Monday, September 25, 2017

Raising little kids in Kampala, Uganda.

I’ll never forget the look on the ladies face at the supermarket in New Zealand when she realised I was serious about moving back to Uganda tomorrow with my three month old baby and an almost two year old.  Eva was peacefully sleeping and we were just winding up our conversation when she said, “But what will you do with her?” “Bring her with us.” I said. “But, but, but it’s not safe! She protested.

To her credit, her sentiments probably echoed the views of many. So here’s the real deal on what it’s like raising our little girl squad (Hope - 3.5years and Eva - 23 months) in #ugandababyuganda. Whether you’re considering a move to Africa, you’re interested to know what it’s like raising young children in a third world country or you’re just curious, I hope this helps.
FOREWARNING* - My Parenting style: I need you to know that I find parenting to be a lot like walking and talking while rubbing my stomach and patting my head.  Only instead of it being my head, it’s Eva’s head, who also happens to be running after our dog with a pair of scissors. Also, I’m holding snacks, a dirty diaper, two kid’s water bottles, Hope on the hip, and a phone that won’t stop ringing because I won’t stop calling. So if you cannot relate to any of that - we should part ways now.

My children eat all three meals outside on the balcony and often wander around half naked as they do it.  I usually feed them with my hands as utensils are overrated and that’s how everyone does it here. Our house (and 99% of houses here) are made of tiles (no carpet) and so the warm temperature (27C or 80F year round) means I don’t care if they spill water or drop rice. Which they do. All day errrryday.  I kind of slipped into parenting in such a carefree way and didn’t notice it until I went home and saw how kids in New Zealand do not behave in this manner around mealtimes. #facepalm. Perhaps I’ve become a little too relaxed though. The other day my Canadian neighbour. Courtney, was over at my house and watched on in horror as her daughter peed in my yard. I didn’t even notice (or care) but she was like, “WHO ON EARTH TAUGHT YOU THAT!” To which I sheepishly replied, “my children”. Meh. Our girls end most days hot, dirty from the red dust and sticky from Lord knows what. We bath them every single night in disinfectant.

Accommodation – I live with more lizards than people. I live with more cockroaches, enormous wasps and gargantuan ants than people. But ultimately, I don’t live in a mud hut, I live in a beautiful four bedroom home made of bricks, fairly straight walls and a simple kitchen. I have a washing machine and a fridge. And when the power is on, they are really useful.   Almost every week we have a power cut for anything from a few hours to a day or two. I have two people on speed dial - my husband and our power company. Every few months we have a water cut. We had almost all of our furniture custom made as there’s no Ikea’s or traditional malls to buy furniture from. 

Leaving the house – I buckle my kids into their car seats (brought in from New Zealand) inside our 4x4 (for the bumpy roads), lock the doors, beep my horn and the guard comes to open our metal gates. As we drive down our road made of rocks and pot holes I can only see the high barbed wire fence that surrounds our compound and hear our dog barking as we leave. We head out not knowing how long it’ll take to get back. Traffic is horrendous in Kampala. I can barely handle it. It feels like I’m driving in a video game. Hazards abound. Secretly I love it. Apart from when I don’t.  Going 15 min down the road can be a two hour journey. I’m not exaggerating. I fear police for the bribes they ask for 9/10 times that I get pulled over. One of my girlfriends taught me to wear sunglasses while driving so you can pretend you don’t see them trying to pull you over. The windows stay up, the air con on. Often the smell of trash or dust kicks into our car. We drive down crowded streets, hustling our way through multiple lines of traffic, motorbikes and people coming against us – on our side of the road. Defensive driving at its finest. Bodas (motorcycles) knock our car at least once a month. And the trouble of pulling over to get their ‘fake’ details and make them pay with money they don’t have is too much of a hassle so we shake it off and let it go. One day we were pulled over by a police officer and yelled at because we had our infant in a car seat. “What is that? That is not safe.  You take her out and hold her right now.” True story.

