Thursday 20th July
How to buy a piece of wood:
Drive one hour to the nearest large town. Find a parking space next to an abandoned lorry. Take an interesting tour on foot. Traffic is everywhere and from all directions so cross any road at your peril (avoiding open drains, large holes in the road, spilt oil, itinerant street welders who shower everything and anyone in sparks) and visit three builders’ merchants.
Each builders’ merchant looks almost identical: the same reinforcing rods all over the floor, the same rolls of wire to step over, the same bits of steel to avoid as they stick out of piles trying hard to snag you as you pass by and finally you find one where the pleasant female assistant says yes they have what I want.
Agree the price (no easy thing and much friendly misunderstanding involved). Offer the lady the money who declines saying “pay her over there.” Cross over the shop (over the same reinforcing rods, rolls of wire and bits of steel getting in the way) and pay that lady over there. Ask for a receipt and be told “see the other lady” – cross back (avoiding the rods, rolls and bits as before) where the first lady gives you a receipt and then, with a rubber stamp marks “goods taken.” Fail to understand as I have not taken any goods yet.
Pleasant first lady just smiles at you. Ask where the wood is. She says go to the warehouse. Ask where the warehouse is. To avoid a long story it turns out to be five miles away on an industrial estate “the third door off the roundabout” Drive in the generally correct direction and having wrongly investigated two roundabouts find one with a row of seemingly abandoned corrugated iron buildings none of which show the names of any owners, least of all the one we want.
Turn into a sheet metal works where someone waves at us – we are expected! Get out of the van, find the foreman; he says follow me. Walk back out on to the road, past three other warehouses and in through a tiny gate across a yard (with more metal cutting, welding and sparking in progress) to a small desk. He sits and looks at my receipt. Get ready to argue that I haven’t taken any goods yet. But he is happy. He signs the receipt, gives it back to me, and gets me to sign in his book. “Follow me” and off we ago, back past the cutters, welders and sparkers, down the road to yet another abandoned warehouse and across an empty yard with no-one to be seen. (Am I in danger here?)
He unlocks a huge door and reveals a massive crane on six wheels. This is becoming a farce. Have I bought some sheet steel or some construction equipment by mistake? Perhaps I have accidentally paid a deposit on a hugely expensive machine and am legally bound to complete the deal immediately on pain of summary imprisonment. But at the moment when I am about to ask what on earth is going on, my piece of wood is proudly carried out of the crane shed by two workers.
Whatever else Brittain left in Uganda on independence in 1962, the legacy of complicated and inefficient procedures lingers on.
All that was yesterday. Today, among other things, I sat under a mango tree for an hour in a village, miles out in the countryside talking to a road accident victim. (Unsurprisingly, she was not wearing her seatbelt at the time). The only sound to be heard was the occasional bleat of a goat and cluck of a chicken. Three day old chicks investigated my shoes. The breeze gently moved the leaves above me. It was pleasantly cool in the heat of the day. I was the only white person for about ten miles in any direction. All I could see everywhere were small fields of crops and slowly waving fruit trees. I felt immensely privileged to be there. It is a moment I shall treasure.
Three days from now the first team of 16 volunteers arrives. We think we are nearly ready and tomorrow we are off to Murchison Falls National Park to check out the health & safety implications.
Seen recently on the back of a bus “one love beach” – none of us has any clue what it might mean but we can have a lot of guesses.
And finally we passed a hotel called “Wash & Wills” in the town of Mbale. It has a first class expensive look about it. A local person told us that it is called this because it was built on the site of a car wash and the owner’s name in William. It is the equivalent of me building a five star hotel in Buxton and calling it “Stone quarry Rog”
Back soon but here is a picture of the new footings at our main project, Akubui School. Two new classrooms have begun to rise from the Kumi plain.