ANNOUNCEMENT: Sorry everyone - I will Blog as much as I can today and will probably have to do the rest when I get back to the UK as I have been very sick since Sunday and am now running out of time in Uganda. I managed to pick up a bacterial blood infection which literally knocked me for six and - call me a drama queen all you like! - I have felt like I've been at death's door. So now I have also had the experience of a hospital out here. I will spare you the gory details but let's just say I have not been a pretty sight and I feel terrible for the Owinos who have been looking after me so well (and cleaning up after me, oh the shame). It has not been great for them, I'm sure. I am only starting to feel okay again today - hospital/blood tests etc was only yesterday - and have ventured into Jinja this morning, but now that I am here, I just want to be back in my bed.
So then ...
There are exams at the school this week so Jess and Laura have decided to paint the staff room. They were impressed with my library and general organisation of the resource room/storeroom and feel they want to embark on a project of their own and leave their mark. I opt to stay with Maureen for the morning and help with the cleaning after breakfast. Lydia has already left for Soft Power with the milk (they sell the remainder of our cow's milk to the Clinic). After a manic cleaning session, Maureen and Lydia hide out in their room and catch up on sisterly gossip while I get stuck into my Bronte book. There is thunder nearby which doesn't bode well as I really need to go to Jinja today and catch up on my emails and Blog. Still, after reading yesterday's news of two people being killed on a boda due to sliding in the mud, I am staying put if the heavens open. Two girls that I recognise as P7 leavers come to the compound and chat with me - they are beautiful, intelligent girls and are very well spoken. They ask about the book I am holding and then read the back cover out loud to me. I ask if they are hopeful that they have done well enough in their P7 exams to carry on to Senior 1. Sadly, they tell me that they will not be going as their parents cannot afford Senior education. I ask whether they had wished to go to Uni some day and they both nod but the taller of the two tells me that they will be married instead. As quickly as they arrived, they then hurry away again.
I sit on the porch, looking out to the 'road' that passes our house. An eldery woman wanders into our compound and collects cigarette butts from the ground. I hand her a fresh one from my pack which she lights and then .... smokes it the wrong way round. I have seen her do this with a very very small discarded end, but not with a whole cigarette! Moses has recently arrived home and I gasp, looking between him and the old woman. He just smiles and says that is the way eldery people choose to smoke here. I ask if she will burn her tongue (she is just leaving the cigarette in her mouth - completely inside - whilst going about collecting more butts from the ground) but he assures me that she won't. Gosh!
The lady that lives further down the road with Aids then wanders past also - she is looking very frail this week. Moses just shakes his head and looks sad. We watch her go.
Some young children - aged about 6 or 7 - appear carrying jerricans on their head filled with water. I honestly don't know how they do it! Some of them are not even holding onto the sides of them, yet they stay perfectly balanced and never wobble. I have tried to carry a few things on my head since arriving but I am never very successful (although, it gives the Owinos much amusement!).
Lydia and Maureen appear from their bedroom and I finally see what they have been up to. This morning, they were both wearing headscarves until Moses had left for school. Now they have taken them off and it is obvious that they have put 'relaxer' onto their hair. I think they look lovely, although I'm not sure whether this will go down very well with ba-ba (dad) when he gets back from the latrine. The three of us head to the kitchen to peel sweet potatoes and casava for supper (more blisters!!). The storm arrives but we are safe and sound in our mud hut, sitting around a wood fire. I take the chance to talk with Florence. I only found out the other day that she is in fact younger than me (just) at 31. She has five children by birth, and has effectively adopted three more in David, Charlie and Uboo. She has spent her whole adult life either in the kitchen, the 'garden', cleaning, chopping firewood, tending to the animals, being pregnant or raising a baby. She has never been as far as Kampala, she has never had a drink in a bar (although she does like a beer of an evening when we are sitting around). She has certainly never enjoyed dinner in a restaurant, or even a cafe! Moses has, of course. I feel very spoiled and quite wasteful of both my time and money. I saw some old photos of Florence the other day when she only had Maureen and Lydia - it is true to say that Moses did in fact find himself a beautiful bride and that the years, sadly, have taken their toll on her. She is of course beautiful still in many ways, but I find that she looks so tired most of the time and this piles on the years.
