Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A walk around our neighbourhood: Part 1, Ntinda

I thought you might like to accompany me on a walk around our neighbourhood. Don't expect anything picturesque: no giraffes or elephants stalk the streets of Kampala. And it won't be a peaceful walk either. We will risk being run over by boda bodas. Matatus will harass us, insisting that we really do want a bus ride when we really don't. Nobody here ever believes you when you say you want to walk - mad mzungu! And as there are no pavements, we will have to look carefully where we tread in case we fall into the gutter - or step on a 'flying toilet'. Still, I hope you enjoy the post - an affectionate view of our neighbourhood - even though the photos will never win any prizes. It will certainly give you a better idea of what living here is like than some of our other posts. Contrary to what you might think, Stuart and I do not live in the middle of a national park.

Ntinda is like many of the new middle-class suburbs on the edge of Kampala. Only about 10 years ago it was probably an area of small farms with fields of bananas separated by swamps. Some of the small farms are still there, their land gradually being bought up and built on. As a result, small mud and pole houses with goats and hens squat next door to luxurious mansions erected with, no doubt, ill-gotten gains from one source or another. The general area of Ntinda in which we live is called Ministers' Village - 'nuff said'!

So, let's begin our walk.

We'll start at our block of flats, six of them, very comfortable and looking out over the last remaining trees and banana plots towards the Northern Bypass. There's our Landcruiser down below. That grand building opposite belongs to the 'judge'. We don't think he's a poor man. In the corner of our compound Olivia, our caretaker, is growing what look like yams or similar.

Out of the gate we go, and down the lane, rutted, muddy with the occasional patch of tarmac left over from colonial times. It's just a country lane, parallel to the main road. And here's our block, seen from the lane. We are on the left, on the middle floor.

Just opposite someone has got a little business. It may look like nothing to you, but it's actually a brick works. The red earth is moulded by hand, the bricks stacked leaving a hole or holes underneath. Into that hole goes wood which is set alight, smoulders for two or three days and there you are, lots of bricks for sale!

The picture below is taken looking back up the lane. The long low mud and pole building on the right with lots of 'windows' is a chicken shed/pigsty/goatshed, depending on whatever animals are being fattened up at the time. Behind it is another posh house.

And here is the mud-brick house which goes with the pigsty, a back view as the occupants live their lives in the open out at the front, with a ramshackle wooden lean-to for a kitchen, water collected from the standpipe and children running around - and never at school, sad to say.

Mind your feet, we don't want to deprive them of their eggs - all free range round here!

We reach the T junction at the bottom, with its rows of little kiosks and shops. Here on the left they sell charcoal. Several families live in the small 'terraced' houses on the right. Beyond them, there used to be grazing for cows and goats, but no longer.

Opposite is someone else's grand gateway.

Next to them is a row of ramshackle one-roomed huts with grubby children tottering around (also not at school), their mothers scraping a living by selling matoke (green bananas) and sugar cane, and running a little openair 'cafe'. It has got much more respectable in the last few months - the women are doing well. Only a few months ago, all they had was a small charcoal stove and a saucepan.

More small shops as we join the main road.

Now we will turn up the hill towards Ntinda crossroads. What you can see are row after row of signs, almost all for NGOs - helping Uganda is 'big business' round here. I counted about eight NGOs in a 20 yard stretch. Acronyms gone mad.  

UWONET - Uganda Women's Network. 

UNASO - Uganda Network of AIDS Organisations.

The Deaf Women's Organisation seems to have a sideline in broiler chickens.

Various businesses have also sprung up recently: property agents (nothing whatsoever to do with London, it just sounds good); media and IT consultants; beauty salons (the Trendly Unisex Beauty Saloon, for example), medical practices and - wonder of wonders - a 'maternity spa. In a country where 16 women die in childbirth every day, the pampered women of Ntinda have Indulge - Pregnant and Loving it!

We're forward-looking in Ntinda, as you can see.  Below you can see a brand new business, advertising half the length of the street - in this case, solar power.

And in between the businesses and offices with their well-kept gardens and armed askaris are more red earth lanes going off, further and further into Ministers' Village, tranquil paths between the mansions, rather like our own - all of the paths, alas, decorated with small heaps of garbage. That's Uganda for you!

Opposite these quiet lanes and in between the mansions are the wooden huts, some of them little family businesses and modest houses. Nothing too poverty-stricken here, though, for this is Ntinda after all.  Some offices, like the one on the right, are even for let.

But before we know it, we've reached the top of the 'hill' and Ntinda crossroads.Watch your feet again! Don't trip over the manhole. Oh, and hold your nose, the drainage channels are a bit smelly around here.

I took my pictures on a quiet Sunday afternoon, but it is usually chaotic. There are no traffic lights and no traffic rules so the vehicles just barge across. Take your life in your hands, and here you are on the other side of the 'hill'.

However, before we can go shopping we have to pass the boda boda and matatu stands. Each matatu has a chap whose job it is to force you into his own vehicle (the man hanging out of the door). They can't believe that you just want to walk the next few yards. Today, one of them tried to remove my shopping bags from my hands and dump them in his bus. However, they're not usually as energetic as that about their work. They are Ugandan!

A slight dip down and there are our supermarkets: Tusky's (South African) and Quality Supermarket (Asian). We'll go into the latter, which occupies the bottom floor of Ntinda Shopping Centre.

The helpful sign on the door reassures.

Now you've deposited your gun/pistol with the guard, we'll go in. First we have to go through security. The metal detector screams piercingly as it is passed over my bag, but nobody cares, because I'm a mzungu so OBVIOUSLY I don't have a bomb! (Hope Al Shabbab are not around...)

