| Oct 17, 2009
The dirt underfoot feels like dusty red asphalt. No seed can gain a foothold. I’m on a side street in Kampala no bigger than an alleyway. There are people ahead of me walking with the slow deliberate strides of African people. Their feet maintain the surface. It’s not all smooth, there’s a random patchwork of gullies on the hill I’m climbing. Memories of past rainy seasons. Sometimes it’s not a gully but a ravine. I stop to look at one of the larger gullies and see at the bottom the remnants of sandbags, probably placed in a failed attempt to control the intermittent monsoon-like rains.
The road narrows. Someone has built their house, no more than a shack, on part of the road. Another shack ahead runs across the road. People follow the path that winds around these buildings then returns to the grid that tries to contain the seeming random placement of buildings.
On the right is a rusted corrugated fence. I can hear banging. Through the gate I see vehicles stuffed into a courtyard each being worked on by a team of men. Some are watching, some filing, others taping the windows. The body shop can’t handle the volume so one van is being worked on in the road. The men are perhaps too ready to stop and wave with a smile as I walk by. I look in the van as I walk by, one of the men is asleep in the driver’s seat.
I’ve only been in Africa a few hours and yet I’m back among these people as though I had never left. I’m a stranger yet I feel I am a participant in their lives. So much of life here is lived on the street. As I watch the children playing, the men sitting, the women bent over sweeping their patch of dirt, I feel somehow connected.
It’s the children that welcome me back to Africa. They smile and wave as I walk by. They run up to get in the picture if I pull out my camera. Am I fooling myself in believing that they are happy with ragged clothes, with no toys, without snacks or ice cream? I watch two boys playing with two old bicycle tires. They rolled them then ran after them pushing them to keep them upright. Other children were playing football with a ball made of plastic sheeting wrapped in string.
The children’s bright smiling faces bring me both joy and sadness. I laugh as a group of children jostle for position in a photograph I am taking of them. We are standing in front of a shack the size of a garden shed, perhaps 10 by 15 feet, with a curtain for a front door. Their mother, who must have heard the laughter, puts her head out to look and smiles, then another woman appears, perhaps her sister. And then two more children stick their head out to watch the fun. These women, their husbands and perhaps many of the children I am photographing, all lived in this tiny hovel. It has a dirt floor and certainly no running water because earlier I had seen children carrying impossibly heavy jugs of water up the hill. I take the photograph, then show it to the children on the little camera screen. They crowd around pointing when they see each other in the picture. How is it they are so happy amidst such squalor?