Nomad

Sunday 30th August

Hello – I am back again. I am also back in Kumi, which I have started to think of as home. Team 3 has left us and they took with them the fun and laughter that only seven children and five young people can bring. We also had six adults who were quite fun as well.

I feel quite nomadic. In the last week I have travelled from Kumi to Entebbe (7 hours), Entebbe back to Kumi, Kumi to Murchison Falls (another 7 hours), Murchison to Entebbe (yet another 7 hours) and Entebbe to Kumi (you have guessed how long). I have spent no longer than three nights anywhere for nearly two weeks and feel quite at home living out of two small bags.

Just to prove I have been to Murchison National Park again here are some giraffes in a dust storm (no, actually, they were taken through a dirty window)IMGP5042

From this nomadic existence, two things occur to me: first, nomads were the first occupants of Uganda (from Ethiopia) and so I am following a tradition (although without hunting, gathering, wearing a loincloth or carrying a spear) and secondly the contents of my two bags are more in quantity than most people have in the world in Uganda, these days. Fewer possessions seems to result in more happiness. We can all learn from this.

It is difficult to summarise the achievements of the last two weeks. It is remarkable how much difference 18 people can make in a short time. Not only in practical ways, but also in building relationships with Ugandan people. Not to mention the immense amount of aid they brought with them – from clothes, educational supplies and medical equipment to shoes, underwear and paint rollers. Everything will be given to our project partners here to distribute among those they help (except the paint rollers which I am jealously guarding for our painting projects).

It is a week since I last wrote anything and in that time there have been many new entries to the funny names competitions. I have saved the best ones for you:

On the backs of vehicles we have “10 minutes – one man army” (on a bus) and “We repair broken eggs” (this one written on the back of a petrol tanker) – and, no, I have no idea what they mean either.

On shops we have “Minimum Restaurant” (small portions?), “Safety God Salon Phone Charging” and my favourite mixed business entry “Scrap battery buyer – drinks and sodas sold here” I just hope the two businesses have separate containers for the liquids involved.

The one serious one, which deserves a special mention, is “Forgive Don’t Forget” on the back of a taxi. This is something that Ugandans are very good at. The years of Idi Amin produced a nation of many murderers and, even now, people are living next door to those who they knew killed their fathers and grandfathers. They remain neighbourly – they have not forgotten but they have forgiven. This taxi sign has been the only tangible evidence that I have seen in nearly two months of the mass slaughter that occurred between the years 1971 and 1986. Hundreds of thousands died and lie in unmarked graves. Many thousands simply disappeared and are assumed dead.

But Ugandans are upbeat and look forward to a better future. They do not dwell on past atrocities – if I ask, they will tell me what they know but they prefer to forgive and move on. Again, we can all learn from this.

To close on a lighter note, there is a small town near here with no electricity, no running water, no proper drains and no TV. The name of the town is “Television”

Moonlight over Kampala: IMGP5052

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Papyrus to Police

Friday 21st August

I made a quick visit back to Entebbe Airport today with one of our people who is returning early. Well, “quick” in Ugandan terms – crawling through miles of Kampala traffic – it took the usual seven hours.

We had an interesting meeting with some policemen today on the way. We pulled up by the roadside to discuss where we would stop for lunch when the two cops came over and said it was illegal to park here. Our driver apologised (actually I thought he need not do so as there were no “no parking signs” and no yellow lines and we hadn’t even turned the engine off, but I guess he knows how best to handle the cops)

The cops said that “sorry” wasn’t good enough and they would take our driver off to jail and I would have to drive. (and I would no doubt be charged immediately with driving without insurance!). They were clearly angling for a bribe. I said we were looking for a place to have lunch and I asked if they could suggest somewhere. They said they would if they could come too and I would pay!

Anyway, it was all good humoured and I explained what we were doing in Uganda. I was wearing an MD shirt which seemed to add some authenticity to the discussion and they let us go. An hour later we saw them again and they gave us a cheery wave. I asked our driver if any of that was serious and he said “no, they are just looking for something for themselves!”

