Monday, 3 May 2010

Update from Moses - May 2010

Hello everyone! I have today received an update from Moses in the form of the school newsletter & I thought I would post it here for all of you who remain interested. As you will see from the bottom of the newsletter, they are still in need of quite a few contributions/donations (not just financial aid, but skills!) so feel free to get in touch if you think you can help in any way. Or, if you have any fundraising ideas for me, please let me know!!! And last but not least, if you can spare any time at all ... please go & visit the village & the wonderful Owino family. You will never regret it, I promise.

- - -

Volume 1 - May 2010

At the start of school year 2010, and after one full year of our Volunteer Project, we would like to thank all the wonderful people who have come here to us to offer us their love, kindness, expertise and toil to improve the lives of our children and teachers. You have given us contact with the huge world outside our tiny community in a way that we would never have thought possible. We never dreamed we would meet people from all over the world. We never dreamed that we would have the opportunity to learn so much about other cultures. We never dreamed that there were so many people who wanted to help us. Now we know that there are thousands of people travelling the world to help poor people like ourselves so that we can lead full, healthy and happy lives. You have all been a great blessing and because you live in our hearts and memories, even though you have gone home you are still here.

We have just received the exam results for our P7 leavers. A simple way of expressing it is that the results are 10% better than the previous year. We are the only school in the sub county to have pupils who have achieved Division 1 results, which two of our children passed in division in this division, 25 in division two,12 in division three, 4 in division four and only 4 failed. So not only has the previous decline been halted, but standards have been raised! We are overjoyed! We know that the reason is because of our volunteers who have improved everyone's morale and provided things for teachers to enable them to teach better and water by madam Gemma with her team, food (lunch for the student's by the six teachers from south London University who initiated it and Madam Susannah continued this programme up to now as we talk to you and girl's sanitation provisions that make the children more able to attend school and learn effectively.

For those who came before and after the construction of our new modern kitchen at Kyabirwa primary school, we are happy to inform you that this kitchen was officially opened and we're now using it. Also, Madam Susannah and St John's primary school in Bristol, parents, staff and the children have funded a mug of porridge for each of the 1000 children until July 4th of this year.
The whole staff of Kyabirwa expresses its gratitude to every one of you there for putting us on the world map as per the above mentioned achievements through your efforts.

More news is that the Eco-san latrine that was donated to us by James and Maria, is also now in use by the school.

We want to thank very much our beloved volunteer teachers that they still have us in their minds. Madam Amy Riley and Madam Louise Bowen ran the marathons to raise funds to continue the porridge provision and the wages for both our cook and the night watch man for the rest of the year.

David Harris used his expertise to construct us a staff room, as well as making shutters for all the class room windows that didn’t have them. He also bought us the table and chairs for our new staff room which is helping us enormously as we now have flat surfaces on which to mark all the exercise books as well as use at lunchtime when we have a meal. He also gave us a bed and mattress to make a sick bay for when children are poorly.

We also received contributions to the music department last year when we were given instruments from Madam Neffy & friends, and costumes from Madam Jessica.

Also 100 copies of English books for p.6. This year we have so far managed to get 48 copies of junior Dictionaries for the current p.7 class and some athletics equipment has also been acquired.

If we have accidentally omitted one of our friends and their contribution, we hope you will not be offended or think that we do not value what you have done for us. We are overflowing with gratitude to everyone who has come to us so far and for each and everyone’s contribution.

We will keep you updated of future progress at the end of the next term in about 3 months’ time. We would be grateful if you would email this newsletter to anyone you know, who may be looking for a volunteer opportunity because there is now so much competition from other projects which can afford to advertise widely, that it may help the school to maintain a small regular flow of volunteers.

Our main targets for this year are as below:-

· Completion of the teacher's accommodation of which only the footings are currently built.
· Refurbishment of the current school buildings.
· Buying Science equipment and materials as we have virtually none and science exam results are not the best
· Buying more text books, to improve on the academic standards.
· Buying the athletics field equipment, i.e. javelin, discus, and shot put
· Power connection to the school as the wiring was already done in two rooms by Mr. Liam
· Improving the agricultural sector i.e. practicing this in our school garden
· Continuing the phonics classes. The books were brought by Madam Susannah in earlier Feb this year. Mr. Martin, Madam Gillian, Mr. Dan and Mr. Charlie who have been here with us for this first term have done a tremendous job using these phonics materials with the p.7-p.5 classes.

Our target list looks to be very long, but as we know, all this can't be done at once. However, we shall get there one step at a time with the help of all our friends from the developed world, including those we have not yet met and who have not yet come to us!

"God bless you all and may your futures, and those of everyone you love, be filled with love, health and happiness".

Robinah Musakira (Head Mistress and Project Director), Moses Owino (Project Manager) and all the teachers, children, PTA, our Cook and our Night Watchman (the cook and watchman didn't have jobs before the project) thank you with all our hearts.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Click here to follow me!

This Blog is now officially closed. Saying that, I do still need to post links for the videos (and I'll let you all know how that goes via Facebook updates), but as far as regular posting goes, "that's all folks".

As you know, I am leaving for Nepal this weekend to spend a month volunteering at an elephant project near Chitwan. I have set up a new Blog for this now and you can find it here:

Thanks again for all your incredible support & heartfelt messages. Even though none of you were able to join me in Uganda (this time anyway!), I felt your love every day and I know the Owino family benefited from it also. I can't wait to share my next adventure with you all!

Friday, 1 January 2010

And finally... Days 41 - 42 (plus other bits)

Sorry for the pathetically long delay but here is the last installment! Happy New Year everyone!

Day 41
So my final full day and night at the compound has arrived. I can't believe it has been six weeks already! I wake up just before 7:00am and fumble with the bolt on my door. The compound is completely silent and I stand and stretch, taking in the beautiful African morning. I know that I am going to have to choke back so many tears today. Maureen is sleeping in the room to the left of mine, and Winnie and Lydia next door on the right. I knock excitedly on their windows calling "Get up! Get up!". Since school ended, the kids have been sleeping in later and later each day (for which I don't blame them!) but Lydia bet me 500 shillings last night that she would be up before me today as we need to go and fetch water. I hear Maureen unbolt her door and she appears, rubbing her eyes. She says good morning and promptly shuts the door again. Teenagers are the same the world over. I turn my attention back to Winnie and Lydia's room, knocking continuously on their window. When they can take no more, Lydia emerges and I smile and ask for my 500 shillings. She rolls her eyes and grins at me. I remind her of our 'bet' and of the fact that we need to go on a water run but her response is to defiantly fold her arms in front of her chest and lean back against the wall, tapping her foot. I go into their room and flop down onto the bed next to Winnie for a cuddle.

A short while later, I am sat at the porch with Winnie and Danny when little Andrew appears. He is the same age as Danny and they walk to school together every day. They speak to each other in Lusoga but I hear the word 'Panadol' clearly. Danny then asks Winnie something, to which she replies "100". Andrew holds out a 100 shilling coin which Danny takes and passes to Winnie with some quick instructions. She disappears into the house and returns a few minutes later with something wrapped in paper, passes it to Danny who then hands it to Andrew. He wanders off again without another word. I believe what I have just witnessed is the local pharmacy being run by a 4 year old and an 8 year old while Father sleeps on. Brilliant!

Even after six weeks of living with the Owinos, the kids never tire of asking to look through the small photo album I brought with me. So, over breakfast, this is what we do. Danny goes through the album from start to finish about 20 times, reeling off the names of my friends and family. He is always drawn to the photos of my little nieces, Poppy and Pebbles, his face lighting up when he turns the page and sees them. Eventually Charlie, Uboo and the girls join us and pretty soon everyone is repeating the names after Danny. It's a bit like a school lesson!

After our showers, Danny, Lydia, Winnie and I each grab a jerrican (Danny carrying an empty Evian type bottle instead) and head out to the borehole to fetch the water. Lydia has made me a banana leaf head wrap to balance my jerrican on but I opt to carry it in my hands on the walk there. The borehole is about a 15 minute walk from the compound through a part of the village I have not visited before. We pass little Eseza's house and she proudly shows off a new baby goat. He's irresistable with long dangly legs and I can't resist a cuddle. About 30 seconds after I pick him up however, I remember my allergies and wish I hadn't. Sure enough, 10 minutes later I am sneezing. Great. Eseza decides to join us on the rest of our walk to the borehole so we all trot off again. When we reach our destination there is a long line for water so we put our jerricans in the queue and take shade under a tree. A man approaches me and asks me to take his photograph. I do. He then asks me to take a photograph of his bike. Which I do. He reviews the photographs on my camera screen and belly laughs with delight, clapping his hands. He thanks me and, after gathering his jerricans, heads off down the path, pushing his bike and smiling. Soon enough it is our turn at the borehole so Lydia and I take turns pumping while Winnie and Danny pass the jerricans back and forth to each other with military precision as each one fills. Finally we fill Danny's little bottle and he pops it on top of his head and proudly begins marching off. Lydia calls him back though as we still have to try and lug mine up onto my head first. My jerrican, I should point out, is tiny compared to Lydia's but I still struggle to lift it from the ground. With Winnie and Lydia's assistance, we manage to balance it quite securely on my banana wrap and - with baby steps - we set off. With each movement, the water in my jerrican sloshes from one side to the other, which in turn makes me lose my balance. I am holding the jerrican in place with my right hand whilst holding out my left as if I were on a tight-rope at the circus! I can hear Lydia - who is walking behind me - trying to stifle her giggles. She of course is balancing her extra large jerrican with no hands at all. Bah! After a much longer (and hotter) walk back to the compound, I do eventually manage to take about four steps without holding onto my jerrican. It is only a small success, but I'm dead proud.

Just after 11:00am I set off on foot for Bujagali. There are a couple of things I need to buy and some people that I want to say goodbye to. Moses has also given me his laptop as he wants me to do a bit of work for him. So my first stop is In De Nile where I order a coffee and get to work. It is hard to concentrate today as I keep looking out over the River Nile and wishing I had "just one more week" to savour the view. It really is out of this world and has become more beautiful to me each week. The thought of being home surrounded by concrete and back in a world where people walk past each other on the street without so much as a glance makes me a bit sad. I chat to Charles who has kindly charged my phone for me numerous times and kept me very well entertained when a storm has descended upon Bujagali and I've found myself stranded there for a while. The waitress comes over to say she has heard that I am leaving and she is sorry to see me go. She then wishes me happy birthday for some reason LOL I pack up the laptop, we have a group hug and I make my way out of the cafe quickly before they can see my watery eyes. On my out, I bump into PK (a friend of Moses) and we stop and natter for a bit. PK moved to Uganda a number of years ago from Australia and set up the quad centre at Bujagali. He loves it here and says he would never go back home now. He is quite happy, running his business and chilling with his dogs (the ones that Winnie is so terrified of, bless). I am envious that he is staying, whereas I am leaving. Although I don't think I could live in Uganda full-time, I will miss so much of its unique charm and wish I had just a little longer.

