So my final full day and night at the compound has arrived. I can't believe it has been six weeks already! I wake up just before 7:00am and fumble with the bolt on my door. The compound is completely silent and I stand and stretch, taking in the beautiful African morning. I know that I am going to have to choke back so many tears today. Maureen is sleeping in the room to the left of mine, and Winnie and Lydia next door on the right. I knock excitedly on their windows calling "Get up! Get up!". Since school ended, the kids have been sleeping in later and later each day (for which I don't blame them!) but Lydia bet me 500 shillings last night that she would be up before me today as we need to go and fetch water. I hear Maureen unbolt her door and she appears, rubbing her eyes. She says good morning and promptly shuts the door again. Teenagers are the same the world over. I turn my attention back to Winnie and Lydia's room, knocking continuously on their window. When they can take no more, Lydia emerges and I smile and ask for my 500 shillings. She rolls her eyes and grins at me. I remind her of our 'bet' and of the fact that we need to go on a water run but her response is to defiantly fold her arms in front of her chest and lean back against the wall, tapping her foot. I go into their room and flop down onto the bed next to Winnie for a cuddle.
A short while later, I am sat at the porch with Winnie and Danny when little Andrew appears. He is the same age as Danny and they walk to school together every day. They speak to each other in Lusoga but I hear the word 'Panadol' clearly. Danny then asks Winnie something, to which she replies "100". Andrew holds out a 100 shilling coin which Danny takes and passes to Winnie with some quick instructions. She disappears into the house and returns a few minutes later with something wrapped in paper, passes it to Danny who then hands it to Andrew. He wanders off again without another word. I believe what I have just witnessed is the local pharmacy being run by a 4 year old and an 8 year old while Father sleeps on. Brilliant!
Even after six weeks of living with the Owinos, the kids never tire of asking to look through the small photo album I brought with me. So, over breakfast, this is what we do. Danny goes through the album from start to finish about 20 times, reeling off the names of my friends and family. He is always drawn to the photos of my little nieces, Poppy and Pebbles, his face lighting up when he turns the page and sees them. Eventually Charlie, Uboo and the girls join us and pretty soon everyone is repeating the names after Danny. It's a bit like a school lesson!
After our showers, Danny, Lydia, Winnie and I each grab a jerrican (Danny carrying an empty Evian type bottle instead) and head out to the borehole to fetch the water. Lydia has made me a banana leaf head wrap to balance my jerrican on but I opt to carry it in my hands on the walk there. The borehole is about a 15 minute walk from the compound through a part of the village I have not visited before. We pass little Eseza's house and she proudly shows off a new baby goat. He's irresistable with long dangly legs and I can't resist a cuddle. About 30 seconds after I pick him up however, I remember my allergies and wish I hadn't. Sure enough, 10 minutes later I am sneezing. Great. Eseza decides to join us on the rest of our walk to the borehole so we all trot off again. When we reach our destination there is a long line for water so we put our jerricans in the queue and take shade under a tree. A man approaches me and asks me to take his photograph. I do. He then asks me to take a photograph of his bike. Which I do. He reviews the photographs on my camera screen and belly laughs with delight, clapping his hands. He thanks me and, after gathering his jerricans, heads off down the path, pushing his bike and smiling. Soon enough it is our turn at the borehole so Lydia and I take turns pumping while Winnie and Danny pass the jerricans back and forth to each other with military precision as each one fills. Finally we fill Danny's little bottle and he pops it on top of his head and proudly begins marching off. Lydia calls him back though as we still have to try and lug mine up onto my head first. My jerrican, I should point out, is tiny compared to Lydia's but I still struggle to lift it from the ground. With Winnie and Lydia's assistance, we manage to balance it quite securely on my banana wrap and - with baby steps - we set off. With each movement, the water in my jerrican sloshes from one side to the other, which in turn makes me lose my balance. I am holding the jerrican in place with my right hand whilst holding out my left as if I were on a tight-rope at the circus! I can hear Lydia - who is walking behind me - trying to stifle her giggles. She of course is balancing her extra large jerrican with no hands at all. Bah! After a much longer (and hotter) walk back to the compound, I do eventually manage to take about four steps without holding onto my jerrican. It is only a small success, but I'm dead proud.