The journey (I am quite getting used to it) is full of contrasts. I have mentioned this before but I have not explained the papyrus marshland. The road crosses one end of the vast Lake Kyoga natural drainage basin – but it does not drain very well because we go through papyrus swamp so big that it stretches from horizon to horizon. The road is elevated about 10 feet above the swamp so we can see not only endless waving papyrus heads but also bright blue patches of wild water lilies in between them.

The papyrus heads are the same as those in the drawings in the tombs of the pharaohs 4,500 miles away in Egypt. Logical really, because Lake Kyoga drains into the Victoria Nile, which feeds into Lake Albert, which drains into the Albert Nile which drains into the White Nile and so on – all the way to Egypt. Papyrus seeds have obviously been carried for thousands of miles.

I thought the millions of papyrus heads looked vaguely menacing – then I remembered why – they resemble some early illustrations of John Wyndham’s triffids. If these Ugandan triffids had their day they would take over the whole of Africa in no time.

And in case you thought that humans invented helicopters – have a look at this one – it is small dragon-fly type insect(about 10cm across) but a complete mini helicopter:helicopter

Travelling through Kampala does result in the greatest number of entries in the funny signs competitions. In the philosophical section today we have the following on the backs of vehicles: “Time keeper”, “What is moral fibre?” “Why is it me?”, “Why Not?” but the winner in this category must be “Leave Me Alone” painted on the back of a bus – presumably passengers are discouraged.

Entries in the funny business sign category are “Have your car serviced here no parking” (service on the move?), “CSI Junior School” (education of which side of the law was not explained) but the winner today has to be “From Glory to Glory Night Parking”

I will be quiet for a few more days as we still have the team in country for another week. (They are a lovely bunch of people and a pleasure to be with) Group

 

New team

Tuesday 18th August

I have a half-day off so here goes with the last few days’ news:

We collected 18 great volunteers from Entebbe airport. They include two families of four, a family of five and two sisters. Arriving as a family is always applauded by Ugandans as the family bond is very important for them. Many Ugandan families are “clans” and run to very large numbers. Which family you belong to is very important here.

Work for the Team has been similar to that done by the previous team. The school building at Akubui is coming on well and is up to ring beam level. We have been bricklaying, wire bending, earth moving, football playing and singing with a guitar on the school playground together with local children. They come in to school even though it is school holidays, because we are here.

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There is a sort of “extra lane on the M25” effect here – because we are building a new school room, enquiries from new parents have increased. At this rate our new classroom will be too full before we have finished it !

Local people want to be involved. Half of our local builders are local volunteers. This morning a group of six women appeared and quietly started carrying bricks for us (in nice dresses and flip-flops). After half an hour they quietly disappeared.

Yesterday we had an unplanned chill-out period under the tree in our car park. This was because when we started climbing on the bus we noticed that the radiator was lying on the ground and two pairs of legs in overalls were sticking out from under the engine. So, being efficient Brits we immediately called in alternative transport – it is so easy – you just ask for two local minibuses to arrive – which they did – complete with loose doors, a window flapping about half- held in place with sellotape and no insurance.

So we called another local minibus – it too had no insurance. A long discussion with the driver took place during which he tried hard to explain that national insurance laws do not apply in Kumi but we somehow did not believe him. What actually happens is that if they are stopped with no insurance they just pay the policemen a “fine” which is cheaper than the insurance premium and go on their way.

Anyway, the radiator went back in and we were on our way after two hours. Being two hours late is normal in Uganda. Time is not of the essence here and breakdowns are a normal part of life. What is unexpected is Brits, or anyone else, arriving anywhere on time. We enjoyed our relaxation under our shady tree. This laid back life has a lot to commend it!

Recent new applications for entry into the book of philosophical signs include “Why Ozil?” Apparently Hr Ozil is a German football player but why his name should be permanently painted on to the back of a Ugandan bus as a question is a mystery to us all.

And would you want to send your child to the “Divine Hope Interrogated Primary School”?

Back in a few days.

