The 'Singing in the Rain' bird is back! He is the first thing I hear when I take my ear plugs out this morning. I have already heard the rooster as ear plugs do nothing to drown that bugger out. Still, I have a smile on my face when I hear my bird friend because it was one of my favourite things about mornings here and he has been gone for the last week or so. It is still drizzling - has been for a few days now - so the mud has not had chance to dry out. It is getting ridiculously swampy in the compound now. After breakfast, I pull on my wellies and head off to Bujagali, determined to answer a few emails and update my Blog. The walk from the compound to the shortcut which usually takes about 10 minutes or so is so slippery that it takes more like half an hour. Upon reaching the shortcut, the tailor who sits near the turn off tells me that it is "bad" this way and I should keep on the road. Bah. I turn back onto the road, cursing - as usualy - the African rain/mud/road conditions. As expected, the long way round takes me well over another half an hour. The mud, as I have mentioned previously, turns to sticky clay when wet and where the rain has pelted it all night long, small mounds have formed making for a very uneven track. Despite my wellies, I still slip and slide and almost fall numerous times. Locals almost jog past me in their bare feet, getting a far better grip using their toes than I can with my silly British wellies. Double 'bah!'.
Finally I reach Bujagali and head for In DeNile Cafe where I leave my wellies outside and head in, barefoot, and order a large coffee. There is no power initially so I sit it out and read a 3 year old edition of Private Eye, followed by an in-flight magazine for KLM left by a previous tourist. I chat with the two guys that work behind the counter, and we exchange brief life stories. Surprisingly, both their wives work full-time (as secretaries) and neither of the men have children. This is a first! Suddenly, the power kicks in and - having spent the last 2 hours leisurely chatting - I race to answer as many emails as possible. Internet is painfully slow this morning so I skip the Blog entirely, knowing that it will just set me in a bad mood when I fail to publish it. I head back out to the 'centre' of Bujagali and find Fatuma's shop open so I stop by to say hello. Fatuma and I often chat when I am this way - and her 1 year old son is too irresistable to pass by, although I am sure she has trained him to run up to Muzungus and grab their legs with his chubby arms. Good for business. She is lying down in one corner on her side with Nathan close to her. He does not jump up to see me as usual, and even Fatuma can barely raise a smile. I go into her shop (or rather, hut) and sit down. She explains that Nathan is still very poorly and that he has now been diagnosed with Malaria, rather than Measles. She has been on the go, looking after Nathan single handed (I have no idea where her husband is, or even if she has one) and trying to run her shop - which means making bead necklaces late into the night to sell the next day. Poor woman looks like death. I try to raise a smile from Nathan but he is having none of it. I then realise that the poor lamb is lying in a pool of his own excrement, quite obviously suffering from severe diahorrea. As usual, there is absolutely nothing I can do and I fight back the tears, pinching the top of my thigh as I sit talking to Fatuma. Before I know it, time has passed and it is nearly 2:00pm. I make my excuses - although I hate to leave - and persuade a boda man I have met before to take me back home. As it turns out, he can't take me the whole way due to the mud but I am glad to have my journey shortened by at least half.
Back at the compound, and after a late lunch (for which I apologise profusely to Florence), Moses announces that we are moving to Jinja for the afternoon. I groan, contemplating another slippery trek through the mud but he says he needs to go and would like me to come. And so we go - slipping and sliding all the way to the main road. The taxi van ride fills me with terror as it quite literally skids and slides and lurches for half an hour over the mud roads before reaching any form of tarmac. I actually feel like I am suffering from motion sickness and am about to say to Moses that I will walk the remainder of the way when I realise we are thankfully where we need to be. In the internet cafe, we have both power and fast net so I take advantage of this and upload some more photos for you lot. However, just as I am about to upload the last 10, the power conks out and it's game over. I cannot be bothered to wait for them to dig out the generator and kick it into action, and I know that my Blog will not cope with the generator anyway, so Moses and I continue on our way. I wonder if he has something important to do, hence his insistence that I accompany him, but it seems as though we are heading to the taxi van park so I guess he just wanted my company which is nice.
