Hello everyone. This is my first blog from Uganda. I’m here to set up a community sustainability project in the north of Uganda near the Sudan border. It’s a hot spot sometimes with cows, guns and dust. These people have been aid dependent for 40 years.
Getting to Uganda from Australia was a mission. It took me 40 hours of travel. I arrived at Kampala airport late at night and finally got to a hotel looking like a zombie. The next day I met my boss and went over my mission. I have been given a heap of lattitude to make this work.
Day two I’m taken to downtown Kampala to the roof top of a tall building for a meeting with some UN dudes. I can see these huge birds, some kind of crane, gliding all over the city like they own it. Kampala looks like a nice city from up there but I can see slums poking out of the cracks.
The Ugandan people are friendly and polite with me and each other. I’m given a vehicle and a driver to get to Karamoja, 8 hours drive north. Bags in the vehicle, wave goodbye to the police guards at the gate and off we go. Once we leave the city the driver puts his foot down. I check my seatbelt. We are speeding along potholed tarmac through villages at 130 kph, just missing people, cows, chickens and parked vehicles. The drivers accent is so strong I think he is speaking in another language. He puts a cd of local music making the drive seem like a weird movie. This country feels familiar even though Ive never been to Africa.
The further out we get the more lush the land looks. I see lots of small scale farming. Casava, banana, beans, goats, pigs… pretty basic subsistence farming. People are all well dressed. Women are loaded with baskets and jerry cans on their heads. We speed on. The country gets drier. The towns are filthy with rubbish, dust and vehicle exaust. Everybody’s still smiling. We stop at dark and I crash in a hotel for tourists. The phone rings at midnight. The reception guy asks me something and I can’t understand his accent. Finally I realize he is asking if I need a wake up call. GRRRR! I just get back to sleep when there’s a knock on the door. I open the door to a tall Man with a big smile, “water suh?” He’s holding up a water bottle. I thank him and close the door, unplug the phone and bury my head in a pillow. It’s 1 am.
Next day we’re speeding again through the scrubby bush. The land is drying out and the road is turning into a 4×4 adventure. Along the sides of the road in the middle of nowhere are women and men in their sunday best, or so it seems. Colourfully dressed carrying all kinds of stuff on their heads. They wave and give us big happy smiles. It dawns on me that I really like these people. The kids are lots of fun and they run along the side of the vehicle yelling “mazoonga!” which means white man in a non racist way.
Finally I take over driving as the driver is nodding off. Tricky driving as the holes in the track are hungry and threaten to swallow the ute. Finally we get to Hq at Abim. I meet the staff and unload my gear at the “hotel” which is a room that comes with 2 jerry cans of water per day. It’s hot here at Abim but I’ve had worse. Small scrubby mountains crowd around the edges of this frontier town. I check out the town’s wells and their hand pumps. There are women lined up at each one. They tell me the water is good and it hasn’t yet dried up in 15 years. These women are paid to get water for the NGOs and buisnesses and carry the jerry cans on their heads. They must have tough necks!
I’m here now in the safe zone. I’m planning my first demo garden which I’ll start on today. Ive got tools seeds and sacks. I’ll pay the local kids to bring in sacks of animal manure. I’m showing the local people, by paying the children, that manure is valuable. I don’t pay too much or the adults will want to do it. That may cause them to lose face if they are seen collecting shit! Kids don’t care and they may be the only breadwinners in the family. They are funny dudes. They sneak up beside me and in a quiet voice say “how are you?” When I answer they giggle and just stand there looking at me with their wide smiles. I’m gonna have some fun with these guys!
Well thats it for now. I gotta get digging,
Hello again from Northern Uganda. A lot has happened since my last blog and it’s hard to believe its been just over a week.
I’m driving the ute at speed through the bush. There are four of us in the cab. It’s getting dark and we’re late. We should have been in camp hours ago. We were delayed by a series of comical events but now it’s not so funny. The guys with me start telling local horror stories. “If the warriors catch you, you will surely perish” one guy says. The other guy adds "This is the area they operate." I press harder on the accelerator! We make it home without incident.
