Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Character and characters

You get a bit of a feel for the nature of people when you're cycling along, generalisations based of course on nothing more than a few days experience. But it's quite interesting to think back at our perceptions of the distinctive character of different areas.

The Kikuyu we met were very educated and opinionated people - happy to speak with us on equal terms (depending on social class). Along the roadside you got a real warm feeling from people as they gave a nice open two handed wave and a big smile. This was often accompanied by shouts of 'Jambo'. I've no idea who told them that I was, but it was really nice of them to make me feel welcome.

Kalenjin people seemed incredibly modest, gentle and showed genuine interest in what we were up to, although certainly didn't force conversations or shout after us. Children would just smile and wave or run alongside.

Luo (Western Kenya and Eastern Uganda) were much more vocal and shouts of Muzungu, How are you? of Jambo tended to echo round the traditional homesteads as we passed through villages. The thousands of other cyclists often entered into conversation. Interesting to note that it would be largely men that would speak to us (ie me).

Jinja and Kampala had real multi-cultural feels with all sorts of tribes as well as Indians, North Africans and whites all over the place. Difficult to really get a sense of the places in just a day or two.

Uganda was a real surprise - incredible landscapes changing every few kilometres, great food and hospitality. Heading down the West of Uganda from Fort Portal not only the landscape but the language and feel of people changed every few kms. Literally go from one village to the next and people wouldn't understand the few local words you'd picked up earlier the same day. As we went south, the children became more and more excited and confident at approaching us, asking things and grabbing onto the bikes. Some villages the menfolk were hostile looking, others very friendly and open. Women generally were generally always cheery and waving. The most disappointing aspect of our interactions came closer to the border as children became more aggressive and continually demanded money, pens, books, sweeties...etc...etc. As Lucy has blogged about earlier, we learned that this has become a real problem caused by foreigners handing stuff out as if a few shillings is what will close the income gap.

This got incredibly frustrating as day after day we were looked as as stationery shops or confectioners. And it was in these last few days that we had a few things stolen from our bikes as we were moving - kids grabbing stuff from panniers.

An immediate change across the border in Rwanda. Language became a real problem - outside of the cities almost no-one has any English and only a few speak French. But the children no longer demanded stuff, they were just incredibly excited - overly so because they would grab onto all parts of the bike in excitement. This led to a comedy tantrum from Lucy and resulted in one little girl tumbling backwards into the ditch. Still, child abuse is (allegedly) common in these parts and the girl got up laughing.

There is certainly no mistaking the fact that this small country is massively overpopulated. There is almost no break in the houses all the way through and every piece of land, no matter the gradient, is farmed. Of course the country has a pretty horrific recent past and one weird aspect of the character is staring (maybe related, maybe not). Cycling along, fellow cyclists would just stay at our pace and stare. Not saying anything, no facial expression. Just stare. Whenever we stopped, crowds of people would gather in beside us and just stare without expression. No matter what we said, even in local language, did or gesticulated, the expression rarely changed. Very chlostrophobic and really difficult to handle when you're not used to it.

Crossing the border into Western Tanzania was just the most dramatic change imaginable. Suddenly space. Miles would go by with noting but the odd mud and thatch homestead. And people would just wave, say Jambo, or just show indifference to us. It was such a pleasant change after feeling so hemmed in. One particular aspect we noted was the deference that rural girls and even some adult women would show us. Many would quietly say a word that I can't remember how to spell, that literally means "I hold your feet", often accompanied by a curtsey. In fact lots of the kids demonstrated absolute terror at seeing us - running away or hiding in bushes. Probably Hibs fans.

Bit of a ramble but I found it nice to recall!

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff, jealous does not come close. Glad it has all gone well. Look forward to your return and seeing the photos and hearing the stories. And the question within CS is did you manage to teach the farmers about spreadsheets?

    see you both soon love p, e and r.