Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On Our Walks

Around and about Red Chilli, there are winding tracks and clod-ridden pathways of red earth that take us on our daily walks through the Ugandan property food chain.

At one end you have the smart shiny compounds with rust-free gates, ornamental flower beds and uniformed guards. In between you have new build plots with stalacmites of metal rods stretching up beyond rough plaster columns and crooked twisted scaffolds made straight from the tree, and local bungalows that may have mildew eating the concrete and broken panes in the windows, but nevertheless have running water and several rooms.

At the bottom end of the food chain, but where you find most signs of life, are the shanty town slum quarters filled with people living out their lives on the side of the path.

Here, life does not go on behind closed doors or high walls. It's there, right in your face, as you wander past.

On our walks with the dogs we sometimes wander through the local slum quarter and are always amazed at the vitality of the place. There's a woman washing her children at the end of the day; there's a guy roasting meat on a stick; there's a child playing with a bicycle tyre and a stick; there's a litter of puppies gambolling in the dust; there's a grandmother sitting on the stoop; there's ten children running amock, some with clothes on, some without; there's a chicken squawking in the rubbish heap; there's a lady walking with her bundle balanced high on her head.

Everywhere in the slums the children shout Muzungu and make woofing sounds as we pass with the two dogs.

(Which sound more like Ra Ra than Woof Woof if you're Bugandan and under six years old.)

This is the universal white experienc in Africa - crowds of kids appearing wherever you pause, all to come look at the sight of a passing stranger with pale skin.

It's weird, I took a few pictures the other day and felt slightly unsettled - that other universal tourist experience in Africa. If you take pictures of poor people does that make it poverty tourism? There is a sense of voyeurism in the whole exchange.

But one fact remains as the chants of Muzungu follow us everywhere we go: we are as much, if not more, of a novelty for them, as they are for us.

Two white people walking two big scary dogs? Quick - tell everyone you know to come look!

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