Sunday. How did it come around so quickly? I’ve now completed a very busy two weeks on the ward as the Medical Officer – time enough to start to get to know the nurses, to start to find out how things get done, to start to understand the pressures, and the pleasures, time to get to know patients.
Our family Sunday ‘’weekend-in-a-day’’ is much anticipated, and today has been such a full day.
This morning we had to fix the handbrake on the car. Apparently the best mechanics are in Kampala, but that is 12 driving hours away; – quite a treck to get to the garage. But our colleagues kindly told us that the mechanic who fixes the hospital cars was coming today, and that we could probably ask him to look at our car too so Brian volunteered for car duty, and the girls and I went on a walk.
We decided that we wanted to climb a hill. There are steep hills all around us, and tracks all over the place, but we had advice that if we went to the next village, Mukono, we could take a track past the church on the left, and find our way up onto the hill.
If you are a mzungu round here (a white person), it isn’t really possible to go walking un-noticed. Today as we set off up past the church, we were accompanied by three delightful 12 year old girls, all of whom are in P6, the last year of primary school, in the village school. One girl in particular, had really good English. They giggled at the idea that we might be going walking just to explore and for pleasure. They decided to show us the way. And a good thing they did, as there were hundreds of paths, dividing left and right in between banana plants, small homesteads, coffee and tea bushes, streams. It was steep and, last night, the torrential rains had turned the paths into rutted slippery mud-runnels. The girls leapt confidently along, holding Miss A’s hand, sometimes carrying little Roo higher and higher onto the hill.
At one point we spotted a small pig-sty in amongst the bananas. As we watched, a smiling young man called Nelson came and joined us. He invited us to go and have a look at the piglets. ‘’They are my school-fees’’ he told us.
He’s still at school. He says he wants to be a Reverand when he leaves. They are his Dad’s pigs. The sow had six piglets a month ago. They are robust, noisy, hungry snufflers, who nuzzle their long-suffering-looking mother in search of more fattening milk. Nelson’s father will sell them soon. Each piglet should fetch around 70 000 Shillings (about £15) and a term’s school fees will be about 37 000 Shillings (about £8.) Growing school fees seems like a good plan if you have the start up funds. To put this into context, the average monthly household income round here is around £20. Nelson’s dad also has a small holding of coffee bushes – he was busy drying the beans after yesterdays downpour, but Nelson took us to see the sackful of beans that they had been able to put aside. When the beans are dry, they will be taken to a town not too far away where they can be treated and sold. This looked like a reasonably resourced smallholding, compared to many round here. Quite a number of people are landless.
Our little girl guides took us higher, and stopped at various plants to show us the different crops around. Matoke (green bananas) – a staple round here, bean pods, yams, mango trees (no fruit till January though), papaya, passion fruit trees. The land is so verdant here.
We reached the border of the forest at the top of the village, but decided not to go into the forest as it was getting pretty hot, and pretty slippery. Little A bounded back down the tracks with the girls, disappearing out of sight, whilst little Roo and I slithered very un-gracefully a long way behind. Back in the village, the drumming was calling parishioners to church, people were walking up the hill in their Sunday best, or riding pinion on Boda-Bodas (motorbike taxis) to get there in time. In the heart of the village, many people were carrying plastic bags full of what looked like green chillis. Why, I wondered? Someone had a whole sack and was filling the plastic bags, so we went to have a look. The ‘chillis’ were jumping. They weren’t chillis, but grasshoppers.
Grasshopper season is here. Much to everyone’s delight. They are a fantastic snack. Eaten fried, then prepared like seafood (I presume), so that the protein rich body is eaten with relish. We’ve smelt them cooking. Something like bacon. Brian is keen to try, the girls are not sure, and I am stating my vegetarianism, and am very keen to avoid!
We left the girls picking up grasshoppers and meandered home. My thought for the morning was this… Those girls we met were sharp, inquisitive, and were able to think ahead what things might be of interest to us new-comers in their village. What does the future hold for them? Based on the local patterns, there is a good chance they will be pregnant by 15 or 16, not in school, perhaps farming some land in adulthood, quite possibly being left behind by a partner, with a high risk of being victims of domestic violence, or of being left with sexually transmitted diseases or HIV. Why is it that a bright sparky 12 year old girl in our home village will have such a different future ahead of her? How on earth can this difference ever be acceptable? What do the changes need to look like that could bring about a different outcome for the twelve year old girls in Mukono village?
Watch this fantastic animation (it only lasts for 3 minutes) for some thoughts about things that might change the proximate causes. No-one has yet animated the political and structural issues that need to change also….