It’s easy to get complacent about security because the people seem so friendly and always give me a wave. The Karamojong have a fearsome reputation. They are cattle people. They love cattle because it is a symbol of wealth, prestige and they can’t get a wife unless they have at least 200 head. A “Kjong” as they’re nicknamed can give a description of a particular cow to another Kjong who can walk 100 kilometers and pick that exact cow out of a herd of a few thousand. They live and breath cattle. Each Kjong male has a cow whacking stick and a small wooden seat which he carries everywhere. The guys and the girls have the same haircut and both wear a kind of striped robe. The women wear a neck full of colored beads and the guys wear a colorful top hat and earrings, sometimes with colored feathers.
The youth are bored. They stand for hours watching their cattle, or somebody else’s cattle. Their life is worth nothing until they have cattle. Where do you get cattle from if you want a wife? You get an AK47 and go on an organized raid and steal them from “the enemy”. There’s nothing to lose except a dull life. They even take on the army, a thousand young warriors itching to get free cattle.
One of my roles here is to come up with a solution to the “warriors”. I go to a Manyatta, a stick fort surrounding a few huts. This is were the women live permanently while the warriors roam the land looking for fodder and water with their prize cattle. They’ve built the manyattas for defense high on the slope of the valley but away from water. The land is drying up from over grazing, charcoal making, fence building and drying winds. The soil is starting to blow away. The women have to carry water a kilometer from the hand pump in the valley. I crawl through the entrance on my hands and knees. No fat people allowed! They wouldn’t fit.
There’s a narrow hallway of sticks and another crawl hole. Very clever for defence. Any intruder would be very vulnerable to attack. I make it through the maze to the cooking hut. I swallow hard. These people are starving. This place reeks of extreme poverty. There’s no maize in the granary. The kids are slow and have distended bellies (worms).
An old woman is sitting on a dirty cow hide. I shake her rough hand. Her skin is dusty and looks like leather. I smell rotting flesh. On a stick rack next to me are two giant bush rats, each the size of a corgi. They have been gutted and are covered in blue-assed flies. They have been dead a while. My translator Catherine wrinkles her nose and I point to the carcasses. “You hungry?” I ask. She moves away rapidly. We get the hell out of there and make our way to the vehicle down in the valley. How can I help these people. Their village is too far from water. They want to grow food but they can barely carry the water they need for survival.
The bore pump in the valley has a strong hand pump sticking out of a cement circle. The girls place the gerry can under the spout and jump up and down holding the handle. A group of thirsty cows jostle each other to get at the flow. One cows tounge snakes out and slurps at the water going into the gerry. Slap! A girl whacks the cow on the face. It doesn’t care. There’s a puddle below the cement ring with cow shit, flies and mud all squashed up into a foul soup. I see a design in my head. Animal trough at the outflow. Steel pickets with barbed wire surrounding a community vegetable garden with a lockable steel gate. I see the outflow from the trough running into the garden and fruit trees with heavy duty guards planted around the garden. OK, I’ll try that. Saves the women from carrying more water.
I’m in Moroto. It has paved roads! Uganda’s third highest mountain looms over the dusty town. I see a prison. My driver says there is a farm in there. “Can we go in?” I ask. I’m thinking of a story I read about Idi Amin’s prison system where inmates were given sledgehammers to execute each other. The driver nods and we turn in. A guard is sitting under a tree. Lazily he puts the barrel of his rifle in the dirt and pushes himself to his feet. He calls over a tall guy who takes us on a tour. The prisoners are dressed in yellow shorts and tee shirts. They look like a soccer team. Their gardens are pathetic. Only four varieties of hybrids. the same story everywhere. No diversity. I see these squalid huts and feel sorry for the prisoners. “that’s where the wardens live” says my guide. Oh dear! I meet the head warden. I tell him what I want. I want to improve their gardens in exchange for them becoming a seed bank. He agrees. Most of the 90 prisoners are Kjong warriors caught in the field. I want to work with them so I can understand their culture. I can’t find them in the bush and it’s too dangerous to look. Here they are a captive audience. I can train them and expand the non-hybrid open polinated seeds I am collecting. The prisoners can make a business of it. The warden is overjoyed. He takes me to meet the governor who gives me the thumbs up. I’ve always wanted to make a permaculture prison and now it’s in my lap. The inmates smile and laugh when my translator “Ram” (short for Ramadan) tells them what the Mazoonga will do.