Just after 11:00am I set off on foot for Bujagali. There are a couple of things I need to buy and some people that I want to say goodbye to. Moses has also given me his laptop as he wants me to do a bit of work for him. So my first stop is In De Nile where I order a coffee and get to work. It is hard to concentrate today as I keep looking out over the River Nile and wishing I had "just one more week" to savour the view. It really is out of this world and has become more beautiful to me each week. The thought of being home surrounded by concrete and back in a world where people walk past each other on the street without so much as a glance makes me a bit sad. I chat to Charles who has kindly charged my phone for me numerous times and kept me very well entertained when a storm has descended upon Bujagali and I've found myself stranded there for a while. The waitress comes over to say she has heard that I am leaving and she is sorry to see me go. She then wishes me happy birthday for some reason LOL I pack up the laptop, we have a group hug and I make my way out of the cafe quickly before they can see my watery eyes. On my out, I bump into PK (a friend of Moses) and we stop and natter for a bit. PK moved to Uganda a number of years ago from Australia and set up the quad centre at Bujagali. He loves it here and says he would never go back home now. He is quite happy, running his business and chilling with his dogs (the ones that Winnie is so terrified of, bless). I am envious that he is staying, whereas I am leaving. Although I don't think I could live in Uganda full-time, I will miss so much of its unique charm and wish I had just a little longer.
I grab a chapati from Mohammad's stall and stop by at Fatuma's shop to cuddle baby Nathan as much as I can. All too soon after visiting them, I have to admit that I have run out of time and must get back to the compound. It is now 5:00pm! Fatuma pulls me in for a hug, nearly smothering me with her 'ample bosom', and baby Nathan grabs at my legs, crying. One more hug and I dash off to the boda men at the corner. I am by this time blubbing hard so I'm quite glad that Boda Bob is there and can just take me home without having to argue the toss about the price.
Turning down the path to our house, I hear the generator and when we pull into the compound, I can see that Moses and the kids are already inside the house watching music videos. Blimey, the party has started early! I suggest that I should shower and change but Lydia and Winnie insist that I go straight into the living room and watch the videos with them. Fair enough. Moses announces that I am to pay for no beer tonight and that I can drink as much as I like. Famous last words Moses .... hehehe
The music is cranked up, Moses puts on all my favourite music videos. Such as Mr Handsome which I know all the words to now and can make the kids fall about laughing whenever it comes on as I break into song and dance. The beer is flowing freely and even Moses's elderly aunt is getting into it, challenging me beer for beer! The kids are dancing around and the room is filling up quickly - quite a few kids from the neighbourhood have arrived to say goodbye to me also. I go and sit on the porch for a few minutes to get some air (it is like an oven in the living room now!) but the kids follow me out and climb all over me. Florence calls from the kitchen and the older girls race across to the compound to her. Moses motions for me to come back into the living room and take a seat. A few minutes later, plates of food start to be brought in by the girls and Florence and Agnes. It seems to be neverending and I have not seen this much food in my whole stay here! There are chicken legs, pork stew, minced beef, posho, matoke, rice, millet bread, pasta, chips, groundnut sauce, sweet potato, butternut squash etc etc. I have also provided chocolates and biscuits tonight so we seriously have a feast on our hands! Moses can see my eyes getting bigger and bigger and explains that Maureen and Lydia had demanded that he put on an "extra special" party for me. I blush openly and just can't get over how much food is in front of us. We all tuck in together, even Florence and Agnes who are usually still stuck in the kitchen during meal times. It's wonderful and I look around me and just feel so happy. Florence and Moses are joking around, feeding each other and the kids are giggling, interrupting their dinner to quickly have a dance if another of their favourite songs comes on. The beer is still flowing - and even Florence has grabbed a couple of bottles and stashed them by her feet. Ha ha! I am having the best night and am really touched by their generosity. Okay, so it's probably not the fanciest of affairs, but this is definitely the most wonderful party I have ever been to! We drink and dance and laugh and go nuts until about 12:30am. The atmosphere is just brilliant all night long, with everyone in the highest of spirits. I am honoured to be a part of it - and Moses thanks me for bringing his family together in this way. Awwww! Eventually, Danny and Winnie fall asleep on the sofa (god knows how with all the noise) and John is fading fast. I think Moses is pretty beat too although, even after we've turned off the music, Florence is still dancing around with a beer bottle. I ask her if she's getting tired yet and she just giggles and winks at me. Love her! I must admit, although I am buzzing from my party, I am totally beat and need to get some rest in for tomorrows travels. I weave and wobble my way back to my room and fall asleep with a smile on my face, giggling to myself as I think of the various family members and their wild dancing and silly facial expressions. It's been a night of continuous laughter and they had a blast and that makes me very happy.
