I have moved out of Uganda.
Hence, I will also conclude this blog, and start anew. This blog will not be up-dated anymore. When I am properly settled in my new place a new blog will be up and running. Thanks for reading along out there - and for all the good comments, e-mails, questions and compliments. Some of those have meant everything to me!!
PLEASE DO contact me for more information about my new blog at: pernille at fastmail dot fm - so I can send you a notice!
For me the company I have made up-country, and in Sudan, with others in more or less the same situation -has been priceless!
My programme in August has been squeezed tightly before leaving for my new job in Tanzania. Nonetheless, this is how it is, I had to do one final workshop in Sudan - a training session on newsletters, article writing and photography for the staff at DRC. The idea was to inspire, create some structural thinking in regard of producing newsletters, practise taking photos and writing articles.
Yesterday morning, as the cleaning lady wiped the dust off the cement floors, and the men furnished the newly build resource centre, I hooked up on the wireless, connected the projector and we set off for a full day programme. I really enjoyed working with this group, in particular, due to their committment and interest in learning new things. Besides, it was an absolute pleasure to be the first in this fantastic resource centre.
We are talking Southern Sudan 2007. Can you imagine wireless Internet for free (aiming at the local government and the NGOs) in a place where infrastructure has a hard time in general?! I think the DRC has done an excellent job, and I hope that the Sudanese will make it past the hardware phase and be able to actually use the Internet for more than dowloading Nigerian movies...
It is one of these early mornings where I didn't sleep enough; I didn't eat properly; And where I fought my way through traffice to the airport in Entebbe before boarding a plane to Yei in Southern Sudan. Even in spite of all that - and the nauseous feeling the tiny aircraft creates, I will still say that the view is worth it.
Africa's finest...unfortunately relatively stranded on the road to Kasese.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Ugandans held their first-ever press conference at Speke Hotel yesterday to launch a media campaign to advocate for their rights, the Monitor Online reported on August 17, and then the American journalist who wrote the article suddenly became the target of a demonstration led by Martin Ssempa from the Makerere Community Church and Interfaith Rainbow Coalition Against Homosexuality (A man with such little knowledge about homosexuality that he obviously doesn't know that the rainbow colors make up the international gay flag), who demanded her kicked out of Uganda simply 'for reporting about homosexuality'.
I fail completely to see the logic - writing, not actually performing, about something illegal, qualifies you for deporting?! Jackfruity reports about the incident here, and Glenna Gordon receives lots of comments on her post here. Kelly pays attention to a poster (inserted photo from her blog) and renames the CHOGM to 'Citizens Here Obviously Gone Mad'. The 27th Comrade, apparently being one of them, as he comments all over the Ugandan blogosphere as, well, mad ( I mean take a look to the right...).
We are talking 2007, and we are talking about Kampala, a relatively modern African capital which at present is striving so ridiculously hard for living up to some unclear standards for the CHOGM. Most of these demands, however, are purely focused on the facade of this country; – Appearance! I fail to see any vital change of what binds all this together; The inside. I am a visitor here, and I live with the fact that a lot is done differently. However, I do find it hard to accept the way Uganda is treating its minorities, the people who haven’t chosen as the majority, the man who marries a woman from another tribe because he actually loves her, the few who have the courage to stand up for what they think is right. Someone claims this is a special African trademark, to suppress your individual desires and adapt to the majority, and that Western influence should pack.
In this case a group of people has chosen to declare their sexuality openly. But in this country it is not only illegal to have sexual relations with people from the same sex, by some people it is even considered a disease which they believe can be cured by i.e., praying. How can Christianity be this inhumane? And doesn't this country have more serious criminals than being homosexual? Judging from a poll carried out by the East Africa Social Political Economic And Cultural (SPEC) Barometer 95% of the Ugandan population support the legislation and assumption.
I would still question if those 95% really do know what we actually talk about since we in Uganda are not allowed to report it in the papers, teach about it in school (mainly homosexuality seems condemned when 'taught') - or for that matter - practise it. In the Daily Monitor today I skimmed the page with the letters to the editor, and here one man suggested that 'why the police had not arrested the people behind Sexual Minorities Uganda (Smug) - a coalition of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) organisations - and taken them for medical check-up to see whether they had had anal sex recently'. Hm, I still don't know what to think about that procedure, than how stupid it is to believe that homosexuality is all about analsex.
