Rain

Sunday night, 17th April.

I thought I knew all about rain. I was wrong, we are in the middle of the rainy season. It works like this: a pleasant sunny day with cloudless skies but in the late afternoon clouds start forming. Little wispy white ones which gradually get bigger and develop dark linings. They quickly join together and by six o’clock the whole sky is the colour of dark blue ink. A breeze stirs the stillness and, in seconds, grows into a rush of air enough to overturn plastic chairs and toss table cloths about. It is quite scary because you wonder what will happen if it goes on increasing in strength. (Actually, we know what happens – one of the schools we are working with lost its roof)

Then the rain drops come: big fat bold ones which hurt; in seconds they have ceased to be drops and become long rods of water with hardly any gaps in between. The noise (because of the ever popular corrugated iron roofs) stops you talking, or listening, or doing anything very much. It is now quite dark, or would have been but for almost continuous lightning flashes all around you, throwing distant trees into silhouette.

After 30 minutes or so, during which all gutters are full, all overflows are overflowing, traffic comes on a standstill, roadside gutters are full, people disappear and my bedroom is flooded once again, it eases down into steady roar, and sometimes hours after we go to sleep, it stops. I wake in the darkness, the clouds are gone and the sky sparkles with stars in the newly washed air. It is completely silent.

Next morning, as if the sky has been forgiven for last night’s performance, the dawn rises into a clear blue sky with not a cloud to be seen. The floods have gone, the road is dry, my bedroom floor is clean and dry and only a few small puddles by the roadside give us any clues about the millions of tons of water that fell on the Kumi plain last night. The farmers are glad, the ground is ready for planting and the day gets hotter until the whole process starts over again in the late afternoon.

Yesterday we re-visited Sipi Falls (just for a health and safety check, not for the coffee or the beer in the Lodge) and shortly before we left we watched one of these storms coming across the plain towards us. We could judge exactly when to get back on the bus. But during the day we had a great walk up to the waterfall and down the valley.IMGP5820

OK, signs seen on the way there were “Unless the Lord Builds” on the front of a taxi. (No, I have no idea); I not sure if I would trust my car to the “Quick and accurete service” garage. (If they cannot get the word right then…?) But the best one was “Humps Ahead” (later we saw a camel standing by the road) the humps were speed bumps.

Tomorrow, we head back to Kampala. Another jolly 8 hours on the road.

 

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Library visit

Friday night 15th April

Two more days of meetings with Ugandan organisations. I am beginning to get the idea now. You start with a lot of general chat about family, work, business, the weather (although as this is much the same each day, there is little to say) and then you get down to it.

The Brits make clear, firm suggestions, or ask straightforward questions. The Ugandans describe the challenges they face and make generally positive statements (such as “yes, this should be done – you cannot steer a car without moving it” or “it is so good you are here – the more doctors that consult over the heath of the patient, the better will be the patient” [I am not actually sure about this one –perhaps my friends who are medics can advise me]

The meeting closes with supportive statements on both sides, agreements to work closely together and to keep in touch and to consult with their respective committees, bosses, community chickens etc. with a firm and definite intention of achieving something approximately by a fixed date, God willing. But it’s all done with the greatest of friendship and good intentions.

Today, I accidentally found myself in a public library. We were walking along a main road in Mbale, a town an hour’s drive to the east of Kumi. There was a Book Aid logo on the sign, with which I am associated (the organisation, not the sign), so two of us walked in and had nearly an hour’s chat with the Librarian and his receptionist. We discovered that (a) most of the books are in English from donor countries; (b) the library staff cannot engage teachers with having books for the kids because the teachers think the kids should not have books in school (and cannot afford them anyway); (c) The entire library is smaller than the ground floor of my home and (d) books in English are for very young kids are not much good but books in their own local language are OK.

The two staff were delightfully friendly. Several photos were taken, contact details exchanged and they even gave me a new little book in the local language. (See if all that works in your local library). I promised to ask Book Aid if they would help local publishers print in their local language. I must admit that (b) was a bit of a surprise.

LibraryI hear your demand for today’s funny sign competition winners and here they are: Best mixed business category is “Public Toilet and Water for Sale.” Best religious use : “God’s Grace Enterprises Ltd.” Best school sign “Ideal Girls High school” (this could be an ideal school for girls, a school for ideal girls, or the ideal model for a girls high school, I know not which) but the most worrying one was “Water and Sewerage Plant” immediately next to a rice paddy field.

