Hotel Kakanyero, Northern Uganda.
This is definitely not the way I imagined my life as a correspondent.
Blue mosquito net, dirty bed sheets, an old blanket and a broken TV set on a wooden shelf. One of my friends working as a doctor in the Kampala Hospital, Mulago explains to me on phone that although he would give Kakanyero 14 stars he wouldn’t quite recommend using their towels. I had already lost 10 kg and the esteem that comes from producing a documentary for Save the Children in Uganda seems to fade against my constant thoughts about the food I am going to eat for free during this 5 day stay in Gulu and the planned journeys to Rwanda and then, through Kenya to Zanzibar I will be able to afford for the little fee I would get.
Why do I need to resort to working as a documentary producer? Well, for the previous three months the editors from the radio station I worked for had requested ONE report (I am being paid per sound). “Too much of Africa” – they explain.
Polish media can't afford to sponsor many permanent correspondents but I am also too stubborn a journalist to comply with the editors’ idea of what Africa is and what it’s not. I refuse to provide fascinating adventures of a reporter-Indiana Jones in the centre of attention - straight from the jungle or a desert who – for the mere fact of stepping in here is already a hero per se. I have also denied to cultivate Afro-enthusiasm or Afro-pessimism - I feel there is no point in going to Uganda to look for inauthentic situations, chosen participants, always cheerful or always desperate Africans, just brilliant or just stupid chiefs of tribes, breathtaking sunsets a la “Out of Africa” or “night of terror” a la National Geographic sort of images – a lion throwing itself on an antelope in a wild scenery. No. I would love to capture situations in their complexity and as objectively as possible and there seems to be no demand at all.
Subsequently, I find it extremely hard to find a sponsor – the last thing any brand would look for is associating itself with lack of basic resources, without manipulation and sensationalism. At the end of the day, I will be accounted for the audience ratings.
So I am living an alternative – I plunged into the culture to go beyond the common perception and consciousness of a simple tourist in Africa – to gain it’s peoples trust, live their life and experience their problems. I therefore pass five malarias, amoeba, a motorcycle accident, I myself attend to a witchdoctor to check out his services, I see people from the village dying and visit them in the hospices.
It’s all a bit tricky – by living in a village and spending some 20 dollars per month you may yourself lose common sense. Secondly, you need to realize you will never really live their life – the difference is you can always quit, you can always just leave the place – they cannot.
But there is one big advantage. The at first whispered conversations become louder. You start understanding what the locals think about you – white, visitor, stranger. That’s how you can also become more humble – at first I am being criticized for my individualistic ways, for my tendency to consider everything from the Euro-centric point of view. “Why would you, whites, live if you were lonely islands – an effort from the whole village is necessary in order to bring up one kid, this has been in our history for centuries” – I hear. “Why do you compare our system to democracy? Nobody said this is what we aspire to? Why aren’t we allowed to create a system that would suit us, taking into account our love for having one king – the father of nation?” – another question follows. I am to discover how relative everything is and how biased I had been. I decide therefore to be a carte blanche.
I also choose to have just one question in mind: How to help Africa and to always have clear intentions. I never ceased to look for this one answer.
In my posts I will try to reveal to you what I discovered and explain what led me to my way of thinking. I will mainly talk about one country – Uganda: as was correctly pointed out by director Marina Ponti – all countries are different and single stories create stereotypes.
Join me on my journey, moments that have become part of my life.
Maybe I am wrong somewhere. If so, please, correct me.