Saturday, 28 November 2009

Days 34 - 40

Day 34
After a somewhat fretful nights sleep after the "night dancers" saga, I managed to sleep in until past 8:30am. Bliss! Today is Saturday and we are taking the kids - that's Maureen, Lydia, John, Winnie and Danny - to Nile Resort. We have grown in number as obviously Lydia and Winnie came back last week raving about how much fun they had and, one by one, the others asked if they could come next time. And - really - how could we say no to these angels?? Luckily enough for our energy levels, but unlucky for them, David and Issac have to stay behind and help with the digging etc. So after breakfast, it is a mad rush for everyone to have showers and put on their best clothes (sweet!) and work out how best to 'move'. Florence gives me responsibility for the little ones - Danny, Winnie and John - her reasoning being that I'm a mother too. She begs me not to take Danny on a boda and requests that we get a taxi van (I wonder if she knows that Moses takes Danny on a boda from time to time? hehe). Jess and Laura pre-book boda drivers (oooh posh!) for them and the older girls, and myself and the 'babies' head off on foot to the main road. Lucky us *groan*

It is a long HOT walk and I'm dreading the wait at the main road because, it being Saturday, the taxi vans are bound to be packed and I've not had success at weekends to date. The sun is downright cruel at the main road - there is zero shade and you start to feel like a melting wax work even after a few minutes. Someone is obviously on our side today, however, as the second taxi van that appears on the horizon looks to be slowing down - it is! Hoorah! Not only does it slow down and stop for us, but there are only three other people on board. That means - best of all - we can each sit by an open window and catch a bit of breeze on the way. Danny opts to sit on my lap which I would never usually begrudge but today our combined body heat is going to be quite unbearable. Still, I just smile and assure him that I'm fine each time he asks.

We jump off our taxi van at the large signpost for Nile Resort and start our second long hot walk of the day. Halfway down the road, my darn flip flop breaks. They have been straining for a few days now due to the beating they have taken whilst sliding through the mud at the compound and sure enough, the left one has given up the ghost. Walking on the road barefoot is like walking on a hotplate and I hop as quickly as I can from one foot to the other, squeaking and yelping when one foot stays in contact with the ground for too long. The kids follow me, giggling. Finally we reach the gate where the long driveway is sheltered by tall trees. I swear smoke appears from the soles of my feet as they make contact with the cool flagstones.

Inside the resort, Winnie makes a beeline for the table we had last week and - in quite a stern tone - sets about explaining to Danny and John how it all works here. Danny asks something in Lusoga and Winnie interrupts sharply saying "Only English in here Danny!" LOL Poor Danny keeps quiet, obviously not knowing the English for whatever he was querying. Jess and Lydia arrive next, followed by Laura and Maureen. We all cool off with a soda before changing and plunging into the pool. There are quite a few of us today and needless to say we are the loudest, but happiest, bunch in there. Quite a few Muzungus sunbathing at the edge of the pool glance our way and make a show of turning up the volumes on their iPods. Ooops. Regardless, we continue splashing and laughing and having a whale of a time. After about an hour of frolicking, we think it best to order some lunch so we retreat back to our table and wrap ourselves in our hotel towels (which were delivered to our table while we were playing). After we order our selection of shared pizzas and chips, I spot a monkey family approaching and grab my camera. As I am snapping away, I hear Danny whispering "Neffy! Neffy!", quite frantically and as loud as he can possibly manage without actually yelling. I turn and he points above my head. As I look up I see that I am literally surrounded by monkeys. There must be no less than 20 of them, leaping from the branches of the trees, wrestling each other on the ground, eating passion fruit. It's quite incredible and they are very close to us. The kids love it and squeal excitedly. We follow the family all around the tables, watching their funny characters, for a good half an hour - John even getting close enough to get 'threatened' by one of the adult members of the group LOL. Eventually, something catches their interest over the wall and they bound over it, one by one, heading down to shore of the River Nile.

The weather, music and company is perfect today and we have a really enjoyable, playful lunch. We then let our food settle for the required half an hour before letting the kids back into the pool and the fun continues. Lydia and Maureen venture into the big pool with me for a while and they hang onto my back as I swim back and forth across the width of the pool. They have a good go at trying to swim but I think it will take a lot longer than just a few hours on a Saturday before they can go it alone. As with the kids at the school though, their enthusiasm knows no bounds. If being able to swim was down to sheer effort, these two would be dolphins!

