We have all calmed down after the excitement of the eclipse. Several Ugandan colleagues have explained to me that the eclipse was clear evidence of the purpose of God. I will admit to getting a bit lost in the explanation that followed; a version of intelligent design I think. We have though, become slightly caught up in the astronomical fervour. We now have a phone app that tells us the phases of the moon, star names and constellations. From this we discover that the very bright light that rises in the evening is not, as some of us had previously and firmly stated, George Clooney’s satellite monitoring the South Sudanese border. That description was probably part of the eternal search for celebrity and no, no-one actually spotted Pitt/ Jolie/ Gibson in Gulu during the eclipse. In fact the bright evening star, as we should have known from so many previous cultural references, is of course Venus.
Life has returned to normal. It is well known for example that on a Saturday morning, suburban men across the world turn to a particular range of activities: cutting the grass; washing the car; hitting metal (usually the shed) and ignoring the children.
Someone next door started slashing the grass with a splendidly noisy machine at about seven ‘o’clock this morning. Once this was done to his satisfaction, and after a lot of statutory fiddling with engines etc, he turned to hitting something metal; this has gone on for a while now.
It seems to be an unwritten law in Uganda that anyone with any vehicle has to keep it as shiny as possible, despite the mud and the dust. I have even been stopped and told that my motorbike needs washing. Although increasing, car ownership is low here, so I suspect this activity is still in the anticipatory stage in Kirombe. Not much evidence yet, give it a few years.
But ignoring the children is in full swing. There are many, many children here, as there are everywhere. Families are very large, eight to ten children seems about average, many families are larger. Some go to school, many do not, there is no adult supervision that I can see, or more accurately hear. Groups of toddlers wander about all over the place. I came across this description in Dervla Murphy’s book: The Ukimwa Road (about her cycle journey from Kenya to Zimbawe). She takes this description of child rearing from a woman called Sarah in Kiboga, not far from Kampala:
“Children see little of their parents while growing up. Having been abruptly weaned (often traumatically abruptly by our standards) at the age of about two, their time is spent among their own age group, supervised by that directly above. They may move to live for a few years with grandparents or an uncle; sometimes at the age of seven or eight boys build their own mini huts in a compound and live independently, fetching their own firewood, finding and cooking their own food. Girls of course must remain under the watchful eyes of female relatives…commonly a five year old is left in charge of a two year old all day, taking full responsibility for their safety”
Murphy, D. 1993. The Ukimwi Road. Flamingo Press, London. Page 98
Although this was written about what was happening in 1992, I don’t think much has changed, children still seem to be left to look after themselves most of the time.
Despite outward appearances then, suburban man is well established here and doing much the same as his counterparts across the globe; this is the sound, this is the sound of the suburbs.