A Travellerspoint blog

'Do you speak African..?'

and other specialities of Home Assignment...

rain 13 °C

We've been on our UK Home Assignment for a good 2 months now, (and yes, it's been a pretty good 2 months, thanks). After the excitement of my sister's Reading Wedding, sleeping in various beds, numerous visits, hunting for items like socks and hair mousse as we pack and re-pack… we are very pleased to settle into a lovely flat (way too lovely, and dangerously cream-coloured for toddlers!). It is a flat in a nice part of Edinburgh, very kindly sorted out by someone in the church...

and life almost feels normal.

Almost.

But then there are a few things which still make us very excited (or just put us in a good mood)... like...

1. for us all to be anonymous, not people to be stared at, not a 'mzungu' or a 'mundu', but instead to blend in and feel like a fairly normal, frizzy- haired family
2. not needing to use complex maths skills to convert pounds or dollars into thousands and millions of Ugandan shillings
3. drinkable tap water and instant hot water!
4. the NHS, NHS 24, check ups, tests and caring Doctors
5. home-baking (there is an obvious downside to this), fresh milk and reasonably priced, non- stale cereal.. the kids could glug milk till the cows come home…and keep asking for more bowls of cereal.
6. thought- provoking, good, meaty sermons... WHILST the kids are being safely entertained in creche or Sunday school
7. the choice and variety in supermarkets
8. TV... it has been a treat to enjoy Downton Abbey, Bake-Off, Match of the Day and CBeebies
9. and of course it sounds clichéd, but The People... it has been so encouraging to see childhood friends, old school friends, friends from summer mission trips, church friends, work friends, uni pals, brother, sisters, and for our kids to meet and play with their cousins, aunties, uncles, grandparents and great grandparents. My parents have lost several of their good friends this year, and it has been a sobering reminder of the fragility of life, and the need to cherish special times together and take lots of photos, and (most of the time!) it feels like a privilege to have these few intense people-packed months...

However, to give a more balanced picture of Home Assignment, it's not been all cheesy photos and tray bakes…

1. Kids and long car journeys are not a particularly fun combination
2. Kids and lack of routine= another lousy combo. I especially think it must be very confusing for little Asher who has no idea where he being taken to or who he is visiting. He sometimes seems to think he is in Arua...
3. Being in a hospitable culture where cake and/ or biscuits are automatically brought out with a hot drink is tempting at the best of times... which can be problematic when we are visiting people...a lot…we might need to check the extra baggage allowance on the return flights (!) and prepare ourselves for the blunt Ugandan response 'eh, you are now very fat'.. We have missed foods like 'Tunnocks teacakes' or caramel shortcakes so it’s time to catch up! :-)
4. Our nearly-5 year old is missing her friends in Uganda, and if we properly lived in the UK, would have just started school, which I'm sure she would be enjoying and seems ready for… so attempting to home school in this short season is not the easiest role
5. Trying to explain such a different life back in Uganda to people can be difficult, especially when asked questions like 'do you speak African?'..

6. Although it is lovely to be back in the UK for this visit, we are definitely not settled here, with the normal rhythms and roots of work, school etc, and it can sometime feel like living in a parallel life to ‘normal’ people.

That all said... I'm sure in a few years time when we have moved back to the UK permanently, and will have the alarm clock, school run, swimming lessons and juggling childcare with work, there will be fleeting moments when we look longingly back on this season of time; the season when water and milk are still a novelty, and where we are relatively free to meet up with friends at the drop of a hat… :-)

Zoe and Jamie's Reading Wedding...

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DSC_0027

burnell clan

burnell clan

running wild at the Reading wedding

running wild at the Reading wedding

wedding poppets

wedding poppets

Catching up with friends

Asher happily surrounded by sweet girls

Asher happily surrounded by sweet girls

3 yearly catch up with old friends

3 yearly catch up with old friends

beach and rockpools

beach and rockpools

time with the great grandies

time with the great grandies

childhood friend

childhood friend

mission trip friends

mission trip friends


Enjoying Edinburgh and different seasons..

enjoying autumn

enjoying autumn

Amelie's first summit! Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh

Amelie's first summit! Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh

Posted by africraigs 12:38 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

treading water & feeling a bit out of the loop..