I grab a chapati from Mohammad's stall and stop by at Fatuma's shop to cuddle baby Nathan as much as I can. All too soon after visiting them, I have to admit that I have run out of time and must get back to the compound. It is now 5:00pm! Fatuma pulls me in for a hug, nearly smothering me with her 'ample bosom', and baby Nathan grabs at my legs, crying. One more hug and I dash off to the boda men at the corner. I am by this time blubbing hard so I'm quite glad that Boda Bob is there and can just take me home without having to argue the toss about the price.

Turning down the path to our house, I hear the generator and when we pull into the compound, I can see that Moses and the kids are already inside the house watching music videos. Blimey, the party has started early! I suggest that I should shower and change but Lydia and Winnie insist that I go straight into the living room and watch the videos with them. Fair enough. Moses announces that I am to pay for no beer tonight and that I can drink as much as I like. Famous last words Moses .... hehehe

The music is cranked up, Moses puts on all my favourite music videos. Such as Mr Handsome which I know all the words to now and can make the kids fall about laughing whenever it comes on as I break into song and dance. The beer is flowing freely and even Moses's elderly aunt is getting into it, challenging me beer for beer! The kids are dancing around and the room is filling up quickly - quite a few kids from the neighbourhood have arrived to say goodbye to me also. I go and sit on the porch for a few minutes to get some air (it is like an oven in the living room now!) but the kids follow me out and climb all over me. Florence calls from the kitchen and the older girls race across to the compound to her. Moses motions for me to come back into the living room and take a seat. A few minutes later, plates of food start to be brought in by the girls and Florence and Agnes. It seems to be neverending and I have not seen this much food in my whole stay here! There are chicken legs, pork stew, minced beef, posho, matoke, rice, millet bread, pasta, chips, groundnut sauce, sweet potato, butternut squash etc etc. I have also provided chocolates and biscuits tonight so we seriously have a feast on our hands! Moses can see my eyes getting bigger and bigger and explains that Maureen and Lydia had demanded that he put on an "extra special" party for me. I blush openly and just can't get over how much food is in front of us. We all tuck in together, even Florence and Agnes who are usually still stuck in the kitchen during meal times. It's wonderful and I look around me and just feel so happy. Florence and Moses are joking around, feeding each other and the kids are giggling, interrupting their dinner to quickly have a dance if another of their favourite songs comes on. The beer is still flowing - and even Florence has grabbed a couple of bottles and stashed them by her feet. Ha ha! I am having the best night and am really touched by their generosity. Okay, so it's probably not the fanciest of affairs, but this is definitely the most wonderful party I have ever been to! We drink and dance and laugh and go nuts until about 12:30am. The atmosphere is just brilliant all night long, with everyone in the highest of spirits. I am honoured to be a part of it - and Moses thanks me for bringing his family together in this way. Awwww! Eventually, Danny and Winnie fall asleep on the sofa (god knows how with all the noise) and John is fading fast. I think Moses is pretty beat too although, even after we've turned off the music, Florence is still dancing around with a beer bottle. I ask her if she's getting tired yet and she just giggles and winks at me. Love her! I must admit, although I am buzzing from my party, I am totally beat and need to get some rest in for tomorrows travels. I weave and wobble my way back to my room and fall asleep with a smile on my face, giggling to myself as I think of the various family members and their wild dancing and silly facial expressions. It's been a night of continuous laughter and they had a blast and that makes me very happy.

Day 42
I seriously need to pack. It is nearly 9:00am, I'm leaving for the airport at lunchtime and, apart from waking up with a bit of a hangover, I have not achieved anything today.

After my shower and breakfast, I begin to take apart the 'mini life' I have built up in my room for the last six weeks. It's funny how quickly places become 'home' to me but after a lifetime of moving, that's just how it is. I am definitely sad to be leaving my little room and, although the kids are glued to the area outside my door, I beg them not to come in and 'help' me as it will just start the tears too early. They sit outside making crying noises and laughing at me instead. Cheeky so-and-so's! I give Maureen and Lydia some of my tops that I know they liked, and Danny inherits my water bottle despite it being pink and covered with flowers. He loves it. Packing done and bags propped up outside my door, we move over to the porch where we listen to the radio and dance. I share one last lunch with Moses (chapati, cabbage and leftover chicken) and watch the kids argue about who is going to sleep in my room tonight. Danny wins.

Moses and I are finishing our lunch, and the kids disappear for a bit, reappearing with individual envelopes addressed to "Neffy, my sister" or "Neffy, who I love". I am told that I can't read them until I have left. There is one from Issac, Lydia, Maureen and David. The kids then announce that they want to make a 'film' for my family and they line up and introduce themselves one by one while I video them on my camera. I am seriously choking back the tears at this point and just want to yell "Surprise! I'm not really going today. Hey, let's all go swimming instead!".

As Florence clears away the plates and Moses instructs Charlie to fasten my backpack to the bike, a strange wave of panic washes over me. This is really it! I'm going home! A massive part of me is so excited to see my family and friends, but another part of me is pulling at me to stay here forever. Aagghh! It's awful, and as I make my way round to each family member to say goodbye, I can't hold back the tears any longer and they stream down my cheeks like a waterfall. Winnie runs into her room and won't come back out, Danny walks around with me stroking my hand saying "Don't cry Neffy" and Lydia tries to look tough but keeps wiping her eyes with the corner of her t-shirt. Charlie has gone ahead with the bike and my bag, and Moses and I make our way from the rear of the compound out to the road. Danny and Lydia are following us but as we get to the road, Lydia says she wants to go back and I can see she is crying openly now, which in turn makes me 10 times worse. I give her the biggest hug and promise her that I will see her again. Moses and I set off again, with Danny in tow, and I turn one last time to look at the compound behind us, watching Lydia walk slowly down the path, wiping at her eyes. I want to run back and scoop her up. Instead, I walk about 5 paces behind Moses and Danny sobbing as quietly as possible so as not to distress Danny.

The three of us set off up the road, catching up with Charlie and the bike. Danny is strutting his stuff in my cowboy hat and Moses is explaining to bewildered neighbours that we pass that the Muzungu is not sick or hurt and that I'm just crying because I am leaving. They still look bewildered. I try to remember every detail of things we pass, not knowing when I will be back here. The trees, the flowers, the mud, the houses, the children, the smells, the noises. It's just so beautiful. My feet are so unaccustomed to the proper shoes I am wearing today that they very quickly start to rub. My plasters are of course packed away and so Moses decides that I will wear his flip flops, he will wear Charlie's and Charlie ... well, he will go without. Bless. Sooner that I had hoped, we see the main road in sight. A taxi van thunders past at the top of the road and Moses puts his arm up. Sure enough, about 30 seconds later, the taxi van reverses back into view and turns down our road to pick me up. Charlie and Moses squash my backpack into the van and then there is nothing left to do but say goodbye. I throw my arms around Moses and Charlie and pick Danny up and squeeze the life out of him one more time. I am so embarassed as I climb into the taxi van (which is, as usual, crammed to capacity), still sobbing and waving frantically out of the window. A few seconds later, the Owinos disappear out of view and I am heading towards Jinja for the last time.

It is only when we arrive and I step out of the taxi van that I realise I am still wearing Moses's flip flops. In Jinja, the driver carries my bag for me over to my connecting ride. He has already told me that the 'coaster' bus to Kampala should cost 3,000 so when I am quoted 6,000 by the next driver, I stand my ground. I have been having this argument for six weeks now and these days I don't back down. The driver picks up on this and reluctantly takes 3,000 shillings from me and lets me on the bus. I plug into my iPod and settle down for a few hours.

After enjoying a bit of music and an old Chris Moyles podcast, we arrive in Kampala and hit a wall of chaos. I have never seen a taxi park like this one! The one in Barbados can be manic and overwhelming at times but this is just insane. Vans and buses are wedged together with passengers stuck inside until the vehicle can squirm its way into a gap somewhere, drivers and threatening other drivers through open windows and if you look ahead of you, all you can see are the roofs of about 100 taxi vans. The taxi park is set on an incline so it's quite a sight when you first arrive. It looks like an audience at a rock concert (think Milton Keynes Bowl), but all the people have turned into vans - and no one is going anywhere. After being trapped in this for more than 30 minutes, a gap opens next to us and the driver advises us that we should all get off here. Good idea. I hop down the three steps off the coaster and, cautiously avoiding death, I make my way between the vans and buses that are also now letting people off at this point. I practice my 'green cross code' about every 3 seconds, looking left and right and then basically shutting my eyes and hoping for the best.

Eventually I see a sign in the far corner of the taxi park for the Entebbe bus but I can't get to it. Literally. There is a wall of taxi vans in front of me, jammed bumper to bumper. I explain to one driver where I need to get to and enquire if he has any idea how I can cut through. He just shrugs and mimes that I should climb over. I decide against this, however, so I wait and watch and then bravely hurl myself in between taxi vans each time one moves more than 12 inches. It's crazy and I'm not convinced I will get to the other side without at least one broken bone but Neffy has a plane to catch!

Phew! I make it over. I find a seat in the taxi van and pay my 2,000 shillings ("no, it's not 5,000 Mr Driver so don't even bother") and 30 minutes later we arrive in Entebbe town. The taxi van doesn't go all the way to the airport so I now have to find a boda. And as per usual, as soon as I put my foot on the ground from the step off the van, a boda pulls up. He's a young lad and as I try to haggle him down from 8,000 shillings to 2,000 (we are only going 5 minutes up the road!) he mentions that he is from Bodondo. I tell him that we are practically neighbours then and that I have been living with a local family in Kyabirwa for the past six weeks. He looks doubtful but we then exchange pleasantries in Lusoga and, with this new information, we conclude our business negotiations and agree on 2,000. Thanks neighbour :-)

At the airport, I find a cafe and sit down with a coffee and a newspaper. And r-e-l-a-x. Now, some time passes and I want a ciggie. This is harder than you think and involves 'smuggling'. At Entebbe Airport, you have to go through a bleeper machine and put your bags on the x-ray conveyor just to enter the terminal and have a coffee. Even if you are just meeting someone there. So this process has to be repeated each time you go in or out. And you're not allowed to take anything flammable inside the airport. Even matches. Even if you're not flying. "It's just the way things are here". So after my coffee, I pick up my backpack and my shoulder bag and my newspapers and bottled water (hassle!) and head outside. I have to sneak around the corner of the airport so that the security man doesn't suss that I'm smoking. I puff puff puff and then head back through the doors. My backpack goes on the conveyor and the man nods at me to go through the bleeper. Before I step through, he calls me back. He has seen the ciggies in my shoulder bag come up on the x-ray. He wants to know if I have matches or a lighter. I assure him that I do not. That satisfies him and as I pass through the bleeper without incident, I am allowed to continue through back to the cafe for another drink .... with my matches safely tucked into the elastic of my knickers. Shhhhhh.

