Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Goodbye for now, Uganda

Being in the unfortunate position of having to take an unplanned trip back to the UK which may last a few weeks, I thought I might reflect a bit on my feelings at leaving - if only temporarily. What shall I miss about Uganda?

The sounds
I love hearing the call to prayer in the morning, not too close but there hovering in the distance, several calls, in fact, and as one might expect here, completely uncoordinated. In the morning some of Uganda's more than 1000 species of birds come and sing outside our window and almost all are tuneful. In the evening we can sometimes hear the Ndere troup from the theatre around the corner drumming and singing. Sometimes some of our neighbours have an 'introduction' (engagement party) with traditional singing and dancing. I like that as well, though it is not always quite as tuneful.

What am I not so keen on? Ugandan dogs howl rather than bark, and the call to prayer makes them howl even more. The Hound of the Baskervilles and all his relations are alive and well and living in Kampala. We also have a couple of ibises flying around our flat just now. What a racket they make, harsh cawing to match their vicious curved beaks - though I'm sure they're quite harmless really. Sometimes I do wish they'd be quiet.

The light and dark
Our dawns and sunsets vary in time by about an hour at most as the year goes by. Sometime around six, the streaks of pink stretch out along the skyline, with darker streaks from the clouds.  How quickly the sun rises, and before you know it there is a bright white ball lightening the sky rising a few inches higher and then higher. We used to have lovely light and shadows to look at from our Edinburgh flat - not a direct view of the dawn but light reflected off Arthur's Seat, changing every minute and every day. However, Uganda's light is different, not necessarily better, but different. Uganda's sun rarely beats down on you - there's always a cloud or two not far away. Neither does Edinburgh's, one might add.  I have never risked getting sunstroke in Edinburgh.

What am I not so keen on? I do miss the long evenings you get in Scotland.  No sitting out on the balcony watching the sun go down - a few minutes, and then it's dark. The unlit streets are a real danger. You have to be constantly on your guard against running people down or ending up in a ditch. There are some street lights in the centre of the city, but I have never seen them switched on. As for the country beyond Kampala, it really is dark! Nobody wants to break down after dark.

The people
The Ugandan people are among the friendliest, most courteous people I have ever met. In the usual tangles of traffic at road junctions, no one loses their temper, no one shakes a fist or makes a rude sign (except Stuart). If someone loses the struggle for supremacy, he just shrugs and drives off quite resigned, a fraction or two later than he would have done anyway. There is no such thing as road rage. I shall miss the people we work with, among whom we have made some very good friends. And, beyond Ugandans, I shall miss the camaraderie of the VSO crowd on a Friday night. Indeed, what will I do on Friday nights? However, above all, I shall miss the children. They just get on with things whatever their difficulties. They look after and care for each other. They don't whine and complain. And they really really want to learn.

What am I not so keen on, in fact, what do I hate? The corruption of influential people, especially but not exclusively, politicians, the obsession with money, the dishonesty and the way all this affects ordinary people trying to live their lives and support their families. Above all, I hate the way people treat children.

The natural environment
The green everywhere, the hills, the forests, the splendid cows with enormous curved horns and the amazingly abundant wildlife. What more is there to say? It's a wonderful country.

What am I not so keen on? The shacks which appear everywhere because people have nowhere to live. The rubbish piled along the streets, with children climbing over and picking through it. The drains which are no sooner cleared than they are filled again with garbage, flooding the roads and people's houses. The dreadful roads, which most of the time amuse us because they are SO dreadful, but sometimes exasperate us as they hold up the traffic and delay everything in a country where effective time management is not a highly valued skill. And sadly, the fact that the people who live in Kampala, or indeed in most of the country, have no idea what a wonderful country they live in as they never get to see it.

The food
I will really miss the delicately fragranced rice, mangoes dripping with juice, the sweet little bananas, the pineapples, the avocados, the pawpaws and the jackfruit. I will miss the delicious steaks and the excellent grilled pork. I like the beans cooked with onions and tomatoes, the g-nut sauce and the greens. The African chapattis are pretty good, though not great for the figure, and the vegetable samosas. However, how am I going to manage without Mamba Point pizzas and the fantastic Indian food from Haandy's and Khana Khazana?

What am I not so keen on? The matooke is just plain dull and has as good as no nutritional value. The posho  is slightly more nutritious but has no taste whatsoever. 'Why do they bother?' I ask myself.

The weather and climate
I am a bore on the subject of Uganda's weather. I love the sun here and the deep blue skies (though not necessarily 'clear' blue skies). It is rarely scorching, just steady warmth and glorious, glorious sunshine - except when it rains. I love the huge mountains of cumulus clouds, sometimes white, sometimes ominously dark. Uganda does dark clouds particularly well. As they sweep over you would think a tropical version of Ragnarok was on its way, but no, no snow and ice, just torrents of rain. I shall really miss the spectacular lightning shows which we watch from our balcony, great pink sheets cross the sky in waves. The thunder is the loudest I have ever heard, and when it's directly overhead, no wonder the dogs howl!

What am I not so keen on? Nothing at all.

Goodbye, Uganda. See you soon.

If you enjoyed this, you may also be interested in the following posts:

Food and drink in Uganda
What do we do when we're not working?
What are the good things about living in Uganda?


  1. I've read your blog on and off for a while. Catching up on the most recent posts and think now is as good a time as every to mention how much I appreciated your witty and poignant observations of my beautiful, crazy country.

    As we say in Uganda ... See you!

  2. Thank you for such a positive response. Yes, I started missing Uganda the minute I got off the plane at Heathrow. It's a mad, mad country but I'll be back!