Spencer in Uganda

Spencer is a graduate student in religious studies in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. He was awarded a Maguire and Irby Family Foundation Public Service Internship for summer 2013 from the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at SMU. He is working in the Busoga region of Uganda with a development organization, Kibo Group, International, to assess local perception of Kibo Group water projects.

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Our village visits

I believe that I mentioned in the first post that 12 village communities have completed a Home Improvement Campaign and have received a water well in partnership with Kibo Group.  Our research team has achieved its goal of interviewing people from eight of those village communities, and in this post I would like to simply provide a picture of what those days have looked like.

Morning chai

Morning chai

The village communities that we interviewed were located anywhere from 45 minutes to just over three hours from Jinja, our hometown for these five weeks in Uganda.  For those of you doing the math American-style, this may lead you to believe that these village communities are located anywhere from 30 to 180 miles from our hometown.  My family often drives from Dallas to Austin in three hours, but this kind of comparison serves only to demoralize one concerned with efficient time management.  Most of the villages we visited are located about 50-60 miles from Jinja, the distance it often takes three hours to reach.  Fortunately, Busoga is beautiful; fortunately, conversation on the road among this team of researchers is utterly enjoyable.

Our days often started around 7:30 or 8 a.m. – or at least that was the goal.  While the team was impressively punctual, one learns quickly in Uganda that time exists as events, and events are quite unpredictable.  For instance, one of our village days was postponed because of strikes and protests on the roads due to a raised value added tax on public transportation.  Information about such events becomes known in conversations around morning tea, which leads to what I perceive as a prime rule for life in Uganda:  NEVER RUSH MORNING TEA.  It seems that with a cup of tea in hand, accompanied by a chapatti (fried flat bread) as one’s daily bread, the events of the day unfold through conversation, laughter and stories that trickle in from those nearby.  And at some point, amid the plans, stories of the previous evening and empty cups of chai, we get in the Land Rover, and we leave.

Jerrycans at the well

Jerrycans at the well

On the road, one is constantly negotiating with pedestrians, bicyclists, animals (mostly chickens, goats, and cattle), public transportation vehicles (the matatu is the minivan that seats 14 passengers, not including children, luggage, and small animals) and the string of potholes that one can follow to the next town.  It is the dry season, and therefore, the enemy on the road is enfufu – dust.  If one is so unfortunate as to be driving behind a large truck, it is possible to see nothing except a red cloud of dust for a large portion of the journey.

Once in the village, our team of five sets out in different directions to conduct the surveys, moving out from a location near the water well along the dirt roads and walking paths.  Most of the people we encountered were extremely hospitable, taking a break from cooking, cleaning, or harvesting to sit and answer the questions on our survey.  I will save some of the insightful realizations for a later post.

Enock conducting an interview

Enock conducting an interview

The Basoga people, in general, are wonderfully hospitable and place a high value in greeting and hosting a visitor.  While the idea of wandering into someone’s space and infringing on their time is uncomfortable for me, the people with whom I spoke made the experience enjoyable.  They were also patient with my increasingly broken Lusoga (my family and I lived in Busoga from 2004 until 2010; when I left I was a fairly competent communicator in the Lusoga language).  In all but one of the villages the water well was functioning properly.  This is a good sign of community ownership and cooperation in maintenance of the water source.

The return to Jinja often consisted of recounting stories of the day – awkward situations, the complexities of good research, encounters with people suffering from sickness, and new realizations for water development derived from the wisdom of people in the community.  Conversations often shifted to two staple topics here in Uganda – religion and politics.  This, no doubt, produced laughter, argument, and even moments of agreement.

Mangoes

Mangoes

Since the days were full we often worked through lunchtime and snacked on whatever we put in our bag that day.  Because of this, the last event of our field day was often a stop at a roadside stand to buy fresh mangoes.  I can hardly imagine anything sweeter, especially while on a dry dusty road and with the twinge of afternoon hunger.  The joy we shared in these offerings from the earth brought to life a favorite local proverb – Oluganda kulya – brotherhood (and sisterhood) is eating. I continue to be thankful for that bond with these friends and co-workers.

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