I think Uganda has got her priorities wrong somewhere. Ugandans claim that homosexuality is of Western origin and influence. But it is here and has been all the time. Uganda can fill its pot holes, tarmac its roundabouts, build shiny new hotels and receive the international community for CHOGM, but homosexuality won't go away. The question is whether Uganda will allow people to express it. All my respect for people like SMUG who dare standing up for a controversial issue, risking everything.
I left at 7:00 and bought charcoal on the way to Kampala. Charcoal bought up-country at a low price makes you popular among people in Kampala, who struggle with a higher price level.
Charcoal is used particularly for cooking food (adds the smoky flavour which makes any East African feel at home), but last week the government also recommended charcoal fired stoves for warming premature born babies in the countryside (!) A bag for sale on the road from Fort Portal to Kampala costs 7000 UGX (about three US dollars). Mzungu price, of course.
My Ugandan passenger, John, negotiated it down to 5500 UGX, apparently a reasonable resident price. I like bargaining, but I find it hard to ask for a reduction in this case - it does take some labour to make the charcoal (reducing the forests in Uganda), stuff it into a bag, and then load it on my car.
Makes you wonder why the environmentally friendly NGO I work for doesn’t have a policy for buying and transporting charcoal.
Greetings around Uganda are always distributed with a smile. Greetings are a fundamental part of African culture, and practised to a mad, frequent extent in Uganda.
- How are you? This is such an all-round standard greeting (which the South Africans shortened to ‘howzit?’) that when I sometimes greet by saying ‘hello’, the person I greeted answers ‘fine’? Here you greet all you meet on your way, in Denmark we restrict it to the people we know. Consequently, this often creates misunderstandings, and after two years in Uganda, I still get puzzled, when a stranger greets me especially. I know the right answer isn’t; ‘Do I know you?’, but I must admit this is what I sometimes recline to.
- Welcome back! Likewise confusing when the receptionist in a hotel you stayed in 18 months ago, or never stayed in, gives you the idea that she remembers you. I simply can’t figure it out. The mzungu explains her doubt, and the receptionist keeps claiming that she remembers you. But does she really, or is it a cultural concept directly translated from Swahili – Karibu tena?! The right mzungu answer or greeting back isn’t; - When was I here the last time?!’ However, when you know people and the place, this is one of the best African greetings, and they do mean it.
- You were lost! This one I have adapted myself. I love using it. It explains it all. Like the Serbs who say ‘where are you?’ when they mean ‘how are you?’
The funniest greetings are the ones you get when you arrive somewhere with a male friend or colleague; - ‘Oh, you are here with a new face!’ No matter if the greeting is meant for you or him, I think we would call this outspokenness tactless where I come from. Imagine if one of us really show up with a new face and if we were in a relationship, wouldn’t it better not to be made aware by the staff at Paraa Lodge?!
Doesn’t seem to bother the staff though, who is also always good for other pieces of information as i.e.; ‘Your colleague/friend in that red car was here yesterday with a man/woman’. I always ask what that woman/man looked like. Sorry, can’t help it.
Gossip seems to be a vital part of the greeting game. In fact, it makes it impossible to hide completely or make things you really don’t want your colleagues to find out. People do gossip a lot in Africa, and sometimes it does take some nerve to pretend you don’t give a shit.
I spent the weekend on Mihingo Lodge at Lake Mburo. The photos on the website do not lie, the place is fabulous.
The food fantastic, the view breathtaking, the Ugandan savannah scattered below. And I was in good company, too, which turned Friday evening into something I doubt any of us will forget soon.
Saturday morning I got too much sun watching the zebras at the waterhole below the swimmingpool. Check their prices. We tried to negotiate an MS Uganda price, and they promised to consider a discount if they get more red cars.
- I am off on a safari with six friends and one child in a few hours. We are heading south-west to Lake Mburo, where we are going to stay at Mihingo Lodge. Check it out here. I am in particular looking forward to seeing zebras - supposedly the only spot in Uganda where that is possible.
