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.

Monday, 16 November 2009

In no particular order ... more piccy pics!

** As before .... please click on a photo to view it Full Size in a separate window **

John peeping at me from the outside of the 'restaurant' in Bujagali where Jitka and I took the kids after church. This one is going on my wall, along with the one of Danny & the bicycle bell ...

Vincent's attempt to make his mud-hut home, well, more 'homely' with a curtain at the window. So sweet.

With some of our kids from P6 at the '10 year anniversary' Soft Power event held a couple of weeks ago. They sat in the blazing sun for hours waiting their turn without so much as a wriggle. I can't imagine English kids ever being quite so well behaved ...

'The Bujagali Chapati Company' ... yes, really :-p

At the campsite again. This time, Jess and I snuck all the way through to the back past the "Strictly Residents Only" sign (tee hee) where the 'posh' accommodation is. There was no one occupying this 'room' so I thought I'd strike a quick pose on the porch, ha! The uninterrupted view from here is just incredible - I will post pics of it in full when I get back to the UK.

The outside bar at the campsite - gorgeous sunsets over the Nile from here ... I will miss sitting here

Enjoying the free wine at the Soft Power party *hic*

Mopping the floors, before starting on the walls (this was before I bought the mop & bucket). Talk about hard work!

Goofy Charlie ...

Sweetie Pie Lydia ...

Oldest dated photos showing the shoe/clothing donations at the school to follow asap - plus more recent events such as our day at the swimming pool! Had planned to do it today but keep getting 'Bad Request' message whenever I select those particular photos ....... Stay tuned ...... xxx

Days 25 - 28

Day 25
I have a lazy morning chatting to Lydia, Charlie and Uboo then decide to 'move' to Jinja, as they say here. I really want to buy a mop and bucket for Lydia. I bump into Jess and Madam Joy outside the school and we walk together to the main road. They are 'moving' to Jinja to buy costumes for the kids to go with the new instruments. The taxi van is very busy this morning and it is a relief when we finally arrive in Jinja. It is obvious that not everyone brushes their teeth regularly here and I have been sat next to a man with quite offensive breath for the duration - who insisted on talking to me. With his mouth about an inch away from my nose, it was a loooong ride. In Jinja, Jess and Madam Joy walk with me to Barclays which also doubles up as a Western Union. My mom has sent me some emergency cash (to top up what I came with) so I line up and begin my long wait. I won't bore you with the details but it is a total palava getting the money and to say that customer service is lacking in Uganda is an understatement. Still, it's the same in Barbados so I just sigh and wait, and wait, and wait. It is a completely silent transaction with the woman not making eye contact with me once, and looking as though she would rather be sticking pins in her own eyes than working here today. Yup, same level of customer service I'm used to in Barbados, ha! Feel nostalgic about Bim.

Jess and Madam Joy have gone on their way so I head into the market to try and find a mop and bucket. I am offered a multitude of brooms but there seems to a shortage of mops, or even understanding about what I want. Whenever I say "No, I mean a mop that you put in water and then clean the floor with", even demonstrating through basic drama skills the tool I am talking about, they still insist that it is a broom I want. Eventually a man comes to my rescue and tells me there is a lady selling mops elsewhere in the market. I follow him and realise that I had no idea the market was quite so big. It is like a totally separate city, full of winding, tight little corridors, jam packed with stalls heaving with all varieties of merchandise. The smells are quite overpowering - rotting rubbish mixed with fish and dried (or raw) meats. We arrive at the lady's stall and she shows me a mop for 18,000. I say this is too much and we settle on 12,000. I still feel this is too much but I am not sure whether I will find a mop in another place so I snap it up. She doesn't have a bucket and suggests I go to Nile Supermarket. Before I leave, I buy a scrubbing brush from her for 2,000 so that I can clean the walls of the Owino house. They are caked in red mud and Moses is talking about re-painting. I want to prove to him that it just needs a good scrub.

