Africa is inspiring. I am constantly lost for words, overwhelmed and blown away by the spirit of the people in this place. There is so much to absorb, so many wonders around every corner that it is hard to keep track of them all. I am a child again. Muddy feet and wide eyes, everything is new. I truly love it here.
Sitting down and trying to capture it all is a challenge but I will attempt to rise to it, to bring this place to life for you all wherever you may be. At first it was a little daunting, trying to work out what exactly we was best for us to do and we quickly learned that there is no such thing as a direct answer around here. Life is not black and white but shades – time is flexible, schedules are constantly shifting (if they exist at all), you start one thing and then find yourself half way through another, spontaneity is the name of the game and yet there is some kind of organised chaos in which everything gets done in the end somehow, in someway. You soon let go of any attempts to pin this place down, it moves to the beat of its own drum.
School has begun. Monday saw a flurry of activity as children arrived on the back of motorcycles, bicycles, some lucky enough to come by car but the vast majority on foot. The arrival of the students meant a flood of sugar, laundry soap (used for washing: clothes, dishes and people), books, sugary toothpaste, razor blades (used for sharpening pencils, cutting fingernails and shaving hair), pens, pencils, safety pins, brooms (bundles of tied-together straw), hoes (?!) and of course jelly – the wonder cure which boasts to fix pretty much any illness, including every kind of rash imaginable. I’m sticking with my talcum powder for now… The arrival of the children was exciting and heartbreaking at the same time. So many of them were without parents, without school supplies and or any money to pay for them. We soon learned that there was no set rule as to who paid what – or didn’t pay at all and so we quickly resorted to stacking the supplies and left the decisions to the teachers. The school is now filled with laughter. The children are so spirited, so excited by everything and they never stop laughing. There is so much joy here, it is contagious. We are still only half way through receiving the students but by next week we will be: 623 children, 19 teachers, 9 cooks and matrons, Dominic, Rose and 3 muzungu. We are quite a sight.
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Everyone had told me that Africa gets under your skin and I had understood the concept but not yet experienced it. It’s hard to believe we have only been in Uganda for five days, at KAASO only four. And yet I feels as if I have been here forever. While the enormity of everything continues to overwhelm, I know this is where I am meant to be.
When we first arrived in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, we were met by Dominic, the director of the orphanage/school at which we are living. He was and continues to be full of smiles, full of life and a complete inspiration to us. We were led to the carpark and directed to put our bags in the boot. He opened the boot to make space and I blindly put my head in only to be hit in the face by a startled chicken rocketing towards me that had been held captive in the boot – a gift from his cousin. It was a hilarious start and set the scene for this world of surprises that we have come to accept as (almost) normal.
Kampala was a feast for the senses – smells, noises, sights and tastes we had never before experienced. Baskets of bananas balanced on heads, boda bodas weaving precariously through gridlocked traffic, markets overflowing with fresh fruit, chickens running freely, brightly coloured clothing wrapped around tall, proud women and an overriding sense of movement.
Dominic drove us down from Kampala into the countryside. Here the earth was so red, the sky so blue and the mass of banana plantations the most stunning green. We crossed the equator and into the Southern Hemisphere and I was amazed to simply pass from one hemisphere to another without ceremony – I was brought up to believe it was by sea that you crossed the equator with the obligatory toasts and libations to King Neptune. We arrived at KAASO in the evening, exhausted but happy to have arrived at last.
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It’s 2am at Dubai airport and this place resembles Oxford St at rush hour. I never knew there were so many people racing around in the middle of the night. I’m in no hurry – I have a good 8 hours to kill before my next flight and, having dreamed of Africa for so long now, there’s no rush.
So this marks the start of the greatest adventure yet. I will be spending the next 6 months volunteering at a school for orphans in Uganda. Along with my friend Cherie and her friend Kirsty (who I’m yet to meet), I will be living in the village of Kabira in the Rakai District of Uganda, just south of the equator near the shores of Lake Victoria – a good 5 hour drive from the capital, Kampala. There are over 500 children at the school; the area was one of the worst hit by the AIDS epidemic which continues to rage through Africa. I don’t expect to be able to change the world, but perhaps over the next 6 months I will be able to make a difference to the lives of the children I am living with – and no doubt learn more from them than I am currently able to comprehend.
This is it – stepping off into the unknown in a way more dramatic than I have ever done before but I feel as ready as I can possibly be and hope that by keeping an open heart, open mind and living with open eyes, I will allow the experience that is Africa to become a part of me. I don’t want to look back on life wishing I had done something I never did and it’s all too easy to just talk about things without backing up words with action. So here I go.
The next time I step outside the airport will be in Entebbe, where the three of us will be picked up by Dominic, the director of the school, and taken to Kampala for the night. The following day we will begin our long trip south to Kabira. There is no internet in the village and the nearest internet cafe, a half hour boda boda(motorcycle taxi) ride away, burnt down a few weeks ago. However, I will endeavour to keep in touch as best I can, to share stories, observations, experiences and no doubt heartbreaks and inspirations too.