We arrived in Kampala at 6pm on Saturday evening. We checked in once again at the Makerere University Guest House where we had stayed on our first night in Uganda 2-weeks ago. The familiarity of the guesthouse helped to reinforce the extent to which we are slowly, but surely, starting to get to know both Kampala and Uganda. The guesthouse was certainly a lot busier than it had been during our previous stay. There is a party of over 30 secondary school students from Norway who are visiting Uganda to participate in an annual dancing event where students get an opportunity to learn and perform dances that are characteristic of different ethnic groups living in Uganda.
Rosco left us for the evening to return to his home and settle back into life in Kampala. Although Rosco has been to Lira many times before, this was his longest continuous stay there, so I am sure that he was appreciative of the opportunity for some down time. After a brief rest, Katja, Richard and myself met for dinner. There were moments of concern when we realized that the video-camera had been left in the transport that we had been using that day – particularly in light of the fact that there had not yet been an opportunity to save the video-interviews that Katja had shot with members of the research team from the previous day. We immediately contacted Rosco who in turn contacted Julius (our driver). Within an hour the camera had been located and returned to us by Julius. We were greatly relieved, and very appreciative that Julius had managed to return it to us so quickly (even in spite of the traffic jams that clog the arterial road networks in Kampala).
It would be fair to say that we were all exhausted after the travel today and we agreed to turn in for an early night. I did some writing for the blog and then made my way to bed. I was woken by the evocative sound of the early morning prayer call from the nearby mosque. I spent some time drifting in and out of sleep but was aware of some pronounced busyness in my thinking. There is a lot to process about what has happened, and the work that has been conducted, in the previous two weeks. So many personal exchanges and stories shared. So many different languages shared and attempted (Lango, Acholi, Luganda, English, German, Polish and Romanian to name but a few). So many visual images developing like photographs in the darkroom of my mind. So many hands shaken and smiles exchanged…. In Uganda, as with other parts of the world, physical contact during greetings is important. Handshakes tend to be more elaborate than those exchanged in countries such as the UK; a variety of hand-positions can be sequenced together, and the length of time that the handshake lasts tends to be longer. Ugandan people will often grasp their right forearm with their left hand whilst completing the handshake.
I was aware that Richard had arranged to meet with a Ugandan student who is living in Kampala and completing her PhD through the University of Manchester. Bona’s research is focusing on the role that technology can play in the education of children in Uganda. Relative to its neighbours in the Great Lakes Region (Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania), the proportion of people completing secondary school education is comparatively low (i.e. 33% in Uganda compared to 84% in Rwanda). Together we shared some thoughts on how this issue could be addressed. It was a very interesting and enlightening conversation.
Rosco joined us at 1pm and we made our way to a nearby cultural centre where local crafts are sold. After picking up some souvenirs, Rosco took us to a restaurant called The Lawns. It is located in the consular section of the city that tends to be popular with expatriates. It was a decadent end to our trip. We really enjoyed the food and it provided another opportunity to unwind that little bit more. However we were acutely aware of the stark contrast between the comparative affluence of this area of Kampala and the deprivation experienced by many Ugandans. On returning to the guesthouse we had some time to kill before heading off to Entebbe airport. The Man Utd v Man City game was being shown live on the television, but my mind was not on the game.
We left the guesthouse at 7.45pm, Rosco had arranged the transportation to the airport and he accompanied us on the journey. The drive out to Entebbe took over an hour. The initial phase of the drive took us through the busy streets of Kampala. The electricity was down in many parts of the city. Candles and paraffin lamps instead illuminated the sides of the roads where vendors were selling all manner of foods and merchandise from their stalls. We navigated our way across busy roads crammed with bicycles, cars, taxi buses and motorbikes. The traffic in Kampala can feel a bit chaotic at the best of times, but people seem to find a way of negotiating their way through. My mind drifted back to the night of our arrival in Uganda and the journey we made in the opposite direction. I remembered how I had envisioned how our departure from Uganda would feel after the two week stay had been completed. I think it is fair to say that it the deep sense of accomplishment that I felt driving out to the airport far exceeded anything that I could ever have anticipated on our arrival.
