Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Days 10 - 14

Day 10

Jitka and I have our morning showers and then head to the school. Jitka wants to say hello to everyone and let them know she is back for the week. Everyone is very happy to see her. She is setting up a sponsorship programme for 14 of the most needy children so there is lots of excitement now she is back. We're going to take photos of the sponsor children tomorrow.

Mid morning, we walk up to the 'main road' to get a taxi van to Jinja. About 100 yards from the main road, our path becomes straight and you can see to the end. If at this point you see a taxi van go sailing past, you raise your hand high in the air and hope they see you. If they do, they will wait for you at the top of the road. An English persons natural reaction upon seeing transport stop for you is to run and not make them wait very long. The African response however is to note that the taxi van has stopped and continue to saunter up the road at your own leisurely pace. I still can't believe the taxis wait - it can take another 2 minutes or so to finish walking up the road once you have flagged it down.

In Jinja, I once again head to the market and try to find baskets for the school. Still all I can find are the Kenyan ones that Moses doesn't want as they are 'poor quality'. I have a feeling it's going to be these or nothing though. I don't buy them today however as I want to run it past Moses again. It is very hot today and Jinja is extremely dusty. Jitka and I happen upon a Muzungu style deli and sit down for lasagne, fresh Thai salad (which looks suspiciously British - lettace, tomatoes, cucumber.....) and humous. It is surprising how damn good it is after so much posho and matoke (green banana). I have never loved salad so much in my life! After eating, we go inside to find the toilets and find that they not only flush but there is also a sink with running water and soap. I feel as though I have died and gone to heaven and I wash my hands no less than 5 times, in awe of each soapy sud that forms on my fingers. We then head to an internet cafe to try and charge our cameras and phones but there is no power in Jinja so we give up and decide to head home, opting for a boda ride instead of a taxi van due to the heat. Sometimes riding a boda is the only way to cool off here in Uganda.

We arrive at the school at 3:00pm with half an hour to spare before our 'reading circles' begin. Jitka has decided to do one today as well which is great as it means that40 kids can enjoy a book with us instead of my usual 20. With our spare half an hour, we chat to Robinah and she shows us photographs on her camera of an 'introduction' she went to a few weeks ago. An 'introduction' is a ceremony a bit like an engagement party, but it is also the time for the families to agree to the marriage and receive the dowery. The photos are beautiful with all the women dressed in their finest Gomez dresses. The gifts we see in the photographs are huge bags of salt, industrial sized boxes of matches, fruits, furniture and of course animals. It looks like an exciting day.

Just before we are due to start reading, the rain comes - big, African raindrops that can form puddles in a matter of seconds. So, instead of under the mango tree, we take over two empty classrooms and read very loudly so the kids can hear us over the rain crashing onto the tin roof. The lesson goes well despite the rain and the kids, as usual, have a ton of questions about what this word or that word means. I love how eager they are to learn! Our reading circles finish at just before 5:00pm and we head back to the compound, slipping and sliding down the path in the rain.

We have a very chilled out evening, just chatting outside on the porch by lamplight and sharing a few beers. Did I mention Moses runs a shop from home, as well as his pharmacy? He sure is a 'Jack of all trades'. He sells beer and soda for 2,000 each (about 60p). It was an idea a previous volunteer gave him and personally I think it's the best one yet, ha! Jitka and I read with John and Winnie - I am so impressed with how they are coming on. John struggles with 'was' and 'saw' and also remembering how to pronounce 'all' but today he has no problems with any of these words. Fab! Eary to bed tonight - exhausted from our trip to Jinja.

Day 11

Everyone heads to the school this morning but I have to go to Bujagali first thing. I need to charge my camera as I am taking a class photo of P7 today - it is their final day at school before their exams. Exciting! I leave the compound with Danny as his nursery is quite near to Bujagali so I'm going to check it out on the way. When we arrive, I am greeted by Madam Anna who leads me over to the children who are sitting in the grass in a circle. I realise that they are playing a game from my own childhood - 'Duck Duck Goose'. I gather they were probably taught it by some American volunteers at some point as it isn't an English game. I wish I could stay and play with them but I will have to come back another day. Time is of the essence today.

In Bujagali, I go to the cafe where I know they will let me charge my camera. I do all my greetings in Lusoga and feel very pleased with myself :-) There are some other Muzungus in the cafe (from the north of England I gather) but they don't acknowledge me even after I say good morning. Charming.

