Playing by the rules

Polling station

Polling station

Yesterday there were primary elections in Uganda, ahead of the national poll taking place next February; candidates have apparently been ‘campaigning’ by handing out shoes, soap and other gifts. We were advised to stay at home after 4pm; there’d been some messing around in a nearby town and rumours of teargas.

It was less dramatic here, thankfully. After the polling stations closed, a gang of young lads sped recklessly up and down the highway in a truck, cheering loudly, a dozen of them crammed in or leaning out the window, plus a few lying back across the bonnet. After dark, a small crowd gathered noisily at the town council office across the road, but the sound was of celebration, not protest.

This morning as we were about to get started with class, a bunch of young teenagers in school uniform appeared. Continue reading

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Pig & blankets

My four students, Ugandan volunteers from their early 20s to about 50, arrived more or less on time (on African time) this morning. Susan promptly handed a bundle of blankets over to the boss, who sat at the desk next to us with the sleeping 1-month-old Elijah across her lap the rest of the morning. The shriek of a pig being slaughtered just outside was a bit more distracting, but otherwise things sort of went to plan (photos coming once internet more available).

The level of education, and of confidence, varies widely in the group. Zai has her own business – making peanut butter – and Vincent has two university degrees. The others are shy and unsure, with more of a language barrier too. We’ve got quite a lot to do, in less than two weeks: the idea is to get them started on gathering photos and interviews for the website, while giving them a chance to develop new skills.  Continue reading

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Power-saving mode

On the way here, Gerald the driver told me he watches Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and The Weakest Link on BBC Entertainment. Why did so many places in England have names ending in ‘shire’ and why was she only the Queen of England if she ruled the whole United Kingdom? I didn’t know.

Busembatia is only an hour’s drive from the expat-friendly, tourist-magnet town of Jinja, but it feels far from that world.

“Bye Mzungu!” squeal all the kids.

“Mzungu – it’s that colour that you have,” a man called James explained, slowing his bicycle alongside me to introduce himself. White people have stayed here before, but that doesn’t seem to have dulled the excitement.

Resources feel precious now. Continue reading

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Return

In the Pearl of Africa

In the Pearl of Africa

Back to Kampala: to the hills, the trees, the rust-red earth and the steady flow of motorcycle taxis that keep this city moving. It’s good to be back, and reassuring to find the same sense of ease as two years ago. It’s urban Africa for beginners – unthreatening, unoppressive, walkable. Or #laidbackinthepearlofafrica, as one of the mobile providers puts in in their latest ad campaign.

Reassuring in a way, too, to be semi-prepared for the usual mild irritations: the Rihanna songs blaring from the building next door, the way too large ants in my kitchen, the reliably unreliable electrics and phone connections.

Some stuff has changed. Continue reading

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The luxury of leaving

Washing lineOn day 4, we stood in a circle and held hands while Lawrence – fondly nicknamed ‘the Pastor’ – asked that God bless my safe return. It was nearly dark: we’d waited a long time for Okwiri, who’d spent all day with a mechanic after some kids vandalised the friend’s car he’d borrowed to drive us into Dandora.

But there was still time for a prayer. ‘Does it feel like a ritual?’, laughed Okwiri, who seems – either from experience or instinct – to know where the great divides between Africans and Europeans lie. ‘No! It’s nice’, I said – and was glad I didn’t have to lie.

Their enthusiasm to work with me all week was heartening – though given that the chef at my hotel and my taxi driver seemed equally sad to say goodbye I don’t quite take it as a measure of success. Continue reading

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Contagion

I couldn’t think of a single follow up question. Or didn’t want to.

I was doing a quick interview with a woman on the street outside the school. Her kids often had to miss class because she didn’t have the money, she said. And suddenly, I was too tired of hearing it again. It was always the same, tedious story. Nothing changed. I couldn’t fix it, and I had no idea who could or would. What was the point?

Later, Okwany asked me for advice: his mother had lost both legs, his father was very old. They lived far away and didn’t have enough to eat. Later, when he hinted at the allowance we might pay them to cover their travel costs, I pretended not to notice, till the subject was changed. I wanted Okwiri to deal with that – even if we split the cost – I hated them thinking I was money.

But I wasn’t the only one.

‘They’ll all be saying, now you have money’, Teacher Alice told me, as we waited for the others to come back from filming. Continue reading

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Zero to hero

On day one, these people had literally never held a camera before. When we talked, at some point, about what they’d learned, one answer was: now I know that I can hold the camera like that [landscape format] or like that [portrait format]. Another: I know now that if the camera is further away, the objects look smaller.

By day four, two of them went out and – within one hour – came back with this (originally 15 mins of footage – I edited it down to 5):

Continue reading

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Taking your trash out

I know – another post about rubbish – but only because of this guy, who we saw frantically rooting around for plastic bottles and such, unknown to the driver. Somehow, he retains his balance round corners and over bumps, managing to fill a sackful before he jumps off, at the last moment – before the truck turns off the main road and disappears into the depths of the Dandora dump.

Trash-2 Continue reading

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Urban legend

Keep walkingNairobi, Nairobbery, they say. One of those places you’d never want to visit.

Except that you do, because there’s a buzz about this place and stuff happening like nowhere else on the continent: the developers and innovators building ‘silicon savannah’; the newspapers and corporations making this the bolshy media and business capital of East Africa; the donor money settling in offices here, trailing the idealistic and the cunning behind.

This is no hilly Kampala with her jovial motorbike-taxi drivers, or Dar es Salaam with her Indian bingo clubs and beach bars. This beast of a city has everything in more extreme measures: more choking traffic, more crime, more high-rise buildings and more low-rise shanty towns and all the problems they bring. Continue reading

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Making it work

Photo by Lawrence

First timers – photo by Lawrence

New project, new challenges.

Back in Kazo, the school was about 20 yards from my home; here, it takes a good hour and a half bouncing along the roads of some not-so-nice parts of Nairobi. The Kenyans I’m working with have zero experience of cameras (which also makes it a lot of fun), and I’m told we need to pay them something to compensate for a day of lost wages. And we have only four working days to do something meaningful.

At least this time, I’m not too surprised when we don’t start on time, or that attendance is somewhat, well, fluid. And since my expectations are lower – this is a bit of a trial, before a real (and funded!) project comes next year – it’s nice just to see where it goes. They seem to be enjoying it so far. Continue reading

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