‘Your Only the Third Big Shot in Our Village’ – Adventures on the Equator
‘Your only the third big shot in our village’, said the village ‘chairman’ (head hocho), ‘together with a Government Minister and a CEO’. I hardly thought of myself as a big shot, but his concern was real. I needed to register with him in case, as the only westerner in the village, (though I know of a Dutchman in the next village) a gang of machete wealding thugs ambushed me at night and he had to call my next of kin. He suggested the local police would keep an eye out – but a donation of 50,000 schillings – ‘to oil the wheels of government’ would help. I wasn’t about to argue, it was so similar to the Panchyat system I was familiar within in India, it was only 5 pounds or so, although around 15 times the monthly Ugandan National Minimum Wage.
Joggo (sometimes spelt JJoggo) is a rapidly growing large village/small town just north of the equator/Lake Victoria. It has grown so fast it isn’t yet properly on the maps and so no one is quite sure how many J and Gs it is supposed to have (like many place names in England before the Ordnance survey standardised them). The chairman was head of Gomo/Misindye Village. My family’s farm is in the tiny village of Misindye. Gomo is just the name of the region. But Joggo is the main settlement having grown up in no time at all along a road atop a north south ridge amidst beautiful rolling countryside at altitude, that like Winston Churchill a century ago reminded us both of the Sussex Wealden, only with much more colourful trees and birds. The Chairman reckons it has a registered population of over 3,000, but he says many ‘big heads’ don’t register so the true population I reckon is over 5,000. A village this size in England might struggle to support two or three shops but in Uganda it has over a hundred. It doesn’t yet even have a Church (Misindye’s is only concentrated as a Parish in its new Church on 13th Jan).
The vast lump of Kampala lies within peri-urban eyesight of the ridge but a useful strip of protected wetland keeps this area safe from sprawl though rapidly developing. 5 km to the south down the unmetalled and endlessly road humped ridge road lies Seeta, 10 years ago a small village but now a busy town on the Kampala/Kenya Main road (don’t think for a moment that this is even a dual carriageway). A place with the atmosphere of a wild west gold rush town given the number of businesses setting up there and how crowded it gets on Market Days.
My partner Doreen was bored at the farm, ‘lets set up a little stationary shop.’ Seeta rents were silly even for Africa, but Joggo had a lot a shops but mostly rubbish ones and my brother in law noticed that for miles around people had to take a long boda boda (motorcycle taxi) trip into Seeta to get photos printed, so we decided to set one up in Joggo. I worked out with a large ink tank Epson L200 printer we could undercut competition for miles around on price per photo.
The only free shop was derelict so I secured a long rent free period in return for renovating it, which took less than a week.
The ‘shopfitting’ was fun. I was told that the price quoted for wood and labour for the shelving was a ‘muzungo price’ (you can work it out). However the family member who bought the wood was palmed off with warped and split junk at a ‘cheap’ price. Needing to be open before Christmas, where there would be a big rush of portrait photos, we had no choice and a couple of local ‘carpenters’ (hammer bangers in) set to work. I bought a spirit level and explained I would not pay them if everything was not at right angles drop dead centre. A day later they were finished the front room – but nothing was level, some shelves 20 degrees off. Its Africa my other half explained, a wonky handmade feel was part of the spirit of the place. Little did I know my other half had fired them from doing further work. That night I caught them skulking around the farm late at night, and that night a chicken vanished, then then the next night another after the hen house window was broken into. The lesson, however unintentionally don’t make enemies.
So after a weeks work and high jacking a local Peugeot minibus taxi to carry stock (even a tiny shop fills a whole one up and we did not yet have my Africa mobile,
a Toyota 4 wheeler which from its milage, condition and coins in the glovebox had one previous lady Dubai owner who only took it once a week to the Mall), a generator for the inevitable power cuts, adding every item to a ‘foolproof’ PC till database, and welding of security doors front and back with a endless series of elaborate padlocks – one of which squeels if tampered with – we were ready to open. Booze, barbecue and funky music ready our two (three today) year old daughter Tyra (nasaur) cut the ribbon and we were open. (ill post a you tube when I get the chance). Now if only I can get that uber high tech pocket sized WIMAX and WiFi connection working.
Christmas is a busy time for photos. An awful awful lot of pretty girls have been in wanting photos taken by Dorren’s brother Joseph. He even seems now less interested in not missing every Arsenal Game and stays at the shop overnight –hmmm. I made sure Tyra had a little MU ball for Christmas so should doesn’t fall under his bad influences.
Being Christmas and an endless series of family birthday parties at this time (including our little ones today and her Christmas Day Christening)
Dorreen hasn’t yet put in a shift. So much for me sitting in the back office writing my long planned treatise of price theory between international urban planning assignments). A plan further disrupted by a yearlong too big to pass up contract back in blighty of all places. After the spending the sunless summers of 2010 and 2011 in England I hoped to base myself as much as possible flying around the Equator, staying at altitude outside the wet seasons (which Climate Change here has made two months longer than usual) . Instead cold sogginess and neoliberal miserableness beckons and I have only two weeks to teach Doreen both to drive and Photoshop/Indesign. Thank goodness I have the patience of an angel.
So after a brief weeklong trip in the Africa mobile to Mount Eldon National Park (where the final; scenes of King Solomon’s mines are set) ill leave this, beer at 40p a bottle, petrol at a pound a litre, rent free, demi-paradise behind. Of course the shop won’t make a lot of money, but at 8% annual growth and low start-up costs half a dozen businesses like it plus property development building three bedroom homes at 10k a throw (including land costs) that rent to western charity workers at European prices this is the land of economic opportunity and security in elder years that austerity Britain with every sq cm of land locked in by rentier interests, where the elderly are abandoned in institutions by family and where an unemployed person with a 50% savings rate would need to save for several hundred years to start a shop up, is not.
Inspired by Irish pubs where you get served pints over a counter of Shoes, after dark (around 7.30 every day we are on the Equator) we intend to soon open up as the ‘Equator Bar: Best Bar in North or South Africa (and both at the same time)’, and show Premier League matches on the satellite TV. Sadly though I wont be serving bottles of Nile Special or Tusker, and bags of Grasshopper (which taste just like pork scratchings) over the photocopier just yet, Doreen and Joseph and aunty Harriet will, however if you happening to be passing between Ngorongoro or the Serengeti and the Mountains of the Moon and the Impenetrable National Park (David Attenborough Guerrillas) on the main highway then just turn off at Seeta down the main market street and after 6km or so you will see our big halogen lit sign (being made today), and you can kip over at Joggos pride or Neon Cottage motels nearby (places where young Kampala couples sneek out to at the weekends) you would be welcome. Just ask anyone on the road for ‘Daddy Tyra’s’ Shop and Bar or see teh Google Map below for a GPS.