Category Archives: Things that make me laugh

Kamwenge’s quirks

Arriving home to Kamwenge 2 weeks ago, it dawned on me one of the things I most love about living and working here. The community, my staff, and the Maranatha Health site produce a constant stream of hilarious live entertainment.

Not in a patronizing “this place has lost its marbles because it’s an African backwater” kind of way, nor a “what have I gotten myself into by moving back here” kind of way. I have more developed a simple appreciation for the nuances and quirks that remind me every day that I am living in a rural area of western Uganda. Coming back after a few months away, has certainly allowed me to see the world through fresh eyes, and what last year I may not even have noticed except for a small shrug and a smile, is now on my radar again. It’s a fun time!

So I wanted to share some of the examples I could think of, just in the last week:

Let me start with a classic Kamwenge story that left Michael’s medical mind gob-smacked. Several days ago, a tired grandmother came in with a wailing 4 week old newborn. The grandmother explained the mother had dropped the baby at her doorstep and left her to care for him. She had been giving it cow’s milk, an extremely less than ideal situation since babies that young struggle to even digest the milk enzymes. One of our clinical officers insisted to her that the baby needed breast milk. Reluctantly, the grandmother agreed, than casually fished out her droopy dark boob and offered it to the baby. Even more bizarre – there was milk there and the baby started to suckle!! The grandmother’s youngest child was 9. Only in Kamwenge…

Continuing in the maternal vein, a woman was very much in labour at our clinic the other day, as is the norm. She was told to stay in the delivery suite, since she was almost fully dilated. But stubbornly, she ventured out, walking into the staff compound. I passed her and one of our security officers pacing near our home, and enquired why she was here. The security officer Paul shook his head meekly and suggested quietly “sincerely, you can’t manage [order around] a woman when the baby is ready to come”. Then gave me a desperate, pleading look which I translated as “please for the love of God don’t ask me to order this woman off the staff compound and back to the clinic”. A few minutes later she stubbornly delivered the baby right there on the grass, with the help of our midwife and a plastic sheet from the trusty mama kit!

The work visa issue has reared its ugly head once again. This time we are up to 7 months worth of attempts, but thankfully are not far away from completion. Michael called a contact in immigration the other day to ask if he could check on the file, which was a few offices away in the same courtyard. The response was priceless: “it is raining too much – you call me back in one hour.” Who would’ve thought rain could have such an impact on life’s possibilities!

The sense of community here always makes me smile. I visited the one bank in Kamwenge yesterday to drop off a cheque, and was met with smiling faces and echoes of ‘welcome back’, before people asked how my family and friends were back home. After the greetings, the inevitable moment arrives when everyone (and I mean everyone – from the MH groundskeepers, to our regular diabetes patient at the clinic, to the bank staff) comment on my fatness. *sigh* Here’s hoping that one day big becomes beautiful in Australian culture too.

Then there was the back-up taxi driver who has occasionally (read reluctantly) picked up blood from Fort Portal (2 hours away) and delivered it to the clinic. Kamwenge taxi’s are normally Toyota sedans that carry up to 15 people in their ‘5 seater’ cars. We urgently needed blood this week. So when the blood bank finally gave us the word that they had some ready and packed for us, we begged this guy to help us. He refused, reminding us last time he had to wait a long time for the blood and missed out on passengers. We called again and begged. This time, a pastor had boarded the vehicle, and reprimanded him:  ‘It is the right thing to do and you will be saving lives – God is watching you!’. We got our blood. You can always count on a pastor pulling people into line in Kamwenge taxis.

Then there is the continued obsession with my fertility for most people in Kamwenge, considering I have been married four years and not yet produced. *gasp!* (In Australia it could be argued that that is normal and a decision that is made by the husband and wife alone.)  Alas, I live in Kamwenge, and I think some are actually making it into a hobby. Each day now, our young newly employed midwife at MH asks me the obligatory question ‘Kim, when are you coming for antenatal?’ to which I always reply, ‘My dear, you wait!’…

One part of life I have never been so keen on is the reminder that meat comes from animals (I know, I am soft and should be able to face facts even as a city girl, etc). Visiting the butcher in Kamwenge always provides a solid reminder. We have a staff party tonight, which should be a lot of fun. However, we now have 2 goats and 3 chickens wondering around the MH compound, and I am sorrowfully trying to remain emotionally unattached, knowing that I have a rare opportunity to eat fried chicken and roasted goat tonight! I walked out of my house 15 minutes ago to see one goat being skinned while the other was tethered nearby and forced to watch his fate – surely that is animal abuse!

So there is a snap shot for you for the first 2 weeks of hilarity at home in the ‘wenge. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!

Is that a weevil in my bean, or am I just unhappy to eat this?!

