Friday, 30 October 2009

Invasion of the ants.........

Over the last 2 weeks there's been quite a lot of rain, which means lots of mud as most roads off the main roads and out of town are dirt roads. It also means most of the top layer of dirt just gets washed away, so the roads are now full of huge potholes and ravines where the water flows down and across the road. Most roads have some form of drainage channel on either side but these often get blocked and it's quite common for them to overflow in really heavy rain.

One very unwelcome result of the rains, for me anyway, is the arrival of swarms of white ants. These are not your everyday little ants and in fact they don't even look anything like ants as we know them. I've heard of them referred to as flying termites but they're commonly know as white ants, as they have quite large white wings. They usually live in the termite hills but when it rains and the temperature drops they come out looking for warmer shelter, but they don't last too long when the rain is lashing down and usually die pretty quickly, discarding their wings everywhere. It's quite common to see piles off wings on the road sides or around houses. To many people these are very welcome visitors as they are considered a delicacy and a good source of protein when roasted or ground into a paste - in Masindi they were very popular and it was a common for people, especially kids to go foraging for them after the rains. For some reason they're not very popular in Mbarara, they prefer a nice big juicy roasted grasshopper instead!

Recently the white ants have taken a liking to my house and on a few ocassions I found some wings and dead bodies scattered around the living when I got up in the morning - I soon realised that they were getting in through a small gap under my front door, so I blocked up the gap with newspaper when it rained. However, last week it rained during the night and I hadn't blocked it up and so imagine my surprise when I walked into my living room the next morning and found this sight......................

Many of you reading this will know I'm not a big fan of creepy crawlies of any kind, so to say I freaked is putting it mildly! They were all over the floor, some dead, some still wiggling away - unfortunately (!) once they've lost their wings they die pretty quickly and are not too lively!

The pile I swept up ......there were piles of wings outside the front door too!

Salome, the girl who manages the compound thought that the security light right outside my front door was attracting them, fortunately since I've turned it off at night I've not had a single one!

It's a commonly held belief in Uganda that the rains also bring the 'thieves' out at night. When it rains heavily the electricity often goes off so everywhere is in darkness, also the sound of the rain against metal roofs is really loud, so it's difficult to hear if someone is lurking around. Last week, Patricia got up during the night to take her nephew Elijah, who lives with her, to the outside latrine as he wasn't feeling well, when she got back to her house (2 rented rooms)  two guys told her not to scream or talk and proceeded to take her TV, DVD player (which didn't work), 2 mobiles (almost everyone here has at least 2 phones for different networks), a blanket and unfortunately a very expensive microscope she'd bought the day before for her brother who's a doctor. She had borrowed the money to pay for it, and now her brother is refusing to refund her - it cost about 3 months salary. She reported the incident to the police, who took a statement but have done little else, it's unlikely she'll see any of her stuff again. I felt so sorry for her, she works so hard at the project, and is looking after her young son and her nephew while her sister is studying full-time in another district. I bought her a cheap promotional phone as I didn't like the idea of her being alone with 2 young children and no means of contacting anyone.

Life is really hard for the majority of people here, but somehow they manage to not let it get them down - Patricia was still her same smiling and bubbly self, well at least it appeared that way to others, but it really is tough for her.

Patricia outside the office with flowers she made

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Kato and Kakuru

When twins are born in Uganda they are often given traditional names meaning first and second born, but what these names are depends on which region the parents come from and if they're boys or girls. Now for little James and Jeremy, this gets quite complicated - they were born in Mbarara in the South West, Lucy their mum is from Hoima in the North West and Sam their dad is from Lira in the North. So in effect they could be called any of four names. In the South Western region James is called 'Kato' (meaning first born) and Jeremy is called 'Kakuru' (meaning second born). Lucy is also a twin, so is known to most people as 'Nyangoma' (first born) and her twin sister is known as 'Nyakato'. It gets slightly more complicated when it's one boy and one girl, as the names given depend on which of them was the born first - Patricia was explaining this to me yesterday, but I kind of lost the plot after a while!

Jeremy 'Kakuru' on the left and James 'Kato' on the right - don't they look cute.... James looks so much like Lucy it's amazing!

There was a big open air trade show in Mbarara recently, which attracts vendors and businesses from all over Uganda, and even Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. Healthy Child Uganda is a project in partnership with Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) and each year they hire space at the show and allow HCU to sell their community made handcrafts there. It was a perfect opportunity to display and hopefully sell the flowers, I was inundated with them so really needed to shift them in order to pay the local communities.

Now, in principle an open air show in Africa sounds lovely, except when it's held in the rainy season and yes, this unfortunately means running the risk of getting wet, and very wet, saturated in fact, we got. On two ocassions our tent was actually blown away, the second time it landed on top of the national electrity supplier's tent, they weren't amused. On the last day, the wind and rain was so bad the entire stadium looked like a scene from a disaster movie with tents down all over the place and floods of water everywhere.

 Patricia 'manning' the stand, along with a medical student from the university who was doing free blood pressure tests. Patricia kept herself busy making flowers for Teddy, the project manger, to take to friends in the UK

I knew that Lucy would like to go to the show, but unfortunately with two little babies and no money for non-essentails, her chances of going were pretty slim. So when I suggested that I would take her and the boys as a 'treat' she was absolutley delighted. She'd not been further than 10 minutes away from her 2-roomed house in over 2 months, so was really excited about going out for the day and having the opportunity to show off her boys! So with Lucy dressed in her best 'kitenge' (top and long skirt made from traditional fabric), Sam spruced up and the boys dressed in their best outfits too, off we went! We got lots of 'funny' looks walking around the show ground, especially when peopel spotted the 'muzungu' (me!) carrying a Ugandan baby in my arms - they're too little to be strapped around the back yet....I can only imagine the hiliarity that would have caused!