We decide to leave at 4:00pm (having been there since 10:00am this morning) and we split into our taxi van / boda groups - me remaining barefoot - and agree to meet at home. When we do, I quickly change and then wait for Jess and Laura on the porch, reading my book. We are going to eat and 'party' in Bujagali tonight. Being completely unaccustomed to dressing up for the past 5 weeks, I have changed into a plain blue vest and long gypsy skirt (which Jitka left behind) but Jess and Laura appear a good hour later, with full make up and jewellery etc. This would have usually sent me racing back to my room to 'smarten up' but - in all honesty - this is Africa guys, and it seems like a massive waste of time and effort. I haven't even brought make up with me. I'm not here to impress or catch anyone's eye - and, heading out for the night dressed the way I am and with my trusty wellies in a plastic bag, I highly doubt I will be on the agenda of any prospective males. Ha!

We end up having to walk to Bujagali as all the boda drivers are busy tonight watching football. When we finally arrive, we pre-book a couple of bodas to take us home at midnight. Boda Bob is there so we nab him, knowing that he is an ex-student of Kyabirwa and knows Moses very well. After heading in through the big, black gate, we settle ourselves on the porch overlooking the Nile and order burgers and chips, and crack open a few beers. This is about as 'glamourous' as a night out gets out here folks. After dinner, and just as we are about to get into the swing of things, the music is abruptly switched off and we see the 'big screen' being pulled down. Oh god no, not football!! But no, it's worse .... we are then subjected to about 40 minutes of rafting videos. That's one of the excursions that is organised from this campsite and today's rowdy bunch of rafters - a stag party from South Africa - are the stars of the show. And they delight in letting everyone know how hilarious they think their video is. We just find them very annoying and loud. The groom is dressed in that ridiculous lime green Borat thong/swimsuit thing. Tasteful. Must've taken a wrong turn on their way to Benidorm ...... The soundtrack to the video is good however - a bit of Linkin Park set against a bunch of obnoxious men being half drowned in some rapids manages to perk me up a bit :-p

When the video finally comes to an end and the bar's iPod is turned back on, Jess suggests switching to spirits, arguing that the beer is making us sleepy and we need our 'vibe' back. We end up drinking gin and ginger beer, and sure enough, it works a treat. But bang goes our vibe again when one of the stags makes his way over to our table explaining that they have a bet going that he can't get all three of us to join them for a drink. I tell him he is correct and that he just lost the bet. He grins at me, mischieviously, and asks again - rephrasing his request. I ignore it and look the other way, letting the other two deal with him. They are both quiet, staring at their drinks. Ah, I forgot - they are a bit younger than me to be fair and probably think it'll "be a laugh". What follows is a ping-pong argument of the stag requesting we join them, me declining but saying the others are welcome to if they want, back and forth, back and forth. This results in said stag calling me "Chief" and saying that it's obvious if I don't go, the other two won't either and that I shouldn't spoil the fun. Ugh! I give up my comfy seat and - disapprovingly, grump grump grump - follow Jess and Laura.

I will not bore my friends with the details of the evening but I will say that I felt like a babysitter and I had to stick to water so that I could keep an eye on the other two who were downing Sambuca shots like it was their last night on earth. All night, everyone insisted on calling me "Chief". We didn't get home until gone 4:30am. End of.

Day 35
Well thank goodness I stuck to water last night. Apart from being totally shattered, I have a very clear head. I seat myself at the porch at 8:30am for breakfast. And I wait. And I wait. It is the usual routine that volunteers eat together and the family are obviously waiting for Jess and Laura. I take a shower and come back. I notice that Moses's mom has come to stay with us for a few days so I sit with her, shelling beans for a while. She is happy to see me again and gives me a big hug. At 10:00am, Moses finally says we won't for the others any longer and we go ahead and have breakfast. Phew.

