I have been threatening a big bit of writing for a while, and as the rain is falling and I am stranded in this little banda I’m going to give it a go.
This banda is part of the New Court View Hotel, Masindi, a pleasant and reasonably-priced hotel (if you ignore the insane laundry costs). It exists almost entirely to cater for the thick flow of tourists piped from Kampala to Murchison Falls National Park, and the bar is frequented by jobbing tour guides, cards at the ready. Lots of birders can be spotted at dusk after a long day in the park, sitting with their guide books and pairs of binoculars, but in this garden at least there are hordes of scrawny cats who are doing their best to strip the place of any birding potential.
We’ve spent this week covering Masindi district, an area which is quite southern (it comes under ‘central western’ in the books) but experienced a huge influx of displaced Acholi during the bad years. The government forcibly relocated some to an IDP camp near Kinyara Sugar Works, and now Acholi has joined the languages of the cane fields. The camp is gone, flattened and replaced by a cane field, but many people chose to stay on because of the steady work.
Kinyara itself is vast, a plantation which stretches beyond the horizon and which exists to produce a single product- sugar. It was a British factory but has been bought by RAI, an Indian investment company. We approached them to try to get permission to photograph inside the factory, but were sent to the chief accountant, an unpleasant man who gave us a flat no and no reason. Later we spoke to the agriculture manager, who was jovial and pleasant but explained that a recent board decision had banned all forms of photography from the estate. Fortunately the company buys from several outgrowers and co-operatives so we were able to photograph those. I suspect the board decision may have been influenced by the number of children cutting cane in the fields.
We also did shoots with two womens collectives, who produce handicrafts, grow cabbages, keep chickens and, slightly bizarrely, make concrete drainage pipe sections to sell to the local government. One group was managed by a lady named Margaret, who in her spare time is also chair of another group and a headmistress. She took us to the small workshop where six sewing machines sit, waiting for the weekend when the women get together and make dresses and school uniforms. We also went to her school, where I had the terrifying experience of having three hundred children chasing me to get the football I was kicking.
From there we went to the second group of women, who were hard at work producing vast concrete pipe sections. They have moulds which they grease, then they insert a steel mesh frame between the two walls for structural strength and fill the gap with concrete. They were beaded with sweat and covered with flecks of the concrete, but they giggled and chatted as they worked and the pervading mood was one of cheerful busyness.
From there we went to photograph the site where the Acholi camp stood, at Kasubi, near Kinyara. To get to the site you go down a dirt track leading to a water pump beside a small pool. There are small children everywhere hauling the yellow jerry cans full of water, balancing these big, heavy containers on their heads and walking in groups, chatting and laughing. Before the well, upstream in the narrow valley, there is a slaughter site where fourteen poles stand awaiting the next cow. When the cows are dismembered the blood and effluent runs into pools which cook in the sun, releasing a thick, sweet smell of rot so foul and strong it can be smelled long after you have left the place. It was the worst smell I have ever experienced, and the rain will wash all of that poisonous soup straight down the valley to the pool beside the water pump.
Speaking of rain, today is one of those days when the sky, which has been brooding for a while, unleashes everything. The rain makes the paths into brown torrents, and water falls from the hut roofs in a near-solid curtain. Mixed in are pea-sized hailstones bouncing off the umbrellas with sharp poc-poc sounds. Occasionally there is a flash of lightning, single strikes rather than sheets, chased immediately by lightning varying in tone from rifle cracks to long, deep bass notes shaking the earth. Today is a good day to be a duck or indoors, but thankfully I have plenty of editing to keep me busy.