First Impressions of the School – 10th February 2010
Wanyange Primary School consists of four long buildings built in a rectangle. The walls of these buildings were once charmingly painted a baby blue to waist height and to the ceiling a creamy yellow. Now though every wall is a shade of red brown, the same inescapably African red brown that before you have even unpacked your suitcase has infiltrated and stained all of your clothes. In between these buildings sits a dusty mud courtyard, the undeniable culprit of the stains, with two flagpoles in the middle. And this is where we stand, Monday morning in front of the entire school of 1000 children. They pack in close so as to hear the words of their headmaster, and the view across the sea of shining, shaven heads stretching all the way back to the far building, is daunting. This is especially so when every one of these heads has two big round eyes which have been fixed in wonder on you since you walked out of the headmasters’ office 5 minutes ago.
The headmaster begins by saying ‘good morning school’ to which they reply in a heavily accented drone ‘good morning sir,’ their voices rising on the final syllable transforming it into ‘sa.’ He then says ‘How are you today school?’ and they reply obediently ‘we are very well, thank you sa.’ As he addresses them in Lusoga they reply like a well oiled machine at the appropriate times, singing out what the headmaster has drilled into them ever since they joined the school.
Yet they are not concentrating on him at all. There is a new attraction and it absorbs their concentration like a sponge. In front of them stand 4 Mzungus.
We had arrived at the school the day before on a rickety bus and had wondered nervously through our new surroundings to what will be our house for the next 4 months. We knew what was in store for us but it was still a shock to the system. There is no running water, naturally there is brown dust everywhere and in each room it seems that if the light bulb works then the switch is mutinous and if the switch is there the light bulb is usually faulty. We were told very proudly by one of the female staff that sometimes we can go for 6 or 7 days straight without a power cut which, though we feigned enthusiasm, did not seem like a point to be boasting about. Looking at our ceiling, a patchwork of botch DIY fixing efforts where wooden boards have been used to replace plaster is akin to looking at the map of Africa. With its impractically jagged boarders and straight lines imposed as a botch effort to control the rot. Though, even the new boards’ boarders are being infiltrated by the marauding damp.
Despite the teachers promises there was minimal electricity for the first few nights so it was off to the village in search of paraffin.
We are living in a rural part of the country and on our visits into town the reactions we get are uniform. Babies stare at us with unfathomable fear and burst into tears if we approach. Slightly older children chance the danger, still fearful and ready to turn tail if we were to do anything hasty, like as a kid back home checking out road kill, fascinated and fearful in equal measure. The kids each edge ever closer than the last until one will finally grab your hand. Then everything has changed and they will all hold your hands and arms and legs and follow you round for the whole day repeating over and over, ‘Mzungu, Mzungu!’ We have brought footballs and Frisbees and bouncy balls and play outside for much of our free time and on our third morning here one child waited on our doorstep from 5am for us to come out and play.
Originally on the Rockslane Website: http://www.rockslane.co.uk/Uganda/rockslaneuganda.html