As we approached Entebbe we received two welcomed phone calls on Rosco’s phone – one from Dennis (a member of the research team), and then one from Fr Ponsiano. Both wished us well on our travels and again thanked us for coming to Uganda. It was kind of them both to call, and we enjoyed having the chance to chat. And then… it was time to say ‘see you later’ to Rosco in the form of a group hug. As a group Richard, Katja, Rosco and myself have complemented each other really well and we have had good fun along the way. Rosco is due in the UK in May, so we hope to meet up with him then. The flight from Entebbe back to Amsterdam takes 8 hours and is due to leave at 11.30pm. I will get a connecting flight on to Glasgow, and Richard will fly to Manchester. Katja however is flying on to Atlanta and then Tucson in the US to present at a conference over there. That’s an incredible journey to fit in a limited period of time. It won’t be until the 20th April that she finally returns to Glasgow.
The plan for the next few days is to settle back into life in Glasgow, work through some of the research administration tasks and save and catalogue some of the data/media that we collected in Uganda. I will try to get some photographs up onto the blog.
It was an early start this morning. We were on the road at 5.00am to head West towards the shores of Lake Albert. The road surfaces were rough and uneven. The journey would take 7 hours; 7 bone-rattling hours. The drive took us through rain-forest tracks and up into the elevated land of the East Africa escarpment that sits over the rift valley. We passed by baboons sitting by the roadside, keeping guard over their youngsters. Our journey culminated in arrival in the town of Butiaba on the North East shore of Lake Albert. This area had been explored by Sir Samuel White Baker in the mid to late 19th century. Baker, who was as a personal friend of Edward VII, eventually became governor of the area that is now Southern Sudan and Nothern Uganda but at that time was referred to as the province of ‘Equatoria’.
Butiaba is to many extents trading on its past glories as a fishing village. Unfortunately, the fishing stocks in Lake Albert have fallen dramatically in recent years, and the town is struggling to adjust. In spite of the economic hardships that this has for the population living there, the huge Maribou Storks patrolling the drying fishing nets that line the shore in the stifling heat do not seem too concerned. Walking among the storks, we took time to look out towards the far shore of Lake Albert where Uganda ends and the Democratic Republic of Congo begins.
After spending some time chatting with some of the local people, we travelled back West to stop off at the town of Masindi where we had lunch at the Masindi Hotel. There was relatively little conversation over lunch – mainly because people were too busy connecting with the WIFI that the hotel offered – a scarce resource in these parts. The food was good. Katja opted for the local fish called Talapia. It is popular all over Uganda and is served whole – the eyes are a particular delicacy (Rosco very much enjoys the eyes…). Following lunch it was back into the Super Custom for the 4-hour trip to Kampala.
The road journey south served as a microcosm for our road-trips in Uganda; enormous termite hills frequently dotted across the landscapes; unfeasibly large loads on the back of motorcycles; babies tied snugly to their mothers back as they walk along the roadside; long-horned cattle chewing grass; signs advertising various nearby ministries and churches; bananas, jack fruits, and cassava sitting for sale on roadside stalls; clusters of small circular huts with thatched roofs where the people working the land live; the single story simple buildings that serve as shops (some emblazoned with paint work representing the products that they sell e.g. mobile phone top-ups for companies such as MTN, Airtel and Africel); palm trees, hand-ploughed fields and sugar canes. A myrid of people, shapes, colours and livelihoods.
And so we arrive at the last day of project-related activity. In light of the fact that the analysis of the Phase 2 had to be conducted, it was always going to be a busy day. In keeping with our routine, we started with a prayer and a song. Throughout our time together, this has served to promote a sense of togetherness and to orientate to the group to the values that are guiding the work that we have been doing.
We worked steadily through the day. The team’s commitment to the project never wavered even in spite of the very warm temperatures. I had an interesting chat with Katja and Richard at lunch about the potential contribution that the Creative Arts and Translating Cultures (CATC) hub of the ‘Researching Multilingually…’ Project team can make to enrich the data gathered by the ‘Case Study 1’ work that we are conducting in Uganda. It was great to get a sense of the competing factors that the CATC hub is contending with. To my mind, there is a need for the work of the CATC hub to be sufficiently sophisticated and theoretically-informed to satisfy academics interested in the creative arts. However, there is also an additional requirement for the CATC hub’s work to avoid being academically abstracted to such a level that discipline-specific researchers (such as me!) struggle to recognise the potential opportunities for collaboration and the mutual benefits this can provide.
