Saturday, 20 June 2009

Anyone for a cup of tea?

Until last week I'd only ever seen images of tea plantations on TV or the side of a box of Tetley tea bags. I was visiting a group of HCU CORP's in Mugyera, a very remote parish in Bunyaruguru County in Bushenyi district, one of Mbarara's neighbouring districts. This is the only county that the HCU project operates in outside of Mbarara district, it has high rates of childhood malnutrition and is also quite densely populated. On the way there we drove through numerous tea plantations, ranging from small locally farmed plantations to massive ones stretching for miles, owned mostly by large tea producers. I met up with Apuuli, a HCU trainer who was doing some income generating training with the CORP's. The training was held outside the village church, beside the local primary school. The village was really remote, we drove up an incredibly steep dirt track -I thought Nasser was taking me to the end of the earth, I was convinced there couldn't possibly be a village at the end of the track - but there was!

I got a really enthusiastic welcome from the group, they were very happy to hear me speak the few limted phrases that I have now learned in Runyankole (the local regional language)! Though it's bit off putting that whenever I say anthing in Runyankole people just laugh, so I'm always left guessing as to whether I've said something inappropriate or misprounced a word!! But I'm assured by Nasser that people are just surprised to hear a 'muzungu' speaking the langauage and they really appreciate the effort. On my way to and from work I always try (! it's a difficult language) to say hello, good morning, how are you, in Runyankole to the people I meet along the way. Yesterday evening I said 'agandi' (how are you?) to a guy I recognised - he burst out laughing, actually he laughed like a girl, so much so that we were both laughing in the end - when I asked why he was laughing, he said he was just so shocked and hadn't expected me to greet him like that!

The CORP's are really keen to get involved in the flower-making project that I'm organised - I'm hoping the training will start mid-July. They have an endless supply of banana fibres and maize husks, which is a good start, it just remains to be seen if they can find the money for the training, it's 10,000 UgSh (about £3.50) for a total of 5 days. But they also have to fund their own transport and meals, which is often more difficult.
School children at the local school - they get very excited when they see a 'muzungu', even more excited when the muzungu has a camera!

Picking tea on a plantation in Bushenyi district

Tea plantation

Lake Rutoto, known as Lake Africa by locals as it is shaped like the continent of Africa - I tried to get a photo of the lake from Google Earth, but it was taking 4 hours to down load so I gave up in the end.....!

A crater lake in Bunyaruguru county

Friday, 12 June 2009

Pretty in pink!

Left: Bernard and me - the 2 yr. old son of one of the village CORP's. He took a shine to me once he realised I had homemade cookies in my bag!

Below: Schoolboys carrying handfuls of fresh cow dung (you read correctly!), it's mixed with water and spread by hand on the dirt floor in each classroom at the end of the day - it dries and seals, keeping the dust down.

Left: The last hour (5-6 pm) of each school day is spent cleaning the classroom - the kids take out all the desks and benchs, sweep the floor, then spread it with the cow dung.

Below: Angela, one of the HCU health workers administering de-worming tablets.

Below: Teenage girls (14 yrs.) in the final year of primary school - they were great fun!

Below: Sharing a packed lunch - cold matoke and beans wrapped in banana leaves and boiled cassava - they offered to share it with me, I'm not a big fan of matoke so had some cassava instead.

Below: Classroom and staff room

Below: Two more classrooms, there are 4 in total - the school has 370 pupils.

Below: Raising the Ugandan flag. The kids sitting under the tree were doing a mid-term RE exam.

