The air is damp and heavy, the air is cool and last week’s fine dusty fine marram earth is compacted beneath our feet. Limbs have been torn off the Pawpaw tree the other side of the compound wall and a single giant leaf, over four metres long, has been torn off the Palm tree. It lies there on the grass looking pathetic, no longer the majestic bough waving in the breeze.
It’s rained hard for the last two days. Blessed relief for us all, although Baldrick’s been curled up in a tight ball on the doormat; he lives outside and the cold has got into his bones. He thinks nothing of stretching out in the sun in the heat of the day for hours: my Ugandan dog.
I decide to take advantage of the cool morning to go for a long walk and we take the short route down the path onto the railway line. It’s a sea of mud and empty carrier bags. Water runs freely and collects in greenish grey puddles suffocated with plastic rubbish. The ducks are caked in mud and oil and the giant Marabou Storks peer down at us from atop the rubbish dumps.
I pick my way up and down the smooth marram pathway that winds its way between the makeshift shacks and public latrines. Here, all life happens out in the open, either side of the path: women deep fry cassava in big open woks just a foot from the main path. Children sit on dirty wooden benches next to open charcoal stoves, surrounded by plastic basins of washing-up, giant beaten aluminium pots of beans and converted oil drums brewing god knows what.
A man wants me to buy smoked dried fish. “Salina ssente” I say – “I don’t have any money” – unwilling to open my bag in an area I don’t know and glad I won’t have to buy these fish that are covered in flies.
Two women hold a large piece of tripe over a bucket, one of them sawing it into two. Muddy ‘Irish’ potatoes spill out of a sack onto the piles of black shiny charcoal.
To see a muzungu down in the slum must be quite unusual and I don’t hear the same number of greetings I get elsewhere. When I do speak, I’m aware many people don’t speak Luganda; many are refugees from northern Uganda or even further afield, Sudan.
Wherever they’re from, the children still speak as one of course: “muzungu-how-are-you?” comes the chorus.
This is one of many walks that have taken me through the slum. It’s as fascinating as it is grim.
I used to live a stone’s throw away, where the noise from the shanty town along the railway tracks was a constant backdrop to my life. Here’s more about the terrible effects of the heavy rains on life in the slum