Sunday and Monday I go to Fort Portal to conduct a training session on blogging for the Rwenzori Information Centre Network. That is a bit outside my usual geographical work area, but the guys have persistently asked for it - am now I am curious in getting some experience with how you can use blogs to enhance information and communication in the Rwenzori.
Besides, I must admit that I quite like it when people ask me to do something for them, in stead of me enforcing my ideas on people with blank stares. - A general development dilemma, I think.
I do like what it means between the lines when someone uses this sentence. Somehow, when I use it myself, I always accompany it with a puppy-style begging smile and a question mark; 'Everything is possible, right?!.'
That is when I am about to give up, got out the wrong side of the bed, am out of coffee, when it's all a mess, chaos and bloody hopeless, raining, muddy, traffic jams from here to the moon, and you feel like killing the first matatu-driver touching your car.
I had a helluva hectic day. Most of the time stuck in traffic jam, had to carry heavy packages and organise posting it as cargo, to buy a plane ticket, write two training session proposals, email high resolution images to Holland, write a job application, pack my blue barrels and find a way to secure them, pack my other luggage, and perfom acrobatic parking on a stamp-sized spot. All the time thinking about the things I never got round to do.
But then someone confirms that you are sorted, that we'll help you, it might cost, but it is possible: I got my laptop back with all sorts of nice stuff! (some flirtateous chatting involved); A bunch of wash-bay workers carried the heavy packages (7000 UGX); MS Uganda's caretaker, Frank, fixed my blue barrels (I promised him a bag of charcoal next week): And I gave up parking and rode boda bodas through the jam (1000 UGX).
Right, everything is possible. If you allow it. That's why I love this place. Hectic, but fantastically elastic.
My IBM laptop finally crashed. 'I has a lot of virusses', the lady at the Indian computer agency at Bombo Road in downtown Kampala explained, when I handed it in. 'I will take a long time to fix it.', she added, while I was looking for somewhere to let out my anger. The thing is, it makes me feel amputated to be without my laptop, in spite the lady assured me it would be no problem to fix it. Fortunately, last week I invested in an external harddrive (which unfortunately doesn't correspond with my stand-in laptop.), which I'd recommend everybody travelling with a laptop in Africa. A laptop can easily be stolen, and in my case easily filled with red dust and infected with virus as I hook up everywhere (and didn't secure it properly). Argh!
When I came here in June 2005 the bridge had a security check point with soldiers trying to delay you unnecessarily if not given a lift. Always a problem as we timed driving from Arua to the ferry at Paraa in Murchison Falls. 2½ hour would do it on a good day.
Working for an NGO you are not supposed to carry soldiers, an argument is that you become a target yourself. I don't know what would actually happen in real life, or if it's just a pacifist' excuse. The regular UDPF or SPLA soldier, dressed in gumboots and handling their weapon too casually for my style, never made me feel safer anyway.
Another thing which changed within these 26 months was the upheaval of the strict security guidelines on the Pakwach - Karuma Road due to LRA attacks. In October 2006 we were allowed to drive on the tarmac to Karuma and Kampala (I stil prefer driving through Murchison Falls though). Maybe northern Uganda has progressed in the terms of peace?! But, hey this is Africa, so standing at the bridge all you have to do is to let your eyes wander on the blue mountain skyline towards Congo and the beginning of the Lake Albert - there might be another conflict coming up there?!
A young man in Ediofe, the little village uphill in Arua, was trying to promote a new friendship across borders. All I would have to was to hand out my mobile number.
Here it is sufficient to have a thing as a T-shirt with a name of a country close to mine for making friendship. But for a Dane this is not enough, in fact it makes us doubt sincere intentions, and we start argueing about the concept.
Danes categorise people more severely and to qualify for the title 'friend' you must have earned it, stood up for someone, gone to primary school together, at least been around for a while.
We don't deal genorously with this title, which might explain why the suicide rate in Denmark is one of the highest in the world and why many Danes suffer from loneliness and depressions!
After all, in spite it does stirr me a bit to be labelled friend after only few minutes' acquaintancy, I believe the West Nilers have a quality they should be proud of. I have made quite a few friends while in Uganda, and I have enjoyed how easy it is.
I left Arua today. I said good-bye to my staff working in my house and at the compund. It is never easy. The conversation below, however, turned out a bit more existential than I had expected when I got out of bed this morning.