I have three hours to wait until I can pass through the second set of doors through to check-in. At Entebbe, once you check-in your bags, you have already gone through the first set of security so there is no going back. So I step outside once more to savour my last smoke as I admire the African sunset. Uganda looks - and is - stunning and I breathe it all in one last time before heading back through the main doors.

Through security and upstairs in Duty Free, I find a cafe/bar and order one final Club and one final Nile. I will miss African beer. Especially since it costs about 30p in the villages. Unfortunately, football is playing on the television (Liverpool vs Everton) and I already begin to feel a million miles away from the dust and mud and peace of Kyabirwa as I find myself surrounded by overweight male Muzungus, chugging beer (yes I have beer, but I'm not 'chugging' okay?), and making loud noises and rude gestures at the tv. Lovely. I decide to cheer myself up and read the letters from the kids. Bad move! Oh how these letters made me cry. I wish I could race back to the compound and cuddle them all one more time. I read them over and over and cry and laugh, and cry some more. People are looking at me now, but I don't care.

I decide to try some last minute shopping. I have 8,000 shillings left so I look at some paper bead bracelets. Shock horror! These are 1,500 in Jinja but here they are 10,000. In the end, I realise that I can't afford anything in the Duty Free shops - but hey, beer is only 4,000 so ...

Finally, at midnight, we are allowed to board the plane. It is not a very full flight so I get three seats to myself. And s-t-r-e-t-c-h. I opt for the chicken dinner and a couple of glasses of red wine (which makes me nice and sleepy) and flick through the film choices. Settle on '500 Days of Summer' (cute film - recommended) and then zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

We land at Heathrow and the morning is dark and wet but - surprisingly to me - amazing to see. I am in awe of all the pretty lights twinkling in the rain and the fast pace of the workers on the runway and the size of the airport. I am glued to my window like a five year old! I wonder what Moses would make of all this? I am almost giddy with excitement when we get off the plane. Heathrow smells so familiar yet so strange - and all the lights are confusing me. I knew I would have to re-adjust when I came home but this seems a bit ridiculous. I've only been away for six weeks and I'm feeling anxious about bright lights LOL

First things first - McDonalds. Where is it, where is it? I search in vain and then get told by a member of staff that there is "no McDonalds at Heathrow". Whaaaaat? What kind of crazy parallel universe is this? She leaves me standing in the middle of the airport, my jaw on the ground, my backpack slowly sliding off my shoulders and down my back as my body gives up on me. Still, I find a last bit of strength from somewhere deep down and head to the Food Hall area to see what else is on offer. Option 1: A fry up for £7.95. Yikes! Option 2: A ham & cheese toasted sandwich for £4.95. You're kidding, right?? In the end, shocked and disgusted, I opt for a bag of Wotsits and a bottle of water - for less than £1.50.

I head over to the coach station where my senses are bombarded yet again. It is freezing in the main hall where everyone is waiting and staring at the Departure Board. There are loud announcements and people pushing past me, stepping on my toes (I'm still wearing flip flops despite it being minus 2). I take my seat amongst the crowd and shiver. I look around me - everyone is wearing boots, hats, coats. Oh yes, I forgot - it's winter now! And here's me, sitting in a long skirt, t-shirt (with the arms cut out!) and flip flops. With no coat to hand, I rummage in my bag for my blanket. I wrap this around my shoulders and put my flight socks on my feet to warm them up. I move to the corner of the coach station, farthest from the automatic doors, and settle on the floor in an area where I can see the Departure Board but not be part of the hustle and bustle. A few people stare at me as they walk past. I wonder if they are admiring my African tan but then it dawns on me - I look like a homeless person! I leap up off the floor and stuff my blanket back into my bag. I continue to shiver. A few minutes later I can hear Moses in my head. If he was here, he would tell me that it doesn't matter what people think and that if I need to keep warm and I have a blanket, then I should use it. Duh. He would also laugh and tell me that I should have dressed appropriately in the first place but I ignore that voice, ha ha.

Over an hour later, after a typically British delay due to 'bad weather', I am snuggled on the coach and happily replying to a text from my son. A few more hours after that and I'm at home, with scrubbed toenails and fingernails, comfy in my pyjamas. My son and I are eating McDonalds (finally!) and watching X Factor. The heating flicks on and the radiator bubbles in the corner. It's dark so I have put on the floor lamp. I pour myself a glass of wine and sink down into my leather sofa. I feel guilty as my mind wanders back to the Owinos. It will be 7:00pm in Uganda now and I can clearly picture what each of them will be doing.

Moses will be working his way through emails while listening to a political debate on the radio.
Lydia, Maureen, Florence and Agnes will be in the kitchen preparing dinner.
Charlie and John will be fetching water.
Danny will be complaining and sulking because he wasn't allowed to go and get water with the older boys.
David and Issac will be moving the goats from the road back to the compound.
Winnie will be reading her favourite book - Gulu Gulu Goes to School.
Uboo will be dozing in the armchair in the sitting room.
The crickets will be chriping.
The bats will be squeaking.
The firewood will be crackling.

I miss it so much already and my eyes start to well up. But I look to my right and see my own wonderful 'baby' boy who is so happy to have me back home, and I know that I have done my bit (for now) and that, although I will never ever forget the Owinos, I am happiest and most useful here, with my own family.

And besides, thanks to the incredible memories they gave me, I can switch off the tv, shut my eyes tight, and be back at the compound with the wonderful Owino family whenever I like.


The kids asked me on my last night what I would and wouldn't miss from life in Uganda. Here is a short candid list that they helped me to come up with:-

I will miss ...
- The scenery /smells
- Happy children / enthusiasm at the school
- The Owinos (obviously)
- Danny's cute little stutter
- Boda rides
- Sunshine / blue skies
- The simple life
- View of the River Nile
- The little shops at Bujagali
- Clapping in class
- The music
- Cooking with Florence
- Jack fruit
- The animals that run around the compound
- Chickens walking into class at school
- The showers (yes, these grew on me)
- Groundnut sauce / sausage
- Fresh cows milk for breakfast
- Lusoga
- The plain speaking newspapers
- Roasted maize corn right on the cob
- Chapati
- Waking up to bird song
- Chatting with Moses on the porch

I will not miss ...
- The damn rooster
- Length of time it takes to get anywhere
- The latrines / the bats in the latrines
- The crazy heat
- Matoke / posho
- Frogs on a suicide mission when you're going to the latrine at night. Squish!
- Taxi van rides after a few days of constant rain
- Doing laundry / getting blisters
- Mud / rain / dust (any combination of the three!)
- The man in Jinja with lepracy who tries to grab you as you walk past
- Relying on head torches
- The flies
- My 'red bucket'
- Sore bum from sitting on the hard benches / ground
- Children begging as you walk past. Very sad :-(

We also came up with a list of the words I knew in Lusoga:

Jambo = Hello
Oli Otya = How are you?
Bulungi = I am fine
Waybalay = Thank you
Kali = Okay
Isukiyo = Welcome back
Saybo = Sir
Nnyabo = Madam
Bambi = Sorry (in sympathy for someone)
Selikay = Be quiet
Wasizotya = Good morning
Eeda = Come!
Daqweeda = I come!
Wangee = Yes? (in response to being called)
Imbeedi = Pig
Imbuuzi = Goat
Enkoko = Chicken
Madhi = Water
Yee = Yes
Mmbe = No

And last but not least, here is a list of everyone's birthdays - except Charlie as no one knows it which is terribly sad. If you would like to send a card or donation for them in the future, please contact me and I will pass your card on with my own.

Please be aware that posted items must be sent two months in advance so please plan ahead!

Maureen - January 5 (1995)
Danny - January 20 (2005)
Lydia - February 17 (1997)
Agnes - April 26
Moses - May 25
Florence - June 19
Winnie - August 26 (2002)
Issac - October 26 (1995)
John - October 29 (1999)

Friday, 4 December 2009

Photos now online - yay!

Hoorah! My fingers have finally thawed out enough to spend a bit time on the computer so yesterday I managed to put a large selection of my photographs online. The albums have been made 'public' so I will post the links here and you should have no trouble viewing them. If you do hit a snag, however, please let me know!

* Videos to follow soon...*

"Introducing the Owino Family" - Danny (4), Winnie (9), John (10), David (16), Issac (14), Lydia (12), Maureen (14), Charlie (17), Uboo (16), Agnes (aunt), Florence (mother) and Moses (father).

"It's all about the kids" - Photos of the donations from my friends and wider social network being given out at the school and to local children.

"Kyabirwa Primary School" - Days spent at the school.

"Children of Uganda" - Some snapshots of the children from Kyabirwa and the surrounding villages.

"Life at the Owino compound"- Living with/like the Owinos can be hard at times ... but mostly FUN!

"Out & About in Uganda" - Street life etc. Time spent away from the compound at Bujagali, Jinja and of course the swimming pool with the kids. Oh, and me eating white ants!

"My leaving party, goodbye Uganda!" - The Owino family sent me home in style, ensuring that I will never forget them.

Yes, I know there are a lot but honestly this isn't even half of the amount I took. Everything over there was so beautiful and so exciting - and the children were just incredible - I couldn't put my camera down! If you have time, please do browse the photographs. If I do say so myself - ahem - it's some of my best work to date :-)

The final Blog update documenting my last precious days with the Owino family is coming I promise ...

Wednesday, 2 December 2009


Hey folks! I've been receiving emails asking where on earth I am and why I have left my Blog 'hanging in the air'. Reeeally sorry about that and, with reference to the last couple of days I spent in Uganda, I will post an update here very soon. I have just been so busy since I got home - trying to keep warm, washing the mud out of my clothes/toenails/ears/hair, catching up with my family and spending some one-to-one time with my son. I haven't even reviewed my photographs yet which is totally bizarre for me as they would normally all be online by now!

But do not fear - I can confirm that there is more to come and you will soon hear all about the wonderful (and unexpected) leaving party that the Owino family threw for me, plus my reflections etc now that I'm home.

I have my annual coach trip to the wonderful city of Bath this weekend with my mom but I hope that I will get a chance to update the Blog by Friday, and then begin with the photographs early next week. For those of you who are not connected to me through my Facebook and have found this Blog through Google 'tags', I will be creating a video or two using a selection of photos and uploading them onto YouTube so you won't miss out. I will post links here when completed.

By the way, has everyone seen the full moon tonight? Nights like this at the compound were absolutely stunning. The whole place would be lit up by the moonlight and stars - it was just so beautiful and peaceful *sigh* Oh Uganda, I miss you!

