I don’t have TV here, and with the spotty power situation I rarely get to watch my DVDs.  Entertainment has become a delicate balance of reading, crossword puzzles, and insect slaughtering.  Turns out that once you get past your initial fear, the latter can become something of an obsession.  But every Friday afternoon I rest assured that I can sit back, relax, and be entertained.  Because that’s when P6 and P7 have their weekly debate. 


If flirted briefly with debating in middle school.  At the tender age of twelve my twin brother and I led opposing debate teams in our bizarre Filipino middle school, where the seventh grade had seven students and the French class had two (100% O’Gara)  One of our first debates was on the morality of euthanasia.  I believe that when I first heard the topic read out I wondered what could be so controversial about the young people on the Asian continent (you know, youth in Asia).  I imagined Chinese kids hanging out after school, playing tag in the yard.  What, exactly, was the issue?  It was a long road to the podium in the school gym, and I can’t even remember if I argued for or against.


The P6/P7 debates are definitely more memorable.  The most important thing you need to know is that they follow ‘parliamentary procedure’ in their debates.  I’m not sure exactly what parliament they’re referring to.  I would guess it’s a British base, with about ten layers of Ugandan formality added on top.  All I know is they do not mess around.


The P6 classroom, ready for the debate 

The P6 classroom, ready for the debate.


There are no lengthy speeches.  There are main speakers for each side, but once they’ve made their brief opening remarks the floor is open.  The whole system centers around the Chairman.  He sits at the center of a table, at the top of the room, flanked by the secretary and time keeper.  The Chairman decides who talks, and for how long.  Really, you are trying to convince the Chairman of the validity of your point so that he’ll let you continue speaking.  You better thank the Chairman when he lets you speak, and you better address him as Honorable and when your time is up you better ask “Please Honorable Chairman sir, can you add me some three more minutes?” in your politest voice.  Otherwise, he can end you.


So far the topics have ranged from the advantages of rural life versus urban, to the slightly awkward motion: “Foreigners have done more harm than good in Uganda.”  I kept a low profile during that one.  Things invariably get heated.  It’s the Chairman’s job to keep order, but if he fails, the crowd will happily step in.  If a speaker steps out of line he or she will likely face a sea of raised hands, and a chorus of voices shouting “Point of order, POINT OF ORDER!”  The Chairman selects a student, who solemnly stands and asks: “Is it right, for my colleague there, to stand and point his finger in the face of the other speaker?  Can we allow it?”  The crowd roars its disapproval, and with a nod the Chairman sends the student with the offending finger back to his seat, shamefaced. 


There are several boys in P7 who excel at passionate presentation.  Brian always puts on a good show.  He rises to speak, and stands quietly for a moment, his head down, his palms together and his fingertips pressed to his lips.  He takes a breath, then raises up both his head and arms, and begins his speech, his lively hands punctuating each point.  His eyebrows are furrowed, his lips drawn, almost as if in pain:  “Honorable Chairman Sir, I thank you for allowing me to come and crush the points of my opponent.”


Brian gets warmed up to make a point.


For the first few debates I was disappointed at the clear dominance of the males in the room.  Few girls dared to stand up and speak, and when they did they were quiet and made their points very quickly.  But last week Timbe Hellen silenced my doubts about the P7 girls’ abilities to stand up for themselves.  I was moving around the class, trying to find a good angle for a photo, when I looked up and found Hellen striding across the front of the room, brandishing a ruler at a surprised looking Emmanuel.  Emmanuel is about seventeen, and about six foot tall, but as Hellen made her advance he turned and cowered behind a nearby chair.  The room erupted in laughter and shrieks of “Order, order.”  The teachers looked on amusedly.  Hellen stood, the top of her ruler inches from Emmanuel’s face as she continued her tirade.  I couldn’t hear a word the girl said, but I’m pretty sure she was winning.


Issac and Emmanuel square off.  I was too distracted during the Hellen-ruler siutation to get a photo



Teacher Godfrey wants to do a debate next week with teacher-student teams.  I told him that I’m game, and have already begun practicing my emphatic hand gestures.  I just hope the motion has nothing to do with youth in Asia . . . .