Saturday, 31 October 2009

Photos: My African Home

Here are a few pics of where I am living - I will post some family pics very soon, maybe tomorrow :-)

Below: Our beautiful compound taken from the side view. To the left is the main house where the family live (9 of them); to the right is the volunteer block which consists of 6 bedrooms. Directly ahead is the kitchen which is made from poles, mud and grass. Behind where I took the photograph from is a large garden where they grow crops.


Below: This is my room. Behind where I took the photograph from there is a bookshelf where I keep my clothes. To the left is a small side table and mirror. It is basic but clean & cute.




Below: This is our toilet which is to the rear of the volunteer block. The door with the flap is the side for volunteers. The family use the other one. You have to cough or whistle when you are approaching the latrines from the house as I am always worried about catching one of the family out (so far, I have surprised Moses and also one of his aunts! Ooops!)



The inside of the latrine ...... just a hole. Not much else :-) Bats fly around in here at night so you need nerves of steel after about 7:15pm ...


Below: These are our showers. Someone puts a washing bowl and jug in there for you when you wish to bathe, and you then fasten the metal door shut by positioning a nail at the top. There are locks on the doors but I'm not sure why as there is no hole for them to lock into, ha!


Pics of me at the school, of the Owino family and 'life in Uganda' coming soon ..... !!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Days 7 - 9

Day 7
Today is Sunday and we are off to Church. I wake up early and lie in bed listening to my environment. I can hear Florence giving instructions to John and Winnie as they all go about preparing breakfast and setting up the laundry bowls; I recognise one of the aunt's voices as well so I know we have visitors (it is still not even 7:00am); the cows are mooing, the pigs are squealing (they do this a lot), the goats are making whatever noise goats make and there is a certain bird that lives in these parts which I swear sounds like opening whistle from Fred Astaire when he's whistling "Singing in the Rain". No joke. I peek out of my window and can see Charlie already busy shelling beans for our lunch. After my bucket shower, I put on my best outfit that I have saved especially for Sunday and visiting church - it is an ankle length pink skirt and pink tshirt. It doesn't sound like much but compared to what I've been wearing for the past week, I feel as though I'm about to walk the red carpet. And as if they can read my mind, the family start clapping and 'shrilling' when I come out of my room. I take a small bow and they all laugh.

We sit down for breakfast and Winnie excitedly shows me a nail file she has fashioned out of carpentry sandpaper cut into a long strip. I was using my nail file last night and she was obviously quite taken with it. I am very impressed with her initiative but worried that it is a bit rough so I dull the surface by rubbing it on the outside wall of the house and it makes it quite a bit smoother. She goes away happily filing her non-existent nails. Very sweet.

Moses attends a church that is in the school grounds so it's not far, but Danny and Winnie don't like that one as it's "boring". I ask them to come anyway which they moan and groan about and make excuses about wanting to stay and eat freshly picked Jack fruit. But then Moses has a few words with them in Lusoga and they wash their feet and put on their shoes. I am not a church-going person usually but I would like the experience whilst here in Africa.

We arrive at the church and I am introduced to the vicar. He thanks me for coming and we take our seats. The service is in Lusoga but I realise that they are having a Christening/baptism ceremony for some local babies. The mothers look so proud and everyone has put on their best Gomez for the occasion. The colours are beautiful and I take a few photos but feel self-concious that I am interrupting a private ceremony. Moses says it's quite alright, but I put my camera away after taking about 3 photos. During the service, Moses stands up and requests that the mothers come to the compound at 4:00pm this afternoon with any children under school age so that we can hand out the rest of the clothing donations - we only have baby clothes left now. The church members chatter to each other excitedly and I just hope we have enough to go around.

After church, Moses and I head to Bujagali to charge his laptop. I spend three hours typing out my Blog update only to lose internet connection once I am ready to post it. This is more than frustrating and happens only too often. I save it to Word and we head back to the compound hoping to be able to pick up a wireless connection later (this is so hit and miss that I don't even consider it a reliable option. I have seen it work once for about five minutes since being here). The internet disappears and the power goes off so often here that you just get used to it.
** Just as I typed that last sentence, true to form, the power went off. We had to wait 15 minutes for the generator to kick in at the internet cafe. The whole time I am thinking "Thank goodness for 'autosave' ..." I tell the cafe that I had just typed about the power and - jokingly I hope - they all say I am a witch and should not type about the power anymore. Ha ha **

Moses and I head back from Bujagali on foot. This usually takes about 15 minutes or so but today takes over an hour as we stop and talk to lots of people on the way. A lot of them are relatives and Moses gives them a few coins here and there. Back at the compound, Florence scolds Moses for being late for lunch and serves us green banana and beans (not my favourite). The mothers and babies from the village have already arrived and are sitting on mats under the coffee tree waiting for us. We eat quickly and then place the remaining donated clothes and shoes on two blankets. The families scan the items in anticipation and, again, I pray we have enough. Moses begins with the youngest children - the babes in arms - and calls the mothers forward. He holds up various sleepsuits and vests, making sure they fit the child and then hands them over. The mothers immediately dress the children in the new clothes and smile proudly, posing happily for my photographs. This is repeated through the age groups. There doesn't seem to be any kind of rules about pink or blue being for both or girls - I see a boy wearing pink sparkly flip flops obviously meant for a little girl.

Eventually there is nothing left. There are a few children who did not recieve anything - one is sobbing loudly and trying to take the shoes from her sister. I feel terrible. This is very hard to witness and I have to look away and take deep breaths, the tears stinging my eyes. There is nothing I can do. This is not the first time I have felt completely defeated and helpless during my stay. But I have to keep reminding myself, something is better than nothing. And hey, I can always come back right?

Once the mothers and babies have left, myself and the rest of the Owino family stay sitting on the mats under the tree. Agnes is braiding a neighbour's hair and we are enjoying the cool shade. A young boy appears on the path outside the compound. He is carrying a massive bundle of leafy plants that he has gathered to feed his families' animals. The bundle is bigger than him and all you can see is two skinny legs sticking out from the bottom - like a green Cousin It from the Addams Family. He is carrying so much that he can't even see and Moses tries to direct him through our compound but he instead crashes into a tree. Everyone falls about laughing and the boy adjusts himself and continues on his way, faster than before and obviously a little embarassed. I can't help but join in with the laughter.

Tonight I get a phone call from my mom - bliss! It is SO good to hear her voice. I didn't realise how homesick I was really until now. After my call, we sit down for a dinner of liver and pasta shells. Odd combination but welcome all the same. Liver has never tasted so good and, despite taking iron supplements and vitamins daily, I am glad of the extra top-up. Throughout the evening, Moses and I try accessing the wireless internet to no avail. Just when we are about to give up, the green light stops flashing and we are in! I quickly post my Blog and literally about 15 seconds later, the connection is gone. Timing is everything here.

My nightly reading session with Winnie and John goes well - they are improving daily - and then I spend from 9:00pm to 11:00pm chatting with Moses. I wish I could film our conversations - he is such an intelligent man and I love discussing life and comparing cultures with him. Although he is very traditional in many of his views, we always have fair and interesting 'debates'. I learn this evening that his father used to be a Chief in this village. I ask him whether he has thought of taking up that role and he says that, although he is asked often, he does not want to. He then tells me a story that sends shivers down my spine ... but I now understand why he would not want to be Chief. And on that note, I opt for some light reading in bed, clearing my mind of both the crying child from earlier and the harrowing tales of African life.

Referring to the conversation with Moses: I hope you can all appreciate that it was a private conversation about personal family matters, and therefore something I feel I can share on a public Blog.

Day 8
I woke up this morning to find the village tailor sitting on a stool outside my door. He has come to take my measurements for my traditional African outfit that I want to wear on the last day of school. Earlier in the week I paid 18,000 for my fabric and today I pay 15,000 to the tailor - so I am getting a made-to-measure outfit for less than a tenner. Bargainous! It should take about 3 days to make.

Moses and I walk together to the school and we are ushered into Robinah's office. We learn, tragically, the a boy from P5 drowned at the dam over the weekend. This is shocking news and the school is quite obviously shaken. Some of the teachers are going to visit the family this afternoon. I did not meet this boy personally but Shannah (the volunteer who left last week) used to teach P5 regularly so I feel sad for her. Moses is going to email her with the news later.

I busy myself quietly in the staffroom and leave the school to grieve. I am now finished organising the shelves and cupboards - I have taken everything out or down, cleaned it, and put it back in a more sensible and tidy order. All I need to do now is type up the library list and put them into levels of ability. Ann had previously set up baskets but the teachers have just put the books wherever they would fit and the system had gone out of the window. I am pretty sure mine will too, but one can hope. The system does seem to be working so far however as I discovered a few teaching aids that weren't being used - due to being 'forgotten' on top of a very tall cupboard and pushed to the back - and I brought them down and put them in a visible place. They have clearly been used and put back where they belong so I am happy that the teachers 'get it' so far. Moses told me that he had a chat with Emma (the science teacher) and asked "You see? Why can we not do this for ourselves? We really need people to give their time to show us this???". He says he will make sure that from now on the staffroom and cupboards are kept in order. Fingers crossed.

I experienced 'porridge' today at breaktime which is what the children have. Verdict = I think I'll pass next time. Without at least 4 tablespoons of sugar, I can't imagine it tasting like anything other than thick water. My mother would love it. Despite the distinct lack of taste, I am glad it is available to the children - at least it keeps their bellies full. At lunchtime, one of the boys who gave me a letter last week follows me home and asks me if his letter was "good or bad?". I don't know what to say. He then gives me two avacados, becomes shy when I thank him, and disappears down the path. I give the avacados to Florence when I reach the compound.