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Days 34 - 40

Day 34
After a somewhat fretful nights sleep after the "night dancers" saga, I managed to sleep in until past 8:30am. Bliss! Today is Saturday and we are taking the kids - that's Maureen, Lydia, John, Winnie and Danny - to Nile Resort. We have grown in number as obviously Lydia and Winnie came back last week raving about how much fun they had and, one by one, the others asked if they could come next time. And - really - how could we say no to these angels?? Luckily enough for our energy levels, but unlucky for them, David and Issac have to stay behind and help with the digging etc. So after breakfast, it is a mad rush for everyone to have showers and put on their best clothes (sweet!) and work out how best to 'move'. Florence gives me responsibility for the little ones - Danny, Winnie and John - her reasoning being that I'm a mother too. She begs me not to take Danny on a boda and requests that we get a taxi van (I wonder if she knows that Moses takes Danny on a boda from time to time? hehe). Jess and Laura pre-book boda drivers (oooh posh!) for them and the older girls, and myself and the 'babies' head off on foot to the main road. Lucky us *groan*

It is a long HOT walk and I'm dreading the wait at the main road because, it being Saturday, the taxi vans are bound to be packed and I've not had success at weekends to date. The sun is downright cruel at the main road - there is zero shade and you start to feel like a melting wax work even after a few minutes. Someone is obviously on our side today, however, as the second taxi van that appears on the horizon looks to be slowing down - it is! Hoorah! Not only does it slow down and stop for us, but there are only three other people on board. That means - best of all - we can each sit by an open window and catch a bit of breeze on the way. Danny opts to sit on my lap which I would never usually begrudge but today our combined body heat is going to be quite unbearable. Still, I just smile and assure him that I'm fine each time he asks.

We jump off our taxi van at the large signpost for Nile Resort and start our second long hot walk of the day. Halfway down the road, my darn flip flop breaks. They have been straining for a few days now due to the beating they have taken whilst sliding through the mud at the compound and sure enough, the left one has given up the ghost. Walking on the road barefoot is like walking on a hotplate and I hop as quickly as I can from one foot to the other, squeaking and yelping when one foot stays in contact with the ground for too long. The kids follow me, giggling. Finally we reach the gate where the long driveway is sheltered by tall trees. I swear smoke appears from the soles of my feet as they make contact with the cool flagstones.

Inside the resort, Winnie makes a beeline for the table we had last week and - in quite a stern tone - sets about explaining to Danny and John how it all works here. Danny asks something in Lusoga and Winnie interrupts sharply saying "Only English in here Danny!" LOL Poor Danny keeps quiet, obviously not knowing the English for whatever he was querying. Jess and Lydia arrive next, followed by Laura and Maureen. We all cool off with a soda before changing and plunging into the pool. There are quite a few of us today and needless to say we are the loudest, but happiest, bunch in there. Quite a few Muzungus sunbathing at the edge of the pool glance our way and make a show of turning up the volumes on their iPods. Ooops. Regardless, we continue splashing and laughing and having a whale of a time. After about an hour of frolicking, we think it best to order some lunch so we retreat back to our table and wrap ourselves in our hotel towels (which were delivered to our table while we were playing). After we order our selection of shared pizzas and chips, I spot a monkey family approaching and grab my camera. As I am snapping away, I hear Danny whispering "Neffy! Neffy!", quite frantically and as loud as he can possibly manage without actually yelling. I turn and he points above my head. As I look up I see that I am literally surrounded by monkeys. There must be no less than 20 of them, leaping from the branches of the trees, wrestling each other on the ground, eating passion fruit. It's quite incredible and they are very close to us. The kids love it and squeal excitedly. We follow the family all around the tables, watching their funny characters, for a good half an hour - John even getting close enough to get 'threatened' by one of the adult members of the group LOL. Eventually, something catches their interest over the wall and they bound over it, one by one, heading down to shore of the River Nile.

The weather, music and company is perfect today and we have a really enjoyable, playful lunch. We then let our food settle for the required half an hour before letting the kids back into the pool and the fun continues. Lydia and Maureen venture into the big pool with me for a while and they hang onto my back as I swim back and forth across the width of the pool. They have a good go at trying to swim but I think it will take a lot longer than just a few hours on a Saturday before they can go it alone. As with the kids at the school though, their enthusiasm knows no bounds. If being able to swim was down to sheer effort, these two would be dolphins!

We decide to leave at 4:00pm (having been there since 10:00am this morning) and we split into our taxi van / boda groups - me remaining barefoot - and agree to meet at home. When we do, I quickly change and then wait for Jess and Laura on the porch, reading my book. We are going to eat and 'party' in Bujagali tonight. Being completely unaccustomed to dressing up for the past 5 weeks, I have changed into a plain blue vest and long gypsy skirt (which Jitka left behind) but Jess and Laura appear a good hour later, with full make up and jewellery etc. This would have usually sent me racing back to my room to 'smarten up' but - in all honesty - this is Africa guys, and it seems like a massive waste of time and effort. I haven't even brought make up with me. I'm not here to impress or catch anyone's eye - and, heading out for the night dressed the way I am and with my trusty wellies in a plastic bag, I highly doubt I will be on the agenda of any prospective males. Ha!

We end up having to walk to Bujagali as all the boda drivers are busy tonight watching football. When we finally arrive, we pre-book a couple of bodas to take us home at midnight. Boda Bob is there so we nab him, knowing that he is an ex-student of Kyabirwa and knows Moses very well. After heading in through the big, black gate, we settle ourselves on the porch overlooking the Nile and order burgers and chips, and crack open a few beers. This is about as 'glamourous' as a night out gets out here folks. After dinner, and just as we are about to get into the swing of things, the music is abruptly switched off and we see the 'big screen' being pulled down. Oh god no, not football!! But no, it's worse .... we are then subjected to about 40 minutes of rafting videos. That's one of the excursions that is organised from this campsite and today's rowdy bunch of rafters - a stag party from South Africa - are the stars of the show. And they delight in letting everyone know how hilarious they think their video is. We just find them very annoying and loud. The groom is dressed in that ridiculous lime green Borat thong/swimsuit thing. Tasteful. Must've taken a wrong turn on their way to Benidorm ...... The soundtrack to the video is good however - a bit of Linkin Park set against a bunch of obnoxious men being half drowned in some rapids manages to perk me up a bit :-p

When the video finally comes to an end and the bar's iPod is turned back on, Jess suggests switching to spirits, arguing that the beer is making us sleepy and we need our 'vibe' back. We end up drinking gin and ginger beer, and sure enough, it works a treat. But bang goes our vibe again when one of the stags makes his way over to our table explaining that they have a bet going that he can't get all three of us to join them for a drink. I tell him he is correct and that he just lost the bet. He grins at me, mischieviously, and asks again - rephrasing his request. I ignore it and look the other way, letting the other two deal with him. They are both quiet, staring at their drinks. Ah, I forgot - they are a bit younger than me to be fair and probably think it'll "be a laugh". What follows is a ping-pong argument of the stag requesting we join them, me declining but saying the others are welcome to if they want, back and forth, back and forth. This results in said stag calling me "Chief" and saying that it's obvious if I don't go, the other two won't either and that I shouldn't spoil the fun. Ugh! I give up my comfy seat and - disapprovingly, grump grump grump - follow Jess and Laura.

I will not bore my friends with the details of the evening but I will say that I felt like a babysitter and I had to stick to water so that I could keep an eye on the other two who were downing Sambuca shots like it was their last night on earth. All night, everyone insisted on calling me "Chief". We didn't get home until gone 4:30am. End of.

Day 35
Well thank goodness I stuck to water last night. Apart from being totally shattered, I have a very clear head. I seat myself at the porch at 8:30am for breakfast. And I wait. And I wait. It is the usual routine that volunteers eat together and the family are obviously waiting for Jess and Laura. I take a shower and come back. I notice that Moses's mom has come to stay with us for a few days so I sit with her, shelling beans for a while. She is happy to see me again and gives me a big hug. At 10:00am, Moses finally says we won't for the others any longer and we go ahead and have breakfast. Phew.

I tell Moses that I feel like having a day to myself as tomorrow we are spending the day travelling all the way to Entebbe (3-4 hours) on a bus to accompany the school trip - we are visiting the airport and the zoo. Moses thinks that is a good idea and I get ready to head to Nile Resort for some 'lounging'. Just before I leave, at midday, Jess and Laura appear (having been woken up finally by Moses knocking their doors lol). They sit at the breakfast table looking - and probably feeling - like death and after 10 minutes, without touching their food, slope off back to bed.

It is another beautiful day and I thoroughly enjoy the peace of the resort. I have a swim, eat a bowl of chips, listen to my iPod, swim some more, read my book in the shade (sunbathing is a bad idea this close to the equator in my opinion) and r-e-l-a-x. Pure bliss. I feel totally energised and vow to swim more often when I get home - although I reserve the right to change my mind when I come to my senses and realise that the public pool in Plymouth is not quite as stimulating or inspiring as this oasis in Africa.

The peace lets my mind wander and I miss my family terribly. I wish with all my heart that my son had been here to share the experience with me. I don't wish quite the same for my mother - although I miss her more than I have ever done - as I know she would hate the heat so it would be pointless bringing her here, ha. My son, however, is already an enthusiastic and confident little 'traveller' with an active spirit that seeks out adventure. I think that - once he'd got over the lack of food delivery and MSN - he would have loved Kyabirwa village and the Owino family. Maybe one day ...

I reach the compound at 5:00pm and spend some time in my room reading. I started feeling a bit dizzy at the pool and figure I have been in the sun for too long. As the evening goes on, I don't feel any better - worse in fact - so I opt for an early night, not even bothering with dinner.

Day 36
Oh boy am I sick! I have had a pretty bad evening, up and down in the night with my faithful red bucket. Still, it is only a bit of 'toilet trouble' and I assure Moses and I am probably over the worst of it and would like to accompany the school trip. We both walk to the school at 7:30am to meet the kids, teachers and our two buses. We run late - waiting around at the school for over an hour - and I have to use the school latrines (which are vile enough without my contribution!!) three times. I gulp down as much water as I can and tuck myself into the front seat of the bus next to the driver. I sleep for the whole journey and wake up in Entebbe feeling exhausted and with a rumble in my guts that I feel would be dangerous to ignore. I excuse myself and go in search of a latrine. When I return, I explain to Moses that I still feel quite sick. Just then, a guard comes and tells me that I must leave my camera with him before entering the gates through to the landing strip. I use this as an excuse to stay behind and wait for the school trip to come back. I'm too embarassed to announce to all and sundry that I need to be within 6 feet of a latrine at all times. Apparently they will only be about half an hour so Moses agrees I should stay behind. After only 15 minutes, the kids and teachers are back. They were meant to have the opportunity to go inside an airplane but turns out the bus they were escorted on just did a quick circuit of the landing strip, stopped to watch a plane take off, and then came back out through the gates again. Fun.

