24 July 2024

December 1, 2019 in Uganda ⋅ ☁️ 22 °C

The colour red or, more correctly, a rusty, deep dark orange or ocre red, I not very good with colours, seems to permeate everything around here. It’s the colour of the earth and, as earth is used in the manufacture of bricks, cement etc, the buildings and roads have a red tint to them.

Also, the weather here has been unseasonably wet. I was talking to a person earlier today and he told me that the rain is very unusual and is seriously affecting the farmers, especially the maize crop.

A lot of the roads outside the main roads are pretty basic. Many of them are compacted earth. This is fine when it is dry but because of lack of drainage and no camber on the road, huge ocre red pools form, usually along the sides of the road. Then the middle of the road become very very slippy. When cars or trucks drive by, usually fast, they spray the buildings and walls, and sometimes people, with this red muddy water. This leaves everything looking red. Red is seeping into my awareness and consciousness.

As we were driving along this very slippery road, with huge ruts on each side full of water, there was a sudden lurch and the truck slipped sideways off the road into one of these ruts or ditches. Oh dear.

Often, our very skilled driver and a highly competent man, couldn’t get it out. What were we going to do. No AA around this neck of the woods.

We disembarked and slid and slipped along the middle of the road to the grass verge on the side. Mercifully, none of us fell, though I nearly did a few times. The road was like a skating rink.

Anyway, after faffing about for a bit, a huge digger arrived and pushed us out. We were back on the road to Kampala.

But that’s not the real story, the real story is about the local Ugandan people. I found this part fascinating.

When the truck bogged down, there were a few locals looking on. There always seems to be a few locals looking on. Africans often seem to stand motionless with on intriguing stillness I cannot pretend or even begin to understand. I wonder what they’re thinking, I often think. When they smile, as they do frequently, there’s a dazzling burst of white teeth contesting with the dark black skin and presenting with such warmth and humanity that’s impossible nor to reciprocate.

Within a minute or so, more started to arrive and before you could say Jambo, Swaheli for hello, there were several dozen there to help or to look. By the end, there must have been a hundred people there.

A group of young men took charge of trying to get the truck out. They did this with a great gusto and cheerfulness. When they thought they had a method, they would try to push the truck while Often, our driver, revved the engine. The lads pushed willing and cooperatively and seemed to me having a great time, having the craic, judging from the whoops and laughter. When it didn’t work, they didn’t look annoyed or disappointed but instead redoubled their efforts. Both participants and observers, including wet muddy mzumgus, shared this vocal enthusiasm. The atmosphere was electric. I never saw anything like in in my life but imagine it might be like being in Croke Park when Dublin won the All Ireland final five times in a row it when England won the world Cup.

As a mzumgu, I stood by and watched. By the way, Mzungu is the southern, central and eastern African term for a person of foreign descent. Literally translated it means “someone who roams around aimlessly” or “aimless wanderer” (from the Swahili and Ganda words). Sums me up to a tee.

This process lasted a few hours, maybe two. I was standing in the increasingly muddy grass observing what was going on and trying to understand what I was seeing. I was also enjoying the whole spectacle as well while thinking what a lucky break this was to really have contact with African people.

I had conversations with several people who came up to me and introduced themselves to me. One young man, who had his baby son with him, told me about Ugandan politics and about the current president who is very unpopular and will not leave office. He told me about the tribal system and the unequal distribution of power amongst the different tribal groups. He worked as a driver in a local adventure camp. His son took a shine to me and wouldn’t let my finger go. He had a fierce grip. When his dad finally loosened his hold, the child howled.

I chatted with another young man who was coming to the end of his secondary education. He wanted to become an aircraft technician and work and travel in different countries. He was worried he couldn’t afford the training and was hoping for a scholarship. He asked several intelligent questions about the educational system in Ireland.

Another young man came up and started talking with me. He seemed very damaged and needy. There was a look in his eyes I couldn’t interpret but i thought he might have been badly hurt once. I wondered if he was gay. Of course, given Uganda’s harsh view on being gay. I would never breach the subject. I couldn’t quite work out what he wanted and struggled to understand him. As we were talking, a young boy, maybe ten, with an old man’s awareness, kept prodding him. The guy I was talking to ignored him. I looked hard at the the young guy thing to work out the dynamic. He saw me, bared his teeth in a snarl, sort of hissed something and walked away. I felt I witnessed something ancient I couldn’t comprehend.

There were several other friendly interactions before the digger came and pulled us out.

Of course, although the local people were extremely helpful and cooperative, their motives weren’t entirely altruistic. They wanted money for their work. Fair enough, I thought. When Often paid them, the mood suddenly turned ugly. They wanted more. We were hurried back onto the truck while Often sorted it out.

We drove away. I wonder what impression they had of us.

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