7th April – Venturing into the field and going back to school

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.

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