On a recent photo assignment for Far Away Friends, I had the chance to visit a cozy little fishing town in Uganda, called Namasale. It’s nestled along several small natural harbors on Lake Kyoga, where colorful fishing canoes embellish the shores and the water echoes the sky with perfect reflections. It’s tranquil and serene and has all the breathtaking views of a waterfront resort, but it’s not a common travel destination. In fact, there are so few foreigners passing through, I even had one lady hand me her screaming, terrified child as she tried to explain that the white man was only a human!
Had this town been in a more developed country, or closer to the city, there would likely be lakefront restaurants and beach bum hotels with hammocks in the courtyard, kayaks for rent and brochures full of half-day excursions. But businesses like that need start-up funds, and educated businesspeople to run them. There’s a shortage of both in Namasale, but of all things the town lacks, potential is not one.
When I first arrived in Namasale, there was clan meeting among my hosts due to a recent death. As is custom, the adults of the clan gathered to discuss the division of assets and to bring up any other issues relevant to the clan. Since the adults remained occupied for the better part of the day, I resigned my self to wandering with children and checking out the school Far Away Friends is building. As a large brick structure, it’s much larger and sturdier than the current school where student are meeting in small tin rooms.
Eventually I went to the main town, and when kids noticed I was taking pictures, I quickly developed a huge following! At one point I had a crowd of about forty kids charging me to try and get their pictures taken! An even bigger crowd of adults had gathered behind me to watch and laugh as I tried to make sure no one was getting trampled. After the tireless kids had thoroughly worn me out, I asked a fisherman if I could accompany him out on the water for views of the town at sunset. He seemed to enjoy having a guest as much as I enjoyed being there!
The next day, as I was walking through the town, a young kid relayed a request from an old woman in the village. She had never had her picture taken and wanted me to come by. I walked carefully through forest of huts to avoid stepping on blankets of small fish spread throughout the village to dry. When I arrived, she was sitting on a mat outside of her hut and greeted me in my own language. I asked where she had learned English and she explained that back in the 70’s she had managed to attend a university in a larger town, but after unsuccessfully looking for work, she eventually returned to the village to farm.
The woman seemed resigned to her fate, and not bitter, but it highlighted for me a sense that, among all the beautiful landscapes, friendly people and delicious fresh fish, there was an underlying sense frustration at the lack of opportunities. It’s not apparent in the smiles of laughing children, or the excited greetings of people asking for photos, but it is visible in the eyes of older youth, who are quickly realizing they have few options in life besides becoming fishermen or farmers. And you can hear it the tone of older adults who talk of big ideas and dreams for their children, but know they have no means to make them happen.
During the rest of my time there, I met dozens of people who heard why I was in town and welcomed me into their homes, their schools and their places of work, just to show a stranger how they live. By the end of my trip, I was fully enchanted, and though progress is a long road, I was encouraged the people’s desire to improve their lives and those of their children and I’m glad Far Away Friends has chosen to work along side friends in Namasale.