I rush back to the school for 11:00am and quickly paint a sign for the kids to hold in the photo, simply saying 'Kyabirwa P/S 2009'. We will write the Class number (P7) on a piece of slate. It is all very last minute and Jitka asks three of the P7 girls to come and help me paint. It's a shame they are perfectionists though and the painting takes twice as long. Literally with seconds to spare, we finish the sign and rush out onto the school field. Trying to organise P7 and have them all looking at the camera at the same time is a nightmare but luckily Jitka and I have loud voices and a - today - a lack of patience. After barking at them a few times, they all stand still and smile so I can get the photo I need.

After a lunch of sweet potato and groundnut sauce, Jitka and I head into Jinja and I update my Blog. It is such a pain in the butt to do this but I'm determined to record my experiences. We get a taxi van from Jinja back to our main road and walk the path from there. It is getting dark and, again, we have forgotten our head torches so we rush. On the way, I tell Jitka about my Shewee and we have a good laugh at my misfortune.

Back at the compound, Florence is making posho for the family so I sit in the kitchen with her and offer to help. All the kids are most amused by me stirring the big pot and demand to take photos. After they have taken a photo of the silly Muzungu trying to cook posho, they all want photos taken as well. We are all in fits and when I get back to the main house, Moses says it sounds like we are having a party in the kitchen without him. I tell him that I am learning to become a good African wife and he says that is good, that he is looking for a second wife, and that he will send me home with some goats for my mother. Ha ha!!!

As we are sitting around chatting, the tailor arrives with my new skirt and blouse. It's a little bit more 'traditional' than I wanted and I fear I'm going to look a bit of a t*t but the family insist I put it on and, when I do, they all coo and ahhh and say it is perfect. I look in the mirror and I know my African family are being very kind. I do in fact look like a t*t. Ah well.

I discuss the food situation with Moses tonight. I tell him that, personally, I feel that I am being fed too much and please halve my portions. Not all volunteers are greedy Muzungus and I explain that what might be just enough for some, might be waaaaay too much for others. He understands. I also tell him - with much embarassment in my voice - that I really can't face any more posho for the time being. I know some of you at home will be thinking "How ungrateful" but please remember that I have paid upfront for these meals so I am not taking advantage - and if you had spent 2 weeks living on posho, green bananas, rice and sweet potato, you would be crying out for something else too. I explain as politely as possible that African food consists of a lot of carbs and it is making me sluggish and bloated. I need to have some fresh things in my diet and I say that, if need be, I am happy to fend for myself at lunchtime and buy salad etc in Bujagali. He says this is not necessary and that he will talk to Florence. I feel terrible all the same. We discuss how different his life would be with power at the compound - he could keep a fridge, even a freezer. They could build a further structure and show live football etc from there (these kinds of roadside 'video clubs' are very popular here) and this would earn the Owinos an extra income. He tells me that it would cost about 2,000 English squids to connect from the main road. Such a small amount could create such a difference. I am determined to try and raise this money somehow. Shaving my head or sitting in a tub of beans for a week is out but all other (sensible) suggestions welcome! :-)

We have another very early night tonight - in bed by 9:30pm. It is hard to stay up late after these long hot days and when the nights are so long and so dark. You just naturally feel sleepy. Zzzzzz.

Day 12

This morning Moses announces to me as soon as he sees me that lunch today will be chapati, cabbage, tomatoes and egg. I am so happy I could cry!

Lydia and some of her P7 friends are waiting for me to take photos of them with their 'success' cards (good luck cards for their exams). Today they are heading to the examination centre to learn about the exam process and see where they will be sitting. It is a big day for them and their uniforms are spit-spot.

I have developed a habit of sharing my breakfast with Winnie and Danny each day. One of them will get my small banana, the other will have half of my large muffin. I swop who gets what each day and they are always chuffed to bits, especially Danny who has such a long walk to his nursery on his tiny 4 year old legs.

Moses tells Jitka and I this morning that we might get to go to an introduction on Saturday. Much excitement!!!

At school today I finally finish sorting the library into ability order. I asked each English teacher to come and check the order of the books and make sure that I had put them in the correct classes and everything has now been agreed. Yay! Just need to type up the book list now. Jitka is interviewing the sponsor children today and I am taking photos of them as when she requires me to do so. They are all very sweet (two from each Class year) and I hope they all find good sponsors soon.

