The warmth of an African heart

It was about mid day. The sun was shining and as usual the heat was pushing us down into a state of sweaty, slow zombies. It’s the time of the day when most people stay indoors, in the shadow. People are dreamy, drowsy and they sit back on their bikes, in their little shops, on small wooden boxes on the ground, under the protection of an umbrella with a bowl of passion fruits or oranges for sale in front of them. They don’t expect any customers this time of the day. They sit there, observing. We set off from our Boda Bodas and start walking down a muddy path between mud and brick houses and metal sheds. The stench… it hits us as a punch in the face. Everywhere, between the houses, on the streets, on and in the ground, on the roofs, in bags, in boxes in heaps and piles there’s waste and garbage, old banana peels, urin, faeces, plastic bottles and bags, chicken and fish bones and just about everything and anything you can imagine. You can hear children laughing, playing in the background, people whispering “mzungo” as you pass by. Goats and chickens are walking freely, eating whatever they can find on the ground. As you pass by the houses you can see the faces of whole families, curiously following your every move through their open doorways.

I have a new room-mate, Kyle, back at the Edge and I must say he’s way better company than the house mouse (peace be upon him) ;) He’s an engineer from the US doing some prospective research for his future bio-gas company in the slums and rural areas around Uganda and some neighbouring countries. When I got an invitation to come with him for a visit in the slums of Bwaise here in Kampala I couldn’t say no.

Kyle interviewing some locals

Moreen, a friend that Kyle previously met in a matatu, offered to guide us through the area and invited us to meet her family that lived there. Now, it’s difficult to imagine the conditions these people are living in and even harder to put it in words. By definition a slum area is very poor and the people who live there aren’t really allowed to live there, so their homes are very simple and small. Most live in small sheds with metal roofs and have floors made out of either dried mud or concrete. Some live (whole families of 6-10 people) in 5x5m rooms in simple clay and cement houses. No electricity, no running water. She leads us into the home of her parents.

Moreen (to the far left) and her family

Her family makes us lunch: Matoke, rice and fish with grasshoppers for desert. I ate it all with an appetite (my first meal after the food poisoning). Then Moreen and her brother take us around the whole slum area introducing Kyle and me to some of the local inhabitants. We learn about the waste systems, about the latrines, about the way of life, the conditions in which these poor people live. They can’t afford toilets and the public ones built by NGOs cost 200shs (0,6kr) per visit and most families can’t possibly afford it. So they dig holes or build raised clay sheds with a hole under that when filled up is either emptied in the floods when it’s raining or covered and built over.

This is where they store their waste for months before it's cleaned...

Latrine plug in the wall, good for emptying the latrine in a container or when there's a flood...

Before long it starts raining. Heavily. Like always the rain comes suddenly and hard and before we know it we are trapped in a house at the far end of the slum area. A family let us in their house to protect us from the waterfall outside. We never met them before, they never asked for anything in return, they didn’t have anything other than a roof over their heads and they offered it to us. They showed us how far the water usually reaches when it rains, in the wall of their house. Since they built the northern bypass (a highway) there’s no way for the water to flow away so it floods the whole slum area… forcing the people living there to leave their houses that are 1m deep in water and sleep in the local church. Hundreds of people. While we are sitting there water starts flowing in on the floor.

The heavy rain started...

The friendly woman who took us in her house sends her son to go fetch a pair of gum-boots and so we go one by one through the water masses to get out of the area before it’s completely flooded…

Leading us a safe way through the floods, in some places it was waist deep...

Flooded streets, stopping traffic and you don't want to know what was flowing around in that water...

We managed to get out safely but the day was not over yet! ;) In the afternoon we (me, Kyle, the new Japanese guy Jiro, Rogers and his GF) met up at the Edge (after having a long and well needed shower) and went to see the Ndere dance show. It was a really nice show full of humour, good music and dances from different parts of Uganda. I’d definitely recommend it! They even invited all the 100 mzungos present to dance with them in the end…

Traditional drums and dancing

The other dancers could only do 8 pots...

As another sign of the warmth of Ugandan spirit we met Roger’s brother and his wife at the show and they offered the five of us a ride back to the Edge in their car. So we fit seven people in the small, now overweighted, car hoping there wouldn’t be any speed bumps (or “humps” as they call them here) on the way…

Crowded car...

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4 Responses to The warmth of an African heart

  1. Nakato says:

    Hej!vad intressant att läsa om slummen, hade gärna följt med om jag kunnat. Har det flyttat in några nya i vårt rum? Hoppas du mår bra nu. Saknar kampala i vinterkylan. Kram!

    • flexpex says:

      Hej syrran! Allt är okej här förrutom det faktum att ni inte är kvar längre… tog några vändor biljard med Richard igår på Club 5 och det har flyttat in några nya svenskar i ert rum! Snart flyttar Jeremy och Charlotte ut… inget är sig likt men jag får trösta mig med gorillorna på lördag :) kramkram!

      • Nakato/Justine says:

        Ojojoj, svenskar tom?? ja du kommer verkligen uppleva olika tidsepoker på the edge…och nu är det söndag och du har sett the gorillaz!! VÄntar med spänning på dina fantastiska bilder(är jag säker på med ditt fotoöga :)
        Tillbaks i Uppsala är allt täckt o snö och som vanligt runt om kring en men man ser på allt med andra ögon. uganda känns väldigt långt bort men jag blir glad när jag tänker på att det finns kvar, och ens “plats” ochså-man har bara tryckt på pause…
        njut av värmen för mig med och hälsa alla (gärna Deborah för jag hann aldrig säga hejdå till henne!!), ta hand om dig käre bror!

  2. Pingback: Bwaise Slum | UEnergy

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