As a mental health researcher, I am particularly interested in the role that the creative arts can play in enlivening efforts to engage with the public about the research that I am involved in. As such, I am keen to explore how the creative arts can potentially facilitate and strengthen public engagement with the Case Study 1 findings. These will be important discussions to develop with Katja and the other members of the CATC hub.
As the work started to wind down in the late afternoon, Katja took the opportunity to do brief video interviews with members of the local research team to gather their reflections on their involvement in the project. I look forward to reviewing these videos, and seeing how we can integrate these (and the daily video-diary interactions that we recorded) into presentations relating to the research activity
The project work was completed just before 5pm – virtually to the exact minute of the timeline that had been stipulated in the research proposal. It was an incredibly satisfying moment for me personally and, by the expressions on people’s faces, this was also the case for the members of the team.
Fr Ponsiano kindly offered to drive some of us into town to purchase presents. This afforded an opportunity to take in more sights, sounds and smells of the hustle and bustle of Lira. Katja collected the dress that had been tailored for her, and Richard and myself scoped out some gift opportunities.
Richard, Katja and myself had decided earlier in the week that we would take the team out for dinner on Friday evening as a thank you for all their hard work. So, at 8pm we gathered at The Lira Hotel. It was lovely to see everyone relaxed and happy. It is hard to believe that some members of the team had not met each other prior to the project commencing. It is clear that enduring friendships have been forged. There were speeches of respect and gratitude. I gave special thanks to Fr Ponsiano who has been tireless in his commitment to the work. He, more than anyone else, has been pivotal to the completion of the research. Rosco deserves a special mention for his wise counsel, important insights and looking after us so well.
Following the meal, there were riddles and puzzles for the group to share and solve – Jimmy Bongo was Master of Ceremony for this section. Elizabeth sang us a farewell song that wished us well for our journey home. We were presented with thank you cards and a special gift – a mix of ‘sim-sim’ (ground sesame seeds) and ‘ground nuts’ (peanuts). It is a local delicacy and will be perfect for us to enjoy on toast.
It was always going to be an occasion tinged with some sadness. Leaving Lira, after the experiences we have had here, is a wrench. But rather than this being a goodbye, this is more of a ‘we will see you again’. We have been genuinely touched by the warm welcome and kindness that we have been afforded. The sincerity of the words of thanks that we received from the team shone out as brightly and as clearly as the stars shining down from the cloudless sky above us.
Today was always set to be a busy day. This was scheduled to be the day on which the data collection for Phase 2 (Key Informant Interviews) was completed, and that the Phase 3 Focus Group Discussions (FDG) were conducted. We had two interviewing pairs meeting with new Key Informants and one interviewing pair set to complete an interview that had been commenced yesterday. So, the initial task for Fr Ponsiano was to secrete these 3 interviewing pairs into the appropriate locations for these interviews to take place. There were some logistical challenges to negotiate when it became apparent that many of the people that had been invited to attend the focus group discussions did not have access to transport to make it out to the Pauline Hotel where we had planned to conduct the discussions. It seems silly, but it is easy to miss important considerations such as this when the team are caught up in the hurly burly of research activity. It had been assumed that the team transport would be available to collect participants, and they were informed that this would be the case. Hurriedly convened contingency discussions this morning produced a plan B. We switched the venue to a more central location that would be much more convenient for the attendees to get to. In addition, the decision was taken to offer funds from the consumables budget for the project to compensate people for the costs of their travel. It was no mean feat by the team to get all 15 people who had been scheduled to attend the Focus Groups there and ready to go – albeit with a slight delay.
