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Slumming it, Kampala style

Jan 28 • 5103 views • 11 Comments on Slumming it, Kampala style Africa, East Africa, Kampala, Society and culture, Travel, Uganda, Volunteering

Rubbish collection is managed privately in Kampala: you pay through the nose for a private contractor to collect your rubbish once a week. Local people just burn their rubbish, and maybe that’s all the private contractors do?

And so, a week after moving house, and reluctant to burn, I asked Alex how I could dispose of my rubbish. “Come – we go,” he said.

We drove to Namuwongo and I was a bit horrified when he said to turn down a steep dusty bank across the railway and into the heart of the slum. I’ve been through the slum many times, but not in a car (there are no roads) and not to dispose of my rubbish. We edged our way through women boiling water in beaten-up old aluminium pots on charcoal stoves, gawping toddlers and boda bodas. “Hello Muzungu, you go back,” one lady said as we squeezed through. Embarrassed, but with Alex focused on our destination, we drove on. Moving forward wasn’t easy; reversing would have been almost impossible.

My heart sank as the tip came into view: goats grazing and Marabou storks stabbing at the contents of hundreds of the demon cavera (carrier bags). Doesn’t the slum have enough rubbish without the muzungu’s?

There was plenty of excitement as Alex threw a knackered old water heater onto the tip. It was quickly salvaged; if anyone can fix it, these guys can.

And the fee? One thousand shillings, less than 50 US cents – although the muzungu price would have been higher had we hung about. “Drive!” commanded Alex, and I stepped on the gas.

“Muzungu, I have a tortoise!” cried a young boy, as we drove past his house. Wild tortoises live in the swamp below the slum. I admit, in my first year in Uganda, I fell for that one. I had a tortoise when I was a kid; they’re great pets, but not easy to look after. The English one died in hibernation one winter; my Ugandan one did a runner! He probably made it back to the slum (just the other side of my old compound wall) – to being sold to another naïve muzungu.

Street dog Baldrick inspects Swampy the Tortoise

Street dog Baldrick inspects Swampy the Tortoise

Last year I’d been in the same slum for quite a different reason – a party!

VSO friends of mine, Alan and Alison, had agreed to hold a kids’ party in the local church. It’s a big clapperboard type construction right next to the railway line next to the swamp. I’m not a churchgoer but I do like to party! so I offered to help blow up the balloons and do the face painting.

“So how many people do you think will attend?” I thought Alison would say about 100.

“Oh about 400 I expect.” GULP.

Face painting children

Little kids and big kids, wave after wave of them surrounded us for two hours!

It was great fun – but knackering! But what was nice was that we just made a great big fuss for one day. The VSO focus is on sustainable development so at the back of your mind you’re always asking yourself whether X will  happen when you’re gone. It’s unlikely these kids will ever see such a party again (Alan and Alison’s friends from back home had all chipped in to fund the party) –  sometimes you just need to have FUN, whoever you are, whatever your circumstances. (Although we did hear kids making a racket with whistles into the night!. Let’s just hope their families enjoyed it as much as the kids did!)
Read more about “A party to remember” on the Cowan family blog

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11 Responses to Slumming it, Kampala style

  1. the muzungu says:

    A lot of sensitisation is needed in Uganda regarding the treatment of animals. I’m a a big supporter of animal welfare groups like the USPCA, Uganda Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals, based in Mbuya. I have two very happy healthy dogs thanks to them. UWEC, Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, also do a lot of good work rescuing captured wild species, from chimps to snakes. Help spread the word 🙂

  2. lizziema says:

    You made the tip sound rather more dangerous than the bush, which disease wise it surely is. That any human being has to resort to the tip to survive is beyond comprehension. I remember Aloyisus very well, he mistook painted toe nails for strawberries, ouch! The party you describe brings back Provo when my little chap Kelly ( who was multiply handicapped) had his probably one and only birthday party at the disabled school. I made a cake, we had candles and his face was a picture, but I am quite sure it never happened again. Your comment about having fun no matter what is probably right, but I oftened wondered how it affected him?

    • the muzungu says:

      Generally, there are more health issues in cities because of the concentration of people and the lack of proper sanitation. We did see a Green Mamba in the forest / on our bush trip last week though!! Bet you can’t wait to see the photos? ha ha.

  3. Junior says:

    Everywhere I dig deep to find the baetuy within people even if they treat me bad, because I know that everybody is beautiful in their own way.I feel as though I always take advantage of my sight and I thank God everyday that I am able to enjoy the baetuy that surrounds us wether it be in nature or in the people around us.

    • the muzungu says:

      I agree, everyone has something beautiful to share with the world, even if it’s just a smile 🙂 Nature can be so inspiring – a brightly coloured bird flies overhead and I’m happy all day! Uganda truly is Gifted by Nature.

  4. […] spreading disease and unimaginable misery. Situated on and next to the mosquito-infested swamp, life in the slum presents a constantly high risk of […]

  5. […] wild dogs cry out in the night [the Muzungu: that'll be the street dogs running […]

  6. […] spreading disease and unimaginable misery. Situated on and next to the mosquito-infested swamp, life in the slum presents a constantly high risk of […]

  7. […] I was embarrassed recently to dispose my rubbish in Namuwongo slum […]

  8. […] groundnuts, icecream and ice lollies. Ladies carry plastic buckets of fried cassava on their head. Children line up to have their faces painted. The lady painting the child’s face cleans the paint from the brush in a recycled Waragi […]

  9. […] that this little house gecko will rapidly grow thanks to our proximity to Namuwongo’s swamp, and its mosquito residents, I decided to try and catch the small gecko in the sitting-room and […]

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