Before lunch, we sit in class with Mr Johnson who is teaching Social Studies. It's a fun class and although Mr Johnson has perfect control over the 70 odd kids, he has a great balance of being the strict 'no bullsh*t' teacher and the fun guy that all the kids want to be friends with. A boy walks into the classroom late from using the latrine and Mr Johnson stops him saying "Is this your home Sir?". The boy goes back outside and Mr Johnson explains to the rest of the class that you must knock before you enter a latrine and you must knock before you enter his class. He then tells the boy he can come back in but the boy doesn't hear. Mr Johnson yells to him "You have done your 'business', now come in so that I can do mine!". The whole class decends into laughter. During his lesson, he sees some kids dozing off. He asks them "Who is hungry?". They all raise their hands. He says he has some great news for them and then announces that, after this lesson, it is lunchtime. The kids giggle at their teacher's 'great news'. Mr Johnson says "See, you can all concentrate now that I have given you this great news, eh?". More laughter.

There is an 11 year old in this class called Martha. She is sponsored by a foreign girl and you can see the difference. She looks very healthy, has a good uniform and is very very keen to learn. She is so tiny though, having soared through the primary classes and never been held back, so she is a tiny girl in a sea of teenagers. I take some pics as it is quite funny to see. She is in P6 and next year when she goes up to P7 (which I have no doubt she will), I know there is a 20 year old who will be in her class. I am not really fazed by the age gaps anymore and I'm sure the kids aren't either.

I come at lunchtime and gobble down my chapati and salad. Sooooo good! Jitka and I then change into our African outfits and head to the school to say a final farewell to P7. They have returned from the examination centre to receive their end of year certificates. Upon arriving, Robinah tells us that she would like us to hand out the certificates to the kids. What an honour. Lydia receives one, as does Vincent (Ann's sponsor child). They are both very proud.

There is a crazy storm tonight - the wind is blowing an absolute gale and there are no buildings to absorb it so you are literally being blown sideways. The rain is the heaviest I have known and we now have a river running through our compound. I video the action. Dinner conversation tonight consists of trade vs aid, homosexuality and Native Ameican Indians. Bed early due to the storm.

Day 13

Happy Halloween!

We woke up this morning to serious mud. Whilst I am in the shower, I am thinking "Why bother getting clean??" but I persevere. The mud is so heavy that, on my way from the shower block to my room, my flip flops break. Great. We have to travel into Jinja today so getting to the main road should be a laugh. Upon catching my reflection in my room, I realise that my fashion sense has become a joke but rather than freak out and change, I think "At least I have a full set of clothes and shoes on my feet".

When Jitka and I finally make it to the main road and catch a taxi van to Jinja, I decide that today I will try to upload photos to my Blog. It takes 2 hours to upload 5 photos. What a palava!! Jitka and I split up and after a bit of browsing through the market, I try to get a boda home. Today they want to charge me 5,000 which is so overpriced that I can hardly believe my ears. I tell them 'no' and they suggest 4,000 instead. I am not paying this when I know I can get it for 3,000 tops. I head to the taxi park and jump on a taxi van instead. When I get back to Kyabirwa, the taxi man tries to charge me 2,000 when it is normally 1,000. I thrust a 1,000 bill into his hand and walk off. He yells after me, obviously swearing in Lusoga. I am embarassed as he has a full van of people and I have no idea what he is saying. But I continue walking. On the road home, lots of children chase me saying "Give me my money" which would sound quite threatening if it wasn't for the fact they are aged about six. They don't mean to say it so rudely - it's just a result of their broken English. I softly softly try to explain I don't have any money, or sweeties, or pens but they continue with their demands. It is getting to me today. All this money business. I feel fed up. Just as I feel my eyes stinging with tears, I hear "Extend Muzungu!" which means 'move out of the way' and I look behind me and see Jitka and Moses on the back of a boda coming down the road. I yell to them as they pass that I am having a rough day and they stop the boda and get off to walk with me. I tell them about the overpriced bodas, the mean taxi van driver, and the begging children. Jitka then points out that I have an American flag on my bag today (I have used a different bag) and it vow not to use this bag out in public again. Bah.

