small minibus with its bumper hanging off stops to offer me a lift. On the front windscreen the words ‘TRUST ONLY GOD’ are printed. On this occasion I decide to take the advice and say I am happy to walk.
This is a guest post by my partner Anya Whiteside who is blogging about our time in Uganda over at ‘Anya’s Blog‘.
Ten days ago we saw the house that FENU have found for us to live in. If you go down Kabalagala, famous in all of East Africa for its many little bars and clubs that play reggae till the early hours you turn onto the busy Ggaba road. Here minibuses, boda bodas (motorbike taxis), bikes and people weave their way in and out while stalls of avacado, mango and pineapple vie for space with shops overflowing with plastic buckets, matresses and brooms.
All the way along the Ggaba road are small side streets leading off, some tarmac, some dirt. If you turn up one of these side streets you weave your way through a mish-mash of housing. Gardened and gated houses intermingled with simple wooden shacks, and this variety is one of the things I like most about this part of Kampala.
Our house is off one of these quiet side streets. It is a single story house next to a little store that sells sweets and phone credit to anyone who happens to be pondering past. There is a patch of ground outside where are neighbours-to-be sit shelling peas while their kids run about playing. On the other side are smarter houses, painted pink with a larger, gated courtyard.
As soon as we see the house we like it. It’s has several rooms, including a spare bedroom for guests and a little courtyard where we hope to fit a table and chair and maybe some pots of basil. There has even been talk of a chicken, though we are yet to find out whether letting it out onto the grass outside would lead it into a neighbours pot, and we’re not sure we want to be labbled as the crazy muzungus with the chicken on the lead!
The only problem with our exciting new house is that it’s not finished. The bathroom is in disrepair, it has no floor and the kitchen is falling apart. ‘Do not worry, it will be finished mangu mangu (quickly)’ beams the builder when we first look round. I discuss the situation with FENU and we agree the house is worth waiting for, and that every day I will make the short journey from the office to see how it’s getting on.
So every day I go. As I leave the office my colleagues wish me luck. I meet my new friend the builder who explains why that day the house is hardly further along than the day before. ‘The plumber didn’t come’, ‘there was a problem with the carpenter’. ‘we had a problem with a leaking pipe’ he says. ‘But’ he adds with a huge grin ‘do not worry, it will definitelybe finished tomorrow’. When I walk back to the office my colleagues ask how the house is coming along, ‘mpola, mpola (slowly)’ I answer, to which there are peals of laughter.
On Friday, however, we saw marked improvements – not only had a toilet been installed, but it also flushed, as the builder demonstrated with pride. So to celebrate Steve and I went to buy furniture with the wonderful driver at FENU called Hudson. Hudson took us to a multitude of places – the supermarket for the fridge, the backstreets for the pans and the wonderful hand-made street furniture market for our cane sofa. We arrived back at FENU exhausted and with furniture tied to every possible part of the vehicle. Our furniture is now occuppying the meeting room at FENU, but that shouldn’t be a problem as our house will definitely be ready when I visit it tomorrow!
When we arrived the builder proudly showed us his handywork. He had inexplicably painted the kitchen and bathroom bright orange! We think we’ve convinced him we are happy for him to leave the sitting room and bedrooms cream but it remains to be seen….
As Uganda recovers from a conflict that has left thousands dead and millions displaced, I met Rwangyezi Stephen, director and founder of the Ndere centre but perhaps best known for his role in the 2007 blockbuster ‘The Last King of Scotland’. His aim? Nothing short of building a new Uganda based on traditional values
In 2005 the International Criminal Court announced that Joseph Kony, the leader of Lord Resistance Army, was a wanted man.
His Crime? To recruit thousands of child soldiers and to displace millions of residents across the north of Uganda.
It is estimated that his movement, the LRA, was responsible for the deaths of 300,000 Ugandans. The ICC arrest warrant for Kony stated that the
“LRA is an armed group which has established a pattern of brutalization of civilians by acts including murder, abduction, sexual enslavement, mutilation, as well as mass burnings of houses and looting of camp settlements; that abducted civilians, including children, are said to have been forcibly recruited as fighters, porters and sex slaves and to take part in attacks”
The LRA developed out of the Acholi dominated Uganda People’s Democratic Army (UPDA) and a sense of internal tribal divisions within Uganda. Specifically, a feeling amongst the Acholi that they had at best been tolerated, and more likely that they had been discriminated against by the central Ugandan government.
Rightly or wrongly, Uganda is often held up as the example of ethno-conflict.
