Friday, May 9, 2008

More meetings

One of the things I’m really enjoying about MCDT is that I get to go all over Kampala to places I have never been before, places off the beaten track--at least my beaten track. I doubt these places will ever be on a tour, and it’s an amazing feeling to get invited in to the smallest degree to people's life here.

The past couple of days I have been paired with Fred, a very warm and friendly man who has been extremely patient with me.

On Wednesday, we took a couple of taxis out to a neighborhood on the Nateete Road, near the outskirts of Kampala. Fred was excited to go there because he had recruited some of those members and hadn’t been back since that time. We met that day in a beauty parlor ("a saloon" Fred tells me) owned by one of the members. You can see here the women waiting to check in, carrying plastic bags holding the weekly repayment of their loans as well as a lined notebook in which the group leader records the total payments of the groups and the individual passbooks that Fred marks with each member’s payments, balance due, etc.

On Thursday, we went to two different neighborhoods, both within walking distance of the office. The first, Kitanga, is a slum built in a hollow between two of the main hills of Kampala. The houses there are small brick rectangles with corrugated iron roofs. Lots of water collects there and so mosquitoes are a huge problem. It’s a neighborhood that’s actually having some new building—for the students of Makarere University, which is just on the other side of Kitanga. There, we met on a kind of public porch with a television set in front of an apartment building.

From there, we walked to Mulago, uphill, where the city felt amazingly far away. The dirt roads were wide and well-tended there, and the pavement (when there was pavement) was amazingly smooth and free of potholes. Fred tells me this is because it’s near the hospital so there isn’t as much traffic in that neighborhood. For whatever reason, it certainly felt like a much more comfortable place to live than Kitanga. There, we met in a classroom. The only sign posted on the walls was a small handwritten strip that said, “Be Aware Aids Kills.” Otherwise, there was a chalkboard in the front and dozens of desks with benches to seat two. Unlike the other two neighborhoods where the women sat on the floor, here everyone had a bench to sit on as they waited for Fred to collect and count their money.

Fred and I walked back cutting through Mulago Hospital, a huge compound, plain but nicely landscaped, then turning up and walking over Mulago Hill, back down to the office, where I turned off and down to Kiira Road to catch a taxi home.

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