Two focus groups had been organized; one for females to be facilitated by Elizabeth (with Julianna acting as scribe) and one for males that was facilitated by Patrick (with Daniel acting as the scribe). We had obtained ethical approval to audio record the FGDs, and the participants provided informed consent for this. The main purpose of the focus groups was to explore in more depth the types of tasks/activities that people living in the Lira district frequently do to take care of themselves, their families and their communities. This information gathered is intended to supplement that gathered in Phase 1 of the research regarding tasks/activities. The people who had been invited to attend were prominent members of the community such as police officers, school teachers, District Counsellors, retired University lecturers, and nurses.
There was a striking difference in atmosphere between the two focus groups. The female group had a more collegiate, cooperative and welcoming feel to it, whereas the male group had a less settled and edgier vibe. The extent to which the tangible distinction in mood between the groups influenced the nature and content of the discussions that took place remains to be seen. I had met some of the female FGD attendees (including Mary and Betty) last August when I delivered a workshop in Kampala. It was great to see them again, and they were very pleased that we had committed to visiting Lira and that we were conducting the research in this district. During this visit to Uganda I have been very struck by the strength, power, commitment and resolve that females in the country possess. I am convinced that the future of Uganda rests in the hands of women. There are many challenges that must still be addressed in terms of safe-guarding the rights and opportunities of females in Uganda, but there are glimmers of promise. Enhancing educational opportunities, reducing teenage pregnancies and working with male attitudes towards females appear to be important points of focus. The role of females in Ugandan society is reflected by the fact that there is a Uganda Women’s Anthem; the opening lines of which are: ‘We are the proud mothers of the nation, The backbone without which, it can never stand…’ This is an anthem that is widely known and sung by females in Uganda.
Following the completion of the focus groups (and the taking of obligatory photographs of the respective parties), a group of us headed into the bustling centre of Lira. The temperature had been rising steadily as the day progressed. Although the sunroof in the Super Custom van was open, if the vehicle was stationery for any length of time, the heat became stifling. With the end of the visit to Lira drawing to an end, it was important for Katja, Richard and myself to visit the Barclay’s Bank (!?) ATM to get money that we can use to settle hotel bills and pay for a number of research overheads; including the vehicle hire and training room hire. Katja was also keen to visit the market to buy some material that could be used to make a dress. Katja was ably assisted on this mission by two members of the research team (Julianna and Joan). Once the material had been purchased, we travelled over to a market in another part of town where, set on hard, dusty and uneven ground, a large volume of seamstresses and tailors were working at covered stalls. There was a vast array of colours and designs on the fabrics that rested on work-benches, and the off-cuts that littered the ground. I was struck by the large number of Singer sewing machines – the model of choice for discerning seamstresses/tailors all over the world. The Singer Company had a large factory producing sewing machines in the Clydebank area of Glasgow. In the 1960s this factory employed over 16,000 employees. The factory closed in 1980 due to financial difficulties and falling sales. As a testament to the site where the factory once stood, ‘Singer’ continues to be the name of a train station near Clydebank. It is testament to the quality of the product that the company produced that these machines continue to be used in back streets and market stalls all over the world. It was great to greet the workers in Lango and to spend some time talking with them. Katja had some measurements taken and was invited to return tomorrow when the finished article will be ready for collection.
On returning back to the Pauline Hotel we had a quick lunch and caught up on some paperwork. We gathered the research team together for a debrief regarding the ending of data collection. I’m really proud of the team and the work that they have completed over the past 10 days. We have all learned a lot from each other, we have grown as individuals and as a team. Tomorrow we will embark on the analysis of the Phase 2. It is set to be a busy day again. It will be our last day together as a team, and we plan to mark the end of this leg of the project by having a celebration together – Rosco will I’m sure be lobbying for some more dancing…
This morning we met with the Principal of the Lira campus of Gulu University. The campus is situated on the site of what was formerly the biggest campus for internally displaced persons in Uganda. The site officially closed in 2007, but many of the people who had been placed there decided to remain there as they were unable to returned to their homes due to the destruction that was wrought, or because their land was requisitioned by the Ugandan People’s Defence Force to build bases to reduce the risk of further incursions by the LRA. There are currently only 400 students enrolled at the campus, which officially opened in 2012. Elizabeth Amongi, who works as a lecturer on the campus, had kindly organized the trip. The Principal had provided his personal vehicle to come and pick us up from the Pauline Hotel and take us the 25 min drive to the campus. The campus is situated on an elevated site that commands impressive views of the surrounding countryside. Red dust rose from the uneven track as we approached a set of modern buildings scattered amongst the broad expanse of green fields. The huts of the displaced families who have made this place their home sat not too far away amidst the small plots of ploughed fields that the families farm and keep their animals.
