Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The last post

So this is it. This really is the last post on this blog. I have been putting it off for weeks, actually. For more than two years this blog has provided the structure and medium for much of my thinking and reflection, but now I have moved on - literally and metaphorically. Any writing I may do in the future will be within other contexts.

I am not going to write about anything dramatic in this my 'last post'. I have written quite enough already about the glories of Uganda - the contrasting landscapes, the sunlit savannah, the lakes and rivers, the climate, the animals and the birds. I have pondered on the challenges facing its schools, children and people. I have written about social, political, educational and health issues. I have reflected on beliefs, religious and cultural. I have even made comparisons with life back in Scotland and the rest of the UK. I don't think that there's that much more that I can say.

No, this post is going to be far more straightforward. It is going to be about the things which still haunt me. Not so much the bad things which happened in Uganda while we were there and which, as far as I can see from online news stories, continue to happen in the country; rather, the memories which arise out of nowhere, the things I miss, the pictures which hover before my eyes. Inevitably, that means I will be largely writing about Kampala because that is where we spent most of our time and, strangely enough, it is Kampala I think about wistfully during idle moments.

You see, I haven't  really come to terms yet with being back in Scotland. I like Scotland. I like Edinburgh. I like our flat, with its wonderful view of Arthur's Seat. However, I still find it very difficult to accept that I have almost certainly left Uganda for good.

It's not as if Kampala is a particularly attractive city; far from it. So be warned: none of the pictures below are particularly beautiful and nearly all have been taken from a moving car, so they're a bit fuzzy as well!

Like many modern cities, Kampala is best viewed from above, from one of its twenty one or so hills. Here, looking down from Cassia Lodge towards the east of the city, you can see the Murchison Bay area of Lake Victoria, pleasant red-roofed suburban housing and hills beyond.

The peacefulness of a setting such as this is a far cry from the madness of central Kampala. From a distance you get the impression of modern metropolis.

And the impression persists as you drive round the centre. New banks and insurance companies have erected skyscrapers.

Few of the old Indian and colonial buildings remain. One exception is the Hindu temple, a landmark for drivers endeavouring to make their way through the chaos.

Here a building erected by departed Asians on the main Kampala Road has been taken over for use as a new private hospital.

The 1950s Parliament is marooned on a island in the centre of streams of traffic.

Looking up from the bustle of the shopping areas, you can see the relative calm of the more prosperous tree-covered slopes of desirable housing areas and prominent buildings, here the Gadaffi mosque.

Kampala is a city which is expanding at an enormous rate as people move in from the less developed rural areas. As a result, like many cities in the developing world, it has major problems housing its population, providing sanitation, water and electricity and, in particular, coming to terms with motorised transport. Once or twice we took a wrong turning and ended up in the old taxi park area. It took us two hours to find our way out.

Queuing at roundabouts can take ages. Here you can see a cattle truck, the hapless beasts crammed inside and its passengers - official and unofficial - perched on top.

In the middle of the chaos, people have taken over patches of land by the sides of the roads to set up market gardens selling decorative plants and the pots to put them in .

In many parts of the city, life goes on as in any rural village.

Everywhere, people are buying and selling small quantities of produce, basketware or cooked food on any spare patch of ground. Cycle taxis, both peddle and motor, ply their trade.

Women set up small charcoal stoves and sell roasted heads of maize to passersby.

Bunches of matoke, green bananas, are transported into the city and lie in heaps for sale.

Women bend double, sweeping the garbage. Others carry produce for sale.

If you cannot even afford a stall, then you use your bike or even your back, like an old-fashioned pedlar.

And, of course, as well as the informal market stalls, all too often cleared off the streets by the police and reappearing elsewhere, there are the 'proper' markets, here the one at Nakawa, not far from where we used to live. The rubbish lies around as is common in Uganda, a country without proper garbage disposal arrangements.

