A Local Derby in Wairaka – 25th February 2010
Basic machinery, in fact not at all basic, no doubt the result of a forward thinker and years of hard work and refinement, yet so taken for granted now that it seems basic. What were we before it? If I was to ask how to keep meat fresh, naturally you would say refrigerate it, and how do you maintain a football pitch to keep it playable, obviously you would have to cut the grass. But how did we do it before the fridge and the lawnmower? Here we buy our meat from a wooden stall about the size of two telephone boxes back to back. The meat hangs outside with the flies all day but we cook it the day we buy it and hope that the animal has been slaughtered recently. And the lawnmowers substitute? Here a man walks up and down the pitch swinging a machete back and forth like one practicing his drive on his left side then right. Tedious and labour intensive so the alternative, of course, as they did yesterday here at Wanyange, is to set fire to the entire football pitch.
The scene is other worldly; a futuristic sci-fi interpretation of what the world would be after global warming reaps its revenge. The rectangular goalposts are of course unmistakable but as they stand, rusted and jutting from the black ground you feel the pain of … in Planet of the Apes upon seeing the unmistakable landmark of the statue of liberty buried in sand. The decrepit and trashed reminder of what the world was like before it fell to ruin. The end of the world has come and the remnants, immediately recognisable in times gone by stick out, alien in the post apocalyptic environment. Two very un straight posts stand next to the football pitch with no grass in-between them like the six yard box on a football pitch. I am told that this was the much loved and obviously much used volleyball pitch before the net and balls inexplicably disappeared. To the eyes of those who loved it the posts still symbolise a volleyball court and the fiercely fought battles that will never leave their memories. Though for the outsider they could just as likely be the religious monuments of a totem pole worshiping society who believe they can communicate with dead relatives through the medium of pole dancing.
The state of the pitch was not the only thing in disarray this week; in fact everything seemed to be. On Tuesday Rory and I woke early to prepare our lesson plans. With a few minutes before our classes started we decided to go on a water run so with our big yellow jerry cans in hand we set off for the nearest tap. The roosters that surround our house night and day were taking it in turns to dodge the rocks we threw at them for screaming. Like all of our neighbours they don’t work to the same rigorous schedule as their English counterparts choosing whichever hour they please to announce that morning has arrived. The walk to the tap takes us close to the school buildings but in our early morning state of mind we failed to notice the relative calm about the place, instead naively savouring it before the chaos that we expected to ensue come the first bell. It was only when we stood bent over the knee high tap, dressed in our teaching attire and trying not to trash our shoes in the permanent mud puddle, that the headmaster, smartly dressed as ever strode over and politely inquired as to whether we had heard that school was cancelled today.
All the staff apparently had to go to town and prove that they were qualified teachers. Thankfully they all passed and Wednesday saw school resume as normal. However, that was only until Friday when again a calm settled over the yellow buildings. First lesson had me teaching English to P6 yellow but as I strolled to the building the place was deserted. With the colour of the dust, the baking sun and the one storey, pleasantly coloured buildings, directly juxtaposed to the eerie, ghost town atmosphere, you could have thrown in a tumbleweed or two and I’m John Wayne, squinting against the glare as the saloon doors vacantly swing on their squeaky hinges. The classes of 100 had been stripped down to 30 and suddenly the space we must have in class in England with the classrooms being the same size seems positively inefficient. It was not until break time, having had the most engaging lessons since I had arrived, that I found out the situation. Word had gone round the day before that the school was to be collecting money for the porridge that the kids are served each lunch and so most of the children had not come to school. Those who did were asked for the money upon arrival and apparently sent home if they did not have it. The porridge they eat is served in plastic mugs and is sloppy like pancake mixture, they slurp it down daily and for a whole term it costs them 5000 shillings (about £1.60) yet most of the children still cannot afford it. The situation is a terrible one because obviously the children need to get some food at lunch but this, along with uniform and books and pens and pencils they have to buy themselves despite this being a government funded school.
We felt pretty bad about it as on what we earn working student jobs back home we could afford to put whole families through school yet parents working all day every day can’t afford to buy them porridge.
However we did get a good laugh from it once all of the kids were back in school at assembly on Monday. This was when the headmaster announced to the school, ‘for those of you who haven’t paid we still want your money, what do we want?’ using the preferred teaching method employed by all the teachers here of child repetition, and in the sweet, higher pitched monotone mainly of the more eager, younger students they replied ‘money!’ Sadly though, porridgegate was a tragedy for the football team. After the first two games the possibility of an unbeaten season brought a vacant shimmer to my eyes and a smile to my face but with our third fixture being scheduled for today, another big local derby, things did not look good. There were just 5 players from the starting line up who I had trained properly with and the rest were youngsters that the games master recommended.
We sorted a line up and gave the shirts along with a spiel about this being their chance to make that shirt theirs and depose their older counterparts but I was not feeling hopeful. Then a miracle happened, in fact not a miracle but a regular occurrence that I can’t believe I did not foresee. The opposition didn’t turn up. Well they did turn up but then they said they were going to get their kits and they never returned. Thank god for Africa time, the winning streak continues!
Originally on the Rockslane Website: http://www.rockslane.co.uk/Uganda/rockslaneuganda.html