I seriously need to pack. It is nearly 9:00am, I'm leaving for the airport at lunchtime and, apart from waking up with a bit of a hangover, I have not achieved anything today.
After my shower and breakfast, I begin to take apart the 'mini life' I have built up in my room for the last six weeks. It's funny how quickly places become 'home' to me but after a lifetime of moving, that's just how it is. I am definitely sad to be leaving my little room and, although the kids are glued to the area outside my door, I beg them not to come in and 'help' me as it will just start the tears too early. They sit outside making crying noises and laughing at me instead. Cheeky so-and-so's! I give Maureen and Lydia some of my tops that I know they liked, and Danny inherits my water bottle despite it being pink and covered with flowers. He loves it. Packing done and bags propped up outside my door, we move over to the porch where we listen to the radio and dance. I share one last lunch with Moses (chapati, cabbage and leftover chicken) and watch the kids argue about who is going to sleep in my room tonight. Danny wins.
Moses and I are finishing our lunch, and the kids disappear for a bit, reappearing with individual envelopes addressed to "Neffy, my sister" or "Neffy, who I love". I am told that I can't read them until I have left. There is one from Issac, Lydia, Maureen and David. The kids then announce that they want to make a 'film' for my family and they line up and introduce themselves one by one while I video them on my camera. I am seriously choking back the tears at this point and just want to yell "Surprise! I'm not really going today. Hey, let's all go swimming instead!".
As Florence clears away the plates and Moses instructs Charlie to fasten my backpack to the bike, a strange wave of panic washes over me. This is really it! I'm going home! A massive part of me is so excited to see my family and friends, but another part of me is pulling at me to stay here forever. Aagghh! It's awful, and as I make my way round to each family member to say goodbye, I can't hold back the tears any longer and they stream down my cheeks like a waterfall. Winnie runs into her room and won't come back out, Danny walks around with me stroking my hand saying "Don't cry Neffy" and Lydia tries to look tough but keeps wiping her eyes with the corner of her t-shirt. Charlie has gone ahead with the bike and my bag, and Moses and I make our way from the rear of the compound out to the road. Danny and Lydia are following us but as we get to the road, Lydia says she wants to go back and I can see she is crying openly now, which in turn makes me 10 times worse. I give her the biggest hug and promise her that I will see her again. Moses and I set off again, with Danny in tow, and I turn one last time to look at the compound behind us, watching Lydia walk slowly down the path, wiping at her eyes. I want to run back and scoop her up. Instead, I walk about 5 paces behind Moses and Danny sobbing as quietly as possible so as not to distress Danny.
The three of us set off up the road, catching up with Charlie and the bike. Danny is strutting his stuff in my cowboy hat and Moses is explaining to bewildered neighbours that we pass that the Muzungu is not sick or hurt and that I'm just crying because I am leaving. They still look bewildered. I try to remember every detail of things we pass, not knowing when I will be back here. The trees, the flowers, the mud, the houses, the children, the smells, the noises. It's just so beautiful. My feet are so unaccustomed to the proper shoes I am wearing today that they very quickly start to rub. My plasters are of course packed away and so Moses decides that I will wear his flip flops, he will wear Charlie's and Charlie ... well, he will go without. Bless. Sooner that I had hoped, we see the main road in sight. A taxi van thunders past at the top of the road and Moses puts his arm up. Sure enough, about 30 seconds later, the taxi van reverses back into view and turns down our road to pick me up. Charlie and Moses squash my backpack into the van and then there is nothing left to do but say goodbye. I throw my arms around Moses and Charlie and pick Danny up and squeeze the life out of him one more time. I am so embarassed as I climb into the taxi van (which is, as usual, crammed to capacity), still sobbing and waving frantically out of the window. A few seconds later, the Owinos disappear out of view and I am heading towards Jinja for the last time.