In the Nile Supermarket, guess what I find? Yup, mops. And they are only 8,000. The slight irritation I feel at being 'ripped off' soon passes when I remember how little it equates to in the UK. I also find a bucket with a separate attachment for wringing the mop and, feeling proud of my achievement, I decide to tackle the issue of a swimsuit for Lydia. I head back to Main Street as I can't face the market again, nor do I think they will sell such an item really. Quite a few shops later, I am feeling hungry so I stop for lunch and people-watch. It is hard to take photos in Jinja itself as I can't ask everyone individually and don't want to offend by just snapping away. Back in Kyabirwa, I can ask and if I am told "no" I say "kalay" (okay) and then they usually change their mind when they realise I know a bit of the local language. Here in Jinja, when I have asked a few people and been told "no", I know they mean it. And I have always been told no so I have stopped asking now.

After lunch - I choose matoke and rice over a Muzungu dish, I am now quite fond of the local food - I continue with my swimsuit mission and come across a shop that has them. She only has 3 so the choice is limited but I find a pretty white one with large pink flowers. I hope Lydia will like it. With two successes under my belt, I head to the internet cafe and try to upload photos. To my amazement, the internet is quite fast today and when I upload smaller thumbnails of my pics, the result is even quicker. I am on a roll!

With the photos done (as many as I could in the time I had), I look for a boda and find one that remembers me from previously. He charges me just 3,000 with no argument and I can't believe my luck. Normally I have to try and get them down from at least 5,000, sometimes 7,000! I balance on the boda, mop in one hand, bucket in the other and we bump along home. Arriving at the compound, I hold my purchases above my head (feeling a little like Braveheart LOL!!) and Lydia comes running to meet the boda, frantically making a grab for the mop. Luckily I have bought biscuits for everyone else so I quickly share them out so no one feels that Lydia is being unfairly favoured. Lydia is busy 'miming' using her mop. Charlie tries to take it from her and Lydia yells that it is hers and she gets a black pen and writes "Lydia's mop" on it, ha! Florence and Moses are both smiling and giggling. Then Lydia finds her swimsuit in the bag and holds it against herself saying "Aayyyy Ma-ma!" and everyone joins in. She gives me a bear hug.

Once the excitement has died down, Jess and I read quietly on the porch and Moses does some paperwork. Moses gives me the best news of all time - the porridge at school has been reinstated! HOORAH!!!!! We sit chatting, reading and relaxing for a couple of hours, just enjoying the evening and the goods news. After a dinner of fish and pasta, Jess and I go to bed - at 8:45pm! LOL The days are long and hot here, and the evenings long and dark .... you get tired very easily.

Day 26
Today we are up at 6:30am. We are going to another local school to watch some of our P6 kids perform in a competition set up by - guess who? - Soft Power. To make a clear point, I pull on my Kyabirwa Primary School Project t-shirt. Moses laughs when he sees the 'statement' I am making. After breakfast, we race to the school to meet the children (along with Madam Joy and Mr Paul) and we walk to the main road. My goodness, it's HOT today. By the time we reach the main road 20 minutes later, I am dripping with sweat. Nice. We wait for the truck to come and pick us up and, when it arrives, Jess and I realise that it really is a truck. The kids - and us, along with the instruments - are squeezed into the back of the pick-up. There is standing room only so we hang onto the bars that are around us. The Muzungu driver up front seems to forget we are standing and have no real room to manoevere should we lose our balance, and he races along the road, bouncing hard over the potholes. Miraculously we arrive at the school unscathed and it becomes obvious to us early on that Soft Power are on another one of their power trips, barking orders at us as we jump from the truck. Jess and I "aren't on the list" so we are denied the coveted wristbands that would allow us access to food at lunchtime. Still, we're here for the kids so we overlook this and crack on with getting the kids psyched for their performances.

Madam Joy takes us on a quick tour of the school - she lives in the grounds as her husband is a teacher at this school; we can't believe she walks from here every day, it's miles - and we bump into the Headmaster. He launches into his well rehearsed speech about how great Soft Power are and begins thanking us for all that we have done but Jess interrupts him and explains we are not with Soft Power. I turn around to show him the back of my t-shirt and he looks confused. We explain the situation and his face changes - he looks more .... relaxed? He is impressed that we are independent volunteers and says he didn't realise Kyabirwa had their own project; he thought that Soft Power did all the work at that school. Hardly surprising.

