Preparation ends

It has been a long time coming but after two weeks of planning, travelling, many meetings, much drinking of tea etc we are ready to greet the team of volunteers when they arrive in two hour’s time.

I am sitting in a botanical garden in Entebbe watching monkeys and birds in the trees and, inevitably, chickens pecking about on the ground.

It has been a good fortnight – all plans have worked out, we have experienced spectacular thunderstorms and flooding but Ugandans are happy because rain brings life to growing crops.

Yesterday I was pondering on contrasts again: imagine the scene, we are sitting in a traffic queue in roadworks, next to me is a massive Caterpillar road grading machine kicking up piles of dust in a cacophony of noise, beyond it is a workman sweeping gravel with a broom, beyond him a woman in traditional dress walking through the dirt with her baby on her back, beyond her are men hoeing vast fields by hand, and beyond them the tree studded flat green/brown landscape continues for as far as the eye can see – probably about ten miles.

Each part of my view represented a stage in Uganda’s history, but they are all visible simultaneously. That is life here – the old and the new combined.

Enough of this introspection. Today’s entries in the funny things written on vehicles category are “Divine Brother Defensive Driving School” and “May be next time” – the latter was on a bus – presumably always full.

I would be doubtful about buying water from the roadside business advertising itself as “Car Wash – Water for Sale”

Thanks for your support. I am only sorry the internet will still not support my photos.

More soon

Roger at Entebbe

Advertisements

What’s wrong with your window?

Said the man with gun at 5.00 am. He had first hammered on the door to check I was awake to answer.

I do get asked odd questions at times here (my favourite is still “are you from Interpol?” – see below).

Anyway, back in the mists
time both my window handles had been snapped off, probably because they had gone stiff and no WD40 was available. I had fitted some rope to keep the windows secure, to which our armed security man took exception at 5.00 am.

As it happened, I needed an early start as I was off to the airport to collect our new staff member. A 600 mile round trip and two overnight stays.

On one of those stays – in Jinja – we arrived at a hostel in a torrential thunderstorm. The roads were awash in running liquid red soil, our van was affected by strong waves racing across the road. The hostel was flooded and the staff were happily sweeping crimson water from Reception. No one complained.

In the bathroom of my
a sign saying “water is a valuable resource, please use if sparingly”

The trip is always a rich source of new signs. Today I saw:

“Divine miracles restaurant – Special miracles and phone charging”

I am tempted to say its a miracle to find any power to charge your phone, but that would be unfair.

Motorbikes have done well with signs:

“Man spender – man expendable” (this was written on a bike ridden by two men)

“No way through” – this also was on a motor bike. It was a former road works sign attached to the bike presumably to discourage overtaking.

It would have been good to upload pictures of these but that would also need a miracle to make it work at present.

I have opened a new category of blog entries – the maximum number of legs seen on a single motor bike. The current record is 36 – four members of a family with five goats on a frame on the back.

So now there are two white people in Kumi. I feel half as conspicuous as I did. Next Monday there will be five more as our team arrives. I will then be inconspicuous.

Life is good and all is well. Rain is warm and dries quickly. Power comes back and you forget the blackouts. People laugh and smile and you forget their poverty, but so do they.

Thanks for reading – Roger

Blogging and bleating in the dark

Yes, the power is off again. I am the only person staying here and my eating companion tonight in the dining room was a pretty candle.

Obviously my conversation was poor as she self extinguished herself after thirty minutes.

As I ate, with the light of my head torch, I marvelled at my situation. The only white person in a town of 12,000 people sits alone in total blackness eating roast chicken surrounded by screaming cicadas, perfectly at peace.

Last night we had power on the ground and lights in the sky. There was a small bright streetlight near my room which turned out to be the planet Venus. The night skies here are magnificent.

My room is next to an alley which is used by goats, quite why is unclear as there is nothing there to eat, even for a goat. I’m used to goat kids bleating but not at 2 in the morning.

As I woke I realised, to my horror, that the bleating was a baby’s cries. Thoughts of dashing out to help came to mind. No baby should be alone, crying in an alley, at 2 in the morning. Perhaps it had been abandoned? The short hard life of a street child awaits it, ignored by the only person who heard its desperate plea for help.

Whilst I was summoning up courage to get up and actually do something it cried again – from the next room, what a relief. Late arrivals, it seems.

Contrasts continue. After church today (where I was announced as a “dear old friend” – dear friend seems fine, old friend likewise but “dear” and “old” together don’t sound quite so good) I was served tea by a Tribal District Sub Chief – a pleasant middle aged lady who was on today’s tea rota.