Security - I feel safe here 99% of the time. Promise, Mum. When we eventually reach wherever we’re going, my car (and every car) will be checked for bombs by security. Often, they will even make us get out and go through a metal detector and search our bags. Every.Where.I.Go. Can you imagine trying to accomplish a few simple errands? At my daughter’s pre-school, the gate drop off ordeal is a daily dance in security checks as our car is checked for explosives. There was a murder in our street last year and once a week or so we hear gun shots in the distance down the road at night - but other than that – it’s fine.  

Househelp – Certainly the greatest personal blessing to living in Africa is having someone in your home that helps your family with cooking and cleaning. You really should move here immediately. This is INCREDIBLE.  The majority of people in this country, expat and local alike, have househelp. One of the practical reasons is that the dust is so bad here, the floors need to be mopped daily. But I also love how having a househelper gives a woman a chance to come out of poverty in a dignified way by making a living and enabling her to put her children through school.  Our househelper is also my children’s honorary Grandmother and I would be lost without her. I actually mean that. That woman is a God send. Because we have no family here, Jane has become our family. She also helps if we need a babysitter one night or when I’m traveling for work.

Activities for kids – Our home is our haven. With no public parks or playgrounds, we’ve made our home a place our kids want to hang out at. We had a mini playground made by a local carpenter, bought a trampoline and have a small inflatable pool. We don’t own a TV as there is nothing to watch on TV here and so if Hope wants to watch Peppa Pig she watches it on the laptop for 40c by the guy who burns her a copy down the road. Organised classes like Toddler Rock or Baby Gym are unheard of but we did recently arrange for a local woman to put on a music class for our kids! My friend, Alicia, reminded me today that she was recently at a restaurant where a few play pieces of equipment were set up. Only to watch on in horror as the ‘playground’ fell to the ground almost crushing the children below. “Not to worry” she said, “the fear factor helps develop character”.

Grocery Shopping – Is a weekly challenge in patience and resilience. I go to four stores over two hours.  A supermarket for staple items (about the size of a large 7/11 or 4Square, a bread shop (options are sweet or salty otherwise), a meat shop and finally the local market for fruit and vegetables. There are hardly any fast food restaurants. No McDonalds etc…so most meals we cook and eat at home.

– is a challenge. Today I took my child to the doctors and it took us two hours from start to finish. I was the only patient. We have medical evacuation insurance. Enough said.  My kids are vaccinated with almost everything you could imagine because we go into slums and refugee camps. In order to keep our girls as healthy as possible we vaccinate at a place called ‘The Surgery’ where we have confidence in the cool supply chain. Before I moved here, I never thought twice about a so-called ‘cool supply chain’. You better believe I do now.

– Going for a walk in this country with your stroller means taking the lives of yourself and your children into your hands. No sidewalks. No road rules. Just lots of stares from very confused people as to why you are pushing children in a “wheelbarrow”.

Buying Clothes - Two options. Firstly, the local markets. Sift through piles of clothing laid out on tarpaulins for approx USD$1-5 per item. OR go to the one store in the country where you can buy clothing, Mr Price, and pay $20-$60usd for a t-shirt.

  Buying Toys – Nearly impossible to get anything good quality other than $2 shop trinkets. Once I was so desperate for a Christmas present for Hope I bought her bubbles. They set me back a whopping $20USD. Learnt my lesson.

School – There are about five international schools in Uganda that expats usually send their children to. Fees are expensive (USD$6000-12,0000 per year, per child).

Playgroup – is once a week at my friend’s house. We play outside with the kids under her massive mango tree, enjoying whatever Pinterest perfection she’s baked in the kitchen. It’s hard to buy biscuits that taste ‘normal’.  The kids are a mixture of races and many of them are adopted. We talk about, traffic jams, power cuts, adoption, garage sales for expats that are leaving and what different work projects we’re working on.

Final thoughts
Because we’re raising our children in a third world country, we’re constantly surrounded by extreme poverty. I feel like that leaves us with no other option but to be deeply grateful for what we do have. As I look out my window each day I’m reminded of how lucky I am. The difference is crystal clear. But that constant mindset also leaves us equally concerned with the welfare of those around us. It is our hearts desire to raise girls that realise that the rest of the world does not look like New Zealand or America. Beautiful as those countries are, there are cultures and tribes and countries to explore, there are friends to meet and people to come alongside.  And living here enables us to do that for them.
And for us.