Tired but happy

Thursday 30th July

We have had two hectic days of carrying soil, stones and concrete. We have a team of twelve plus three staff and when we create a chain of people to deliver something it is remarkable how much can be done in a short time. It is far quicker than wheelbarrows but rather more labour intensive.

I estimate today that each person lifted 1.25 tonnes of concrete – In very small quantities of 10 kilograms at a time, as they passed it along the line. Yesterday we did the same with earth:

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Yesterday I also found myself in a class of 45 fourteen year olds teaching astronomy. As part of the volunteer experience we take each team into a classroom at Kumi Township School. We had 9 volunteers who wanted to do this plus me. We decided to do one session of the human skeleton and one on astronomy.

One of the medics did the skeleton but only I seemed to know anything about the planets. I started with how far away the sun is and worked from there. We got them to draw on round pieces of card what they thought each planet looked like and we then hung them on a string, each one measured off from its distance to the sun. Students came up the board (not the done thing in Uganda) and wrote down details of the planet they had been studying. After 40 minutes we swapped over and repeated the lesson with another class.

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We learned that we were teaching one class of 90, in two halves. The school has 1,450 children and 15 teachers. Nearly a ratio of 100:1.

Whilst in the playground at Akabui, one of team produced bubbles and anther a Frisbee. From the delight on the children’s faces I doubt that any of them had seen such things before.

I needed to buy some long handles for paint rollers. Nowhere to be found in Kumi. In the end I bought some brushes with long handles and said that the shopkeeper could keep the brush heads. I was followed around by a drunk local musician who was constantly begging money off me.

As I type this it is raining – hard – and there is a small flood coming in under my door. Outside the footpath is two inches deep but I know that in in one hour it will be bone dry again.

All going well – tired but happy!

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The Martians have landed

Tuesday 28th July

As each member of staff gets half a day off a week, and as today was my turn, I have time to write this:

It has been a very good start with the first team. We collected them as planned from Entebbe on Sunday and whizzed them up to Kumi (i.e. left at 10.00 am, arrived at 7.30 pm) with various loo and drinks stops on the way. They brought a mountain of luggage – much of it was items to be given to our project partners. They are nice group of people – 12 in all, ranging from 13 years old to 63. Between them they have many skills, teaching, music, engineering, drama and medical. Two mums with daughters are in the team.

On arrival at Akabui School we were treated to a presentation of singing and dancing from the school children and staff. It was a special day for them and they had been obviously practising hard. The kids were very shy – the equivalent for us would be performing before some Martians just out of their spaceship.

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Our new team members have got stuck in straight away with the programme. We have had two sessions on the building site and the new classroom block is now up to nine courses of bricks (floor slab level)

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I also encouraged the team to get involved with the children at the school because, to the kids, that is far more important than a new building. So, today we had the hokey cokey with the kindergarten and football with the older ones, during morning break.

These children have never seen white people before and they are fascinated ! The fact that white people would want to play with them was inconceivable. White folks just don’t do that sort of thing. The children are quite shy at first but soon warm up to us and get cheeky rapidly. When they greet us, the little girls curtsy, which makes us feel quite royal but it is also a little embarrassing.

We arrived in our 28 seater bus. Some of the younger children have never seen a bus and some little boys inspected it with interest. Some of our team attended a year five English lesson when they had to make up new words out of “carpenter” and “window”. Our team found this quite challenging !

Yesterday, we were surrounded, on the site, by about 20 secondary school girls (wearing purple in the picture). I said to Patrick, our builder that I supposed they had never seen white women working on bricklaying. He replied “no, they do not believe that any mazungus (white people) ever get their hands dirty” So we have shattered their disillusions quite quickly. They did help us carry bricks though.

So, all is going very well so far. The latest entrants in the funny shop name competition are: “Newer car spares”, “Good Luck Pharmacy”, “Good is Good”. And on vehicles we have “Don’t Drive on Shoulders” and the prize goes to “Trust in Allan” (which I think was a misprint for Allah).

The latest news stand poster says “Five Universities Not Accredited to teach Law” – we are still reeling from the shock of this announcement – those of our team members who were planning on acquiring a 10 day Ugandan law degree are now packing their bags.

I will be back on the blog in a few days.

Play area

Saturday 25th July

A little bit of last minute shopping for the team and we are, at last, ready for them !

The first team member arrives in four hours – Entebbe airport at 11.00 pm. The rest (11 of them) come in on another flight at 9.15 tomorrow morning. Then tomorrow, Sunday, we (all 16 of us) are in the bus all day travelling back to Kumi.

We stopped at the side of Lake Victoria for a coffee today and saw this egret a few feet from us. It was totally unconcerned about us being there.

