Uganda Visit 2013 – Part 3
Part 3 Mayuge:
Mayuge District is located in South East Uganda. It’s composed of one county, six sub-counties and one town council. According to the Ugandan Ministry for Water the Environment (MWE) the district has a total population of approximately 429,300 of which only 43% have access to safe water; however, upon closer inspection of the figures one quickly begins to understand that the poor functionality of existing water sources knock that figure back even further; functionality is a huge issue across Uganda and when taken into consideration it makes a mockery of the premature MDG success reports. Looking at Mayuge alone, when one takes functionality into account the true percentage of those lucky enough to have access to a clean, functioning water source is a paltry 35.7%. Such a poor figure, and one so far removed from the reports, is something the trust is currently working hard to rectify with a ground breaking rehabilitation programme. A programme I will expand upon in the coming weeks.
The road to Mayuge makes you realise how difficult traversing this beautiful country can be. Without the benefit of asphalt even the most lovingly carved roads tend to spit up their fair share of issues. Long, Roman and bustling with life the road to Mayuge, just once removed from the marble smooth road that connects Jinja to Iganga, seemed to me the archetype of an East African thoroughfare. The air was permanently tinted with amber coloured dust clouds that danced and rattled on the breeze, courting every passer-by as they desperately searched for a place to land. The closer we edged to our destination the thicker the air and the heavier the dust became, small holdings and road side businesses were replaced by vast sugar plantations replete with an endless stream of trucks all fully laden with freshly scythed rolls of snake coloured cane, each one stirring up further the dust of the last. Through the fog the cane fields loomed large.
There is something intrinsically menacing about a field of sugar cane, its tight knit growing pattern and tall, rapier sharp stalks appear to assert an authority over the landscape. Providing a Kafkaesque barrier to a clandestine world, they always appear to be hiding something. In this case the sugar plantations, in their dense, lush, and uniquely vertiginous way, obscure the food security issues of ordinary Busogans as residents and small holders forsake the growing of essential food crops for a gamble on the promise of cash.
As the density of the sugary dust cloud increased so the visibility decreased. Emma lightened his touch on the accelerator and furrowed his brow in concentration as the field of view disappeared to nothing. Aware of the giant beasts trundling somewhere ahead and their hungry cousins approaching from behind, the deep ditch flanking the roadside, and the occasional untethered animal running the risk of a blind road dash, the pace reduced to a crawl. Much to my amazement motorbikes continued to screech past the Emma’s window, often with more than one person aboard, and commonly without as much as a visor to protect the driver’s eyes from the irritant of heavy hanging dust clouds. As if delivered to heighten my amazement, from the other side of the road there emerged from the fog a fully loaded motorbike with three or four people straddled across it’s aching frame, being driven by a man who, uninhibited by the danger ahead, veiled his eyes with the palm of his hand, gapless and solid he blindly drove through the cloud with not a fear of what might lie ahead . I am yet to work out if this was admirable, foolish or both in equal measure. Not a mile past the self-blinded driver we darted across the road, away from the dust and on to a tributary that would lead us to our village, just in time for the afternoon’s ceremony to begin.
Pulling up a sharp incline the front of the hire car scraped across the ground before pulling itself up and into the village. Andrew and Alan, apparently still capping off a newly finished well, were not to be seen. Leaving the car behind Emma and I ambled toward a large crowd gathered beneath a smartly constructed, temporary awning. The awning housed a large number of prizes that had been laid out following a recent Home Improvement Campaign (HIC). The prizes were to be distributed amongst those households whose hygiene improvements had been both marked and maintained. Mounds of dark blue, deep ridged soap bars, washing bowls, cloths, khaki green, 20l jerry cans and other essential items sat patiently waiting for their new owners. The village, knowing the ceremony was about to begin, was buzzing with excitement. Elders and other adults gathered around the fringes of the tent, huge flocks of young children flashed past the borders in a manner most ethereal; the sheer volume of children there that afternoon was, perhaps, another clear indicator of the importance of fertility in Ugandan culture.
With my limited time and virginal knowledge I surveyed the immediate landscape. To the left an area of lush green grass, laced with the spectral traces of flying children; I don’t doubt that one or two were attempting to recreate the moment Sipi marathon runner, and newest national hero, Stephen Kiprotich, ended Uganda’s 40 year wait for a gold medal at the previous year’s Olympics. Flanking the field were two medium sized buildings, both of solid construct, one the village hall, the other an oversubscribed school. Just behind the school sat the ridge where our hire car had become intimate with the earth. At that very moment, popping its white nose over the brow, the Trust’s ‘92 Land Rover Defender, still looking clean and shiny after all those years of service, rose up and challenged the dusty knoll. Clearing the hurdle with consummate ease, a feat our Toyota saloon was unable to achieve, it gracefully slid across the clay filled ground before coming to a stop by the newly constructed ceremonial hall.
Andrew, Alan and to my surprise, another mzungu, emerged from the truck. The third and final occupant of the vehicle was a one Mr John Morton. Having recently ascended to the Tavistock Rotary Club throne, Mr Morton proved himself an astute, capable and thoroughly engaging man. His trip to Uganda was something of a reconnaissance mission. Gleaming information from wherever possible in order that he be able not only to continue but expand upon the excellent work undertaken by his most charitable family. The only thing he proved himself incapable of was holding a stable note during a charmingly updated version of an old classic. “It’s a long way to Kigandalo” will not be hitting the top 40 anytime soon.