My watchman; - I wish God would send more people like you!
Me; - You, know Angelo, God didn't send me. I came by myself. And I had to apply.
My watchman; - But you have been so good to me. For the money you have given me I could send my boy to school. Last night I prayed really really hard for you.
Me; - Well, I appriciate your efforts, but this praying thing doesn't do it for me.
My watchman; - You don't pray!!!!???
Me; - Well, I'm not against it, I just don't think it works on its own to pray. I think life takes more.
My watchman; Aha, so you're guided by your intellect?!
Me; (now smiling inside) – I doubt it...honestly, I doubt it. (I contemplate explaining him that I am mainly guided by emotions and strange impulses as in sex, drugs and rock&roll).
My watchman; - Then it must be something else. I will keep praying for you!
Me; - I appriciate that!
I have just received two copies of the Last King of Scotland from Los Angeles as I have promoted the film here on this very weblog. I have done so as I really liked the film itself - in particular for having been shot in Uganda, for the use of the African light, the blurred colors and the sound track. However, it is obvious that making a film about a real and a very controversial person based on a 'fictional story' can cause confusion and interesting statements. Whenever the film is brought on, the Ugandans will say something like;
What is really interesting is that sometimes I can't help note a tone of admiration for the man, in spite of the hell he created for some. He actually did meet a lot of his people face to face, not many African presidents does that today (well, some of these people didn't survive the meeting). He changed the British names of i.e. the Lake Albert to Lake Mobutu/Lake Amin (half half Congo/Uganda). Anyway, now a 'rights-protected' DVD is donated to Arua Resource Centre, Idi Amin's hometown. And I keep the other one.
1) Lunch at the Indian Restaurant (don't use the toilet before you have eaten your food, as you have to pass through the kitchen),
2) Buying vitenge in the market - where this tour came to an end - after short time Allan had to be gently supervised out of the market as he kept buying and buying like some woman with a free credit card in an air-contioned shopping mall (in spite, I had sensibly advised him first to have a look, think about it, then maybe return).
I have said it before, I'll repeat; the vitenge market in Arua is the best in Uganda - straight from Congo. - Vitenge, however, it seems is as addictive as all the other stuff you can get in Congo!
View the photos here.
I have visited Koboko for probably the last time (definitely in a long time). I left it this morning for Arua, which turned out to be a hell of a trip. It rained all of last night and this morning. The rain soaked the road and had simply turned it into one big piece of soft soap!
I think Uganda has made me soft-hearted, too. I had to stop in the mud when I saw a pregnant woman and her husband wave from the ditch trying to get a lift for the hospital in Arua. 'Twins', he explained brieftly, as I tried to figure out how soon, and if the substance of this road would affect a woman in labour. They both got in and filled the car with the inevitable smell which hangs on people who live in a tukul. I'm afraid to admit that my gesture today probably made more change in that woman's life than most of the articles I have written so far.
Maybe I should have said something about the fact that the planes are relatively close to the trees and the rooftops when they go down to land at Arua Airstrip.
Or maybe I should have said something about how absolutely fascinating impossibly crazy it looked when Eagle Air staff did their best this morning to stuff the plane with passengers and a 1,5 x 1,5 meter pallet of books with a label saying 'Rumbek, Southern Sudan via Civicon (Koboko)'.
I didn't. I told her it was a pleasure. I actually really enjoy flying with Eagle Air. Uganda is one of the few places I have experienced to fly without paying for my ticket before, but days after, as I didn't have cash. I have left luggage at Arua Airstrip and deleted it from my mind, till the staff called me. The police at the airstrip is the best. They once looked after my car for three days, because I had to leave it there and fly to Kampala. Sometimes the police also double at the souvenir table and try to convince people that they should buy the kitenge shirts as the colors really match their eyes. I always meet people I know and get a quick talk. And I love the view of Arua scattered below in all colors.
Not to forget the fact that they allow you to buy duty-free in Entebbe airport in spite we fly domestic!. Uganda, man!
I have noticed an interest in the Ugandan-founded magazine 'African Woman'. I have received a few emails and even a phone call from Europe asking me how you can get hold of the magazine outside East Africa.