The principal is man named Prof Ogwal (a Professor of Pharmacology who holds at MD). He had worked for much of his career at the main Gulu University campus. He explained the vision that the small team of academic staff currently based in Lira have for developing educational programmes there. Within 2 years the student numbers will rise to 2000. The Faculty of Health Sciences, which has been established and is currently training much needed midwives, will grow. In addition, a Faculty of Education will be established.
A Gulu University calendar on the wall had ‘Cultural Diversity’ emblazoned on it. Richard picked up on this. The principal provided more information about the ethnic make-up of Uganda. It seems that there are over 50 ethic groups – of which the Buganda are the biggest (representing approximately a third of the population). The Buganda people are concentrated mainly in central Uganda, and are less numerous here in the North. It seems that English serves as a unifying language that can cut across the ethnic differences. In the past Kiswahili was promoted as a language that could unify the nation. This would have the benefit of facilitating cooperation with Kiswahili speaking East African neighbours such as Kenya, Tanzania etc. However, Kiswahili was resisted by large numbers of people in Uganda as it was traditionally associated with less educated people. Luganda is the most widely spoken indigenous language spoken in Uganda, but its potential use as a National language is resisted by some ethnic groups because it is so closely associated with the Buganda. It is important to note that the school that we visited yesterday and the University we visited today only teach students using English. This highlights the challenges that health professionals might have being taught in a language that is not necessarily the first language of the people that they subsequently treat. I think this serves to highlight the ecological validity and potential utility of the research that we are conducting.
The principal was interested to learn about our academic backgrounds and responsibilities. It was great to reflect on issues related to training mental health workers to support the mental health and wellbeing in Uganda. I hope that staff from the university will be able to join us in Kigali, Rwanda from the 15th to 19th June 2015 for the ‘Global Perspectives in Mental Wellbeing’ knowledge exchange event that we are organizing there (http://global-perspectives-on-mental-wellbeing.eventbrite.co.uk. The event is very much intended to benefit people working to promote wellbeing in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. It was great to hear Richard and the Principal talk about plans to build the faculty for Education. Richard has very valuable experience of building capacity for training teachers and educationalists in places such as Greece (where he helped to establish the Open University) and Bangadesh. It seems that the conversations with the staff at the campus are only really beginning and will continue in the months to come. It is exciting to see a university campus so early in its development. Our visit concluded with Elizabeth giving us a guided tour of the Faculty of Health Sciences. We met with some of the staff there including two nurses from the US Peace Corps who are working at the University for a year. On returning to Pauline Hotel we had lunch and then spent time trying to get to emails before members of the research team started to return from the key informant interviews that they had been completing. Patrick and Elizabeth spent the afternoon trying to confirm arrangements for the Focus Group Discussions that contribute to Phase 3 of the research project.
I used the time waiting for the supervisors to return to complete the checking of the interview recordings to ask Fr Ponsiano and the research team about the Lango words that are used to describe elevated levels of distress. I was careful not to introduce terminology that is routinely used in the UK to describe and categorise complex mental health problems. ‘Awingi’ is a word that is used to descibe strange behavior, or as Fr Ponsiano puts it, someone’s ‘wires not being right’. Links were made by the group between this term and bipolar disorder. The term ‘abangbang’ is used to describe someone who is persistently flat or down. ‘Tipu kome’ can be used to describe someone who is in a chronic grieving state and translates as the ‘soul of the body being gone or destroyed’. ‘Apoa’ is a word that is apparently used for severe mental health difficulties. The team drew comparisons between this and a diagnosis of schizophrenia. When I asked about commonly regarded causes of Apoa, Fr Ponsiano mentioned the following factors along with the accompanying Lango terms: genes (‘dogola’), people with these difficulties coming to your home with it when you were young (‘twoakobo’), a curse for doing wrong (‘orogo’), stubbornly persisting with particular behaviours (‘ceno’), injuring someone else/killing a person who is experiencing madness and this madness transfering to your family (‘neko apoa’). In terms of indigenous treatment options for these forms of difficulties, the following options were highlighted: ‘Anebi’ (mix of religious and traditional healing), and ‘Ajoka’ (a witch doctor). A range of malevolent spirits and processes were also highlighted including ‘Ajok’ (witches) who can poison people through food (‘ading’), or more mysterious methods (‘acudang’). The words ‘ajok amyelo/ajok iayido’ are used to describe what are in English referred to by the Lango people as Night-dancers. These cause no actual bodily harm but do disturb sleep. It was an enlightening conversation that only got to the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There has been much to learn on this trip, and there will be much more to learn about in future visits.
