Some of you may remember my good friend Ezera. In an earlier link letter
I told you how he cared for me when I had
malaria. We met soon after I arrived in Uganda and I wanted to experience
village life. Some friends from Kagando hospital sent me to the other end of
the district clutching a note, and after Ezra had checked that I would cope
with the pit latrine I checked in for a month. This is Ezera’s story:
I was born just over the border in the Congo in the 1950s. My father
was a Baptist pastor and I had three brothers and three sisters. Two other
children died at birth. For the first nine years I lived in the small
village of Katwa and started primary schooling, but Congo’s independence
from Belgium brought a lot of turmoil and we had to flee to Uganda. It was
a difficult time, we were amongst different people and had to learn a new
language. I started primary school again but as my father was not being
paid anything I had to find work digging other people’s land to make money
for school fees and uniform.
When I was thirteen I had a severe attack of malaria and at that time
there were no health services in this part of Uganda, so I had to go back
to the Congo for treatment. It took me a year to fully recover. Eventually
I came back to Uganda but lack of money in the family meant I could only
continue my education to the end of primary school. During this time my
father had established the first Baptist church in Uganda and it has now
grown to be a national organization.
My mother and father are still alive but getting old and frail. Despite
this my father still walks and cycles well and my mother still digs our
land. I am thankful that God has given me a good wife Noel who helps look
after my parents, works with me on the land and encourages me when I feel
discouraged in life. We have three lovely children, the first is Eric who
is17 and at his second year in secondary school. It is expensive to do
secondary education and we have only managed to send him because some
generous friends have helped us.
Our second child is Anita who is four and growing up very well. I
remember that for the first three years whenever Simon came to visit she
would run away because he was the only white person she knew. Now she is
old enough not to be afraid she runs to greet him. She even thinks all
white people are called Simon.
Two years ago I started to build my own house. The bricks were made
from clay on my land and fired by stacking them up and burning wood
underneath, and the roof is ‘mabati’ (corrugated iron). It has a living
room, three small bedrooms, an outside kitchen and some store rooms. Part
of it is built around a palm tree that was already growing here. There is
still work to do, the floor, inside doors, windows and we have very little
furniture. Like most people here we do what we can with the little money
we have and then work stops until we manage to find some more.
The whole family gets up at 6.30am when the sun rises. The young
children go to their grandparents for the day. My wife and I do not have
breakfast but go straight to the ‘shamba’ (the land where they grow food)
where we work until one or two in the afternoon when it becomes very hot.
Depending on the season we have to dig, plant, weed and harvest. Before
coming home we may have to collect firewood. We can sometimes find it on
the shamba but this week Noel had to go five miles into Congo. Many
families also have to send their children to fetch water but we are
fortunate because the pipe bringing water from the mountains for the
village has a tap by our house. In the afternoon Noel lights a fire,
pounds the cassava, and shells the beans in order to prepare food for the
evening. I may do some bicycle repairs, but now I have been trained as a
local evangelist so I may go round the village talking to people about
Because I have such a basic education I depend entirely on what I can
grow on our land, such as beans, cassava, bananas, maize, soya beans and
groundnuts. Most of what we eat is what we grow ourselves: we sell some of
it to buy other food and the daily essentials such as kerosene for
lighting, soap, matches, salt and oil. We also rely on this to pay for
medicines if someone is sick and to buy school uniforms, books and pens.
If the weather is bad and we have a poor growing season then we really
struggle. To be clear I must say that my life is a miracle and I depend on
God to supply our needs; sometimes he does this through Christian friends.
My father grows coffee and I help harvest it for him. Most of our
neighbours have a few bushes and rely on harvesting and selling it twice a
year to buy things for school and pay fees. Recently the coffee price has
been very low so we are struggling. For instance my father has half an
acre or about 500 bushes which produce a bag of coffee each season. This
used to be worth (£65) but now it only sells for (£26).
Coffee beans have to picked at just the right moment of ripening. As the
berries on the bush ripen at different times harvesting is a time consuming
activity and needs to be done by hand. To harvest the crop by machine would
produce a mixture of ripe and unripe berries - a poor quality harvest.
Researchers have genetically engineered coffee so that the berries stop
growing just before they mature. A chemical is then sprayed on the berries
to make them ripe at the same time. This allows for the berries to be
harvested at one time by machine. Ezera’s family and his neighbours won’t be
able to compete.
What will this mean for their survival? The income of coffee-growing
families will continue to be reduced. There is already a glut of coffee
world wide. Prices for the growers have plummeted but of course High Street
coffee bars haven’t reduced their prices.
Whose ‘need’ is being met by GM coffee? Buy Café Direct and other Fair
Traded food at your local supermarket. If they don’t stock it, ask why.