Power to the people – Day 53

Posted on April 26, 2012


It looks like I have to go back to Kampala for a day next week. I’ve decided to ask for a refund for the camp fees I paid to Vector Control Division. I wasn’t 100 per cent convinced about my safety or how workable a situation I was creating for myself and after a long debate with Geoffrey and Zephyr and listening to my gut feeling, I decided I should look for lodgings elsewhere.

The VCD camp has no power. It was something I took for granted, and it’s partly my fault. I assumed that like Budongo VCD would have solar panels because long-term research has been carried out there in the past. How else do researchers use their phones and computers? Perhaps because the camp is no longer functioning at the moment the resources have been removed. But still, they could have mentioned it. I had paid to stay there three weeks, what else am I supposed to do in the evenings on my own, play eye-spy?

Budongo is like a five-star resort in comparison. I’m not afraid of the dark, but no light from 1900 onwards and being the only idiot in camp apart from a guard, in the middle of nowhere, does not fill me with joy. I contemplated hiring a generator, but that would be pricey plus I would have to buy petrol to run it. Can you imagine the scene – I’d be a ticking bomb working by candle light near a couple of litres of petrol every night!

Without power I can’t charge my phone and I can’t use my laptop (remember I have to be plugged into the mains, I don’t have a battery). Not being able to communicate with (a) The Northerner (b) the outside world (c) or being able to work while totally isolated would guarantee me going totally Gaga minus the lipstick and leotards. I’m all for a challenge, but asking for a bit of power is not unreasonable surely?

As I thought more about the deal I had been sold, I started to feel really miffed, like I’d be done over by an 80’s car sales man wearing a sheepskin coat.

“So darlin’ that’ll be 20,000 a day, that doesn’t include meals, there’s no power, you gotta find your own transport there and back, the showers broken so it’s a gerry-can job, and there’s no-one else on site, awright petal?!”

What on earth was I thinking?

I don’t have a problem cooking for myself, but if there’s no power, it’s likely there’s no gas either which means I would have to chop firewood before getting dinner on the go in total darkness. Moses shared my concern this morning when I told him the situation, “Bugoigo is very far, it’s not near Piida. I know Butiaba, my family is from there. Are you sure you want to be alone? What about food – have you cooked using firewood?”

“No,” I said defensively, “What’s my alternative? And how hard can it be?”

“You are going to learn after one day?” he said unconvinced, raising his eyebrows and giving me a look like a concerned parent.

I tried so hard to find out all the info before I left the UK and I was reassured by former researchers via email that it was a fully functioning base camp. But it’s 2012 and the last research paper where data was collected from there was 2008. A lot can happen in four years, especially in Africa.

My little chat with Moses was all it took to knock some sense into me. As soon as I got back to camp this afternoon I picked up the phone to arrange my refund. I was all geared up for an argument if necessary, but it never materialised and the accountant agreed to give me my cash back on Thursday – so now we wait and see.

In the meantime Zephyr has been fantastic; not only has found me a good, clean hotel in Biiso he says, but he’s negotiated a student price for me for three weeks. He knows this area well and it took him just a few phone calls. My new pad is 10-miles from Piida, but the road is tarmacked so it’s a safer journey and he’s done a deal with a Boda-guy and sorted out a reasonable price for transport. Yes I know I don’t like Boda-Bodas, but it’s a village not Kampala city centre. There’s a kitchen at the hotel so meals will be a couple of quid and most importantly they have power!! The generator is used from 1900 onwards so I can work and charge my phone for a few hours at night.

Zephyr has agreed to take me on a reckie of the site on Wednesday morning. I feel a lot happier about the next leg now. It’s the simple things in life, like power to the people that makes me happy.