I tell Moses that I feel like having a day to myself as tomorrow we are spending the day travelling all the way to Entebbe (3-4 hours) on a bus to accompany the school trip - we are visiting the airport and the zoo. Moses thinks that is a good idea and I get ready to head to Nile Resort for some 'lounging'. Just before I leave, at midday, Jess and Laura appear (having been woken up finally by Moses knocking their doors lol). They sit at the breakfast table looking - and probably feeling - like death and after 10 minutes, without touching their food, slope off back to bed.

It is another beautiful day and I thoroughly enjoy the peace of the resort. I have a swim, eat a bowl of chips, listen to my iPod, swim some more, read my book in the shade (sunbathing is a bad idea this close to the equator in my opinion) and r-e-l-a-x. Pure bliss. I feel totally energised and vow to swim more often when I get home - although I reserve the right to change my mind when I come to my senses and realise that the public pool in Plymouth is not quite as stimulating or inspiring as this oasis in Africa.

The peace lets my mind wander and I miss my family terribly. I wish with all my heart that my son had been here to share the experience with me. I don't wish quite the same for my mother - although I miss her more than I have ever done - as I know she would hate the heat so it would be pointless bringing her here, ha. My son, however, is already an enthusiastic and confident little 'traveller' with an active spirit that seeks out adventure. I think that - once he'd got over the lack of food delivery and MSN - he would have loved Kyabirwa village and the Owino family. Maybe one day ...

I reach the compound at 5:00pm and spend some time in my room reading. I started feeling a bit dizzy at the pool and figure I have been in the sun for too long. As the evening goes on, I don't feel any better - worse in fact - so I opt for an early night, not even bothering with dinner.

Day 36
Oh boy am I sick! I have had a pretty bad evening, up and down in the night with my faithful red bucket. Still, it is only a bit of 'toilet trouble' and I assure Moses and I am probably over the worst of it and would like to accompany the school trip. We both walk to the school at 7:30am to meet the kids, teachers and our two buses. We run late - waiting around at the school for over an hour - and I have to use the school latrines (which are vile enough without my contribution!!) three times. I gulp down as much water as I can and tuck myself into the front seat of the bus next to the driver. I sleep for the whole journey and wake up in Entebbe feeling exhausted and with a rumble in my guts that I feel would be dangerous to ignore. I excuse myself and go in search of a latrine. When I return, I explain to Moses that I still feel quite sick. Just then, a guard comes and tells me that I must leave my camera with him before entering the gates through to the landing strip. I use this as an excuse to stay behind and wait for the school trip to come back. I'm too embarassed to announce to all and sundry that I need to be within 6 feet of a latrine at all times. Apparently they will only be about half an hour so Moses agrees I should stay behind. After only 15 minutes, the kids and teachers are back. They were meant to have the opportunity to go inside an airplane but turns out the bus they were escorted on just did a quick circuit of the landing strip, stopped to watch a plane take off, and then came back out through the gates again. Fun.

We all board the schoolbus again and drive 10 minutes down the road to Entebbe Zoo. I am so glad it's only 10 minutes and I race off the bus in search of a latrine. My sickness steps up a notch and I vomit. I gingerly wander around the zoo, smiling for the kids whenever they look in my direction, and slope off into the bushes whenever I get a chance. I feel down right disgusting. Suddenly, and rather urgently, we are informed by our guide that a red tailed monkey has escaped and has tried to 'attack' three people on the other side of the zoo so we are urged to leave now rather than continue our tour. Outside, Moses tells me to go on the small bus with the teachers straight back to Kyabirwa rather than continue with the schoolbus to the next venue in Kampala. I don't hesitate in agreeing. Again, I sleep most of the way - waking up from time to time to ask Robinah to please stop so that I can use a latrine or a bush. I would normally be mortified by this but my need is so urgent, I don't have time to be. After an eternity, due to my constant 'toilet breaks', we reach Kyabirwa. Moses has phoned ahead to tell the family that I am very sick and they have all come to the roadside to meet me and carry my things. They help me back to the compound, into my room and I fall straight to sleep. I haven't eaten since yesterday lunchtime but I just can't face it.

Day 37
Another terrible night. I am practically delirious when I wake up. I muster up enough strength to take the bolt lock off my door. After a few minutes, Moses comes into my room to inspect my condition. He tells me that I really ought to go to the hospital. I don't argue.