Back at home, we are told we have been invited to an introduction at a neighbour's house. We quickly dress in our African outfits and set off with Moses. He is being an 'official' at the ceremony so he will liaise between the families and ultimately deliver the verdict on whether the couple are to be married or not. We arrive and there is music and everyone is wearing their finest clothes. There is a buzz in the air from the women but we are seated with the men in a very dark room. No one talks. It is all very serious. The women are then ushered into a separate room, separated from us by an arch. A curtain is put up and down at regular intervals so sometimes we can see the women, sometimes not. The ceremony is all in Lusoga so we are not really sure what is going on but it seems that each woman must introduce themselves to the men in our room individually. Then the men of the bride's family do the same. This goes on for about an hour. Then we break for soda and biscuits. The women come around with a bowl and wash our hands before leaving us to our refreshments. Once this is complete, the aunt who lives at this compound brings the bride to us and they walk slowly around the table at which we are seated before identifying the groom. The bride and the aunt kneel before him - the bride and groom never making eye contact - and the aunt pins a flower on the groom. There is a lot of cheering and more discussion before the bride and aunt leave again. Next, the dowery is brought in by the men from the groom's family. We see a large bag of salt, some sugar, a massive box of matches, some curtains and a pregnant goat. It's quite bizarre, especially when the goat is brought into the house, inspected, and then led back outside. Moses then stands up and has discussions with the men in turn. Each man then stands up and I guess explains why he thinks the groom is good enough for the bride. Once this is complete, everyone stands up in turn - including us - and says their name and where they are from. Finally, Moses stands up and gives a long speech which is met with a lot of trilling and whooping from the men and women. He tells us afterwards that this was when he delivered his verdict and gave them the date of the wedding. A feast follows but for the men and us two Muzungus only. The food is great - chicken, beef, rice, posho (which I avoid) and chapatis. Yummy.

It has been raining hard throughout the ceremony and on our walk home, Jitka and I have to take off our shoes. The rain does eventually stop but there is nothing left to do. It is literally impossible to walk in our shoes. I have to hold onto Moses as I am slipping and sliding in the mud so much. He is laughing at me and telling me I am no good as an African wife yet. We reach the compound eventually and Winnie insists on washing my feet for me. It's actually lovely and I sit back and enjoy her thorough inspection for jiggers and gentle massage. She's such a sweetie. After a dinner of millet bread (kind of like raw dough but grey and tastes like mud), fish and potatoes, we are given presents by the children. Jitka is leaving tomorrow so Charlie has made her a doll using banana leaves. I am super impressed! As I am checking it over and wondering how they made it, Lydia brings me one also (made by her). My doll comes complete with a broom as I am forever sweeping my room, refusing to let the children do it for me. I am touched. We pose for photos with our dolls and stay up talking until - shock horror - 11:30pm!!

Day 14
This morning we are going to a Catholic church in Bujagali with Vincent. He comes to the compound and collects us at 8:00am. Winnie and Danny decide to come with us. The church service is a lot different to last week - it is in English and Lusoga and, because it is Catholic, there is a lot of singing and kneeling .... and collections. There is a collection for the church, a collection for the community, a collection for the poor. It goes on and on and each time I send the kids up with 200 shillings each. A woman comes over to me during the service begging for money. Someone else gives me their baby to hold. Holding a baby in this heat makes me sweat within an inch of my life. Although the baby is gorgeous, I am happy to hand her over to Jitka after about 15 minutes. After the service, the priest meets Jitka and I outside. He is blessing people's rosary beads whilst stood next to his brand new 4x4. The irony of this situation is not lost on me. As we walk down the road I ask Vincent how the priest affords such a car. Vincent tells me that "the pope bought it for him". Okaaaaay then.

We go to the shops in Bujagali and I buy Vincent a pineapple to take to his father. I then treat the kids to soda and chapatis at an African 'restaurant'. The restaurant is actually just some planks of wood nailed together to form a barely contained structure, and a curtain over the doorway. Soda and chapatis for six of us costs me less than 3 quid. John arrived at the church mid-way through the service so he is with us too. After our refreshments, we all walk to Vincent's house as he is eager to introduce us to his father and show us his new chickens. His house is very basic, with his father living in one structure and Vincent in another which is has just built. He is very proud of his handiwork and so he should be. In a small opening in the mud wall he has created a window, complete with lace curtain. All of this clothes are hung from the ceiling and his bed is made. I am impressed. He says he has a lot of revision to do today but he wants to show us his chickens. He explains that all of his chickens died so his father has bought him some new ones. This equates to a capital resource for Vincent so it no wonder he is very happy. He insists I take photos of his baby chickens. Bless. I give him 1,000 shillings so that he can afford breakfast for the next two days. I explain to him that he must not go to his exams on an empty stomach and he is very grateful of my support.