Tomorrow-the return to Sipi Falls – always a day of mixed emotions for me. Some of you will know why. And finally, here is a picture of Mercy, the daughter of one of the cleaning staff, just because she is cute !IMGP5786 (2)

The Community Representative

Wednesday night 13th April

 

Minutes of a meeting held at Atutur Child Development Centre commencing at 10.00 am. Those attending were four representatives of Atutur CDC (ACDC), five representatives of Mission Direct (MD) and a chicken. The meeting was unsure who the chicken represented but it was assumed to be a community owned bird thereby representing the community. The chairman expressed concern that she might be a Government spy carrying a microphone. Those present agreed to continue, notwithstanding the possible risk.

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The community representative arrived late having attempted to enter via the barred window. She was discouraged in doing so and later found a way in joining the meeting by walking around the building to the front door and along the hallway. Matters discussed were ACDC’s role in the community and how MD could help them. The community representative ruffled a number of feathers and clucked loudly. This was assumed to represent her agreement on behalf of the community.

The progress of child sponsorship was discussed. At this moment the community representative stepped on the chairman’s table and was forcibly removed. The point she was making was not fully understood. She then perched on a cooker in the corner of the room and an MD representative suggested that someone should open its door in readiness for supper tonight. This was thought to be in poor taste (and also likely to be later).

Later points discussed were volunteer involvement in village home construction and a training session on building drying racks for utensils. Possibly because some of the community might disapprove of drying racks, its representative became unruly at this point and the secretary picked her up by the legs and gently ejected her through the window. She remonstrated at length with the meeting to no avail. It was found that the bars were wide enough for her to pass through without harm which was unfortunate as she promptly turned round and attempted to re-enter by the same way.

The meeting resumed on the topic of care for a disabled 16 year old male with club feet. The community representative was not involved and left the meeting. Later a loud crash and much squawking was heard from the kitchen. On departing, those attending the meeting were pleased to see her contentedly pecking at some seeds near the front door. It was assumed that the community will be satisfied with the agreed joint working proposals

 And of all of this is completely true !!

 

Starfish

Tuesday night 12th April

A long dusty road, oxen ploughing small fields two by two, women carrying yellow water containers on their heads, large birds circling endlessly in a deep blue sky, goats nibbling at anything green, children trailing sticks in the dirt…………………………….it is a scene repeated a million times across Uganda.

But near Kumi the peace is broken by a minibus bustling along ahead of a cloud of dust. In the bus are four white people all wearing identical blue shirts with “Mission Direct” on the front. Local people look up at any vehicle passing, as all vehicles are unusual, but when they see these four blue shirted mazungus inside they stare or wave, depending on whether they are an adult or child.

The children often shout “maz….oon….gooo” but whether it is a greeting, a curse (unlikely as they are smiling), or a reminder of who we are is hard to tell.

We may as well shout back “small black person” but to do so seems impolite, so we just wave back.

Today we have done a lot of bustling about on dusty roads. We have visited a school, an orphanage, and a farm. We have been in classrooms, been mobbed by children, discussed building problems, missing water taps, sick pigs, broody hens, cows that won’t do anything and the never ending supply of undernourished, poorly educated children.

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Talking of cows, yesterday we were told we were going to an office to visit one. My imagination soon had a fine Friesian sitting behind a mahogany desk working on her laptop but the “cow” turned out to be the cao or CAO (Chief Administration Officer) who had no computer of any kind.

The demand for helping children seems almost beyond reason. I feel we are trying to be Canute facing a sea of them. But washed up in front of us from that sea is the occasional starfish who we can dust down, fix up and throw back. It is just so tough on all the others who we cannot help. Tough on them and tough on us.

I am getting used again to the inefficiency of doing anything here. A lot of talk from Ugandans but often little action. Their plans to do small things months ago have not materialised. There is never a problem but always a challenge, they say. Often the challenge is in themselves – to deal with their own inertia. However, they are always friendly, always well-meaning and often do not see things as bleakly as we do. Time is not their enemy, as it is ours.

Daily, new opportunities to help are presented to us. We keep reminding ourselves that we spread ourselves too thinly across projects last year and must not make the same mistake again.

Tomorrow – I meet with our builder to discuss renovating a disused classroom, how to fix a new tap on a full 10,000 litre water tank, without wasting any of the water, and if he can provide a disability friendly classroom access (i.e. putting in an extra step – wheelchairs are not an issue as they aren’t any – kids use crutches)

We had supper out tonight. I had an amazingly tasty fish caught in the local lake. On our way home we were followed by street boys asking for money and food. Later we met a lady who told us one of the boys was not a street boy but was her son and it was way past his bedtime !

Time and Space slippage

Monday evening 11th April

Knowing a place well, going away for six months, and then returning produces, in my mind, in a time/space slippage. Now I am back here, I feel I have never been away – and yet some things and people have changed. This disorientates me. So when two new houses seem to have sprung up overnight, an earth road has been surfaced with tarmac, or a teacher I knew and respected has been replaced for underperformance, I get a series of small shocks. All of these have happened today.

