Marcelo, a VM working on a project with VMM Partner OBAAT in Hoima. western Uganda, reflects on his experiences:
Working in Hoima
I wake up at 07:00 in morning to go to the toilet which is a pit latrine. And for those who do not know, the pit latrine has usually many stances where each person goes in to do his/her things through a hole on the floor. The thing is, I don’t see much privacy because when the thing hits the bottom of the pit, its sound reflects to all stances. But it is right, everyone respects other people things and you do not hear any laugh from other stances. We are staying in a house with small living room and two small bedrooms with shared toilets with the whole compound approximately 8 families living in.
My shared room is very hot with not much ventilation; I bathe with a plastic basin resting on the floor at the bathing stance. Conditions at this house that we have rented for this particular project seems to be tough but it is normal in Uganda and they are used to it. As an expatriate programme manager, I could stay in a hotel with nice air conditioning but I decided to stay with my Ugandan colleagues. And I must say, back in Fort Portal at our field office in Uganda I have the privilege to stay in a house with hot shower and my Ugandan colleagues in their homes still use a plastic basin to bathe.
For breakfast, have a maize porridge with fried muhogo (cassava). My fellow workers do not bother to separate my porridge first in order to avoid sugar. The Ugandans love porridge with lots of sugar.
We are building two houses with two bedrooms each and they shall accommodate volunteer doctors from England to work at Hoima Referral Hospital. On Mondays, all together, we quickly pray for protection along the week work. As a civil engineer, I am here to manage the construction but I cannot only do that, I feel like putting my hands on the bricks and helping in whatever I can do to fill the gaps between my real work. With drawing plans in my hands, I manage the setting up for the position of the walls for the house. I am lucky to have a great time of workers, mixing the mortar, building and plastering the walls, assembling timber for the roof structure, etc… is not an easy job. I am building the ceiling structure and suddenly I say to my builder assistant. “– let’s stop for one hour I have a meeting with my boss!” and I go to the cement store room, turn on my computer and, via Skype, report the week progress to my coordinator in the UK. Finish working day at five sometimes six and we all sit down together to eat jack fruit. This fruit is cheap here and it is a source of vitamin to my workers. At lunch, we eat rice and beans and twice a week meat. Some of the workers commented that it was the first time to be served meat at the building site and they are also grateful to receive their wages in time on the agreed pay day. I have heard cases of Ugandans been working for few weeks and the employer never paid them.
On Wednesday evening, we go to play pools at the local bar and have manufactured branded beer called Chibuku which is grind maize with water, fermented for few days and packed in paper cartons, same as milk cartons that we know back home. At a more expensive price we can find a good quality lager but after many trials I got used to Chibuku. I would say it looks like the water from a sink after washing Christmas dinner and maybe does not taste far off. Go back to the house around eight, have dinner left by our maid, labour here is cheap and we can afford a maid and we are lucky she cooks very well! Have a chat and a laugh about funny things that happened along the day and go to sleep. After five months in this project comes to the end, we sell the left over timber and buy a goat to be slaughtered and cooked with potatoes for the hand over party. We deliver the houses to the doctors and the hospital.
The families and the landlady from compound where we were living in are sad with our departure and the maid is seriously in tears. They liked us probably because, as builders, we did some improvements on the premises on our spare time and with spare materials. Despite bathing in cold water (I hate cold water when bathing!) and the incompetence of some of my workers when painting the walls they end up painting the window frame and vice versa, everything was enjoyable and it was a nice experience. I am very happy to see the houses ready and the gratitude from the hospital management. And it is fulfilling and nice to see that this project will surely benefit Hoima Hospital patients from surrounding districts in western Uganda.