We have a looooong walk back home through some areas I have not seen before. It is beautiful but very poor. Back at the compound, we play with some plasticine with the kids. I make an elephant and stick it to the wall. The kids say that they will keep it there until I come back next year. Danny tells me that he is going to marry me and that he will give me 50 goats, 10 cows, 2 blue cars and 40 drums. I feel honoured and tell him that is too much but he insists that is what I am worth. Lydia agrees - with a wink - that she will take him to Kampala on Wednesday to help him get the dowery for me. A drunk man then strolls into the compound and I am once again propositioned with marriage. He goes on and on and on and when he realises that I do not want to marry him, he suggests that I marry his brother instead. He says that I can telephone him and arrange to meet him if I want. Jitka comes over and saves the day by telling the man that a storm is coming and he should get home quickly. His parting words to me are "I will bring you my brother another day!". Oh joy.

At 5:00pm, Moses arrives home in a car with the new Muzungu. Jitka is leaving as the new girl is arriving and I cry. Again. The kids think it's hilarious when I cry and they all do a good job in cheering me up by teasing me. I wave Jitka off and then apologise to our new Muzungu for the less than warm welcome. She says it's fine - I know she will be jetlagged and a bit overwhelmed by her new surroundings so I doubt she's bothered about being left alone for a minute. She introduces herself as Jessica. She's 26 and from Cambridge - she's staying for 3 weeks. I give her a quick run down of how family life is on the compound and show her the latrine. She hasn't brought a head torch or wellies so we try and sort that use using spares we have around the compound. She admits she is a bit unprepared for all of this having only travelled in Europe before but I assure her that I will look after her. She has a friend joining us on the 14th November so she says she will tell her friend to bring such items.

After meeting the rest of the family and explaining who's who to Jess (which can be daunting, especially at night when we can't really see each other's faces, ha!), we have dinner and are early to bed. The storms of the last few days have exhausted everyone and tomorrow is exam day for P7. Lots of revision has left Lydia and Moses knackered.

All in all I am having the BEST time here. The family are amazing, my experiences at the school have filled my hear to the brim and African life in general - although hard - is very humbling. I know I will be terribly sad when it comes my time to leave. I am getting used to things now and am even being a class to teach next week. I love riding around on the bodas, even riding African style these days instead of Western (African = sit side saddle, Western = straddle behind the driver). The food, although bland, is more than enough. I can recognise our cows and goats at the side of the road, and they recognise me too, often becoming very vocal when they see me and - in cow language - asking me to take them back to the compound. Rain water for our showers is perfectly adequate for getting 'clean enough' and very refreshing. My feet are now stained red from the dust/mud but I don't mind. I love my fresh cow's milk (milked by Charlie each morning) in my coffee and my hard boiled egg with salt for breakfast. I really enjoy walking to Danny's school or neighbour's houses through 'the jungle' which is actually just crops of maize and banana trees but is so dense sometimes it does resemble a jungle. I am used to being called Muzungu and often surprise locals when I return their greeting with Lusoga. As I say, all in all I love it here. Some days are very hard and you have to turn a blind eye to certain situations and ignore certain views - you can debate with people here for days but it is not worth it, nor safe. Often a disagreement can lead to a beating and this is not something I want to risk - although obviously I am assured by Moses that this would not happen to a Muzungu.

I will update again soon and I hope you are all still enjoying my Blog. I try to remember everything that I can but I am sure you can imagine that my senses are being bombarded almost every minute and to try and cram in all my emotions and list exactly everything I see is impossible. But I'll enjoy telling tales with you over some wine on my return!!!

Photos to follow soon - the power has just gone in Jinja and we are now using the generator. Impossible to post pics at the moment ....


  1. Hello hun. Loved your latest post! Sounds like you'll have quite a lot of livestock when you come back here. If you want me to take a couple of goats off your hands...

    Thank you for updating your blog so regularly and thoroughly. It sounds like it is a right hooha! xx Lu xx

  2. of course we are still enjoying your Blog- every update is a fascinating experience!

  3. I love your updates Steph, and am so glad to hear that you are enjoying your experience. xx