I am a fairly resilient person. I am flexible. I can handle most things that come my way. But I really need good food.  It sounds lame and a little pretentious, but nothing is better therapy for me than a delicious meal, or a block of creamy chocolate. It was the thing I was most worried by, about coming to live in rural Uganda. Don’t get me wrong. There is wonderful, tropical fresh fruit and vegetables here. There are some pretty yummy snack type foods. There are PLENTY of carb options…but after a while the food can get a bit….well…same-ish.

Michael and I recently had the immense privilege of travelling to Italy for 10 days, to meet my parents for a holiday.

This was my first trip to Europe, and I absolutely, whole heartedly loved every bit of the experience. More than anything I loved the food. Well, maybe love is not the right word.

I devoured the food.

After so little access to food from my own culture and food with FLAVOUR, it was an incredible feast.

I ate my way across Rome.

A gelato every single day; the most light, soft gnocchi I had ever tasted; delicious local meats, cheeses, breads and pesto; luxurious panacotta’s; hearty homemade tomato sauces; scrumptious bakery food (for breakfast!!); and freshly brewed coffee whenever I felt so inclined…

All enjoyed in one of the most ambient, beautiful, historically rich cities on this earth. Sigh

I got fat.

And it was totally worth every last calorie. I thought it was an impressive effort, to put on the weight I did in the short 10 days I was there.

So did my staff. A few of them commented to both Michael and myself that we really ‘got fat’ while away, with the MH receptionist stating proudly (and loudly) that particularly my bum and hips had become much larger. There was lots of enthusiastic hand gestures to explain this. Meanwhile, I beamed with pride.

You know you have lived in Africa for too long when you don’t react with even the slightest indignation to such an observation, but receive and enjoy it for what it is – a grand compliment.

But the first day home in Kamwenge eating staff lunch was tough. Really tough.

Here’s some pictures to show you the difference between what I ate in Italy:

and what I eat for lunch at work:

Ugandan food: Matooke, Posho and Beans

As you can see, it’s really different.

For those of you who don’t know, matooke is basically THE food of Uganda – plantain banana steamed in banana leaves on a charcoal stove, then mashed and served with either red beans (Monday, Wednesday, Friday lunch) or g-nut sauce (Tuesday and Thursday lunch) or meat stew (once a month ‘cos meat is expensive!)

We always offer another staple with the matooke. Occasionally it is rice (yum!) but almost always it is posho – which is maize meal cooked with only water until it turns thick and hard, kind of a playdough-y texture. (I know you think I’m under-selling it but that is honestly what it is!)

The first day back home in Kamwenge – back to matooke and beans for staff lunch – was a little bit of a shock to the system. And my tastebuds.

Not only was it a shock, but it reminded me of why I had been so excited to NOT eat staff lunch for a few weeks. We had  purchased a 50kg bag of dry red beans from a farmer, about a month ago, who it turns out had sold us dud beans – full of weevils. They were everywhere, buried into the beans. We tried lots of local methods to get rid of them, and although these methods may have killed the majority, there was still one tiny but important issue remaining.

They were still in the beans.

Only now they were dead.

So we still have another few weeks at least to go of these weevil infested beans, which none of us at Maranatha are that happy about. And on my first day back home, I didn’t really feel like crunching down on little black dead insects in my food. Do I sound like a food snob?

I am.

So to keep us sane, Michael and I started a conversation about all the delicious food we could imagine eating, instead of the beans. We got into quite a lively debate about the best possible food dishes, so we decided that we were allowed to choose one dish from each country…

As this was unfolding, some other staff were listening curiously to our odd conversation (“laksa or rotti chanai?” “creamy gnocchi or a good Italian pizza?” “pho or cold rolls?” etc). It is times like this that I realise how much of my identity and world view has been influenced by the intense multiculturalism of urban Australia – especially when Uganda (although full of different tribes) is mostly Bantu in origin.

I turned to one staff member and invited her into the conversation by asking what her favourite food was. She looked confused. I explained, if she could have any food in the world, what would she choose as her favourite.

She thought for a moment and then enthusiastically replied:

“Posho and beans! I love posho and beans too much! I wish I could have them every day. Really, I don’t like Tuesdays and Thursdays, because I have to eat posho with gnut sauce.”

Shoeless and stubborn

Those of you who know me well, will know that I detest shopping.

By shopping I mean buying ‘stuff’, not food. Food I love to buy. But I have to be in great need of clothes/shoes/bag/whatever, to be motivated to even attempt a shopping expedition. When I was in Australia, normally I would only end up in the dreaded shopping centre when my mother, my sister – or yes, embarrassingly a few times my husband – would drag me there because they were sick of me complaining endlessly about a certain thing I ‘needed’.

I still sit and ponder sometimes how women seem to be so good at it. And they actually really enjoy it. Many would actually choose to go shopping of their own free will. Some would even consider it a hobby. A relaxation activity.