First up in today's events is a football competition. Despite our super loud Muzungu-style cheering, Kyabirwa loses out to another local school. There is a disagreement about the 'rules' during the penalties and I overhear Mr Paul trying to argue the case. The Muzungu referree is being very rude to Mr Paul and saying "Look, you lost alright? Just get off the pitch. Go on, get!". Part of me wants to step in and ask if such rudeness is really necessary, but part of me is glad that Mr Paul (who was leading the beatings I witnessed) is getting a public dressing down. Jess agrees that we should leave him to his telling off and we head over to a man selling chapatis under a tree and grab a bite to eat instead.

Next up is the drama and singing. Jess and I sit in the main hall while our P6 kids are off practising with Mr Paul and Madam Joy. We see some really great drama - some of the kids are soooo enthusiastic. Bodondo Primary School seem to be in a league of their own and I won't be surprised if they win. Their drama sketch is particularly funny, if only because the African 'mother' has a Muzungu baby doll on her back - Jess and I are in bits, tears of laughter rolling down our cheeks. Their performance is strong, their costumes and dances well choreographed, and the kids are obviously really up for it. Bravo! Then, in total contrast, another school come on stage and sing about how 'joyful' it is to have Soft Power in their community. Quite ironically, the kids singing are probably the least joyful children you could have picked to take part and their teacher is frantically pulling faces and gesturing from the side of the stage, but to no avail. It's quite funny and the whole audience is trying to stifle their giggles.

All of the drama sketches are about what Soft Power has done for their schools or community, such as putting in water wells, introducing education about sanitation, knowledge being good, stealing people's crops being bad, and that it is a crime for teachers to date pupils. Bizarrely, one of the sketches is about polygamy being alive and well, and Jess and I are left thinking that maybe that particular school didn't quite understand the message of the day. Bless.

Madam Joy sticks her head into the main hall and beckons for us - our kids are performing in the church next door instead. We rush as they are about to start and I end up slipping down a ramp leading off from the main hall. It is bare concrete and very rough, covered with dirt. I end up scraping my thigh quite badly and the top of my calf. My DSLR camera drops from my hand and, ignoring the burning pain in my leg, I jump up and yell "My camera!". A teacher runs to me and asks if I'm okay. I say that I am but I am worried about my camera. She looks confused as I dust my camera off, all the while muttering "Please be okay, please be okay". I tell her nevermind, that I'm honestly fine, and I carry on - limping - to the church next door. I sit down, check my camera and take a 'dummy' shot to the test the lens. Phew. Nothing out of the ordinary showing up on the photo - camera seems to have survived. I turn my attention to the large curtain across the middle of the room, creating a makeshift stage. Mr Paul appears and says something to the two judges and then our children appear. They do their drama sketch first - about how large families are not good if you want to afford to send all your kids to school. They are so great, completely in time with eachother and giving it their all. Jess and I beam and clap our hands as loud as we can. There is faint applause from the rest of the audience but that was the same in the other room, so we are not fazed by their lack of reaction. Next comes the song - it is a 'thank you' song about Soft Power. Jess and I had to endure it at the previous SF function we went to but we smile regardless, through gritted teeth. The new drums make an appearance and the kids are amazing to say the least. The belt out the song and little Oliver (a girl) gives it her all on her new 'tall drum'. When it is over, the applause from Jess and I is louder than before - and to our amazement, the rest of the audience are not only clapping but also whooping and whistling. It is such a GREAT response, Jess and I get goosebumps. Definitely the best reaction we have seen in in the competition so far. It is only when our kids are finished that I let myself be reminded about the burning pain shooting up and down my left leg. I make my way to the first aid station and get cleaned up with some Savlon. Once the mud and grit has been removed, I see that I have a large graze on my thigh and some more grazing on my calf. It looks quite innocent but, blimey, it hurts and I wince like a little girl everyone time the Savlon lotion touches me. The first aid man notices that Jess and I aren't wearing wristbands and, out of pity I suppose, calls one of his colleagues over and produces some. Hoorah!

