I wake up feeling sick. Not because I am poorly but because I know I have to tell Moses that I no longer want to attend the school. The project is so important to him and I know he will take it personally but I cannot tolerate the beatings, I cannot tolerate the children going without food with no prior warning and I am becoming less tolerant of certain attitudes around me. It seems that a lot of people here contradict themselves (not naming names) and putting together all the information I have overheard and/or been told direct in the past 3 weeks, I feel that things just aren't adding up. Remembering how uncomfortable Robinah looked when I was challenging her about the above points, I feel that these complaints are not new to her at all. And in fact, I now know for sure that other volunteers have complained about the beatings and have even stepped in previously. I have also learned in the past 24 hours that:
- One child was beaten so severely at the school that they lost conciousness.
- That Mr James, the doddery old English teacher who blatantly hates teaching and sometimes just does not turn up to class, often beats the children around the head with a large stick.
- That there are at least 4 teachers who have been named to me who beat the children daily.
On the website for Kyabirwa's volunteer project it states something along the lines that 'corporal punishment is used sparingly'. What I have seen is 1) not corporal punishment, and 2) not used sparingly.
My blood boiling, I go to breakfast and eat in silence. Eventually Moses says he is "moving to the school" and that he will see Jess and I there. I shake my head and say "Sorry Moses, you will not see me". He looks at me, cocking his head to one side and grinning, but then registers that I am serious. He says it's okay and that I can stay with Lydia if I would like. I thank him.
With Moses and Jess gone, I ask Lydia what she has planned this morning. She tells me that she will be mopping the house, the porch and the volunteer block. Then she has to fetch lunch and go to the garden to collect beans. I tell her I will help her. She laughs. I say "No really" and she shrugs, giggling to herself. We mop, we scrub, we get bruised knees ... but we laugh and we talk. We end up finishing the work in half the time so I suggest that we also clean the walls outside as they are very muddy. It is a fun morning, if not hot and tiring, but I am glad that I have helped Lydia. Once we are finished with the house, we wander along the paths, through various crops to a neighbour about 10 minutes. Lydia wants to buy cucumber for lunch. She has not been asked to do this but she remembers how much I like fresh veggies and she wants to cheer me up. As we sit waiting for the man to come back with our freshly picked cucumbers, I invite her to come swimming with Jess and I at Nile Resort at the weekend. Lydia is so excited and her smile reaches from ear to ear. She says that two volunteers once took Winnie and John swimming in the river, but she did not go and she has also never been to a swimming pool. We agree to go on Saturday.
On the way back to the house, we pass the Owino 'garden' (or field as it would be better known in the UK) and Florence asks us to take some beans back to the house. There are loads and we carry them on our heads. Lydia (age 12, remember - and built like a pencil) has no problem. Me? I have to ask Charlie and Uboo to help. How pathetic. They are all laughing at me so I join in and pretend to be more useless than I am (no really - I was pretending at this point). We get back to the compound and dump the bean bundles on the ground. They are quickly spread out, using our hands and feet, and then we wade through them, checking meticulously for 'wet' bean pods. Any that are dried out will be re-planted for the next harvet. The wet ones will be cooked later. This takes aaaaages but it is fun work. Again, Lydia sit and chat and sing. I start noticing dry beans that have fallen from their pods and are on the floor. I ask Lydia if I can have some as they are so pretty - each bean is a mix of swirly reds and pinks. Lydia tells me I can so I pocket about 30 beans. When we are finished and have handed the pods to Florence for the next part, Lydia and I sit at the table on the porch and I arrange my beans into a necklace saying that, like Jitka, I want to make a necklace from them when I get back home. Lydia disappears and when she returns, she has some necklace string and a clasp. Hoorah! We both set to work, threading the beans onto the string and supergluing a nice centrepiece for the necklace. After about an hour, we have the finished product and I am so proud of myself. It's the first thing I have made since I was a child and now I will always have this fantastic reminder of such a beautiful day on the back of one that had been so bad. I am truly happy again.
Tomorrow I am going to go to Jinja and buy a mop and 'squeezy' bucket for the Owino family. They mop daily (or at least Lydia does) and it is such a big job. She (and I) were on our hands and knees the whole morning, wringing out a torn up shirt in dirty water and then sliding it around the floor, just spreading the mud endlessly. They take so much pride in trying to keep their home clean, I know a mop will help ease the workload. I am also going to buy Lydia a swimming costume for Saturday.