All these things seem to be progress. There is no doubt that Uganda is making progress on many levels in spite of a desperate shortage of resources. Many NGOs like ours are involved, usually in isolation of each other. Today we met various local government and political officials to “check in” with them as we are working on their patch. They all seemed pleased to see us and delighted that we had not called to ask for anything – I suspect all their other callers do.

They described the things they are legally required to do, but cannot. The government requires the local education authority to have a primary school in each parish but does not give them the funds to do this. Eight parishes near here have no primary school. A parish can be a hundred square miles.

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But then we visited “our” primary school at Akubui. Last year we built a classroom and this year we will add two more to it. It is difficult to describe Akubui’s uniqueness but here goes: It started some years ago as a church – a rough building of blocks and rusty corrugated iron roof. A nursery school started meeting in it on weekdays. The children grew older and the community built a block of four classrooms (with floors of cow dung replaced last year with concrete by us) next to it; new children occupied the church building, and the older ones graduated through each of the four rooms, year by year and ultimately into our new one built last year.

On a flat plain with distant mountain views, surrounded by small scale fields ploughed by oxen, the school lives quietly (except at break time) between ancient mango and jacaranda trees. Judging by the lack of wheel tracks on the earth access road, our minibus was the first vehicle to visit for many months. Children, teachers and parents all walk long distances to get there.

The first white people to visit for six months caused rather a disruption to the school day. Small children rushed at us – I took my camera out of my bag and a group assembled themselves for a photo delighted to see their picture on the back of the camera a moment later (picture on left)

Headteacher Samuel gave me a long chest crushing hug. I met the builder Patrick and, from the shade of a leafy tree with a view of our greenfield site we planned two new classrooms.grenfield

All we need now is some more volunteers to help build them. Numbers applying so far are low.

So, our first full day is over. A whirlwind tour of schools and offices. And more tomorrow !

 

 

Door to Door in only 57 hours

Sunday afternoon 10th April

I left home on Thursday afternoon and arrived here at nearly midnight on Saturday. One night in Manchester, one night in Kampala and here I am at last in Kumi. The crawl through the Kampala traffic was worse than usual as it was children’s visiting day – the day when many parents visit their children in boarding school. (Which involves much traveling across country as the best or cheapest ones are never near home)

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Back to my same bedroom at Green Top which, I was told, had been renovated. It is true that it has had a good repaint but the bathroom light, cold tap, hot shower and waste plug still do not work. It is a bit like being reunited with old friends. “Hello dodgy tap – how have you been in my absence and how many others have you disappointed?”

But the real old friends are, of course, the people delighted to see us again and we them. They are all here, just the same, still doing amazing things with few resources.

Sunday morning and we went to church. Although it’s been only six months since I was last here I had forgotten the riot of sound, colour and enthusiasm involved. Several hundred black people and six white ones, the songs sung were not those on the projection screen, (always some way behind), small children running in and out of the sides of the tent, the recently elected mayor being given a speaking slot and then the auction:

This was in aid of funds for a new church roof; items given by members were sold off to the highest bidder. Donated were a bag of ground nuts (about the size of a bin bag), a cake, and a single egg (which fetched about £3). If you bid for an item, you pay what you have offered, even if you are later outbid (and you then lose what you have paid). It was all in good humour and involved a lot of shouting and clapping.

This afternoon we visited Kumi Township School, a large primary where we have worked for several years. Three days ago a large section of roof was completely removed from an old classroom block by a storm. It was the one next to where we renovated a classroom last year but fortunately ours was unscathed. We looked at the classroom where we will be working later this year; a sad sight at present.

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More project visits tomorrow but in the meantime, by popular request, here are the funny signs spotted on the way here: I am not sure if “Good Daddy’s Parent School” is a school for good daddies, a school where you learn how to be a good daddy or a school run by good daddies. “Clean, Green, Blessed and Prosperous” was on the front of a minibus taxi, as was “Team No Sleep” (not the driver anyway), and “Time Scale” (no, I don’t know what it means either).

The prize for the most optimistic transport must go the owner of a bicycle who was cycling the main Entebbe –Kampala road carrying a six foot high freezer across the back. It was placed asymmetrically to balance out the heavy end containing the compressor and so four feet of it stuck out into the path of the overtaking traffic. Yes, I am definitely back in Africa !

Here I go again !

Tuesday 5th April 2016 – I am getting ready to go back to Kumi. This time only for two weeks on a recce trip. I leave at 0600 from Manchester Airport on Friday; this means checking in at 0300.

I have just printed out my packing list – it runs to three pages – memo to self : “try travelling lighter” !

I am looking forward to meeting up with all my old friends and acquaintances in Uganda and I will keep this blog updated whilst I am there.

Later in the summer, I return for three months, so this is just getting me used to the idea !