Today we have a starter at lunchtime - Jack fruit. I see the Owino children eating this often, ripping it apart with their bare hands, but ours is served washed and prepared. A Jack fruit is larger than a bowling ball with a green, bumpy skin. Inside, it is yellow and has pods which are about half the size of a banana. You strips the pods, eating the flesh and pulling out the large seed. It is very good - the first sweet thing I have eaten since I arrived. To me, it tastes a bit like cantelope melon crossed with apple and banana. It's quite hard to describe. Our 'main course' is green banana and groundnut sauce - I love groundnut sauce, although I could do without eating green banana for a while :-p

I arrive back at the school just before 2:00pm and begin work on the storeroom which is a room off Robinah's office. It is a complete mess and needs a lot of work. It is filthy and there are boxes and plastic bags piled everywhere in no order whatsoever. There are football shirts, outdoor games, stationery supplies - nothing is labelled and it is completely random. It can't be easy for the teachers to find what they need so I take everything out and begin cleaning.

School finishes at 3:30pm and today I am holding a 'reading circle' under the mango tree in the school grounds so I lock the storeroom, vowing to complete it tomorrow. I meet a group of children from P5 - 14 in total - and first I read the story to them so that they can follow the words on the pages and then I ask them each to read two pages to me. It takes just over half and hour and then we have a 'question and answer' session at the end. The children love it and ask me if I will do another one. It is arranged that I will hold a 'reading circle' on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. One of the children asks if I will also come on Saturday (the older children have morning lessons on Saturdays) and I say I will do what I can. Their eagerness to learn is just wonderful. If only children in the UK appreciated education as much.

Back at home, I have a quick shower (guarded dutifully by Winnie) and then teach the children how to play 'Squares'. We then play Eye Spy which has become a favourite with them. Danny is getting better at recognising colours so it is more fun for him to join in with us now. I watch Moses sweeping the whole compound (which is very large) with the handheld 'broom' made of sticks. It takes him a long time but what a difference. The place is spotless!

During our dinner of fish and chips (love it!), a mother and young child call at the house. The child is suffering from chicken pox and is very distressed. Moses gives the mother calamine lotion to take away. We are all very tired tonight - there is a storm coming and it is surprising how the weather can affect you so greatly here. The air pressure is thick and it is definitely time for bed by 9:30pm.

Day 9
I didn't really sleep last night due to the storm. Without tall buildings to absorb the noise, storms are frightenly loud here and sleeping under a tin roof doesn't help. I slept through my alarm and did not wake up until 7:30am when Moses came knocking on my door. Aagghh! This means I will be late for school today. On leaving my room, Moses's aunt comes to me and asks me via Charlie for a photograph. I pose, half asleep and then rush to have my shower and breakfast before racing up the path to the school.

On passing the sick bay which is located outside Robinah's office, I see a young girl is in the bed. Robinah explains that she is suffering from malaria. Poor thing does not look well at all. I wonder how she will get home?? I see the female janitor pouring flour into bowls to make the porridge later and I give her my banana which I saved from breakfast. She thanks me over and over in Lusoga and hurries off. Robinah smiles.

I spend the morning re-organising the storeroom. I want to get it done so I don't stop for morning break, much to the confusion of the staff, but I am on a mission. When I am finally done, I must say that even I am impressed. What was once a dingy dirty room piled from floor to ceiling with boxes and bags is now a clean and airy space with well labelled boxes and sections. I am stood back admiring my own hard work when Robinah comes in and says to me that she "has no words". I get a cuddle :-)

I leave the school 10 minutes before the lunch bell and take advantage of some 'alone time'. I walk slowly and take photographs of the various flowers at the side of the path. A young boy follows me, stopping each time I do, and watches me with interest. After I take a photo of a flower, he goes and inspects it, obviously wondering to himself "Why does the Muzungu take so much interest in this??".

After lunch, Moses and I head to Jinja to buy baskets for the school. We can't find any that are of good enough quality. Bah. We split up and I go for a drink and 'people watch'. I suddenly feel very lonely and wish I had someone to share this experience with. Sad times.

After drinking a cold soda (soda is warm at the compound as there is obviously no fridge), I try to find where I get my taxi van back to our village. I get ridiculously lost and a kind boda driver takes pity on me and walks me to where I need to be. I sit on the taxi van in half panic mode as I realise that I don't really know where to get off - I have not travelled back from Jinja on my own before. Just as my panic reaches fever pitch, Moses appears at the side of the taxi van and smiles. Phew!! This time, I make a mental note of where we get off and catch the bodas for the rest of the journey home so that I can confidently do it by myself if need be.

We pull up to the compound just as it is getting dark and .... are my eyes playing tricks on me in this light? ...... I think I see another Muzungu! The bodas stop just outside the main house and, sure enough, standing by the volunteer accommodation is a tall, blonde girl surrounded by the Owino children. She calls out to Moses and Moses says "Welcome back!". Ah-ha, she has been before. This is great news - I now have a Muzungu friend who can show me the ropes a bit better. I am introduced to her by an excited John. Winnie and Danny are clinging to both me and the other Muzungu girl, torn by their affections for us both. The girl smiles and introduces herself as Jitka (Jeet-ka). She is 27 and from the Czech Republic. I suddenly feel very relaxed. It was only today that I was feeling so very alone, and now I have a new friend. Woo-hoo!

I learn over dinner that Jitka had stayed with the Owino family for almost six weeks previously and has since been travelling in Kenya and Tanzania, solo. Brave woman! She is absolutely lovely and I immediately warm to her. Tomorrow we are going to go to Jinja together. She is going to show me some places to get Muzungu food (I shamefully must admit that this is music to my ears!) and she is going to help me find the baskets for the school. Jitka has been travelling by bus overland for two days to get here so we all have an early night.

Note to my lovely friends: Thank for you continuing to read my Blog and bearing with me when my updates are long. It is so hard to do this regularly (and the gaps between posts are frustrating for me too!) but I am doing my best. I will try to upload some photos over the weekend when I can spend a good day in Jinja and have time to deal with power cuts and internet connections going down. Stay tuned!!

Love from Neffy xxx

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Day 6 (continued)

Day 6 ... contined
So with Danny dressed in his best clothes, the three of us set off on the long walk to the main road. Danny walked with his back straight and his head held high. Normally he chats away to everyone and waves as we pass neighbours, but today he obviously felt very important because he ignored calls from his friends and just kept walking, looking up and Moses and I smiling. It was the cutest! At the main road, we jumped in a taxi van to Jinja and bumped along the dusty red dirt roads, trying to keep our clothes as wrinkle free as possible. Moses was in the front seat and Danny and I were squashed somewhere in the back of the van, Danny being on my lap. In Jinja, we went to the market to quickly buy some new clothes for Moses's mother and step-father, and also some supplies for Moses's eldest daughter who is living away. The mother and step-father are dependent on Moses, making a total of 12 immediate dependents for Moses.

After loading up on supplies - I bought 12 pairs of flip flops for the family for less than a fiver - we found a driver to take us to visit the daughter, Maureen. She is 14 and attends a different school and stays with Moses's "uncle". We arrive and wait by the car for Maureen to appear. When she finally does, she and Danny run to each other and she swings him around in her arms. Danny obviously adores Maureen, and I hear that the other children do as well. It is not hard to see why. She has the biggest smile and gorgeous shining eyes. I love her already. As with all the Owino children, her manners are immaculate and she enquires after my health and my family. We give her the new things that Moses has bought for her and she tells him off for buying her an art book instead of a graph book, as she had asked. Ha! Moses also gives her some cakes and pours her a glass of coca cola before we have to say goodbye. I'm sad we can't stay longer but we have the driver waiting for us and we have a long journey to visit grandmother.

Moses warns me in the car that his mother's village is "very rural". I can't imagine what it's going to be like as, for me, Moses's village is very rural!! I'm half excited, and half nervous. We continue to bump along the roads. Danny insists on standing up in the car, no matter how many times I try to tell him it's dangerous.

After a long and bumpy journey going up up up a mountain, we reach a clearing with some huts, the car stops and an elderly man jumps in. This turns out to be Moses's step-father, although I am not told this until further up the road after they have been chatting in local dialect (not Lusoga in these parts) for about 5 minutes. When we finally arrive at grandmother's home, it is indeed very rural. I have not seen anything resembling a shop or a 'main road' (by Ugandan standards) for a while now. We are high up a mountain and surrounded by overgrown jungle and straw/mud huts. It's beautiful. As we step out of the car, women come running to Moses 'shrilling' and cheering and generally making his arrival known loudly to the whole village. It is very exciting! A lady dressed in a jade green Gomez (the traditional dress) comes towards us and Moses tells me this is his mother. She has the face of a woman who has lived many lives ... and I wish I could sit and talk to her at length but she doesn't speak good English. The step-father however does, and he tells me all about his land and their way of life. He owns 4 acres which he tries his best to farm but they have no children to help in the fields so they are not successful. What a shame! To have 4 acres and yet only be able to use enough of it to feed yourself. If he could afford to pay some workers, they could farm the entire area and generate a good income.

We are seated in a straw hut which has a special table set up and on the wooden chairs, grandmother has placed lace covers. It all feels very royal! Lunch arrives and I'm not exaggarating when I say we are served a feast (you will see from the pics!) .... including bugs. Yes, I have now eaten bugs. These particular ones were 'white ants'. Moses offered them to me and said I didn't have to eat them if I didn't want to, but in a moment of bravery (or stupidity, not sure), I took a handful and crunched them down. And surprisingly, they were very nice. I'm being serious! Kind of .... nutty :) I had quite a few before my brain kicked back in and whispered to me "You do realise you're eating bugs, don't you?". I put the bowl down.