After being cleaned up, Jess and I make our way to a classroom where our kids are taking part in the final aspect of the day - a quiz. First they have to guess what colour would be made if you mix two colours of paint together. They do very well. Secondly, they have to sort books into Fiction and Non-Fiction. Although they separate the books correctly, they put them under the wrong corresponding signs. Bah - so close. Thirdly, they have to pass around a book and correctly identify both the title and author. They get this correct. Lastly, they must demonstrate how to use a mosquito net correctly, tucking it in around all sides of the bed. Again, they get this spot on. Jess and I hug each of the kids and tell them that they did amazingly. We are chuffed to bits with them. We all make our way to the lunch line and are given a mountain of rice, some lamb and some cabbage. We also get a free soda. It is a lot of food and Jess and I have to ask for half portions. The kids however gobble it up.

The afternoon is going to be a long process of prize giving and sitting around. Jess and I decide to leave the kids and teachers to it and head out onto the road to flag a boda. We walk almost back to the main road (which is quite a way!) before a car pulls over and offers us a lift. It is a Soft Power Muzungu from Holland who we learn has been living here for 6 years. He came for 6 weeks initially and just decided to never go home. He takes us to the Kyabirwa sign on the main road and we walk from there. Back at the compound, we read for a while, take showers and then head to Bujagali for the evening. Jess and I decided yesterday that we fancied a 'night off'. Without prompting, Moses had earlier refunded us the 7,000 we usually pay for dinner at the compound. He is a very fair man. The boda man who takes us agrees to pick us up again at 10:00pm so we don't have to haggle with anyone else. In Bujagali, we head straight into the campsite and order steak and chips. We spend the evening listening to Western music (an awful lot of Linkin Park, bizarrely), drinking Club beer, and chatting to Willie (barman) and Peter (trainee Manager). A few locals come and join us and we have some interesting and fun conversations over the course of the evening. Jess gets chatted up by some Muzungu lads - I leave her to it. At 10:00pm, we leave to meet our boda and it is only when we are stood up that we realise the heat from the day and the Club beers have got to us. We are a bit 'wobbly'. The boda ride home is fun, with us trying to take photos in between bumping over potholes. The boda man is laughing at us. Back at the compound, the kids are sitting in the dark on the porch but when they see us pull up, they run over. On noticing we are a bit worse for wear, they start laughing. We say "Shhh, we don't want Moses to come out" but that just makes them laugh louder and then, inevitably, Jess and I begin giggling. In the pitch black and still wobbly, the kids lead us into the house where they take great pleasure in snapping shots of Jess and I bleary eyed with my camera. Moses does eventually make an appearance and just laughs. Then he retires back to his room where we hear him giggling occassionally in response to whatever we are getting up to in the sitting room. My mom calls me and after our phone call has ended, Lydia grabs my phone and says she wants to call my mom. I let her and she is beaming from ear to ear as she asks my mom how she is etc. She hands the phone back to me and my mom tells me that Lydia sounds very sweet. She is. I then head off to bed and fall asleep listening to Bon Jovi's 'Bounce' album. Bliss.

Day 27
Wake up at 7:20am with Lydia banging on my door ordering me to get up. She is excited because today we are taking her and Winnie swimming at Nile Resort. Jess and I looked it up yesterday on the internet and we too are excited - it certainly looks very nice, and after a month of mud between my toes and rainwater showers, I am craving a day like today. I come out of my room and see Moses heading off in a private car to the airport. Jess's friend Laura is arriving today. Breakfast is quick and the girls are eager to get going so after the final sip of our coffee, we head off towards the main road. After another long and very hot walk, we wait at the roadside. And we wait and we wait. No taxi vans. Well, none that have any space anyway. Bah. A boda man drives past in the opposite direction, signalling that he will be back. He comes back five minutes later with another boda and, with Lydia and Jess on one and Winnie and I on the other, we are finally on our way. We encourage our bodas to race each other (safely) which entertains the girls and Winnie and I end up as the winners. First impression upon arriving at the Nile Resort: swanky! I can't wait to get my swimsuit on and dive into the crystal clear water. The girls are in awe and have gone very quiet. Inside the lobby, there is a fish tank embedded in the wall which has them spellbound while Jess and I pay. It is 6,000 for adults (less than 2 quid) and 3,000 for children. This allows you to use all their facilities for the day - restaurants, swimming pool, hot showers, saunas etc. Bargain!

