I rode on the back of Robert’s motorcycle to Wilbra, D—-’s school. Today she had not been thrown out of school – perhaps because of my inquiry about fees owing the other day. Luckily the bursar was in the office. She confirmed the total I had calculated for the amount owing for 2011 plus next year’s fees, except that the fees for next year had gone up so I was short 13,000 shillings. While I sat in the office waiting for the bursar to unlock the drawer with the punch so that she could stamp my receipt, I watched the schoolchildren squatting on the patchy muddy lawn in their blue check uniforms having a whale of a time making mud pies. They were all bare foot so apparently the “shoes only” rule is not being enforced. During my last visit I had observed Betty, the principal, standing at the gate to the school compound armed with a switch with which she swiped the bare calves of any child arriving with a less than perfect uniform.
Sights along the Road to Konokoyi
Uganda has one of the highest fertility rates in the world and the area around Mbale has a high rate even for Uganda. So it is not surprising that there are three or four schools within the half-hour’s walk to Konokoyi. It seemed to be break time and the yards were swarming with school children, all in their distinctive differently coloured uniforms. After Compassion, the large Anglican primary school at which S—-’s second eldest, N—-, was sponsored, I passed a fish pond. I have never been able to make out who benefits from these fish ponds; at various times I have been told that they are cooperative enterprises or belong to the local authorities. Further along the road is a pile of coarse rocks beside a pile of gravel. At times a handicapped man with one good and one partial leg sits there chipping away at the rocks to make gravel. Fifteen minutes away from Konokoyi are three houses of successful Bududans. They are spacious, brightly painted, and set in grounds ornamented with flowering bushes, datura, bourganvillia, hibiscus, etc. Ugandan flowers, also wild ones, all seem to be huge. Some of home the owners are away in Kampala making their fortunes far from their impoverished former neighbours.
Three Visits to Impoverished Households with Teacher Jane
Jane arrived an hour and a half after the appointed time and we set off equipped with rain coats, snacks and a water bottle to walk up the mountain from the Bushika market. Our first stop was at K— B—’s. This Primary 7 (P7) child had dropped out of school and had not been living at home for two months. She made an appearance sporadically. Her mother had six or seven other children including a young baby. K— B—’s father was not around and an “uncle/stepfather” was living with the family. Perhaps this had something to do with the reasons for her escaping from home. Living conditions were atrocious – latrine, cow next to the kitchen, unfinished walls and roof etc.
As we puffed and panted our way up the mountain (or at least as I did since the climb did not seem to bother Jane), she described the horrors of illegal abortions that teenagers sometimes resort to at the hands of local women. Apparently, the doctors in hospital are too afraid of the threat of a seven-year prison sentence to touch abortion work. On the other hand some teenagers seem to welcome unplanned pregnancies; motherhood brings status and they have no clue that it may also ruin their future.
K— P—-’s house was equally dirty and run down. I was surprised to find no new latrine even though money had been left with Robert for that purpose in February. (I later learned that the money had only sufficed for three latrines and K— P—- had been last on the list. )
At K— I—-’s we found a new latrine, except that some of the metal sheets had obviously been misappropriated and replaced by old rusty ones. The latrine structure itself was leaning and looked about to topple over. K—- I— lives with a teenage sister in a leaking house with the mud peeling off the walls. His bed was on a mat and the mosquito net was full of holes. The cousins who crowded into the house after me – his neighbours – first said that the holes were candle burns and then suggested that a rat had eaten the net. However, a more likely explanation was that the new net had been appropriated by another family member and the child given an old net full of holes instead. And so it goes on…
As for K— I—-’s latrine, Jane and I were told that the hole had been dug in the wrong place, with the result that there was no solid ground into which to fix the poles for the walls. When I later discussed the situation with Robert, who had been in charge of the building, he assured me that it frequently happened that new materials were stolen or diverted but that he could fix the structure to make it solid.