We all board the schoolbus again and drive 10 minutes down the road to Entebbe Zoo. I am so glad it's only 10 minutes and I race off the bus in search of a latrine. My sickness steps up a notch and I vomit. I gingerly wander around the zoo, smiling for the kids whenever they look in my direction, and slope off into the bushes whenever I get a chance. I feel down right disgusting. Suddenly, and rather urgently, we are informed by our guide that a red tailed monkey has escaped and has tried to 'attack' three people on the other side of the zoo so we are urged to leave now rather than continue our tour. Outside, Moses tells me to go on the small bus with the teachers straight back to Kyabirwa rather than continue with the schoolbus to the next venue in Kampala. I don't hesitate in agreeing. Again, I sleep most of the way - waking up from time to time to ask Robinah to please stop so that I can use a latrine or a bush. I would normally be mortified by this but my need is so urgent, I don't have time to be. After an eternity, due to my constant 'toilet breaks', we reach Kyabirwa. Moses has phoned ahead to tell the family that I am very sick and they have all come to the roadside to meet me and carry my things. They help me back to the compound, into my room and I fall straight to sleep. I haven't eaten since yesterday lunchtime but I just can't face it.

Day 37
Another terrible night. I am practically delirious when I wake up. I muster up enough strength to take the bolt lock off my door. After a few minutes, Moses comes into my room to inspect my condition. He tells me that I really ought to go to the hospital. I don't argue.

Moses kindly arranges for a private car to collect me at the compound, and he even escorts me to Jinja with the driver. His mother comes with us half way as she is heading back home over the river today. I feel sad that Moses is leaving his mother at the side of the road to travel alone but I am at the same time so glad that he is coming with me. We arrive at the hospital which - possibly in my dehydrated and delirious state - looks strangely like a manor house on the outside and then a taxi waiting room on the inside. It's like the opposite of a tardis. I fill in a green form listing my symptoms. The nurse can see I am having trouble standing and ushers me straight in to see the doctor. The lady doctor looks over my form and asks if I am taking Immodim. I say that I am but it hasn't made the slightest difference. She tells me that's not surprising if I have what she thinks I have (what on earth does she think I have???) and tells me not to take any more. She explains that diahorrea - yes, I know that is most likely spelt wrong - is a natural way for our body to expell whatever shouldn't be inside us and if I insist on stopping it, I am only prolonging my sickness. I had actually never thought of it like that before. Fair point. Next she sends me for blood tests. This consists of a man sitting in a 'kitchenette' (I swear!) with a microscope. He pin-pricks my finger and puts a drop of my blood on a glass slide. I am then sent back to the waiting room where I doze in my chair. Moses is sitting beside me looking very anxious. Eventually I am called back to the doctor and the conversation goes a bit like this:

Doctor: You have a bacteria in your blood which has caused an infection.
Me: Where did I get the bacteria from?
Doctor: (shrugs) Could be from unwashed fruit.
Me: I pretty sure that I haven't had any unwashed fruit.
Doctor: It could be from an insect.
Me: What kind of insect?
Doctor: (shrugs again) Any.
Me: I have a wound on my foot and flies have got to it sometimes. Could it be that?
Doctor: It could be (pause) Or it could be unwashed fruit.
Me: So .... what is the treatment?
Doctor: They are different.
Me: So what should I have?
Doctor: I am going to prescribe something to cover everything.

Fine with me! I go back out to the waiting room and Moses asks about the result. I say that I am not really sure - and neither is the doctor it seems. He just shakes his head. I go to the counter and am handed an invoice for about 60,000 UGS! I say that I have medical insurance and reach into my bag for my policy only to be told by the receptionist that I have to pay cash now and make a claim when I get back to the UK. Well what good is expensive insurance if that's the case?? Ugh! I have only brought 45,000 which luckily covers the consultation fee and the blood tests, but I can't afford the medication so the receptionist takes it back from me. I burst into tears and Moses ushers me out of the hospital.

Back in the private car - which has been waiting patiently all this time for us - I fall straight to sleep again. I wake up half way home and bizarrely feel as though I am going to faint or vomit ... or possibly both, and then die. It is a horrible moment but just as I feel as though I'm more likely to die than not, the moment passes and I drift back to sleep. At home, Moses carries me from the car and puts me in my bed. It is not yet lunchtime but I feel as though the day has already been twice as long as it should. Moses comes back to my room a few minutes later and shows me that he actually stopped at the pharmacy on our journey home (I was asleep and didn't realise) and he has bought my medication for me. Sweet sweet man!!!

At about 3:00pm, Maureen comes to give me a bed bath. That's about all I remember. Laura and Jess left today for home, but I don't remember that even though I am assured they came into my room and had a conversation with me.

Day 38
I wake up and feel just as sick as yesterday. I have also been up and down in the night, barely sleeping. Moses asks me to come and try breakfast but as soon as it is put in front of me, I apologise, move as quickly as I can to the latrine, and then head back to my room. I don't have the strength to sit up, let alone eat. Someone brings me two hard boiled eggs and leaves them on my bedside table. I ignore the eggs and go back to sleep. I wake up to another bed bath from Maureen (I am wearing my pyjamas and she modestly washes me under my clothes). I turn my head on my pillow as she washes the back of my neck and realise that we are not alone. There are no less than 5 kids in the room - and I only recognise one of them as an Owino. I weakly say "Jambo" but they just stare on. They have obviously come to look at the "dying Muzungu" LOL!! (My mom jokes later when I phone her that Danny was probably outside my room selling tickets, ha ha).

The day passes in a blur. At one point, I am forced from my bed and onto a mat outside in the shade so that I can get some air. I feel like I have gone back a few hundred years - isn't this what they did in Victorian hospitals? I must admit, it does feel good to be outside but I only register that fact for a few minutes before I am asleep again.

In the afternoon, I feel 'alive' enough to try and shower myself and Moses arranges for a stool to be put in the shower 'room' for me to sit on. The cold water is amazing and, after a quick wash, I just pour the whole basin over my head and feel human again for all of about three minutes. I put my now festering pyjamas back on and make my way over to the porch and take refuge in the shade. I watch the girls doing the laundry but it is all far too much excitement for me and I become dizzy again and limp back to my room. I sleep on and off for the rest of the afternoon before attempting to sit at the porch again in the early evening. Dinner is served super early in an attempt to get some food into me but I manage only two bits of liver (which Moses has purposely bought for me to give me a dose of much needed iron) before I have to offer it to the kids instead. I go back to my room and crash for the night.

Day 39
I wake up feeling relatively 'okay' compared to yesterday and attempt breakfast again. I manage one slice of bread and butter but that's all I can truly stomach. Maureen is going to school on a boda to collect her report so I quickly dress and jump on the back. I am desperate to go to Jinja and check my emails and let my friends know that I am indeed alive, if not kicking. I leave Maureen at the roundabout just outside Jinja and take a taxi van the rest of the way. I already know that this is a bad idea as my head starts to swim. Still, I am nearly there now. I arrive in Jinja and head straight to the internet cafe. I manage to update my Blog, but only two days worth before I feel well and truly beat. I know I need to get home soon because I have an overwhelming urge to sleep. On route, I buy some frozen sausage for supper as Moses can't make it to Jinja today (the man's schedule is relentless and he is often up until 4:00am trying to answer emails or just simply worrying - god only knows how he copes!). Back on a boda, back to the compound, back to bed.

After a few hours sleeping, I feel 'okay' again and decide it's quite a good idea to take a boda to Bujagali. I have run out of books - having finished "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" - and am eager to get to the book exchange. I have one rubbish book left to swap before I will have to consider swapping books I would rather keep and take home. At the exchange, I spend a good 15 minutes scanning the shelves. All chick-lit empty-headed nonsense. Bah. I am just about to leave when I see a book put in the wrong way round on the top shelf. I reach for it, turn it over and - score! - it's only "Agnes Grey", the book I had so desperately wanted to read next! For a few seconds, I feel totally cured and I practically skip back to Boda Bob.

Back at the compound, I read through all the kid's reports which they have been waiting eagerly to show me. Danny and Winnie have done exceptionally well - Danny has been awarded A's in English and Conduct. What a champ! Both kids have been 'promoted' to the next class. I go to my room to get my toilet paper and find the chickens have made a new home for themselves on my bed. I shoo them out, much to the amusement of the children, and check my room for eggs/poo etc. The chickens love my room - everyone leaves their doors open in the day but the chickens only ever venture into mine!

The evening is spent discussing various topics with the children and answering their random questions, such as:

"Is there cancer in England?"
"Do you have goats at your house?"
"What about pineapples?"
"Has Mike got a red bucket?"

After an early dinner of sausage and chips (of which I manage at least half, yay!), I retreat back to my room and read my new book for as long as I can before my eyes give up on me.

Day 40
We wake up to fog which can mean bad weather so no one is very chirpy this morning, fearing the rain has returned. However, I am happy to note that I feel quite fresh this morning and feel confident that my medication has kicked in and I'm well on the way to recovery. I didn't have any visits to the latrine last night so I can now officially stop 'clenching', ha ha!

Still, as good as I feel now, I know I have to say goodbye to the students at Kyabirwa Primary School today, and the teachers - some who I have grown very fond of. Moses and I make our way to the school at 8:30am and, after saying sad goodbyes to the group of kids I had grown attached to, we attend the church within the school grounds for a presentation by the PTA to the parents. They are discussing such subjects as poor attendance, the porridge costs and exam fees. It is all conducted in Lusoga and - for me - it does drag on a bit. Ugandans love speeches - I know I have pointed this out in this Blog before - and I kick myself as soon as the Chairman stands up because I realise I have let myself in for yet another slow death. After more than an hour of slowly spoken sentences ..... followed by long pauses and contemplation about his next point ..... then more painfully slow speech, Robinah whispers to the Chairman that we might want to "hurry things along" and he quickly finishes and takes his seat. I almost yelp with joy. Next, we hand out various certificates to children who have exceeded in standards of discipline or academic achievement. The parents accompany their children to the 'stage' and all look as proud as punch. It's quite heartwarming. Moses then warns me that the meeting is likely to continue for at least another 2-3 hours and I should slip out now if I want to. I take his words seriously and bolt!

On my walk back to the compound, I bump into Moses's two elderly aunts who are, as always, so happy to see me and insist on shaking my hand numerous times each and chatting away to me in Lusoga while I just nod and say "kalay" (okay) or "waybalay" (thank you) in what I think are appropriate places. Back at the compound I watch Lydia making banana leaf dolls for the few friends she has seen in my photo album, assisted by Issac. It is quite complicated and I don't attempt to help. They happily pose for photos and then I sit and read for a couple of hours before making my way back to the school.