Akubui guitar 2

Banana Village

14th August

We now have three nights back at Banana Village. This is a camp of lodges near to Entebbe airport so it is ideal as a base when we are collecting and delivering volunteers. It is a peaceful place – set in its own garden complete with exotic wild birds and vervet monkeys. IMGP4729 (2)

Today, Friday, we needed to buy supplies for Team 3 which is arriving tomorrow night. A quick nip into Kampala turned out to be two hours in semi stationary traffic. It would have been quicker to walk there. City authorities have not yet got to grips with ever increasing road use. Supermarkets were visited and goods duly bought. A rapid return to BV took over an hour – we would have been quicker to run back.

There is not much more to say about today. We caught up with some emails and paperwork in the afternoon and I added “attack by baboons” to the risk assessment. (See 6th August). It is still amusing to talk about the incident although it could have been serious – a fully grown male baboon is not to be argued with.

I had a few new entries today in the amusing signs competition. Best in the inappropriate mix of businesses category was the “Jet carwash & fried fish” shop. A small half collapsed wooden shed announced itself as “God’s Wish Beauty Salon” but today’s winner is “We buy old damaged car parts, spear parts and bad conditioned cars”

I can understand the re-use of old car parts but I am not sure about the trade in spear parts. I thought spears had fallen into disuse some 150 years or so ago. Certainly, I have not seen any in use, fortunately.

This blog may not be added to for a few days – with 18 new volunteers arriving, life will be busier.

Thanks for reading this and for your messages of support for all this drivel!

Contrasts in the south west

Thursday 13th August

The last few days have contained enormous contrasts for us. I mentioned in the last entry that we were heading for Queen Elizabeth National Park – the journey there was memorable – up and own hills, mostly on earth roads, through small villages, past fields of bananas and then thousands of acres of tea plantations.

We agreed that this lush, fertile, hilly landscape was more like parts of France or Italy (without bananas or tea), rather than the middle of Africa. Ultimately we came to the edge of the western Rift Valley (known as the Albertine rift – after Victoria’s Albert) and the ground just fell away from us for hundreds of metres. We drove to the bottom and found ourselves on a huge hot flat savannah plain with acacia trees.IMGP4695

Then over the bridge at the Kazingey channel – a natural waterway between Lakes Albert and Edward and in to the National Park. We slowed for the usual elephants, buffalo, water buck etc. (it is surprisingly how quickly one can take large animals on the road for granted !) and checked ourselves into our lodge for the night. The afternoon was spent on the most varied wildlife boat trip I have ever experienced – elephant, buffalo, crocodiles, birds etc. just lined up obligingly and watched us go by.

And then came the biggest contrast – we went out for dinner at the Mweya Safari Lodge. Greeted by white coated staff, we were ushered to comfortable chairs on a beautiful veranda overlooking Lake Edward and served beers etc. as the sun went down.

IMGP4717Dinner followed – chairs were gently arranged under us, our serviettes were put on for us and a four course meal flowed effortless across the table. Five of us were eating and the total cost was about one fifth of what we would have paid in the UK.

This is in a land where most people struggle to live off a dollar a day, or less. Most people live in cramped conditions without power or water and their evening meal is goat meat and bananas, if they are lucky. Not for them the comfortable chairs and ironed serviettes (and no one to put them on for them even if they had any). There is a huge disconnect between what we are doing in this country and what we did last night.

We are here to support struggling people and schools; to help educate those children who might not otherwise be helped. And last night’s meal would have provided school fees for four children for a year. Yet do we feel guilty? No we do not! Should we feel guilty? I will let you decide.

It is somehow reassuring that this morning’s breakfast was more at our level – Dunked Weetabix in mugs of milk (because there are no spoons at the Lodge) and bread and jam spread with a multi-tool (because there are no knives). As we drove away we skirted fresh elephant and hippo droppings within 25 feet of our front door (so that is why they advised us not go out at night!)

The QENP (Queen Elizabeth National Park) has its fair share of the famous African feature of corrugated earth roads, which shake both vehicles, people and contents, and after one hour’s driving the Toyota’s alternator decided to let us go on without it. It was hanging on by one lose bolt when we finally got to a mechanic, who re-fixed it within an hour.