I’m driving all over Karamoja looking for strategies that are working so I can put them in the manual I’m writing. Sometimes I have a military escort which is a ute with 4 armed soldiers hanging off the back. I’m slowly coming up with a plan. These cattle are killing this place. I hear of a farm where ex-warriors are growing casava and loving it. I’m headed there next week. My garden at the compound is growing. An 11 year old boy “Achilla” who I call Atilla waters it for me. He’s going to be a doctor when he grows up. This place is growing on me.
It’s my third week in Uganda’s Karamoja province. It feels like I’ve been here for years. We load the pick-up truck with tools. There’s a village 5 km north of town. The name of the village is too hard to pronounce for a Mazungu like me so I call it “the 5 kilometer village”. We load steel shovels, hoe rakes, steel digging bars, large sacks for hauling dry manure, and the African hoes. The women’s group at this village have promised to build a fence for their vege garden. I don’t expect much because I know they don’t have any tools. If they make an effort I’m going to help them. We arrive and they are waiting under a shady tree beside the road. It’s hot and a fierce wind blinds us with dust as we get out of the ute. The mountain behind is on fire. The wind is fanning the flames to amazing heights. The fire eats the vegetation off the mountain like a hungry monster.
The women clap and cheer when I shake hands with the chief. He’s the only man in the group of 30. He has a list of everybody’s name. He’s done this before. The charities have trained him well. I tell him I don’t want names, just a garden. He smiles and translates this to the group. I drop the tailgate and pass the tools to Santos and my trainees. The women go nuts. They whoop and make a lee lee lee lee noise between their teeth. The enthusiasm is genuine. I’m a bit embarrassed. They take me over to where they have cleared an area for the fence. The shrubs have been chopped down and piled up at one end. We mark out an area for the first garden with a shady tree at one end. I visualize the tree as the meeting point for the garden crew. Lots of kids sneak up all around. Some are brave and touch the blonde hair on my arm and run away. I spin around and growl as they shriek and evaporate. Everybody laughs when they realize I’m not going to eat the children.
This is one of my pilot projects to test my designs for the manual. The women ask about seed. There are 40 kg of non hybrid seed at HQ. You get the seed when the garden is dug, I tell them. They begin to sing this time. I wonder why after 40 years of aid somebody hasn’t taken the time to cover the basics – water and food. Grow your own is better than American GM flour off the back of a truck! I tell the women no more cheering until the garden is dug and the fences are up.
We head to the prison in Moroto with the first sample of seeds. This time we get invited in to the inner prison. The guard closes the heavy doors as we enter and I feel a little apprehensive. Inside the prisoners are playing volleyball. Whew! The governor ushers us in to his office. We make a deal. The garden project will grow all the new crops, and some for seed. Our crew will consist of several Karamajong rival tribes all mixed up. Traditional enemies will be working together. The Guv, as I call him, shows us around. He takes us to a patch of open ground where he wants the project to start. The soil is heavy dark clay. It needs a fence. The water pump is nearby. Yep it’ll work. The Guv’s happy and the head warden looks on with a big grin. We have to go. Lots to do.
We visit a farm run by ex-warriors. It’s way out in the middle of the bush. The leader speaks english. He sees the permaculture Designers’ Manual in the back of the landcruiser. I show him the mandala design. He gets excited. We need training, not handouts he says. A deal is made. We’ll train his mob if he trains warriors in the future. He offers us land for a field school. I tell him we’ll be back in 10 days with tools. He’ll have the leaders ready for a training session. I give him some seeds. Very happy guy.
On the return trip I decide to take the dangerous short cut. The security dudes warn us against it. My gut says go. We go. We drive like rally drivers. Nice road most of the way. The four of us are tense. No warriors. We make it no worries. Next day we find out warriors ambushed the safe road where we were supposed to go. One motorcyclist killed, a truck shot up and occupants kidnapped. My guys say lucky we listened to our gut! The gut is smarter than the security guys.
My garden is taking shape back at HQ. Many villagers watch its progress through the bamboo fence. Every demonstration is a teacher. The kids watering the garden each day are proud now the seeds have sprouted. They talk to the other kids through the fence as they water. They are junior trainers whether they know it or not. Everything is growing…. Thank God!
Watch this site for updates….