Emmanuel, a field officer from Uganda, reflects on a wet and muddy situation in the field. Not every organization can put “how to navigate potentially hippo-infested swamps” on their weekly problem-solving agenda.
The enrolment process for our most recent campaign in Uganda began in March – the dry season – but we knew that the rains would come before we were finished. From April to July, it would rain almost constantly and the loose soil in the rural areas would erode away, making the walk from door to door and travel by motorbike in recipients’ villages complex.
Our team had this in mind as we began enrollment, but we did not let the weather overly rush our work. We still had to visit numerous villages, including the most isolated village we have worked in to date. In this isolated village, we had been told of a seasonal swamp that would appear during the rainy season. This swamp separated a fraction of the village from the rest. Some locals claimed the flooding from the swamp was so bad that no one could get across the village. They also said that leaches, snakes and hippos from the neighboring river would sometimes appear in the swamp.
The registration team had the first taste of the rainy season during their final visits to the new villages, but it was during the backcheck process that the rainy season reached its peak. As expected, there was flooding, but we kept hope that we would still achieve our purpose. As a team, we put forward several alternatives. One field officer said we should use a boat, while another proposed that recipients swim across and come to us on dry land. At the peak of these consultations, we committed to ourselves that we would cross the swamp no matter the cost; if we waited till the flooding was over, the recipients would not get their transfers in time.
On the designated day, we walked through these terrifying, waist-high waters. The feel of cold muddy water soaking into our trousers and boots drove a shiver through our spines, yet strong-mindedly we kept going. As we walked through the swamp, we reflected on the hippo and leach stories. I held onto another field officer’s bag firmly as we swerved through the water, in belief that he would be my sanctuary. Several meters into the swamp, a piece of floating grass seemed to clutch my hand. I became uneasy and shouted for help, as I thought it was a snake. Then we saw a real snake floating on the water in a distance. The shock we felt caused us to hurriedly walk through the water to the other side. It was forty-five minutes that we spent crossing the swamp.
On the other side of the village, we walked door-to-door visiting recipients. Because this part of the village was so sparsely populated, we had to walk longer distances in muddy conditions. For safety we put on boots that protected our feet, but they collected mud that weighed us down. We spent six hours visiting these recipients at their homes.
At the end of the working day, we returned to the swamp, nervous to begin the return journey. The clouds became dark and the winds began to blow. We swiftly began to force our way through the papyrus so as to get back to the dry land before the rain poured. I could not stop thinking about the possibility of another snake appearing. It was so tense that we all rushed through the waters as jack-rabbits would if they heard the howl of a wolf.
Back on dry land, at 6pm, in our soaked trousers, we rode our motorcycles to the meeting point to travel back from the field. This day will always be firmly inscribed in our memories as “the legendary day” that we set aside our fears to reach our recipients.