Last Tuesday brought me to the sister towns of Rubira and Rwakashande. These farming towns are located less than an hour’s drive from Kabale and are home to 3,000 people–mostly subsistence farmers.
My mission for the morning and afternoon was to survey the area’s water and sanitation facilities to add more content to KIHEFO’s growing research on the area. But I was in store for much more in my conversations.
I was fortunate to be assisted by the primary school’s P7 teacher, Simon Peter. Together we spent the morning visiting some different parts of the hillside and speaking with people.
From the school’s central location along the main access road, we headed east to the closest water source. As we walked, I started to unleash the prepared questions I had arranged the days before; they were hit-or-miss.
How many functional and non-functional water pumps are in the town?
“The town has no water pumps.”
Does the town have a water committee to do monitoring and maintenance?
“No. The town has village health teams (VHT), though.” (They said that these VHT’s do hygiene awareness, but this I did not receive with confidence.)
Are there any community latrines? Maybe provided by an NGO or the local government?
“No. There are no community latrines. There are latrines at the church, but those are only for churchgoers and only during church hours.”
After this initial round of questioning, I realized that my plan was off base and that I should just slow down. I would wait to see what Simon would show me and build discussion from there.
On the west side of town, about a five minute walk from the school, Simon showed me a “spring” – as he called it. It consists of a underground pipe of constantly flowing, clear water, which is filtered somewhere upstream. This infrastructure was funded by the district and sub-county authorities in Kigezi. If the water is not collected at the point of exit, it either sits in the concrete basin around the outflow or finds its way through irrigation channels to farmer’s fields and then ultimately to the nearby river.
At the time of our visit, no one was there collecting the water that was falling to the ground. This puzzled me, but Simon remarked that families typically collect water twice a day: once in the morning and once in the evening. They may collect a third time, at midday, if needed.
We then took a long walk from here to the complete opposite side of town to see the second spring. This one had a high flow of water and was being attended to a woman with two jerry cans. Just opposite, there was a man cleaning his motorcycle in some standing water. A cow joined him to have a drink, showing the maximizing use of water here.
I further researched the sanitation facilities in the area. The typically household – parents, their children, and possibly elders – would have their own ‘latrine’. These latrines are made from local earth and wood materials. They have a wooden floor and a hole where waste is excreted.
I was very fortunate to actually view one in mid-construction. A group of men were digging a rectangular hole with vertical walls. The man in the hole was already 6 feet deep and was moving towards a final depth of 15 feet. The reason for this new construction is that the old latrine had collapsed. Most of these styles of latrine only last for two years before they collapse. The rainy season intensifies the deterioration by eroded the earth walls.
As I am learning more about public health through my outreaches with KIHEFO, I was happy to see that most latrines are a safe distance away from cooking and living areas. The one worry I have in the openness of these latrines and the potential for flies to transmit disease.
We returned back to Simon’s primary school, where the 320 children were slowly heading back home for lunch. In the small window of time before they departed, I was able to interact with many of the young ones. Or at least try, as their English was building and my Rukiga was non-existent. Through the help of another teacher, Innocent, I was able to introduce myself, ask them about their favorite sports, and see what futures they saw for themselves.
After the morning schedule, all children have to walk back home – up to 30 minutes uphill – to eat before returning for the afternoon activities. I was lucky, as the teachers invited me to eat with them in their Teacher’s Room.
Rubira Primary School hosts three levels of nursery classes – baby, middle, and high – although I suspect they are grouped together less rigidly due to available room. Then there are the seven classes, from P1 to P7, which children pass through before they can move into secondary school; there is no secondary school in town.
According to Simon, of the 100 students you might find starting P1, half would disappear by P4. The reduction continues into the next levels, but at a slower pace, as only 20 students would be found in a P7 class.
As Simon was the P7 teacher and I have an interest in understanding gender inequality, I asked him if what the male to female ratio was in his class. He said that there are 13 girls and 7 boys. I was surprised by these results. From what I’ve read and seen, girls are always devalued compared to boys. They are seen as having less future potential and bear the brunt of household duties – cleaning, cooking, collecting water, childcare – preventing them from attending school and reaching their full potential. It seems that either Rubira is a special case or that I need to investigate further to find the truth.
If someone makes it all the way through these classes and fairs well on Uganda’s Primary Learning Exam (PLE), they can move into a secondary school, if they can afford the expenses. Secondary school consists for 6 ‘forms’. There are two paths on offer. If a student intends to go to university, then they would finish Form 6 and start their degree. But if they intend to study a trade – nursing, for example – then the can enter a vocational school after Form 4.
During our lunch break, I was able to talk with a larger group of teachers – both male and female – and learned about the community I now inhabited.
I was most surprised to hear their views of polygamy and bride price. These old, religious traditions, held by both Christians and Muslims in Uganda, but rarely found in the West, were deeply engrained in the minds of even the highly educated.
“Would a woman be able to take two husbands?” I asked. They all laughed – as expected by a question that would not normally be asked in normal conversation – but one woman noted that there was in fact a case where a woman took a second husband, as she was the primary breadwinner in the family and therefore, could make such a non-traditional move. But, on the whole, men are the ones who can take a second wife, a third wife, or really any number of wives. They also noted that many people – both men and women – might have additional partners that are not classified as either ‘wife’ or ‘husband’.
Another part of marriage that is widespread is the traditional of dowry, or bride price, where the husband’s family pays the wife’s family for their loss of a daughter. The price is not set in stone. Instead the two families meet and negotiate on the price. This acts as remuneration for the parent’s, who are losing a valuable member of their family and allows them to better prepare for their older years. A dowry might be paid in cows or goats, which hold value; in practical items, like pots and pans; or can be paid in money.
The teachers were eager to question me on if Canada had the same type of marital systems. I responded that we are a mixture of many peoples from many different lands. This creates a mosaic where traditional overlap. Rather than a Ugandan marrying another Uganda, you could find Brazil-English partnerships or Aboriginal-French unions. With this mixing of cultures, Canada and other Western nations have chosen very strict legal explanations of marriage that have eliminated dowries and polygamy. They seemed to be receptive to this counter approach of life and I think they enjoyed exchanging information as much as I did.
I have much to learn.