We had an amazing afternoon at grandmother's. The whole village came to visit, I'm sure. One by one, people would arrive to say hello to Moses and look at the Muzungu. The children looked at me through the poles holding up the straw hut and every time I looked at them, they would giggle and talk excitedly among themselves. I decided to take some photos of them which they loved - they became very competitive about who would be photographed next. If one posed for me by a particular structure, all the others wanted an identical photo taken too. Good job I brought 4 SD cards with me then!

Eventually, it was time to leave. The step-father changed into his new clothes and we all posed for various family photos. We then walked for about 10 minutes to a clearing where we were told a boda would come to collect us. After a further 30-40 minutes, two bodas came. I guess it's the same rule as buses in England - nothing for ages, then two come at once! Moses went on one boda, Danny and I on the other. It was a long ride back into Jinja over some decidedly dodgy roads but hey, it was an experience. And Danny wasn't fazed, so I reminded myself to get a grip. Ha!

Got back to the compound after dark and the welcome from the rest of the Owino family was amazing. They had clearly missed up and wanted to know all about our adventures. I showed them photos of Maureen and grandmother which caused great excitement - they haven't seen each other for at least three months now. I felt very homesick during dinner which I suppose is natural at this point, and after experiencing such a family orientated day. I wish my family could share this with me. I ended up crying into my fish, which caused much worry among the Owino family. I explained to Moses that I was simply missing my mother and my son. He then insisted that all the children gather round and share his plate of food so that we could all eat as a family which was just so touching. I do sincerely love the Owino family. I have become very close to them.

After dinner, I read a story to Winnie and was then read to by John. I then taught all the children how to play Eye Spy (using colours) which they loved. We played for over an hour!

Unfortunately, I did have quite a few unpleasant visits to the toilet this evening. Thank god for Immodium - it may save my life, ha ha. I think I will stay away from eating bugs from now on ..... !!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Catch Up: Day 2 - 6

When I manage to post photos, I will describe what you are seeing in them. That way you should get a real feel about what I'm talking about but for now I can only try my best to paint the picture ....

Day 2
Heavy rain all night. And when I say heavy, I mean I thought we would wake up in the middle of a new ocean. The rain falling on the tin roof kept me awake for most of the night so I was very bleary eyed. Still, when I first opened my eyes, all I could think of was "wow, I'm really here". The rooster outside had woken me so I checked my phone to see the time - just gone 5:30am. Damn that rooster. Tried desperately to get back to sleep but gave up and read my book. At about 6:45am, I heard the rest of the family moving around outside, busying themselves with preparing breakfast and calling out to each other so I decided to get up. Florence brought me a large bowl and a jug for my shower so I made my way to the shower area and had another 'squat wash' before making my way to the latrine. If the shower hadn't woken me up, the less than fresh smell from the latrine did the trick. Forgot to put Tiger Balm under my nose so just tried to breathe through my mouth. Juggling a packet of tissues and hand sanitizer whilst trying to rearrange my skirt and underwear was tricky and I was terrified that I would drop something down the hole. It was only when I went back outside that I realised the obvious - I can leave my hand sanitizer and packet of tissues outside at the washing station and just take in one tissue with me. Duh.

Breakfast was a hard boiled egg, the thick bread again (not so yellow today) and two small bananas. I told Moses this was too much but he just laughed and said "No no, you eat". I watched Moses dip his bread into his 'coffee' so I did the same. It is actually very nice this way.

Because of the rain overnight, the dirt in the compound had become a thick red sludge which stuck to your flip flops, gaining thickness as you walked (or rather slipped) from your room to the patio area where we eat. When I had made it half way across the compound, I literally couldn't go any further as my flip flops were by now so caked in mud that I could hardly lift my foot. Shannah (the other Muzungu) came to my rescue with my wellies.

After getting our bags together (we have to remember to take our tissues, hand sanitizer, spare plasters etc with us wherever we go), we started the walk to school. As has become the norm to me now, we were followed by about 8-10 children. The older ones speak very good English and they love chatting to us.

At the school, Shannah was marking some books so I set about sorting out the volunteer cupboard in the staffroom. It holds arts & crafts supplies, pencils, pens and various teaching aids. There were also quite a few dried up felt pens and glue that was more like cement so I disposed of those useless items. The rest of it was in quite a mess and of course that drove me nuts so I had to take everything out and rearrange it. Job done, Shannah and I went to P6 and I watched her take an English class. All of the children were very eager and hands were flying up all over the place every time Shannah asked a question or requested one of the children to come to front and help her. I was sat at the back observing and the regular teacher was sat next to me at a desk. Towards the end of the lesson, I glanced over at her and saw that she was taking advantage of Shannah's teaching ability and having a nap. Too funny! I managed to snap a photo, hehehe.

During morning break at 11:00am, Shannah and I share 'smokey tea' and samosas with the Headmistress, Robinah. This is a daily ritual which I have come to enjoy very much. The children and teachers have porridge. The teachers have two cups and they pour it from cup to cup until the thickness is to their preference.

At 12:50pm the lunch bell sounds and Shannah and I walk back to the compound from the school. Again we are followed by lots of children. They will not let us carry anything ourselves and insist on holding our bags and bottles of water. Lunch today is rice, cabbage and the biggest, ripest avacados I think I have ever tasted. Yum! Shannah and I eat together while the family eat elsewhere. I am not sure why this is the case.

At 1:45pm, we make our way back to the school and I sit in another of Shannah's English classes. Shannah reads a poem about the Mulu Tree which used to be found locally but has now disappeared as people chopped them all down for furniture. The children delight in first of all reading the poem and then - unprompted - teaching us about the tree. I really enjoyed this lesson. At the end, lots of children come to Shannah with letters which they literally stuff into her hands, one after the other. She explains to me that she has been getting these letters for a while now, sometimes three per day from the same child. We are interrupted by some children asking her to come to their class for a surprise so I forget to ask what the letters say.

The surprise is that the children want to sing and perform for Shannah as this is her last day before she goes back to Boston. It was a very sweet gesture and all the kids obviously loved being able to show off their abilities in this way. What a talented bunch of singers! We did not understand what they were saying as they were singing in Lusoga but it was beautiful all the same.

After this, Shannah and I headed in Jinja as she had a few loose ends to tie up. We walked from the school along the red dirt road to the main road, which is another red dirt road, to catch either a taxi (a 'taxi' is actually a van, exactly like a ZR in Barbados but maybe 10 years older and held together by rust). The walk takes about 15 minutes and the sun was still beating down. Sooooo hot.

In Jinja we found an internet cafe (internet cafe = small room with about 12 prehistoric computers and a suspect looking fridge for sodas). I just have time to log onto Facebook and tell everyone I have arrived safely when the internet cuts out. Shannah is still trying to print things so I leave her to it and go to buy some new sandals. I find a lady selling them across the street for 25,000 Ugandan Shillings but I haggle her down to 15,000 which is about 3 quid I think. Shannah and I meet up again and we go to see a tailor to collect a traditional African outfit that she has had made for her. It cost her 30,000 for the fabric and 30,000 for the tailor. Less than 15 quid for a brand new outfit, made to measure. Nice! After haggling a private taxi driver down from 25,000 to 12,000, we drove back to the compound. On the way, our driver decided to play 'chicken' with a taxi. Luckily, they both stopped before a head on collision and then we all just sat there whilst the two drivers stared each other down. We won in the end and the taxi van reversed and drove on the other side of the red dirt track, dodging massive potholes as he did so. For the rest of the journey, Shannah and I discussed jiggers and she told me that she had in fact had two of them during her stay. Aaaggghhh!!! Anyway, after a complete freak out on my part, she told me the way she managed to get them out of her toes and explained the after-care to me. Although I am going to be very very careful from now on, at least I feel well enough informed to deal with the situation if I find one. Back at the compound, I grabbed my head torch (it was now dark) and started to inspect each toe very carefully. Lydia saw me and asked if I wanted some red polish. I told her that I was looking for jiggers and she literally fell about laughing and said "no, not here! only in P5!" (meaning the children in that class). She then yelled to each family member to inform them of my concerns and one by one, they all fell about laughing. Yeah yeah, the Muzungu is paranoid about jiggers, ha ha.

After the family had been entertained by my toe-checking, we all sat down for a special leaving dinner for Shannah of chicken, sausage, noodles and chips. Seriously yummy. We moved from the patio into the family home and ate at the table in their living room, dimly lit by kerosene lantern. Moses then had another special treat as he announced that the children were setting up the generator (run by petrol) and we would watch a DVD. Coolness! About 20 minutes later, the generator burst into life and the tv screen flickered. We anxiously waited for the DVD to start ............. and it did, but it was not what I was expecting. It was in fact many music DVDs, all featuring some kind of social awareness message. There were songs about drinking, marriage, relationship break ups, drugs, promiscuity etc, all set to a funky beat and with some cool looking guy or girl rapping or singing to it. The music videos are made locally and although Shannah and I found them quite amusing (especially in one when, quite randomly as the song was about promiscuity, a picture of a cartoon cow flashed up on screen and stayed there for about 5 seconds), the kids loved them and were all up dancing.

At this point, I was still not sure of the eating routines for volunteers vs family as although it was a special dinner, only Moses ate with us. The rest of the family waited until about 9:30pm, even though they were eating the same meal as we'd had earlier.

The family here always shower before bed. Even though it is pitch black outside and not exactly warm anymore (not when you are drenched in cold rain water from the bucket anyway!), they all head to the shower at about 10:30-11:00pm. Me, I prefer to use my wet wipes and then shower in the morning when the sun is out.

Shannah is leaving at 3:00am so I won't see her again. I said goodbye and wished her a safe journey. I wonder what it will be like without her? Although we have only shared a day and a half, I will miss her company.