We dump our stuff at a table under a grass roofed gazebo at the edge of the pool and go exploring. The resort is beautiful and I already know that it's going to be hard to leave. Ha! Once a princess, always a ....... you know how it goes.

The girls and Jess change into their swimsuits and I take a few photos, recording Lydia's first time in a swimming pool (Winnie has been to another pool with a previous volunteer), and then I dump the camera and join them. Lydia is nervous but she wants to learn to swim so I encourage her to lay across my arms and kick with her feet. We go back and forth the pool like this and Lydia gains confidence. She doesn't want to go it alone but she says she will another time. After an hour or so, the rain clouds arrive. Ugh! Today of all days! We leave the pool and take shelter back at our table, ordering hot chocolate for the kids to warm them up. The hot chocolate comes with free cakes which is a nice gesture. This however awakens our hunger so we order some 'fish fingers' which go down very easily. Still hungry, we decide to put our lunch order in. Lydia asks for chicken and chips in a basket, Winnie is curious as to what a burger is like (I am having one too), and Jess opts for steak and chips. After some hot showers and while we wait for our food, Lydia heads back into the shallow end of the pool with Jess. Winnie and I sit at the edge and watch - Winnie has taken control of my iPod and is bopping along to Rihanna (Lydia prefers Black Eyed Peas and Sugababes). The girls are so happy, it is infectious. I wish I could bring them here every single day.

Our lunch arrives and, after more hot showers, we tuck in. Lydia keeps looking back at the pool, desperate to return now the sun has reappeared, but we explain she must wait for her food to go down. After filling our bellies (Winnie can't finish hers, it is so big!) we go for a lie down on the loungers in the shade. Lydia asks why there are some Muzungus lying in the hot sun and we try to explain about sun tans. She tells us that they will get "sick" and shakes her head at them, ha! Unfortunately, by the time our food has gone down, the rain clouds are back and Winnie doesn't want to go back in because she remembers how cold she was when she got out last time. Lydia however is undeterred and makes a beeline for the shallow end. We watch her quite happily paddling about, splashing the water, and giggling. The rain will not spoil Lydia's first trip to a swimming pool, no sir! A young Muzungu couple follow Lydia's lead and jump into the pool with her. The three of them join hands and jump around in a circle counting to 10. Lydia's laughter fills the resort.

Lydia eventually joins us back at the table and we take a vote that we should go home and try to return next week, hopefully with the sun on our side. After another hot shower (the kids love them and I do too - the bottoms of my feet are white again!), we pack up our things. On our way out, I stop at reception and ask how much the rooms are - out of pure curiosity. The man gives me a price list and then beckons a colleague over and instructs him to show us a room. Hoorah! We follow him to one of the large bungalows that overlook the Nile and head inside. It is GORGEOUS but then at $200 per night, it would be. Oh to have money! After a minute or two, I drag myself away from the room, imagining what it would be like to shut the door to the outside world, wrap myself in a white fluffy bathrobe and crack open a bottle of wine. Then I snap back to reality and realise how materialistic and fake this all is. I thank the man on reception on our way past and, as we near the front entrance, I cast one last longing look over my shoulder, back towards the rooms and the materialistic lifestyle that - although it shouldn't be - is so inviting *sniff*