We are now back at Banana Village, Entebbe after eleven and a half hours in the minibus today. We have “done” most of south west Uganda in four days. It is most beautiful and varied but in a few days we head back to the arid scrubland of Kumi (which we have started to call “home” and actually have begun to miss it!)

No entries in the funny names competition today. Elephants and buffaloes seem reluctant to take part.

In hill country

Tuesday 11th August

We are in Rukingiri in the south west of Uganda. This visit is simply part of a few days off as we are not actually working here. Rukingiri is where Mission Direct has another project – it is another school but this time it is for children with physical and mental difficulties. We had a look at their work this afternoon – the building of a storeroom and houses for teachers.

The school, and the whole of Rukingiri, is in a very different part of the world to Kumi. Instead of Kumi’s flat savannah plains, studded with trees, Rukingiri is in hill country and each hill is fully clothed with eucalyptus, banana and palm trees. Small streams run between the hills and the roads are compelled to run next to them. It is cooler – (we are 5,500 feet above sea level) and the many trees add a moisture to the air which is absent in Kumi.

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The bird life is noisy, especially at dawn, and I sat outside and just listened to them (as they had woken me up). The town is much bigger than Kumi and more bustling and active but does not even get a mention in the Bradt guide book. The only reason is that it does not go anywhere. Stuck out alone in the hills of the south west of the country it serves as a good market centre but you do not pass through it on the way to anywhere else. Kumi might be just a large village but it is on an important main road to the North West.

Not much more to say about today. It has been good, just wandering and looking. Tomorrow, still in tourist mode, we go to Queen Elizabeth National Park (so called because the good lady visited here some years ago).

The local farmers are kinder to their animals in this part of the country – they are tethered around the neck and not by the leg, as in Kumi. But it all ends up in the same way – a local shop is called “God’s provider cow meat butcher”

On the Equator

Monday 10th August

We are now in the southern hemisphere. A few weeks ago I stood at zero degrees longitude at Greenwich Observatory in London and today I stood at zero degrees latitude on the Equator.IMGP4676

There are some similarities between the two places – a long line painted on the ground; some publicity about the significance of the line and a lot of people making money out of it from tourists. Inevitably it is in lower key in Uganda. It is also considerably hotter – we were there at midday and there were virtually no shadows – the sun being almost directly overhead.

An interesting display takes place on the Equator. We all know about bathwater spinning as it goes down the drain. Two metres on the north side of the Equator line, and two metres on the south side of the line, there is a large funnel containing water with a drain in the centre. For some money, a local enterprising business man places a flower on the water. In the funnel on the north side of the line it spins clockwise as the water drains out. On the south side it spins anti clockwise.

This is either genuine, and so quite significant, or it is a put up job and he is manipulating the flow of the water. I do not know which is true. If you know that it might actually be true – please tell me !

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After eleven weary hours of being thrown about inside a minibus we have arrived at Rukingiri – our southernmost destination. It was dark when we arrived so I cannot tell you any more – I will do so tomorrow – all I can say that as the night drew in we went through some very hilly scenery not unlike the Peak District.

Today’s funny sign entries are “No stopping, parking, flooding” – this was a road sign – I think the last word was meant to explain the previous two words. A keen cyclist passed us with a T shirt which read “Amersham Cycling Club” – a long way from home, I thought (the T-shirt not the cyclist) but today’s winner is the label on my room key which reads “Bookshelf”.

I went looking for a room called Bookshelf and had to report failure to the receptionist who apologised and said it was the right key for my room but the wrong label. I had to ask what, then, is my room actually called. The answer was “Tigerfish” – obvious really.

Back to the city of Kampala

Sunday 9th August

 

My last entry was about a sleepy lion. They are not unique in having a daytime doze – here is a picture of some warthogs round the restaurant door at lunch time. I guess they feel safe from being eaten by tourists – local people might not be quite so fussy.IMGP4660

We have said our goodbyes to the team and our numbers are reduced from 15 to 3 again. Yesterday we drove down from the Murchison Falls National Park towards Kampala. For two and a half hours we were, in the words of one volunteer, “in a tumble dryer” bouncing along on rough roads, avoiding road wash-outs, fallen trees and baboons.

