letter #1 from Kampala


Greetings to everyone from Africa:

Getting on line through the Africa on Line service proved to be a complicated process, despite helpful technicians."Roaming" in Uganda when we were based in Kenya, almost defeated us, but persistence (stubbornness?) prevailed. I can get on line once a day (not at the weekend) and am hoping to be able to send this letter with no problems.

The pay-as-you-go phone systems are widely used in Kenya and Uganda and we've had to learn how to use our multi task cell phone, apart from other things. The fact that the dealer in Kakamega ,where we bought the phone, only had a manual in German for a different model added to the interest (not
to mention the stress level.) Ah! Africa! We got our 'line' for Uganda and felt very proud of ourselves. Then we needed a card for service fee, and yet another card for airtime. Now we wonder who is going to phone us. But we have made some calls out.

At the beginning of September we settled in to a nice apartment in Kakamega in Kenya, took a couple of days to rest, then departed by road for Uganda, passing through the border formalities at high noon. After we had 'signed out' of Kenya and had our passports duly stamped, we crossed no man's land
on foot through two gate a hundred or so meters apart, dodging bicycles heaped high with sacks of grain coming the other way. The border police had gone for lunch, so the enterprising sellers were making the most of the opportunity to go through unchallenged. We 'signed in' to Uganda with more
forms to fill and stamps to put in our passports and embarked on the three hour journey to Kampala through the beautiful, lush countryside. Small farms, banana plantations, hills, fields of tea baking under the hot sun and everywhere people walking.

The city of Kampala is of course very different from rural Kenya, with many more services and amenities. It occupies a lovely site of hills and valleys a short distance from Lake Victoria. The airport (Entebbe) is about forty kilometres from the city and situated on the lake.

Kampala it is widely divergent within the city itself. On the same block, you'll find an internet service cheek by jowl (no pun intended) with a butcher with no refrigeration. Small wooden dukas (little sales shacks) line the roads. As we travel to work we pass an extraordinary number of butchers' shops: The Pork Joint (best joint in town), the Pork Talk (also a restaurant), then hair braiding, the New Nice butcher and the Trusted butcher.

Mercedes jostle for space with decrepit taxis and minibuses (the local public transport) with mopeds and bicycles slipping in where they can. The potholes here are just as big, even on a roundabout for major roads, the dirt is just as red and the streets swarm with just as many people as in Kenya. Here the boda bodas (bicycles that carry a passenger on the back)are not push bikes as in Kenya. They are motorised and look highly dangerous as they dodge huge potholes, weave in the traffic and negotiate the muddyroads, now slick with rain in the mornings. Women sit side saddle in their bright dresses as they travel to work and seem quite unconcerned.
We are lodged in a hotel on one of the main streets, which houses several government offices and Embassy buildings. Certainly the 'high end' part of town. The road is wide and relatively intact; there is a path to walk on at the side (not paved) and bushes are trimmed. Garbage on this street is minimal.

We are teaching every day and enjoying it very much. We take breakfast in the hotel gardens in the cool morning air and a driver comes for us to cross the city, past the University, through the poorer parts and to the institute where our classes wait. The students are all employed in the health field
and have been released for this intensive, three week administration program. They are a joy to teach and very focussed on success in this undertaking, which means a great deal in terms of work and promotion. They have a wonderful sense of humour, enormous determination and a thirst to learn.

We take lunch in the canteen, or cafeteria, with the students. At first there was dismay because no one had asked us for our 'special order'. We insisted there was no problem, we would eat African food. The next problem was that we were not allowed to join the line to be served. We have to sit at our table and wait for the plates of food to be brought. We laughed each day, however, as we were obviously accepted into the normal routines. On the first day we were brought our own special bowl of 'sauce' or soup, which contains a little meat, and given bottled drinks. The next day our meat was
on the plate, but we still had bottles of water or soda. The third day we were given a jug of boiled water like everyone else. Yesterday we went for our own glasses of water at the serving table.

At the morning break we have tea (with hot milk) and groundnuts or chapatis. One day we had delicious samosas. Tea is served again in the afternoon, once with mandazi, which resemble very solid doughnuts and are good if made fresh..

The African diet is high in starch and quite bland. At lunch we usually have rice (a treat for most), a bright pink puree made from groundnuts, together with potatoes and matoke. The Kenyans eat ugali at every meal, which is a maize porridge, thickened to a solid consistency. In Uganda the staple is
matoke. Matoke is plantain, baked in the leaves, and mashed. We are told it is mostly water like squash, but in taste it somewhat resembles a cross between mashed potatoes and sweet potato. The sauce or soup is exactly what it says. You will be thankful to find plenty of juice to moisten the matoke
and rice together with a very few pieces of meat. One share is perhaps two one inch cubes of beef, which includes bones and fat. Nothing is wasted. Yesterday we had cassava, which looks like a piece of parsnip, but tastes of nothing much. Oh, for a knob of butter and some salt.

There is no dessert at lunch, but at the hotel there is usually a bowl of fruit, most often the slices of papaya and pineapple that were also served at breakfast. The hotel serves basically the same food as the institute canteen, but the meat portion is larger, better trimmed and can be curry or stew or even moussaka. The owner is a Greek Cypriot and the hotel boasts the presence of the Cypriot Consulate. Last Sunday we were treated to a continuous tape of Greek music on the sound system. How many times can you listen to the theme from Zorba the Greek without smashing the speakers? The good thing is that they intend to specialise in Greek food and we've enjoyed the practice runs of various dishes.

There are fifty two tribes in Uganda, each with its own language. (There are forty two in Kenya) The official languages are English and Luganda, although most people also speak Swahili. I've decided I do not need to learn any Luganda. My poor brain is having enough trouble with Kiswahili.

The secretary in the office here is called Clarissa and her parents come from different tribes. She is dating a young man from her mother's tribe. The custom with them is that a young, unmarried girl must kneel before older people, so when she visits her boyfriend's family she has to kneel in front of his parents. Although they live in the city, she has only visited them twice!

The residents of our hotel are like something from a novel. I think of Agatha Christie or Peter Ustinov in Death in Venice every time they gather. Not that there is murder in the air, but they are such fascinating individuals in a kind of time and space warp. I'll tell you about them next time.