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We had a bit of R&R near the airport this afternoon. I thought you might like to see their Children’s Play Area ! It has “British Airtours” on the side.  Kids are allowed to go inside it and there are no warning signs about parental supervision.  I guess kids here are just careful.

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Anyway, that might be the last blog for a few days. From past experience, when we have a team in, I don’t have time to do it as it takes about an hour each night and we are on duty from 7.00 am until about 10.00 pm, by when we are a bit tired. We are all OK and excited about our new arrivals.

Be back in a few days…..see you then.

Banana Village

Friday 24th July

I woke this morning in a large cool room in a floating white cloud, in a large gracious home “White Crest Guesthouse” in Kampala. It is run by Fred & Lisa and their family, two Ugandans who run the business from their own home. They have beautiful decorative quarry tiled floors and large dark furniture which goes well in the spaces they have. The floating white cloud, if you have not guessed, was the mosquito net.

The contrast between this home and the one we visited on the way to Kampala yesterday is huge. Town compared with country; large floor tiles compared with earth floors, hot water showers (my first in Uganda) compared with water from a stand-pipe; buildings and noise all around compared with the peace of a garden with a view of Mount Elgon. Here is a picture.

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Shopping too, In Kampala, is totally different. The large supermarkets we visited today could be in any capital city. The only difference is the security – you don’t get your bags searched and body scanned when you go into Morrison’s back home. Prices in the coffee shop were similar to those in Buxton but they did have cinnamon and ginger cappuccino which is delicious.

We have moved again – now we are back at Banana Village.

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Here is a pic of my banda (cottage) with me writing up this blog. This a semi-detached self-contained cottage with bedroom and bathroom- we get fed in the restaurant on site. Banana Village is away from Kampala and near the airport at Entebbe. It has a lovely garden with numerous noisy birds and wild vervet monkeys playing in the trees.

I saw an advertisement today for accommodation called “HalfLondon Hotel.” I wondered which half it was modelled on. There was also a small faded signpost pointing up a narrow leafy lane saying “To Secret Guesthouse” I am not sure if they are keen on having visitors.

Today’s entries in the “philosophical signs on the back of lorries” competition were of poor quality. Only one entry appears in the book which is “Sign of Victory” – needless to say, no sign was indicated.

Tomorrow we aim to have an easier day, with less charging about.

Back to Kampala

Thursday 23rd July.

It is night and we are back in Kampala. Ten hours of travelling with stops for drinks on the way. I am beginning to get to know this road, or at least some of the major landmarks on it.

We started on the sparse tree studded plain of Kumi, went past Mount Elgon (the widest extinct volcano in Africa but not the highest), through miles of papyrus covered wetlands, into green rolling hills that look just like England except the green is sugar cane and not grass; across the Nile at Jinja, through the Mabira Forest Reserve (looking a bit like Sherwood Forest but ten times as big) and then into the continuous traffic suburbs of Mukono and Kampala.

However, on the way, we were invited to the home of the manager of one of our project partners. We arrived at a 50 acre farm on a hillside overlooking the mountain and were treated to tea under his shady garden trees. It was an oasis of calm amidst traffic noise and fumes. He lives with an extended family of brothers, cousins, grandchildren, aunts etc. all within what you can only describe as a family village. His father had five wives (polygamy is legal in Uganda) which does tend to extend the family a bit. We were introduced to one of his stepmothers who looked about 90 but was probably my age. She was out in the field stooped over a hoe. She was glad to see visitors with grey hair. She was the oldest person I have met so far. Life expectancy in Uganda is 53 and there are few of her generation around anymore.

Today’s prize for the strangest shop sign goes to “Another Life Pork Joint” and I could not work out whether “Christ Power Centre” was a church or an electrical shop. In was in a row of buildings and could, from a quick look at the outside, have been either.

The prize for today’s best philosophical statement on the back of a lorry is split equally between “Don’t Try Me” and “What is Next”. This is all becoming vaguely similar to Iain M. Banks’ science fiction books where spaceships are given odd names. I quite like the idea of boldly going where no man has been before in a spaceship called “What is Next”

We spotted many smart new tractors in the countryside parked in main streets outside cafes. They are almost certainly gifts of aid from overseas. What lets them down are the ancient tatty trailers they are towing. I think if I was given a smart new Massey Ferguson I would unhitch the trailer before driving down to the café. The old trailer does rather spoil the image.

Sorry – no new pictures today; I have not taken any.

Tonight we are staying at Whitecrest Guest House in Kampala. A beautiful old colonial style building run as a family venture. Amy is downstairs watching cartoons with their kids. Richard and I are on our laptops. Tomorrow, we are shopping for the team in Kampala. Or maybe four hours of queuing in traffic and one hour in the shops. What joy!

No Condition is Permanent

Wednesday 22nd July

Today was a quieter housekeeping and planning day. A lot of paperwork, lists, policies & procedures were reviewed, filed, lost, found again and sorted until we reached the point that we felt nearly ready to receive the first team on Sunday.

