Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Uganda: First impressions

Its difficult to miss India in Uganda. Rows of familiar tress – mango, jackfruit, banana and a very similar climate ensures that you feel at home. I realized this after almost a week in Kampala . There are infact many things about Kampala which one realizes only after some days. The simmering tensions beneath the peaceful city – the complex equations between people and the politics to list a few . But I was lucky that I could afford to remain unaware with these difficult truths of east Africa. Being a foreigner has its own advantages. You can appear ignorant on many things – but then, Indians are not considered foreigners in Uganda. Even common people know them. The Indian Community has a presence in the city . Indians and Chinese are vying for the market of this distant nation for past many decades. In a reception at India House( Indian High Commissioner’s beautifully located house) I got to meet many such rich and elite Ugandan-Indians – people who have made fortune over here. People who own tea estates here or those who are personal physicians to the presidents. Bankers and businessmen , social workers and socialites ….Indians do have a presence here and thankfully after Idi Amin , they too have changed. If you believe the tales, it appears that my countrymen tried to rule over here in the same inhuman way the British ruled over us. No wonder that the local people do not like most of them. They feel uncomfortable with the shrewdness and cunningness of Indians who came here for business….but still they associate India with Mahatma Gandhi. Its surprising , how even the younger generation knows about him and his life . Somewhere it humbles you- tells you that in the end only pure things survive and are appreciated .
Every day while going for work , I list things typical of Uganda. I found you can’t miss three features of Kampala- Bikers- ready to sail you through the terrible traffic jams, the mobile company ads- which are literally painting the town pink, yellow, blue and orange and of course, the bananas. Then you can't miss the huge marabou storks. Now, anyone who has travelled in Uganda, particularly in Kampala, knows about the marabous. They are simply EVERYWHERE. They are scavengers of note. They are huge. They are semi-ugly, semi-pathetic- looking in the same way as very old men do - virutally bald reddish heads. In Kampala they sit on virtually all the trees; on the corners of buildings, on lampposts, in empty lots. They have a menacing feel about them, with their necks hunched into their wings like the boney shoulders of a creepy old man , almost ready to pounce. Other than these , whatever the Lonely planet guide tells you about the country and the city is right . Yes, people are extremely polite and friendly and the city is largely clean and welcoming . But you cannot miss acute poverty while you are here- as much as you can’t help noticing the simplicity of the people . It touches you very deep somewhere. The country runs on the funds of “development Partners” – Its their money that shows even in the remote parts . A young Japanese girl- here to manage one such fund , accompanied me to Queen Elizabeth National Park. We wondered her courage to come and work here – living alone, far off from home and in such different environment. But there are many like her- everybody here knows the Donors. They call shots and dictate terms . It’s ironic that same people who once tortured them as colonizers and rulers, today come back to them as consultants and businessmen – the equations of exploitation remain unchanged despite modern nomenclature.
As for local people they have a sad acceptance of fate- of bad systems – of unequal fight with disease and poverty. It almost breaks my heart when a well travelled , well off young man at AG office here informs me about the death of his 32 year old sister. It’s almost without emotion. She died after an unsuccessful cesarean- he tells me flatly. It was suppose to be her third child . People die of malaria, of AIDS and of childbirth all the time. Death and disease have been associated for so long that they have become part of life . And yet these people found things to celebrate, to dance and sing about. In the historical Makerere University Campus , where I am staying, it is difficult not to find groups of young collegegoers singing, dancing playing football and tennis. A gold medal at Commonwealth games is as much a cause of celebration as is winning a inter university match . Students in this campus look very simple, keen and pure .I know there are difficulties in their young lives- of drugs, of sexual abuse or HIV but it does not become apparent in the first meeting. Most of them come across as just shy youngsters happy and happening – curious about world and things around them .

1 comment:

MARCH said...

One can see that we have several such Ugandas in remote villages where people do not need deadly diseases like Cancer, Dengue or Heart Attack to die. They are छोटे लोग who die of छोटी बिमारियाँ. There are micro financers over there who exploit them like the साहुकार of colonianised India did. They are being ground between the ignorance of Govt and exploitation of naxals. They are as भोले भाले as the friends in Uganda. Their भोलापन being used one way or the other by the crooked politicians or the cruel naxals.

Nice travelogue. I liked particularly the expression: “They have a menacing feel about them, with their necks hunched into their wings like the boney shoulders of a creepy old man, almost ready to pounce”. It was quite figurative.