I have another late night visit to the latrines. I am getting used to the whole business now. Balance your pack of tissues (or baby wipes, depending on whether it is a 'short call' or 'long call' as they say here), balance your hand sanitizer, take one tissue (or wet wipe), shake the flap that covers the entrance to the latrine to shoo some of the flies .... then it is a case of squat, wipe, drop, done! I must say, I am quite impressed with my aim already, even though I do get a bit wobbly if I try to swat flies at the same time (which is sometimes necessary).

In bed by 9:45pm with my book ..... shattered.

Day 3
It was another very stormy night last night, this time with thunder so loud I thought the earth had been split clean in two. I woke up in quite a bit of pain as I had developed a blister on my heel the day before (which I thought nothing of) and it seems to have worsened considerably overnight. My heel is very sore and there is a dull ache. I apply some Germolene quickly. Experience tells me that I should leave it open to the air to heal but I try that and - quite disgustingly - I attract flies who zone in straight for my open wound. I am completely grossed out and rush back to my room for a plaster.

After breakfast, I head to the school with Moses and continue to sort through the staffroom. There are many books, in no particular order and in various cupboards. There are even boxes of books stored on top of cupboards out of reach so I ask Moses to get them down for me. I think the school needs a proper library set up as I have asked a few teachers now what system they use to select a book and they have all said there isn't one and they just take the first book they come to. I approach Moses and Robinah with this idea and they are very happy and tell me they would really appreciate that. I'm excited! I also bring up a chat that I'd just had with Emma (male science teacher - you find men over here with women's names quite often!) who told me that they only have one storage basket for each class (P1 - P7). I asked Emma about this because I saw him struggling to put his teaching books into the basket that he shared with all the other teachers of that Class Year. I thought it would be better to have one basket per teacher instead so rather than than having 7 baskets, they will have 19. Emma was very excited about this, as were Robinah and Moses when I mentioned it. Baskets are very cheap (they are only plastic baskets that we in the UK would use for laundry - but smaller) so I will pick them up in Jinja soon.

During morning break, some Muzungus came to the school to announce that they had raised enough money for the school to have a new kitchen built. Obviously this was cause for much celebration and it was great to hear! Unfortunately there was not enough money to provide for sinks to be installed to wash the porridge cups so I took this opportunity to tell Robinah about the money that my friends had donated from home (120 quid - if you're wondering why I'm writing quid all the time it's because there is no pound symbol and I can't be bothered to open Word and copy & paste it). Robinah and Moses were thrilled and explained that this would be more than enough for the sinks, with money left over. I was sooooo happy!!

Home for lunch. Winnie (Moses's 6 year old daughter) carried my bag and water bottle. About a dozen other children followed us but Winnie kept shooing them away. I think she wants me all to herself. Bless her. Lunch today was boiled green banana and ground nut sauce - it was actually really nice! Moses says that Florence will show me how to make it before I leave although the indgredients will not be exactly the same and I will have to use plantain instead of green bananas.

My foot by now was getting worse. It was very swollen - the heel and ankle - and quite red and sore to touch. The ache spread right from my foot to my knee. I was thinking "infection". My instinct told me to take the plaster off and leave it open, but obviously I can't so I apply more Germolene and a fresh plaster and, at this point, hope for the best.

Back to the school after lunch to sort through the bag of donated shoes, clothes and stationery. Some boys from P7 had come to the compound earlier and carried the bag for me to the school. Robinah and Moses set about the task of writing down each individual item into a book. This took quite a long time and I was getting more and more embarassed as they thanked me over and over for each thing. A female teacher came to collect the sanitary towels from me and was so grateful that there were tears in her eyes. She gave me a huge hug and told me that I have very good friends. Moses said that he wished all of my friends could come to Kyabirwa School to see for themselves the difference they had made. It really choked me up. The smaller sized clothes and shoes are going to be donated either to Danny's nursery school (Danny is Moses's 4 year old son and as cute as a button!) or to the babies in the community surrounding our compound. The donations left at the school will be given out later in the week.

We came back home just before 4:00pm. On the walk back, a girl called Janet gave me a letter. When I returned home and read it, I realised - with a heavy heart - that it was what I had been dreading. In broken English, and a tone of desperation, she was asking me to please be her friend, to come and meet her sick mother, and to sponsor her. I am sure that this is not the last of such letters I will be given. I had been so happy when I left the school after seeing how well the donations were received, but this brought me back down to earth for sure.

Back at the compound, I had a quick shower (it had been hot work sorting through the donations), cleaned my rotton foot and sat with the children of the family learning Lusoga. Danny started to sing a song and when he saw that I was getting my camera out, the other children joined in and soon it was a full on performance with them trying to outdo each other. I decided to film this instead of take pictures so I now have 3 videos of the gorgeous Owino children singing and dancing and laughing and generally showing you lot back home how they are 50% of the time. I can't wait to be able to upload the vids!

I say they are like this 50% of the time because the other 50% they are hard at work. And I don't mean catching up on their homework like our children back home. Hard work for children here means fetching water from the boar hole up the road, helping to prepare meals (which is a lengthy process in itself), doing laundry (backbreaking scrubbing with bare hands), cleaning the compound (sweeping etc), cleaning the cooking pots, moving the animals (goats, pigs, cows) back and forth to ensure even grazing, working the land with a hoe ... the list goes on but this is what I have seen in only 2 days. They make me feel very lazy! The older children are also in charge of watching what the younger children are doing, scolding them and making sure they have washed their hands before dinner and are showered before bed. Lydia, the eldest, is only 12 - that is a lot of responsibility. And not once have I seen the children complain or answer back which is just amazing to me. When I shower, Winnie fetches my water, puts it in the cubicle for me, and then waits around the corner - peeking - for when I am done and she then takes the bowl and jug back from me. I tell her she doesn't have to but she just looks at me like I'm crazy. Today, one of the calves got away and was running at some speed up the road. John and David (I think they are 8 and 11) took off after it which was just hilarious. In England, I'm sure there would have been obscenities and blind panic but everyone took it in their stride and laughed heartily as they tried to catch it.

This evening I learn that Moses has a kind of shop running from his home. The neighbours come for anything from phone credit to medicine. When I realised that Moses was handing out medicine, I asked him about it. He told me - proudly - that he had originally studied medicine before deciding that teaching was his calling in life. Excitedly, I showed him my manky foot and asked what I should do as I thought it was getting worse. He said he was "very worried" and had been thinking about it all day. He told me that he had somethings he could give me but that it was up to me. I thought about it for a minute - drive for 3 hours to the international hospital in Kampala at great expense and then have to claim on my insurance, or take whatever medicine my host was recommending. I opted for the latter and was given diclophenic for the swelling, something else for the pain, and a black paste to put on my foot for the infection. The black paste had to be applied from my toes half way up my calf. I looked a treat! And yes, I do have photos.

Tonight, the pigs are tethered near the latrines which makes for interesting background noise whilst you are going about your business in the dark.

Day 4
A baby was born in the village last night! I woke up to shouts from the neighbours for Florence and Agnes to come quickly. They spent the whole night there helping with the labour. They must be exhausted this morning but still they manage to prepare breakfast. There are 11 of us to feed at the compound - me and the rest of the family - so it is not a quick job!

Breakfast is the same every day: 'smokey coffee', a hard boiled eggs, two slices of the thick bread, two bananas and some sort of muffin or other baked dough. I told Moses this morning that, although I am not speaking for other volunteers, this is too much for me. He thinks that is funny but said he has taken my request for a smaller breakfast on board.

At school today, I continued to sort through the books. I am writing down each title and the author, counting the number of copies and then stacking them back in the cupboard. When my list is complete, I will spend some time on a computer in Jinja, type the list into Word and alphabetise it. It's a long process, but one worth doing. Reading has always been a big love of mine and to see a school without a properly functioning library seems crazy to me. Especially when it is so obvious to me already that the children here love to read!

I have also been given the task of sorting out the storeroom that is situated within Robinah's office. After a quick look, it seems to me that anything from pencils to sports equipment can be stored in her but, again, in no particular order. Robinah said "please please" could I use my PA skills and organise it for her. Naturally, I'm more than happy to do this.

I sat in on P1 today - the youngest children at the school and the class which Winnie is in. Because they hold children back if they fail the year, the age of the children in each class can vary massively. In P1, there are small 5 year olds sat side by side with children nearer the age of 8. This is the same in each Class Year. In P7, there are 12 year olds alongside 18 year olds. Winnie was so happy to have me in her class and made sure everyone knew that I was staying at her house. One of the things I have noticed here is that the children and women kneel before elders as a sign of respect. And today, Winnie did this to me when I entered her classroom. I nearly fell over with shock. It does not feel at all comfortable to have a child do this but I do understand that it is their culture so at the same time I was moved by it.

Some more Muzungus came to the school today, just to have a look around. I didn't warm to this bunch as they arrived noisily, with the women wearing very short shorts and strappy tops and just stomped around like the place was a zoo and then left. No wonder us Muzungus get a bad name over here sometimes. I was watching this from the window in the staffroom and one of the teachers, Madame Deborah, joined me and said "You are not like them, you are like an African woman" and she gestured to my clothing, my covered hair ... and then my heart. Awwww!

I came home at lunchtime and had red beans and rice. I was singing the Spearhead song of the same name in my head throughout the meal, hehehe. And just like the song, "I could eat a bowl twice" .... it was really yummy. Moses is marking some mock exam papers for P7. They have their final exams on the 2nd November and the new school year starts in January. P7 will go onto Senior School then so these exams are very important. Moses hopes that 3/4 of the class will go on and not be held back again. I had a chat with some of the children about what they want to do when they leave school. Winnie wants to be a laywer, Janet wants to be an English teacher, and Issac doesn't know but he likes Maths and Science. Maybe a doctor then, like his Uncle Moses? He shrugged and walked away. Issac is very shy around me (and Shannah said he was the same with her) but I hope to break him before I leave.