(First week back in the UK)

overcast 14 °C

We’ve been back in the UK a week

.. and already ticked- off some of the essentials; deep, hot bubble baths, play parks, my sister’s hen do, bridesmaid dress fittings, cheese, wine and nice brown bread consumed. David says that coming back on 'Home Assignment' is like getting a vehicle MOT since there is the dentist to visit, a de-brief planned, doctor's appointments and even physio to get done.

Beautiful Turkey

Beautiful Turkey


Turkey

Turkey

Last week on our delightful (!) Turkish holiday en-route to the UK, Amelie learned to swim. Turkey was a great stop-over for a rest after the intensity of Uganda but before the appointments and catch-ups of the UK. There was a pool next to the apartment, which meant we were in the water every day, and one day she saw a 3-year old jump in and swim, that was it… Armbands were off and replaced with a feisty determination. It was a bit daunting to watch as she frantically doggy-paddled through the water, her face mainly under the water, and the visible relief as the felt the security of the wall.

Proud swimmer

Proud swimmer

Coming back to the UK this time round has felt a bit like Amelie’s swimming- I feel and probably look like I’m flailing and drowning, but hope and trust I am slowly getting to the other side.

It’s not that anything is massively different or difficult than what we remember, but it is the seemingly inconsequential things that I need to consciously remember again; like how the ticketing queuing system works to buy kids shoes in a crowded shoe shop just before term starts, or how to drive in a polite British manner, observing the rules not the assertive Ugandan way, not needing to greet people, nor say ‘sorry sorry sorry’ if someone drops something, and realising that I urgently need to get a phone, as phonebooths seem to be a dying a death...

So many things seem to jump out everywhere that just seem so different to the 'normal' we’re now used to…

  • Charity shops- after several months of clearing out and de-cluttering our home in Uganda, and even the tattiest/ broken item being taken and used by someone, poor David was in for an embarrassing shock when he and the kids struggled to the local OXFAM with bags of stuff from me and my almost-married sister.. an old lady grumbled that they didn’t need or want anymore products and he should take it elsewhere. A more sympathetic lady saw David’s face, the over-laden buggy and the whining munchkins and took the bags from him. To David’s mortification, he heard the less sympathetic lady mutter ‘I wish you’d told that man to take his bags, it’s a load of junk, I’ll have to give my hands a good wash now…’
  • Garden Centres- places where plants and tools are for beauty and enjoyment rather than just for survival.
  • Fathers attentively playing and tending to their babies.
  • Middle- aged couples holding hands.
  • Having gluten free’ snack options for kids in the church crèche.
  • Having child protection policies, ratios, training for volunteers, lesson plans even for Sunday school teachers.
  • Not needing mozzie nets nor worrying about a life -threatening illness when the kids have a slight fever. Having the peace of mind of highly trained medical personnel close at hand in case anything goes wrong anyway...
  • Drinking from the tap!
  • Trying to get rid of small change rather than trying to accumulate it.

We are staying with my parents for the next few weeks and we were amazed at the polite letter from the council warning they would be doing roadworks for the next few days and were very sorry for the disruption. After spending the last year with the dirt roads all over Arua being dug up by huge Chinese trucks, mounds of mud being dumped on the road and diggers and rollers steaming towards me with no warnings, it all feels quite neat and organized.

