The best hotel deal on the planet?

I arrived in Kampala at 9:00pm, ready to crash in some cheap dive. Little did I know that New Comrades horel was ready to surprise me with so much more. I hope you enjoy the hotel room tour!

I forgot to mention the towel, functional lightbulbs and power socket…

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Banana prices go… bananas (sorry)

When we landed in Cambridge I looked forward to eating plenty of apples, that classic British fruit. Isaac Newton even figured out gravity in this hallowed town when one dropped on his head. I expected apples to be cheap as chips but was in for a rude shock. One apple cost a whopping 20p! A Banana on the other hand cost only 8p. In the land of apples we ended up eating a lot of imported bananas, our consciences massaged by the glowing fair-trade stickers.

Fast forward to the Gulu market. Today I bought 3 smallish bananas for 1000 shillings, about 7p a banana. Wait a minute. That’s basically the same prices as a banana in England!  What is this madness? How can be? Uganda is banana land. The tourist shop in the capital is literally called ‘banana boat’. I tried thinking hard about it but it just made me go bananas given that this Banana republic…

1. Has tiny margins on food and retail goods
2. Has farmers who earn only $2 a day
3. Grows shedloads of bananas. They are everywhere


Credit Charles Akena

So what’s going on? How can prices in England and Gulu be the same?

Bananas are imported to England in enormous quantities mainly from South America, from efficient banana plantations which where they are grown at lower cost than in Uganda. Growers are paid peanuts. Bananas are then sold in England at tiny margins or even as a ‘loss leader’, to bring customers to buy other things in the supermarket. I may have bought my 8p banana for less than it cost to grow, ship it 20,000 miles and sell it in Tesco. As a side note, the carbon produced by transporting bananas this huge distance wasn’t paid for by anyone. Except the planet. And our grandchildren.

There are two major factors which (I think) drive up banana prices  here in Northern Uganda

  1. We import our bananas from other parts of Uganda. The climate isn’t great for bananas, with a 3 month dry season causing great stress to the plants. Bananas traditionally weren’t grown here. NGOs have tried to help locals set up banana growing businesses, but I haven’t yet heard of a successful project.
  2. The supply chain is inefficient, as the bananas run through a lot of hands who all take a cut before I pick them up at Lacor market. This diagram shows all the potential hands bananas could go through before arriving in Lacor market. Incredibly across the Nile just 90 minutes drive away bananas can be less than half the price of in Gulu! Lot’s of locals buy them on the bus on the way up.


Even after all this rationalisation, I feel I haven’t really solved it. Bananas shouldn’t be the same price in England. In the land of apples, we ate bananas. In the land of bananas what then shall we eat?

Who am I kidding? In this wonderful place where I can buy an avocado for 8p, a passionfruit for 5p or a watermelon for 20p, what am I doing worrying about the price of a banana?

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Ugandans respond to a hollow US statement

There’s a popular anti-government Facebook provocateur/s who aptly nicknamed themselves Tom ‘Voltaire’ Okwalinga (TVO)

They comes up with all kinds of conspiracies and rumours many times a day and have over 150,000 followers. Most of these conspiracies turn out to be to be false, but that hasn’t seemed to halt their notoriety or popularity. The 2 most recent reviews sum up well the range of opinions about TVO.

TVO reviews.png

Anyway… a few days ago TVO displayed a US embassy condemnation of the horrendous crackdown on a rising star opposition politician Bobi Wine, who was recently tortured by the government. Ugandans’ responses to the US statement are a fantastic insight both into the sad reality of the situation, and the mood of the people towards foreign powers like the US which love to make statements with no teeth to back them up. I’ve displayed a series of comments after TVO posted the statement, many of which echo two sentiments. First, the US have their own issues and are hypocrytical, and second frustration at the lack of US action over the years.

Embassy statement.jpg

1 – The US is hypocritical

Lema Mike: “Still waiting for USA to condemn police brutality in America eri abadugavu”

Leny Jaspher: “There is nothing much that I expect the administration of Deborah Malach (US Ugandan ambassador) to do apart from only making that statement… After all she dines and wine with the sycophants and tyrants together

Muwonge Marvine: “But they killed LutherKing while preaching for freedom”

Rahman Bin Issa: “Double standards”

Luryama moy:
“The US is in bed with Museveni lol”


2 –  Frustration at the lack of action – Do something!

Hon Aogon Silas Cyril: “Just barking , come-on bite bite and bite”

Fauza Mutera Omukaka: And it ends there. What can the western do when M7 is helping them kill Muslims in Somalia?


Patrick Othieno: “There’s nothing any outsider can do to help Ugandans. Those guys are in bed with M7. It’s a waste of time to say that USA has spoken against human rights mistreatment in Uganda”

Michael-west Obin: “What help will that statement do to Ugandans”

Samuel Muriisanganda: “Who cares about what the US says, that’s a mere barking dog”

I tend to agree with them!

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7 hope-inducing faith-laced songs

On a self-fashioned holiday, I spent half of today listening to music, and thought there might be something useful there for someone else. These are some of my favourite ‘faith laced’ songs, that met both of these somewhat cheesy criteria.

1. Force me to reflect
2. Inspire me to change, either internal or external

I’ve called them ‘faith laced’ and not ‘Christian’ songs because…

It is possible for music to be labeled Christian and be terrible music. It could lack creativity and inspiration. The lyrics could be recycled clichés. That “Christian” band could actually be giving Jesus a bad name… Christian is a great noun and a poor adjective” – Rob Bell

These are definitely not the best songs ever written, but they do hit the spot.  They’re all catchy, easy listening and range from from indy-folk to rock. Most are pretty mainstream and often some of the biggest hits of the respective artists. Four were top 10 hits in at least one country. I’m also a product of my time and place, so there’s nothing from the last 5 years. Music enthusiasts feel free to roll your eyes. Click the title to hear the song!

Switchfoot – Dare you to move
This pick-me-up softrock anthem hit top 10 in the USA. If you fancy it, Switchfoot have a lot more where this came from.

The tension is here, between who you are and who you could be
Between how it is and how it should be”

Vertigo – U2
One of the few songs that describes what it’s like to touch darkness, and hint the way out. It even quotes the Devil. And all in a 3 minute chart-topping banger.

“It’s that woozy, sick feeling of realizing that here we are, drinking, eating, polluting, robbing ourselves to deathAnd in the middle of the club, there’s this girl. She has crimson nails. I don’t even know if she’s beautiful, it doesn’t matter but she has a cross around her neck, and the character in this stares at the cross just to steady himself.” 
Bono, about Vertigo


Babylon and Zion – Josh Garrels
A clever song of 2 halves. First, the world as it too often is. Second, the world as it should be.

“Misappropriation of funds. Protect my ninety percent with my guns.
Whose side am I on? Well who’s winning?”

“First will be last when the true world comes. Livin’ like a humble fool to overcome”

Albertine – Brooke Fraser
An incredible reflection on her experience meeting ‘Albertine’, a girl orphaned in the Rwandan Genocide.

“Now that I have seen, I am responsible. Faith without deeds is dead”

My life be like – Gritz
Made famous (surprisingly) by the Fast and the Furious Tokyo drift, this silky smooth rap track hits the spot. The first 20 seconds might be one of the catchiest intros ever.

“The joy of new birth, and the pain of growing up
The bliss between giving my all, and giving up”

After the storm – Mumford and Sons
This addresses our fragility, evokes eternity, and helps us look to a better future.

“And there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair”

Oceans – Hillsong
Although it pains me a bit to include a somewhat cliche church song, it’s a gorgeous, evocative song and now a standard at church services across the world. This acoustic version is a gem.

You call me out upon the waters. The great unknown, where feet may fail.
And there I find You in the mystery”


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This is not us. And it is us. Let’s dig deeper.

As-salaam Alaikum 

Our thoughts and prayers remain with the victims of this horrendous terrorist attack. We are only a week on, and the soul searching will continue. I share these thoughts only to deepen a conversation, and perhaps help us to realise that some of us are more together than we might think.

Jacinda’s “This is not us” slogan has polarized my left wing bubble at least. Everyone agrees it is well intended, but my facebook feed has been smothered with friends voicing both support and criticism.

A number of people have criticised the slogan, including Maori leaders and many journalists. I think that whether the phrase rings true or not, depends on how we define two words. The “this” and the “us”. How we feel and think about “this is not us” perhaps reflects our thoughts, beliefs and agendas, more than than whether the statement itself is ‘true’ or ‘false’. I’m not sure it really can be true or false. Many people who have different interpretations of the statement, may actually agree on the same core truths. I’ve suggested two ways ‘this is not us’, and two ways ‘this is us’, which might take us a bit deeper into the issues that confront us as a people and a country in the wake of this tragedy.

This IS NOT us:

This: White supremacist Violence
Is not Us: Who we are as a country or a people

“These are people who I would describe as having extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand… You may have chosen us, but we utterly reject and condemn you”
 – Jacinda Ardern

This is perhaps the most straightforward interpretation, and a large part of what Jacinda meant. She condemns extremism and violence in the strongest possible way, and disconnects our current and future national identity from this terrible act. People across the generational spectrum need to hear that this kind of attack is abhorrent, and in no way part of what we want our identity to be as a people.   

This: Extreme evil
Is not Us: The core of our humanity

I don’t think I’m displaying leadership,” Ardern replied. “I just think I’m displaying humanity.” 

Perhaps this isn’t a big part of what Jacinda meant, but I think it is a positive and helpful way to look at ourselves and humanity in the face of extreme evil. The idea that love, kindness and acceptance is at the core of what makes us human, not evil, hate and violence. I believe that humans are inherently good, made in the image of God, and when we do bad things it is a corruption of our core selves. We are often however often pulled away from this goodness. This is an everyday struggle, but let us become who we really are, and reject the evil that we have seen can corrupt and distort in unimaginable ways.

“Each day we are becoming a creature of splendid glory or one of unthinkable horror.”
– C.S. Lewis

This IS Us:

This: A place with racist systems and ongoing interpersonal racism.
Is Us: New Zealand Society

Although we may do better than many other countries, our systems remain racist.  Maori over-representation in prison and their treatment in the justice system is just one example of this. On an interpersonal level, a prominent study showed that 1 in every 7 people who identified as Asian in 2012, experienced racism in the previous 12 months. That’s about 50,000 people experiencing racism over a 12 month period. That’s not OK.  It pains me to admit that I’m still part of this. Although I’ve left behind my teenage years of cringe racist jokes, I still notice subtle racist tendancies in myself, and I’m still trying to drive them out completely. 

It’s interesting that Taika Waiti, who described New Zealand as “racist as F#%@” has also expressed “this is not us”. He doesn’t seem to ascribe this meaning to the phrase.

This: A country built partly on White Supremacist violence
Is Us: Aotearoa (New Zealand)

“Our colonizers regarded our collectivism as beastly communism, our language as inferior, and our spiritual beliefs as heathen. All had to be destroyed and replaced…”
Ani Mikaere – The ongoing Colonisation of Tikanga Maori

We can’t deny our roots. New Zealand was partly built on white supremacist violence.  We even have a European name! The colonial settlers oppressed Maori, and stole their land. During the New Zealand wars, thousands of Maori were killed to take over land that was rightfully theirs, and this is only one example of violence. Our history has taken positive turns through reinstating Te Tiriti o Waitangi, but the consequences linger, manifest in disconnection, disempowerment and inequality  We need to continue to own this, and continue to rectify it.

There are endless ways to interpret “this is not us”. Ask yourself what you consider the statement to mean? What truths, realities and emotions does it evoke in you? I believe that many of us who have different interpretations of the statement, may  agree with each other more than we realise. Let’s continue the discussion with sensitivity and grace, as we work through this tragedy together.

kia kaha
aroha nui.


Jacinda Headscalf

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Make a change for climate change!

I recently got off the plane from an epic long haul return flight to England. I had the most amazing time in New Zealand but………..

The carbon I released taking this one 24 hour flight is about 10 times what the average Ugandan releases in an entire year. I’m already feeling the guilt set in. Yep, there it is.

I like to do some amateur research from time to time, to see what we can do make the biggest dent in my carbon emissions. Although there are a million other articles talking about this that are better written I thought I’d write my own. Go figure. This graphic illustrates it pretty well. But if you like words keep reading.


The best things we can do

1) Stop driving a car. Or use it less. Or lime scooter everywhere… This is the MASSIVE one. How do you transport yourself everyday? Could you change that, even if it’s hard? Besides the awkward having less children thing (see below), reducing car usage has the biggest impact on your emissions. Nothing else comes close.

My friend who used to drive everywhere, recently sold their car and gave the money to charity. Amazing true story. They now bike most of the time. I bet you can’t be as awesome as them. (Guilting people into positive change like this doesn’t work, for the record)

2) Eat less animal products. I really struggle with this, because meat and dairy are soooooooo tasty, but we’ve got to get serious right? In New Zealand dairy might be as bad as meat, but I couldn’t find numbers on it. Veganism is the best option and has a huge positive impact. And think of the health benefits too…

3) Fly less. See my hypocrisy above. We may well have not seriously considered flying less, but it’s a real problem. We don’t usually put carbon emissions on a list of pros and cons before going on holiday or to a conference, but maybe we should.

You may wonder why I haven’t listed the biggest impact action from the graph. Unfotunately I’ve still got some intellectual/ethical qualms about it. Having one fewer child than you planned to have, smashes all other lifestyle changes out of the water. It’s over 25 times more effective than never driving a car ever again. If you’re up for it, have a think…

Less useful
(but still do them, if you can like, be bothered)

1) Turn off lightbulbs. Obviously we should turn off lightbulbs, but obsessing over this is a waste of time and energy. Replacing all your light bulbs with LEDs will help more than obsessing about every minute they are on.

2) Recycle. Not that effective on the climate change front I’m afraid. As you can see on the graph, hang drying rather than machine drying your clothes has the same impact as recycling everything. Surprising!

3) Have cold showers. Ok, that’s mostly a joke. Great in Uganda, less great in New Zealand. My crazy father has done this every day for the last year. I tried once and nearly died. New Zealand mostly produces power from renewable sources, but 20% of it is still fossil fuels, so it’s not all rosy.

There we have it. The most useful and useless ways you can reduce your carbon footprint. Back yourself this year, and make a change!


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Gulu High Schools – A long way to go

A couple of weeks ago, some of our Gulu Friends were among high school students who sat their first set of big exams in their 4th year of high school. The senior 4 exams. These are kind of equivalent to GCSE (England), and NCEA level 1(New Zealand). Americans can fill me in if I’m wrong, but you don’t seem to be any equivalent. These exams are important, as if you pass, you can become a nurse, or primary school teacher. I wish the candidates all the best!

Unfortunately though, many Gulu students won’t have great resuts. Inequality is obvious in Uganda, and nowhere more so than in education. Gulu high schools perform poorly compared with other parts of the country, especially Kampala. It’s a well known phenomenon that as soon as anyone gets enough money in Gulu, they send their kids off to school in Kampala. We’ll see why below.

Early this year, The Observer newspaper made a great summary of the Senior 4 results from 2017.  I’ve used that for my analysis. Keep in mind that this analysis only considers last year, only considers ‘first grades’, the top level of performance, and doesn’t consider other holistic education that isn’t measured in tests. I’m not saying that test results are the only thing that matter. But they do matter.

31,000 students achieved first grade in senior 4 across the country

Only 220 students from Gulu, Nwoya, Omoro and Amuru districts achieved a first grade

I’ve made 5 observations/opinions from this table below. I hope they will be useful  those training teachers and uplifting schools, as well as those who are considering where to send their children to school, or suggesting schools for sponsorsed children.

High School Name 1st grades Percentage 1st grade
Students sitting District

These are ONLY the schools that got any first grades at all. 15 other schools which are not listed here in Gulu and Amuru Districts got no first grades at all.

  1. To give your child a decent chance of achieving high grades it’s only worth sending kids to one of about 5 schools which are all in Gulu town.

The top performing school in terms of gross number of first grades was St. Joseph College Layibi with 67 students getting a first grade. It may surprise some that Ocer Campion College North of Gulu did very well too, with 46 first grades from only 70 sitting students. Other well known schools like Pope John Paul and Sacred heart performed much worse, with 35 and 22 first grades respectively. I find it especially sad that the top Girls school Sacred Heart produced so few top performing students. Only 5 schools produced over 80% of the 217 first grades achieved.



  1. If you live more than 10km out of Gulu, there is no ‘local school’ where your child can perform well. Your only good option is to send them to town.

Out of the 220 first grades earned, only 5 were achieved in schools more than 10km from Gulu town borders. There are two inequality divides. Both the Northern Uganda/Central Uganda divide, and the Urban/Rural divide. Over 80% of the population in Northern Uganda lives outside Gulu town, but there are no good high schools in ‘the village’, as Ugandans would say.

Out of the 4 high schools with students sitting senior 4 in Amuru district (an incredibly low number given the population there), only one school achieved any 1st grades. This is Restore high school. with 5 out of 31 students passing the exam. Nwoya district was similar with only 4 students from their schools achieving first grade. If you are a farmer anywhere in the rural expanse of Amuru or Nwoya district, there is nowhere close to home to send your kid to high school.

  1. There are many schools, even in Gulu town where children have close to zero chance of getting a first grade. Don’t send kids to these schools.

Around half of the schools in Gulu, Nwoya, Omoro and Amuru District got no first grades at all. Even some Gulu Town schools suffered this fate. Large city schools like Gulu College, Gulu Secondary and Gulu High were notably poor with only a handful of first grades between them.

4. The best way to get a first grade, is probably to go to a top Kampala school.

Unfortunately the best bet currently is to send your kid to a ludicrously expensive, distant high school in central Uganda. 24 out of the top 25 ranked schools were from the central region, and 20 of those were from Kampala itself. No Gulu school was ranked in the top 80 by the Observer newspaper. We need to drastically improve our schools here in Gulu, to reduce the inequalities and make life easier for all the parents who want the best for their kids to access quality education.

  1. Few kids progress from primary school to sit high school exams

Around 9000 kids (I think, can be corrected) sat Primary Leaving Examination last year across the districts of Gulu, Omoro, Amuru and Nwoya. We only see 1900 kids sitting senior 4. For every 5 kids that sit primary leaving examination, only 1 sits senior 4. Some of this discrepancy will be accounted for by movement to Kampala high schools after primary school, but not most of it.We need to do to better at keeping kids in school. The barriers to progressing are obvious. Poor performance in primary school leaving exam, money for school fees, and poor high school teaching which leads to dropout before Senior 4.


I believe that things will get better, and in 5 years time things will be looking more rosy for students both in Gulu town, and more importantly in rural areas. But there’s a lot of work to be done!


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