Our vicar has a longstanding association with East Africa, which is shared by his wife and his father-in-law. So when a newly-formed diocese of the Church of Uganda started looking for international links (and the school he’d taught at just happened to be within this diocese) he decided to organise a fact-finding trip for members of his churches. The Blogger went along, and has just returned from her/my first foray into Africa.
Before I went, my knowledge was something along the lines of :”Uganda? Definitely East Africa rather than West… Idi Amin long ago, and some other fighting… the Lord’s Resistance Army terrorists… but we don’t tend to hear of them starving… I think their church takes a hard line on homosexuality…” That’s about it. I also didn’t have as much time or attention for preparation as I might have liked, being somewhat preoccupied with “The Servant’s Voice.”
I had a great time. We all did, and kept in impressively good health, for which we were all very grateful.
As with my reports on Japan, what follows should be read with a clear understanding that I had a closely-chaperoned trip to three areas, which lasted in total just under two weeks.
We spent a few days in the town of Ibanda, accommodated in church-leaders’ homes. We then spent two days in a game park, being wide-eyed tourists. Then some of the team, including me, went north to the large town of Lira. There was a lot of coach travel, and the roads were varied, ranging from super-smooth Chinese-built new motorway, to extremely bumpy red-earth.
- Uganda is a very accessible and welcoming place for the British visitor. The official language, and almost all billboards, shop signs, national newspapers etc are English. Some older women we met didn’t speak much English, but everyone else did. The local languages vary of course, and Ugandans from different parts would not understand each other. We were intrigued to note that anything from small items of furniture to bags of fruit could be carried on the head, and babies were indeed strapped to their mother’s backs.
- Everyone was very welcoming. This was partly doubtless in hopes we would spend money; and partly because we were being hospitably welcomed by kindly brothers and sisters in Christ, some of whom were already personal friends of the vicar. But it was disconcerting to have children and teenagers crowding up to touch or to wave. It was very disconcerting to be told I was beautiful because of my white skin.
- The Equator is not that hot (in rainy season.) This amazed me, and was even slightly disappointing. On the other hand it is true that water swirls in a different direction depending on whether you are north or south of the 0 degree line.
- In fact Uganda is a place of stunning natural beauty, lush and green and mountainous. The “rainy” part of “rainy season” meant “occasional very fierce downpours, usually at night, often accompanied by spectacular thunder and lightning.” The rest of the time it was pleasantly warm, sometimes too hot.
- In and approaching the Queen Elizabeth National Park (Uganda is now a republic, but it was opened by the Queen. Nearby are Lakes Albert, George and Edward, and further south of course Lake Victoria) we saw a lot of interesting mammals. Hippos, elephants, warthogs, deer of various kinds. The lions and leopards kept out of our way. But for the three bird watchers in the party, the whole trip was a joy – “oh, another Great Crested Crane”, “more pied kingfishers” etc etc.
- Where we were, mainly near main roads but not necessarily in touristy areas, there was always electricity, with a few very brief power cuts (a minute or less). The wifi was less reliable, and this was thought-provoking, considering how many schools we visited.
- We didn’t spend much time in suburbs, assuming such exist, although we did visit one nice bungalow. Along the roads we saw a great many small houses, often in basic blocks of what looked like one, two or three units, single storey, rather longer than a British garage but slightly less wide, with doors front and back but no windows. It wasn’t clear if any one family would own say all three in a row, or if each family was restricted to one. The poverty was not in doubt. In the north we saw some of the round (or square) low thatched huts that one may associate with Africa – usually these were in groups, possibly for an extended family. One or two had satellite dishes on the top!
- The President of Uganda since 1986 has been Yoweri Museveni. He seems to intend to be President for life. On the other hand, the press freely reports on the opposition’s activities, and most Ugandans seem grateful for the stability after the horrendous violence they have known in past decades.
- One sees a lot of children along roads, often carrying things, eg plastic jerrycans for water; but there are also schools everywhere. It may be different in the towns, but in the country children who are lucky enough to be in secondary school are mostly boarding. We visited several schools and saw lively, smart-uniformed children, who seemed to own very little and have very little personal space, but who were encouraged to be ambitious, and to work very very hard, to the extent that we wondered when they slept.
- Just after my return, BBC2 screened the Disney film “The Queen of Katwe”, and I have been raving about this film ever since. It is the true story of a girl (Phiona Mutesi) who rose to become a chess champion from Katwe, which is a slum in Kampala, and although we didn’t enter any actual slums, it felt very evocative of the atmosphere we did see.
More on Uganda later!
Love from the PPI Blogger
PS Yes, the book is out! If you’re not able to come to the launch party (15th Nov, 7.30 pm, Middle St Resource Centre, Beeston NG9 2AR) or our church sale the next day, your best source is probably, alas, Amazon.