It is good to be back in the UK, and of course so special to reconnect with family and friends over the next few weeks and to be here for all the
‘dynamics’ of the wedding prep, but it is also much more overwhelming than I expected, and so if you see me making awkward Uganglish cultural blunders and looking like I’m drowning, I probably feel like I am, so please help me out xxx

sisters

sisters


Most of my family together again

Most of my family together again


bake-off Hen soon to be MRS

bake-off Hen soon to be MRS

Posted by africraigs 23:47 Archived in England Tagged home family transition confusion support_network Comments (7)

'Meat' the wife

Negotiating the bride price

semi-overcast 27 °C

It’s a Saturday and it is a momentous day for Richard. In his words, he is going to buy a wife…!

I have turned up in the car at Richard’s village home to pick up a group of men who are either family or close friends chosen by Richard to represent him in negotiations over the bride price for Eunice, Richard’s girlfriend. As the only non-Ugandan, I help make the team ‘international’ and feel particularly privileged to have the opportunity for an insight into Lughbara cultural practice.

The group meet for some pre-negotiating preparations in a head-teacher’s small living room near where Idi Amin’s family still owns land. Eunice’s clan from their village have sent through their itemised ‘price list’ which includes numbers of cows, goats, chickens, welly boots and blankets. The ‘reserve price’ of each item is discussed which is the maximum price that Richard’s group feel willing to reach. It is hoped that negotiations between the 2 clans will bring agreement on the final bride price or dowry. Sitting there in the dark living room, it felt to me like a football team discussing tactics on how to beat the other team.
The team of negotiators

The team of negotiators


Soon, we are on our way to remote Terego.

Since we are in Africa, 10 guys, including me, are squashed into the car, and I am thankful that it is a strong 4wd vehicle used to difficult conditions but I am hoping no police stop us en route.

The road out of Arua passes the airstrip and starts of smoothly on tarmac that the Chinese have recently laid. Quickly, though, we hit the dirt road and as we head towards Eunice’s village, the road progressively gets smaller and rougher until we are driving on footpaths through fields. As we get closer, a tall old lady welcomes the car singing and smiling, her teeth showing as she enthusiastically shakes a gourd like maracas.

Outside a mud hut smeared dark with cow dung and next to 2 small tamarind trees, Eunice’s clans people are waiting and have erected a temporary structure from tarpaulin under which the 2 groups sit facing each other shaded from the hot sun.
Mud hud with blue solar radio

Mud hud with blue solar radio

The 2 clans 'face off'

The 2 clans 'face off'

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Although the village welcomes Richard and his team, I sense a tension and certain weightiness in the occasion. Richard looks nervous in his dark suit and white shirt at the back. He really wants to marry but wants to do it properly according to the preferred customs of Eunice’s clans people. In today’s world, things are changing as more young people begin to live together, have children and skip the longer and more expensive process of negotiating bridal price. This is a risk, however, since the women’s family will still lay claim to any children subsequently produced and take them away from the father. If the wife dies, her clans people may even take up arms to fight if the man has not paid anything for her dowry.

This ‘traditional’ wedding process is expensive, but separate from the church wedding that seems to copy the ‘Western’ model. Most people never have a church wedding because the cost is insurmountable.

Despite growing up as a missionary kid in the very heart of Africa, African culture and customs have always been a mystery to me. I have desired to better understand the African mindset and behaviour and I am sure this is partly behind the reason for my return to Africa as an adult. However, sitting there in the middle of discussions for acquiring a bride for Richard, I feel very foreign, an outsider, something I often feel living in Uganda. Here, customs and behaviour are so very different to what takes place in the West.

As the 2 groups debate the number of cows, goats, chickens and other items that will be eventually handed over by Richard for Eunice, I realise how much value Africans place in these type of group discussions. There is a gamesmanship in haggling and negotiating, like playing an oral game of chess. Part of the expectation seems to be trying to ‘trick’ or outwit the opponent and getting as much benefit as possible. People seem to enjoy debate and listening to one another. Other villagers watch the proceedings from the sidelines, it seems to be entertainment for them, like watching live theatre. The debate will take as long as is necessary for both groups come to an agreement. Sometimes, negotiations will take longer than a day and a group will need to stay the night. Sometimes, negotiations will fail altogether.
Other villagers enjoy the discussions