After an equally terrifying journey back to Kyabirwa, we then hop on a boda to take us from the main road to our compound. On route, Moses stops a man and buys a massive fish (called an Electric Fish), much longer than the full length of his arm, and we continue on our way - the boda man, Moses, me and the fish. The other day, I saw someone travelling on the main road on a boda .... with a large white goat on his lap. Seriously. When we get home, I realise Agnes isn't around and Lydia - despite it already being dark - is doing laundry, so I settle myself in the smoky kitchen and help Florence to prepare dinner. I peel all the potatoes (of which there are loads - we are feeding 14 people these days) and chop them up into chips. I ask Florence what she does with the peelings and she says they just throw them away. I explain to her that, really, she doesn't need to peel them and they will cook just as well with the skins on. Moses appears at this point and asks "Is this true really?" and I nod, looking back and forth between them. Moses makes an executive decision and tells Florence that she needn't peel the potatoes when preparing chips anymore. I am glad I have saved her a job! I suggest that, with today's peelings, we could fry them in the oil and make crisps. Lydia is eager to try this and puts the peelings to one side.
I then sit with Moses on the porch and we smoke and talk - our nightly routine. Still on the subject of potatoes, he tells me that he once went to a Muzungu party in Bujagali and they had large potatoes wrapped in tin foil. He wonders if we can recreate this here, without an oven. I say that we can and all we need is a big fire, some tin foil, and some time. I remind him about our Guy Fawkes celebrations and tell him that my mother used to put potatoes wrapped in tin foil at the bottom of the bon fire, leave them overnight to cook in the heat, and then we would have them the next day. I explain that he can also do this with fish. He is excited and says that he is planning to burn the rubbish this weekend and that we will try this new method of cooking then.
At this moment, Danny appears with large, deliberate cuts in his top. He has quite obviously taken a pair of scissors to it. Moses enquires as to the reason in Lusoga and then reprimands Danny with a raised voice. Danny hurries into the main house, but remains peeking at me around the door. I ask Moses what has happened and he explains that Danny has purposely cut his old top so that "Auntie Neffy will give him a new one". I say that sounds like something my own son would have done in his younger years and it reminds me of a time that he was forced to wear plastic bags inside his shoes to stop the rain seeping in after he had used his toes as brakes on his bike and wrecked his new shoes. I, of course, had refused to replace them immediately and so he suffered with the plastic bags for a week. I cringe at the memory, thinking what an evil mother I am, but Moses likes the idea and says that we should make Danny wear a plastic bag. What begins as jokey banter, ends up with me fashioning a new top for Danny, complete with "Danny's New T-Shirt" written on the front in nail polish. This takes me a while - in the dark - so Danny has long since gone to bed when I am done. I will present him with his new top in the morning then, ha ha! As I make my way to my room to turn in for the night, Lydia calls me to the kitchen. I poke my head inside and she shows me her 'crisps'. They are a little soggier than would be expected, but they taste great and I tell her so. I leave her beaming with pride and slip and slide back to my room.
Has it been 30 days already?! Or rather, has it only been 30 days? Sometimes it feels as though I have been here for months and I can't bear another minute (usually when I have to make a 3am trip to the latrine) but other times it can feel that I have only just arrived.
I pull back my tiny curtain and see that the rain is still with us, and when I open my door I realise that it is positively cold. And I, foolishly, brought no warm clothes. I wrap my blanket around my shoulders and sludge through the mud to the porch. After a fairly solemn breakfast (the weather here affects everyone's mood - adults and children alike), Moses and Laura head to the school while Jess returns to her room to read. I help Lydia clean the porch and volunteer block which seems a pretty pointless task as, judging by the swamp that surrounds us, it will be muddy again within the hour - but it helps to warm me up if nothing else! I was planning to spend the day with Florence, helping her in the 'garden' to bring in the beans and sweet potato, but with the rain as bad as it is, even Florence is staying close to home. Quite bizarrely, I am suffering from the most terrible hayfever today and cannot stop sneezing. Only I could get hayfever in the middle of this kind of weather!
Maureen - Moses and Florence's 14 year old daughter who is away at boarding school - is arriving home today. I reminded Florence of this last night in the kitchen - or at least I thought I had reminded her, but turns out she had no idea. Odd. I suggest to Lydia that we should decorate the porch for Maureen's arrival, knowing how much Lydia idolises her sister. She loves the idea (of course) and we agree to venture out in the rain to gather flowers when we are finished cleaning. No nipping down to the florist, or pre-ordering from Interflora, for us!