And surprise, surprise, supermarkets in Uganda are just like supermarkets everywhere. Choices are a bit different, though. Lots and lots of different kinds of millet porridge and maize flour but rather fewer varieties of nice biscuits and chocolate (according to Stuart). However, there's very little we can't actually find in some supermarket somewhere, unlike our VSO friend in Yumbe on the South Sudan border. We have 'local' (ie Kenyan or South African) versions of well known brands, though what the designer of this Quaker Oats package meant, I've no idea. Oats? Rice? Which?

Now we've exhausted the attractions of the supermarkets we'll pop into the rest of the shopping centre - a slightly downmarket version of Glasgow's Buchanan Galleries.

But only bazungu and rich Ugandans shop in these places. Time to go outside again and see where everyone else gets their goods.

I always feel guilty about my supermarket shopping. I should be giving my cash to the small traders. However, the quality is usually better in the supermarket, we don't have to bargain and we won't be fobbed off with rotten fruit.

And even on a quiet day like this, there's lots for sale. Plenty to eat, for instance - goat, steamed green banana (matooke) and posho (the dullest food on earth).

Careful, mind the big orange bus, a present (sort of) from China! Amazing vehicles, they run to a timetable, stop at designated stops and have set fares. We're going back to the crossroads on the second leg of our walk.

However, we mustn't miss the chance to be saved. There on the right of the poster is the brother of the Archbishop of York inviting us to bring along our lame, halt and blind to be cured (at a cost, of course, a very large cost, despite the words FREE).

However, salvation will have to wait, we're on the lookout for the stallholders, occupying any corner they can. Here are the fruit and vegetable sellers, some lucky enough to own a homemade wheelbarrow. Others just spread their wares on the ground, like the man below selling potatoes.

We've reached the crossroads now and here are the traffic police in their pristine white uniforms, standing around aimlessly and blowing their whistles for no particular purpose and to no avail whatsoever, stopping harmless drivers while the barging bullies charge through. (No, Stuart wasn't there this time!)

This time we'll pass round the other side of the Corner View Hotel.

More fruit and vegetable sellers. Here you can see passion fruit (close up), beyond that red onions (the local variety) and what look like pumpkins. The police have been chasing the sellers away from central Kampala in a bid to tidy up the bit of the city which visiting bigwigs see, so they've gravitated to the outskirts, like Ntinda.

Oh, not just fruit, here's a pile of ancient clothes and shoes, higgeldy piggledy in a heap. No one in charge of them. The seller is probably off having a beer.

Trust in God Butchery occupies a kiosk on the left. I would rather trust the butcher. Mind that hen!

As we go down the hill we pass more speculative blocks of flats, built on what used to be people's smallholdings, no doubt.

Perhaps their occupants will soon be sending their sprogs to the nursery/primary school a few yards down the hill. Clearly private, though be warned, the quantity of paint bears no relationship to the quality of education.

However, this school clearly has pretensions. Its curriculum includes the following:

Ballet classes, piano lessons and les classes francaises: all clearly de rigeur for the upwardly mobile toddler. Soon they'll be at Surrey Secondary School. Anglo Saxon names are also no guarantee of quality, although at least this one's registered with the Ministry.

Soon we enter a stretch of hardware stores and workshops, all making and selling their wares on the open road. First the furniture makers. You may also just be able to make out the sign to the 'modern' maternity clinic. Hmm, I wouldn't risk it myself.

Careful, mind the drain!

The Rhino Bar, a pork joint for tired and hungry volunteers who can't be bothered cooking. Also an important landmark in a city with virtually no street names and no addresses.

Complete with rhino.

More shops and flats, not quite so grand.

A few side streets. Below you can see the one where some other volunteers live. All the streets are quite busy. Next to the school children you can see a man with a pile of suit jackets over his arm to sell passing another man with rolls of lino.

But we turn right down another rutted narrow lane, as we're going full circle. Nearly home.  First the little Divine Providence swimming pool down a turning, which I frequent most weekends.

A good crop of bananas for someone, though the small sign in front indicates there is land to sell, so perhaps not for long.

Another little kiosk on the left below, selling airtime and sodas. The road is lined with them further down, but not photographed as the people live their lives in front of them and even I find it difficult to be that intrusive.

But what's certain is that none of the kiosk owners will be sending their infants to Little Sprouts Daycare and Nursery. Yet another nursery, but then, Uganda has nearly the highest birthrate in the world. Across the country, only 10% or so of children go to nursery, but in Kampala it's different. So many women work and, as in the west, they need childcare. Grandparents remain in the 'village' upcountry, so you either leave your infants with them, only seeing them every few weeks, or you send them to nurseries such as these.

Little Sprouts is a new arrival. Up it popped just two or three months ago. If it's anything like the majority of nurseries, it will teach reading and writing from the minute the three-year olds walk through the door into 'Baby Class'.  Interviews to get in, written examinations every year with repetition of class if you fail. Already, before they've even reached the age of six, little children will have experienced the exclusivity, selectivity and sifting which characterise the Ugandan education system.

Little Sprouts must be good - bright playground furniture and lots and lots of paint! Prospective parents will love it.

Turn right and up the lane again.

And we're just about home. Here's the judge's gate and here's the judge's house.

And here we are, back at the flat. I hope you enjoyed the walk. I did.


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  3. Than you for the perspective about ntinda but wanted to make a few correctionsTuskys is owned by a kenyan business man , Quality supermarket is owned by an industirous female ugandan businesswoman, The house is not for a judge but for a ministers wife and not only rich people shop at the mall am broke but usually go there to buy my general good persepective of ntinda

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