Off topic but I have written it in my diary at this point so I will add it: My bottom is very sore from sitting on the hard benches at the compound and at the school. Must remember to fold my blanket and use that as a cushion in the evenings when I am sitting at the patio with the family.

Today is the hottest day so far. I have no idea of the temperature as obviously we have no weather channel or morning news programme to watch but I can tell that it is hotter than yesterday. And there is no breeze which makes it quite unbearable. I feel like my skin is going to cook and peel right off. Winnie and Danny (who only attend school in the mornings) have changed out of their uniforms and have put on some of the donated clothes that I offered to the family. Danny made a beeline for a tshirt that says "My dad is Mr Strong" and he is wandering around the compound, all proud like a peacock. Winnie asks me to take a photo of her wearing her new shoes and then Danny gets in on the action too. I can't change my clothes despite the fact I am drenched in sweat as I don't have enough changes with me. So I dump some water on my head and double up on the Factor 50.

Moses and I spend some time talking about Ugandan life and get onto the topics of marriages and deaths.

Death - Moses says that the bodies are kept within the community. There are no gravesites in churchyards, rather the body is buried right in the family compound. At this point, he directs my gaze towards a mound of rocks near the kitchen and tells me that it is his father's grave. Next to that, his sister. Next to that, his grandmother. And so on. I ask what will happen when there is no more room. He shrugs and says "That is a problem".

Marriage - Moses asks me why there are so many divorces in the USA and England and I can't really answer him. He tells me that divorce is very rare here in Africa. A marriage will take place when a man pays a dowery to the women's family. This will be an agreed amount of animals. Moses paid a dowery of 9 goats and 7 cows for Florence. Once these animals have been accepted, the woman moves to her husband's compound. They are now officially married. Some people have ceremonies and have photographs but usually just the local community come and share food with the new couple. Moses "got" Florence because he needed someone to look after his mother when he went away to college. She was from his tribe and he had people spying on her for a few months and reporting back to him as to whether she was a good woman and a hard worker before he approached her father. He said he does love her though and it was not just for convenience. Interestingly, it is only a woman who can divorce a man. To do this, all that is required is for her to say "I am sick of you, I am leaving" and then she must leave the compound and return to her family. Then they are divorced. Simple! I wonder how many couples in England could consider themselves divorced many times over if that was the case for us!?? If a woman leaves however, the husband can ask for his dowery to be repaid to him and he also gets to keep the children. No question. That is just the way it is done. I asked him if there was a problem with people stealing goats and cows to pay for or re-pay a dowery. He says this does happen but if the person is caught, they are beaten to death. He didn't bat an eyelid when saying this. Yikes.

After lunch, Moses and I head to Bujagali with Winnie. Moses has some things to do and I personally need a break from my work at the school. It is about a 20 minute walk in the boiling hot sun to Bujagali. When we arrive, I buy mango smoothies for myself and Winnie and we sit in a cafe overlooking the falls. Moses goes to use a computer that belongs to a friend. Winnie and I have fun reading the menus and writing the words that she knows. Outside we meet a lady who runs a shop (well, a hut with clothes in it) called Fatima. She says to me the same thing as Madame Deborah - that I am not like other Muzungus and she is pleased with the way I am dressed. She tells me that foreign women who wear shorts etc when visiting Uganda are called "bitch women" when their backs are turned. At this point, I am very glad that I only brought conservative clothing with me.

When Moses has completed his business, it is dark. We can't walk back home now as it is a long way and Winnie is tired. So Moses opts for a boda boda. Now, I have never in my life ridden a motorcycle, let alone one that has been modified with an extra large seat and bumps along dirt roads in Africa at like 70 miles an hour. But it's either that or stay in Bujagali on my own until sunrise. So, like a brave Muzungu Woman With The African Heart, I jump on. Winnie is in front of the driver, practically sitting on the handlebars. Moses is behind the driver, and I am behind Moses. Remember, this is a motorcycle!! Off we go, bumping through the dark, the wind whipping my skirt threatening my modesty despite the length, plants and thorns hit our arms and legs as we go, faster faster faster .... I am hanging on for dear life with my eyes shut. Miraculously we arrive home in one piece and Winnie hops off, unfazed. Me, I'm practically jelly. Anyway, that is over and done with and I'm sure next time will be much less frightening. I'm sticking to using bodas in the daytime however.

Dinner tonight is pasta and pork cubes. Winnie and I read a book called Mouse Tales, and then John and I read Gulu-Gulu Goes to School. I spend the evening chatting with Moses. What an intelligent man. And such a big heart. I am in awe of him and his family. Beautiful people in the truest sense.

My foot is still swollen but the pain and redness has gone. Whatever that black paste was, it seems to have done the job!

Day 5
Another long hot day at the school. Today we handed out the donated clothes and shoes to the children in P1. I took photos and the children all looked so proud in their new wears. Very cute! I have now nearly finished finding and listing all the books. It has been hard work, and at times frustrating, but I know the end result will be rewarding.

I had a tough experience at the school today which really affected me. When you arrive at the school from the compound, you walk up the side of the classrooms and, passing each one, you can see in through the barred windows. On passing the first classroom this morning, I heard a child screeching and then whimpering. When I got to the second set of windows the look into the front of the classroom, I saw the teacher beating the child with a cane. Now, I know that this also went on in the UK - even in our generation briefly, and even still today at some boarding schools so I am told - but seeing it and hearing this poor child's pain really hurt me. I went to the staffroom and was numb for a while. I got myself together to get on with my work but it stayed with me all morning.

On the way home at lunchtime, I was given three letters by separate children (all under the age of about 8), and a second letter from Janet this time sounding more desperate, all pleading with me to come with them to their homes, that their parents are sick or are dead, and that they want me to help them and be their friend. It got to me. I cracked. Back at the compound I locked myself away in my room and had a good hearty cry. I was missing my family, wishing I had my friends to talk to, and could not get the child's cries out of my head, or Janet's sad face. I had to ask myself "Is my character strong enough for this?" and the answer I gave myself was "This is what you are trying to find out, isn't it?". So I shook it off, spritzed water on my face and joined the family at the table for lunch.

I must say, I have never been so filthy in my life. At lunch, I realised that despite washing my hands repeatedly, my fingernails are red from the dirt. It just gets everywhere. Even in your knickers!! I wash daily, thoroughly, but I always feel smelly. I have resorted to using the talc my mother wisely sent me off with. Perfume would be a no-no here as it is too hot and would make me feel sick but the White Musk talc is a god send. However, I do need to brave the task of laundry soon. It looks like very hard work!

This afternoon I went to Bujagali on my own. Moses called for a boda to come and collect me from the compound but the driver wanted to charge me higher when he saw I was a Muzungu. Moses argued with the man, loudly, and told me to get off the boda. Further argument ensued before Moses and the man came to an agreement. Moses explained to me that I was a member of the family and the driver should treat me as such. So the regular price of 1,000 was what I should pay. It was a tense ride to Bujagali. Once there, I snuch into a campsite to take advantage of their free internet but I was eventually caught by the Australians that run it and told off. Bah! I got the same boda man to give me a ride back, again refusing to pay anything more than 1,000 (about 30p).

This evening, I had tickle fights with the children which was fun. They are so playful and always climbing all over me, fighting for my attention. I taught them all "This Little Piggy" on their toes and they loved it. We played this for about an hour non-stop. The children ate with me this evening which was nice as I normally have my evening meal alone. I am not sure why this is, still. I have asked Moses but he just laughs it off. I gave the children half of my food this evening so that it would not feel like I was eating alone. Since it is Friday night, I treated myself to a Nile beer. Moses keeps a stock of them at his house and sells them to volunteers for 2,000 each. About 60p for a beer, hell yeah! Every evening I read to Winnie, and then John reads to me. It is a lovely way to end the evening.

My eyes are getting used to the dark now. When I first arrived at the compound and the sun went down, I honestly thought batteries for my head torch were of the highest importance. But now, I remember where certain holes are between my room and the family patio and I can distinguish between shadows - whether it is a shadow from the structure of the house, or whether it is in fact a mound of earth or some other raised area. Go me!

My foot is now well on the way to healing. Now that it is not weeping and attracting flies (sorry!!), I can leave the plaster off tomorrow. I think that will do it the world of good. Although the swelling has gone down, the wound is still not closing up and that's what we need to work on now. Germolene has become my best friend.

Day 6
The SheWee does not work. Let's just say that, after a 3.30am messy attempt, it is now in the bin. Nuff said.

I woke up to be greeted by Danny in another new set of clothes from the donations. Moses came to me and said "Can you see how you and your friends have changed my children's lives?". Heart ... melt. Danny is busy dancing - the battery operated radio is being played this morning and there is upbeat calypso style music flooding the compound. What a great way to start Saturday!

Today we are going to see Moses's mother who lives on the other side of the river past Jinja. Danny has decided that he is coming with us and has changed again into his best clothes for the visit. He is very excited and this rubs off on me. Moses says he has not taken volunteers to his family home before so I feel honoured. I can't wait.

Visit to Grandmother to be continued ........

Friday, 23 October 2009

Hello from Uganda!

Hello everyone! I made it to Uganda. Woohoo! It has been such a roller coaster so far and I'm afraid this Blog post will come nowhere near to doing justice to my experiences but I have to be quick for the following reasons: 1) the internet is bound to cut out in about 10 mins like it usually does; 2) internet here is painfully slow to use, 3) I have snuck into a campsite to use their internet.- rebel Neffy - and 4) I have to get home before dark as I forgot my headtorch!