The children have all left now and the teachers have stayed behind to have photographs taken with me. Mr Paul comes for the group photo but unsurprisingly does not attempt to have a photo taken with me on his own. I did actually shake his hand and smile today when I saw him at the church so at least I can go away knowing in my heart that I have not held a grudge. The photos that the teachers pose for with me are quite funny - their personalities really come out with Majeet and Emma pretending to fight over me as their 'new wife', while Moses yells from nearby "I saw her first!", and the female teachers all declaring that theirs was the first class I sat in and so that person is obviously my favourite (it was in fact Madam Deborah's class which I sat in on first, however Majeet and Johnson are my favourite teachers). On the way home, Moses tells me that Majeet told him the other day that, should I have remained on the staff, the school would surely have benefitted greatly from my headstrong attitude and organisation skills. Or in other words, what would my mom would describe as me being a "bossy little madam". Moses was quite excited when he told me about Majeet's remark and I felt as though I should be taking it as quite the compliment of the year. Bless.

Back at the compound, I escape into my book for a while, and listen to the sounds around me - the various birds in the trees (of which there are lots!), the chitter chatter of the Owinos, the constant laughter from Danny and Winnie, the goats and pigs and chickens and cows, the other families off in the distance .... I am going to miss it all so much! It soon becomes apparent that the kids aren't going to let me read this afternoon and they all appear in my room, one by one, and climb all over me. Danny is using my stomach as a racetrack for his car (albeit a squishy one) and Winnie is insisting on brushing my hair. Issac and Lydia go through all the things on my bedside table (a strange daily obsession for them) and David is dancing to imaginary music. I give up and say that I will join them outside. We head out to the porch and the kids ask if we can take photos. We fool around with my camera and video for the rest of the afternoon and early evening - deleting many photos of knees or people with no heads - and I show Lydia how to secure the jerricans to the bicycle using the bungee-ropes I brought with me (which I am leaving behind). This will mean she can carry four jerricans of water back from the well or the borehole at once. Result!

Darkness is here once again and we continue snapping photos outside on the porch and listening to music on the radio - Uboo is once again playing DJ, a role he takes quite seriously, even pretending to 'mix' and 'scratch' records. The moon is directly overhead this evening and about 3/4 full - it is lighting up the whole compound and we can see all the way over to the kitchen; something which is impossible most nights. It's beautiful and calm.

Moses returns at about 8:30pm from an extended meeting with the Chairman of the PTA (we joke that he was off night dancing really and he laughs) and, after a chicken dinner, we sit on the porch chatting together. We have some very candid conversations this evening and I know that we have really become very good friends. I am honoured to be privy to his thoughts about life and memories of his childhood, and sometimes private and painful experiences in his recent adulthood. He is a bit of a dark horse our Moses, and has a few shocks up his sleeve which never cease to have me holding my sides as I burst into uncontrollable laughter at his tid-bits of information. He knows how to introduce the element of surprise into a conversation and I think he really enjoys prompting spontaneous hilarity. So we sit, swap tales and gossip and laugh until gone midnight. Beautiful day with the school and family, fantastic evening with the kiddies and Moses - I can't believe I only have one full day left here ....

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Days 32 - 33

ANNOUNCEMENT: Sorry everyone - I will Blog as much as I can today and will probably have to do the rest when I get back to the UK as I have been very sick since Sunday and am now running out of time in Uganda. I managed to pick up a bacterial blood infection which literally knocked me for six and - call me a drama queen all you like! - I have felt like I've been at death's door. So now I have also had the experience of a hospital out here. I will spare you the gory details but let's just say I have not been a pretty sight and I feel terrible for the Owinos who have been looking after me so well (and cleaning up after me, oh the shame). It has not been great for them, I'm sure. I am only starting to feel okay again today - hospital/blood tests etc was only yesterday - and have ventured into Jinja this morning, but now that I am here, I just want to be back in my bed.

So then ...

Day 32
There are exams at the school this week so Jess and Laura have decided to paint the staff room. They were impressed with my library and general organisation of the resource room/storeroom and feel they want to embark on a project of their own and leave their mark. I opt to stay with Maureen for the morning and help with the cleaning after breakfast. Lydia has already left for Soft Power with the milk (they sell the remainder of our cow's milk to the Clinic). After a manic cleaning session, Maureen and Lydia hide out in their room and catch up on sisterly gossip while I get stuck into my Bronte book. There is thunder nearby which doesn't bode well as I really need to go to Jinja today and catch up on my emails and Blog. Still, after reading yesterday's news of two people being killed on a boda due to sliding in the mud, I am staying put if the heavens open. Two girls that I recognise as P7 leavers come to the compound and chat with me - they are beautiful, intelligent girls and are very well spoken. They ask about the book I am holding and then read the back cover out loud to me. I ask if they are hopeful that they have done well enough in their P7 exams to carry on to Senior 1. Sadly, they tell me that they will not be going as their parents cannot afford Senior education. I ask whether they had wished to go to Uni some day and they both nod but the taller of the two tells me that they will be married instead. As quickly as they arrived, they then hurry away again.

I sit on the porch, looking out to the 'road' that passes our house. An eldery woman wanders into our compound and collects cigarette butts from the ground. I hand her a fresh one from my pack which she lights and then .... smokes it the wrong way round. I have seen her do this with a very very small discarded end, but not with a whole cigarette! Moses has recently arrived home and I gasp, looking between him and the old woman. He just smiles and says that is the way eldery people choose to smoke here. I ask if she will burn her tongue (she is just leaving the cigarette in her mouth - completely inside - whilst going about collecting more butts from the ground) but he assures me that she won't. Gosh!

The lady that lives further down the road with Aids then wanders past also - she is looking very frail this week. Moses just shakes his head and looks sad. We watch her go.

Some young children - aged about 6 or 7 - appear carrying jerricans on their head filled with water. I honestly don't know how they do it! Some of them are not even holding onto the sides of them, yet they stay perfectly balanced and never wobble. I have tried to carry a few things on my head since arriving but I am never very successful (although, it gives the Owinos much amusement!).

Lydia and Maureen appear from their bedroom and I finally see what they have been up to. This morning, they were both wearing headscarves until Moses had left for school. Now they have taken them off and it is obvious that they have put 'relaxer' onto their hair. I think they look lovely, although I'm not sure whether this will go down very well with ba-ba (dad) when he gets back from the latrine. The three of us head to the kitchen to peel sweet potatoes and casava for supper (more blisters!!). The storm arrives but we are safe and sound in our mud hut, sitting around a wood fire. I take the chance to talk with Florence. I only found out the other day that she is in fact younger than me (just) at 31. She has five children by birth, and has effectively adopted three more in David, Charlie and Uboo. She has spent her whole adult life either in the kitchen, the 'garden', cleaning, chopping firewood, tending to the animals, being pregnant or raising a baby. She has never been as far as Kampala, she has never had a drink in a bar (although she does like a beer of an evening when we are sitting around). She has certainly never enjoyed dinner in a restaurant, or even a cafe! Moses has, of course. I feel very spoiled and quite wasteful of both my time and money. I saw some old photos of Florence the other day when she only had Maureen and Lydia - it is true to say that Moses did in fact find himself a beautiful bride and that the years, sadly, have taken their toll on her. She is of course beautiful still in many ways, but I find that she looks so tired most of the time and this piles on the years.

The rain has been here since 11:00am and shows no sign of stopping. I have returned to the main house to read but I can't concentrate because of the rain on the tin roof. It is very heavy. I try to video it but this does not do it justice. Lunch is delayed because I swear if the girls tried to get from the kitchen to the house, they would drown. We wave to each other, giggling, across the compound from our respective shelters. Eventually they make it across and, after lunch, I have a little sleep. I am trapped and there is nothing else to do, ha ha!

At 4:00pm, there is a break in the rain so Lydia and I head to the main road to buy green bananas for tonight's matoke. It is a very slippery walk but we make it, and I even carry the bananas back on my head from the outside of our compound all the way to the kitchen. Hoorah! Moses is marking the P6 maths exam papers - grades range from 86% to 3% .... 3% being more often achieved than the former. He says it must mean that he is a bad teacher and I try to console him, saying that he can only do so much and the rest is up to the kids etc etc but Moses takes it all very personally. Poor guy. I go to my room to find my playing cards but instead find a mahoooosive spider. I scream quite literally like a girl and run into the compound. Moses comes bolting out of the main house, followed by Lydia and Winnie. I explain the 'emergency' and they all laugh and spend the next half an hour tearing my room apart trying to find the spider. They do (thank god!) and I grab my cards and go back to the main house.

We play cards, eat dinner (fish .... again) and then I return to my book. I am so absorbed that I don't realise the time and before I know it, it is gone 10:00pm and I wander to my room, where I continue to read late into the night.

Day 33
After breakfast, I go to Bujagali - wading through the glorious mud - and update my Blog finally. At 11:45am, I jump on a boda and head to the school. Today the children in the choir are putting on a performance for us using their new instruments and costumes so I am going along to support them (naturally). Johnson greets me as I enter the school grounds and explains that he had this morning written me a letter and he was going to ask the children to deliver it to me later. He says that I have been missed and he is sorry that I felt it necessary to keep away. Then Majeet comes over and says much the same. They know my reasons, it politely doesn't get mentioned, but Majeet says that he hopes I have found forgiveness in my heart. I have, but my moral standing on beating children is firm. Robinah comes running to me and embraces me saying "Oh my lost daughter! We have found you!". It is a dramatic display and I'm sure she means well but it does feel a bit over-played considering I have only been down the road and she could have come to visit any time, which in fact Moses had said she would. I see Paul lurking nearby but he makes no attempt to approach me. Anyhoo .....

Inside the resource room, I am happy to see the library has been kept tidy. Emma assures me that the teachers are in fact using it which is great to hear. I also see that one of the teachers has now organised the text book cupboards and clearly labelled them. My organisation techniques have caught on! I am soooo happy. Apparently it is Madam Joy who completed this task. Good on her!

I sit chatting with Jess and Laura in the resource room and then we are served a 'special lunch' of beef, chicken, rice, greens and potatoes. We are not sure why today everyone is having a special lunch but we don't argue, ha! Suddenly a storm arrives in Kyabirwa and we close the big heavy steel door and the shutters and are plunged into darkness in the resource room. One of the shutters blows back and breaks so the teachers try to cover the windows with paper of all things! Here we stayed trapped, in the dark, with the rain too loud to talk to each other, for nearly an hour. I take some photos through a hole in the door of some of the children caught in the rain outside. Some boys don't seem to mind (even though it is a seriously heavy storm) and they continue to play football. Eventually, Jess and I brave the rain and take the costumes to the room where the children are rehearsing their performance. Excitement breaks out and frantic activity follows as the children go through the costume trunk in a whirlwind. Soon enough, everyone is dressed and - without prior warning - the performance begins. We are treated to 3 or 4 songs (one being the "Thank You Soft Power" song, but 'Soft Power' has been traded for the word 'Volunteers') and lots of traditional dancing. The kids look great and are obviously having the best time! Loads of children who have been passing by on the road come and look through the windows, including our own Lydia. I film as much of the performances as I can but I am getting desperately low on space now, despite having brought about 6 SD cards with me *gulp*

We are then taken through to the PTA meeting and Moses and Robinah introduce us to the parents and explain how long we have each been here and what we have done. The parents are extremely grateful and then we bring in the instruments and costumes for them to see. They all try them on and start singing and dancing - very funny. We are then presented with a certificate each, congratulating us on all our hard work, which is a really nice gesture.

