OTRWJ Uganda Pt 3 – Subsistence and Smiles


Before I describe Ugandan life – as I saw it or had it explained to me – outside the two major cities, I must say that this is a country of smiles.

Children, mothers, babies and even some men will smile and wave at us Muzungu, Swahili for white people. They speak gently and verrrry softly without a lot of gesturing. Guides, hotel staff, porters…all are extremely proud of their country and what it has become over the past 30 years and are eager to make you feel welcomed and happy.

And Muzungu? Well, it is a funny local joke that people from the southern part of Uganda are called Muzungu by their much blacker countrymen in the northern part of the county.

And speaking of northerners, there are many refugees (many!) flooding into the north from South Sudan. When asked their feelings about this, uniformly they reply essentially “we have enough food to help. This is not a problem.”

Surprising, as for most, this is subsistence living. This woman is making fried banana pancakes that she sells (they were like fried banana bread; yummy!!).  If lucky, she will make $3 a day. Notice her rolling pin: a coke bottle.

In this same village, we visited a primary school started by our guide. The children were proud to greet us in English and a class of 5 year olds proudly sang “Head, Shoulder, Knees & Toes”! A couple of us reciprocated with “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and, after teaching a class how to blow kisses and say MMMWAH as they blow the kiss, I was rewarded with a roomful of kisses!!!!

Education in this country Is confusing and the challenges are bigger and more complicated than I could grasp. The huge population growth over the past 15 years makes this a critical issue. There are public schools which are considered inferior due to undereducated teachers. Private school, of course, is costly.

Our guide asks the parents to contribute something …even a couple of bananas… but they can’t. Yet all the students at this school receive breakfast and lunch. Here you see lunch being prepared in the school’s kitchen.

Homes are built out of locally made brick, typically with concrete (very expensive) only used in the corners. The brick is then covered with mud…..kinda like adobe, I guess. Yellow plastic (2 gallon?) jugs are ubiquitous….carried in women’s heads, scattered in front yards. They are used for carrying water from “nearby” rivers or streams. Any cooking is done over wood fires (charcoal too expensive) and kerosene lamps are used for lighting.

Queen Elizabeth Park was established in the first half of the 1900s, there were fishing villages and “cattle keepers” (ranchers). Obviously cattle and wildlife are not compatible with a park and so the cattle keepers were forced to move out. Eleven fishing villages, however, were allowed to remain. And those same 11 exist today.

Note: in the 90s, the government also “relocated” the Batwa (pygmies) out of The Impenetrable Forest so as to protect the gorillas. Hopefully more in this in my next blog.

Meanwhile, the government erected concrete posts around the perimeter of the fishing villages, saying they could not expand beyond that line, regardless of population growth. So somehow these villages remain, filled with men who go out nights into Lake George in row boats to throw nets hoping to catch tilapia or cod. They come back in the early morning, smoke their fish in these huts to preserve it and then sell it at local market to families, restaurants, shops, etc. Meat is expensive and typically only for special occasions.

What do the fisherman do all night while the net is down? They sleep. And thus, many are killed by hippos who kick the wooden boats apart. The men fall into the lake and – as most cannot swim – drown.

If there is land, families grown various crops. I spotted a group of women who, I learned, worked as a loose co-op. They take turns, as a team, working in each other’s gardens. After the shyness, they were happy to have pictures taken and then asked if I gardened. I said yes, but only flowers and herbs. They looked at me like I was nuts. This picture of these women, working together, for each other, and laughing and giggling captured a lot about the Ugandans for me.

Oh yes. For those who know, no blog of mine can exist without motorcycles, here ya go!

They are Ugandan taxis!!!

Next time: Fossey, Goodall and me! My experience tracking primates through the jungle.


OTRWJ Uganda Pt 3 - Subsistence and Smiles originally posted on by Elegant Island Living magazine.

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