I walked round to Kumi Township School to see if the room where we have had some repairs carried out for us was ready for painting.

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During my ten minute walk there I was pleasantly accosted by boda-boda motor bike drivers who felt sure that no white man would want to walk anywhere and would just love a lift on his bike. I declined in a friendly Ugandan way. No mutatus (taxi-minibuses) stopped but some passed by with their interesting messages on the back windows.

These messages are colourful. Every driver puts something thoughtful on his rear window in large letters. Often of a Christian nature but sometimes nonsense and sometimes quite philosophical. I have mentioned “GaaGaa” before but here are a couple of common ones: “God Saves” and “Lord help us”; but what about “Until the Lord blinks”, “numberless” and “no condition is permanent”

This last one is also found on the mud flaps of large commercial vehicles. We have discussed what it means and have come to the conclusion that it can be both a positive and a negative statement, depending on your starting point. In the case of lorries it is encouraging to know that breathing in their black exhaust fumes at five miles per hour, whilst being unable to overtake, is not a permanent condition.

However, I imagine that if you a highly paid politician, driving your top-of-the-line air conditioned automatic Range Rover, following the lorry whilst pondering next year’s elections, you might not be encouraged by “no condition is permanent”

Tomorrow, Thursday, we are back on the road to Kampala. All day in our minibus which has now had three new clutch master cylinders in as many days. You can get the parts here but they don’t always work. Even Alex, our ever patient and understanding driver, is getting annoyed about it.

I may be unable to blog much in the next few days. If you have any special requests to learn about life in Uganda – please message me via this page. Thanks for reading – there are so many of you – I can’t imagine why!

And here is another picture of Sipi Falls:

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Sipi Falls

Tuesday 21st July

Sipi Falls – the name conjures up very mixed emotions for me. On the one hand it is a beautiful place 1,700 meters up on the Uganda / Kenya border. On the other hand, it is where my Di lost consciousness before later passing away from us in Kapchorwa Hospital and the words “Sipi Falls“ have been in and out of my mind for nearly five months. I had not been looking forward to today – for today I had to return there and we had to carry out our risk assessments of the Falls and the footpaths.

It’s a bit like visiting a prison and asking a convicted burglar how he would suggest making your house, which he has just stripped, safer. So, not knowing how I would be, we set off in our newly repaired minibus for the two hour trip to Sipi. We arrived at Lacam Lodge for coffee. The bus clutch failed in the car park. Again. (This is becoming a habit – see yesterday!). So the rest of the day became more leisurely.

The first thing that hit me was the altitude. I do not remember this from before. At 1,700 metres the altitude begins to have an effect on your breathing. The air is a little thinner and I was out of breath more quickly than usual. I am sure Di noticed this five months ago but she did not say anything. I wish she had. Back to today – We hired motor bikes to get up to the beginning of the walk (the bus would normally have taken us). We sat on the back of four bikes. My driver could simultaneously converse with me, hold a discussion on his phone, and corner the bike, one handed, on gravel roads at speed. How appropriate that I was conducting a risk assessment. The volunteers will not be using local motor bikes, then.

The next thing I realised was that the path that we used last time has disappeared. Gone; the ground scraped clean and levelled. The last path she walked on in her life has been graded into a new road. Actually, I was glad. This was not the first time in the last few months that I have thought “that was then – but this is now”. A new road, a fresh start, a level highway for countless people who will never know what happened there. She had taken those footpath memories with her. But I have my memory of how the path was on that day, and if that is all that is left – then that is just fine !

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Walking with a lighter step, I continued on. We saw the waterfalls and startlingly colourful flowers; walked through coffee plantations and then back down a steep muddy path, past more streams, waterfalls, over rickety bridges until we returned to Lacam Lodge, for lunch. It rained hard – warm rain that cools you gently and you do not need a waterproof. Richard read David Harkins’ poem to us over the lunch table and we had a few quiet moments in her memory.

With the bus fixed (yesterday’s new part replaced by another new part) we returned to Kumi.

Despite my trepidations it was a good day.

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The clutch and the parasite

Monday 20th July 2015

This morning we were charging about. Visiting project partners, schools and hospitals. I get very confused – just miles of dusty tracks, all looking the same, being bounced about. It’s quite tiring- both for us and the minibus, because, just before lunch the clutch hydraulics failed. Actually, about five yards from the front door of the café !

So we had a nice lunch, under a canopy in the sunshine, whilst Alex, our driver made a few calls. The vehicle then hobbled back to base and it was fixed during the afternoon. Exactly the same thing happened to me a while ago (cylinder seal leak, for those who are interested) and it involved a 200 mile relay recovery and three days in a garage. In Kumi it takes one man, a handful of spanners, and a couple of hours on his back on a hotel car park. There is a message there somewhere.