The baboons set up road blocks – this seems unlikely but it is true – they line up across the road and expect tourists to stop for them. They then launch an attack on the vehicle windows, hoping to grab some food.

Alex, our patient and highly experienced Ugandan driver just keeps on going. The road block then turns into a game of chicken when the last baboon to get out of the way wins.

We took the team to Kampala’s central craft market for some souvenir buying and then to Whitecrest Guest House. Supper visitors included a rat in the dining room which caused some amusement. (To some, but not all!)

On the way to the airport we stopped at a café on the shore of Lake Victoria. For all practical purposes, it is a sea. The second largest lake in the world and the biggest in Africa. As we ate our lunch, there seemed to be a dust storm on the horizon. We did not stop to ponder how dust storms form over water but watched it leisurely coming ashore a mile or so away. Then it changed course. Then we realised it was a vast swarm of midges; then we realised that dust storms do not form over water!IMGP4669

There must have been billions of them. We ran to the bus and shut the windows. My guess is that it was a mating swarm but we did not stop to find out. Needless to say, in an old bus some of them found their way inside. They made the air change colour – for a while the bus was in a brown mist.

One advantage of being back in the city is that there are many more entries in the funny signs competition. As today is Sunday here are few entries in the Christian business category:

“Sufficiency Scripture Enterprises; “Divine Vet – Blessed Assurance animal medication” “Our food is ordered by the blood of Jesus” but the winner today (which, I fear, is nothing but a misprint) is the one near the Fish market “Jesus is Cod”

I realise that these might seem offensive to some in the UK but it is quite OK here. Christianity is an integral part of society and it was the explorer David Livingstone who encouraged Christianity and commerce. Were he around today I think he would be pleased. The signs are never intentionally disrespectful and attaching a Christian label to your business gives it respectability. You may also expect to be dealt fairly by the proprietor, who hopes his business sign will encourage Christian customers to buy from him.

We went to church his morning. It was a large permanent marquee with about 500 people, a band with guitars, drums & keyboards line up, multimedia screen presentations and speakers / pastors who would have good second careers as stand-up comedians. The service was in English, the music was western and pounding and the atmosphere was exciting. They are very active in the community. Have a look at Watotochurch.com to get a flavour of what they do.

Afterwards, we discussed whether we had been to a performance or a church service – either way it was great.

Tomorrow we head south towards Rukingiri, Mission Direct’s second project town in Uganda. We are just going for a look – not to work – but it will take another day’s travelling to get there. In the process we will cross the Equator. I have done this many times by air but his will be my first land crossing. I gather there are certain traditional customs involved – oh dear !

Mugged by baboon and left lion in the road

Thursday 6th August

The team completed their work programme two days ago. I think it is fair to say that they all had a great time, largely thanks to Richard, our leader’s, meticulous planning. In the course of ten days, the team members helped raise a new school classroom up to window sill level, painted a classroom at another school, built a rainwater tank base at a third school, taught some lessons (even the non-teachers!), started to build a village house, visited several other establishments and held a two nation “cultural evening” – our contribution being teaching Ugandans to dance Strip The Willow.IMGP4651

We are now giving the team three days’ R&R before taking them back to the airport. We left Kumi yesterday and we are in Murchison Falls National Park. We are staying at Red Chilli Lodge with a lovely view over the Nile. Today we had an early start to see, in order, the sun rise over the river, one of our members getting mugged by a baboon (who stole his breakfast out of his hand), hartebeests, elephants, giraffes, buffalo, countless bright birds and dowdy vultures, and we met the king of the jungle lying in the road. IMGP4656

The lion was sunbathing quietly in a shallow ditch. He was lazily flicking flies off his back and dozing when along came this bus with 15 Brits in it all poking their cameras out of the window. He was totally unimpressed and completely bored by us. He stared at us awhile and then put his head down again and dozed off. In the end we drove off and left him there.

In the afternoon we did the river cruise up the Nile to the Falls. Some of us walked up to them but others declined and I went back to base on the boat with them. We shared the river with hippos, crocodiles, snakes and thousands of diving pied kingfishers. Such a place of peace and wildlife is hard to explain.