My internet speed has now dropped to 1 K. Not Mb, K ! It may take until my next blog to upload this one.

Tomorrow – back to Kampala for two days – the bright lights await (but Venus will be hidden in traffic pollution)

Thanks for reading.

Roger in the dark with cicadas

Welding among yellow flowers – a land of contrasts

Yes, we have electricity again!

This the fourth year I have been here but I am still uneasy seeing the vast contrasts I see every day.

For example, I met a Ugandan businessman who has businesses in many countries, sends his children abroad for medical treatment, studied for two degrees in the UK, but is seemingly unaware of the poverty around him which my organisation, Mission Direct, is trying to help.

Yesterday I visited a blind friend who lives deep in the bush. Our (old and modest) rented 4×4 could not go all the way as the road ended. We walked the last quarter of a mile.

He and his wife, plus three small children, live in thatched mudbrick huts. No water, power, drains, streets etc but he does have a new mobile phone (and a good signal)

And welding among yellow flowers? Down the road from here there is a small roadside welding business carried out on the ground (two men, one gas torch, no safety equipment and no work bench) which is gently showered by a constant fall of bright yellow flowers from the tree above.

To them I expect the falling flowers are a nuisance. To me they seemed strangely beautiful, lying in the rusty dirt of their workplace like large yellow snowflakes.

Our work has not yet started. I am doing “setting up” which is mostly a large number of meetings with project partners. They are all helpful, welcoming and good to be with.

The team of volunteers arrives in one week. There is much to be done.

Thanks for reading. More to follow. The internet here will not send photos at present. I will try on another day.

From Roger under a noisy corrugated iron roof on a rainy Friday night.

Here I go again …

Yes, I am back in Uganda, this time for a two month stay.

Much remains the same but some things have changed.

Good points include the opening of the Kampala Expressway, a major new bypass, which is built to motorway standards and saves us an hour of traffic crawling.

Bad points include the fact that in the 24 hours I have been in Kumi, we have no mains power and the generator has broken down.

Lights are no problem – I have torches, but soon my laptop and phone will stop working – quite inconvenient when planning a programme.

So I will be brief to conserve energy, both mine and my phone.

Power excepted, all is jakona (i.e. fine) and my meetings with local partners are going according to plan. On money handling I am learning to think in lots of zeros again (with 4,500 Ugandan shillings to the £)

By popular request of my vast army of followers to this blog (well – two of you anyway) I am watching out for unusual signs on the backs of buses and on shops. On a bus we have:

“Respect fools to avoid noise” I am open to ideas on this although I suspect the first word should be “expect” judging by the Ugandan view that to get a good deal you need to argue a lot.

And you might be surprised to know that “St Thomas Inn” is a firm of accountants.

If power comes you will hear from me again. If not you can enjoy the peace.

Thanks for reading.

Roger in the dark in Kumi Uganda.

Here I go again …

Yes, I am back in Uganda, this time for a two month stay.

Much remains the same but some things have changed.

Good points include the opening of the Kampala Expressway, a major new bypass, which is built to motorway standards and saves us an hour of traffic crawling.

Bad points include the fact that in the 24 hours I have been in Kumi, we have no mains power and the generator has broken down.

Lights are no problem – I have torches, but soon my laptop and phone will stop working – quite inconvenient when planning a programme.

So I will be brief to conserve energy, both mine and my phone.

Power excepted, all is jakona (i.e. fine) and my meetings with local partners are going according to plan. On money handling I am learning to think in lots of zeros again (with 4,500 Ugandan shillings to the £)

By popular request of my vast army of followers to this blog (well – two of you anyway) I am watching out for unusual signs on the backs of buses and on shops. On a bus we have:

“Respect fools to avoid noise” I am open to ideas on this although I suspect the first word should be “expect” judging by the Ugandan view that to get a good deal you need to argue a lot.

And you might be surprised to know that “St Thomas Inn” is a firm of accountants.

If power comes you will hear from me again. If not you can enjoy the peace.

Thanks for reading.

Roger in the dark in Kumi Uganda.

And finally …..