It is only when we arrive and I step out of the taxi van that I realise I am still wearing Moses's flip flops. In Jinja, the driver carries my bag for me over to my connecting ride. He has already told me that the 'coaster' bus to Kampala should cost 3,000 so when I am quoted 6,000 by the next driver, I stand my ground. I have been having this argument for six weeks now and these days I don't back down. The driver picks up on this and reluctantly takes 3,000 shillings from me and lets me on the bus. I plug into my iPod and settle down for a few hours.
After enjoying a bit of music and an old Chris Moyles podcast, we arrive in Kampala and hit a wall of chaos. I have never seen a taxi park like this one! The one in Barbados can be manic and overwhelming at times but this is just insane. Vans and buses are wedged together with passengers stuck inside until the vehicle can squirm its way into a gap somewhere, drivers and threatening other drivers through open windows and if you look ahead of you, all you can see are the roofs of about 100 taxi vans. The taxi park is set on an incline so it's quite a sight when you first arrive. It looks like an audience at a rock concert (think Milton Keynes Bowl), but all the people have turned into vans - and no one is going anywhere. After being trapped in this for more than 30 minutes, a gap opens next to us and the driver advises us that we should all get off here. Good idea. I hop down the three steps off the coaster and, cautiously avoiding death, I make my way between the vans and buses that are also now letting people off at this point. I practice my 'green cross code' about every 3 seconds, looking left and right and then basically shutting my eyes and hoping for the best.
Eventually I see a sign in the far corner of the taxi park for the Entebbe bus but I can't get to it. Literally. There is a wall of taxi vans in front of me, jammed bumper to bumper. I explain to one driver where I need to get to and enquire if he has any idea how I can cut through. He just shrugs and mimes that I should climb over. I decide against this, however, so I wait and watch and then bravely hurl myself in between taxi vans each time one moves more than 12 inches. It's crazy and I'm not convinced I will get to the other side without at least one broken bone but Neffy has a plane to catch!
Phew! I make it over. I find a seat in the taxi van and pay my 2,000 shillings ("no, it's not 5,000 Mr Driver so don't even bother") and 30 minutes later we arrive in Entebbe town. The taxi van doesn't go all the way to the airport so I now have to find a boda. And as per usual, as soon as I put my foot on the ground from the step off the van, a boda pulls up. He's a young lad and as I try to haggle him down from 8,000 shillings to 2,000 (we are only going 5 minutes up the road!) he mentions that he is from Bodondo. I tell him that we are practically neighbours then and that I have been living with a local family in Kyabirwa for the past six weeks. He looks doubtful but we then exchange pleasantries in Lusoga and, with this new information, we conclude our business negotiations and agree on 2,000. Thanks neighbour :-)
At the airport, I find a cafe and sit down with a coffee and a newspaper. And r-e-l-a-x. Now, some time passes and I want a ciggie. This is harder than you think and involves 'smuggling'. At Entebbe Airport, you have to go through a bleeper machine and put your bags on the x-ray conveyor just to enter the terminal and have a coffee. Even if you are just meeting someone there. So this process has to be repeated each time you go in or out. And you're not allowed to take anything flammable inside the airport. Even matches. Even if you're not flying. "It's just the way things are here". So after my coffee, I pick up my backpack and my shoulder bag and my newspapers and bottled water (hassle!) and head outside. I have to sneak around the corner of the airport so that the security man doesn't suss that I'm smoking. I puff puff puff and then head back through the doors. My backpack goes on the conveyor and the man nods at me to go through the bleeper. Before I step through, he calls me back. He has seen the ciggies in my shoulder bag come up on the x-ray. He wants to know if I have matches or a lighter. I assure him that I do not. That satisfies him and as I pass through the bleeper without incident, I am allowed to continue through back to the cafe for another drink .... with my matches safely tucked into the elastic of my knickers. Shhhhhh.