Tomorrow we start the trek back to Kampala. Starting from a peaceful place in the country we shall finish at a noisy city centre craft market where we will try to avoid bargains being thrown at us from every direction. We drop the team off at Entebbe on Saturday night and I probably will not be updating this until after then.

Oh – and to satisfy those of you who are looking forward to each day’s amusing shop sign – today’s entry is “Bongo Brothers – Possible Impossibility” – the shop front gave no clue on what they sell.

How are you? – I am fine

Monday 3rd August

Kajamaka New, Mukongoro Rock, Kumi New, Atutur Village, Akabui – they are all names which go round in my head. They are the places where we are working. They are all schools spread out across the vast plain of Kumi. Kumi plain is part of the even vaster Lake Kyoga natural drainage system which seems to cover many hundreds of square miles. It occupies about 10 percent of the whole of Uganda. Even the river Nile flows through it.

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One small part of the plain contains Lake Bisina – itself a huge body of water several square miles in diameter and you can only see the far side when there is no heat haze (which is seldom). As you approach it across the plain you rise a small mound and then look across fifty miles in every direction. You can even see the curvature of the earth.

All that breaks the view are small trees stretching away until they get so small in my vision that they merge together into a distant green haze. And within this huge flatness are people, farms, animals, and schools – hundreds of them – half the population of Uganda is under 15. Schools are built for them by the Government, by the churches, by villages, by parents and anyone who wants to support their young people into the future.

Today’s work was at Mukongoro Rock. A school built in 1937, with 1437 children and 17 teachers. (That’s 84 children to each teacher and assumes they are all teaching 10 hours a day). We worked out that over 17,000 kids have been through this school. The headteacher told us that some have gone on to become important national figures – from a village school, in the middle of the countryside, in the middle of a vast plain, with the nearest main road over half an hour away along rutted earth roads.

The children are polite, obedient and curious. Many have not seen white people – some of the small ones run away from me looking scared. Bigger ones try out their English – it seems that the starting phrase to be learned is “How are you” followed by “fine”. But when I say “I am fine – how are you?” there is a lot of giggling and they rush off.

Sometimes I wonder exactly what they make of us:

Odd looking white people with long hair and clean clothes with splats of paint. I wouldn’t put paint on clean clothes. The strangers keep sipping drinks of water out of plastic bottles. They wear heavy shoes and sweat all the time. Why don’t they wear flip flops like us ? They would be much cooler. These strangers keep smiling at us for no reason so we smile back. They seem friendly but we don’t know why. Why have they come to our school and what are they doing in our classroom?

The teachers say they are a blessing to the school from a distant land but we don’t see why they have come. They get in the way of the builders that arrived last week. They carry big bags of stuff into our staffroom. One of us said there was a bag of new footballs but this seems impossible – you have to live in Kampala to have new footballs. I have never been there – it takes two days on lots of buses, or I could walk there in a week.

Two of the white women sat in our playground and offered to sew buttons on our school uniforms where they have fallen off. We don’t know why – we lost those buttons months ago. Why should they come from a distant land with new buttons for us? I expect they have their own children with no buttons on their clothes there and they deal with it by holding them closed, like we do, or tie a piece of string round themselves.

Anyway, they are OK to be with. They don’t shout at us or hit us. The teachers seem to like them so they must be OK. I won’t tell my mum that we have mazungus at school because I know she won’t believe me. “They don’t come here”, she will say, “they only go to big cities like Kampala where there are bars and hotels.” I don’t know what they are. The only bars I know are the ones sticking out of unfinished buildings near here. One of them cut me quite badly. Anyway they are going now, so let’s wave and shout “byeee” which they seem to like. When I am older I will try and find out about white people.

Ok, Ok, enough whimsy. Let’s close by saying that I continue to be amazed that in schools where the biggest barrier to education is malnourishment (“their brains don’t work as well” said one teacher) I find, day after day, joy and contentment among both teachers and students despite an almost total absence of resources. How does this happen and how can we learn from it ?

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