Driving into Kyakitanga (pronounced Chachitanga) is an interesting experience. As was mentioned in the previous post, you slowly move from well-made, paved asphalt arterial roads to smaller paved roads, to excavated dirt roads, to “somebody probably just went through here with a rusty machete and removed the more egregious bushes to allow some traffic through.” We were loaded, six Westerners plus four Ugandans, the driver, and about 500 pounds of humanitarian aid (six cardboard boxes packed to the absolute limit full of things to give to the village), in a two wheel drive shuttle van with low ground clearance and a questionable service record (but valid insurance at least).
But if driving down the roads into Kyakitanga was an interesting endeavor, arriving at the school was another bit of sensory overload. Chris had prepped me for the fact that the kids here are completely unlike kids at home, and he was definitely right to do so. Ugandan kids don’t really have any concept of personal space like Americans do; we’re accustomed to giving people a wide berth on the sidewalk, shaking hands politely when meeting someone new, and generally standing 3 to 5 feet away from somebody depending on the level of comfort and the conversation. Ugandan kids are the complete polar opposite of this; they’ve never really seen a lot of white people, and so we basically become a petting zoo for the next few weeks. The kids stroke your hair and want to touch your arms, legs, feet, and hands; they all ask a billion questions on top of one another and they all want to know what America is like, how many wives I have, what my family looks like, and whether or not I can count to ten yet in their local language, Luganda. They want to play with everything you bring (phones, cameras, jewelry, etc.), or they want to see if they can stump you with math questions. Everything you bring with you is a conversation piece, and they want to know about every freckle on your face and stray hair on your head.
This actually raises an interesting point; I wear a small, fairly unassuming G-Shock watch with a vibrating alarm to wake me up in the mornings, and I thought it was a boring enough accessory to be able to wear without being bombarded with questions. But it quickly became the bane of my dress every day; nearly every single one of the children at one point was practically ripping the watch off to run off and go play with the stopwatch or the nightlight function, and I had to keep a close eye on whoever had grabbed it to prevent it from completely disappearing.
But I digress; as we got off the bus and started unloading, and the kids went off to eat dinner, I got to get a good look at our living quarters for the next three weeks. The Westerners certainly live in a step up from what the locals live in while we stay there, but the coziness factor is definitely present. At maximum capacity, fifteen of us (including visitors from another group who stayed for five days and the entire Ugandan staff) were stuffed in bunk beds in two rooms totaling maybe…. 250 square feet? It was pretty fun.
From the outside. Note the solar panels which provide a charge to eight deep-cycle batteries, which in turn provide electricity to the entire guest house and school.
Exhausted from traveling, we all ate a quick dinner and headed to bed. With my second night in Uganda I began to realize that the weather just doesn’t relent here; on the equator it pretty much stays hot all the time regardless of time of day. Even at night when everything has significantly cooled down it’s still probably around 75-80F outside, and the clay and brick buildings retain all of the heat they soak up throughout the day so the inside of the guesthouse doesn’t cool down until around 3 or 4 in the morning despite the fact that we bed down around 9 or 10pm.
As we’re less than 50 or so miles from the equator, the sun sets at about 7:20pm and rises at about 7:15, with almost exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night every day. The first day in the village, still somewhat jet lagged from the 12 hour jump from the states, I woke up at around 5:45 am and, with no chance of falling back asleep, grabbed my camera, climbed out of my bunk, and took a seat outside in the faint early morning light, in the hopes that I’d just sit outside and wait for the sunrise.
Uganda obliged me by producing literally the most stereotypical African sunrise I’ve ever experienced. I swear the Lion King theme was playing somewhere in the background.
As I sat watching the sunrise, the village slowly came to life around me. Chickens started running around everywhere, kids exiting the dorms grew in number, and the kitchen off to the side of the guesthouse began pouring smoke as the fires were lit and breakfast preparations began. I got my first good look at the surrounding landscape and scenery; the school sits on a hillside high above a shallow valley with a few small thatch-roofed huts on the opposite hillside, with the guesthouse, latrines, powerhouse (a small structure holding the deep-cycle batteries and wiring to the solar panels), and teacher’s dormitories sharing the same tract of land adjacent to the school and under a large shady tree. There is a dirt soccer pitch behind the guest house. A long polypropylene tube snakes its way down from a large black tank at the top of the hill, through the center of the schoolyard, and down to a tiny, nearly indiscernible building in the valley below, which houses a borehole to reach groundwater and an electric pump to transport clean drinking water from the valley to the tank at the school level. After eating breakfast and again being accosted by the schoolboys, Chris and I headed down to the valley to start his work on bringing the pump up to working order.
