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.
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.