Not me. I cannot think of anything more stressful. The salespeople, the expectation of having to come home with ‘stuff’, the time it takes, having to make decisions, the inevitable guilt associated with the purchase, the whole idea of fashion that I somehow have to manoeuvre…

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like living simply, but my hatred of shopping is not really about my refusal to accumulate too much ‘stuff’. It’s much less selfless. I am normal, I like having pretty things; I just don’t like process of acquiring them.

Then I moved to Uganda.

The first few times I shopped in Uganda – in the past when I have lived here for shorter periods – I really enjoyed it. It was fun. It made me happy. I smiled and laughed. It was a good way to bond with Ugandan friends.  The clothes/shoes markets here offer a quintessential ‘African’ experience; colours and fabrics and clothes of every make and design, hundreds of stalls lined with endless piles of second hand clothing to sort through, sure opportunities to practice bargaining and language learning…

Now I’ve changed my mind. There are no more smiles. Let’s take shoe shopping for example, my least favourite of all shopping-related activities.

In Kampala (the capital of Uganda) there are basically 3 options for shoe shopping.

1. The classy establishments in the big shopping malls scattered around Kampala. This is where the beautiful people of Uganda shop, for equally beautiful shoes. For an up-country Kamwenge girl like myself, this is very daunting these days – walking into such shops I feel a little like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she attempts shopping on Rodeo Drive. The primary hurdle at these places is the cost – shoes range upwards from about 250,000 ($100). Considering I would never in my lifetime pay that much for shoes, as well as the fact that I don’t want to spend my entire salary on footwear (!!) this option is a no go.

2. Then there is Bata. The international chain shoe store that has locations across the country. Bata is always an option, and if I need to, I can always count on them. All prices, which are normally fair, are labelled so there is no bargaining (I’ve tried!). The issue with Bata is that they have the same range for about 6 months, and if you don’t like the options (which I don’t at the moment) it’s a lost cause. Given my fussiness with shoes/clothes – a frustrating quality of mine my husband will tell you – I often fail to find what I am looking for at Bata.

3. Which leads me to my last option: the classic Ugandan shoe shop, located anywhere and in anything – often a converted shipping container, squeezed between other clothes shops or market stalls, or at the side of the road on roughly made wooden shoe racks. Regardless, the shoes will have one thing in common – they are imported, second hand.

Now, I am not a ‘second hand’ snob. In Australia I often buy pre-loved stuff. No issues there. But I have quickly realised, especially with shoes, that there is one grand dilemma buying shoes from such places: Each pair of shoes will only come in one size.

So I walk into (or up to if it’s outside) a shoe shop. Let’s say there are 100 pairs of shoes. Due to that fact that I am looking for a specific type of shoe, I will probably only be interested in 10 of the 100. Then because they are second hand, there is the obvious issue of quality. That narrows it down to about 8 pairs. In Kamwenge and with my work in the village, I do quite a bit of walking, so any shoes have to be practical – so let’s cut that number in half, with 4 pairs of shoes remaining to choose from…

This is before I have tried any on. After a cursory look, I realise 2 aren’t anywhere near my size. They are out. One pair I really like – but alas after trying them on, they are just a little too small. I utter a sad goodbye to them also. So I am left with one pair. They aren’t amazing, but I am excited because they actually fit me. They are my only option. However, the girl in the shop knows I want them. She knows they are my only option. She has seen the other shoes fail. She also sees my shiny white skin and realises her luck is changing. All of a sudden the cost is high. You wouldn’t believe the quality of these shoes, she tells me. The best pair she has. They will cost 50,000 ($20) – much more than what they are worth.

Then comes the biggest problem. My husband and I have unique qualities we bring to the relationship when it comes to bargaining. Michael is a ‘Findlay’ through and through – he will make every last cent count, and won’t pay an ounce more than the value. Myself? I bring a stubbornness and pride to the relationship that forces me to accept only Ugandan prices when I buy things. No Muzungu prices for me. In combination, most of the time, it makes us a killer bargaining team at a Ugandan market. It can also make us very ineffective at buying items like shoes. Because those qualities also dictate that we walk away from the one pair of promising shoes that actually fit me because the shoe lady wants us to pay double what they are worth.

So once again, I leave shoeless with my pride in tact…

To laugh or not to laugh, that is the question

One of the greatest things about working in Kamwenge at Maranatha Health is the amount of amusing/humorous things that happen on a daily basis.

And I mean laugh out loud kind of funny, not a half-baked smile and a quaint story to relay later.

Patients, in particularly, provide endless sources of entertainment.

The other day we had a slightly obese woman admitted onto the ward. Because the staff aren’t nearly as politically correct as me, she immediately adopted the charming title: ‘the fat one’.

Which was quickly adjusted to become ‘the fat lazy one’, mainly because she refused to get out of bed (despite the fact she wasn’t that unwell after a few days at MH). I shouldn’t judge. I’m sure she had a hard life, with lots of children to look after, and probably just needed a good rest in a comfy bed.

