wash your hands or die!

A year ago this week, the national budget 2012/13 arrived without much noise, then a furore erupted months later over the Ministry of Health allocation.

During the melee, the most lucid and calm defence of the Executive’s approach came from Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi who said the government approach to health focussed on primary rather than secondary health care.

As such, he explained, the government planned to spend lots of money on preventing disease rather than treating it, as that would result in a healthier population and save scarce national resources.

Two extreme ends of our social spectrum brought this to mind for me this week:

The first, a series of boda-boda chaps who you will notice ride around the city with their helmets firmly affixed to their handlebars instead of wrapped around their soft-centred yet despairingly thick heads. These fellows are already the most endangered of the human species in Kampala (followed by their passengers) and continue to fulfill jungle law by disregarding obvious safety precautions. To their credit though, they have now improved from the days when they wore baseball caps as a form of protective wear – but they still fill up scarce hospital space.

The first fellow I saw amused me and I tried to take a photograph, but was distracted when I noticed another, then another, and then I realized that MOST boda-boda riders didn’t understand what helmets were for.

The second, a pretty lady wearing a smart, no-sleeves office suit who parked her shiny BMW X5 by the roadside just below the Army barracks at Mbuya on Tuesday afternoon. She was buying roasted maize. By the roadside. Image

I slowed down to confirm what I was seeing and, indeed, she was purchasing a number of cobs of roasted maize from women who had their sigiris standing in the dust by the roadside in Mbuya. She didn’t turn off her car engine all through, and probably burnt the same value of fuel sitting there as the price of the maize she purchased.

The questions came rushing at me like unhelmeted boda-bodas: Didn’t she have a cooker at home – or a sigiri? Did she have no maids to roast maize for her? Had she ever been to school – or paid attention while there? Was she just a well-dressed female driver buying a roadside snack on the way to collect the boss?

Roast maize – not always clean and healthy

Thinking ahead, the thought occurred that like many other people I know this woman might not have a Dr. Spocks or ‘Where There Is No Doctor’ nor a First Aid box at her home. Ergo, when one of her homestead suffered a stomachache due to the roadside maize, she would be driving her X5 to a hospital to see a doctor.

And if you happened to suffer a heart attack or something serious, you would have to queue up behind her and probably die while a doctor induced flatulence in her, then moved on to thirty concussed boda-boda riders.

Your cause of death: Ignorance of woman in X5 buying roasted maize by the roadside + boda-boda.

The stupidity (it’s okay – we’ve all done stupid things like this before, but this is 2013 and we can’t be buying food off the roadside, especially if we are driving X5s!) of these two categories of people is often replicated in different ways in between.

The act of neglecting to wash one’s hands after using the toilet or just before eating, for example, is as bad as eating roadside food in Kampala without a populated first aid box at home. But there is the hidden kind that only comes to you after someone points it out: For years, I allowed the courier-cleaner-odd-job fellow at my office to also purchase my snacks from wherever I fancied them – until the day I asked myself what his home environment was like, when cholera had broken out in parts of Kampala.

I started paying close attention to his habits, and it took me just under an hour of close observation to withdraw snack-purchasing duties from his docket, because his hands kept bunching up the front of his over-sized trousers.

His peer was even worse, because of how eager he was to run errands and gather up tips. This second chap once interrupted a car washing task to go and fetch a Rolex from a nearby stand, and returned with the car-washing rag in one hand and the Rolex (wrapped, if that helps your imagination of this) in the other. Think: what really – the truth – makes office sumbusas so spicy?

(Roundabout now, you should be doing a mental checklist of which one of your workers you should issue with protective clothing and equipment.)

I then resorted to ordering for eats from nearby restaurants and cafes but they had a habit of deploying soft-headed boda-boda chaps who stacked the food next to their helmets, not far from their more smelly personal bits…I had to develop stricter rules.

But rules sometimes don’t work – as my garbage collection service provider has explained to me repeatedly. We’ve been engaging in a running battle for a couple of years because his staff do not wear gloves when gathering up garbage – but he’s always sworn that they are all issued with gloves and boots. I accosted the filthy fellows one Saturday morning to interrogate them and they quickly confessed that they had gloves but found them a bother to wear. Mutual bewilderment ensued – theirs at my lugezigezi, mine at their casual handling of death.

My garbage collector’s staff, however, have a higher life expectancy than the KCCA garbage collection fellows who are also bare-handed at work but then tend to dangle themselves perilously off the back of whatever garbage truck they are riding – either out of excitement at the trucks being new; or because the putrid smell gets them high.

Now, if one of those chaps is married to the woman roasting maize in Mbuya, or your office tea girl…or your X5-driving wife is serving you roadside maize as a tea-time snack… you can see how the amount of money allocated to the Ministry of Health might easily be a waste of resources.

4 thoughts on “wash your hands or die!

  1. You’ll be surprised how many of us buy maize from the roadside – even if we drive lesser cars like Mark II and Premio! You didn’t mention rolex. Or roadside meat and gonja on highways! My point: it’s just a way of life.


    1. @albertmuc: You and I cannot justifiably argue like that. It’s not just a way of life – it is a problem within our society that we must address. In developed societies where life expectancy is higher, there is a serious co-relation with their health standards, public education and even trade regulations. That’s their way of life, I suppose, but it’s far healthier and more cost-effective than ours – and is telling of their understanding/use of education vs ours.


  2. if I remember well, When I was pregnant, I craved chapatis from some bumpy,murram and dirty short cut in the morning and road-side maize to be precise, maize at the northern by pass in the evening, they had to come from those two particular places. lol. I remember watching the guy fry the chapatis with his bare, dirty sweaty hands and face, or not forgetting the smelly breath when he got close to the car. I promised never to eat that dirty stuff ever again. however the next day, my head would spinning and I feel really sick, if i didn’t have my morning and evening dose of germs. All said and done, I now cant even use that chapati route for fear of my car getting dirty. so Simon no defense to such unhygienic behavior but from this disgusting experience i can only speculate that there must be something irresistible in all that sweat, smells from those squatting ladies, dirty hands and smelly breath or not forgetting the never settling Ugandan dust. just saying !


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