Pigs, chickens and bricks


Last week we had hoped to visit some of the women we are helping around Kiwangala in Uganda but events overtook us in the form of the burial of a small child (see A sad story). The other day though we donned walking gear and set off into the plantations in the company of Maggie, one of the teachers at Sure House School.

We have come to expect that in Africa very little turns out as expected. This was no exception. On our departure for Rwanda before Christmas, four groups of women were eagerly embarking on plans to sell grow tomatoes and maize as well as selling fish and clothes. What we found was a little different. Initial disappointment turned to confidence as we saw the imagination of these ladies when it comes to getting down to business. It seems that we have started several small industries from farming to commodities speculation and construction.

Our first port of call, a mile outside of Kiwangala, held a hen-house under construction. It is almost ready to take the chickens which are on order from a company that incubates and sells the hatched contents of pedigree eggs. This particular widow also has a sow which delivered six little piglets shortly before we visited. In the undergrowth these will feed themselves and live off scraps until they are sold on. Two will be kept for breeding.

The next lady on our tour knows her crops and has taken to a little speculation on the forward commodities markets. Particularly at Christmas, crop growers are short of money and are keen to sell what they have growing for whatever they can get. Coffee beans, which will be harvested around March can be bought for around a third of what they will fetch once they are taken from the tree. Our lady also splashed out on half a field of maize. It has already doubled in value.

The next house had taken a simple approach to making money and settled for buying matoke - huge branches of savoury bananas - to sell in town. That was until a fortnight ago. Four days before our visit she gave birth to a bouncing baby boy. Normal income-earning will resume as soon as possible.

Another widow has followed the pork production route and built a very up-market pigsty complete with concrete floor. It already has one occupant which grunts the day away in a special pen in the corner. Meanwhile, on the other side of the small house, the lady's sons have been put to work making bricks. The local soil is mixed with water and the mud pressed into moulds. After drying in the sun, the bricks are built into a kiln which is then covered in mud and straw before a fire is lit inside. It takes a day for the brown blocks to turn into baked red, ready for selling to builders.

By mid-afternoon under a hot Ugandan sun we were ready to call it a day, even though we had only managed to visit around half of our widows. The others will need to wait until next time.