Last night in Uganda. I won’t deny it has somewhere been a bit exhausting, both physically and emotionally; experiences so powerful that though it has only been 23 days, I feel as if I have always lived here. This is how such experiences are. In present they engulf, completely overwhelm you. And in retrospect, they seem hard to believe. You being hazy in your mind about their occurrence but convinced of their indelible imprints on your life. Such was my time in Africa, my first trip to this unimaginably resource-rich but shockingly unfortunate part of the world. A visit, more of a lesson I think I needed to learn at the brink of my graduation; returning back to the ‘real-world’ as some cynics would say, after a hiatus. I feel my conversations with farmers; people marred by nature and abandoned by nurture, humans living in almost infra-human conditions, have enriched me significantly. Their dreams, when asked, almost every time brought smile on their tired but eager faces; dream of enough food for all, dream of sending all children to school, dream of having a better house with something more than a couple of chairs. Scarcity has chained these dreamers together; so whenever they dream, they all dream the same.
‘Have you bought anything in last three years for yourself or your family?’ I asked one.
He thinks and thinks, going back in time.
‘Yes!’ Oh, his answer is finally here.
‘Yes I did buy a radio for my wife in 2011. She likes to listen to music you see.’
A radio? Hmmm. I used to be a little surprised initially but then it all started to make sense. Spending hours and hours in far flung villages, I slowly began to connect dots, naively hoping that the final picture would not come out as heartbreaking as the individual dots were. Sometimes the whole village seemed like a small, insignificant black dot in center of the world, meaning nothing to anyone outside. But then this thought never lasted long, evaporated within seconds every time I saw those ever smiling, ever waving kids on literally every street. Africa is not just a number. A subject, a research, an experiment. It is a constant battle for survival. To protect yourself from being one of the three million people who die because of Malaria every year.
Africa also made me realize the tremendous power of money. How it can improve lives, or more simply, how it can let people live.
Consider this: Smallholder farmers on average apply for a loan of about 400,000 Ugandan Shillings/six months. Most find it difficult to get, some find it insufficient, some even struggle to pay. You know how much 400,000 UGX is?