It has been over two weeks since my last entry – for which my apologies. We had a team of 16 people in the country from the UK who kept us rather busy. When they left I experienced problems with internet access. I have several possible ways of uploading the blogs but they all failed due to localised technical problems. I am beginning to suspect that the growth of Uganda’s internet customer base is outstripping the network’s ability to handle it, even in rural locations.
As I write, my bags are packed and I am heading for home. It gives me time to reflect on the last few weeks here:
– It is still a country I love. The people are welcoming and easy going. Things don’t always get done when they should but nobody seems to mind.
– Poverty is still everywhere. Most people have few possessions but lots of hope, and find joy in little things. We in the West could learn a lot from them.
– People believe that God is with them all the time. “All the times, God is good” is a commonly heard phrase.
– Our local project partners in Kumi still welcome us and seem to appreciate the work we do. Sometimes I wonder what they really think of us – but I know they will never tell me as they are far too polite.
– Ugandans tell us what they think we want to hear. This is inconvenient and leads to misunderstandings. Sometimes I think we never get a straight answer to any question. For example, if you ask the question “Please can I have a fan in my bedroom” the answer will be “Yes, that will be OK.” What they do not want to say is that there is nothing left in the hotel budget for this so they answer along the lines of “It is possible in theory to have a fan in your bedroom”. One has to be specific e.g. “Will you go to the shop in the next 10 minutes and buy me a fan please?” Their answer to this is “I will ask the manager” but they omit to add that he is away/on holiday/unwell etc. for an unknown period. It was not an outright refusal, it gave hope that a fan might arrive and at least the mzungu (white man) thinks something will happen. After seven weeks I still had no fan.
– Our work building school classrooms here is literally a raindrop in a lake. The number of children about and the rise in the birth rate is staggering. People expect a family to have five, six or more children as being normal. Often, no thought is given on how they will be fed or educated. Family planning is in its infancy. Having lots of kids is good to help work on your subsistence farm and will support you in your old age (in a land with few pensions)
– But even if we can help a handful of extra children to read and write it is worth it. It is accepted wisdom here that literacy is lifesaving. The prospects for a non-literate & non-numerate child leaving school at 12 (or not going to school at all) are so poor that he/she will be lucky to reach the age of 20.
– As I leave Uganda again, I ponder on my own good fortune and how it is that I live where I do and have what I have. My luggage (two small suitcases) contains more items than most Ugandans have in their homes. In some rural places, my luggage contents are the equivalent to the total number of possessions that a villager may own during an entire lifetime. But I do not have their sense of joy and peace.
– I am planning to return next year to do similar work. I see it as an opportunity to help others from the UK experience a different lifestyle which, at least, may help them when they get home but, hopefully, may develop within them a similar love for helping out in a small way in developing countries.

To close for this year I am quoting my favourite signs:

On the back of a slow bus laying a dark diesel smokescreen: “Before you hate me, just ask what importance you are to me”

And the winner of the best hotel sign category is:
“Welcome to Meta Meta Hotel Complex” (This was attached to several rusty corrugated iron sheds with walls made from banana leaves)

And best shop sign is “God’s Love Shop” (they sell mattresses)

But the overall winner for this year is the public toilet sign which reads: “Nature Call Centre”

Thanks for reading

Roger

And finally, here is a picture of the team at Murchison FallsMurchison Falls

Half time – change ends

 

My apologies for not updating the blogs for a few days. We have been rather busy. The recent team of volunteers has now returned to the UK. They were good to be with, worked well together and with the local people and came with a variety of useful skills. Even those who thought they did not have any skills found that they had!

 

I have now reached the half way point in my trip. This means that I am in a pleasant hotel in Mbale, a town about an hour away from Kumi. I have 36 hours to rest, think, write, read and walk. And I have had the first proper shower in three weeks!

 

So, this is where my pondering is up to:

 

I still find Ugandans friendly and welcoming. I am now used to being “white” when out and about. At first, when I arrive, I always think I stick out like a sore thumb and my “whiteness” seems an embarrassment. Last night, whilst eating in the hotel, I belatedly realised that I am the only white person in the building. That fact had not occurred to me before then.

 

Murchison Falls National Park, one of the most wild and beautiful paces I have ever visited, is on the brink of a potential environmental disaster. They have discovered huge quantities of oil beneath it. Yesterday, in the Ugandan Parliament, the minister for energy announced that in the year 2020 they will be producing 200,000 barrels of oil a day and will join OPEC. Even for Ugandans, this is optimistic!

 

The National Park was created in the same year as the Peak District National Park in Derbyshire, where I live. What is potentially going to happen in Murchison is the equivalent of building oil production facilities all over the Hope Valley, removing many local buildings, excavating much of the countryside and then laying an oil pipeline, with many pumping stations, across the Park to connect, ultimately, with the Manchester Ship Canal.

 

I run a discussion group, with our teams of volunteers, on this topic on their last morning in Murchison.  We get many and varied views. There is no doubt that oil could improve the well-being of many millions of Ugandans but, sadly, that requires the type of organisational skills, political thinking, absence of corruption, and business-like approach that is so often lacking in this country. One only has to look at Nigeria for the worst case scenario. If Uganda could follow Norway’s example, they would be able to preserve the environment, improve infrastructure and benefit people. And Climate Change is another big topic of its own – it is here and real, but local Ugandans see it as a local problem and think that is because they have cut down too many trees. Nothing to do with CO2 emissions, then.