Other villagers enjoy the discussions

A skinny dog looks like he has been drinking

A skinny dog looks like he has been drinking


During this afternoon, though, discussions seem to be proceeding quite quickly, so it doesn’t seem like we will get home before dark. On a few occasions, Richard’s team (my team) disappear behind some huts for consultation together deciding how to respond to Eunice’s family’s suggestions.
Tactics being discussed

Tactics being discussed

Checking the price list

Checking the price list


After almost 6 hours of debate, both groups of people seem to come to a conclusion and seem satisfied. Instead of 12 cows, Richard will need to find 8. The number of goats has been reduced to 20. 26 chickens have come down to 12. In total, Eunice will ‘cost’ Richard about £2300, almost half of the previous figure. Richard’s people are happy as they have reduced the debt that Richard will feel towards his future wife’s family, however they have done it in a way which shows the family respect. Showing respect seems to be the reason for this exchange. Still, £2300 is a huge sum for Richard (though he is very lucky and works with an international NGO, earning just under £200 per month). For others, such a debt to the woman’s family can even be carried forward to Richard’s children when Richard passes away one day.

Although negotiating for a wife is often seen very negatively back in the West, I could see real benefits of 2 families meeting together to come to an arrangement. In our highly individualistic culture, joint decision-making is something that we have lost, or we have left to the MPs in Parliament. In this culture, once a decision is reached between the 2 families, there is a strong bond and understanding that seems to occur.

In the Lughbara language, a girl is called ‘zamva’, which translates as ‘meat-child’ as she represents value to her family as she can be bartered to her husband for food and money. The more educated the girl, the more value she would have, but on the flip-side, if the girl is sickly with HIV, as happens, she will suddenly offer little value to the family and be a big disappointment.

In this very hierarchical culture where men are higher up the social ladder and women are often treated very poorly and have far less opportunities, it is very easy to understand why Western countries want to change such customs and cultures. Western countries feel they have the moral authority to influence and change developing nations and do so by giving or withholding aid, but the Christian beliefs that once guided the values of the Western nations are now being completely eroded. In the West, who can say what is right and wrong anymore as there is no one and nothing to guide decisions? As a Christian, I believe that the Bible says a lot about women and their value in God’s eyes. It tells us that male and females are equal in the eyes of God and for there to be love and respect between husbands and wives. It can help guide a community like the Lughbara people to consider whether the practice of ‘buying’ women is a good one or whether some changes are needed. In my own opinion, although there is a lot of good about 2 families coming together to discuss and support a couple joining together, there are also huge pitfalls in thinking about a woman as an object to be negotiated over, and ultimately ‘bought’.

In the end, though, I can only offer my support and encouragement to my great friends Richard and Eunice as they begin their journey as a couple. Together, they will have to figure out how to negotiate the cultural maze of community expectations and behaviours. I hope they also think for themselves what the Bible says and how God expects them to behave within their cultural contexts. It won’t be easy for them to forge a different path.
Richard and Eunice were around only briefly

Richard and Eunice were around only briefly

Richard and Eunice share a laugh

Richard and Eunice share a laugh

Posted by africraigs 12:02 Archived in Uganda Comments (1)

700 Metres Beneath Mt Kilimanjaro

Discovering hidden treasure in the darkest places

sunny 31 °C

Most tourists coming to Arusha in Tanzania are getting prepared to climb to the roof of Africa, but here I was 700 metres below the ground, at the roots of Mt Kilimanjaro. I was visiting a Tanzanite mine, a gemstone mined only in this part of Tanzania.

I had come to Arusha for for a few days for an ECHO conference, a Christian agricultural organization which aims to support mainly small-holder farmers to farm more effectively. Coming to Arusha also meant an excuse to meet up with my good friend, Hillary whom I met in Edinburgh when he volunteered with Bethany Christian Trust for a year where I was also working. Hillary’s family owns a Tanzanite mine and he suggested I might want to see it.

