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


  1. Another great update. I'm glad you've got a new friend to share the experiences with. Astie says hello! Louisa xx

  2. I'm thinking of you every day, reading your blog posts as they are posted, and everyday feeling more proud of you. i love you and wish there was a way i could call you. is there?

  3. What your dong is amazing! So very proud of you Steph. Carry on the fantastic work, were all behind you.....enjoy your Muzunga food, you've earned it.

    Love KellyB xxxx

  4. It really is a different world out there, isn't it? I cannot tell you how much I am enjoying reading your blog-I really feel part of your experience and as though I am getting to know Moses and his family through you. I just want to reach out and squeeze them (and you) in a tight hug.

    Keep safe (and glad to hear you have a new friend!)

    Kate xx

  5. Poodie - I have a cell number here in Uganda. I will text you later so that you have it. Sometimes text messages get lost - going both ways - so if you don't get it by tomorrow, let me know.
    Thanks everyone for your ongoing support, it makes me feel much less alone out here :-) xxx