Sunday, 15 January 2017

The Harsh Realities of My Return to Soroti

It was the middle of March last year, when I set foot in Soroti for the final time before heading back to Canada. In the months that I spent working in Kampala, I had the pleasure of travelling to this district on several occasions with my then-colleagues. These trips played an integral role not only in the amount I fell in love with Uganda, but also my desire to return and essentially settle here. So, having the chance to return this past week – although only briefly – was pretty incredible!

Our journey to Soroti started just before 7AM.  The sun was just peaking its weary head from the previous night’s rest*. Along the three/three-and-a-half-hour drive from Jinja to Soroti I happily took in the sights, which included endless landscapes, farmland, and just overall breath-taking views. That drive rarely disappoints. However, there was something different about this one.

Perfect sunrise! One of the many “terrible” things about life in Uganda! 

I’ve been pretty vocal over the last few months about the failing rainy season, the lack of rain in general, and therefore the emerging challenges related to food production and harvest. Only a few months ago, I watched, soberingly, as my neighbour pulled up her garden, because instead of the crop she had hoped to find, there was nothing but lifeless vegetation. And although rain has come from time to time, it has been sporadic at best, and without the power to enable much to grow**.

The drive to Soroti and back – particularly the more up-country we found ourselves – made the impacts of these lacking rains undeniably apparent. My heart began to sink the closer we got to Soroti, because it became even more evident just how dry things had become. And once we arrived in town, I was shocked to find winds carrying large amounts of dust, in a similar way I would have witnessed blowing snow following a recent storm. But the reality became even more obvious, once I realized that this same week last year, I was also in Soroti, and it was much, much different. Yes, things were a bit dry, but there was still life flowing pretty much wherever you looked.

Dry conditions just outside of Soroti on the way up. 
I was told that the last real rains took place seven months ago***. When I was last in Soroti, the first rains of the year had just begun. These rains can be so intense at times, that when it started part way through our meeting, we had to scurry to tear down everything, pack up and get out of the area quickly because there was a high likelihood that we would get stranded due to flooding. And, even though that was in March and not January, it’s still quite a drastic difference****, which only further proves that climate change, in this part of the world, is going to hit hard, and fast. I see the impacts of this reality every day, although usually in smaller ways – through conversations with farmers and market vendors that I interact with on a weekly basis. The challenges that this country – and much of this continent – are going to be facing, isn’t what most of us in the West could ever imagine. In fact, this is really the area of the world climate deniers need to visit… provided they’d actually care about an area outside of their own. In other words, my heart is a bit heavier than I’d like.

This photo was taken in January 2016. Although it’s not along the roadside, it
is still clear to see that there is a pretty big difference between this year and last!
Views from the highway just outside of Soroti... she’s lookin’ pretty dry!

But, the trip wasn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, it was actually quite enjoyable, despite this sobering reality. I was able to catch up with an old friend, complete a number of tasks (which was the actual purpose of this trip), and even meet up with my former colleagues who also happened to be in town at the same time! There may have also been a little tea-test, which although the below video states otherwise, was actually a winner!

Happy to be back in familiar territory! Behind me is Soroti Rock. 
Artha is a tea connoisseur. His approval basically makes or breaks how he feels about a place. 
This only one of the many weird and wonderful things that defines this epically quirky dude!

Regardless of how much things have physically changed, Soroti still holds a good chunk of my heart. However, I feel equal parts fortunate and frightened when I allow myself to fully take in what is happening around me. Seeing these current challenges only drives me further to work hard at meeting my goals, because I know things can turn around with enough effort. I’m not suggesting that my tiny contributions will solve the issues of climate change in this area, but that I can at least provide a bit of support to those who are already struggling to face these challenges. It’s these current conditions that make my work even more relevant and necessary – again, not that I have all the answers, but that I’m at least trying to help those with an equal determination, to at least mitigate some of these struggles.

-the Orange Canadian

*Yes, I am aware that the sun doesn’t actually rest…
**The results of this were noticed even more, during my most recent visit to the market. My choices were extremely limited – even tomatoes seemed to be in short supply. This was not my experience during my previous stay in Uganda. Yet, prices don’t seem to be reflecting this, which makes me question whether or not the full impacts of this dry rainy season are truly understood.
***Which is about when the first rainy season of the year would have ended…

****Not only physical differences in terms of vegetation health, but even temperature itself. When I was in this district last January, the highest temperature was 34°C (93°F). This time around it was 43°C (109°F), which, for the record, is the hottest temperature I’ve ever been exposed to… and still, somehow managed not to get a sunburn!

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