In Arusha, Tanzanite mining and tourism are obviously important sources of income. Green tour vans are a common sight as people come from all over the world to climb Mt Kilimanjaro or visit the Serengeti, home of the world’s greatest animal migration. The landscape and natural phenomenon of this of area of Tanzania is an inspiration for movies such as the ‘Lion King’ and to me the wide, yellow-ochre land dotted with flat-topped acacia trees definitely shouts ‘AFRICA!’. It is augmented by the sight of lean and colourful Masai herding their goats or cattle underneath the trees, their bright clothing a stark contrast to the dusty surroundings.
Mt Meru, 4565m. Arusha is an area with a spectacular landscape including Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru, an old volcano

Mt Meru, 4565m. Arusha is an area with a spectacular landscape including Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru, an old volcano


Tanzanite is often a bluey colour, but it can also be greyish, tan-brown, purplish or dark blue like the sea. It is a beautiful stone and being 1000x rarer than diamonds explains the rising value of the gem. It seems like a very lucrative business to be involved in. Through the trade, Hillary’s family are building hotels, homes and other businesses. One of the uncles is interested in starting a KFC franchise in Arusha. Another uncle asked me at one point if I knew of anyone selling a 2nd hand helicopter! Hillary regularly travels on business to places like Hong Kong or South Africa where there is a growing interest in this unique stone.
One of Hillary's uncle's plush hotels

One of Hillary's uncle's plush hotels


The Tanzanite mines are a 4-wheel car drive away from the Kilimanjaro airport along a very dusty road down which we bump causing big clouds in our wake. Hillary’s family owns a piece of land of about 100 acres, a valley covered with gnarly-looking trees. Grey boulders and dust waste from the mining process appear to be slowly filling up the valley as it is deposited just outside the main site, an area of functional buildings fenced in by corrugated iron sheeting. When Tanzanite has been struck within a vein and the mine is 'in production', crowds of Masai gather to search for small Tanzanite stones that might still be found in the dumped stones. It was the Masai that were supposed to have first discovered Tanzanite and began digging to find them. Hillary points to 2 small concrete buildings that are used to house explosives for the mining operations.
Hillary points to his family's land

Hillary points to his family's land

Bryson and me on the waste rock from the Tanzanite mining

Bryson and me on the waste rock from the Tanzanite mining

A small piece of Tanzanite recently found down the mine

A small piece of Tanzanite recently found down the mine


For safety reasons, there is a 2-hour wait between explosives being set down the mine and going down the shaft. While waiting, Hillary introduces me to workers who still have their dirty overalls on from their last trip underground. Workers are housed on site in purpose-built cabins. On-site there is also a dining hall in progress, shower facilities and a small shop. It is basic set-up, but the work is tiring and so many hours are spent resting or sleeping on the bunk-beds.
Looking towards the mine

Looking towards the mine

Hillary's uncle outside the cabins

Hillary's uncle outside the cabins


Hillary has provided me with a hard hat, some safety boots and old clothes to change into. The hard hat is fitted with a bright torch. We wait at the top of the entrance to the mine for the trolley coming up the tracks, drawn up by a motorized pulley. Because of the long way down under the earth, the trolley takes 15 minutes to come all the way up and emerge at the top.
The trolley to take workers down the mine shaft

The trolley to take workers down the mine shaft

Miners ready to go down the mine

Miners ready to go down the mine

Hillary wears a Tanzania flag neckerchief while his friend wears a British flag

Hillary wears a Tanzania flag neckerchief while his friend wears a British flag


There are a dozen of us squashed into the trolley. Hillary makes sure that I am in one of the best spots to make sure I am as comfortable as I can be. The tunnel’s gradient seems steep, but Hillary tells me that not long ago, tunnels were almost vertical and make-shift ladders were used to get in and out of the mines. Now, things are a bit more sophisticated, an electrician has wired lighting all the way along the tunnel and there are pumps and pipes taking ground water to the surface. I am surprised at how warm the air is so far under the surface, but Hillary explains that the air is pressurized as it is being pumped down from the top.