I walked through the ward one day, to see her stretched out lying on her bed, in what could only be described as a typical sun baking position, her top half completely naked. I wandered over to the nurses desk enquiring about the lack of clothes. The explanation was a shrug, then a giggle.

After 3 days like this, she requested to go home. Michael explained that before she could go home, she would need to show she could get out of bed. Freshen up. Have a bathe. He even suggested (sensitively) that perhaps she could put some clothes on?

After another day and much coercion, the nurses got her out of bed. Then, she kind of went missing. Nobody saw her for about an hour. Michael and I were doing some work in the office, heads down, when Merinah one of the clinical officers came in. She looked at the external glass door of our office with mild amusement and asked ‘who is that’? Outside, on the cement ridge that borders the clinic, just outside the office door, was a lady fast asleep. We all lost it. As we watched she woke lazily, wriggled around to get a comfier position on the cement (??), and stripped down to reveal her breasts once again, oblivious to our laughter.

We gave up, and sent her home that day.

***

Michael and Andrew our administrator (and me to a much smaller extent) have one thing in common – we’re not very good with birds. Especially birds inside. My personal opinion? Birds belong outside…

The other day the three of us were having a management meeting in the office when a bird flew in an open window. Immediately Michael and Andrew hit the floor, as the bird fluttered and flung itself around the room. At first I tried to guide it to the open window, but crazy with fear and desperate to escape, it just kept smashing into the glass. I gave up and tried to flee the room. Eventually, it knocked itself out, although we were all too scared to go near it to check if it was dead. Andrew ordered me to ‘find Ibrah’.

Just for some context, Ibrah is our ‘machine’ – he is probably the strongest, fittest guy I know. MH last year sold him an unneeded (extremely heavy) wooden bed for his place, and he happily carried it all the way to town (about 2 kms), over his head, without flinching. Needless to say, the iddy-biddy bird would be no match for Ibrah.

However, Ibrah was not close by. Instead I found Bosco (our CD worker) walking towards me in the corridor, who quickly saw my half amused/half concerned expression and asked me what’s wrong. I explained and he came to the office. After laughing at our pathetic display, he crept over to the bird.

The bird flinched.

Bosco flinched.

It was a tense moment. He picked it up from its feathery tail (still half unconscious) but it moved and he dropped it in fear. He tried again, this time throwing it towards the door, its limp body no longer moving. Andrew finished the job, by soccering it out the door. We cheered.

The semi-concious bird had almost defeated three grown men and myself (an extremely competent woman!).

Bosco was the reluctant hero.

Compared to the rest of us, he was a bird whisperer.

***

There are plenty of funny moments every day, and anyone who comes to Maranatha will quickly realise we have quite a boisterous, energetic work place and staff, which I love!

However, there are some things we laugh at because there is nothing left to do.

It’s a common Ugandan trait – one I am still getting used to but slowly adopting myself to my surprise – to shake your head and laugh when you see the suffering around you. Not because you don’t have compassion, or because you think it’s hilarious, or because you think poverty should be laughed at.

Not because you don’t care, but because you do. Because if you don’t shake your head and laugh, you cry. And that is not acceptable most of the time – Ugandan culture is a culture of glass-half-full people.

Did you ever remember a time when someone was breaking bad news to a room of people, or your class was getting reprimanded, and you got the giggles? The ridiculousness, the terribleness of the situation caused you to slip out a sound of amusement? It is kind of like that. So many situations here and the grinding poverty and ignorance that creates them, is beyond our immediate control. Constantly you watch the worse possible scenario that could happen, play out in front of you like a terribly painful slapstick comedy routine.

Like the other day, when a young boy admitted was left for a whole day at the ward without his family. When the family finally returned with his ‘food’, the staff described it to me as ‘pig scraps in an unwashed detergent container’.

Or the 10th small child presenting at the clinic with a life-threatening infection due to an archaic ‘surgical’ procedure practiced by traditional healers, because the child had a bit of diarrhoea.

Or the woman you test positive for HIV who refuses ARV treatment because her husband will beat her if he finds out she is getting access to treatment.

So our staff laugh. I used to be indignant.  I used to get defensive of those they were laughing at. Now, sometimes, I try to laugh with them. And pray that God will bring change to this place, when so often I feel utterly powerless to do so.

But sometimes, as a last resort, we cry. The other day, the first child died at the Maranatha Health clinic. A little girl with cerebral malaria. Our staff did everything possible, but she did not make it. It was a very sad day. I wasn’t there when the mother took the body. But Michael was; he told me later that the memory of it will be etched in his mind forever. After preparing the body, the baby was wrapped in some material the mother had. She had no transport and no way of carrying the body – all we could find was a box. So as Michael looked towards the gate, he saw the tired woman slowly make her way down the hill and back towards her village on foot, a cardboard box perched above her head; inside her young daughter ready for burial.

