By Malcolm Wood, Head of Primary at Rainbow International School Uganda
When I communicate with loved ones back in Britain, I try to convey to them how special Kampala is. I also tell them how my family are; and what the weather, the people and my job are like. I do not dwell on the pot-holes or the traffic.
Here, the red of the earth is in vigorous contrast to the healthy green of giant leaves. Lithe lizards, florid butterflies and mischievous monkeys compete for attention with beautiful and bizarre birds – even in the city. My wife particularly loves the view of Lake Victoria as the sun is setting.
What is the weather like? It is the best climate I have ever experienced. To someone who grew up in Britain, it feels like a perpetual summer. In the rainy season you get refreshing breezes and heavy downpours which are best enjoyed from under cover!
Given the chance to discover, experiment and explore the environment around them both inside and out, the happy, safe children in my school are flourishing in the classrooms and growing stronger and fitter in the pools, in the playground and on the playing fields. In this perpetual summer, outdoor learning such as the planting of seeds and nurturing of plants can happen all year round.
If you like gardening, or are a wannabe farmer, then this is paradise. At home we have beautiful flowers, fruit and veg growing. I only wish I had brought packets of seeds from the UK as the selection available is far wider than here.
To the horror of friends back in the UK, we do not take anti-malarial drugs in Kampala, but nor do our friends here. However, we avoid twilight, wear repellent and sleep under nets. Lying under a net on a warm night, listening to the curious sounds of birds and frogs, or to a tropical storm rumbling and flashing yellow over Lake Victoria is a novel experience for recent arrivals.
What are the people like? They are dignified, gracious, respectful of personal space and keen to help themselves by improving their opportunities through education and professional experience. You can get around very well in the capital just with English but you should at least learn to meet and greet in Luganda (the major language of Uganda).
Whilst many people are very poor, this country is rich in smiles and kindness. In the ten weeks I have been here, I have not seen a single angry Ugandan. Locals and expats seem gentle mannered in this lake-side capital. I encounter warmth, resilience and respect every day; my four-year-old daughter tells me that everyone in her class is nice. I wonder whether incomers are influenced by the Ugandans or whether everyone is softened by the plentiful sunshine? Here, people sing and dance so naturally and so beautifully; I hope this will rub off on my children – and even on me.
The greatly increased opportunities for outdoor learning and play are benefitting my children in ways which I had not anticipated when we arrived in August. My six-year-old son has become more enthusiastic about learning and has embraced reading, devouring books greedily. He has also developed a passion for the food, devouring mangos and pineapples with relish. And the fresh fish! I understand why Kampala Tilapia and Nile Perch are served everywhere.
The local staple food is small green bananas called Matoke (they can be seen growing everywhere). It is steamed and mashed – I would think I was eating stiff mashed potato if I didn’t know better. Matoke is traditionally eaten with fingers; formed into a little scoop and used as an edible utensil with which to enjoy tasty beans, greens, meat in a sauce or fish. We haven’t tried the fried grasshoppers yet but I have promised my son that we will – just after we get two dairy goats…
How is my job? Rainbow is confidently international, British and African. The staff and the children are welcoming, hard-working and proud of their school; the parents are friendly and supportive. Leading a safe and happy community of learners is an honour and a pleasure.