We reach where the workers are crowded, as though at a bus stop. 2 of the men are busy with pick-axes scrabbling at the rock-face as the geologist keeps a keen eye for any signs of productive veins. He uses a spray of water to wash away dust to get a good view of the rock. While we are down there, a poor quality piece of Tanzanite rock is found, a good sign for something better.

Other men have formed a chain, and pass broken masses of rock from one man to another. One guy looks young but is muscular and is singing a cheerful church song. Hillary tells me that he will sometimes stay underground for 8 hours or more when the work is going as it is easy to lose all sense of time.
Miners 700m below the surface

Miners 700m below the surface

Miners busy down the mine

Miners busy down the mine

Miners look on

Miners look on

Searching for a Tanzanite vein at the rock-face

Searching for a Tanzanite vein at the rock-face

I'm getting warm down here

I'm getting warm down here

Hillary

Hillary

Down the mine

Down the mine

Miners haul rock out of the mine

Miners haul rock out of the mine

Fool's Gold found down the Tanzanite mine

Fool's Gold found down the Tanzanite mine


The work is going on when Hillary and I re-emerge from the tunnel on the trolley where the air suddenly feels cold despite it being 25 degrees Celsius. Hillary’s friend, Bryson, has been sent to sell a stone in Arusha so we don’t have a lift back to town. Thankfully, Hillary’s uncle gives us a lift in his new Land Rover Discovery. The car is in mint condition and is well suited for the rough roads back to town, it seems to fly like a jet with plumes of dust instead of smoke.
Cutting the Tanzanite stones

Cutting the Tanzanite stones

Tanzanite stone-cutters

Tanzanite stone-cutters

Tanzanite stones being cut

Tanzanite stones being cut

Roughly-cut Tanzanite stones

Roughly-cut Tanzanite stones


One of the messages that we teach young people on the YWAM base back in Arua is how rich Africa is. So often, the perspective and belief of outsiders and Africans themselves is how poor people are. While there are many types of ‘poverty’, it is true that many Africans don’t find themselves materially well off. However, Africa is full of incredible treasures such as gold, diamonds, oil and Columbite-tantalite, a precious metal found in mobile phones and computers. There is a huge solar, hydroelectric and farming potential. People, too are full of potential that is rarely reached due to problems such as access to quality education. Visiting Hillary and seeing the Tanzanite mines has opened my eyes to another side of Africa. The ECHO conference is part of the process of bringing value from farming and the rich variety of plants found in Africa. It is my dream that Africans can one day reach their full potential and start to lead the world in all sorts of areas using their unique God-given gifts whether these are found 700 feet below the ground in a mine, or latent within every African’s hands, minds and hearts.
Beautiful cut Tanzanite stones being sold by Hillary's uncle

Beautiful cut Tanzanite stones being sold by Hillary's uncle

Posted by africraigs 06:46 Archived in Uganda Comments (2)

Fish Naked, It Tickles

(David hits the January sales in Arua...)

sunny 32 °C

My cheap-o walking shoes from Decathalon that I have been wearing almost everyday while in Arua, are coming to the end of their lifespan. (I’m sort of glad as I haven’t ever really liked them.)

Clothes- shopping in town is an intense experience and so I enlist the help of my friend and former ORA colleague, Richard Disco (yes, that is his real name).

