Life in a compound

Any Westerner with a sufficiently developed conscience could easily develop a guilt complex while living in a country like Uganda.  So I’m not sure whether the compounds that most of us live in are supposed to help guard against (among other things) that guilt, or to add to it.

Me with Richard, the guard, inside the gate of our comound

Our compound is by no means an island, cut off from the rest of Uganda: the smells from the surrounding area are still potent; the sounds still drift in at all hours of the day, and unfortunately, well into the night; electricity still goes out often and unpredictably. Also, bear in mind that it’s not just paranoid or privileged Westerners who inhabit compounds such as ours; there are also many Indians and members of the Ugandan middle class.

Nevertheless, life inside a compound is probably not what you would imagine when you think of urban African living — and this isn’t just another situation where Western stereotypes of Africa are outdated or unfounded.  In truth, our neighbours who don’t live in compounds live in one-storey brick or cement houses with corrugated aluminium roofs, and they make do without uniformed guards. Because their dwellings are smaller, they tend to spend more of their time outside.

I guess I’m not sure whether there’s anything wrong about our current setup.  Many of our Ugandan friends seem to think it’s a necessity for us.  But in some ways, we’re just making substitutions to the arrangement that suburban Americans have:

  • They have a long wall, made of distance, separating them from people they find threatening or different; we have a tall wall, made of cement
  • US suburbanites have high tech security systems; we have a human security guard
  • Americans can remain blissfully ignorant of the effect their lifestyle has on the environment if they live far enough away from the landfills and coal-burning power plants. We can remain ignorant because we don’t have to burn our own trash.
Frankly though, I have a hard time feeling too guilty about this place.  Because we’re in an apartment, we take up much less of the earth’s space.  And one big difference between our situation and that of the various bubble communities in the US is that we can’t avoid interacting with poverty, even if we wanted.
But keep reading this blog my friends, to see if guilt attempts to rear its ugly head again!
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One response to “Life in a compound

  1. Word… I like the parallels you’re drawing between your current setup and American suburbia. Although, I must say, after living in San Diego and now Chicago — the stark contrasts and walls between the super-rich and impoverished in American urban settings are sometimes just as (if not more) depressing.

    It has been enjoyable to learn a little bit about another place vicariously through your guys’ experience. Thanks 🙂

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