I have three hours to wait until I can pass through the second set of doors through to check-in. At Entebbe, once you check-in your bags, you have already gone through the first set of security so there is no going back. So I step outside once more to savour my last smoke as I admire the African sunset. Uganda looks - and is - stunning and I breathe it all in one last time before heading back through the main doors.
Through security and upstairs in Duty Free, I find a cafe/bar and order one final Club and one final Nile. I will miss African beer. Especially since it costs about 30p in the villages. Unfortunately, football is playing on the television (Liverpool vs Everton) and I already begin to feel a million miles away from the dust and mud and peace of Kyabirwa as I find myself surrounded by overweight male Muzungus, chugging beer (yes I have beer, but I'm not 'chugging' okay?), and making loud noises and rude gestures at the tv. Lovely. I decide to cheer myself up and read the letters from the kids. Bad move! Oh how these letters made me cry. I wish I could race back to the compound and cuddle them all one more time. I read them over and over and cry and laugh, and cry some more. People are looking at me now, but I don't care.
I decide to try some last minute shopping. I have 8,000 shillings left so I look at some paper bead bracelets. Shock horror! These are 1,500 in Jinja but here they are 10,000. In the end, I realise that I can't afford anything in the Duty Free shops - but hey, beer is only 4,000 so ...
Finally, at midnight, we are allowed to board the plane. It is not a very full flight so I get three seats to myself. And s-t-r-e-t-c-h. I opt for the chicken dinner and a couple of glasses of red wine (which makes me nice and sleepy) and flick through the film choices. Settle on '500 Days of Summer' (cute film - recommended) and then zzzzzzzzzzzzz.
We land at Heathrow and the morning is dark and wet but - surprisingly to me - amazing to see. I am in awe of all the pretty lights twinkling in the rain and the fast pace of the workers on the runway and the size of the airport. I am glued to my window like a five year old! I wonder what Moses would make of all this? I am almost giddy with excitement when we get off the plane. Heathrow smells so familiar yet so strange - and all the lights are confusing me. I knew I would have to re-adjust when I came home but this seems a bit ridiculous. I've only been away for six weeks and I'm feeling anxious about bright lights LOL
First things first - McDonalds. Where is it, where is it? I search in vain and then get told by a member of staff that there is "no McDonalds at Heathrow". Whaaaaat? What kind of crazy parallel universe is this? She leaves me standing in the middle of the airport, my jaw on the ground, my backpack slowly sliding off my shoulders and down my back as my body gives up on me. Still, I find a last bit of strength from somewhere deep down and head to the Food Hall area to see what else is on offer. Option 1: A fry up for £7.95. Yikes! Option 2: A ham & cheese toasted sandwich for £4.95. You're kidding, right?? In the end, shocked and disgusted, I opt for a bag of Wotsits and a bottle of water - for less than £1.50.
I head over to the coach station where my senses are bombarded yet again. It is freezing in the main hall where everyone is waiting and staring at the Departure Board. There are loud announcements and people pushing past me, stepping on my toes (I'm still wearing flip flops despite it being minus 2). I take my seat amongst the crowd and shiver. I look around me - everyone is wearing boots, hats, coats. Oh yes, I forgot - it's winter now! And here's me, sitting in a long skirt, t-shirt (with the arms cut out!) and flip flops. With no coat to hand, I rummage in my bag for my blanket. I wrap this around my shoulders and put my flight socks on my feet to warm them up. I move to the corner of the coach station, farthest from the automatic doors, and settle on the floor in an area where I can see the Departure Board but not be part of the hustle and bustle. A few people stare at me as they walk past. I wonder if they are admiring my African tan but then it dawns on me - I look like a homeless person! I leap up off the floor and stuff my blanket back into my bag. I continue to shiver. A few minutes later I can hear Moses in my head. If he was here, he would tell me that it doesn't matter what people think and that if I need to keep warm and I have a blanket, then I should use it. Duh. He would also laugh and tell me that I should have dressed appropriately in the first place but I ignore that voice, ha ha.
