The Observer (Kampala)

23 December 2012

Uganda: Countless Costs This Christmas

Once upon a time, Christmas trees cost only Shs 200.

That is, if you did not manage to sneak behind your neighbour's fence and make off with one free of charge. But try buying one today and see!

Christmas is a special time of year for businessmen and women, whose trade is in any way connected to Christmas. Even though many of them say business is not as good as it used to be, still, the throngs of people at the taxi park willing to pay double the usual taxi fare to travel upcountry for Christmas, the lack of parking at usually sparse (and expensive) malls like Garden City, tell a different story.

A story of a people who have worked hard all year, braved tear gas, faced the Ebola virus, braced nodding disease, squared off with corruption, been assaulted by defilers... Surely, it is time to let your hair down and have a good time!

The only problem is that chances are, if statistics on the country's saving culture are to be believed, you do not have even a coin kept away for Christmas.

So, you are probably praying for an early December salary and healthy bonus - both of which will be blown by December 30. Unless you are not Ugandan!

Mzee Lawrence is your typical Ugandan. Last year, he took his entire family to the village in Kumi district. As the eldest and most successful son, the bills were mostly on him. And so it was that he spent so much that he had no money for fuel to get him back to Kampala.

As the holiday moved closer to an end, and the day he was expected to return to work came, he started running around the entire village borrowing. Lucky for him, he was well-liked for his generosity, and his brothers managed to collect some money from willing villagers so he could fuel his car and go back to Kampala.

This Christmas, Mzee Lawrence is again all set to go back and see his kinsmen and women at whatever cost. The only hitch is that he still does not have the money and is not sure where he will get it.

"I usually spend more than double my salary," he says. "But no matter what, I have to go back to the village. It is embarrassing to stay in Kampala for Christmas."

Like many people, Lawrence cannot say for sure exactly how much he spends on Christmas and the amount varies depending on how the trip to the village goes. Gilbert Mugisha, 24, on the other hand, chooses to cut costs by spending Christmas with his parents.

"I do not know if they have a budget and how much they spend. I just go and we have lots of fun," he says.

For Jordana Paul, Christmas is a meaningless holiday and he is not ready to spend even a cent on it.

"It is not biblical. Jesus was not born on December 25. It will be another ordinary day." But for most, Christmas is too special and worth every cent.

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