Early sunrise, looking back at the guesthouse and powerhouse.
Chris and the kids playing some game I’m unfamiliar with.
Early morning in Kyakitanga.
Everybody in Uganda initially greets you with a scowl, not out of malice but out of unfamiliarity; as soon as you smile and wave, they light right up and wave right back at you.
Chris working on tightening a leaky coupling on the pipe down to the borehole.
More work in the pumphouse.
Brick and mortar work in the pumphouse. One of my favorite photos from the trip actually; I’m not really sure why.
The pipe itself, buried in a very shallow trench that extends from the holding tank up top all the way down to the borehole. Over the previous visit, a pair of workers were paid 50,000UGX (Ugandan Shillings) to dig the trench, or about 16 dollars, which totals about half a mile. Chris mentioned to me that this was considered a very fair wage for the work they did.
In all honesty, at this point of the trip I was questioning my purpose here and whether or not it was the right decision to decide to leave the United States for a month to go photograph things in Uganda. I felt guilty for my upbringing and sad that I didn’t have a more direct way to help these people than by simply taking photos and sharing stories with people back at home. I didn’t know how I planned on helping Chris with the pump, and whether or not I was going to slow him down or actually help his work, and I felt bad for carrying around a backpack full of camera gear worth well over the combined annual income of every soul in the village. I told Chris most of these things; he assured me it was normal and that the feeling would eventually pass. The culture shock and disorientation of experiencing an entirely different way of life is unsettling and unnerving, and it quickly contributed to an overwhelming sense of homesickness for me.
However, that feeling quickly abated, due in no small part to the overwhelming warmth and hospitality of the villagers. It’s rather humbling to see people who have very little in comparison to the United States, and yet are almost invariably happier than we are; people who don’t measure themselves by material wealth (something which I am self-admittedly very much guilty of), but by the wealth of the friendships and relationships of the people around them. Something I kept reiterating throughout my three weeks in Uganda was the fact that the angriest I can remember being in the past few weeks was when the set of all-weather floor mats I ordered off of Amazon was discontinued and my purchase was refunded. These villagers don’t even get angry when it’s a daily struggle to obtain clean, uncontaminated drinking water.
On that note: drinking water is a huge task for the villagers at Kyakitanga. I was told a few times that the nickname for the village is “Unlucky” due to the lack of rain the area experiences. We were reminded of this fact several times; large storm clouds would coalesce on the horizon and slowly move towards the village, but almost invariably for three or four days straight we would watch as these enormous thunderheads would dissipate before reaching the hillside, stop dumping rain as they passed over, or just move tantalizingly around the village completely without so much as a single drop of rain.
Thunderstorms swept constantly around the village, but very rarely through or over.
Villagers walk about a half-mile up from the dam at sunset with jerrycans full of water, which was one of the main ways of getting drinking water at the village prior to the borehole and pump being operational. Still, there were a number of headaches to get through.
On a whim during the first week, I was asked to test the water from the dam and the borehole for contaminants. We expected the water from the dam to be undrinkable straight from the reservoir without boiling or cleaning, but the water from the borehole should have been clean. The testing kit works by growing a culture if contaminants exist in the water; if the test tube turns or stays yellow in 24 hours, the water is safe to drink (and doesn’t contain E. Coli or coliform bacteria). If it turns blue, the test indicates that the water isn’t safe to drink and may contain one or both of the aforementioned.
Our water testing kits, after a day of culturing. Do not drink.
With this in mind then, we kept to the drinking water we had brought with us and avoided the dam water. The pump worked every day and we continued to bathe and drink from the borehole water, but a day later the borehole test tube also turned blue overnight. Everyone took a preventative Cipro (broad spectrum antibiotics) and we started bleaching the water that went into the holding tank as we pumped it.