With this in mind, I was interested to meet the actor Rwangyezi Stephen, the founder and director of Kampala’s Ndere centre.
With a beaming smile Stephen introduced his ‘culture centre’ as proof that “different and diverse cultures and tribes can come together to live and work for peace”.
The Ndere centre has its origins in a music and dance troupe that was founded in 1984. On the surface, the troupe simply bought together the different singing, dancing and musical traditions from across Uganda.
In practice, the Ndere centre and Stephen’s vision was something much more radical.
The aim was to transform the colonial myths surrounding the traditional performing arts in Uganda that suggested they were ‘evil or backwards’ into a modern celebration of the culture. A celebration that disadvantaged young people could take part in and use as stepping stone in life in modern Uganda. Many of the young men and women there were receiving an education only because of the centre.
Like a pied piper, Stephen leads us through the perfectly green grounds of the Ndere centre. We pass a lively bar/cafe and a small shop selling traditional crafts with employees’ positively beaming back at us. Brimming with excitement and a literal bounce in his step, Stephen takes us into a small theatre where some his cast were waiting.
We sit opposite a score of young men and women who sit quietly chatting. Everyone waits for the master of ceremonies to take the next step.
Methodically, Stephen introduces each of them by name and by where they come from. The process is drawn out, theatrical but ultimately entertaining – something that I would learn to be a theme of the Ndere centre.
The process serves a point however – it illustrates the diversity of the performers.
Patiently, Stephen explains to this muzungu audience about the importance of music in traditional Ugandan culture. As he talks he picks up musical instruments made of bits of wood, old tins and plastic pipes that are scattered throughout the theatre.
For the next two hours we watch on as Stephen sweeps us through a whirlwind tour of Ugandan history, politics and culture. With each note from each instrument he or one of his cast draws out, another subtlety and distinction between the different peoples within Uganda is illustrated. It is an education for most of us muzungus, but I suspect, stating the obvious to some Ugandans.
What was obvious though for anyone to see was the confidence with which this collection of young men and women performed. The confidence clearly stemmed from an enjoyment of the art form they were performing – the performing arts from across the tribal divisions within Uganda.
To illustrate a point, Stephen asks why we thought Ugandan women could dance like they do and Europeans struggled to emulate. Some suggested practice, others confidence and a few murmured something about cultures.
Stephen’s answers was much more simple…start by bending your knees. As he said this he grinned and said “see” as he proceeded to shake his hips from side to side. The white, very bottom conscious crowd looked at the floor not sure how to respond.
Sure enough though, before long, Stephen had a room full of muzungus up dancing – well most of us anyway.
The session came to a close with an impressive display of improvised music played by dozens of young men and women.
I left the centre feeling inspired by Stephen’s enthusiasm and passion.
As I was walking out of the theatre back into the afternoon sun I caught up with Stephen to tell him that I thought what he had established at the Ndere centre was really impressive. His answer though was telling, for the first time that day, enthusiasm dropped from his voice as he said:
“I wish my government agreed with you. We do not get any government money to support this work, but we also struggle to get the performing arts taken seriously. You know, I used to perform with these instruments and people would walk out. ”
At the Ndere centre I found young adults raised in a war torn country not only living, studying and working together but young adults enjoying each other’s company and traditions.
Major Bob Astles, the self styled ‘British adviser’ to Idi Amin has passed away in south London.
It was announced earlier this week that Major Bob has been cremated as per his wishes after passing away three weeks ago. Only five people attended his funeral.
Dubbed ‘The White Rat’ for his support of Amin’s reign, Major Bob stayed in touch with Amin until the former President’s death in 2003.
Henry Gombya, the editor at the London Evening Post where Major Bob wrote a regular column said that Major Bob “never… regretted his time” with Amin. He added that he felt that he “did what he had to do”.
Major Bob was imprisoned for 6 years after Amin’s exile in 1979. It was reported that he then moved back to London and enjoyed a life of luxury living in a £1,000,000 house.
He was allegedly the inspiration for the British doctor in Giles Foden’s novel ‘The Last King of Scotland’.
Major Bob Astles died of cancer at the age of 87.
This is a guest post from my partner Anya Whiteside, who has just started blogging at ‘Anya’s Blog‘ about our experiences living and working in Kampala, Uganda.
I return from my first venture into Kampala centre dusty, sticky and happy. I am eating fresh pineapple bought on the roadside and as I make my way back to the leafy guest house I ponder on all I have just seen.
