01.02.2007 - 17.03.2008 28 °C
Well, I’ve been in Uganda for some time now. Really enjoying myself in so many ways.
Firstly, after an extended period without a real Role back in Scotland, its good to have that back again. A job to do.
Secondly, I’m loving that job. The atmosphere in my office is totally different from the atmosphere at the UN or the Kenyan NGO I worked with last year. The people are relaxed, yet professional. They know what their work is and they get on with it – and have the resources to do it. I’m learning lots and contributing something quite valuable too, I think. I also like to believe that they enjoy having my cheery face around the office. We all sit together for an hour every day at lunch time and talk about the issues and challenges of our jobs or Eastern Africa in general (particularly the Kenyan situation).
One thing that I really like is that staff at all levels seem to feel valued. There was a staff meeting shortly after I arrived, and the boss of the shared office gave everybody the chance to introduce themselves and bring up any issues. The gardeners (Mangeni and Bakali, who I love) told us how they work hard to make sure the flowers are beautiful and they are happy to know that that helps the rest of the team do their job better. They also mentioned they were IT illiterate and asked if they could learn computer skills; the next day were supplied with an old desktop to play with.
I’m also getting to see so many different things here. Part of my job is to visit the 14 agri-businesses funded by my organisation. This has taken me to Nairobi and Thika in Kenya (will shortly visit Kitale in the west of Kenya). I’ve also been to Hoima in Western Uganda and Gulu (home of the Choli people) in Northern Uganda. The businesses do a range of interesting jobs – including, selling seed and farm inputs, organic certification, integrated pest management, buying high value vanilla or avocados from farmers for export to Europe: its so interesting! And I have to come to some sort of judgement about what developmental impacts these businesses are having. What type of farmers their helping? Etc.
Thirdly, I love living in Kampala. When I think about it, I can’t help comparing it to Nairobi. Yes, its true that Kampala is less developed than Nairobi. The electricity is much less reliable. There are only 3 sets of traffic lights. The traffic is terrible. And yet, it is beautiful. The lake side city was (like Rome) built across 7 hills so wherever you look there is a hill and some trees. With about a million people, Kampala is much smaller and feels it. Yes, downtown still has the tower blocks of many cities. Then there are a few big roads heading out of town… but move off those big roads for just a few metres and your on hard packed mud roads with little fields of cassava or maize and small houses.
I’ve joined a running group here called “The Hash”. About 100 people meet every Monday after work and follow one of three routes, marked out with chalk on the ground… W for Walkers, R for Runners and H for Hashes (people who run bits then walk when they get tired). The three routes cross regularly and everybody stops a few times to breathe and let stragglers catch up. Its so nice running across the hills of Kampala and footing down through the small ‘village like’ bits. After Hashing for an hour, we meet together for beer and food and rowdy behaviour before going home. The Hash apparently meet in many cities across the world and is generally the realm of ex-pats, but here in Kampala, probably 70% are Ugandans, so it’s a good way to make friends too.
Yes, Kampala is much more friendly than Nairobi. People here are much less aggressive and, often, want to talk just to get to know you – rather than for money or a job. I’ve heard it said that the relationship between foreigners and black Kenyans in Nairobi has been in place for too long, making it too established to break out of. In Nairobi it is very difficult, even for a friendly Dave, to break that mould. In Kampala, it’s much easier to choose. One of my favourite people here is the guy who I buy bananas from. Freddie owns a small (2m2) shop at the bottom of my street and sells me bananas. After talking for 5 minutes on my first day, he clicked, then squeaked (as Ugandans tend to do) before predicting that he thought we would become friends. One week and many bananas later, he pronounced “David, I think we are friends now. Eeee!”
Perhaps a consequence of the friendliness, Kampala is strikingly safer than Nairobi. Here it feels good to walk around the city centre at night before jumping on the back of a motorbike to take me home. I’ve not heard any tales of robberies here at all.
Similar to Nairobi is that among the internationals, Americans tend to stick together…. And only work in the faith based charities. Unfortunately, my flatmate is one of those, so I’ve had an overdose of them. I only know a few Europeans – and think I’m going to have to be a bit more pro-active about muscling in on their social circles. While I love my Ugandan friends, its always good to have some people who understand you a bit better.
My twin laughed, when I told him that I’m going to Aerobics classes after work several times a week. “Aerobics in Africa? Difficult to imagine,” he said. And, yes I know what he means – but this aerobics is quite different from the British feminine style. Classes are run by super-fit African men. Similarly, most of the participants are very fit African males. Easily as tough as a circuit training class back at York – they really put us through our paces. Add to that Lingala (Congolese) music and a smattering of tribal warbles/calls at exciting points from people in the class and you have a really fun evening that really re-freshens me after a day at work.
Anyway – hope you’re all well.