Moses kindly arranges for a private car to collect me at the compound, and he even escorts me to Jinja with the driver. His mother comes with us half way as she is heading back home over the river today. I feel sad that Moses is leaving his mother at the side of the road to travel alone but I am at the same time so glad that he is coming with me. We arrive at the hospital which - possibly in my dehydrated and delirious state - looks strangely like a manor house on the outside and then a taxi waiting room on the inside. It's like the opposite of a tardis. I fill in a green form listing my symptoms. The nurse can see I am having trouble standing and ushers me straight in to see the doctor. The lady doctor looks over my form and asks if I am taking Immodim. I say that I am but it hasn't made the slightest difference. She tells me that's not surprising if I have what she thinks I have (what on earth does she think I have???) and tells me not to take any more. She explains that diahorrea - yes, I know that is most likely spelt wrong - is a natural way for our body to expell whatever shouldn't be inside us and if I insist on stopping it, I am only prolonging my sickness. I had actually never thought of it like that before. Fair point. Next she sends me for blood tests. This consists of a man sitting in a 'kitchenette' (I swear!) with a microscope. He pin-pricks my finger and puts a drop of my blood on a glass slide. I am then sent back to the waiting room where I doze in my chair. Moses is sitting beside me looking very anxious. Eventually I am called back to the doctor and the conversation goes a bit like this:

Doctor: You have a bacteria in your blood which has caused an infection.
Me: Where did I get the bacteria from?
Doctor: (shrugs) Could be from unwashed fruit.
Me: I pretty sure that I haven't had any unwashed fruit.
Doctor: It could be from an insect.
Me: What kind of insect?
Doctor: (shrugs again) Any.
Me: I have a wound on my foot and flies have got to it sometimes. Could it be that?
Doctor: It could be (pause) Or it could be unwashed fruit.
Me: So .... what is the treatment?
Doctor: They are different.
Me: So what should I have?
Doctor: I am going to prescribe something to cover everything.

Fine with me! I go back out to the waiting room and Moses asks about the result. I say that I am not really sure - and neither is the doctor it seems. He just shakes his head. I go to the counter and am handed an invoice for about 60,000 UGS! I say that I have medical insurance and reach into my bag for my policy only to be told by the receptionist that I have to pay cash now and make a claim when I get back to the UK. Well what good is expensive insurance if that's the case?? Ugh! I have only brought 45,000 which luckily covers the consultation fee and the blood tests, but I can't afford the medication so the receptionist takes it back from me. I burst into tears and Moses ushers me out of the hospital.

Back in the private car - which has been waiting patiently all this time for us - I fall straight to sleep again. I wake up half way home and bizarrely feel as though I am going to faint or vomit ... or possibly both, and then die. It is a horrible moment but just as I feel as though I'm more likely to die than not, the moment passes and I drift back to sleep. At home, Moses carries me from the car and puts me in my bed. It is not yet lunchtime but I feel as though the day has already been twice as long as it should. Moses comes back to my room a few minutes later and shows me that he actually stopped at the pharmacy on our journey home (I was asleep and didn't realise) and he has bought my medication for me. Sweet sweet man!!!

At about 3:00pm, Maureen comes to give me a bed bath. That's about all I remember. Laura and Jess left today for home, but I don't remember that even though I am assured they came into my room and had a conversation with me.

Day 38
I wake up and feel just as sick as yesterday. I have also been up and down in the night, barely sleeping. Moses asks me to come and try breakfast but as soon as it is put in front of me, I apologise, move as quickly as I can to the latrine, and then head back to my room. I don't have the strength to sit up, let alone eat. Someone brings me two hard boiled eggs and leaves them on my bedside table. I ignore the eggs and go back to sleep. I wake up to another bed bath from Maureen (I am wearing my pyjamas and she modestly washes me under my clothes). I turn my head on my pillow as she washes the back of my neck and realise that we are not alone. There are no less than 5 kids in the room - and I only recognise one of them as an Owino. I weakly say "Jambo" but they just stare on. They have obviously come to look at the "dying Muzungu" LOL!! (My mom jokes later when I phone her that Danny was probably outside my room selling tickets, ha ha).

The day passes in a blur. At one point, I am forced from my bed and onto a mat outside in the shade so that I can get some air. I feel like I have gone back a few hundred years - isn't this what they did in Victorian hospitals? I must admit, it does feel good to be outside but I only register that fact for a few minutes before I am asleep again.