Bazungu are human beings too!

Most people that come and live in east Africa for longer than a few weeks agree on one thing: being called a Muzungu [white person] all the time is frustrating. Being constantly referenced in conversation (to you or about you) by your skin colour rather than your actual name is a little tiring. Being the centre of attention relentlessly, because of your colour, is exhausting. When I arrived, even professional people would sometimes address me as Mzungu in conversation. Men would call out ‘Mzungu’ and laugh at me when I walked by in town.  The Boda Bodas [motorbike taxis] would holler for my attention ‘Mzungu we go?’ Captivated children would follow me in the street as if I was the pied piper, yelling the classic ‘Mzungu, how are you?’, daring each other to run up and touch the strange women in their midst.

When I first moved to Uganda it made me angry, because in Australia this would be considered racism.  I have adjusted a little since then. It also doesn’t happen as often in Kamwenge these days.

People are a bit more used to me, and many know me personally. Men don’t call out as much because they know I am married, and some have been seen by my husband at the MH clinic. Many of the Boda Boda’s are now my friends and greet me with ‘Hi Kim’ (or the equivalent Rukiga greeting). Our staff know it is unacceptable to use that term…

But it continues. However, now that I am a little more adjusted to the African psyche, I try not to get quite as annoyed – at least not in the village [emphasis is definitely on the trying…]. People are often just excited. I am a mystery to them, especially in a place like Kamwenge. Many haven’t had experience with someone who doesn’t have chocolate brown skin. The interesting thing is that Ugandans very commonly refer to people very frankly by their appearance, a characteristic or tribe.

“The fat one”

“The brown one” [the one with slightly lighter African skin]

“That Munyankole woman” [a tribe in west Uganda]

“The mad one” [the one with mental illness – that I will never get used to…]

I must confess that a year in Uganda has influenced me a great deal. While in Australia I will (hopefully remember to) never use these statements, in Uganda I have found myself quite regularly using similar descriptions when speaking with friends and colleagues. It is not offensive here.

The other day I attended a funeral in a very remote area of Kamwenge district. A friend of mine, someone we are working with in our community programs, lost his wife in childbirth. Devastatingly and unnecessarily. I wasn’t sure about going; I was conscious of the fact that my presence would disrupt and bring attention, and I didn’t want to be insensitive. But I’m glad I made the decision to go, as it meant a lot to the community that Bosco (a MH staff member) and I were there.

When we arrived, I went and sat on the ground with the hundreds of other women that were there, refusing the chair in the marquee where the family members and VIPs were sitting. I thought it would detract attention from me, and would be a strong unspoken message about where I see my role in the community.  So many people had not seen a muzungu before. There were many lingering looks, chuckles, whispers, and the occasional freaked out wailing child who perhaps thought I might eat them (??). Many came up and touched me. Others actually shook my hand. People wanted to know if I could speak Rukiga. All in all, there was quite a bit of fuss made.

But then there was a group of wise old village women observing all of this, not that I was aware of their presence at the time. Later, Bosco gave me a rough translation of what they had said to the younger crowd, and it made my heart soar:

“Leave this young girl alone! Don’t look at her all the time, don’t laugh at her! You are making her feel shy, look you can see she is embarrassed…

…Bazungu are human beings just like us!”

Yes, we are.

Hamburger

With the birds singing and the breeze softly blowing through the trees and the sun setting in the Kamwenge sky, I had a flash of soulful peace rest upon me.

A moment of blissful beauty, where the world seemed to swell with intoxicating hope for a better day. At that moment, the words of Arundhati Roy filled my thoughts: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing”

What aroused this grand moment of hope?’ I hear you asking…

It is the little things sometimes, that lead me to my happy place.

On this occasion Michael and myself were talking to one of our employees. A man of good Kamwenge stock – a village Ugandan, through and through, until a few years ago when he had the opportunity to go ‘out’ as Ugandans call any place other than Uganda (the Australian equivalent of ‘overseas’). He travelled to Kenya (which borders Uganda) to the big, bustling city of Nairobi. We asked him about his impressions of the place. After the usual – much bigger/busier/more developed than Kampala – we got onto the topic of food.

‘Eh, they have something very nice there called ‘hamburger’. It is soooo nice. Have you heard of it?’ He asked with innocent interest.

We explained that this food called ‘hamburger’ is also in Australia, much to his surprise.

In fact, we told him, there is a restaurant there that is very cheap and provides hamburger very quickly. You can find this restaurant all over the world! In thousands of locations, in many  many countries. All selling ‘hamburger’.

All over the world? This was big news to our employee.

We explained further about this infamous restaurant chain called McDonalds – and how people all over the world know it by a giant yellow M – the golden arches.

He had never heard of McDonalds. No idea it even existed. The Kamwenge community (and Uganda at large) is utterly untouched by this money-making, environmentally destructive, exploitative, obesity-generating monopoly that has taken over the rest of the world.

