‘You are going to Africa?
Cool! Bring me exotic beads from the Masaai or may be a lion’s tooth!’
Up until now the Africa known to me has been that of beautiful landscapes, national parks, mountains and luxurious sandy beach resorts. I had no idea of the Africa that I was about to experience.Last night, I arrived in a tiny village in the outskirts of Uganda as a health education volunteer.
28 skull bones, the horseshoe-shaped hyoid bone of the neck ,26 vertebrae , 24 ribs plus the sternum or breastbone; the shoulder girdle, the pelvic bones, 30 bones in each of the arms and legs (a total of 120) and few partial bones, ranging from 8-18 in number, which are related to joints;the adult human skeleton has 206 bones.I could feel each one of them with accurate precision as I lay on a wafer thin mattress between the 36″X75″ (approx) hard wooden bed frame and my body.Above my head was the tapping noise of little feet racing from one end of the tiny square room to the other.There seemed to be a party in the pitch darkness of 9:00pm (East African Time) on the ceiling and I was nothing more than an unwilling gate crusher with no formal invitation. I tossed and turned as conservatively as I could manage on my pillow trying to a custom myself to the presented situation. Finding it hard to fall asleep the noises above me got increasingly louder as my sense of hearing became sharper like Matt Murdock (‘Dare devil’). It was not many nights ago that I was taking big gulps of the heavy cold air of ‘Uhuru (freedom in Swahili),sleeping on my luxurious tent at the peak of Mt Kilimanjaro.I missed the adventurous week, my climb team, the tour guides and the lovely lunch celebrating my conquering the climb. Staring under the mosquito net with these kinds of thoughts I soon fell asleep.
This morning a woman neighbour was brushing her teeth at 4:30am which got me up earlier than usual. Following my late night I was feeling a little bit cranky. My host came out to escort me to the well where I had to carry a bucket of water and bring it back to my residence. It was only about 25 litres and a distance of around 1km but my hands were worn out. I could hear the village kids shouting ‘Mtoto Mayai (used as a taunt to refer to some one that seems to be a little weak in doing hard tasks)’. The women here have got to be very strong, they each had a bucket on each hand and one more balancing on the head. I entered a 1X1m outside room a few metres away from the house (three sides of red brick wall extensions and an aluminium door on the fourth) that served as my bathroom. I closed the door shut with the help of a nail latch that seemed to work just fine ready to get cleaned up. There was no shower and it was my first time using an empty ‘blue band (a type of local margarine)’ container to serve as a vessel for pouring water over my body to wash away my imported shower gel. The water I had before me was hardly enough and I wondered if I was getting sufficiently clean. There was a tiny hole on one corner of the floor that served as a water drainage. There were no windows nor a closed roof. I appreciated how fortunate I was back in my flat in Hampstead where I could soak in a bath-tub full of hot water and bubble bath.
After getting dressed and soaking myself with Nivea deodorant I sat on the earth floor for a cup of maize meal porridge that had been prepared for my breakfast. My host’s wife looked at me with curious eyes as I lifted the cup and sipped the steaming hot white stiff liquid.’Delicious! This is really good.” I lied! It tasted very blunt with very little sugar and had a distinct taste but was not particularly amazing. I tried my best to finish it up afraid of disappointing my hosts whose children were drinking it heartily.
When break fast was done I met an enthusiastic young man dressed in a ragged jeans, a black T-shirts with a picture of 2PAC on the front and ‘kanda mbili’ (flip flops). He had brought with him my ride.I rode on the back of a ‘boda-boda’ (motorcycle in the parlance) with the driver up front and Peace Corps volunteer between to an even tinier village where I was going to teach the Village Health Leaders at a secondary school, for 3 hrs and then spend the night.
We rode down miles of rocky and dusty paths. I could hardly keep my eyes open. The motorcycle bumped up and down at every available opportunity as I held on for dear life.
‘This is Africa! Shouted the Peace Corp.’
Hot! I could feel the heat under my helmet and the sweat trickling down my body. There was nothing I could give for a bottle of cold tonic water. On my way I was amazed at the women working in the fields, men carrying loads on their bikes and kids helping out in different tasks.
No rats tonight in my new digs, but plenty of noise. I have only been here for a day and a second night.The people are
wonderful. I am not worried about mixing it up with the locals, that goes on
nearly continuously.I am heading to my bed net, for another noisy night. I will try earplugs.I am going to try to go rafting on the Nile in the next 2.5 days. We shall see.
PS: This entry was inspired by a narration told by an acquaintance who has just been to Uganda for a volunteer trip.
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