After all the excitement, Jess and Laura and I decide to head to Bujagali for a quick, cool beer (the rain has now stopped) but when we reach the crossroads, we realise we have to turn back as the mud is just too severe. I buy 14 chapatis at the 'shop' at the crossing as I know Florence is sick and probably won't want to cook much later.

We go back to the compound and each drink a Nile Beer, plays cards with the kids and share some fresh pineapple. The pineapple here is the best pineapple in the world, I swear! Darkness comes, something we all dread - the nights are so long here and it can really drag if the kids are busy or you have finished your book. Supper arrives (chapatis and salad) and after a couple of hours of chatting, Moses says he has to go and meet the Chairman of the PTA to discuss some futher bits and bobs. After he has gone, Winnie and John tell us - with some urgency - that we must go inside the house as the "night dancers" will come otherwise. We laugh but their serious little faces cause us to ask questions. Turns out that "night dancers" are local men who are apparently a bit 'crazy' and they dance naked down the road and throw rocks and sticks at you if you see them - they only come out if it is completely dark. We are sitting around the table on the porch which is illuminated by a small lantern. We can see each other's faces around the table but nothing further. Suddenly, a figure appears - covered with white powder - chest puffed out and arms raised, manically waving above his head. We SCREAM and all leap over the small wall that contains the porch before hearing an outburst of laughter from the figure. Uboo!!!!! He continues to laugh hysterically while we all compose ourselves. Because Uboo has saw fit to tease us, I tell myself it is just folklore and say that I'm not scared and - to prove a point - I will go to the road and stand there with my head torch switched off and wait for the "night dancers" to come. John says he is coming with me - brave boy! - but the others tell us not to go. By now, all the kids have joined us on the porch (except Maureen and Danny who are sleeping).

John and I head off and, when we get to the road, we switch off our head torches and wait. And wait. And wait. Nothing. Silence. Not even a glimpse of a bat. Oh, we do see a glowing bug flying around which is quite cool. I eventually get bored of waiting for nothing and so we go back to the compound. As we round the outside of the volunteer block, I see that no one on the porch ahead has noticed that we are back. I signal to John to follow me and we sneak around the rear of the house, coming alongside the porch in the pitch black. We jump out and, needless to say, everyone freaks out! Jess even hides behind Winnie LOL!!! John and I obviously think it's hilarious but then Jess says that she has heard more scary things about "night dancers" in my absence and she doesn't think I should have gone. She recounts what she has heard and I listen intently, still not really believing whether this is all true or not. When I am told they can throw fireballs at you with their bare hands, I settle back in my seat and sigh, convinced it is rubbish. Just then, John jumps out from the corner - maybe 12 inches from my face - and scares us all again. We jump out of our skins again, and give John a piece of our minds, but then find it all quite funny and turn the music up to have a dance. We are having a nice evening - apart from sudden movements in the shadows causing Jess and I to cling pathetically to the nearest child - when Moses arrives back. It is now 11:40pm and we joke that he must be a "night dancer" and that is where he has really been. Something flashes in his eyes and he asks the children if they have been scaring us. We say we are not really scared, just a bit jumpy, but it was all in good humour and we didn't mind. He then goes on to tell us more stories of "night dancers" (which we stupidly beg him to tell) and says that if you are on the back of a boda at night, they will pull you off (I'm going in the middle from now on) and if they touch you, you will die. And if they see you walking alone, they will follow you home and knock on your door all night. We ask what will happen if we come out ...... Moses says that they will throw fire at you. Okaaaay then! We ask what the locals think of "night dancers" and Moses tells us that if they catch one, they will insert six green bananas into his ... ahem ... anus (seems to be an exact science then!) and they will then die. Lovely. Jess and I head off to our rooms, giggling openly but nervously looking over our shoulders into the trees ......

** Okay, sorry everyone but that's me done for now. And considering my state of mind right now, I think this Blog post is probably a rambling mess. I apologise. I'm sooooo tired now, desperate to get back to Kyabirwa and crawl into bed. I am really not sure if I will have net access again before I start my mega travels on Sunday back to the UK so I might have to finish this at home. Booooo! Just in case, I will wish you all MUCH LOVE and say THANKS A MILLION for all your amazing support while I've been out here My friends rock harder than 80's death metal!!! **

Friday, 20 November 2009

Days 29 - 31

Day 29
The 'Singing in the Rain' bird is back! He is the first thing I hear when I take my ear plugs out this morning. I have already heard the rooster as ear plugs do nothing to drown that bugger out. Still, I have a smile on my face when I hear my bird friend because it was one of my favourite things about mornings here and he has been gone for the last week or so. It is still drizzling - has been for a few days now - so the mud has not had chance to dry out. It is getting ridiculously swampy in the compound now. After breakfast, I pull on my wellies and head off to Bujagali, determined to answer a few emails and update my Blog. The walk from the compound to the shortcut which usually takes about 10 minutes or so is so slippery that it takes more like half an hour. Upon reaching the shortcut, the tailor who sits near the turn off tells me that it is "bad" this way and I should keep on the road. Bah. I turn back onto the road, cursing - as usualy - the African rain/mud/road conditions. As expected, the long way round takes me well over another half an hour. The mud, as I have mentioned previously, turns to sticky clay when wet and where the rain has pelted it all night long, small mounds have formed making for a very uneven track. Despite my wellies, I still slip and slide and almost fall numerous times. Locals almost jog past me in their bare feet, getting a far better grip using their toes than I can with my silly British wellies. Double 'bah!'.

Finally I reach Bujagali and head for In DeNile Cafe where I leave my wellies outside and head in, barefoot, and order a large coffee. There is no power initially so I sit it out and read a 3 year old edition of Private Eye, followed by an in-flight magazine for KLM left by a previous tourist. I chat with the two guys that work behind the counter, and we exchange brief life stories. Surprisingly, both their wives work full-time (as secretaries) and neither of the men have children. This is a first! Suddenly, the power kicks in and - having spent the last 2 hours leisurely chatting - I race to answer as many emails as possible. Internet is painfully slow this morning so I skip the Blog entirely, knowing that it will just set me in a bad mood when I fail to publish it. I head back out to the 'centre' of Bujagali and find Fatuma's shop open so I stop by to say hello. Fatuma and I often chat when I am this way - and her 1 year old son is too irresistable to pass by, although I am sure she has trained him to run up to Muzungus and grab their legs with his chubby arms. Good for business. She is lying down in one corner on her side with Nathan close to her. He does not jump up to see me as usual, and even Fatuma can barely raise a smile. I go into her shop (or rather, hut) and sit down. She explains that Nathan is still very poorly and that he has now been diagnosed with Malaria, rather than Measles. She has been on the go, looking after Nathan single handed (I have no idea where her husband is, or even if she has one) and trying to run her shop - which means making bead necklaces late into the night to sell the next day. Poor woman looks like death. I try to raise a smile from Nathan but he is having none of it. I then realise that the poor lamb is lying in a pool of his own excrement, quite obviously suffering from severe diahorrea. As usual, there is absolutely nothing I can do and I fight back the tears, pinching the top of my thigh as I sit talking to Fatuma. Before I know it, time has passed and it is nearly 2:00pm. I make my excuses - although I hate to leave - and persuade a boda man I have met before to take me back home. As it turns out, he can't take me the whole way due to the mud but I am glad to have my journey shortened by at least half.

Back at the compound, and after a late lunch (for which I apologise profusely to Florence), Moses announces that we are moving to Jinja for the afternoon. I groan, contemplating another slippery trek through the mud but he says he needs to go and would like me to come. And so we go - slipping and sliding all the way to the main road. The taxi van ride fills me with terror as it quite literally skids and slides and lurches for half an hour over the mud roads before reaching any form of tarmac. I actually feel like I am suffering from motion sickness and am about to say to Moses that I will walk the remainder of the way when I realise we are thankfully where we need to be. In the internet cafe, we have both power and fast net so I take advantage of this and upload some more photos for you lot. However, just as I am about to upload the last 10, the power conks out and it's game over. I cannot be bothered to wait for them to dig out the generator and kick it into action, and I know that my Blog will not cope with the generator anyway, so Moses and I continue on our way. I wonder if he has something important to do, hence his insistence that I accompany him, but it seems as though we are heading to the taxi van park so I guess he just wanted my company which is nice.

After an equally terrifying journey back to Kyabirwa, we then hop on a boda to take us from the main road to our compound. On route, Moses stops a man and buys a massive fish (called an Electric Fish), much longer than the full length of his arm, and we continue on our way - the boda man, Moses, me and the fish. The other day, I saw someone travelling on the main road on a boda .... with a large white goat on his lap. Seriously. When we get home, I realise Agnes isn't around and Lydia - despite it already being dark - is doing laundry, so I settle myself in the smoky kitchen and help Florence to prepare dinner. I peel all the potatoes (of which there are loads - we are feeding 14 people these days) and chop them up into chips. I ask Florence what she does with the peelings and she says they just throw them away. I explain to her that, really, she doesn't need to peel them and they will cook just as well with the skins on. Moses appears at this point and asks "Is this true really?" and I nod, looking back and forth between them. Moses makes an executive decision and tells Florence that she needn't peel the potatoes when preparing chips anymore. I am glad I have saved her a job! I suggest that, with today's peelings, we could fry them in the oil and make crisps. Lydia is eager to try this and puts the peelings to one side.

I then sit with Moses on the porch and we smoke and talk - our nightly routine. Still on the subject of potatoes, he tells me that he once went to a Muzungu party in Bujagali and they had large potatoes wrapped in tin foil. He wonders if we can recreate this here, without an oven. I say that we can and all we need is a big fire, some tin foil, and some time. I remind him about our Guy Fawkes celebrations and tell him that my mother used to put potatoes wrapped in tin foil at the bottom of the bon fire, leave them overnight to cook in the heat, and then we would have them the next day. I explain that he can also do this with fish. He is excited and says that he is planning to burn the rubbish this weekend and that we will try this new method of cooking then.

