A Travellerspoint blog

October 2014

Cross the river in a crowd & the crocodile won't eat you...

(African Proverb)

sunny 29 °C

‘It was the best of times and the worst of times...’

… okay, slight exaggeration, but to help distract from a recent bout of homesickness I had planned a little afternoon tea-party for my birthday. We’d been busy making our lemon curd, cupcakes, lemonade, rather anemic looking bread, labels, and so on, (not because we were going for an organic, homespun effect, but because it’s the only way to have these things here…)


It was all going well and I was thrilled at the rare opportunity to use my cake-stand and spotty teapot, but poor Asher was pretty miserable, and hot, and moany, which put a damp-ner on things. He had a nasty bite on his leg and the angry swelling was creeping up and down his leg in a sinister manner.

Sometimes I think one of the best-kept secrets of cross-cultural/mission work is the closeness and support from other ex-pats. It’s a unique situation where you have at least 10 nationalities at a small tea-party all with different characters, ages, and cultures and all with a story and reason to be in Arua: the efficient German, the generous American, the Polish artist, the diplomatic Canadian, the straightforward Dutch, the agricultural South Sudansese, the motherly Irish nurse, the business-minded Kikuyu Kenyan, the polite Brit (obviously not David..!) stereotyping?.. moi?


Within minutes, some friends drove to town to pick up antibiotics for Asher, other friends had washed up from the tea-party, another friend was trying to cheer up Asher by walking with him around the garden, another friend prayed for healing, another friend offered to fly us to Kampala then and there (an AIMAir pilot, not just a magician).

The next few days sort of blurred together in a worried haze of antibiotics, calpol, (thanks for the parcel Tracey) broken nights and an email to Interhealth, who said it sounded like an abscess which would need to be properly drained at a trustworthy, sterile medical centre. (That ruled out Arua then…)
Even the word ‘abscess’ seems to ooze grossness.

Our new friends in town are a missionary pilot family who phoned us to say a flight would be passing Arua in an hour and there was a seat for Asher and me.
And 1 hour and $160 later we were sitting in a taxi on the way to the best clinic in Uganda. Even in the taxi I was wondering whether I was over-reacting and whether it was a waste of time and money, but after the Dr confirmed it was a nasty deep abscess that needed to be drained immediately I knew I was in the right place.

As they prepared for the procedure: dosing up little Asher on Ketamine (which I vaguely remembered is what they put horses to sleep with) and getting all the sterile equipment ready, my eyes glanced on an electric saw in the room. ‘Does an abscess go away on its own?’ I asked quietly. ‘Oh no, it just gets deeper, even going into the bone, and then it’s very dangerous…’ the Dr said quite cheerfully.
The electric saw was placed next to a gleaming white suit labeled ‘ebola’, and some point between then, and the grossness of bursting the abscess I thought I might faint.

Anyway, before I feel lightheaded again, back to sweeter things and my tea-party, it wasn’t how I would have planned it, but seeing Asher deteriorate and the reality of some of the risks here, it made me take stock a bit this week (maybe my old age ;-) ) and realize how in this crazy, unpredictable, sometimes dangerous and sometimes heartwarming place, it is so necessity to have a wonderfully mixed group of friends on the ground who can express something of the ‘Body of `Jesus’ here on earth.

little ones teaparty

little ones teaparty


good recovery, welcome back little guy :-) thanks for all the prayers and concern

good recovery, welcome back little guy :-) thanks for all the prayers and concern


If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. ~ African proverb

Posted by africraigs 09:49 Archived in Uganda Tagged children parties sickness expat support_network Comments (6)

Uganda: 52 years free of colonial rule

...but there are still more chains that bind her

rain 25 °C

A little girl poses beneath the Ugandan flag at school

A little girl poses beneath the Ugandan flag at school

Awadifo Uhurusi! Uganda has just turned 52 years old which makes her 10 years younger than either of my parents! Independence Day was on October the 9th which was a public holiday and a day for me to unsuccessfully attempt to build a chicken coop. It was also a day in which many schools and music groups were parading in pomp and colour with accompanied dance and music.

In the papers, there are pages of expensive advertisements from sugar companies, electrical companies or banks giving ‘hearty congratulations” to President Museveni and the country of Uganda on this “auspicious day”.

Unfortunately, as well as the celebration, other people have an expectation of being given something, for example, one young security guard listening to the radio and with a gun laid on his lap demanded "give me independence" while holding out his hand...