The rain has been here since 11:00am and shows no sign of stopping. I have returned to the main house to read but I can't concentrate because of the rain on the tin roof. It is very heavy. I try to video it but this does not do it justice. Lunch is delayed because I swear if the girls tried to get from the kitchen to the house, they would drown. We wave to each other, giggling, across the compound from our respective shelters. Eventually they make it across and, after lunch, I have a little sleep. I am trapped and there is nothing else to do, ha ha!
At 4:00pm, there is a break in the rain so Lydia and I head to the main road to buy green bananas for tonight's matoke. It is a very slippery walk but we make it, and I even carry the bananas back on my head from the outside of our compound all the way to the kitchen. Hoorah! Moses is marking the P6 maths exam papers - grades range from 86% to 3% .... 3% being more often achieved than the former. He says it must mean that he is a bad teacher and I try to console him, saying that he can only do so much and the rest is up to the kids etc etc but Moses takes it all very personally. Poor guy. I go to my room to find my playing cards but instead find a mahoooosive spider. I scream quite literally like a girl and run into the compound. Moses comes bolting out of the main house, followed by Lydia and Winnie. I explain the 'emergency' and they all laugh and spend the next half an hour tearing my room apart trying to find the spider. They do (thank god!) and I grab my cards and go back to the main house.
We play cards, eat dinner (fish .... again) and then I return to my book. I am so absorbed that I don't realise the time and before I know it, it is gone 10:00pm and I wander to my room, where I continue to read late into the night.
After breakfast, I go to Bujagali - wading through the glorious mud - and update my Blog finally. At 11:45am, I jump on a boda and head to the school. Today the children in the choir are putting on a performance for us using their new instruments and costumes so I am going along to support them (naturally). Johnson greets me as I enter the school grounds and explains that he had this morning written me a letter and he was going to ask the children to deliver it to me later. He says that I have been missed and he is sorry that I felt it necessary to keep away. Then Majeet comes over and says much the same. They know my reasons, it politely doesn't get mentioned, but Majeet says that he hopes I have found forgiveness in my heart. I have, but my moral standing on beating children is firm. Robinah comes running to me and embraces me saying "Oh my lost daughter! We have found you!". It is a dramatic display and I'm sure she means well but it does feel a bit over-played considering I have only been down the road and she could have come to visit any time, which in fact Moses had said she would. I see Paul lurking nearby but he makes no attempt to approach me. Anyhoo .....
Inside the resource room, I am happy to see the library has been kept tidy. Emma assures me that the teachers are in fact using it which is great to hear. I also see that one of the teachers has now organised the text book cupboards and clearly labelled them. My organisation techniques have caught on! I am soooo happy. Apparently it is Madam Joy who completed this task. Good on her!
I sit chatting with Jess and Laura in the resource room and then we are served a 'special lunch' of beef, chicken, rice, greens and potatoes. We are not sure why today everyone is having a special lunch but we don't argue, ha! Suddenly a storm arrives in Kyabirwa and we close the big heavy steel door and the shutters and are plunged into darkness in the resource room. One of the shutters blows back and breaks so the teachers try to cover the windows with paper of all things! Here we stayed trapped, in the dark, with the rain too loud to talk to each other, for nearly an hour. I take some photos through a hole in the door of some of the children caught in the rain outside. Some boys don't seem to mind (even though it is a seriously heavy storm) and they continue to play football. Eventually, Jess and I brave the rain and take the costumes to the room where the children are rehearsing their performance. Excitement breaks out and frantic activity follows as the children go through the costume trunk in a whirlwind. Soon enough, everyone is dressed and - without prior warning - the performance begins. We are treated to 3 or 4 songs (one being the "Thank You Soft Power" song, but 'Soft Power' has been traded for the word 'Volunteers') and lots of traditional dancing. The kids look great and are obviously having the best time! Loads of children who have been passing by on the road come and look through the windows, including our own Lydia. I film as much of the performances as I can but I am getting desperately low on space now, despite having brought about 6 SD cards with me *gulp*
We are then taken through to the PTA meeting and Moses and Robinah introduce us to the parents and explain how long we have each been here and what we have done. The parents are extremely grateful and then we bring in the instruments and costumes for them to see. They all try them on and start singing and dancing - very funny. We are then presented with a certificate each, congratulating us on all our hard work, which is a really nice gesture.