Clothing in Uganda is an interesting subject to me. A historical book about the Lugbara from the middle of last century (The Lugbara of Uganda by John Middleton) shows photographs of the Lugbara dressed only in loincloths to maintain decency. Nowadays, people dress very conservatively, for example, skirts should cover the knees. In fact, last year, President Museveni passed a bill to prohibit women wearing mini-skirts which has prompted some attacks on women who were deemed to be inappropriately dressed. The bill seems strange to me in a culture where breastfeeding in public is the norm and where traditionally, limited clothing was worn. In fact, clothing could be viewed as another Western import as African men started wearing suits through European influence. Wearing a suit is still considered socially important, despite the warm weather.
The Lugbara of Uganda by John Middleton

The Lugbara of Uganda by John Middleton


I meet Richard outside one of the two Chinese stores in town and we walk down the main Arua drag, busy with motorcyclist taxis, bicycles and a few all-terrain vehicles. As usual for the dry season, it is hot and dusty, not the most natural environment for a Scotsman. As we walk, we pass ‘hawkers’, people selling their wares of passion fruits or paw-paws from the plastic tubs carried on their heads. Other hawkers are laden down carrying a wide assortment of bags, pirated dvds, hats (balanced on their heads) and wallets.

My interest is in the clothes and shoes section of Arua town and Richard leads me through one of the most crowded and craziest parts of town, the taxi park, an area I would always avoid. Here, as I expected, I get attention that I don’t appreciate: young guys shouting at me in Lugbara or English “mundu come here!” or “give me something!” There are various decrepit-looking people holding out their hands for something and a teenager rubs his tummy gesturing that he is hungry. A deaf and dumb boy has a letter allegedly from the police allowing him to ask passers-by for funds. Thankfully, Richard knows a lot of people and we keep bumping into friends that he greets warmly with ‘Edri ngoni?’ ‘How’s life?’

I find it really strange that most people in Uganda seem very happy to wear second-hand clothes, wearing t-shirts emblazoned with logos which have no connection to their life or culture such as shirts with American flags on them with the words "I support our troops at home". In speaking to my friends, though, they tell me how pleased they are to buy 2nd hand, partly since it means they can afford clothes, but also because the quality is often better than the new clothing (cheaply made from the Far East) which looks tacky and feels like card. I have often wondered how these mainly American imports of GAP, Wall-mart or Timberland clothing gets into the market here in Africa and my clothing ‘field trip’ with Disco is helping me to discover the answer. Richard takes me to his friend, Robert, who is a dealer in bales of clothing coming from Raghvani textiles in India by container via Mombasa on the Kenyan coast. This Indian company sorts and grades clothes coming from North America. Raghvani textile’s name, e-mail and even web address is on each 45kg bale of clothing. Robert explains to me that the bales cost different prices depending on the grade of the clothes: there are high grade men’s shirts going at £150 per bale or lower grade bales at £50. I notice near the back there is a bale of ‘ski jackets’ and Robert explains that people like them in the rainy season where temperatures can stay in the low 20’s (Celsius)…brrrrr! There are even bales of gloves, 2nd hand underwear and bras! A bale is bought without the buyer really knowing what is in it, and so it is a bit of a ‘pot-luck’ as to what is available. Robert tells me that sometimes people return to him upset at what they have bought and he occasionally needs to give them another bale instead.
Robert poses by a 45kg bale of clothing from Raghvani texties in India

Robert poses by a 45kg bale of clothing from Raghvani texties in India


The clothes dukas where Robert’s customers sell the contents of their bales, are down small, canvass-covered alleys in which you have to watch your step on the uneven dirt. Sometimes, there are unknown squashy surprises under-foot. Inside the clothing market, it always seems like dusk as there is not much light and all the pathways make it seem like a giant African rabbit warren. All around there is activity as people are manning their small stalls while potential customers brush past in the narrow walkways. TVs and radios blare out music while shop owners try to call your attention to their stalls.