Thus bringing me to my moment of serenity.

And for any McDonald’s management out there reading my blog – leave my new country alone!

Soccer and sorcery: only in Africa

Just wanted to share something that I found quite amusing…

Just to give you some context, Ugandans are soccer – mad (like most of the world its called football here but my allegiance to aussie rules prevents me from calling it that)

There was a big soccer game on TV on Saturday night, between the Ugandan national team (the Cranes) and the Kenyan team, to see if either could qualify for the Africa cup of nations. Neither team have played in the Africa cup for decades. And to be honest, that’s not a massive surprise – they don’t have the strongest soccer teams around…

We don’t have a TV, so Michael and I watched the game at a local pub, like most people in Kamwenge.Everyone took the game very seriously. It was quite painful to watch. Kenya played terribly, and although Uganda played much better, it was still a very non-eventful match. Not one goal was scored for the whole game, and it ended in a draw. But not before Uganda had about a million corners and even more shots at goal (while the Kenyans had almost none).

Once the game finished, we walked into town to grab some food, and I bumped into a good friend of mine. Of course, the topic immediately turned to the game that had just finished, with much clicking of tongues and shaking of heads from myself, her and the people around us. Then she said something I would never expect to hear in Australia:

‘Ah! These Kenyans! They were playing some very funny tricks!  Did you see the witch doctor with the pipe at the start of the match? He cursed us!’

With those around her nodding in agreement, and spurred on by my amused questions, my friend proceeded to explain to me how it was obvious – ‘proof’ was the word she used – that the Kenyans had cursed the Ugandan players. What was the proof?

They had so many chances to score, but always missed.

The theory was that the spell cast on them was similar to the curse used to render a woman infertile. Michael, with some other friends later, heard a similar theory about the almost naked medicine man who was chanting at the start of the match.

I don’t have much to say on this. I find it fascinating, slightly amusing and entirely different to what I know. But it certainly gives a glimpse into Bantu culture; the seeming absence of any authoritative line between physical and spiritual, the merging fragments of self.

An entertaining example of a very complex concept that I love about Africa.

Holism.

KFC: drama, illegal cock fighting rings and an identity crisis!

So, as promised, I thought I would offer you the next instalment of the life and times of Kamwenge’s Fascinating Chickens (KFC). All things considered, their life seems to hold much more drama, intrigue and excitement than mine – in the past few months there has been bullying and intimidation, all out blood and guts cock fighting, an identity crisis and even a baby in the mix. The drama continues….

Life was going on well in this quiet backwater in rural Africa. I was continuing my study of the ways of this world through my chickens. But then, something changed…

Me, happily boiling our chickens' eggs...

Someone gave us a gift of a rooster (Davis’s family actually, see my blog here) as a gift. Now, ordinarily one would love the gift of a rooster. This is a photo of us receiving our rooster. Let’s call him Stud (oh, the irony).

Stud, me and Michael's body 🙂

Me taking Stud to the car. He pooed all over my foot just after this photo was taken. Gross.

So, Stud arrived home and joined the chooks and the other rooster owned by our neighbour. From the beginning, we were very nervous about this combination, as the other rooster (lets call him Terminator) seemed to be incredibly territorial and had intimidated the last 3 roosters that had come into the backyard until they were killed in an attempt to save them from a torturous painful death. We were obviously concerned that Stud, our new prized possession would meet the same fate.

Our suspicions were quickly confirmed. Terminator did not take long to seize up our rooster and pronounce him a threat.

Everyday the bulling grew worse, until one day Terminator and Stud began fighting on our front Verandah. Now, I know in other countries cock fighting is some sick form of entertainment. But this is Uganda, and I was both shocked and appalled by this archaic display of testosterone (I’m not sure if chickens have testosterone, but you get the picture) and was not happy to have an illegal cock fighting ring in our backyard. In a flurry of wings and combs and tails and growling-type noises I never knew cocks could make, the cocks began to fight it out to the death. I watched, shrieking, as Stud was brutally beaten. Several times, in an act of desperation he threw himself up against the glass door head first, desperate to be inside in the safe haven of our loungeroom. Blood splattered on the glass. (I would have posted a photo of the splattered blood but wanted this blog to remain G-rated.) Eventually, Michael and I did the very brave thing and called the neighbour’s boy to break up the fight. He separated them and tied up the mean one. A few days later, Terminator was given away.

My Stud was a wimp…

But I shouldn’t judge. Perhaps something tragic and horrible happened to Stud for him to be like he is.

Our stud - with his damaged 'comb' after the fight. Who knew life could be so tough for a rooster?