At this moment, Danny appears with large, deliberate cuts in his top. He has quite obviously taken a pair of scissors to it. Moses enquires as to the reason in Lusoga and then reprimands Danny with a raised voice. Danny hurries into the main house, but remains peeking at me around the door. I ask Moses what has happened and he explains that Danny has purposely cut his old top so that "Auntie Neffy will give him a new one". I say that sounds like something my own son would have done in his younger years and it reminds me of a time that he was forced to wear plastic bags inside his shoes to stop the rain seeping in after he had used his toes as brakes on his bike and wrecked his new shoes. I, of course, had refused to replace them immediately and so he suffered with the plastic bags for a week. I cringe at the memory, thinking what an evil mother I am, but Moses likes the idea and says that we should make Danny wear a plastic bag. What begins as jokey banter, ends up with me fashioning a new top for Danny, complete with "Danny's New T-Shirt" written on the front in nail polish. This takes me a while - in the dark - so Danny has long since gone to bed when I am done. I will present him with his new top in the morning then, ha ha! As I make my way to my room to turn in for the night, Lydia calls me to the kitchen. I poke my head inside and she shows me her 'crisps'. They are a little soggier than would be expected, but they taste great and I tell her so. I leave her beaming with pride and slip and slide back to my room.

Day 30
Has it been 30 days already?! Or rather, has it only been 30 days? Sometimes it feels as though I have been here for months and I can't bear another minute (usually when I have to make a 3am trip to the latrine) but other times it can feel that I have only just arrived.

I pull back my tiny curtain and see that the rain is still with us, and when I open my door I realise that it is positively cold. And I, foolishly, brought no warm clothes. I wrap my blanket around my shoulders and sludge through the mud to the porch. After a fairly solemn breakfast (the weather here affects everyone's mood - adults and children alike), Moses and Laura head to the school while Jess returns to her room to read. I help Lydia clean the porch and volunteer block which seems a pretty pointless task as, judging by the swamp that surrounds us, it will be muddy again within the hour - but it helps to warm me up if nothing else! I was planning to spend the day with Florence, helping her in the 'garden' to bring in the beans and sweet potato, but with the rain as bad as it is, even Florence is staying close to home. Quite bizarrely, I am suffering from the most terrible hayfever today and cannot stop sneezing. Only I could get hayfever in the middle of this kind of weather!

Maureen - Moses and Florence's 14 year old daughter who is away at boarding school - is arriving home today. I reminded Florence of this last night in the kitchen - or at least I thought I had reminded her, but turns out she had no idea. Odd. I suggest to Lydia that we should decorate the porch for Maureen's arrival, knowing how much Lydia idolises her sister. She loves the idea (of course) and we agree to venture out in the rain to gather flowers when we are finished cleaning. No nipping down to the florist, or pre-ordering from Interflora, for us!

I look around me and take note of all the natural resources that we have here at the compound. We have ample free rainwater (welcome or not) which we use for our showers, cleaning our feet, washing the dishes and doing the laundry. The ash from the rubbish that is burnt each week is saved up and then put down the latrines to deter the flies. We have trees surrounding us growing green bananas (matoke), passionfruit, mango, papaya, avacado and Jack fruit - so we pretty much have snacks or juices on demand. The discarded fruit is then gobbled up by the hens and pigs so nothing is wasted there. Our cows not only provide us with fresh milk each morning - which we boil before using - but their poop is then mixed with the clay-soil and used to fix up holes in the various buildings we have at the compound. We also have lots of sugar cane nearby, which you will usually see hanging out of Danny's mouth at all times of the day. Any fallen branches are gathered up and stored for firewood. Large stones are used to scrape mud off of our feet, and even remove rough skin. Razor blades are used for everything from shaving, to trimming your nails, to sharpening pencils. The rooster is obviously our alarm clock. Eggs - and even chicks - from our hens are sold on. The goats and pigs are also not slaughtered here, but rather sold on for a price. Everything here is here because it is purposeful. Nothing is idle, nothing is here because it "looks nice". Everything here works - the family and the environment. It's quite amazing when you step back and look at it all.

The rain suddenly goes completely mental and Lydia and I abandon our buckets and take shelter on the porch. Luckily, I put my playing cards out earlier so we sit around playing a card game that I often play with my son. She loves it - and quite quickly learns how to trip me up and is winning time and time again. "Beginner's luck", I mumble.

When the rain stops, we dash out into the surrounding gardens and gather as many wild flowers as we can, placing them in an open blanket. I am amazed at the variety and pretty soon we have quite a colourful and - by Western standards - expensive collection. Pleased with our lot, we take them back to the compound and I head off to Bujagali. I really don't fancy going but I have an important email to send. I offer to buy extra chapatis for this evening in anticipation of Maureen's return and Florence gives me permission. I always ask if I plan on bringing something back to the compound as I don't want to imply that we are not being fed enough (which we most certainly are!) or step on anyone's toes.

In Bujagali, I send my email successfully and then take time to look in on Fatuma and Nathan. He is bouncing around like nothing happened and she has a sparkle back in her eyes. Phew! We talk for a while and she tells me that she was very scared when Nathan was poorly as her first born died from tetnus. The clinic at Soft Power had wrongly diagnosed the baby with Malaria when it actually died 3 days later from tetnus. She tells me that it was also Soft Power who then wrongly diagnosed Nathan with Measles and she ended up taking him to Jinja for blood tests where she was finally told it was, this time, Malaria. She swears she will never take another child of hers to Soft Power. I don't blame her and I go away feeling more angry with that organisation than ever.

When I reach home, I see that Lydia has done a fantastic job decorating the porch in my absence. The flowers have been tied with banana leaves into bunches and hung from the supporting pillars. She has also draped toilet paper between the rafters to create banners and has written on a few sheets "Maureen, Welcome Back at home. How is school?". She is busy making 'vases' out of cut mango which she is then wrapping in newspaper and then pushing flowers into the top. Very creative! From somewhere she has even produced a few balloons so it is all looking rather impressive. We all sit around listening to BBC World Service on the battery operated radio and await Maureen's arrival. Moses has gone with a car to collect her from school.

They finally arrive at 5:30pm and we catch a glimpse of Maureen in the back seat, grinning from ear to ear and then hiding her face in embarassment as she notices the porch. Unfortunately, a few minutes before her arrival, Lydia had been ordered to the 'garden' by Florence to collect some potatoes so she is not here. Maureen hugs everyone in turn and says it is really good to see me again. As before, she politely enquires after my entire family. Florence appears from the kitchen and makes her way slowly to the porch. Maureen sees her and runs to her, throwing her arms around her. Florence looks uncomfortable which strikes me as odd and the embrace is halted and they shake hands instead. I feel slightly sad about this. Then, Lydia comes racing down the road with the potatoes on her head, threatening to topple. She throws the bag onto the grass within our compound and launches herself at Maureen. Both the girls squeal and swing each other around and talk excitedly. What a wonderful reunion, they obviously adore each other as much as I had been told! They spend the next half an hour or so walking around the compound, arm in arm, thick as thieves.

I spend the rest of the evening reading the papers I have collected since I have been here. Some of the stories are totally shocking - such as the one citing homosexuality as a "mental illness" and another detailing how one man hacked his wife to death with a hoe because he thought she had stolen 500 Ugandan Shillings from him. Crazy. The big news this week is of an Army officer who was killed by his mistress. We even have photographs of his beaten head on the front page which is pretty awful viewing.

We have our Electric Fish for dinner as planned but I cannot taste a thing due to my stupid hayfever - gutted. I head to bed as soon as I finish as I am not feeling well.

Day 31
Oh what a terrible night. I woke three times and had to run for the latrine, through the mud and in the dark and rain. I was ill after all. And it turns out that Laura was as well. We are both quite pale and yawning repeatedly during breakfast. Laura insists that she is going to school regardless, but Jess says she is now feeling a little under the weather and will remain at home. I am planning on cleaning and cooking with Lydia and Florence again, as soon as the rain stops. The rain has soaked our grass brooms overnight so they are in the kitchen being dried by the fire at the moment. Instead, we sit and play cards again. This time Maureen joins us - Lydia is eager to show her what she has learned. When we do finally get a break in the rain, our attempt at cleaning is futile. Even with our new sturdy mop and bucket, the mud just spreads around and after mopping the porch no less than 4 times, mud is the winner. We give up and the girls go back to their card game while I sit scraping the mud off everyone's shoes and then wash them, by hand. There's no cutting corners here. Anything that needs doing needs doing by hand.

Lydia and Maureen have raided Agnes's room while I've been busy with the shoes and are running around the compound wearing wigs, giggling like teenage girls should. Jess appears from her room looking quite peaky, poor thing. She flops onto a bench on the porch and explains that she received a text from Laura to say she is staying at the school for lunch because the cook is not there and she wants to make the porridge for the children. I ask what has happened to the cook and Jess says that one of the children in her family has died from Malaria. The reality of African life silences us again.

Laura eventually joins us and sneaks in a late lunch. We have agreed to go to Bujagali this afternoon and, despite not feeling her best, Jess wants to get away from the compound for a few hours. I think that maybe the air from the River Nile might do her soon good anyway so we head off, explaining to the family that we will be back before dark.

The sun is shining for us when we arrive which is just beautiful. Our spirits perk up and we drown the misery of the last few wet days in a couple of Club beers each. We then head over to the book exchange and I swap a rubbish chick-lit book I foolishly gave a chance for a meaty Anne Bronte novel called The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. We don't stay long as - due to the recent weather - the mozzies are out in force and we are all still reeling from the news of a child's death from Malaria. Against our better judgement, we hop on a couple of bodas and head in the direction of the compound. We very nearly end up in a ditch on either side of the road many times, and I can't correctly remember the number of children we almost hit as we skidded - almost out of control - past them on the road. Never again, from now on I will walk in this level of mud rather than risk a boda.

Back at the safety of the compound, we all gather on the porch and Jess reads to Winnie, John and Danny while Laura writes in her journal. I am eager to get stuck into my new book so I settle under my blanket and enter the world of Anne Bronte. I am not disappointed and even after just completing the Introduction, I know that I want to buy her first novel, Agnes Grey, when I get home. After our dinner of chicken and chips (with the skins on), Danny decides he has waited long enough to call my mother and will not be fobbed off with excuses of a dead battery any longer. I relent and dial the number for him. I put her on speakerphone and Danny asks how she is (and she patiently waits for him to calm his cute stutter) and then tells my mom that "Neffy is a very good woman". Luckily, she agrees with him. Soon I hear my son's voice on the line and Danny repeats the same, at which my son just laughs. Cheers Boo! Ha! Unfortunately, calling the UK eats my credit quickly and we are cut off but mom promises just before we are disconnected to call again later. Winnie is crushed as she didn't get a chance to speak to my mom, and then Danny remembers that he forgot to tell my family that I am his new mom and that I am staying (which is news to me!). I laugh and say it's probably best that he forgot that part, and I assure Winnie she will too get a chance to speak to my mom before I leave.

After some more chit chat, I head to my room to read in peace - my new book has gripped me. Eventually my mom phones again and, after a lengthy call, I don't find as much pleasure in my book as before. I just want to be sitting on her sofa, drinking a cup of tea, and seeing her smile. God, I have never been this homesick in my life. I am 32 years old but all I want is my mommy. Still, with just over a week to go, I will have to cope. And really, apart from the homesickness and the mud, I am thoroughly enjoying my time with the Owino family and am sure I will miss them terribly when it comes time to leave.