Independence Day has brought home to me how recent Uganda's nationhood is, as is the case for many other nations in Africa. As I thought about how Uganda came to be, I considered how the Ugandan nation was a Western construct, with arbitrary borders drawn to suit the European powers partitioning of Africa at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85. Since that time, Uganda’s borders have been drawn and re-drawn depending on the political needs of the time and geographical features. Uganda’s borders at one time extended all the way to Ethiopia!

The West Nile region, where we stay, was actually a part of the Belgian Congo previously. It temporarily became part of the Sudan when King Leopold of Belgium died and only in 1914 did it become part of Uganda. Here, as in other parts of Africa, families suddenly found themselves on opposite sides of a country’s border as is the case with the Lugbara people group that we live amongst here. There are many Congolese Lugbara on the other side of the political dividing line, less than 10km from here.

Uganda is an amalgamation of 52 people groups with very different languages and customs, in no way is it a homogeneous culture in any sense. In fact, the construct of nationhood was forced upon Africa by the world powers at the time in Europe. The flip-side to this was that the Europeans may only have accelerated the creation of a nation with less blood spilled than might otherwise have happened since Egypt, the Arabs or the Bugandas were all regional powerhouses with their own expansionist desires at that time.

At the time of independence from the British empire, Uganda had a bigger economy than South Korea. Between 1960 and 1965, Uganda had booming exports of coffee, tea and cotton giving its economy the highest per capita growth in East Africa. Though initially doing well, Uganda's economy has failed to grow anywhere near the same rate as a country like South Korea. In fact, as a 'developing' country, Uganda has unfortunately high levels of human suffering in terms of maternal mortality rates, infant mortality, death rates and poverty levels. Other indices indicate that Uganda's people are struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis. For example, I recently heard that the USA provides 40% of Uganda's health budget. Europe is funding 50% of the Global Fund to fight malaria, AIDS and TB. Donor’s funded around one-quarter of Uganda’s 2012/13 budget. ORA International that I volunteer with recognises the problems of school fees and supports families to send their children to school. In this region, it is estimated that only 10% of children will be able to afford to go to secondary school where school fees are considerably higher.
Independence Day Cartoon

Independence Day Cartoon

There are huge problems facing Uganda today to the point that some state that there isn’t anything to celebrate at Independence when ‘poverty is rampant and people are crying’, while others say that there is no real independence in Uganda due to lack of freedom of speech, poor governance and corruption.

While discussing all the problems that Uganda is facing, a colleague who started his own NGO here in Arua told me that he thinks that the British should re-colonise Uganda again as Uganda was more organised then. If continued colonisation had meant higher standards of living, better administration and education, was independence 52 years ago worth it?

Freedom fighters in Africa such as Kenyatta (of Kenya) and Nkrumah (of Ghana) had a desire to “liberate [their countries] from colonialism and break all the chains of European imperialism” and most definitely thought that independence was worth it. Their dreams for self-governance were noble and good and were soon to become a reality.

Sometimes, however, that noble cause seems to have crumbled to dust when people are kept bound by chains of poverty and injustice. Martin Luther King talks about the need for ‘psychological freedom’, for minds as well as bodies to be set free, for people to realise their self-potential. Nelson Mandela was able to remain ‘free’ within himself despite being imprisoned on Robben Island. The real Mandela couldn’t be chained.

Beneath the surface, independence and freedom are hard concepts to really grasp. In the democratic West, while we consider ourselves 'free' it seems that the media, propaganda and advertising have an invisible but powerful hold on all of us.

Jesus was a freedom fighter and I like what he stood for. One time he said that he came to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed…” Despite the Israelites being a part of the Roman Empire at the time and so lacking their own independence, Jesus came to teach about a greater freedom that we can all experience.

Independence Day here in Uganda is a time for celebration of freedom from colonial rule, however, there are still so many ways in which Ugandans are all held captive and need freedom. I hope and sometimes dream that more Ugandans and others around the world in various states of captivity and imprisonment, whether from poverty, lack of self-belief, or injustice, can recognise and embrace more freedom and truly live a life to the full.

A small child is carried by her dad at an independence parade

A small child is carried by her dad at an independence parade

Uganda's National Anthem

1. Oh Uganda! may God uphold thee,
We lay our future in thy hand.
United, free,
For liberty
Together we'll always stand.

2. Oh Uganda! the land of freedom.
Our love and labour we give,
And with neighbours all
At our country's call
In peace and friendship we'll live.

3. Oh Uganda! the land that feeds us
By sun and fertile soil grown.
For our own dear land,
We'll always stand:
The Pearl of Africa's Crown.

Posted by africraigs 11:35 Archived in Uganda Comments (2)

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