But whatever the case, Stud has some serious issues. My husband’s professional doctor diagnosis was that Stud may actually be a hen, trapped in a rooster’s body. Other options are that he may be going through a simple identify crisis. This diagnosis is suspected for several reasons:

a) Stud’s attempt to fight the other cock back was hopeless. It was painfully pathetic to watch. Basically, he just crawled up into the foetal position (as much as is possible for a chicken) and wimpered. I don’t normally condone violence, but in this situation it was necessary for self defence; clearly Stud felt differently.

b) Stud cannot ‘crow’ like an ordinary rooster. Seriously. He gives this half-baked, much lower pitch ‘cock a doooooo’. That’s about all he can muster. Lately instead, we find him clucking like a hen.

c) Stud may have confusion about his species. His desperation to constantly be inside our house (following in the tradition of our other chickens) and his desperation to be around humans is concerning. Speaking with our neighbour the other day, she enquired ‘have I noticed how the rooster (Stud) always comes over to be with people when there is a conversation going on?’ She shares my theory, and we had a laugh…

But in case anyone is doubting his manhood – Stud has fathered a chick! It seems that not only are the local chickens much better at the business of survival, but also at preserving their species. They love to have baby chickens. This is a striking parallel to the fertility rate in Kamwenge – the average woman bares 7 children in her lifetime! (The Mzungu breed of chicken, on the other hand, refuses to sit on its eggs and rarely produce chicks.) Our baby chicken is SOOO cute and I spend long amounts of time gazing at it or taking unnecessary amounts of photos.

So here are some pictures of my new baby chicken:

Note: Regarding the house thing, Stud and I have come to an agreement. At the end of each day, he is too lazy to walk around the house to the backyard. When it starts to get dark he wants to enter the house. Why? To get to the other side! (haha) So now, if he doesn’t bother us the rest of the day, the deal is he can toddle through the house in the evening just on his way to his little home.

Quick update before publishing blog: My rooster, on its journey to the back yard, just POOPED sloppy diarrheoa poo all over my floor!! I think that terminates the agreement!!

The essential virtue for a life in Africa

Considering the amount of time and energy I have of late invested into learning the virtue of patience, I thought it would be appropriate to find out an accurate definition of this word that encapsulates so many of my challenges:

pa·tience  –noun

1. the quality of being patient,  as the bearing of provocation,annoyance,  misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss oftemper, irritation, or the like.

2. an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when  confronted with delay: to have patience with a slow learner.

3. quiet, steady perseverance; even tempered care;  diligence

All 3 of these definitions considered, I think my steep, stumbling climb towards the mountain peak of patience is moving along. Slowly, but I am moving. Of course, all is relative. I mean, how exactly do you define ‘without complaint, loss of temper, irritation or the like’? Such ambiguous terms…

One of the many wonderful things about being in Uganda is the unremitting opportunity I have to work on this virtue. To set up an Organisation from scratch, there are many many registrations, hoops to jump through, walls to scale, and lines to wait in.

I often look longingly (and yes, slightly jealously) at the many foreign volunteers wondering around Kampala, as they enjoy their weekends off of work, a spring in their step from the freedom that comes from knowing the buck does not stop with them. They need not worry about registrations & regulations, of NGO certificates & tax issues and of course the ongoing sagas of legal issues and land boundaries.

Michael and I have lost count of the number of days we have spent waiting in lines, at offices, & searching in vain to find unstipulated officials to sign unstipulated letters.

Last week we spent the week in Kampala attempting to obtain work visas.* The following takes place over the course of the week. We had absolutely all of the documents that were listed, and others that were not, just to cover all possible bases. Nervously, we entered the Ministry of Internal Affairs, where a swirl of mostly defeated looking people were waiting in lines for passports, visas and all manner of documents. By chance, we stumbled upon a helpful office lady. She pointed us in the direction of ‘window B’ which seemed to be the place to obtain visas, which we quickly deduced by the number of weary mzungu standing nervously in line for their n’th attempt at a visa.

Attempt 1: In anticipation, we step up to the window, exchanging greetings in a futile attempt at cracking a smile from the woman that could decide our fate. After a failed attempt (Michael’s charm normally works on Ugandan women, even I was smiling!) we explain that we need the “G” work visa and have all documents. Without even glancing up at us, she declares we need to submit all documents in a folder.

Attempt 2: An hour later, we are back with said folder. However this time, we have the wrong receipt from our NGO registration application. So, we call our Ugandan brother, who has the receipt, and he gives it to us that evening at home. Already, my ability to ‘suppress restlessness’ is waning.

Attempt 3: We now have necessary receipt and come smiling smugly to the counter in the morning. But alas, that is not enough. She now sends us off to get an official signature from the NGO board, where we spend 2 hours talking with the secretary (she was very helpful actually) before returning with the signature.

Attempt 4: It is now lunch time and everyone has knocked off for a good hour or so.  We are told to come back around 2 or 3. Slight ‘irritation’ developing.

Attempt 5: Begrudgingly, we hand over the file, in folder, with receipt to the same woman. This time she does flick through the file, but it seems we need another letter signed by one of the Ugandan board members. We have one, but it doesn’t say exactly the right thing. I do not do this ‘without complaint’. My patience is clearly wavering, and I show it.