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We visited the main building site at Akubui today and here it is – work has been started. The builders have been doing the heavy bits for us. The footings are concreted and the first bricks laid. Good progress.

Yesterday we visited Lake Bisina – a vast inland lake near here. We had hoped it could be a volunteer visit but have dismissed it because it is just that – a lake. No shore, no facilities (except a sleepy unfinished ferry terminal) and two policemen who, despite being very friendly, were suspicious of us.

The Bradt Guide Book to Uganda (an invaluable book) also says some rather scary things about Bilharzia. It is a disease caused by tiny parasites which live all over the country in lakes. They burrow through your skin and head for your liver, where they set up home and reproduce at the rate of 10,000 eggs a day. So, wearing our health & safety hats, we have decided to disappoint them and have taken the lake out of the programme.

Finally tonight, here is a nice picture of a giraffe in the savannah – just because I like it. Giraffes were Di’s favourite animal and we have seen lots. Tomorrow we head up to Sipi Falls – I may be a bit wobbly!

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ETLIA

Sunday 19th July 2015

Today was a day of contrasts. This morning we attended the local church which was a classic African church experience. Overflowing with people, women in bright colours holding babies, singing, dancing, music (guitars, keyboard and a drum machine) to make your ears vibrate and a 45 minute sermon.

Afterwards we were invited to the church office for tea and bread. (You dip the latter in the former) Ugandan bread looks dry but isn’t – it is also slightly sweet and nice when soaked in tea. It took me a minute or two to realise that “the old gang” from March was back together. That was Bishop Simon Peter, his assistant Franco, (both from Kampala but coincidentally here in the Kumi area), Gilbert our local pastor, Richard and myself. The only new one was Amy. The last time the old gang had met together was at Di’s cremation service. So I was able formally to thank them for what they did that day. I was able to tell them about the celebration service we held in April. Amy was able to tell them what a joyful event it was and it felt to me that a book about that cremation day had now been closed.

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This afternoon we visited some rather old art. About 5000 years ago wandering hunter / gathers from Abyssinia were in the area and painted designs on the walls of some caves. Pictures of canoes, ladders, animals, hands and the Sun. One Sun design shows an eclipse. Astronomers and archaeologists have been able to fix the date fairly accurately. I think this is the oldest picture I have ever seen (well, that’s what I wrote in the visitors’ book)

I have invented a new word: ETLIA. It means “Everything Takes Longer In Africa”. I have written it on the front of my notebook to remind me. The reasons it takes longer are (a) because people are so friendly and chatty, (b) because it’s so hot and I move more slowly and (c) “hey – this is Africa – we take life more easily here”

So….. end of week number one..…all going OK and as planned although quite tiring. Many thanks for all your good wishes and support. This time next week we shall be meeting 12 new arrivals from the UK.

The whistling acacia

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Saturday 18th July

Today, for the first time on this trip, we met with abject poverty. One of the Mission Direct projects with the volunteers is to work with the Uganda equivalent of Sure Start, except it is run by the church and not the council. Their representative took us into the country – the first sign of poverty was that there no wheel tracks to the village, because nobody who lives there has one, and nobody with a car would want to go there.

So our trusty Toyota 4WD minibus coped with goat tracks, river washouts, and seriously obstructive vegetation (and all the bugs on it came into the car) and we arrived at the house where we were to work. A middle aged couple and four children lived in a round mud block structure about 15 feet wide with a straw roof, except most of the roof was missing. Our volunteers will be replacing the roof (with help from local church members – or perhaps the other way round) and paying for the materials.

The family did not smile. That was the biggest thing. They were so poor and malnourished they had no reason to. Usually, the presence of mazungus (white people) makes people put on a happy face, but not this family. I hope they will be smiling again in a few weeks when we have re-roofed them.

Thinking about the Murchison Falls National Park again, one of the oddest plants we saw was the whistling acacia. It has a three way symbiotic relationship with ants and giraffes. The acacia produces seeds with holes. The wind whistles through the holes making a sound which attracts the ants. The ants eat a sap secreted by the plant; giraffes try and eat the plant but the ants sting the giraffes’ mouths and they go somewhere else. Go away and don’t eat our food source, they say.

Talking of food sources, the whole Park was almost emptied of animals during the years of Idi Amin. The guide book says that armies used the Park as a larder. So it is wonderful to see it almost restocked back to pre-Amin days thanks to the vigilance of the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

What do the following have in common: two x 6 foot high bags of sugarcane; a mattress, four children, an oil drum, 15 wooden stools, four x twenty foot poles, and a pile of roofing thatch? Answer – I have seen each item carried on a bicycle (actually the twenty foot poles needed two bicycles – one at each end) – masterful co-ordination required.