The planting season has started

Monday 10 September 2012

Just one day…

Just a day I would like to describe. A day that started at a quarter past five this morning. For the last few days, manure has been dumped on the land we bought. The manure should make the land more fertile, so that we can start planting on it. The land we have been working on for more than 1 ½ years to get the land title. It is not paying and it is settled, no…
First, at least two close relatives of the seller must be traced. They must all be informed of the sale of the land and sign. Then a sum of money is paid and a number of important people from the village have to sign as witnesses. It may well be that one day someone will appear and say: ‘This is my land! I didn’t know anything about a sale’. Well… there goes your investment. When all those people have been drummed up, land borders have been studied, for me it’s still a mystery how they can see what the borders are from a few trees and stones, and all of them have given a fingerprint (not everyone can write their name or has a signature) or a signature, the real work can begin.
The office for the land titles has to be called in. People are (of course) very busy there, but with some extra money it’s your turn a little earlier than the rest. They have to come and measure the land, make a drawing of it and then it still has to be approved by a number of people. Another approval and we have the paper in our hands but sir is never at the place where he has to be. It does not matter, we have already started because we are (still) looking forward to it.
First we have to get rid of all the trees, stumps and bush, pure handicraft here. Turns out that the man who was ploughing the land, has stolen my goats, well… that cooperation is over! Only then the tractor wanted to come, but he was very busy, so 4 months later, finally the tractor got over it. We ploughed 3 of the 7 acres by machine, but because the ground was very hard we first have to wait for a lot of rain. The rain is falling, but not yet enough, so we have to wait. But we can’t wait too long with the manure, because it is apparently untraceable in the rainy season (maybe cows don’t shit during the rain?). The manure is expensive and much to ask for so we started bringing the delicious scented stuff. Unfortunately some villagers also want to take advantage of it and after 3 days it was found that cow shit is being stolen! Quickly find a man who will keep watch at night and mince everyone with his mega machete, who even sticks his finger out at the poop. Of course this man doesn’t want to be in the cold, so a house has to be built. It is planting season, seeds have to go into the ground for the new harvest and so our ‘Bob the Builder’ is busy planting and he only has time to build a house in a week’s time.
The new guard can be trusted according to our security guard who came to work with him, he is a good friend of his (would they regularly sit at the Ugandan alcohol?). Well, you have no other choice but to take it, you are already happy that there is a madman who wants to guard cow shit in the pitch-dark, in a tent (emergency solution) in the middle of nowhere. I barely came with my bus through the deep ditch that leads to the country and after some peeping in the dark that tent stood. Good night, mister! Keep watch and please don’t snore until half past six tomorrow. I usually get up at a quarter to six so a quarter of an hour earlier wasn’t so bad.
Quarter past five I am dragged out of my bed (people don’t have enough credit to call) by my security guard. Time to jump in our car and hope we get across that ditch again this time (wasn’t really a success the night before). The dung guard was awake and fortunately he didn’t have to slaughter anyone but he did hear people passing by at night and talking about the dung. Six hours at home, girls taken out of bed and prepared for school, dandruff with diarrhoea, coughing…. So a day at home to see if the situation would deteriorate. On the contrary, she has been colouring and singing all day, so she will go back to school tomorrow.
I was supposed to leave for Kampala today, a whole “to do” list that has to be finished for weeks, but which I don’t get around to (dentist, post office, lawyer, those and those visits, etc). That plan was (of course) nicely shattered by the cow poop problem. We had to arrange a place to sleep for tonight and we bought a bicycle for the project, so whoever needs it can borrow it. At the moment the manure guard, because he lives 45 minutes away from here.
Well then, not to Kampala, but to the funeral which was scheduled for 2 hours. One of the attendants of the school’s girls’ dormitory died.
A sweet woman of 36, she had cancer, unfortunately the techniques in Uganda are very limited and you almost always die, if you get cancer here (if it is diagnosed at all) she leaves 7 young children behind. I would drive some children from school to their destination. We boarded the bus with lovely sunshine again and started a trip of less than 10 minutes. Two hours of funeral, half a week away, so that should be a piece of cake. Wasn’t it that after 5 minutes it started pouring and there was no more (I thought) passable road. Rose (the headmistress of the school) sat next to me and she said that I had to stay strong, I could do it. With the sweat in my hands, 25 children crammed into the back seat, my head regularly hanging out of the window to see if my tyre stayed on the right side of the road and slipping over the road we reached our destination at ten past two.
