I started off Uganda with a very long, full day. Hard to believe I made it all the way to real night. Cicadas, crickets, frogs, voices, and a corrugated tin shower stall with a bucket shower. Five weeks will simply not be nearly enough; I suspected this would happen. It’s chaotic Africa, a torrential downpour and running out of gas on the side of the road just as it really hits; malarial mosquitoes, yelping, mud and getting stuck in it; potholes, matatus, boda-boda motorcycle taxis on little Indian motorbikes and lights not on and everyone seeming to speed up as the day darkens into night.
On the morning of the 7th, first full day, I wake up in the dark to the sound of black ibises flying overhead. Now distant roosters, a medley of songbirds whistling and trilling, a series of slow then rapid, high-pitched hoots: doves. Brian tells me over breakfast tea that there’s never been any real food shortage in Uganda; the alternating abundant rainfall and heat, combined with “ridiculously fertile” red soils, mean that any food shortage is short-lived through the dry season, and quickly ameliorated once the rains come in September.
Already, I feel like I’ve had a full tour of permaculture demonstrations – the DSAPS first when I arrived, with and by Brian, followed by a tour by site manager Nicolas of Roofings Inc.’s Corporate Social Responsibility project and Aaron Elton’s brainchild Forever Forestry, along with a full walk-through of the Roofings steel mill and factory. We end the day with dinner by headlamp, at Dewe, in a small, round, concrete hut with tin roof and abundant charm.
Next weekend Brian and I will go to Jinja, and to House of Joy run by Ronnie Minaud, who I’d previously connected with through friends in Vernon. What’s happening here is showing people that they can grow their own food, stop the use of pesticides, fertilizers and amendments that have only been available for the last generation; regrow forests, harvest abundantly, rebuild depleted soils, stop erosion. It’s simple, compelling, and very lofty goals; widely applicable, deeply both humanitarian and ecologically sensible. It’s about creating rather than merely describing change, as so much of research seems to be – there’s value in both, certainly, but I find myself increasingly wanting to be more heavily on the side of creating it.
At Forever Forestry they start with catching the runoff at the top of the site, then spill it over into a series of silt traps – elephant grass and various trees, mostly, and two small gravel pits – that catch the soil carried down from drainages off properties above them. It’s a free soil supply that they can sift and use in the nursery immediately, and also catches the litter and debris that comes down every time it rains. A few metres below, the run-off water drains into a sculpted, kidney-shaped pond about (max) 4′ deep, in which they’re growing tilapia and catfish. Although the water’s a milky tea-colour and totally opaque, a dish of chopped food brings a flurry of nibbling splashes at the surface.
Further down are the composting toilets, complete with a men’s urinal that drains directly into a sealed bucket. A urine diversion system for the women failed and made a big mess, so it now goes into the pit with faeces and a little extra sawdust to absorb moisture and extra nitrogen.
Roofings has also supplied the steel and building supplies for a properly built teaching space, livestock structures (chicken coop, goat pen), and living accommodations for the site manager.