Outside, we telephone 'Boda Man Moses' and he says he will send two boda drivers for us. The roads are very muddy now and I wonder how easy this journey will be. Turns out, not very. Our bodas are taking it very slowly (thank goodness) but often their tires slip and we lurch from side to side. Winnie is with me again and she squeaks everytime the boda does this. The boda man has to put his feet on the ground more than once to steady us. When we eventually reach the turning from the main road to Kyabirwa, he stops to let us off, explaining it is too muddy to go to our house. We had already guessed that. We are in for a looooong walk. He then tries to charge me 3,000 which I argue with him about. For one thing, Boda Man Moses - and whoever he sends - always charge us 2,000 and that has been agreed. And secondly, he has only taken us as far as the sign so 3,000 is bogus. I tell him that if he wants another 1,000, he had better ask Boda Man Moses for it. He and the other boda driver laugh, knowingly, and with good humour. They've obviously heard about me and how I don't negotiate :-p Back at the compound, we eat freshly roasted maize straight off the cob (tastes like burnt popcorn, but nice!). At 6:00pm, our own Moses returns to the compound with Jess's friend Laura in tow (they've also had to walk due to the mud - poor Laura, welcome to muddy Kyabirwa!). Moses laughs at my boda story and tells me I was right not to pay the extra and that he will phone Boda Man Moses to put him straight about the types of drivers he next sends. Danny runs up to me whispering something frantically in my ear. After repeating his request a few times, I realise he is asking me if he can phone my mom. I laugh and explain that I have no battery but when I do, he can phone her. He goes away smiling, with a confident little swagger.

I leave Laura and Jess to catch up and I read quietly on my own, enjoying the peace. I am going to miss the 'stillness' when I return to the UK for sure. It is one of the most beautiful things about being here. As much as I enjoyed the resort today, there is a lot to be said for the kind of simplistic lifestyle we have at the compound. Tonight we are served two whole fish (talapia) and chips for our meal. It is a lot of food but - probably because of swimming - we are starving and grateful for it. After dinner, Moses and I retire to the porch for our 'smoking party' as he likes to call them. We are the only smokers in the compound and we often sit out here for hours, talking about anything and everything. He keeps joking that he is going to have to send my mom some goats and get me to stay here. Tonight we chat about what has been going on at the school. Suffice to say, Moses is dealing with the situation. He is a strong willed man and - if you met him you would know - very well respected in the community. I feel confident that my concerns are being taken seriously and after yet another revealing conversation in which I appreciate Moses's honesty, I take myself off to bed, knackered.

It's been a beautiful day. I just wish my own son was here to have joined us. He would have loved it! I go to sleep missing my family immensely.

Day 28
We wake up at 7:30am - on a Sunday! Definitely one of the things I won't miss about Africa; no one sleeps in here. If the cockerel or cows or pigs don't wake you up, the many children will :-p After breakfast, I decide to put my new scrubbing brush to good use and tackle the walls and doors in the porch area. They are literally caked with mud and it takes me well over an hour. I then mop the floor and dry everything thoroughly. I am very pleased and - jokingly - sit guard at the entrance to the porch instructing the kids to wash their feet if they want to pass. They take the joke as it is intended and, just to prove a point, go to the back door, walk through the house and appear behind me, giggling. Cheeky little so-and-so's :-) When Moses returns later, he is amazed and says that his neighbours will think he has re-painted after all. He thanks me, over and over, and says he can't believe he thought the only way to rescue it was by painting. Bless.

I then decide to attempt to do my laundry again, this time wearing rubber gloves that I'd forgetten I had brought. End result: cleaner clothes than last week (practice makes perfect) but still a blister. Ugh. I'm pleased with myself regardless, as is Florence.

After a lunch of chapati, egg, raw cabbage, tomato, cucumber and carrots, I shower and, with Laura in tow, Moses and I head off to a 'housewarming party' at the main road that we were invited to earlier in the week. Jess has taken some of the kids to Bujagali for soda. Moses says it will be a great experience so I'm looking forward to it.

