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Published: April 15th 2011
Extracts from my diary that I wrote during my 4 week stint as a volunteer in the small village of Lwanyi, just outside the southern Ugandan city of Masaka. I was staying in a one room place in the middle of the village, next to the shop selling beer, which provided me with a fantastic insight into rural Ugandan life. In hindsight I mentioned the weather, the sun, and the sky, far too much, but then, escaping from the reality of 9-5 gives you time to notice everything else around you that normally disappears in a blur between work and home...
- They're trying to fit power to my ramshackle of a room - connecting cables from the house next door, which in turn has just connected a cable directly to the power line that runs past their door. In an odd way, I'm not sure I want to rejoin the land of the electric bulb, laptops and the internet quite yet. Living by the soft glow of candles and paraffin lamp definitely has it's charms. I think it's the silence, and the stillness, and a sense of going back to basics.
- It's the evenings that I find
the most enjoyable - sat in my room, with water boiling on the paraffin stove in the corner, the room light with the golden glow of the lamp, sometimes (generally) a beer in hand, music playing in the distance, the stars shining through the open door, pineapple trees silhouetted against the deep blue sky, and the sounds of thousands of insects calling into the nightly silence. A return to simple. A return to slow. finding myself completely at home, a thousand miles from the UK. I can already imagine myself sat in the parents lounge longing for this room, the lamp, the wooden bench, the games of cards, the sound of cattle walking by, the sun, the rain, the thunder. It's not the ritz, it's much better than that.
- At times Africa just seems like life distilled into it's most intense - the markets packed with people, the music blaring from endless speakers lining the roads, and right now, in the rainy season, the weather is no different. The rain, when it eventually arrived after a long dry season, is the definition of the word torrential. As I left a friend's house, you feel something was in the
air - cool air swirled around, shaking tree branches, whipping leaves off the dirt, and rattling over tin roofs. And then the sound of thunder filled the night sky, cracking over the valley below, followed by the first few drops of rain as I made my way home on the back of a motorbike. By the time we were half way home, just a few minutes later, the road had become a mud filled river, the drops were obscuring both our vision and the headlight, and we were soaked to the skin. The driver thought the best solution was speed, and in the pitch black, with a non-existent headlight to help us on our way, we careered home at full pelt, along the rutted and path, rain stinging our faces and flying into our eyes. Once in my room the rain got even heavier, coming down onto the tin roof like a samba band, making it sound like a tornado was in the room, and in my head. It was so loud I couldn't even think. I could only sit, listening to the deafening roar, until 30 minutes later, the storm cleared, and the still night was filled with nothing
but the sound of insects.
- How will I go from this - this room, this village, this country, this continent - back to reality?
- I wonder how many cyclists fall off their bike, as they take their eyes of the road to make a double-take at me, the white man, sat in my room on the side of the road.
- Nothing quite so African as falling asleep to the sounds of motorbikes speeding past, babies crying across the road, and the bass from the dancehall music being played in the house behind shaking the walls of my room. It makes it sound more like Brixton than Uganda, but I guess that's the modern African reality once you get past the pictures of game parks, sunsets and tribes.
- Sunday mornings... Woken up by the sound of rain falling lightly on the tin roof. Pull the mosquito net out of the way, and slowly roll out of bed. Fill the kettle and put the morning tea on the paraffin stove. While it's boiling in the corner, take the empty Jerry can to the village tap to fill up, and then trudge back up the
hill to the house. Wash in the room, bent double over a basin, splashing cold soapy water over sweaty and matted hair. Laundry time, outside the house, soap in hand, rubbing knuckles bare, being the subject of conversation for the local women as they walk to church. Sweep the rug, and the floor, time and time again in a constant battle against dust, dirt and ants. Watch as the farmer, clad in gumboots with a radio under one arm, walks the cows to pasture, their bells ringing with each laboured step. Watch as the trader, with a whole shop's worth of goods balanced on the back of his bike, cycles up the hill looking for customers. Once the tea's done, heat up some chapattis on the stove, make toast (to the amusement of locals), or boil eggs. Slowly. It's all done slowly. No point even trying to rush, it's not possible. Life done simply. Life done slowly. There might be sun. Their might be rain. But the pace, and the smiles, never change.
- Just one more night... I was supposed to leave tomorrow, but walking back from Masaka to the village was just immense. Just immense. The boda-bodas
bouncing past on the rutted 'road', piled high with people, aninals and anything else that can be fitted on. The people greeting me as I walk by. The smell of woodsmoke from the evening fires rising up from the valley below. The view over lush green hillsides, covered with palm trees with tin roofed houses glinting in the sunlight from each clearing. The sky, such a deep rich blue, as large as they say it is in Africa, that just grabs your heart and makes it impossible to leave. And the sun, the brightest orange, hovering about the horizon for a few endless seconds before sliding out of view. Leaving behind the hot evening air and pink clouds that slowly disappear as the sky becomes a deep midnight blue, with the eucalyptus, mango and avocado trees lining the road illuminated by the light of a new moon. How on earth can you leave a place like this? Maybe I'll stay for one more day...
- Leaving blues... So this is it. Time to clean out the shelves, to hand the left over food to Ema, to drink one more Senator, to chase the rat away for one last time,
and to finally (belatedly) leave Lwanyi. What an amazing place though - I don't think it's out of the ordinary for Uganda, or lots of Africa, by any means, but it was everything I'd hoped it would be - a home thousands of miles from the UK, a view of Ugandan life from the inside, and a community with all the quirks of a Cotswold village. It's not always been easy, but it's been fantastic nonetheless. Even if I don't return (which I wouldn't bet against), this place is in me now, the rhythm, the smiles, the sky, the sun, the rain, the thunder, the dancing, the drumming, the laughter. It's in my head. It's in my blood. It's in my soul. A little piece of Africa that I'll never forget. I'm not sure there's any going back from here...
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