The photos were taken at Nyakatugunda Primary School, where HCU staff were giving out de-worming treatment to school kids and mothers with young children who came by on the day. The teenage girls were getting tetanus jabs - they were only given to the girls not the boys, apparently the girls are more likely to get injured than the boys (?!) as they have to fetch water and wood, dig in the fields, prepare food etc. Ugandan girls and women have a very hard life.
I had a really good day there, the kids were great fun and they looked wonderful in their bright pink uniforms - school uniforms come in various bright colours, orange, yellow, purple, turquoise blue, lime green. The kid's ages varied from about 4 - 14 yrs. - the class they are in depends on their level of ability, so kids of 8/9 can be in a class full of 5/6 yr. old. There were girls of 14 yrs. in the final year, they probably hadn't been able to attend school because of lack of money or illness, and so had fallen behind or started late. Some kids (4/5 yrs.) from the nearby nursery school also came for de-worming - they all stood in line in perfect silence waiting to get their tablet, I've never seen 30 or so 4 yr. olds behave so well, though I think fear probably had something to do with it, their teacher had also given them a good talking to before they arrived!
The school was on top of a hill and miles away from the nearest village, so the majority of the kids had to walk 1-2 hours just to get there. The day starts at 8.30 and finishes at 6.00, the little ones finish at 1.00. The children who lived within walking of the school went home for lunch (they get 1 hr.), the others bought a cold packed lunch with them. Ugandans are not lovers of cold food, but these kids don't have a choice. I was really interested to see what they were eating, as part of my role at HCU is to develop and implement a food education package for young children and mothers. The children sat on the grass in small groups to eat - some had brought food, others hadn't, but it didn't seem to be a problem as they all shared whatever they had. I was quite impressed by the range of food, I thought it would be just matoke (it's quite hard to stomach when it's hot, let alone when it's cold!), but there was boiled cassava and sweet potatoes, pumpkin, beans, some aubergine and dodo (bitter leafy green veg, bit like spinach). It was all packed in little plastic buckets with lids, some of the matoke was wrapped in banana leaves - the kids placed the food in the centre, helped themselves with their hands and once one lot was finished they started on the other. Some of them were drinking water from jerry cans (unfortunately it hadn't been boiled, even though they knew it should be), while others were drinking 'porridge' (not as we know it) - it's a thickish drink made by boiling water and mixing in millet flour - it looks revolting to me, but it's highly nutritious so I'm told, but hen I've never been a fan of porridge in any form! The food was prepared at home the night before either by the older girls or the mother.
I forgot to say that the day had an interesting start - I had a proposal of marriage form one of the school teachers!!! When I declined his offer and said that his current wife might take issue with him taking a second wife, he said 'oh it's allowed here'. He said he wanted a muzungu wife, but in fact he really wanted the money he thought a muzungu wife would bring, though he did offer 2 cows for me (not a lot really!). After joking with him for a while, he told me I was 'too lively', I asked if that was a bad thing, he said 'no it was good'!
Some of the lessons finished at about 4.15, the children played games for a while and then had to fetch water in jerry cans from down the hill for the school and to tidy the classrooms and the compound, finsihing around 6.00. Once they arrived home an hour or two later, I was told they would be expected to get fetch wood and water for the family,look after the younger children, help prepare supper which they probably wouldn't have till about 9.30/10.00, do their homework and then finally sleep! Nasser (HCU driver) told me that children growing up in a rural community in Uganda have a very hard life, he said life gets easy when you become an adult.
Unfortunately while I was at the school I witnessed one of the teachers beating some of the school children with a tree branch. Uganda has a child protection policy but it's not enforced and even though it's illegal for teachers to hit children, they usually get away with it unpunished. I asked some of the Ugandans if it was their child what would they do, but they didn't think there was a lot they could do. It was a difficult situation to be in, but I wasn't in a position to intervene, as much as I would have liked to.
Even though the school children seem to have so little and their life is hard they continue to smile and laugh, they love having their photo taken and squeal with delight when they see them!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

House photos - Mbarara

My new (pink!) house

I was really lucky to find this house - it's compact and bijoux, as the agents would say! But it's comfortable, well maintained (a rare thing here) and in a nice quite location.

Above: Living room and kitchen - I now have an oven (hooray, it's a real luxury here!) and 4 gas burners, a big change from the 2 burner table-top gas stove I had previously. I made some chocolate brownies to bring to work today, they're going down very well!

Above: Main bedroom - the other bedroom is a mess at the moment, so no photo!