Supermarkets, often owned by South African or Kenyan businesses, are springing up everywhere. Down the broad tree-lined Yusuf Lule Avenue, the First Family are rumoured to have invested significant amounts of money in a huge shopping complex called Garden City through a well-known Asian businessmen. Why 'Garden'? Because the land on which it is built used to be one of Kampala's precious parks. Now, alas, it is a city without any public green spaces. What parks there are have been taken over by restaurants and shopping malls.

And where do the people live?

Well, the Ugandan elite and foreign workers live in the pleasant tree-lined areas of Nakasero, Kololo, Bugalobi and Ntinda. The rich live in houses which are often far grander than those lived in by people with equivalent jobs in the UK.

Most have armed guards, of course.

When we first moved to Kampala, a good bit of colonial housing still remained, mainly the kinds of homes erected for civil servants, railway workers and the like.

These were basically solid buildings, though without running water and with outside pit latrines, like most houses in Uganda. Many of the tenants were retired civil servants, including teachers. While we were in Uganda, the government started selling off the land to developers at, it is rumoured, quite low prices. We were around when the tenants at Naguru housing estate (above left) were evicted. Houses were pulled down in front of their eyes and families with small children left without a roof over their heads. That was one of the occasions when the infamous police tanks came into play.

Where did the people go? Probably not into the older local blocks of flats.

And certainly not into the brand new constructions for the upwardly mobile.

The people probably moved out to one side or the other of the northern bypass, where the housing is a mixture of ramshackle wooden huts and small brick buildings built on swamp land by individual families.

Families make their own bricks, digging out the red earth and either baking it in the sun or building small 'towers' and lighting fires beneath them. You may be able to see the smoke coming out of one of these 'towers'. The piles of bricks are covered with banana leaves to stop them drying out too quickly. Any surplus bricks are sold. The ground from which they were taken, alas, soon fills up with water and during the rainy season floods the local houses.

New communities have sprung up along the northern bypass and developed their own churches, schools, drinking places and markets. One of my favourite school names crops up here: the Jolly and Lowly Nursery School.

Money families can ill afford is spent on constructing huge evangelical churches which tower over their own miserable shacks.

And people are buying and selling everywhere.

For it is at the northern bypass that buses come in from the north, and people bringing goods to market.

You can even meet a herd of cows being driven down the dual carriage way - bad enough by day, lethal at night! Those with nothing to sell, cut down the papyrus from the swamp and sell it as roofing material or for making mats, thus destroying the precious swamp itself.

So, that is Kampala. I haven't shown you any of the slums, for I don't like acting like a voyeur and taking photos which intrude into people's privacy. Nor have I shown you many of the main sights, for they have appeared in various posts over the last couple years. What I have shown you is bread-and-butter humdrum Kampala, the Kampala which was part of our daily life for two years, the Kampala which I miss.

Why should I miss a place which is so shabby and unsightly? I think it is something to do with the life and vibrancy of the place. You are surrounded by colour, though the photos don't really reflect this being taken through car windows and - for some strange reason which I don't understand and certainly didn't plan - mostly during the rainy season. You are surrounded by people going about their daily lives: making furniture, cooking chapattis. The making and the selling usually goes on in the same place.

In Edinburgh, on the contrary, you are surrounded by people going shopping, not shopping for the small daily necessities of life as in Kampala but shopping for luxuries, 'things for the house', even more clothes. Looking down an Edinburgh street you see people weighed under huge bags from department stores. Looking down a Kampala street you see people carrying a few ounces of posho (cornflour), a cabbage or some beans. The hens scatter under foot while the goats jump onto the side of the roads to escape the cars. All seen through rose-tinted spectacles, no doubt.

So, goodbye, Kampala. I have sounded the last post.

You may also be interested in the following posts.

A walk around our neighbourhood: Part 1, Ntinda
A walk around our neighbourhood: Part 2, towards Kyambogo
Goodbye for now, Uganda
Coming back to Kampala