In the afternoon, I feel 'alive' enough to try and shower myself and Moses arranges for a stool to be put in the shower 'room' for me to sit on. The cold water is amazing and, after a quick wash, I just pour the whole basin over my head and feel human again for all of about three minutes. I put my now festering pyjamas back on and make my way over to the porch and take refuge in the shade. I watch the girls doing the laundry but it is all far too much excitement for me and I become dizzy again and limp back to my room. I sleep on and off for the rest of the afternoon before attempting to sit at the porch again in the early evening. Dinner is served super early in an attempt to get some food into me but I manage only two bits of liver (which Moses has purposely bought for me to give me a dose of much needed iron) before I have to offer it to the kids instead. I go back to my room and crash for the night.

Day 39
I wake up feeling relatively 'okay' compared to yesterday and attempt breakfast again. I manage one slice of bread and butter but that's all I can truly stomach. Maureen is going to school on a boda to collect her report so I quickly dress and jump on the back. I am desperate to go to Jinja and check my emails and let my friends know that I am indeed alive, if not kicking. I leave Maureen at the roundabout just outside Jinja and take a taxi van the rest of the way. I already know that this is a bad idea as my head starts to swim. Still, I am nearly there now. I arrive in Jinja and head straight to the internet cafe. I manage to update my Blog, but only two days worth before I feel well and truly beat. I know I need to get home soon because I have an overwhelming urge to sleep. On route, I buy some frozen sausage for supper as Moses can't make it to Jinja today (the man's schedule is relentless and he is often up until 4:00am trying to answer emails or just simply worrying - god only knows how he copes!). Back on a boda, back to the compound, back to bed.

After a few hours sleeping, I feel 'okay' again and decide it's quite a good idea to take a boda to Bujagali. I have run out of books - having finished "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" - and am eager to get to the book exchange. I have one rubbish book left to swap before I will have to consider swapping books I would rather keep and take home. At the exchange, I spend a good 15 minutes scanning the shelves. All chick-lit empty-headed nonsense. Bah. I am just about to leave when I see a book put in the wrong way round on the top shelf. I reach for it, turn it over and - score! - it's only "Agnes Grey", the book I had so desperately wanted to read next! For a few seconds, I feel totally cured and I practically skip back to Boda Bob.

Back at the compound, I read through all the kid's reports which they have been waiting eagerly to show me. Danny and Winnie have done exceptionally well - Danny has been awarded A's in English and Conduct. What a champ! Both kids have been 'promoted' to the next class. I go to my room to get my toilet paper and find the chickens have made a new home for themselves on my bed. I shoo them out, much to the amusement of the children, and check my room for eggs/poo etc. The chickens love my room - everyone leaves their doors open in the day but the chickens only ever venture into mine!

The evening is spent discussing various topics with the children and answering their random questions, such as:

"Is there cancer in England?"
"Do you have goats at your house?"
"What about pineapples?"
"Has Mike got a red bucket?"

After an early dinner of sausage and chips (of which I manage at least half, yay!), I retreat back to my room and read my new book for as long as I can before my eyes give up on me.

Day 40
We wake up to fog which can mean bad weather so no one is very chirpy this morning, fearing the rain has returned. However, I am happy to note that I feel quite fresh this morning and feel confident that my medication has kicked in and I'm well on the way to recovery. I didn't have any visits to the latrine last night so I can now officially stop 'clenching', ha ha!

Still, as good as I feel now, I know I have to say goodbye to the students at Kyabirwa Primary School today, and the teachers - some who I have grown very fond of. Moses and I make our way to the school at 8:30am and, after saying sad goodbyes to the group of kids I had grown attached to, we attend the church within the school grounds for a presentation by the PTA to the parents. They are discussing such subjects as poor attendance, the porridge costs and exam fees. It is all conducted in Lusoga and - for me - it does drag on a bit. Ugandans love speeches - I know I have pointed this out in this Blog before - and I kick myself as soon as the Chairman stands up because I realise I have let myself in for yet another slow death. After more than an hour of slowly spoken sentences ..... followed by long pauses and contemplation about his next point ..... then more painfully slow speech, Robinah whispers to the Chairman that we might want to "hurry things along" and he quickly finishes and takes his seat. I almost yelp with joy. Next, we hand out various certificates to children who have exceeded in standards of discipline or academic achievement. The parents accompany their children to the 'stage' and all look as proud as punch. It's quite heartwarming. Moses then warns me that the meeting is likely to continue for at least another 2-3 hours and I should slip out now if I want to. I take his words seriously and bolt!

