Friday 21 October 2011


A barefooted beggar in a mismatched suit drops a piece of paper and it floats away on a stream of rainwater. I watch as it sails freely under the customs gate between Uganda and Rwanda avoiding all paperwork oblivious of the one-hour time shift or having to change sides of the road. The rain is quite gentle but the clouds are heavy, obscuring the tea bush carpeted hills and horizon around Kalone the Rwandan border town 2 hours north of Kigali.

I am waiting for Kirenga to sort out the paperwork for his car before continuing with our journey to Buhoma on the edge of the Bwindi impenetrable forest in SW Uganda This border is very relaxed and it is a pleasant moment stood under the dripping eve of a custom post watching the world go by. The barefoot suited guy is iconic it looks amazing - a banker post crash, an urban guru or a liberated wage slave. Sadly though he is none of these and is just impoverished and inhabiting the borderline of life and land. Two guys emerge hand in hand from an office deep in conversation and walk across the border still clasping hands neither leading the other just linked in friendship. Coming the other way tiptoeing through the puddles and streams is a pair of pointed patent leather shoes that in turn passes some worn out green flip flops followed by the paws of a dog, double timing against some backless stilettos that jump effortlessly over the red brown rivulets. Borders like airports and cross channel ferries put everyone in the same boat we are all reduced to paperwork and documents Twenty four hours earlier I had been in a hot and dry Johannesburg filming with AREP a theatre group that through performance and discussion seeks to enable young people to take control of their lives and understand that they can make a change. It is a brilliant model opening young peoples minds to the idea that things can be different and they can do it by thinking of solutions for themselves and through talking. Aspirational poverty and defeatist dogma can be combated through action and a refining of mind-set not by waiting around for the world and luck to sort it out. After the heat and ardour of Dhaka city, South Africa offered relief, no gridlocked roads, noise and in your face pollution, here was an order and road system that paralleled Europe, tap water you could drink, fine wines and cuisine, a language that I could understand. I stayed in bohemian Melville with its bookshops and bars, cosmopolitan vibe and art Deco architecture It all seemed very progressive and also very expensive 
But South Africa is a complex society and under its sugar dusted coating it is still a very troubled and difficult place. You are never far from somewhere described as "dangerous" and throughout the city are townships I can't begin to offer a commentary on South African society but I do know that there is fear amongst a lot of white people, an inability to let go amongst others whilst many are working towards a common goal of a new fair and equal country. But things can never be put right instantly by a pen's decree, historically sudden change is disastrous and it will take several generations and a lot of money before South Africa can move on. I filmed some performances in Soweto primary schools. Two storey block buildings with glassless windows looking in on unlit rooms, blackboards and shabby desks, teachers and children doing their best with the resources they have. Like many schools in developing countries.

But this is South Africa-World cup, paved roads, fine wines and well-developed infrastructure. The children were so well behaved and entranced by the first performance that many had ever seen and the plays were about dealing with bullying, being an orphan and living with HIV none of the stories had a resolution they just prompted discussion. The amazing thing is that most of these children identify with these issues, they will all have lost a relative through AIDS, many are orphans and they all are aware of discrimination. Soweto is surprisingly suburban, neat little houses with neatly tended gardens with fences shops and evens couple of malls. In places it reminds me of a seaside retirement estate with pastel colours and clapboard bungalows. Many of the new middle classes prefer to stay where they come from and have gentrified their area but sadly the schools are still the same. The amount of hand painted street signs for funeral directors is a telling indicator of just how many people are dying from AIDS in this country. We drove by Mandela's house from pre incarceration with its tourist coach park, gift shop, admission gate and restaurant. But in the city on every corner and at every junction there will be a black south African, waiting for an opportunity, or sweeping or handing out leaflets an underclass that at present are unable to become truly part of the rainbow nation despite the best efforts of many. It is as if South Africa had two children one went to public school the other grew up on the streets. Then Rwanda, associated with human horror and a country where divisions between people went as far as they should never go. The first time I worked in Rwanda I left with a complete intolerance for any form of tribalism, be it football teams or Welsh and English nationalism. At what point will you start using a machete to get your way? I have seen the results. But driving through Kigali early evening this time, I marvelled at the quality roads and traffic lights, the cleanliness and order of the city, things had really come on. Next morning driving with Karanga the beauty of Rwanda unfolds around us – Tea Plantations and wooded slopes dotted with houses and villages, People on the roadside carrying large sacks of freshly picked tea and urns of milk. I am impressed with Keranga's good news stories about the country. Get a cow has been implemented ensuring every family living below the poverty line is provided with a cow to provide milk and ultimately a small income. Corruption is not tolerated and citizen's rights are paramount. It does seem everyone we passed was doing something and busy and there was an air of happiness and levity on the road. Both South Africa and Rwanda have suffered from gross discrimination but they are so different to one another, South Africa experienced a much-needed change in government and constitution but is a divided country. Rwanda suffered appalling genocide and but now as is written into its constitution. Is a country of one people; Rwandans, But who knows what is going on in peoples minds? On the surface Rwandans after enduring terror, hate and fear seem to be actually savouring and appreciating the peace. It's understandable, the calm after the storm. No one making trouble everybody just getting on with getting on. A lesson for all of us, why should we want anything else but peace? President Kigami is accused of a running his country like a soft police state of being like a schoolmaster -but it seems to be working. Superficially everything is running fine. "We are good boys here now,” says Kirenga " I just thank god we don't have oil like Uganda. I laugh, “Yeah but the income would be good surely?” “We have a saying” he replies " When prosperity comes through the front door peace slips out the back.” How true that is. 
Sent on the move


Julian said...

Love the final quote from Kirenga.


Kevin Ross said...

Tim, love your style, enthralled by the vision you see the world through.
Abby in SA with VSO at the moment, researching AIDS/HIV issues in women’s prisons near Cape Town, will copy her in, she will be fascinated to read.

Love your stuff as always.