A cycling adventure in Uganda
“Can I borrow your bike?” He nods and hands over his bike a little curious. His big brown eyes look up at me, questioning. “Gwe, what is that muzungu doing with your bike?” “Banange” I reply “I will only cycle to the school gardens and come back before schools out.” The kids start giggling right away.
The boy wasn’t alone any longer. More big brown questioning eyes look up at me. Others laugh and joke and I can’t blame them. It is unbelievable that a white person, a white woman, would cycle to the school gardens. Why on earth would she do that?
Basajjansolo is a small school in Luwero village. Luwero, known for it’s violent past, is now trying to recover and succeeding. The primary school has over 300 pupils and 7 teachers. That is about 42 children per teacher, per class. Class rooms without windows, toilets without locks and not nearly enough seats for all the kids to sit. But they do go to school, they do learn the basics and they do get to play with other kids instead of working.
Other than class rooms, toilets, a few pigs and street dogs, the school also has a garden where Irish potatoes, beans and cassava is grown.
“Milene, yangu!” I get on the bike and move. A little nervous as I don’t want to make a fool out of myself of course. “You are Dutch for christ sake” Henry shouts at me over his shoulder. There we go. The kids run after us, screaming, laughing, shouting. The whole school is in turmoil.
It’s hot and soon a waterfall of sweat runs down my back. The dry sand whizzes up into my nose, my eyes, anywhere. The stones in the road make me grasp the stearing wheel a little tighter. My butt soon hurts, my arms drill so hard they itch. Up and down the hills we go. Everyone we pass stares at us, points at us and just before we are out of sight they wave at us, smiling. Always smiling.
We pass gardens, beautiful gardens with amazing green matooke trees. Matooke is a green banana which is one of the main dishes of Uganda. Women are working in the gardens, digging the Irish potatoes, whereas the men hide in the shadows, chewing on some leaves. The oldest boys of the household are cutting the matooke trees.
There are some small shops along the way, not bigger than a small living room, stuffed with all the things one needs. Bread, fruits, vegetables, meat, pasta, toilet paper, the same soap for washing the dishes, clothes and the body. Rice, huge bags of rice. Water and of course waragi. The national drink which is cheap and gets you drunk quite quick. “Give me one dollar” men ask me all the time. The one dollar waragi that fools many men or make a fool out of them.
The burning African sun high in the sky, the often solitary ball of fire. Suddenly not so solitary. Big dark clouds enclose the sun. The wind starts to blow, a huge thunder is heard not to far from where we are. “Let’s find a place to hide, it’s going to rain.” “Don’t you worry Milene” shouts Henry back. Henry cycles in front of me, without so much as a drop of sweat, on his childish pink bike with a little white basket on the front. Henry works as an accountant at the school and studies economics in Kampala. Together we try to organize the schools finances and other administrations.
Only minutes after Henry assured me I shouldn’t worry about anything at all, all hell breaks lose. It feels like all the seas are sucked up by this one big cloud and let lose right above our heads. Within no time I am soked to the bone, all the dirt on my body washed away. The lightning is close and almost blinding my eyes, the road soon turns into a mud river through which it is hard to cycle.
“Let’s go here” Henry says as I struggle to cycle through the mud. I’m scared as hell to be hit by lightning and not for nothing. Seconds after we take shelter at a veranda of a very old house of stone the lightning strikes in front of us. This African storm is not new to me. It always come with a warning, a tough blow of wind that makes trees move and leaves fly, which is very soon followed by thunder and lightning. It never gets less scary especially not when on the road. The storm goes on for an hour after which we get back on our bikes and continue our trip to the school gardens.