On my walk back to the compound, I bump into Moses's two elderly aunts who are, as always, so happy to see me and insist on shaking my hand numerous times each and chatting away to me in Lusoga while I just nod and say "kalay" (okay) or "waybalay" (thank you) in what I think are appropriate places. Back at the compound I watch Lydia making banana leaf dolls for the few friends she has seen in my photo album, assisted by Issac. It is quite complicated and I don't attempt to help. They happily pose for photos and then I sit and read for a couple of hours before making my way back to the school.

The children have all left now and the teachers have stayed behind to have photographs taken with me. Mr Paul comes for the group photo but unsurprisingly does not attempt to have a photo taken with me on his own. I did actually shake his hand and smile today when I saw him at the church so at least I can go away knowing in my heart that I have not held a grudge. The photos that the teachers pose for with me are quite funny - their personalities really come out with Majeet and Emma pretending to fight over me as their 'new wife', while Moses yells from nearby "I saw her first!", and the female teachers all declaring that theirs was the first class I sat in and so that person is obviously my favourite (it was in fact Madam Deborah's class which I sat in on first, however Majeet and Johnson are my favourite teachers). On the way home, Moses tells me that Majeet told him the other day that, should I have remained on the staff, the school would surely have benefitted greatly from my headstrong attitude and organisation skills. Or in other words, what would my mom would describe as me being a "bossy little madam". Moses was quite excited when he told me about Majeet's remark and I felt as though I should be taking it as quite the compliment of the year. Bless.

Back at the compound, I escape into my book for a while, and listen to the sounds around me - the various birds in the trees (of which there are lots!), the chitter chatter of the Owinos, the constant laughter from Danny and Winnie, the goats and pigs and chickens and cows, the other families off in the distance .... I am going to miss it all so much! It soon becomes apparent that the kids aren't going to let me read this afternoon and they all appear in my room, one by one, and climb all over me. Danny is using my stomach as a racetrack for his car (albeit a squishy one) and Winnie is insisting on brushing my hair. Issac and Lydia go through all the things on my bedside table (a strange daily obsession for them) and David is dancing to imaginary music. I give up and say that I will join them outside. We head out to the porch and the kids ask if we can take photos. We fool around with my camera and video for the rest of the afternoon and early evening - deleting many photos of knees or people with no heads - and I show Lydia how to secure the jerricans to the bicycle using the bungee-ropes I brought with me (which I am leaving behind). This will mean she can carry four jerricans of water back from the well or the borehole at once. Result!

Darkness is here once again and we continue snapping photos outside on the porch and listening to music on the radio - Uboo is once again playing DJ, a role he takes quite seriously, even pretending to 'mix' and 'scratch' records. The moon is directly overhead this evening and about 3/4 full - it is lighting up the whole compound and we can see all the way over to the kitchen; something which is impossible most nights. It's beautiful and calm.

Moses returns at about 8:30pm from an extended meeting with the Chairman of the PTA (we joke that he was off night dancing really and he laughs) and, after a chicken dinner, we sit on the porch chatting together. We have some very candid conversations this evening and I know that we have really become very good friends. I am honoured to be privy to his thoughts about life and memories of his childhood, and sometimes private and painful experiences in his recent adulthood. He is a bit of a dark horse our Moses, and has a few shocks up his sleeve which never cease to have me holding my sides as I burst into uncontrollable laughter at his tid-bits of information. He knows how to introduce the element of surprise into a conversation and I think he really enjoys prompting spontaneous hilarity. So we sit, swap tales and gossip and laugh until gone midnight. Beautiful day with the school and family, fantastic evening with the kiddies and Moses - I can't believe I only have one full day left here ....


  1. Thanks for updating us all again, Steph. I loved reading about your Ugandan life once again. Can't wait to have you back! Lu xx

  2. I have loved reading this -WOW about the monkeys!