Lucy, in her best clothes with Kakuru (sometimes known as Jeremy or Jeramiah) and Kato (sometimes known as James or Jimmy)! They even had proper nappies on for the ocassion!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Where's the groom?!

A few weeks ago I was invited to attend the introduction and give away for Harriet,  one of the girls who works in the VSO office in Kampala. The introduction and giveaway ceremony is part of a traditional Ugandan marriage ceremony. Traditionally, there used to be 3 events - the introduction, where the girl takes her husband-to-be home to meet her family; the giveaway, which is held at the home of the girl's parents, it involves her family officially 'giving her away' to the husband's family and then finally the wedding ceremony. These days it's quite common for the introduction and giveaway to be held together on the same day.

Traditionally the first two of the three ceremonies are paid for by the brides family and the wedding ceremony is paid for by the grooms family. This is after the 'bride price' has been agreed - the money that the groom's family pays to the bride's family as payment for her! The price is calculated in cows, even though most urban families wouldn't actually hand over cows these days, it's be the value of a certain number of cows - apparently fresian cows are far more valuable that the traditional ankole (big horned) cows. I was having a discussion about all this with Nasser recently, he's getting married soon, and we agreed that in effect the groom's family pay for everything - they pay the bride price which is used  by the bride's family to pay for the introduction and giveaway ceremonies and then they also pay for the wedding ceremony!!

So in true Ugandan style the timing of the event did not quite go as plan - the invite said it'd start at 12.00p.m but I'd been told to get there for about 2.00, I arrived with two other VSOers at about 2.30. We were seated in a small room in the family house  with 2 other non-Ugandan guests (the Ugandan guests ate outside somewhere apparently) and given vast amounts of traditional food for lunch.

The decoration of the home compound was spectacular, with numerous white tents for all the guests and there were many of them, each one decorated with swags of really colourful fabric (pink and green - two colours are chosen to represent each of the two ceremonies), there were arrangements of fresh roses everywhere, a huge cake on display and lots of young women walked around in brightly coloured lime green dresses - some of these were Harriet's sisters and friends. There were also 2 MC's, who kept everyone informed about what was going on, everyone except us as we couldn't understand a word.

The event finally began about 3.30 with the arrival of the groom's family, they were greeted by the girls in green who gave each one of them a green corsage to pin on their clothing. They then proceeded to walk to a tent that was reserved especially for them.

The day was marked by many traditional rituals, such as the groom's family having to 'guess' who the bride was from a line up of girls; the bride having to 'search' for her 'man'; the handing over of numerous gifts to different members of each family, many of them having traditional symbolic importance. It truly was fascinating, the female guests were dressed in wonderfully colourful outfits, there was lots of entertainment and very little alcohol consumed by anyone.

Waiting for the arrival of the groom and his family. There was also another set of about 8 girls in different costumes who took part in the actual ceremony.

One of the MC's in action - that's the groom's family's tent behind him

Traditional dancers provided entertainment throughout the day
Traditional dancer

Harriet searching for her 'man' amongst the guests in the groom's tent.
She was dressed in green for the introduction ceremony.

Having found and identified him, she gave him a different corsage and he came to sit at the front of the tent with Harriet, though she was only remained there for a short while. She spent most of the event sitting on a mat on the ground in front of her family's tent surrounded by her 'matrons'

Harriet, to the left, in the second of her two outfits, this one pink and turquoise was for the giveaway ceremony. The accompanying 'matrons' also changing costumes twice.

And finally, a picture of me with Harriet, after the gifts were presented. It was the only time I got to speak to and have a photo taken with her - it was only brief, as the MC kept telling her to hurry up!

It was a lovely day, probably hugely expensive as well, and I think a quite a posh 'do' as traditional ceremonies go.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Photos from Lake Mburo

Lake Mburo is a small national park about an hour and a half's drive from Mbarara on the way to Kampala. Below are photos from my trip there in September - the VSO cluster meeting for our area was held there and it was also a goodbye trip for 2 volunteers who were leaving a few weeks later.

A very large baboon near where we were seated having breakfast

Waterhogs have got to be one of the ugliest creatures, but at the same time there's something quite cute and amusing about them!

Skull of a water buffalo

Lake Mburo is one of only two places in Uganda where it's possible to see zebras, and there are lots of them here. Many people had told me that they can often be stopped from the road when driving to and from Kampala, but I've never been lucky enough to see them, until last week when I saw them going and coming from Kampala on the bus.

This is a crested crane, the national bird of Uganda - it appears on the national flag and the national emblem. I saw this one outside of the park - I had thought they were quite rare, but have seen quite a few of them since. They're the most amazing looking bird. I'm not much of a 'twitcher' but Uganda is certainly the place to come if bird watching floats your boat.

Traditional long-horned Ankole cows -they're very common but they still amaze me everytime I see them

The tented hut in the park, I shared with another volunteer - it was pretty basic, just 2 single beds with mozzie nets, the communal toilets and shower facility were in a separate building beyond the tents. The camp fire in the background was lit for us by one of the rangers - it keeps away animals such as wart hogs or hippos, we also sat around it after supper having a few beers.

View of the park and lake

Some of the volunteers getting ready to go on a quad bike safari, they said it was great fun. I decided to sit it out on a big comfy sofa in one of the park lodges with a fresh glass of mango juice!