Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A fist fight, car wash, movie night and a bit of history

As of today we have been here in Uganda for two months. We have both settled into a routine and life feels quite normal. Both our jobs are going well. I had a short holiday 2 weeks back that I didn’t really need but so far this term I’ve a bit busier which is what I want. My typical week involves teaching a mixture of Geography and History classes, running morning devotions with the students and coaching rugby. I have also been asked to help some of the staff with their computer skills, which amuses me as I don’t have any computer skills to pass on.

A while back we were informed we’d have a couple moving in with us who are “a bit older”, Australian and would be staying for three months. As it turns out our new flat-mates (Colleen and Henrik) are 25 year old Canadians who are here for one month. We are learning to expect the unexpected. We get along with them really well and are disappointed they are not here longer.

We have the rugby boys over every Thursday night to watch a video. At last count there were 19 of them. Last week we turned all the lights off and it looked like there were only two people in the room until the boys found something funny. 19 sets of teeth appeared in the darkness. Some of the boys are taking to rugby really well. One in particular is called Einstein, wears glasses and has wild hair but that is where the similarities with the scientist stop. I teach him Geography and so far he has really struggled to grasp the fairly straight forward unit we’re doing on map reading. Rugby though, he understands. He is sound on defense and likes to go on sniping runs in close around the ruck.

Helen goes into Kampala most days for work. She often takes the local bush taxi vans which cost about a dollar for the one hour journey. The trips are always eventful. The other day she was traveling in a 14-seater van that, as usual had been loaded with 20 people. Halfway in the van pulled off the road for a “car wash”. A group of men armed with buckets and brushes descended on the van and gave it a damned good scrubbing for half an hour. The passengers including Helen and her laptop were caught by the spray coming through the rust holes and cracked windows. By the time they arrived in town the van had a fresh coat of red dust.

It was also her birthday last week. To celebrate we went into central Kampala for dinner. As travel is difficult and can be a bit unsafe after dark we went in early. We arrived at the restaurant at 5.45 and had to wait outside the gates until it opened. True class. On the way home I nearly got in a fist fight with the driver who succeeded in pushing all my buttons at the same time. If nothing else it was an eventful day! Thanks very much to everyone who sent her messages. She felt very loved.

For the rest of this entry I want to write down a brief summary of what I’ve learned about the recent History of Uganda. If you are not interested in History please feel free to stop reading here!

Uganda has been described as the ‘Pearl of Africa’. The climate is moderated by its altitude and the temperature sits between 20 and 30 degrees year round. About a quarter of the country is submerged in fresh water. This includes the White Nile and a big chunk of Lake Victoria. East African grasslands cover much of the East and North while the heavily forested upper reaches of the Congo River basin stretch into Western Uganda. Due to its beauty and the abundance of natural resources it was a highly sought after piece of land when Africa was being divided up between the European Empires in the late 1800s. The British eventually gained control of it in 1894.

Since then Uganda has had a very turbulent History. Between the turn of the century and 1962 it remained a colony. The British rule here was not particularly brutal compared to the treatment of some other African peoples. However, colonialism has definitely left some serious challenges for Uganda. It was during this time that the modern boundaries of the country were defined. Uganda derives its name from her largest tribe: the Baganda. These people speak Luganda and live in the region called Buganda. It took me some time to get my head around that! As well as the Baganda there are 5 other major tribal groups with over 30 different sub tribes. Like many other African countries this tribal diversity has made Uganda very difficult to govern. The smaller groups have justifiably felt marginalized with no political voice.

After gaining independence in 1962 leadership was competed over between various tribal kings and political party leaders. In 1971 the infamous Idi Amin took power by a military coup. He remained in power until he was driven out by a combination of Tanzanian and exiled Ugandan soldiers in 1979. Under Amin’s leadership Uganda suffered a lot. It is thought that approximately 300,000 people were killed- most of them suspected political opponents. My History teacher colleague’s father disappeared during this time and she has never found out what happened to him. Foreigners were expelled including a large number of Asians who had run many of Uganda’s businesses. This had a disastrous impact on Uganda’s economy. Unemployment and inflation sky rocketed. Uganda’s wildlife was also devastated and is still recovering today.

After Amin was deposed Ugandans were hopeful of a new start. However the next six years saw little improvement. A string of leaders failed to change the rampant corruption and violence. The current President, Museveni took over the country by force in 1986. He has brought stability and attempted to promote reconciliation between tribal groups. He has slowed the practice of political intimidation and violence and the Ugandan economy has grown a bit. These changes are quite impressive considering Uganda’s position when he took over.

However, he has now been in charge for 24 years and it is doubtful whether the election results during this time have been genuine. The Ugandan constitution stated that a President could serve a maximum of two five year terms. This clause was discarded as Museveni approached the end of his second term. The next election is coming up soon (Feb 2011). Already people here are apprehensive about what might happen. Some feel that Museveni should stay on in order to ensure continuing peace and stability. Others think he should have stepped down a long time ago. Either way there is fear that it may not be a peaceful election.

Today there are around 30 million people here. Uganda ranks in the top five countries in the world for corruption (not far behind Nigeria). According to UNAIDS figures around 7% of the population are HIV positive. This figure has come down a lot since the late 1990s but is thought to be on the rise again. The average life expectancy is somewhere in the 40s. More than half the population is under 15 years of age. We often see kids looking after babies (sometimes their own) and babies are frequently abandoned at the hospital, outside orphanages or on rubbish dumps. The list of problems here are typical of many countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite all this people carry on with their lives. They are very proud of their country and many don’t want to live anywhere else. They see relationships as being more important than achievements (which can be infuriating). Whenever we ask malnourished kids how they are, we hear “I’m fine” accompanied with a grin. Jesus’ promise “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted” seems to be a bit easier to understand here.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog Tim & Helen! It's certainly interesting to read of your experiences in Uganda as I sit here comfortably in Auckland!

    Tim: are you to become Uganda's version of Belich? :P

    Keep safe!