I look around me and take note of all the natural resources that we have here at the compound. We have ample free rainwater (welcome or not) which we use for our showers, cleaning our feet, washing the dishes and doing the laundry. The ash from the rubbish that is burnt each week is saved up and then put down the latrines to deter the flies. We have trees surrounding us growing green bananas (matoke), passionfruit, mango, papaya, avacado and Jack fruit - so we pretty much have snacks or juices on demand. The discarded fruit is then gobbled up by the hens and pigs so nothing is wasted there. Our cows not only provide us with fresh milk each morning - which we boil before using - but their poop is then mixed with the clay-soil and used to fix up holes in the various buildings we have at the compound. We also have lots of sugar cane nearby, which you will usually see hanging out of Danny's mouth at all times of the day. Any fallen branches are gathered up and stored for firewood. Large stones are used to scrape mud off of our feet, and even remove rough skin. Razor blades are used for everything from shaving, to trimming your nails, to sharpening pencils. The rooster is obviously our alarm clock. Eggs - and even chicks - from our hens are sold on. The goats and pigs are also not slaughtered here, but rather sold on for a price. Everything here is here because it is purposeful. Nothing is idle, nothing is here because it "looks nice". Everything here works - the family and the environment. It's quite amazing when you step back and look at it all.
The rain suddenly goes completely mental and Lydia and I abandon our buckets and take shelter on the porch. Luckily, I put my playing cards out earlier so we sit around playing a card game that I often play with my son. She loves it - and quite quickly learns how to trip me up and is winning time and time again. "Beginner's luck", I mumble.
When the rain stops, we dash out into the surrounding gardens and gather as many wild flowers as we can, placing them in an open blanket. I am amazed at the variety and pretty soon we have quite a colourful and - by Western standards - expensive collection. Pleased with our lot, we take them back to the compound and I head off to Bujagali. I really don't fancy going but I have an important email to send. I offer to buy extra chapatis for this evening in anticipation of Maureen's return and Florence gives me permission. I always ask if I plan on bringing something back to the compound as I don't want to imply that we are not being fed enough (which we most certainly are!) or step on anyone's toes.
In Bujagali, I send my email successfully and then take time to look in on Fatuma and Nathan. He is bouncing around like nothing happened and she has a sparkle back in her eyes. Phew! We talk for a while and she tells me that she was very scared when Nathan was poorly as her first born died from tetnus. The clinic at Soft Power had wrongly diagnosed the baby with Malaria when it actually died 3 days later from tetnus. She tells me that it was also Soft Power who then wrongly diagnosed Nathan with Measles and she ended up taking him to Jinja for blood tests where she was finally told it was, this time, Malaria. She swears she will never take another child of hers to Soft Power. I don't blame her and I go away feeling more angry with that organisation than ever.
When I reach home, I see that Lydia has done a fantastic job decorating the porch in my absence. The flowers have been tied with banana leaves into bunches and hung from the supporting pillars. She has also draped toilet paper between the rafters to create banners and has written on a few sheets "Maureen, Welcome Back at home. How is school?". She is busy making 'vases' out of cut mango which she is then wrapping in newspaper and then pushing flowers into the top. Very creative! From somewhere she has even produced a few balloons so it is all looking rather impressive. We all sit around listening to BBC World Service on the battery operated radio and await Maureen's arrival. Moses has gone with a car to collect her from school.
They finally arrive at 5:30pm and we catch a glimpse of Maureen in the back seat, grinning from ear to ear and then hiding her face in embarassment as she notices the porch. Unfortunately, a few minutes before her arrival, Lydia had been ordered to the 'garden' by Florence to collect some potatoes so she is not here. Maureen hugs everyone in turn and says it is really good to see me again. As before, she politely enquires after my entire family. Florence appears from the kitchen and makes her way slowly to the porch. Maureen sees her and runs to her, throwing her arms around her. Florence looks uncomfortable which strikes me as odd and the embrace is halted and they shake hands instead. I feel slightly sad about this. Then, Lydia comes racing down the road with the potatoes on her head, threatening to topple. She throws the bag onto the grass within our compound and launches herself at Maureen. Both the girls squeal and swing each other around and talk excitedly. What a wonderful reunion, they obviously adore each other as much as I had been told! They spend the next half an hour or so walking around the compound, arm in arm, thick as thieves.