People were packed under the small shelter that was made of tarpaulin. Mopeds swung with drenched passengers along the paths. Trucks loaded with family members and villagers (talking about overloading) arrived. Everyone went into the small mud house to have a look at the deceased. Also all schoolchildren, teachers and me. Female family members were sitting next to the coffin, half open, crying and shouting. The stale air in the house and the contemplation of the grief gave me goose bumps. The eldest son stands outside among the crowd and silently lets his tears slide down his cheeks. Nobody who puts an arm around him, or is interested in him.
The new priest is not very popular in his first week here. The old priest has been transferred, very unfortunate, he was a very kind and involved man. He wasn’t happy to go either, but he had no choice. Since the new priest didn’t report at 1 o’clock (actual starting time) to start the ceremony, someone else took over. With a microphone, powered by electricity from a car battery and amplified by a megaphone, everyone can hear the story of Ruth (the deceased). The last of the family members crying are evicted from the house and it is time to take the coffin outside. The coffin is placed pontifically between the crowd and the last honour can be done. After a few minutes, the coffin is lifted to the last resting place in the plantation of her parents. In the background large pots and pans with food that everyone gets a bit of afterwards. The priest finally reports at 4 o’clock, he is late, which is not very unusual here, but as a priest you should stick to time (especially if you are just new), if only out of respect for the next of kin.
I try to absorb everything and find the whole scene fascinating and sad at the same time. The children of the deceased have to sit separately. The two oldest boys have to stand up and get a basket pushed into their hands, anyone who wants to can deposit a contribution. In the background the choir sings quietly, while even the poorest people throw in a penny. The list of “big” contributors is read out and seems endless. While the gentleman rattles with the microphone, the money is thrown out of the basket and two other boys, who have a face still covered in tears, have to sort the money and see what has been taken in. The mother of the deceased sits among the other women and is devastated with grief. We are getting ready to go, I take a picture (that’s allowed).
The colourful robes of the women, most of them with worn-out flip flops underneath, people who have walked in and stand between the banana trees to pay their last respects (if you don’t go to funerals nobody will come on yours) all with their own thoughts, emotions and sadness. For a moment I realise that this is real life for me, no hearse, no beautiful coffin, no coffee and cake. People have to move on tomorrow, there is little time to mourn, there has to be food on the shelf again and land has to be cleared. The people here have to be so tough to survive, I think.
Fortunately, the rain had stopped and the sun had dried up most of the paths. On the way back we took a shorter route, much easier to walk and even shorter… No idea why we hadn’t driven that way either (logica????). When the children came home, they bathed, prepared food and then the phone rang. The security guard said he wouldn’t be coming tonight. This happens more often, usually the day after I paid his salary (which I did yesterday!). Then he takes it well. After a break-in, the night I left for the Netherlands, I barely sleep when the security guard is not there. The feeling that people have been watching me and may still be doing so, scares me. In the end, I can’t do anything with the two machetes next to my bed and I have no experience with the bow and arrow. It’s like Fort Knox, but where there is a will there is a way. You used to have your father, that was the strong man, who protected you from all scary things. Unfortunately… I am mum and dad at the same time and I would have liked to hand over the strong dad part to a tough man.
I didn’t go to Kampala today to take care of this whole manure-guard thing, so I could get on the early bus tomorrow with a good feeling. So now nothing has been arranged and I have made a whole list of chores, which I can take care of tonight. The boy next door has come for reinforcement, nice to have some kind of man in the house (he has very big muscles) and for the first time we have installed the pup in front of the door. I had expected him to cry all night but at the moment he is lying on the sofa cushions that he has bitten to pieces. When he rips the intruders as much as those cushions, I’m not worried about anything.

I wish you all a good night and I look forward to seeing what tomorrow brings…