So quickly then -

First of all let me say I am never, never, flying with British Airways again. Useless, unhelpful and don't know what they're doing half the time quite frankly. Was given a totally unnecessary run-around at the airport trying to pay for my bags etc, and then had the flight from hell (as I expected with BA - I've never had good service from them). Ugh. Hate them, hate them.

Arrived in Entebbe, Uganda at about 7:15am on Monday morning. I had been up all night on the plane and was losing energy fast but as I stepped out onto the tarmac, I knew an amazing adventure had begun. After standing in line for 40 minutes to get a visa, I came through to the other side and immediately saw Moses with a big smile on his face holding a sign saying "Kyabirwa Primary School Welcomes You". Yay! We walked out to the taxi and were on our way. I wanted to stay awake for the three hour drive and there was so much to take that I managed it quite easily. My first real "you're in Uganda now" experience was when we drove through Kampala - I have never smelt anything like it. The stench of rotting rubbish and toilets was quite overwhelming, especially in the heat. I honestly can't explain it but it is the first time in my life when I honestly wished I didn't have a nose. Passing through, someone yelled "Muzungu!!" which means "white person" and Moses chuckled and said to me "Welcome to Uganda". I had already known that I would be called Muzungu so I was expecting it - felt quite a home now that I had received the official 'call out', haha. The noise was also quite a shock - it was a constant stream of beeping horns, whistles, squeaking bicycles and people shouting. It was pure chaos but everyone seemed to somehow know how not to hit another car/get run over. It was 9:25am the next time I looked at my watch and I was HOT. I asked Moses if we could stop for some water and we found somewhere that also exchanged money. I took in my American dollars and ended up with 2,000,000,000 (yes, 2 million) Ugandan Shillings. I am officially a millionaire - well I was until I paid for my accommodation with Moses anyway. Felt totally weird to be handed so much money.

We continued on our way and at about 10:45am Moses decided he needed to feed me. I wasn't hungry really, and I was still fighting to stay awake, but we stopped at a roadside where there were about 6 women selling bananas. They all rushed to the car with their baskets, showing us identical bananas and thrusting their arms through the car windows. I'm not sure how Moses managed to choose the bananas he wanted because, to my untrained Muzungu eye, they were all the same ... but he did and the lady went away happy while the others looked less pleased. Further down the road, we stopped again and this time men approached the car with chicken legs on sticks and what looked like more bananas. Again, these were thrust through the car windows into our faces. What they were trying to do was tempt us I'm sure, but they only succeeded in making me feel ill with the waft of chicken mixed with sweaty hands and the stench from the rubbish at the side of the road. Then, to my horror, Moses paid for a few and handed me one. What to do? What to do? I hated to be impolite and offend him so after tentatively asking him if it was okay to eat, I took a bite. I cannot say I enjoyed my salty stick-chicken as the whole time I was eating it I was thinking "Oh man, I am gonna get soooo sick". Moses then handed me the 'banana' but I guess it was plantain as it was grilled. It was nice. Unfortunately, when I had finished, Moses handed me another. And another. And another. I really thought he would never stop! Thankfully, he fell asleep in the front seat and forgot about me and my belly for a while.

Eventually we arrived at the compound. It was beautiful - I had seen photographs of it but nothing could have prepared me for what it was really like. Florence (Moses's wife) came rushing to the car to greet us and she knelt down on the ground in front of Moses and the taxi driver. My room consists of a single bed with mozzie net, a side table, a mirror (!!), a wooden chair, and a bookcase. I also have some hangers on the wall where I can hang my clothes but I have actually used the bookcase. I was jetlagged when I unpacked and now they have just somehow ended up staying there. After taking my things to my room, we moved to the patio outside the main house where - oh my goodness - Florence served us with more food! This time it was two slices of thick bread (kind of yellow) and a hard boiled egg. We also had 'coffee' BUT this is not coffee like you or I know it - it is a smoky milk (because all the cooking is done in a smoke filled hut outside) and then you sprinkle machine filter coffee in the top. I am not sure who taught them how to do this but the end result is not coffee - it is smoky milk but bits of ground coffee floating in it which then get stuck in your teeth, haha.

After eating, Moses asked if I was tired or if I would like to see Kyabirwa school (prounounced cha-beer-wa with a rolled R). I figured I would stick two fingers up at jetlag and push on. So off we went. It is less than a 10 minute walk to the school up a red dirt road with lush vegetation on either side. Everyone who passed us said "Jambo" (hello) and "Oliotwa" (how are you? pronounced 'oli-o-tia'). You then reply "Bulunji" (I'm fine) and then you ask the person if they are 'fine' too. I picked this up very quickly. At the school, I was introduced to Robinah the headmistress and met class P6. There are 7 primary classes at the school in total.

After a very brief tour of the school (I was lagging), we went back to the house for lunch. I had been dreading 'posho' but actually it was very nice. So we had our posho (best described as tasteless stodge) and red beans, and even some fresh mango juice. I met the other volunteer, Shanna (from Boston), but she leaves on Wednesday. I took advantage of meeting another Muzungu to ask where the latrines were and how best to go about using them. She showed me round to the back of the compound where there was a mud hut divided into two parts - one side for the family, one side for volunteers. Our side has a flap at the front to protect our 'modesty'. Inside, there is literally a hole - just as I thought - but very clean. I have taken some pictures in case you are wondering. Shanna says not to use the latrine at night because there are bats which fly up out of the hole. Yikes! I will be given a bucket by the family to use I am told.

My next experience was to use the 'shower'. This consists of an area behind the main house with four cubicles - two with doors, two without. The first one without a door is where you brush your teeth. So I was given a large red bowl and a blue jug and shown how to fasten the tin door shut using a nail at the top. I balanced my toiletries on top of the cubicle wall and then - in a most unladylike fashion - I squat down and began to pull the water over me with cupped hands. Then I stood up to soap myself, and then back to a squat to rinse. I was laughing at myself, yes. Finally I washed my hair which was just like washing it in a sink really but, again, squatting.

I felt so much more awake after I had my shower so I then decided to hand out some gifts I had brought to the family. They were all very thankful and I got lots of cuddles which made me feel at home. The Owino children are Danny (4), Winnie (6), David, John and Lydia. I can't remember whether Lydia is 12 or 14 but most children here look much younger than they actually are so imagine a 10 year old. Danny who is 4 looks at least a year younger. The kids are all gorgeous and soooo lovely. I miss my boy so much after getting cuddles from them - I wish he was here to experience this.

So next, the children helped me unpack my bags as I had left my door open, foolishly, and turned around to see them all in my room rooting through my knickers, ha!. They soon discovered some of the chalk I had brought for the school so we went outside to the step that surrounds the volunteer accommodation and started drawing. They loved to try and copy anything which I drew so we drew some elephants and pigs and snails - that is about the extent of my art capabilities. I then had a quick but useful Lusoga lesson (the local dialect) from a local boy- Jacob - who had dropped by, no doubt to see the Muzungu. There are also two other boys who live at the compound and they are Charlie (a teenage relative of Moses) and Issac (the son of Moses's sister, Agnes, who also lives here at the compound).

The most surreal part of my first day was being served a fish & chip supper. The chips are really only boiled potato fried for 'not quite long enough' in some oil. But they looked like chips and didn't taste bad at all so I gobbled them down gladly.

I finally fell into bed at 8:30pm and after checking in with my mom & boy back home, fell fast asleep.

Now, it is going to get dark in about 30 minutes and I really need to find a 'boda boda' (motorcycle taxi) to take me back to the house. I'm sorry I have only got to tell you about Day 1 (when nothing actually happened) but I will try and get back on the internet on Monday, if not Sunday. Sorry also for the lack of photos but that is impossible where I am at the moment. I will try next week in Jinja.

I have SO MUCH to tell all of you - the deathly slow internet and lack of local facilities is so frustrating!!! I promise to spend a day in Jinja next week updating you in full AND posting pics :)

Love from Neffy the Muzungu! xxx

Saturday, 17 October 2009

The final packing list

This time tomorrow I will be loading my bags onto a coach bound for Heathrow Airport. Eeeep! I have spent the last two days in a packing frenzy, carefully making lists of what need to do/take and crossing things off as I go. Easier said than done when you are planning a trip like this and have borderline OCD when it comes to lists and planning! I have found myself drifting off to sleep each night and then remembering some vital piece of equipment, having to fumble for the light, then a pen, and scribble down said item so that I can find it the next morning. I've even set alarms on my mobile phone to go off at various points throughout the day to remind me that, by that point, I should have completed "x, y & z". All this has proved useful for however is sending me into a crazed panic when the alarm goes and I realise that, no, I have not yet completed whatever task it is reminding me about. My phone is mocking me.

There are a few more things I need to do - buy flight socks, change my money into $$, organise my cameras and various chargers, get my son to update my iPod for me (I'm still hopeless with technology - thank goodness for offspring), give my mom a list of contact details in Uganda etc. But apart from that, I think I am packed and ready to relax. Had a most enjoyable dinner with my boss last night who wished me all the best and said he supports me 125%, especially with the Nepal trip as he went there a couple of years ago and fell in love with it. I tried to convince him that he and his wife should join me in January - he told me not to mention that to his wife because she absolutely would. So Kathryn, if you're reading this, start twisting his arm!

