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Is The Village The Best Place To Retire?

By Denis Jjuuko

One Friday night, around 10.00pm, a friend who was enjoying a date with his wife in one of Kampala’s hot spots saw his phone ring. It was his father. He felt that the phone call had come at the wrong time and was unusual for his father to call that late in the night.

But also he didn’t want his date to be interrupted. He didn’t want to answer either but he thought what if there is something urgent and there is something he could do. He didn’t want to spend the rest of his life feeling guilty.

He moved to the corner where he could hear what his father was saying. “Your mother is very sick. You need to pick her up tomorrow morning. Good night,” the father said. The wife was eager to know what the call was about. So the date ended prematurely and they returned home in preparation for a trip some 150km or so to the village. Before dawn, they were already on the road to pick the old woman.

My friend’s parents used to live in Kampala. A few years ago, they decided that they had had enough of the urban life and returned to the village. This is the life they had planned for some time. They managed to set up a farm of sorts, built a comfortable house and planned to live happily thereafter.

For the majority of Ugandans who work in urban areas especially greater Kampala and have any slight plans for retirement and came from rural Uganda for their education and work, returning to the village is usually top on their retirement priority list. They spend enormous amounts of time and resources planning for this.

Some don’t even bother building a house in Kampala, the only plan is in their rural areas. The problem is that rural Uganda doesn’t have health facilities that can enable them live the life they have spent so much time and resources planning for.

As we age, our bodies start depending on medication. A regular visit to the doctor’s office is almost guaranteed. In our healthcare system, rural areas are serviced by healthcentre IIs, which are run by registered or enrolled nurses. They can’t handle most of the ailments people in old age suffer from. They also don’t have a lot of equipment in working conditions. Laboratories? We can talk about that later.

The specialist doctors obviously don’t work in rural areas. There is no money for them to make. So they are concentrated in urban areas and the very good ones are only in Kampala. Retirees need to have access to these specialist doctors. They need modern labs and scanners.

I was telling my friend that his parents need to start planning to return to the city. His mum is going to need care all the time and his village is too far for him to be driving there to pick her whenever there is an emergency. What if he had travelled? What if his phone that Friday night was off? He then cut me off mid-sentence. “The old man is also becoming sickly,” he said. I told him that is the reason they need to return permanently to Kampala. They planned for many years to be away from the city and now looks like they have no choice.

It isn’t just healthcare that is a challenge to live in the village for retirees. They largely have no social network in the neighborhood. The majority of the people they knew are long dead. The sons of their former friends spend most of their time “killing snakes”, euphemism for being idle and disorderly. Apart from church, they really have nobody around them they can sit with as friends and talk about the good old days. They despise some of these guys anyway having spent most of their lives in abject poverty!

The workers are hard to find. Domestic workers (who you call maids) don’t want to work in rural areas. They rather earn less but, in the city, where at least once a year they can watch fireworks, see the water fountwhen they visit the mall, ‘storied’ roads (flyovers) and buildings that carry each other (read towers).

In the city, they can plan to eventually go to Saudi Arabia or Jordan or Dubai. In the village, life is not that exciting for a young person. Church and then milking the cows. Even if it could pay more!

So, if you are planning to return to the village, think about a system that will enable you live the life you want in the location that you choose.

 The writer is a communication and visibility consultant.

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