7th April – venturing out into the field
To support the team and get a sense of how the interviews with key informants take place in the community, Katja, Richard and myself joined the team in the field. It was great to see the diverse locations in which the interviews took place – on plastic chairs set under the shade of a mango tree, in the office of an Anglican bishop’s office at St Augustine’s Church, in the small home of a farmer who had taken time out from turning the plot of earth that sat around his dwelling. It was interesting too to get a sense of the rural and urban areas that constitute Lira district; from lush green paddy fields where large volumes of rice is grown, to the tree-lined avenues that make up some of Lira’s grander thorough-fares, to the straight dusty, pot-hole filled roads that lead out of the city to the satellite villages around Lira city and on through the expansive geography of Northern Uganda.
At one point we skirted close to the city centre; passing close to the Lira Regional Referral Hospital and then the local prison. It was striking to see large numbers of prisoners sitting in the bright sunshine wearing their distinctive yellow bibs. As the morning progressed, we accompanied Fr Ponsiano as he took one of the interviewing pairs (Eric and Jimmy) out to the village of Alio which is 25 km outside of Lira to visit a key-informant who is widely respected by the community members. When travelling in this part of Uganda, you are sure to be greeted by waves and smiles from children and adults who may be standing or walking on the roadside. The Lango and Acholi people who live in this region are warm and welcoming. People are respectful and polite in how they interact with you. During our visit to Alio, women who approached to speak with us kneeled on one knee before us. Although this is left us feeling uncomfortable, we accepted this as the sign of respect that it was intended to be.
The temperatures in Alio were peaking at 36 degrees Celsius when we left Jimmy and Eric to conduct their interview with the key-informant. We used the time to visit the nearby Fatima Secondary School for Girls. We called with the headmaster and were greeted warmly. He explained that the school had over 500 students and 23 teachers (all but 3 of whom were male). Class sizes in Ugandan secondary school tend to be large. A year group of 120 students can be divided into 2 streams – 60 students in each. We had the pleasure of being invited to sit in on a Business and Commerce teaching session. Sitting at the back of a secondary school class brought an interesting mix of emotions; there was a distant familiarity that was tempered by the unfamiliar context of school life in Uganda. The headmaster introduced Fr Ponsiano to the group, who not unexpectedly weaved a wonderful spell of inspiration across the class with the words that he shared. Fr Ponsiano then introduced Katja, Richard and myself to the class. We shared some thoughts with the members of the class who were curious about these visitors from the UK. Katja did a great job of teaching the girls some basic German phrases. Richard (who had thankfully brought his tin whistle on the trip) proceeded to invite the girls to accompany him with their singing as he played the Ugandan national anthem. A brave move that worked out wonderfully. Richard has been trying to perfect the tune all week, and he picked a great time to absolutely nail it. The girls stood proud and straight as they sang the words of the anthem – taken aback that this stranger should know the tune. It was a very special moment. The anthem complete, we bid the girls farewell (in the Lango language) and left the classroom; sounds of giggled excitement ringing in our ears.
Once we had collected Eric and Jimmy we made our way back along the road to Lira. On arriving back at the Pauline Hotel we connected again with the members of the research team who were meeting with the supervisors to reflect on the interviews that they had completed during the day. We also caught up with Rosco who had been holding the fort for the team. Over dinner we reflected with Rosco on the wealth of riches that the day had afforded us. There is much for us to remember and cherish.