Attempt 6: We arrive the next day, our patience becoming more and more compromised as the days pass us by.  We have the letter, as our Ugandan father who we live with in Kampala is on our board. This time, however, we had the wrong type of folder. Apparently this is a serious concern, and she advises us to go and purchase the correct one immediately. I struggle to remain ‘even tempered’ with our interaction this time.

Attempt 7: We come back armed with all documents, receipts, signatures and of course, the special folder. This time, she is happy to accept it – however, only after the photocopy of my passport is rotated 90 degrees within the file to look more ‘suitable’. It is only at this point that she presents us with the main issue at hand. Currently, there is no chairperson to preside over the Ugandan Visa Board, and so we will not be able to get a work permit until such time as they hire someone to fulfil this role. In the meantime, we must apply for a ‘special pass’ visa. In despair, I take the application form for the special pass. By this time, I am past having a temper. Perhaps that is what patience is all about?

Attempt 8: Armed with the special pass application form, we wait in line, praying to God that He may miraculously intervene in this situation in order to prevent us from taking drastic or violent action. It seems He does intervene. The woman takes our documents, the file, our special pass application – and then our passports. In return for the only identity we have in this country, she gives us a little slip of paper from the Department of Immigration that has scribbled on it our names and nationality:

Our current 'passports'

So with fear and trepidation, no passports, & the vague promise of a special pass visa in a week or so, we leave the Department of Immigration, Internal Affairs.

If you are the praying type, pray! 🙂

*Disclaimer: I am ABSOLUTELY aware of the ridiculous difficulty that foreigners are confronted with trying to obtain work visas in Australia, and think that it is equally ridiculous. I certainly don’t want to single out Ugandan bureaucracy, but am merely sharing my experience.

 

KFC: Kamwenge’s Fascinating Chickens!

There have many funny moments since moving to Kamwenge, many of them brought to us by our newly acquired chickens. When we rented this home, the chickens were a part of the package deal, and we share them (and their eggs) with our neighbours. I was naively excited at first, assuming there would  be no effort required in caring for them, other than throwing our food scraps their way occasionally and collecting the free range eggs each morning and evening.

I think naive was the key word.

I’m not sure if these chickens are ‘normal’ chickens as I have never had the privilege of having my very own chickens before. However, in my previous life in suburban Adelaide, my limited understanding of chickens was that they were outside creatures, content in the great outdoors and only needing to huddle in their huts at night for some shelter.

In contrast to anything I previously believed to be the case with chickens, my chickens want to be inside.

all the time.

It is somewhat disturbing. I first got an inkling that my chickens were ‘odd’, when I  walked into the kitchen one day to find the chicken had wondered in the back door, flown up on the bench, and was sitting on the eggs. I don’t quite know why, or how, or for what reason. Perhaps it had difficulty letting go of its babies/eggs. When I tried to get the chicken out of my kitchen, it proceeded to get stuck in the window.

My chickens

My strange chickens lined up on our fence

Since then, the chickens have continued to make us question if our house is actually the setting for an old Alfred Hitchcock classic. They have attempted, every day, to get inside our house. Sometimes it is through an almost closed window (onto our inside clothes line where it squawks in shock while swinging aimlessly). Sometime it is through the back door, a line of 2 or 3 that wonder in sheepishly, waiting for the sound of my voice before they quickly toddle out again. Or one in particularly that tries every day to enter our front door. We put up boxes and other items to block that thing out but it refuses to give up. I wanted to use positive reinforcement but Michael has taken to the technique of splashing the chicken with water if it tries to enter.

Confusing and yes, slightly annoying

But I shouldn’t be too harsh. One can learn a lot about life and culture, from one’s chickens. In Uganda, they have 2 ‘types’ of chickens, ‘exotic’ or ‘Mzungu’ (European) chickens, and ‘local’ chickens, as they are known here. The differences are striking and I thought I would share them with you. Take from it what you will:

The mzungu chickens are soft. They are plump and healthy looking, but they are fairly hopeless at getting on with the business of survival. They need to be fed good food, every day, as they really struggle to catch or look for food themselves. They need some luxury’s and lots of looking after but if they get it – they will be very industrious, producing many eggs in a day.

In contrast, the local chickens are scrawny but tough. They work hard to find their own food, they need almost no pampering, and they are very resourceful. However, when it comes to laying eggs, it is a different story. One is lucky to find them laying even once in a whole day.

So far, I have not tested this hypothesis on many chickens, but just observed it in the ones I have and the detailed explanations I have received from Ugandans and Mzungu friends. Interestingly, the eggs from the local chickens are much better/tastier than anything the mzungu chicken can lay. Hmmm.

I will let you know how the experiment unfolds…

Eggs

My chicken's eggs...