Richard drops in on a friend called Geoffrey who had spotted us passing and who owns one of the few walled shops in the marketplace. He sells new clothing, however, it is the poor quality, gaudy variety and none of it attracts me at all.
Geoffrey surrounded by gaudy clothing in plastic bags

Geoffrey surrounded by gaudy clothing in plastic bags


We walk on and find a small, smiling man in his stall where the shirts hang from poles on home-made wire coat hangers. I search for 2 short-sleeve shirts that cost me £2.50, I am pleased as one is a ‘Columbia’ walking shirt so should be good quality and cool for working on the land in the hot sun at ORA. There is a Calvin Klein shirt at the back, but it is stained.
Richard Disco stands in the clothes market in front of a strange chilli-promoting T-shirt. Richard wears his own soap-promoting T-shirt with a message written in Chinglish

Richard Disco stands in the clothes market in front of a strange chilli-promoting T-shirt. Richard wears his own soap-promoting T-shirt with a message written in Chinglish


In the shoe store, the shoes are all displayed on the four walls, hanging on wooden slats by nails punched into the sole of the shoe. It isn’t easy to choose something that I like and will fit properly and many of the shoes seem even older and tattier than mine. Helpful assistants are a bit too insistent on which shoes I should buy, mostly ones that I think are very ugly. In the end, Richard brings me a pair of shoes, they are a bit big, but better than most. I agree a price of around £10 with the Muslim owner and have my very first pair of Skechers.

Clothing etiquette is interesting in Uganda: Ugandans dress up to go the hospital or to go on a long bus journey. It also fascinates me that wearing woollen beanies is fashionable in 30 degrees heat. In the local gym, there is a treadmill which works when the power is on. People run on it in their flip flops or sparkly pumps. At the same place is the only swimming pool in Arua. People jump into the water in a wide variety of clothing, most of it not swimwear. Boxer shorts, leggings and t-shirts are all common swimsuits.
Children graduate in full regalia from nursery school

Children graduate in full regalia from nursery school


Another highly amusing pastime while moving around the streets is to read people’s t-shirts.
There are young guys wearing the ubiquitous football shirt: Mostly Arsenal, Manchester Utd or other big English Premier League teams. Sometimes I get excited when I spot a Rangers or Celtic jersey (I am not partisan…!)

Then there are the many ‘talking t-shirts’ giving developmental messages designed by NGOs promoting something:
“Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger”
“Educate the girl-child”
“Get circumcised to minimise HIV infection”
“I have been circumcised.”

The funniest t-shirts are the random ones which make no sense in this context:
“Fish naked. It tickles.”
“Mental Health Dept. Patient”
“Grandpa is my name, spoiling is my game.”

“Dear Santa, I was framed.” (worn anytime of the year)
"Dear Santa, Take my Sister" (worn anytime of the year)
“You can’t beat our glazed doughnuts.”
“Pittsburgh water polo,”
“Tesco “Here to help”
“Burrito Eating Competition”
“Land O’ Frost. Great tasting Lunchmeat”
“Off to see the wizard”
“Pizza my heart”
“Making the great state of Ohio proud. Gold pants perfect season 12.”

“Soccermom” (worn by our male friend Patrick).
"The annual holiday hotdog huddle. July 16 2005"

A t-shirt that doesn't make sense that I've seen on the streets of Arua

A t-shirt that doesn't make sense that I've seen on the streets of Arua


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Homework kills trees. Play more video games[/i]" A culturally inappropriate T-shirt]

Philosophically - speaking, I feel sad that Africa is the dumping ground for the West’s second-hand clothing. It doesn’t seem right and to me and continues the top-down relationship that the West has with Africa in many respects. Despite what my Uganda friends tell me, I am sure that wearing someone’s hand-me-down clothes from another culture far away can’t be healthy for a nation’s self worth and self image. I get encouraged when I see Africans wearing the more traditional and brightly coloured ‘kitenge’. I will also be greatly encouraged when most of the clothing worn on the streets is African-designed, African-made and affordable. This, I think, would be another important step for Africa towards what Martin Luther King called "Psychological Freedom, a firm sense of self-esteem".
Tailor with lovely homemade kitenge outfit

Tailor with lovely homemade kitenge outfit

Posted by africraigs 03:21 Archived in Uganda Comments (1)

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