The roads of Kampala are a riot of movement. Minibuses crammed full of people screech by with the conductor hanging out shouting to see whether anyone else want to be picked up and squeezed in. Boda bodas (motorbike taxis) weave their way in and out of the often stationary traffic, always ready with a grin to pull up alongside you and persuade you to grab a lift into town. Women carrying loads on their heads serenely meander along and everywhere people sit chatting, selling and doing business on the street.
We pass leafy gated communities alongside small shacks with corrugated roofs. We pass what must be the bed making area of Kampala, where everywhere carpenters concoct beautiful wooden bed-frames. ‘Muzenga, muzenga, how are you?’ people call as we pass. The word ‘Muzenga’ is not meant to be insulting and translates as ‘wanderer’ so is more similar to ‘visitor’ than ‘white person’.
When we get to the central minibus terminal the chaos intensifies. Everywhere minibuses move tailgate to tailgate while bodas whizz between and we have to squeeze ourselves through the gaps with the exhaust fumes blowing out onto our knees. Yet despite the cram it is remarkably well organised and good natured with minibuses somehow negotiating themselves into separate lines depending on where they are heading.
The market is like a river of movement with tiny paths in between stalls selling everything from traditional herbs to school uniforms. Sellers shout, displaying their wares, while men with huge deliveries on their heads rush past, perfectly capable of knocking you off your feet if you are slow at the dodging and weaving.
This is the Kampala I have seen on my first day. No doubt over the next two years I will see many more sides, but my first impression is of colour, movement and a tangible sense of fun.
The leafy suburb of Muyenga in Uganda’s capitol city of Kampala is home to a scattering of charity head quarters and gated houses. It sits over 4,000 feet high above the congested bustling city centre.
It is in this suburb that I find myself, by chance, spending my first week in Kampala.
Walking up the hill from the crowded city centre you pass a row of lively looking pubs and restaurants all contributing to Kampala’s reputation as the “city that never sleeps”. It feels warm and welcoming.
Nestled within these pubs and clubs though is a reminder of the area’s recent past. The Ethiopian Village restaurant, stands as a physical reminder the atrocities that took place in the summer of 2010.
In 2010, Al Shaabab terrorists detonated a bomb in the closing minutes of the 2010 world cup final in the Ethiopian crowded restaurant. The explosion in the Ethiopian restaurant coincided with an explosion at the city’s rugby club. These attacks left 74 dead.
At the time Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage of Al Shaabab said that they were “sending a message to Uganda and Burundi” that “If they do not take out their AMISOM troops from Somalia, blasts will continue”.
Ugandan currently supplies one of the largest numbers of troops to the on-going peace mission within Somalia.
Uganda has recently threatened to withdraw troops though after a UN report suggested they had been arming M23 rebels – a group that is lead by an ICC indicted warlord and has been accused of war crimes.
Here in the capital, the threat of Islamic terrorists is still talked about and still worried about. One Kampala resident said to me that the threat internally from the inter-tribal conflict in the north is not worried about in Kampala but that “Al Shaabab could strike at anytime, anywhere”.
Despite these concerns, there have been no comparable attacks in Kampala since the 2010 atrocities and Kampala enjoys the reputation as one of the safest capital cities in Africa.
The Thrupp based duo have both recently been working in London and are cycling the 125 miles back home in an effort to raise £1,500 for the development charity ‘VSO’. The couple have been offered a two year placement with VSO in Uganda where they will see first hand how the money is spent on education.
The duo are hoping to not only raise money, but also awareness about education in developing countries.
Commenting, Anya said, “When I was growing up I took the fantastic facilities and teachers at local schools in Stroud for granted. I passionately believe that everyone, wherever they live, should have access to the same high quality education that I had in Stroud. I hope to get Stroud’s residents thinking about kids in other countries who don’t have the same opportunities that there own children and grandchildren do.”
Human rights worker Steve added, “Having access to education is a basic human right that sadly is not always realised. In Uganda for example, one in five kids are not enrolled to begin with and then a further sixty six percent will drop out of basic schooling”.
He continued, “Not everyone can give up years of their lives to go and volunteer on the other side of the world. But everyone can help make a difference. By donating money to development charities like VSO you can help kids get the education they need and deserve. We have set up a fundraising page at www.justgiving.com/anya-steve – any donation, from a few pence to a few pounds, really does make a difference”.
Notes to editor.
- ·For further information about VSO see http://www.vso.org.uk/
- ·Photo provided of Anya Whiteside and Steve Hynd on their bikes
Contact: Mobile: Anya Whiteside 07527905560 or Steve Hynd 07583490852