suffer the little children…or NOT!


Children In Dangerous Situations
Modified from memegenerator.net

SATURDAY afternoon, as I was driving from a brief Daddy-chore, I got to Kintu Road in Kitintale and joined a brief queue of cars on either side whose occupants mostly had the hairs on the backs of their necks standing on horrified ends.

My view was better than that of the people in the cars behind a large truck at the head of the oncoming queue. The three cars ahead of me facing that truck were all small salon vehicles whose occupants were certainly as petrified as I was at what we saw.

Standing in the middle of the road in front of the large truck was a little boy, not more than one year old, dressed in a dark blue shirt and matching pair of shorts. Having been alive for so short a time, he had no idea how close he was to dying at that very point.

Human beings generally believe in the supernatural because of the way that truck driver managed to spot that little boy in the middle of the road and actually stop before flattening him to the tarmac.

All the cars stopped and stayed still until someone, who turned out to be a fairly random man, came from across the road and lifted the little fellow to safety. The women who formed the welcoming committee on the other side of the road received the infant without much fan-fare.

One elderly one called to a younger one who made quarrelsome noises down at him and then, fueled by the various remarks by her neighbours in the collection of houses and rooms nearby, pushed him to the ground with the instruction, in Luganda, that he should “Go back and stay there!”

The poor fellow, not comprehending why this was happening to him, burst into tears, picked himself up, and shuffled with his dust-covered back towards the area his mother had pointed to. One minute ago he was on the flat, hot tarmac dancing a baby jig with all those fantastic vehicles whizzing past while someone played loud music nearby, and the next he was covered in dust and being hit over the head.

The lugezi-gezi kicked in and I had to strike up a conversation, but not with the errant young mother – with the elderly one who I insisted should have known better and had a responsibility to guide the other.

She started by explaining that the child had followed his unknowing mother and then strayed, but I cut her short – at which point she summoned the offending mother.

No – I wasn’t going to arrest her even though she deserved it, I said, as the offending mother also tried to explain that the little one had just followed her…I lost my patience a little bit and explained that it was mostly poultry that walked around and expected their young to follow in a straight line, but that even THEY check occasionally.

It took many more minutes of conversation till they both agreed that children should be treated with a little more care. I was neither convinced that mother would change nor decided that I should go back on a daily basis to check up on the boy’s upbringing.

2018 and children are still being raised to the background tune of “Nja kukuba!”?

Yep – that phrase many people of past generations heard as they pranced around and frolicked: “Nija kuteera!/Nta kupiga!” and so on and so forth!

The offending mother, in this case, confessed to being 22 years of age and agreed that she didn’t know better. She couldn’t look me in the eye, out of what I hoped was shame but feared might be fear – which was why I had asked to speak with her elder friend, neighbour and possibly mother.

She was only raising her child the way she knew children were raised. By not being given too much attention for too long. By not being held by the hand at every step of the way. By not being repeatedly given emotional validation. By not getting any soft treatment when they make mistakes of any nature.

Because life is harsh and hard.

That cycle has to be broken – not by raising children who are spoilt and soft and won’t make a success of themselves in the harsh world. But by teaching them responsibility and the positive values that make us a positive people.

By stopping them from getting into harm’s way when they are young and tender, but teaching them how to survive should hard come to them when they are older.

fetch me the chaps who make zebra crossings…NOW


Zebra Crossing

 

Somebody, please point me to the person in charge of deciding where zebra crossings go?

At my kids’ school it’s ridiculous.

The zebra crossing over there, on what I believe is called Gaddafi Road, is a little faded, but that is not the problem – it might actually be the solution, because the sooner it disappears, the better.

Because the crossing runs from one end of the road to the other, right onto the entranceway into a parking lot (see above, again).

Yes – the safe crossing point at my children’s school leads pedestrians straight into oncoming traffic. There are crazier things happening in the world, of course, but this would be high on your list if it were happening to your children two times every day.

This is not the fault of the Aga Khan Education Services, which is run by hard-working educationists and administrators, because my expectation of them is to provide an education and an environment in which that education will be received and absorbed in an enjoyable manner.

Which is why I ask again: who is in charge of these things? Who is the person who took time to examine the problem children and parents were facing getting across this busy road, and worked out that a zebra crossing would solve it?