I spend the rest of the evening reading the papers I have collected since I have been here. Some of the stories are totally shocking - such as the one citing homosexuality as a "mental illness" and another detailing how one man hacked his wife to death with a hoe because he thought she had stolen 500 Ugandan Shillings from him. Crazy. The big news this week is of an Army officer who was killed by his mistress. We even have photographs of his beaten head on the front page which is pretty awful viewing.
We have our Electric Fish for dinner as planned but I cannot taste a thing due to my stupid hayfever - gutted. I head to bed as soon as I finish as I am not feeling well.
Oh what a terrible night. I woke three times and had to run for the latrine, through the mud and in the dark and rain. I was ill after all. And it turns out that Laura was as well. We are both quite pale and yawning repeatedly during breakfast. Laura insists that she is going to school regardless, but Jess says she is now feeling a little under the weather and will remain at home. I am planning on cleaning and cooking with Lydia and Florence again, as soon as the rain stops. The rain has soaked our grass brooms overnight so they are in the kitchen being dried by the fire at the moment. Instead, we sit and play cards again. This time Maureen joins us - Lydia is eager to show her what she has learned. When we do finally get a break in the rain, our attempt at cleaning is futile. Even with our new sturdy mop and bucket, the mud just spreads around and after mopping the porch no less than 4 times, mud is the winner. We give up and the girls go back to their card game while I sit scraping the mud off everyone's shoes and then wash them, by hand. There's no cutting corners here. Anything that needs doing needs doing by hand.
Lydia and Maureen have raided Agnes's room while I've been busy with the shoes and are running around the compound wearing wigs, giggling like teenage girls should. Jess appears from her room looking quite peaky, poor thing. She flops onto a bench on the porch and explains that she received a text from Laura to say she is staying at the school for lunch because the cook is not there and she wants to make the porridge for the children. I ask what has happened to the cook and Jess says that one of the children in her family has died from Malaria. The reality of African life silences us again.
Laura eventually joins us and sneaks in a late lunch. We have agreed to go to Bujagali this afternoon and, despite not feeling her best, Jess wants to get away from the compound for a few hours. I think that maybe the air from the River Nile might do her soon good anyway so we head off, explaining to the family that we will be back before dark.
The sun is shining for us when we arrive which is just beautiful. Our spirits perk up and we drown the misery of the last few wet days in a couple of Club beers each. We then head over to the book exchange and I swap a rubbish chick-lit book I foolishly gave a chance for a meaty Anne Bronte novel called The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. We don't stay long as - due to the recent weather - the mozzies are out in force and we are all still reeling from the news of a child's death from Malaria. Against our better judgement, we hop on a couple of bodas and head in the direction of the compound. We very nearly end up in a ditch on either side of the road many times, and I can't correctly remember the number of children we almost hit as we skidded - almost out of control - past them on the road. Never again, from now on I will walk in this level of mud rather than risk a boda.
Back at the safety of the compound, we all gather on the porch and Jess reads to Winnie, John and Danny while Laura writes in her journal. I am eager to get stuck into my new book so I settle under my blanket and enter the world of Anne Bronte. I am not disappointed and even after just completing the Introduction, I know that I want to buy her first novel, Agnes Grey, when I get home. After our dinner of chicken and chips (with the skins on), Danny decides he has waited long enough to call my mother and will not be fobbed off with excuses of a dead battery any longer. I relent and dial the number for him. I put her on speakerphone and Danny asks how she is (and she patiently waits for him to calm his cute stutter) and then tells my mom that "Neffy is a very good woman". Luckily, she agrees with him. Soon I hear my son's voice on the line and Danny repeats the same, at which my son just laughs. Cheers Boo! Ha! Unfortunately, calling the UK eats my credit quickly and we are cut off but mom promises just before we are disconnected to call again later. Winnie is crushed as she didn't get a chance to speak to my mom, and then Danny remembers that he forgot to tell my family that I am his new mom and that I am staying (which is news to me!). I laugh and say it's probably best that he forgot that part, and I assure Winnie she will too get a chance to speak to my mom before I leave.
After some more chit chat, I head to my room to read in peace - my new book has gripped me. Eventually my mom phones again and, after a lengthy call, I don't find as much pleasure in my book as before. I just want to be sitting on her sofa, drinking a cup of tea, and seeing her smile. God, I have never been this homesick in my life. I am 32 years old but all I want is my mommy. Still, with just over a week to go, I will have to cope. And really, apart from the homesickness and the mud, I am thoroughly enjoying my time with the Owino family and am sure I will miss them terribly when it comes time to leave.