Moses and Jess return from the school at lunchtime and, after filling our tummies with chapati filled with omelette, tomato, raw cabbage and avocado (rolled up and called, bizarrely, a 'Rolex') we had to the main road to catch a ride to Jinja. We have to wait quite a while at the junction and we watch some local children rolling and playing in some coffee beans which are drying. They are very cute and when they realise that I am taking photos, they edge closer and closer. Unfortunately, just as their confidence is increasing enough for them to come over, a boda pulls up and offers us a ride for 2,000 in total. For Muzungus to get this price for the journey to Jinja is amazing so we jump at the chance, leaving Moses at the roadside (he doesn't mind, don't worry!).
We don't spend long in Jinja today, just enough time to update my Blog and buy some pineapples. We see the sky growing heavy with rain clouds and we know that we must try to get home as fast as possible. We race to a taxi van and sit anxiously, urging it to leave. These vans will not leave until they are over capacity so we need another 5 people to come. We wait and wait. The sky is getting darker and darker. Jess turns to me and says "We're not going to make it". I curse - again - the African rain.
About 5 minutes into our journey, sure enough the heavens open and the flood begins. The taxi van is crawling at a snail's pace which means it must be bad as they usually race at deathly speeds, no matter the weather conditions. There is a very steep hill just before you get to Buwenda village (before Bujagali) and the van struggles to get up, having to stop, slide down, and try again. I wonder if we will be walking from here but eventually the driver manages to get us to the top. When we get off at Kyabirwa, the rain is so heavy that it is impossible to walk down our road so we take shelter in a neighbour's porch until the rain stops. This could take hours and we know it. A defeated mood descends over our group. Moses leaves us for a bit as he wants to enquire up the road about some maize flour and when he does, the gentelmen sharing the porch with us talk about Muzungus loudly and laugh a lot. When we look at them, they laugh harder. It makes for an uncomfortable wait. Moses returns as the rain stops and we can finally begin the loooong muddy walk home. We take off our shoes - I try to remind myself that it's just like a mud massage but no, I'm far too grumpy at this point and I b*tch and whinge (in my head) all the way home.
Arriving at the compound, I wash my own feet for once. I am too upset about the rest of the things I have seen the local children being subjected to so I cannot let Winnie wash me this evening. As a result of over-vigorous, moody washing, I realise I have lost my toe ring, either in the water or in the mud. It is dark now so there is no point looking for it. I know it is gone for good as it will rain more this evening and become buried. Sad times. We have dinner of pork, chips and - ta da! - butternut squash. I bought this from a local man a few days earlier and had asked Florence to prepare it. She had wanted me to show her how but we were late back so she decided to guess. It is cooked perfectly and tastes so buttery in our mouths. Jess and I take a spoonful each and insist that the rest is shared between the family. Moses knows that when I say stuff like this I'm serious so he longer argues with me and instructs the children to take it back to the kitchen.
Moses and I have a chat outside about the beatings saga and he repeatedly tells me that this will not happen anymore. I know, however, that this has been promised to volunteers in the past and that they will just wait until we are not there. That is not good enough by me. Jess says that we have to accept that it's just part of African culture but I don't buy that. We have to take a stand in these matters and protect children. If we are to turn a blind eye and say "Oh, it's just their culture" then should we be saying the same about enforced child marriages? Or what about female circumcision??? Where do we draw the line? For Jess, child beatings may not be such an alarming thing, but for me, I cannot turn a blind eye. I am also still reeling that the money I brought from my friends was mis-spent on instruments as an "oversight" (to quote Robinah). I ask Moses about receipts and who Robinah is accountable to but he cannot provide me with an acceptable answer.
I am exhausted, wet, cold and tired. I have all in all however had a pretty great day and I know I made the right decision not to attend the school. I love the Owino family and I love spending time with the children. They are a wonderful family and I have become very protective of them. For me, this is what my time here in Uganda has become about. I will leave Kyabirwa Primary School and their bigger issues to other volunteers who have more time to sort out the mess that they seem to be in. Organisation (or maybe a re-organisation) and keeping tabs on where the money is going seem to be the two blindingly obvious issues ......