Special last minute "thank you" must go to the students on the Saltash campus of Cornwall College. Their tutor, Norma, came to my house this week to deliver the clothes, shoes, colouring books and bedding that the students have been collecting. I was bowled over by their efforts. They had managed to collect no less than six bin bags worth! Wow! They also collected money and went and bought chalks and pens etc with it - too many to count but it was loads and I am so grateful! I spent a frantic evening going through the bags and, although I couldn't take it all due to space/weight limits, I have managed to pack the shoes and the bedding. The clothes that were donated will definitely be given to the local community in Nepal in January so Thank You!!! Norma asked me if I would come and meet the students and chat to you about my trip when I return and I would love to. So I will see you guys in December! :-)

This morning, my son has gone to collect his new Yamaha motorbike, having passed his CBT test yesterday. I'm very proud of him of course, but at the same time, I do wish he wasn't entering the world of biking right before I leave the country for six weeks. I know he'll be fine - he's very sensible - but it still makes me quite nervous. It's not natural as a mother to feel 'okay' about their child sitting on top of a mass of metal attached to a very loud (and hot) engine. As is the same for all mothers I'm sure, my child is still about 5 in my head!

Later this afternoon, my sister is coming over with my cutie-pie nieces, and my mom is going to cook us all a roast beef dinner. I wanted lamb but following my sister's pregnancies, she can't even bear the smell of lamb (despite it being her favourite when we were growing up). Grrrrrr. Nevermind though, because for the grand finale, mom is making homemade rice pudding which is my favourite 'comfort' dessert. Good times!!

"So then, what is Neffy actually taking to Uganda?" I'm glad you asked! Here is my list:

1 x mosquito net
1 x sleeping bag and liner
1 x travel pillow/eye mask/ear plugs
1 x 'day bag' backpack
1 x wind up torch
1 x head torch
1 x ceramic cup (a pressie from my mom)
1 x She Wee
2 x pairs of shoes
1 x pair of flip flops
1 x wellies
6 x tops
4 x skirts
1 x pair of trousers
1 x pyjamas
6 x knickers
2 x sports bras
1 x wellie socks
6 x PVC gloves
2 x books
1 x money belt
2 x digital cameras (1 for photos, 1 for video)
1 x iPod
2 x small notebooks (1 for writing, 1 for drawing)
1 x pen
1 x small photo album (to remind me of the people I love)
1 x cot toy (another pressie from my mom - don't ask!)
1 x 'silky' (my comforter - I always sleep with it)
1 x water flask
2 x bandanas (1 green/brown, 1 pink/white)
1 x cowboy hat (yee-haw!)
4 x safety pins
1 x gaffa tape
1 x hooded sweatshirt (for cooler evenings)
3 x paper fans
1 x playing cards
1 x small towel

As for toiletries and medicines:

Malaria pills
Contraception
Germolene
Hayfever tablets
Insect repellent ("Jungle Formula")
Tiger Balm (for putting under my nose in the latrines)
Sudafed nasal spray
Eye drops
Immodium (lots of)
Cystopurin
Ibruprofen
Lemsip Flu Plus
Zinc
Multi-vitamins
Immune support tablets
Emergency first aid kit (with syringes & all sorts of other goodies)
140 wet wipes
Factor 50 suncream
Tweezers/scissors/nail file
Shampoo/conditioner
Travel wash (for body and clothes)
Toothpaste
Body cream
Soap
Face toner
Cotton wool
Tissues
1 x mascara (just in case I need to feel 'pretty')

I'm also taking a few gifts for the family I am staying with so that has taken up a bit of room in my bag. It literally just all fits. There is no room for anything else - not even a pencil! I don't think I've done too badly considering I know nothing about 'backpacking travel' or packing lightly, ha ha. I'm still getting over the fact that there is no make up (apart from mascara), no hair straightners, perfumes & potions, high heeled shoes etc. This is certainly an experience for me ...

Well guys, I am going to do a last minute check of all my stuff, clean the house, and enjoy the afternoon with my family. Next time you hear from me, I will be in Uganda! Excitement!!!

Friday, 16 October 2009

Woof woof!

When I'm not responding to emails or packing, or fretting about responding to emails or what to pack, you will probably find me in my back garden enjoying a sneaky ciggie or two. No lectures thank you very much, I do know it's bad for me.

Anyway, quite often when I am having some 'quiet time' and admiring my mom's various plants (which she keeps trying to teach me the names of but I hold firm in my resistence), I am joined by my canine neighbour, Charlotte ("Charlie"). She is a sweet Jack Russell who lives next door with her owner - who she kindly lets play 'proprietor' of the shop beneath their home. Charlie loves to have a nose at what I'm up to and warns me when imposter cats are trying to get into our garden. When she's not at the back of our row of houses keeping watch, you can find her outside the front of the store greeting customers and soaking up the sunshine. She is a familiar face around these streets and everyone adores her. In fact, when my mom and I first came to view the house before we moved in, Charlie was the first to welcome us! I snapped this pic of her peeping over the roof at us when we first moved in:
Last night, Charlie and I were chatting away as we do - her owner was around somewhere ... pretending to run Charlie's shop again probably - and I was updating her all on my African adventure. I had just finished packing up all the donations (for about the tenth time!) and was expressing my frustration at having to pay out £70.00 to British Airways to take these bits over for the school. Don't get me wrong - I don't begrudge doing this at all. But I do begrude BA for being so tight with their charity policy! Seriously, never flying with them again. I've said that before and now I remember why.

So I was chatting away to Charlie, and Charlie was listening intently, and then - out of the blue - she offered to donate the full £70.00 I need to transport the shoes to Africa! I swear I'm not making this up, she really did! :-) I cannot express properly how much this gesture meant to me, nor the warm feeling that flooded me at that moment. I know I run the risk of sounding quite 'hippy' by saying this but ... there is so much goodness and love in this world, and I have seen it in action in its purest form these past few weeks. Charlie is never going to go to Africa to visit this school; she will not be able to see with her own eyes the children's smiles when they are given their shoes; she won't sit in a classroom and witness for herself how the school supplies are being used and see how eager those children are to learn. I don't suppose any of my generous donors will have this opportunity, much less my canine neighbour. Strangers helping strangers - with nothing to gain in return - that is beautiful!

So, from the bottom of my heart which is now absolutely fit to burst, thank you Charlie. That is a huge weight lifted off me and I am very very touched by this. I know that when I am presented with an opportunity to pull a rabbit out of a hat for a friend, I will reflect on your kindness and "pay it forward".

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

I'm gonna need a bigger bag - Part II

I finally managed to get myself a large holdall bag from Argos. Hoorah! I rushed home, painstakingly put elastic bands around each pair of shoes to squash them down a bit (thank you Tim!), and then proceeded to pack and re-pack no less than five times, using a variety of methods. Amidst uttering a few unrepeatable words, some frustrated tears and a lot of sweat, I eventually had to concede that the bag is just a little bit too small. Total pain in the backside as I now have to waste precious time taking it back to the store to exchange it. I really wanted to have all my donations packed up by now as - apart from the charity shop smell taking over - I still haven't done a trial pack of my own personal belongings and, considering the drama that will bring (i.e. forcing myself to pack my 'no one cares what you look like' clothes and ignoring all my fancy-pants shoes), it is likely to be time consuming and traumatic - cue large gin & tonic. Am I feeling the pressure now? Yes, slightly. I now only have three full days to complete all of my "to do" lists. Therefore, at this point, please don't call me unless you are phoning to say you are on your round to help (e.g. pour the gin & tonic ...).

On a less stressful note, I have now booked my January flight to Nepal, returning the first week of February. Yay! So on the 4th January, I will set off from Heathrow for a 12 hour journey (via Delhi) to Kathmandu. After spending one night with a host family, I then travel 6 hours by bus to Chitwan, and then roughly 2 hours by motorcycle to the actual project. This sounds quite daunting, but I'm up for it! After I'm settled with my Chitwan host family, my days will (loosely) go like this:

- 6:00am Up and showered
- 7:00am Feed and water the elephants
- 7:30am Clean up their poop. Nice.
- 8:00am Volunteers get breakfast
- 9:00am Take the elephants to the river for their bath (sweeeet!)
- 11:00am Elephants go into the jungle for the day with tourists
Volunteers can go to village and work with local community if not 'driving' jungle tour.
- 16:00pm Take elephants to river for evening bath
- 17:00pm Feed and water the elephants
- 18:00pm Clean up their poop (again) and put them to bed
- 19:00pm Volunteers eat dinner and have free time

I have also been told that there will be the opportunity to work with women in the local community to see for myself how they provide themselves with a living by making paper out of elephant dung and basket weaving. I hope that I have time to make my own basket. That would be very cool. There is also an orphanage in the village where I hope to spend some of my time as well.

I was told by Rupa that it will be cold because it is January and that I should bring "heavy wool clothes". I tentatively asked her how cold it would actually be (suddenly remembering photos of snow peaked mountains in Nepal), and she told me "between 22 and 25 degrees". I had to giggle and explain that, coming from England, that is nowhere near what we would consider cold. She giggled back and told me that in that case, I should probably bring "one heavy wool cloth top" just for the mornings before the sun comes out. Which reminded me: I read a funny account the other day of a Nepalese man who had come to England and, one sunny day in February, he opened his front door dressed in shorts and a t-shirt whereupon he practically froze on the spot. Seeing the postman laughing at him, he asked why it was not warm. In his opinion, the sun was out, so it should be warm right? After a confusing conversation with the postman, the man - still scratching his head - concluded that "in England, the sun must only used as a torch in the winter". Brilliant.

Right, that's enough chat for one day - back to fretting and packing ...

Monday, 12 October 2009

My house smells like feet

Well folks, less than a week to go now. Aaggghhh!! This time next week I will have arrived in Jinja and hopefully will have met some of the beautiful children whose photographs I have seen on the school's website. I am also very much looking forward to meeting Moses and his family, whom I have exchanged many emails with now. They have been so friendly and welcoming already, I know that I will feel at home there.

