would that the new were better than the old…cue Mulago Hospital and nostalgia


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Guess what place this is?

LAST weekend I found a way of combining roast meat, drinks and a discussion about plastic recycling with an interesting fellow called Frank Morris Matovu, at Zone 7’s Shisanyama (a whole other story of its own).

Frank is an architect, an artist, an avid reader, a curator and a collector of old books.

I first came across him when one Bernard Acema wrote a piece about Kampala that I published on my blog as ‘The Racism Behind Kampala’. Frank read the piece and uploaded more than ninety (90) pages of a 1955 book titled, ‘Town Planning In Uganda; A Brief Description Of The Efforts Made By Government To Control Development Of Urban Areas From 1915 to 1955‘, by Henry Kendall OBE, F.R.I.B.A., M.T.P.I, Director of Town Planning, Uganda.

Intrigued that he had possession of such a book, I tracked him down and he told me his secret. It’s a secret, so obviously I won’t write it down here.

Suffice to say that I intend to benefit from his method as often as possible, and that last weekend was a roaring success for me.

My one caveat when we agreed to meet over meat was that he bring me a good book. I was so eager to receive it when he arrived that I breezed through a greeting and then expressed concern that he appeared to have no book on him.

He protested the lack of pleasantries (that’s the word he used, so you can see why I chose to meet with him), then like magic whipped out the book.

I took it from him carefully because even in the darkness of Zone 7 I could tell it was a delicate manuscript. It was a landscape manuscript that had come unbound and lacked a front cover, but the top page presented a black and white photograph of a familiar landmark that took me a while to recognise.

It was the Mulago Hospital in 1962. (That photograph up there at the start of this online version).

The book, detailing the plans for the construction of the 1962 Mulago Hospital, made for pleasurable reading all through – right from the lucid, well-written preface by then-Minister of Health, E.B.S. Lumu, dated 23 August, 1962.

There are many small details in that document that made me smile and also saddened me – including the fact that this Cabinet Minister didn’t feel the need to write “Hon.” in front of his name, and made no spelling or grammatical error in his three-paragraph preface.

So much has changed over the years, and it’s fun to compare and contrast right now that we are about to launch a new new Mulago Hospital.

Then, the introduction reads, Mulago Hospital was “one of the largest and most up-to-date hospitals in East and probably the whole of tropical Africa” and Kampala was described in glowing terms as “a garden city, spaciously planned, with many trees and open spaces which remain green throughout the year.”

I read that phrase standing atop Naguru Skyz Hotel overlooking most of Kampala and I felt even more sad.

I went back downstairs to read on and enjoy nostalgia and marvel at how much detail the people of the 1950s went into to build Mulago Hospital. There are drawings of how the buildings were arranged to facilitate breezy air flow for the comfort of the patients and “architectural treatments used to achieve sun protection”.

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By the way, the list of people on the Committees to do this work does not include a single Ugandan.

While planning the “Patients’ Environment”, “Colour would be used to create an interesting and cheerful atmosphere.” and “Noise in a multi-storeyed hospital, especially in the tropics where windows are generally open, is a difficult problem. In Mulago it was thought that the breeze links would act as sound barriers…and noisy supply departments would be placed on the periphery of the hospital.”

Speaking of the supply departments, the planning process went so far as to study the diets of the Africans, Indians and Europeans, and design kitchens to handle them.

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“The African diet…is at the present time made up principally of matoke (plantain), lumonde (sweet potatoes), beans and sauces. The diet also includes meat and fish.” reads the book, stating that the hospital would receive “gigantic” quantities of matooke – 1,250,000 pounds per year, which necessitated planning for the disposal of the peels.

THAT is paying attention to detail.

Also, you will be amazed to learn that Kampala was so pristine back then that the following statement was written: “The Kampala Township water supply, which is obtained from Lake Victoria, is one of the purest supplies gazette anywhere in the world, and no water treatment has been provided.”

Imagine that!

The cost of construction was 2,315,000pounds sterling (1957-1962 value) of which 22% was spent in Uganda – including the portable wooden furniture manufactured by the Ministry of Works and Uganda Prisons Industries section. They were thinking straight back then, rather than importing everything.

There is a lot more in that book, and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading it repeatedly, while hoping that the book on the new Mulago Hospital will be as neat, detailed and pleasurable – 56 years later.

6 thoughts on “would that the new were better than the old…cue Mulago Hospital and nostalgia

  1. Whatever went wrong with planned development, we cannot really know but I can make my guess. Most of our actions are motivated by the urge of today without any forethought about tomorrow. And our politics is in the middle of this mess!

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  2. It’s hard getting a project team to do a write up like that. However, if a feasibility is doen before it will most likely have such detail.

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