Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Uganda Notes

The Wheelchair/Tricycle Campaign

Thanks to the generosity of these people, we have met, and in fact, exceeded the target in just one week.

Hazel Baskin

Betty Bergin
Margie and Phil Bott

Ursula Chavez-Hibbard
John Knobel

Carol and Mike Lundy
Lorna McKenzie

Mary and Frank Mayda
Jody and Shaan Parekh

Shirley Sauvé
Suzanne Sauvé

Maria and Jaap Schouten
Maureen Sly

Marie and Mel Thompson

Folks, your gift will make a big difference in the life of a Ugandan with a disability. And Margie, I greatly appreciate your contribution to this effort. To all of you, my most sincere Vasinja (thanks)! Merci! Muchas gracius!

Biira Gatrida in Her New Tricycle

A gift from Margie and Phil Bott

Matooke, Muchomo and Grasshoppers

Matooke is a popular Ugandan dish that consists of steam-cooked green bananas. This is a featured item at most parties and group dinners. Ugandans don’t seem to have enough of it. Kaunga is another popular dish which is a mix of millet and cassava. For some locals, dinner is not complete without some Kaunga. A concoction of maize is cooked to make Posha. One other item that is popular among the Mizungus (white folks) is Muchomo, barbecued goat (or beef or chicken) meat. Muchomo with French fried make a nice meal for many ex pats.

A very special delicacy is called Ensenene. It consists of fried grasshoppers and it is served in Ugandan homes to their honoured guests. I haven’t been served this delicacy, not yet. And, if served, I don’t think I would sample a fried grasshopper.

Rice is a staple at meals. Goat is the most popular among meats followed by chicken. Fish is also available in most restaurants and so is beef although less frequently.

The influence of Indian cuisine is very strong. Many restaurants feature curries (goat, fish, beef and vegetable) and chapattis on their menus. A few higher-priced restaurants also feature Western dishes – pan cakes, sandwiches, salads, pizzas, fish and chips and spaghetti. But their version of these dishes can be quite different. Each time I order one of these items, I have a surprise.

Polygamy and human rights

If I want to marry more than one woman and if the women are happy marrying me, why should anyone object? It’s none of their business. It is a violation of a man’s human rights to insist that he can only marry one woman; and, human rights of women are also breached if they cannot marry a man with more than one wife. They are deprived of their right to freely choose whomever they want to marry.

I have paraphrased above the vigorous argument my driver in Kampala put forward in defending polygamy which is legal in Uganda. For him, the notion of monogamy did not make sense. And, he did not defend polygamy on religious grounds (i.e. Islam allowing a man to marry up to four women). For him, it was a matter of human right. When I asked him whether women have a reciprocal right, he promptly replied that Ugandan women would not want to marry more than one man anyway.

I know of a few men who have more than one wife. One is an old story-teller living in the mountains in a small hut. He has five women (they call them women, not wives) and several children. He is very poor; yet, he seemed to be doing fine living with five women. On Valentine’s Day, the paper contained a piece with the headline, “I love all my wives” and the author was the Chair of Uganda’s Election Commission. It didn’t indicate how many women he had married but it was clear that he had married several times.

What is the maximum number of women a man can marry? I don’t have the answer. But, a few weeks ago, one of the national newspapers featured a full-page story of this very wealthy and huge Ugandan man. The article also carried a picture of his entire clan - twenty one wives and seventy children. Imagine that!

Uganda Time

A few weeks ago, we had a scheduled meeting with the District Service Commissioner who is the head of the local government machinery. This was the first meeting of its kind where our board was to meet him and his staff in the hope of initiating an ongoing dialogue. KDP had prepared for it for days and a couple of people from KDP’s partner organizations had travelled for this meeting all the way from Kampala. However, it was only after 15-17 of us reached the Commissioner’s office that one of his minions told us that the meeting would have to be delayed - by one full day. Even though everyone here has a mobile phone, no one from the Commissioner’s office bothered informing us about the delay.