That person must have researched the concept of zebra crossings and the fact that they give right of way to pedestrians – the same right of way that driving instructors, back when I was in driving school, explained to me in some detail.

On establishing that a zebra crossing would be a good solution to the problem of children and parents risking life crossing a busy road in Kampala City, the person behind the Aga Khan zebra crossing probably got to work designing it.

From the looks of it, that person’s idea of ‘design’ was to: a) Draw black and white strips. b) Leave.

The strips aren’t even all the same size!

Taking into account the speed of internet access used to google ‘zebra crossing’ (if that person’s internet provider is the same as mine), and the time taken to pick up one pencil and one sheet of paper, this entire process should have taken four minutes.

And that person certainly didn’t get involved in painting the actual zebra crossing onto the road, otherwise the folly of its placement would have been clear to see, if they had their wits about them while doing the painting.

That folly is clear to us, parents and children alike, as we make that crossing daily like gladiators facing vehicular monsters under the control of the maniacal drivers Kampala seems to produce in their thousands.

The plot thickened recently when due to genuine security concerns cars were prohibited from driving into the school yard to drop children off, and more recently when the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) rightly put a stop to the practice of parking on the pavements.

So now, all vehicles must go into that one parking lot, accessible strictly over the same single zebra crossing that leads children and those parents adventurous enough to accompany their young into the arena.

Not all parents or minders, I might add, face this danger; some are too busy to get involved and toss their little ones out of the car in order to head off into commerce and duty. They are not taking risks, I presume, since there have been no reports in the recent past of vehicular tragedy at this school.

Other parents, minders and drivers, while speeding off to their other lives, narrowly escape killing their children’s classmates every morning and afternoon while doing so.

Again, they can’t be fully to blame because their only access in and out of the parking lot is by way of the zebra crossing.

Luckily, there is a traffic officer present most mornings to guide the chaos. But if the zebra crossing designer had applied just a little bit of planning during their work, then that traffic officer would have been deployed to create a higher level of order or handle a more serious crime elsewhere.

The officer in question is most times assisted by some parking attendants kindly provided by the school and, together with parents and children, small crowds form to intimidate the vehicles enough to avert death.

The challenge is entertaining to observe, but some times also irritating. Like the Friday before last when one Nadia-driving lady impatiently hooted at a group of parents, children and attendants to get them out of her way after she had dropped her ‘passengers’ off.

On realising that her car horn was not achieving the desired effect, she took a leaf from the book of taxi drivers and drove over the pavement and kerb, inches away from ANOTHER group of parents and children, and made her way into the road.

The irony of a child-dropping parent being a threat to the lives of other children and parents doing the same is as thick as that of the zebra crossing leading into the parking lot; and just a little less thick than the designer of this zebra crossing itself.

 

dancing with my daughter


The Luther Vandross song, ‘Dance With My Father’ has made my eyes moist every time I have heard it play since my first daughter came forth into this world, right into my very hands; and that’s when I truly began understanding why my wife always got maudlin over it.

This evening it will play at the Serena and my daughters will still be too young to join me on that type of dance floor but I will dance with them at home in tandem with the charity event at the Serena, because of two hundred and two (202) daughters of other people.

The first two of those 202 are part of the organisers of the event; two girls who are fascinating representatives of Ugandan youths, like the ‘40 Days and 40 Smiles Foundation‘ kids who are slowly by slowly one tweet and Facebook post at a time building up and equipping a school for disadvantaged children in Luwero.

In my days as a youth, not many of us spent too much time outside of bars, nightclubs, and other such light-hearted, light-headed pursuits; if you only read the newspapers, watched TV and kept a distance from projects such as today’s dance, you’d think the same of today’s youth. Alternatively, you’d believe that they spend all their time queuing up for sacks of cash, attending rallies with government ministers talking about rape, or hopping about saying, “Tusaba gavumenti etuyambe.” (“We are asking the government to help us.”).

These latter youth are despicable, annoying, and yet get all the attention from the government and media.

Yet there are the serious ones like the ones organising this Father-Daughter Dance; when one called me to ask for help I almost dismissed her down the path of myriad organisers of beauty contests, award ceremonies and other catchphrase fundraisers; but this is December, the month of good cheer, so I let her talk some more over the phone as I dispatched emails.

