So much has happened since I last wrote that I feel it is necessary to cover three topics in this entry. For my friends who have inquired about Kampala, I wanted to speak more about the city. In addition, I have officially started work and have been in the field on several occasions, piquing my interest and desire to share information on both the loan officers at MCDT and the amazing women I have met. Please bear with me…
Kampala has completely surprised me. I realize now that unlike my last trip to East Africa, I was not mentally, emotionally or probably physically prepared for this trip. Kampala is quite metropolitan, sits over many hills (seven I think) and has three (and probably more) different types of areas that I have seen thus far. The downtown area is where the taxi parks (for matatus – shared vans in which 14 people cram in) are in addition to about 1000 market stalls. It is crowded and yesterday I even got in a human traffic jam. They sell everything under the sun and more (all mostly plastic) here as people are constantly coming into and out of the city. Then there is the “other downtown” (I obviously don’t know the correct names yet) where the hotels and many businesses are located. Here you will find nice paved streets with matatus and boda bodas (motorbikes) as well as private cars but also beautiful shrubbery and space to breathe and walk. Finally, there are the hills where many people live. Looking up, the hills look green and are specked with houses with red tiled roofs.
Traffic in the city is horrible. At home when I would be in traffic and had my exit in sight, I would think if everyone just moved forward a few feet, decreasing the distance between each car, I could get to the exit. Well, in Kampala that is exactly what they do. I cannot even fit between 2 matatus in traffic as they are almost (or are) touching. The driving is even worse than the traffic as I have only seen two actual stop signs and one traffic light. Needless to say, I will not be driving.
In addition to the traffic there are cows, goats, chickens and dogs running around. Apparently everyone knows which animals are theirs and it is completely ridiculous for someone to kill and eat another’s animal. In fact, from talking to some Ugandans, that could be one of the worst things one can do. I find the idea quite nice and at the same time a bit fascinating since I am used to the western world, where many people have the idea that if it is on my property, it is mine.
I have been able to garner much of this information from the wonderful Ugandan woman who I live with and indulges all of my questions. We have discussed my job as well, and it is through these discussions that I have also learned that there are different levels of slums. As I mentioned above, many people live in the hills. I believe this is due to the fact that there is a rainy season and the hills probably act as protection, providing drainage. There are some slums in the hills, but the slums that MCDT serves are in the valleys slightly outside the city. My friend once asked me if they were “slum-slums.” After I didn’t understand, she explained that the worst slums are those in which the houses are actually just one room and have dirt floors, the kids run around barefoot and half-naked even though they should be in school and sewage runs through the walkway between the houses. Indeed these are the areas MCDT serves.
When I venture into these areas, I am always with an MCDT loan officer. Most recently, I have been paired with Rose. She is 24, recently finished her studies at Makere University and has only been with MCDT for 2 months. She, like all the loan officers get into the office at 8am and don’t leave until 8pm – they are truly amazing. In addition to that, MCDT has a requirement that all loan officers are first hired on a volunteer basis for three months without pay (they receive lunch each day during the week), then the loan officer is put on probation for six months where he or she starts receiving a salary, then after another round of interviews, the loan officer is hired on as a full employee. It is quite remarkable that each loan officer goes through this difficult process, especially Rose whose father has passed and whose mother doesn’t work as she must stay home to look after her sister who has mental problems. So, in order to work at MCDT, Rose must forgo a salary for these few months and pay for her bus ride into town in hopes of getting full-time employment.
Yet, each day Rose takes me to the field and I am so very grateful as with her guidance (and translation at times) I get to meet these wonderful women (MCDT serves mainly women who are put into groups of four or five people. They are each responsible for one another’s debt should one person fail to pay). The other day I got to meet Mwanje Florence, a hard-working woman who speaks wonderful English. She so eloquently told me that she works, “very hard to make just a little” since she goes to bed at midnight and wakes up at 4am to start working again.
Mwanje Florence went onto explain how the loans have empowered the woman as they are no longer beholden to their husbands to ask for money for food or school fees. MCDT’s training helps these women learn about the loan process and by the end, each woman is at least able to write her name, something many could not do before, and keep a loan book. In addition the groups, according to Mwanje, allow the women to meet and discuss their problems because they all understand and can support each other; they are able to help each other with their loan books and answer one another’s questions.
There are many women like Mwanje Florence and it is always so enlightening to meet each one of them. My living and working experience has shown there is a vast difference between those that live in the hills in nice houses and those who live in the slum-slums. For the people in the hills, the Bank of Africa advertises loans for weddings and furniture and for the women who live in the slums and work only to send their children to school there is MCDT and their amazing loan officers./>