This is perhaps an extreme example, but, I have yet to attend a meeting, whether with our own executive or with government officials or elsewhere, that has started on time or within a few minutes. And, when a meeting is delayed, it could be for hours, not minutes. What I find amazing is that Ugandans don’t seem to be bothered by this kind of delays. They accept it as part of their way of life. But, my patience is tested daily.

Stapled newspapers and the soccer craze

The first time I bought a newspaper in Kasese, I tore the first page when I tried turning it. That’s because vendors staple their newspapers. Apparently, some people go to the newspaper stall, grab and read a paper there and return it without buying it. So, to prevent free-loaders from reading the paper, they put at least two and sometimes more staples. Not a bad idea, eh?

There are two major national newspapers. They are both in a tabloid format, and in both, domestic news take up a huge chunk of the space. Uganda’s national election is only a year from now. So, political news and stories dominate the news. Major international news like the disaster in Haiti and Chile’s earthquake get lost somewhere in the middle pages.

Aside from domestic news, each paper devotes four to six full pages to soccer every day. Ugandans are crazy about soccer. The World Cup of soccer is scheduled in South Africa and it is only 100 days from today; so, the countdown is on. There are stories of teams, their owners, managers, players and juicy gossips. Sports pages hardly carry news of other sports with the exception of a couple of items like Tiger Woods’ mea culpa and an Indian cricketer’s record-breaking 200 runs in a one-day match. The same is true of local TV stations which continuously show soccer, soccer and more soccer. But, the Winter Olympics, an international sporting event, was completely ignored.

Sundays are special

Sunday is a very special day here. It is reserved for one and only one activity – visiting the Church. For most of the residents of this town, their Sunday is not complete without a visit to the Church. Walking around Kasese and neighbouring communities on a Sunday morning, you can see groups of people, older men in dark suits and ties and women in long dresses and head scarves going to or coming out of a Church. Even for younger Ugandans, Sunday Church service is a must. This is such an important part of their weekly routine that they cannot fathom someone like me, for example, not going to the Church.

However, Church’s influence goes well beyond the Sunday service. Every business meeting and public function, except a one-on-one visit, invariably begins with a prayer, a Christian prayer, asking for spiritual guidance and divine wisdom. Sometimes, there is also a prayer of thanks at the end.

Beauty is in the gap between the teeth

An article published in a newspaper around Valentine’s Day caught my attention. It described features that denote beauty for traditional Ugandan women. Among this country’s many tribes, physical standards of beauty vary. However, a gap in the front teeth of a woman is considered a mark of beauty in a number of tribal groups. In some communities the gap may be in the upper jaw while in others, the preference is for a gap in the lower jaw. Regardless, to be considered beautiful, a traditional woman must have a gap in the teeth.

To meet this criterion, some women have one or more of their front teeth knocked out. The article noted that the practice of removing women’s teeth can be traced back to the meningitis outbreak in the Karamoja region. Since the disease locked the victims’ jaws, their teeth were taken out to administer aloe vera and other herbs. Thus began the practice which later became a symbol of beauty. In one tribe, traditional Lugabara women knock six teeth out of their lower jaw in order to look beautiful. Different strokes…

Music and dance

There are 56 ethnic groups in Uganda and over 40 major languages and dozens of dialects. On a recent field visit, I was in a community about 20 km from here and these people spoke a different language. Even the young woman who was my interpreter had difficult time understanding them. The existence of so many tribes and languages accounts for the great diversity in music, dance and theatre. The picture shows a traditional instrument of the Bakonzo people. It is made of wooden planks placed on a couple of tree stumps and people hit the planks with small sticks to produce music to which women wearing grass skirts dance. Unfortunately, I have not been able to send you the video. But, enjoy the picture.

Bakonzo tribe’s instrument called Embara

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for the tremendous work you have done to put our people on global so that we can be exposed to so many charitable and other persons to give in their help.
    Am real very great full with the work. If we could get people like you 10 of them here in kasese, our area would be well.Am ready to give in my effort to help such people, but since i can not afford, i give my support in the area of offering the best quality work in my field of medical laboratory to such people.And promises to work for the people.