One thing led to another and eventually there were two of them puzzling me with their eager, sober vim and vigour, and almost making me choke on my breakfast as they explained their concept. They’re inviting fathers to take their daughters out to a polite dance to help them bond, because too many men aren’t ‘involved’ in their little girls’ lives, which leaves many girls open to the machinations of young men when they eventually cross their paths.

My struggle with the food was not because of that – I already consider men who leave their daughters to be raised generally by women to be as stupid as farmers that rely on rainfall for good crops without weeding, fertiliser and so on and so forth. Or, put more simply, motor vehicle operators who use only one driving gear and expect to go long distances; the analogies abound, all leading to one word about their intelligence.

These girls confounded me; one of them had began this journey back in secondary school, changing the ‘ABC’ (Abstain, Be Faithful, use a Condom) anti-HIV/AIDS campaign concept to ‘Abstain, Be Faithful, focus on your Career’ because she felt it resonated better with her peers; and ran anti-HIV/AIDS awareness events as a student, using music and dance because, again, it was their language; and, on finishing school, joined up with a group of others to start up a Non-Governmental Organisation.

Registered? Yes. The Haven Anti-AIDS Foundation.

Then, because of the jiggers stories and one group mate having originated from Busoga, the group decided to go over and check it out, and eventually found themselves involved in supporting a school – Seven Hills Primary School, in Buikwe. I looked incredulous as they told me they used pocket money, earnings and savings to make weekly trips to Jinja to do their charitable works.

I couldn’t help interject to re-confirm their ages (both less than 25) when they arrived at the 200 other girls who are the focus of today’s event:

After a number of visits to the school, run by a rather committed community member there, these youngsters realised that besides the great amount of need amongst pupils there due to poverty, there was a deeper problem that affected the girls in Buikwe. The girls there all started school late, and so were beginning menstruation while in the lower primary school classes; because they are so poor, though, they have neither sanitary pads nor underwear, and so miss about a week of school every month. That leads to them generally performing much worse than the boys, besides locking them down to do housework or hang about their homes a bit extra as tends to happen.

The combination results in their poor examination results proving to their backward or misguided parents that they aren’t good enough for education, and they therefore get married off as soon as the schooling adventure ends. Or, as also happens, they get caught up in relationships on the village that get them knocked up and they end up married or otherwise but with no further education in sight.

Worse, because the school is in such dire need, there is no space on the curriculum or structure for a female counsellor to speak with the girls about the facts of life, and they don’t get that at home either.

And so besides the bonding opportunity for father’s and their girls this evening, the proceeds from today’s Father-Daughter-Dance will go towards buying a year’s supply of sanitary pads and underwear for 200 girls in Seven Hills Primary School in Buikwe, and take counsellors over to talk to the girls on occasion.

The story doesn’t end just like that; the cost of keeping each of these 200 girls in school by way of pads and panties, at a rate of about Ushs2,000 per panty and Ushs2,000 per pack of pads, for twelve (12) panties a year and two (2) packs of pads per month, is Ushs96,000. Per girl. That’s less than two crates of beer, four boxes of corn flakes, lunch for two at the Serena, a Saturday family jaunt anywhere in the city…I know people who lose that in change every time their clothes go for washing or dry cleaning.

And we go on with our lives unaware.

While these two young ladies and their friends spend their pocket money and savings driving to Buikwe every other weekend to interact with those 200 young girls and try to give them a better chance at life. Actually, not just their pocket money; one of them quit her job two months ago (earning Ushs2million monthly) to focus on this NGO because she believes that organising events such as today’s will be more meaningful than just coasting through life as a trendy Kampala-ite.

Every so often I meet youngsters who restore my faith in the future of this country, and I throw my little in with them just in case I have in the past made anyone lose faith in us.

So I’ll be dancing to my own carefully prepared soundtrack at home, but I am sending sanitary pads and panties for a couple of Buikwe girls whose fathers can neither imagine dancing with them nor afford to buy them the essentials of life. And I’ll toast to the two girls who brought me into this initiative, and to their own fathers, who passed on long ago and won’t be dancing with their own daughters this evening, but should be proud of what they are doing for many, many other fathers and daughters; Jamilah Mayanja and Agnes Ninsiima, may you live long!