After all the excitement, Jess and Laura and I decide to head to Bujagali for a quick, cool beer (the rain has now stopped) but when we reach the crossroads, we realise we have to turn back as the mud is just too severe. I buy 14 chapatis at the 'shop' at the crossing as I know Florence is sick and probably won't want to cook much later.
We go back to the compound and each drink a Nile Beer, plays cards with the kids and share some fresh pineapple. The pineapple here is the best pineapple in the world, I swear! Darkness comes, something we all dread - the nights are so long here and it can really drag if the kids are busy or you have finished your book. Supper arrives (chapatis and salad) and after a couple of hours of chatting, Moses says he has to go and meet the Chairman of the PTA to discuss some futher bits and bobs. After he has gone, Winnie and John tell us - with some urgency - that we must go inside the house as the "night dancers" will come otherwise. We laugh but their serious little faces cause us to ask questions. Turns out that "night dancers" are local men who are apparently a bit 'crazy' and they dance naked down the road and throw rocks and sticks at you if you see them - they only come out if it is completely dark. We are sitting around the table on the porch which is illuminated by a small lantern. We can see each other's faces around the table but nothing further. Suddenly, a figure appears - covered with white powder - chest puffed out and arms raised, manically waving above his head. We SCREAM and all leap over the small wall that contains the porch before hearing an outburst of laughter from the figure. Uboo!!!!! He continues to laugh hysterically while we all compose ourselves. Because Uboo has saw fit to tease us, I tell myself it is just folklore and say that I'm not scared and - to prove a point - I will go to the road and stand there with my head torch switched off and wait for the "night dancers" to come. John says he is coming with me - brave boy! - but the others tell us not to go. By now, all the kids have joined us on the porch (except Maureen and Danny who are sleeping).
John and I head off and, when we get to the road, we switch off our head torches and wait. And wait. And wait. Nothing. Silence. Not even a glimpse of a bat. Oh, we do see a glowing bug flying around which is quite cool. I eventually get bored of waiting for nothing and so we go back to the compound. As we round the outside of the volunteer block, I see that no one on the porch ahead has noticed that we are back. I signal to John to follow me and we sneak around the rear of the house, coming alongside the porch in the pitch black. We jump out and, needless to say, everyone freaks out! Jess even hides behind Winnie LOL!!! John and I obviously think it's hilarious but then Jess says that she has heard more scary things about "night dancers" in my absence and she doesn't think I should have gone. She recounts what she has heard and I listen intently, still not really believing whether this is all true or not. When I am told they can throw fireballs at you with their bare hands, I settle back in my seat and sigh, convinced it is rubbish. Just then, John jumps out from the corner - maybe 12 inches from my face - and scares us all again. We jump out of our skins again, and give John a piece of our minds, but then find it all quite funny and turn the music up to have a dance. We are having a nice evening - apart from sudden movements in the shadows causing Jess and I to cling pathetically to the nearest child - when Moses arrives back. It is now 11:40pm and we joke that he must be a "night dancer" and that is where he has really been. Something flashes in his eyes and he asks the children if they have been scaring us. We say we are not really scared, just a bit jumpy, but it was all in good humour and we didn't mind. He then goes on to tell us more stories of "night dancers" (which we stupidly beg him to tell) and says that if you are on the back of a boda at night, they will pull you off (I'm going in the middle from now on) and if they touch you, you will die. And if they see you walking alone, they will follow you home and knock on your door all night. We ask what will happen if we come out ...... Moses says that they will throw fire at you. Okaaaay then! We ask what the locals think of "night dancers" and Moses tells us that if they catch one, they will insert six green bananas into his ... ahem ... anus (seems to be an exact science then!) and they will then die. Lovely. Jess and I head off to our rooms, giggling openly but nervously looking over our shoulders into the trees ......
** Okay, sorry everyone but that's me done for now. And considering my state of mind right now, I think this Blog post is probably a rambling mess. I apologise. I'm sooooo tired now, desperate to get back to Kyabirwa and crawl into bed. I am really not sure if I will have net access again before I start my mega travels on Sunday back to the UK so I might have to finish this at home. Booooo! Just in case, I will wish you all MUCH LOVE and say THANKS A MILLION for all your amazing support while I've been out here My friends rock harder than 80's death metal!!! **