 

In a way, the saddest thing is that there is no public outcry in Uganda about digging up a National Park.

 

To close for today, here a few of the more amusing signs found in our travels:

 

“Bob Marley Rastas’ Family Club” – this was a rough looking bar.

 

“Faith Drug Shop” – I think this was a pharmacy but local people might ask if you have one why do you need the other.

 

“Los Angeles provides you with a Better Service” – This was written on a fence in Kampala. I could not see any business nearby with that name so perhaps it was a travel advertisement.

 

“Kamua Used Property Company” – this might have been an estate agent or a second hand shop.

 

“Put an end to Crime with Roofings Wire” – This grand statement was by a company selling fencing.

 

And my best of the last week, seen on the back of a bus:

 

“This is your last Mistake” – One wonders how many passengers they get.

 

These birds are hornbills – they are the size of turkeys and they are outside my window as I type. The male on the left has such a large beak I doubt if he can see where he is going.

Hornbill.jpg

Problems or challenges ?

In Uganda, the word “problem” is seldom used. However, the word “challenge” is in regular use. If someone is too poor to buy food they are described as “facing challenges with food”
I asked the headteacher of the school where we are working “what is the biggest challenge to education?” Her reply was lack of text books and food for the children. The text books we can do something about because some of you gave me money to bring out for school supplies and I have, today, put it onto the school textbook fund. It will buy 60 text books which will last for many years as the children regard books as precious. They will never have their own book – they will share them, along with everything else in the school.
With between 100 and 200 children in each class, it is likely that each book can be read by five or six children simultaneously, so crammed in they are.
Food, however, is a bigger problem. The money I have been given would not be enough to feed the 900 children even with one meal for one day. Today we had our last day at school with our current team of volunteers. We were given lunch by the school (which we paid for) and sat down to generous helpings of maize porridge, sweet potatoes, beans and greens. We ate in the school yard whilst the kids looked on and ate ………nothing at all.
This was hard to take. The reason why they were not fed was that not one parent had given their child any dinner money. Free School Meals are completely unheard of in Uganda. We live in hopes that they will all get fed when they get home tonight.
Tomorrow we head off into the Murchison Falls National Park with two days of R&R with the team before returning them to the airport.
To sign off with, here are some jolly faces from the school yard today (and behind them are the window frames we have been painting)

school yard.jpg

 

In prison again

We are now three days in to our work in Kumi. The team of six people plus the three of us on staff have been painting window frames, plastering walls and painting fascia boards. We have visited a school for deaf children and eaten at the local nameless corrugated iron cafe which we have named “No Name.” You can get a good healthy main course for £2 but bring your own water, because they do not have any. If you want a bottle of fizzy drink you can order it and they go down the road to buy it for you (adding two pence to the cost)
“Plastering” is rather an overstatement. In involves flicking runny cement at a wall with a trowel. When the builders do it every drop sticks perfectly. When we do it there is the sound of a splat, a scattering of cement everywhere and then our effort slowly detaches itself from the wall and plops to the floor. However, practice makes perfect – we are not perfect by a long way yet but you know that thing about walls – if you go on throwing mud at them some of it sticks – this also applies to cement.
Yesterday we finished up in prison. This is an annual event, by invitation of the prison governor, and how could we refuse? We go along to “entertain” the residents. There are 130 of them in a small town non-secure prison. They sing and play songs to us on their wooden bow harps and we attempt to sing accompanied by one of our group on a guitar. It is hard to explain what a wonderful place this prison is – it runs like a community centre with residents and guards chatting together and, for the first time, we were allowed to mix with the residents. One of them had a go on the guitar, another told us that his father was about to be executed for terrorism. (He was not in the same prison as the son). We hoped we managed to say a few comforting words to him.
The sad thing is that some of the residents are on remand for many months. Many have not actually done anything wrong. The wheels of justice grind very slowly here and often, if the defendants are found guilty, they have already served more than their prison sentence and they are immediately released.
Using Christian themes for commercial advertising continues to be common. This week I have seen:
“God’s Will Laboratory,” “St Pious’ Driving School” and “Jesus My Energy”
Philosophical statements of the back of vehicles include “Life is Mathematics,” “Never Lose Hope” and “The Poor Also Laugh”
But my favourite this week has been “Nature Call Centre” – which was the name of a public toilet.
Here is a picture of mixing the “plaster” – the end result is on the wall: