In the shadow of the sun (apologies to Kapuscinski)

Posted: January 16, 2008 in Blog


Under the burning glare of the equatorial sun, the cool confines underneath the canopy of a large tree can become a community’s everything— its classroom, its business centre, its boardroom, its only comfortable spot to rest.

Here, in this picture, is a community meeting taking place in northern Uganda last August. Residents of this trading centre had gathered to learn from their Member of Parliament what they could do to get electricity brought to the region. They are among the 90-plus percent of rural Ugandans currently without access to electricity.

This meeting, like every other of its kind during our trip, took place under the shade of a large tree that grew in the centre of the village. Each village had one thing in common. Whether it was a mango tree, a shea tree, or otherwise, each village had a large, shady tree in its centre under which all important business was conducted.

In this part of the world, shade cannot be taken for granted. On a particularly warm day, the darkened areas under the leafy canopy of a tree can be busy with vendors or, more likely, crowded with people lounging in the coolness that is otherwise elusive under the glare of the overhead sun.

Driving along an isolated dirt road, it is in the shade of a large tree that you are likely to find a woman roasting corn who, in selling you a cob of delicious corn for less than 10 cents, will keep you fed until you get to the next town. Likewise, in these isolated areas where the schools have been closed because of violence (or they are simply too far away), one can find a community leader, often a woman, teaching a handful of children under the shade of a large tree.

Here in Kampala, the lifestyle is different but respect for shade is exactly the same. A café I visit from time to time has tables outside that the staff there are constantly shuffling around, following the day’s shade to ensure customers are not directly exposed to the sun.

Once, when the other tables were full, I sat down at a table that was in sunlight. The server rushed over laughing as she could understand why someone would possibly want to sit in the sun.

Likewise, at a restaurant I met friends at for lunch last week, a server all-but-refused to serve us until we moved to a table that was completely shaded.

It being the hot season, the areas under trees have been particularly busy of late. So much of life here is spent waiting. Waiting for busses to fill, waiting for appointments to come, waiting for work that might come today, tomorrow, next week. Much of that time is spent in the shade. Homes are often not well-ventilated and a day spent exposed to the sun for hours on end is an unpleasant day indeed. So the only, and most comfortable, option remaining is to pass that time with back against bark, eyes closed, waiting.


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