Over an hour later, after a typically British delay due to 'bad weather', I am snuggled on the coach and happily replying to a text from my son. A few more hours after that and I'm at home, with scrubbed toenails and fingernails, comfy in my pyjamas. My son and I are eating McDonalds (finally!) and watching X Factor. The heating flicks on and the radiator bubbles in the corner. It's dark so I have put on the floor lamp. I pour myself a glass of wine and sink down into my leather sofa. I feel guilty as my mind wanders back to the Owinos. It will be 7:00pm in Uganda now and I can clearly picture what each of them will be doing.
Moses will be working his way through emails while listening to a political debate on the radio.
Lydia, Maureen, Florence and Agnes will be in the kitchen preparing dinner.
Charlie and John will be fetching water.
Danny will be complaining and sulking because he wasn't allowed to go and get water with the older boys.
David and Issac will be moving the goats from the road back to the compound.
Winnie will be reading her favourite book - Gulu Gulu Goes to School.
Uboo will be dozing in the armchair in the sitting room.
The crickets will be chriping.
The bats will be squeaking.
The firewood will be crackling.
I miss it so much already and my eyes start to well up. But I look to my right and see my own wonderful 'baby' boy who is so happy to have me back home, and I know that I have done my bit (for now) and that, although I will never ever forget the Owinos, I am happiest and most useful here, with my own family.
And besides, thanks to the incredible memories they gave me, I can switch off the tv, shut my eyes tight, and be back at the compound with the wonderful Owino family whenever I like.
The kids asked me on my last night what I would and wouldn't miss from life in Uganda. Here is a short candid list that they helped me to come up with:-
I will miss ...
- The scenery /smells
- Happy children / enthusiasm at the school
- The Owinos (obviously)
- Danny's cute little stutter
- Boda rides
- Sunshine / blue skies
- The simple life
- View of the River Nile
- The little shops at Bujagali
- Clapping in class
- The music
- Cooking with Florence
- Jack fruit
- The animals that run around the compound
- Chickens walking into class at school
- The showers (yes, these grew on me)
- Groundnut sauce / sausage
- Fresh cows milk for breakfast
- The plain speaking newspapers
- Roasted maize corn right on the cob
- Waking up to bird song
- Chatting with Moses on the porch
I will not miss ...
- The damn rooster
- Length of time it takes to get anywhere
- The latrines / the bats in the latrines
- The crazy heat
- Matoke / posho
- Frogs on a suicide mission when you're going to the latrine at night. Squish!
- Taxi van rides after a few days of constant rain
- Doing laundry / getting blisters
- Mud / rain / dust (any combination of the three!)
- The man in Jinja with lepracy who tries to grab you as you walk past
- Relying on head torches
- The flies
- My 'red bucket'
- Sore bum from sitting on the hard benches / ground
- Children begging as you walk past. Very sad :-(
We also came up with a list of the words I knew in Lusoga:
Jambo = Hello
Oli Otya = How are you?
Bulungi = I am fine
Waybalay = Thank you
Kali = Okay
Isukiyo = Welcome back
Saybo = Sir
Nnyabo = Madam
Bambi = Sorry (in sympathy for someone)
Selikay = Be quiet
Wasizotya = Good morning
Eeda = Come!
Daqweeda = I come!
Wangee = Yes? (in response to being called)
Imbeedi = Pig
Imbuuzi = Goat
Enkoko = Chicken
Madhi = Water
Yee = Yes
Mmbe = No
And last but not least, here is a list of everyone's birthdays - except Charlie as no one knows it which is terribly sad. If you would like to send a card or donation for them in the future, please contact me and I will pass your card on with my own.
Please be aware that posted items must be sent two months in advance so please plan ahead!
Maureen - January 5 (1995)
Danny - January 20 (2005)
Lydia - February 17 (1997)
Agnes - April 26
Moses - May 25
Florence - June 19
Winnie - August 26 (2002)Issac - October 26 (1995)
John - October 29 (1999)