The school has changed their website from .com to .org so if you have bookmarked the page, please could you amend your 'favourites' accordingly. The Kyabirwa Primary School website can now be visited at http://volunteerugandaschool.org/default.aspx

This week is going to be crazy busy for me so forgive me if I sound harassed if you phone me. I still have so much to do and I must admit that the last few days have been a complete write off as I have been enjoying time with my family and friends. Obviously I want to find time to relax and see a few more of you before I head off so the beginning of my week is going to be completely dedicated to working through my packing list, collating all the documents I will need, and ensuring I am prepared for my new role as a third world volunteer. I'm taking my role seriously and am not using this experience to just "dip in and have a look". I really hope to learn as much as I can about the school and surrounding community, identify specific needs, and make some sort of impact in the long run. Well, that's my idealist view of it all from the comfort of my living room. I'm certainly going to give it my best shot anyway!

First thing on my "to do" list is pack up all the shoes ready for transporting. With over 60 pairs of secondhand shoes laying around, my house is beginning to take on a rather unpleasant 'charity shop' odour. Pooo-eeee!

Before I get too busy, I really wanted a chance to say thank you to the following people:

- My mom, for making this all possible and for being supportive of my dream despite being terrified for my safety. My mom means the world to me and I hope I can do her proud.

- My son, for his research into 'jiggers' and other such hazards I am likely to encounter. Part of me thinks he just wants to freak me out, but deep down I know he's doing it because he cares about his mummy ;-)

- Poodie, for your incredible friendship over the past 3 decades and for encouraging me to reach higher. Always.

- Lubee, for constantly reminding me that life is beautiful, inviting me for yummy meals and being the 'queen of cocktails'.

- Carly F, for organising "Team Neffy", emailing random strangers, collating donations (and being attacked by dogs), driving to Plymouth at weekends to make deliveries, and making a killer cheesecake. You rock.

- Jessie Girl, for sticking by me and my crazy ideas and never batting an eyelid. A true friend.

- Ann, Vanda, Ellie, Kate B, Vicky L, Nikki C, Jen T, Suzy, Charlie, Jude, Yvonne, Jenny L. You know what for ladies ... Thank You Sooooooo Much!!

And thank you also to everyone else who has sent me messages of support. It's heartwarming to know you're rooting for me, and I'm sure that knowledge will keep me comforted at night whilst I'm away. I've been moved to tears by some of your cards and you have proved to me that a) I am surrounded by good people, and b) all is not lost and we really can make the world a better place.

Unfortunately, I do have to say at this point ** Please Stop Sending Shoes Now ** Ugh, I really hate having to type that as I know how in need the school and community in Jinja are but, as you know, I am carrying all of this stuff myself and have to keep in mind weight restrictions. Remember though, I am going to be attending a second volunteer project in January so, if you do have things that you didn't get round to sending, just hang onto them for now please. They will still be put to a good cause.

And so finally, here are the donations put together. It's amazing to see how much you've collected in the space of a few weeks ...

(click the pic for larger view)

There are now: 60+ pairs of shoes, 300 pieces of chalk, 105 crayons, 150 pencils, 115 coloured pencils, 25 felt tip pens, 4 permanent markers, 150 sanitary towels, 37 items of boy's clothing, 29 items of girl's clothing, 2 sets of bedding, 2 Rounders sets, 2 skipping ropes & 1 frisbee

The school will also be receiving a cash donation of over £100.00 to put to use however they see fit. Again, this is thanks to my friends and even complete strangers who have felt compelled to make a contribution. You are amazing, lovely people and I have been touched by your generosity!! Signing off for now and I'm not sure I will have a chance for another detailed Blog post before I set off but I do hope you will all keep up-to-date with my trip whilst I'm out there. Individual emails might prove difficult to respond to, depending on the internet connection, but I will try.
So then ... I guess I'll see you all in December! Bye for now!

Sunday, 11 October 2009

One week to go!

Yesterday I had a very nice surprise! Some girlfriends of mine arrived laden down with balloons, cookies, wine and cheesecake. We had a lovely day sitting in the sunshine, being entertained by my nieces, before heading indoors to indulge in some cringeworthy - but "fun at the time" - karaoke. It was such a fun day and I felt very loved indeed. Especially when one of my friends revealed her "Team Neffy" t-shirt. Brilliant!

But, alas, that's it for fun and games now. I only have one week to complete my seemingly neverending "to do" list, which includes buying my son a six week supply of his favourite noodles so that he has options when my mom tries to make him eat 'proper food' (proper food + teenagers = tantrums). One thing I no longer have to worry about however is a hat since my lovely mom read my mind and bought the exact one I had been lusting over in a shop only days before. Yay! What do you think?

Neffy "The Intrepid"

Friday, 9 October 2009

I'm gonna need a bigger bag

Donations have been arriving in the post, and I know that a few packages are still on their way to me. Thank youuuu! I know it won't have been cheap to send these bags/boxes of shoes etc and I really appreciate it. Although ... I am beginning to worry about how I'm going to carry all this stuff! Ha! Don't fret, where there's a will, there's a way! ;-)

Here are this week's fantastic donations (& a few of the supplies that I have bought):

12 x pairs of shoes, 106 x sanitary towels, 75 x pencils, 96 x crayons, 100 x pieces of chalk, 2 x skipping ropes, 2 x Rounders sets, 1 x frisbee, 1 x blowing bubbles

Also definitely worth mentioning at this point is that PayPal donations have now reached £105.00. Yup, one hundred and five pounds! Considering most people have donated a few quid each, that's pretty darned impressive. I have even had donations from someone's mom and a complete stranger who heard about the cause through word of mouth. How lovely is that?? This whole experience is already showing me so much GOODNESS in human nature, and I haven't even left yet! Along with the donations come wonderful messages of support and it is incredibly heartwarming to know that you're all behind me on this. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I wish you could all come with me!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Wee wee wee, all the way home

Today I bought a 'SheWee'. Sorry if that's 'too much information' but I'm very excited about this fantastic little invention! Ladies, you can check it out for yourselves here: http://www.shewee.com/


And here is Jeremy Clarkson looking slightly bemused by this handy little gadget. I can only imagine his comments >>


Personally, I am now waaaaay more relaxed about the 'toilet situation' whilst in Uganda. No matter how uninviting the location might be, I can now go about my business with ease! Hoorah!

Monday, 5 October 2009

Are you crazy?


This time in two weeks I will have landed where the X is on the map above. Cool.

People have asked me "Aren't you scared?", "Why Uganda, are you crazy?" and the most frequent comment being "Watch out for Aids!".

In response, yes I'm scared. But it's just a fear of the unknown and going by myself I think. I'm definitely more excited than scared though. I am a quite fearful of malaria or accidentally consuming something, water or food, that might see me bedridden for a week. I am also feeling anxious about how the experience will affect me in the long run. After all, I am not going as a tourist. I am going to be living in a third world community for six long, hot weeks. And I'm sure in that time, I am likely to see things that will go against my western upbringing. I have heard stories of child beatings in schools (although I am assured this does not go on at the school I am visiting) and of course I will see seriously malnurished families and people suffering from illnesses that in the UK would be treated with a common prescription but can be fatal in the third world. My heart is going to either become very strong, or break into tiny pieces. I was reading someone else's Blog yesterday and they were talking about how unbelievable it is that they could easily pick up a mobile phone signal on the longest, most isolated dirt track in Africa, yet children are still dying from hunger and dehydration. We have tamed technology (as far as we can for now) and jump for joy at the release of the latest iPhone, yet serious humanitarian issues are left unattended, unfunded. Sickening.

So why Uganda? After days spent searching endlessly on the internet (and some serious headaches), I finally came across the fantastic family-run website Ecoteer which I have mentioned previously. They list tons of independent volunteering opportunities and, for a small membership fee of £20, you can view all the contact information for each project. Then it is up to you - the volunteer - to contact the project and make the necessary arrangments. For me, my experience surpassed my expectations of this website because, as you know, there were problems with my original Ugandan placement and Ecoteer contacted me to warn me. They also put me in touch with one of their more experienced volunteers - the lovely Ann - who pointed me in the direction of the school I will now be involved with. That's a great personal service for just £20!!

Anyway, I digress. Why Uganda? Honestly, my first choice would have been Sudan. I am horrified that even in this day and age, carefree tribal children, uneducated about the nature of the western world, are being kidnapped from their villages (after their families are horrifically murdered in front of their innocent eyes) and then sold on to rich Sudanese families. One young girl - Mende Nazer - tells her story in a book, simply titled "Slave", and she was even 'lent' by her 'owners' in Sudan to a Sudanese Diplomat and his family ... right here in the UK. When was this you ask? She was sent here to the UK 'on loan' in 2000. If you would like to know more about Mende, you can find a short version of events here >> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mende_Nazer

So yes, Sudan had my heart a long time ago and I really wanted to get out there. But, I don't have a death wish and Sudan is not the safest of places at the moment. It's certainly not somewhere I would ever consider travelling on my own. I have a son at home to think about and I would never put myself in danger. So taking this into account, I redirected my focus on where was safe in Africa. And Uganda - despite the horrific history and scary reputation - is quite high on the safe list. You should have seen my mom's face when I told her I was flying into Entebbe though, ha! Try it on your parents. The borders, okay they are not safe at all. But I am not going anywhere near the border with Sudan or other 'hot spots'.

Some of my friends seem to think I'm going to get Aids. I'm not sure how. I am not planning to share blood or other bodily fluids with anyone. Having spent the majority of my childhood in the 80's, I am well educated on the subject. I have no less than 8 clean syringes in my first aid pack and there is also an international hospital in Kampala should the worst happen. In the western world, are we really still that afraid and uneducated about Aids that, if you hear someone is going to Africa, that's your first concern? I honestly don't know how to respond to this. It stumps me everytime that someone says it to me. I'm more scared about catching ringworm from one of the kids in all honesty. Or malaria. Or rabies!! From what I last read, you can't catch Aids from playing football or reading to kids.