Good question! This is just to say that I haven't ignored the requests, but that I have been too busy to think of how to figure it out. If I do, I will let you know. In the meantime, you - who called me from Europe (the connection was not good that day), write me back, and I will send you the latest copy!
'World Vision' is nicknamed Blurred Vision, the 'Norwegian People's' Aid are often referred to as Norwegian People's Army and the abbreviation of the 'Danish Refugee Council (DRC)' is confused for the Democratic Republic of Congo.
MS Uganda (which makes absolutely no other sense in African English) is taken for Miss Uganda!
At the moment I get lost anywhere, have completely lost my sense of direction. In Kampala suburbs or in tiny villages. Can't remember left from right, that the sun sets in the West, where I have been in what order and whom I talked to where about what, or if I Skyped, blogged or watched it on TV or the Internet. When I get to a road which splits in two I can never remember which one I am supposed to take.
Embarrasing. Inconvenient. Especially for someone who takes a pride in having a good photographic memory and a strong ability to match names with the right faces. Too many impressions in too little time, I guess. Somehow my harddrive doesn't store properly.
Like this morning I think we are flying Yei to Kampala. South. Half an hour later I look down upon this strange place. UN containers, tukuls (mud huts), the River Nile, mbati (iron sheet) roof houses, white landcruisers...
I have to ask (what might seem like the most stupid question to) the passenger in front; 'Where are we?!'
Hm! Juba, it is...! What else?!
I spent the weekend in Juba, and before returning to Yei today I had to visit the big market in Juba this morning - intending to take in the atmosphere and take some photos without confronting an SPLA soldier with a Kalashnikov and a lethal thousand-meter-stare.
I managed to avoid the occasional, stumbling drunk - and truly scary - SPLA soldier. Instead a man (identifying himself as 'working for the government with anti-corruption') tried insistingly to put the message through that I was unwanted; You've got five minutes, and then I want you out of Juba!'. He was instantly dealt with by our local driver and other by-standers, who explained to me that the guy was traumatised. A category which is used throughout to describe the human impact of the civil war in Southern Sudan.
I backed out of the market, while our driver kept explaining don't be scared! - while talking sense to the traumatised person, who then throw himself at an - from what I could see - innocent Masai man. Donk! I turned around and was greeted by this tall man (probably a Dinka) who kind of slapped me with his outstretched palm right on my chest and then putting a friendly massive white teeth front set on display.
I still cannot believe that the traumas are this visible that you can litterally feel and observe it this clearly just by meeting people in the street. Talking about trauma or being fucked-up in a crazy place in Africa, the occasional South African de-miner, paramedic or whatever is just as scary as a local traumatised Sudanese (at least the Sudanese has an explanation). Not like the self-sufficient South African paramedic I met at a party last night who tried to convince me of the uniqueness of his job -and that he would only help his own, and never ever give medical help to a local Sudaneseh, because 'neither UN nor the GoSS can provide security'). Some people ought to stay home!
Man, this place is so crazy - and who knows if I ever will be back?!
I used to be a teacher myself, in a Danish primary and secondary school, 10 years ago. No matter where I have been moving around - among Sudanese refugees in Northern Uganda or in Southern Sudan the sight of pupils carrying books and bags on their way to and from school - and the quality of the schools always have a certain appeal to me.
I am fascinated by their eagerness to learn, in spite a lot walk barefeet, have to sit under a mangotree or in massively crowded classrooms, the schools looking like cows' stables. In many cases the teachers are not paid well, and payment of salaries are delayed. There are basically no materials, but a blackboard, and the quality of the teaching might also be disputable.
However, most children are curious like hell, and will search instinctively for getting to know what is outside the village. It does move me to see when this curiousity is not satisfied. Potential is lost. The future of Africa.
Here, access to education cannot be underestimated. It is your only chance to make a difference in life, to move on and out of poverty. Education can enable you to change the structures which determine the poverty you are stuck within, such as tribalism, oppression of girls and women and post-war traumas... just to mention a few issues which in Southern Sudan's case have to be adressed.
Personally, I strongly believe that education is the way to enable people to make the changes they find essential to create their own version of happiness. Get as many African children in school as possible! In particular, make an extra effort to get the girls to school and finish it!