Hmmmm, how to describe the party? Well, we arrive to find a small covered area in front of a house, with 8 rows of plastic chairs. The music is deafeningly loud but everyone is just sat on the chairs, all facing the same direction, not talking - not smiling. Odd. We are seated in the front row, in the centre. I wish we could have sat at the back really. Directly in front of us is a single row of 6 empty chairs, decorated with lace covers, facing us. We sit like this for more than half an hour, going deaf. The music is randomly interrupted from time to time by a man with a microphone who is speaking, slowly and hypnotically, in Lusoga. Moses then announced that he is going to Jinja but that we should wait here. Whaaaat?? Laura and I exchange nervous glances and I appeal to Moses to stay with us, or at least to let us go back home. He says that it would be rude for us to leave and we have to stay. Ugh! Moses strolls off and so Laura and I sit, feeling uncomfortable, and wait. The ridiculously loud music continues, and the other 'guests' still sit, not talking, in the strange seating layout. What kind of 'party' is this?? A man is dancing at the edge of the compound, on the road, blatantly drunk and with his flies open - leaving nothing to the imagination. Eventually, we see a lot of women from inside the house run to the side of the road and the music is changed, abruptly. Obviously something is about to happen. Good. The women begin to move slowly, rocking their hips with the music and smiling broadly at whatever is coming down the road. A few minutes later, two men wearing suits followed by yet more women come into our view. They form some kind of procession and - although it can't be described as dancing - they are walking in time with the music. The procession is so slow and so strange that I - along with Laura - start to video it. After what seems like an eternity of slow, rhythmic walking, the procession enters the compound where the party is and lots of 'shrilling' from the women follows. A group of men and women (all wearing the most beautiful Gomez dresses I have seen to date) sit on the chairs facing us. The music stops. No one is smiling or speaking. It is eerily silent. Then, Moses returns saying he is not going to Jinja but he does have to go somewhere and will be back "in a minute". Laura and I watch him walk over to a bicycle at the edge of the compound, partly obscured by bushes, and we joked that he was making a break for it on his 'getaway bike'. Then he glances in our direction to see if anyone is looking and speeds off! Seems we were right LOL. Laura and I settle back into our chairs, resigned to our fate of sitting this out, whatever it is. After another long gap in the 'proceedings', a man gets up and makes a long speech. During his speech, another man comes around each and every guest holding an open laptop. Every guest looks at the laptop screen, without smiling, and then he moves to the next person. When he gets to us, we realise that he is videoing the event through a built-in webcam. Why anyone would want to record a load of solemn faces staring into a camera, I'll never know.

The speeches, oh the speeches! Ugandan people love their speeches. Man after man gets up and gives a lengthy speech, all in Lusoga. Needless to say, Laura and I don't understand a word of it. It is all very .... bizarre. This is meant to be a party, isn't it?! When Moses returns, Laura tells him that she is feeling sick and needs to leave. Hoorah! Saved at last! Moses tries to convince us to stay but Laura is adament so we grab our bags, make our apologies, and leave the 'party'. On the main road, we ask Moses what kind of party that had been?? He shakes his head and apologises saying that the owner of the house had got everyone there under false pretences and the men that were giving speeches were in fact politicians, campaigning. It would only be after the hours and hours of speeches that any food or drink would be served. Yikes. Moses is a bit embarassed but we assure him that we are just happy to be out of there and tell him not to give it a second thought.

Back at the compound, Jess and the kids have returned from Bujagali. We sit around chatting to Moses about marriage and attraction. No, Ugandans do not marry for attraction - it is based on whether the women is a hard worker and comes from a good, healthy family. We had gathered as much. I ask what would happen if one of his children wanted to marry for love. He says - matter of factly - that it would not be allowed and he would "talk to them". After further thought, he then says that Lydia would in fact be allowed to marry a Muzungu for love and even move to England, but not John. It is important for men to remain in the community and remember their culture. The debate continues and, as usual, it is very enjoyable chatting to Moses about such things. He always sees both sides of every argument and can appreciate pitfalls in both, making for interesting and fair conversation.

Charlie and John set up the generator and it roars into action. Tonight we are watching music videos again. A few minutes pass and, just as I am wondering where our king of dancing, Danny, is, he comes into view out of the corner of my eye. He is running down the road as fast as he can - it is like watching a cartoon; his back is poker straight, with a determined look on his face, but his legs are going so fast, they are almost a blur. He gets closer and starts smiling and squealing. He runs straight past us and into the house where he immediately breaks into dance. It is the cutest thing. We spend the evening watching the local music videos and drink 'afternoon tea'. Jess and I had explained earlier in the week to Moses about 'afternoon tea' being cake and a cup of tea and he decided he liked that idea. To be fair, we have had it daily - a muffin and a cup of black tea - although the timings are a bit irregular. This evening for instance, we are having our 'afternoon tea' at 7:50pm LOL Very much appreciated though!

Lovely dinner tonight of pork, matoke, rice and cabbage. Filled up, fit to burst. Bed at 9:00pm.