On the road

After a whirlwind of dust, discos, catastrophes, hospitals, illness, heartbreak, vino and ultimately laughter, we are at last on the road. In a Jack Kerouac-does-Africa sense of the word. We will be jumping on and off public transport as we journey across East Africa for the next six weeks. It’s going to be intense, amazing and I can’t wait.

P1010047

But first… Stories from the last couple of weeks. We arrived back at KAASO after our Nile adventure to be met with an epidemic of sickness. Children were lying everywhere in various states of disarray, burning with fever and delirious from malaria and other unidentified illnesses. It was heartbreaking to see and I have never felt so helpless. Here, it seems, there are two types of medicine – malaria medicine and panadol. If it’s malaria, you take malaria medicine. Anything else can be fixed by a panadol and a cup of syrupy juice. Apparently. Except for the other day, when Rose came back to school dressed in her beautiful gomesi. She had been at the funeral of a 17-year old girl who had died the previous day. I asked her how she had died.

‘Headache,’ was the reply.

I looked at her in disbelief. ‘She had a headache and… then she was dead??’

‘Yes,’ Rose said simply. ‘You know these village people, they won’t take someone to hospital until they’re in a coma.’

No, I don’t know.

It’s worlds away from all I’ve ever known. But that’s just the way it is. People here have such an acceptance of death, they understand the close proximity between life and death and people believe that there is nothing you can do about it. Just keep on going, hoping it’s not yet your turn.

I came back from class a few days later, buzzing from having had 50 five-year olds clapping and dancing, only to turn the corner to be met with a sea of bodies sprawled across the dusty ground. I was horrified and asked them what they were waiting for. The nurse. They were so hot and half of them still wearing their woolen jumpers in the scorching sun so I took them off and stood helplessly wondering what on earth I could possibly do. Endongo. My guitar. I ran inside and came back carrying this most prized possession which is still met every time with wide eyes and shy smiles. I sat down next to Brenda, a tiny girl from my P1 class and began to play ‘You are my Sunshine’. Soon there were little faces popping up all around me, lighting up in smiles, those that had the energy sitting up and singing along quietly. It wasn’t much but at least it was something. It helped to pass the time until the nurse arrived and gave them hope that at least someone cared and wanted to spend time with them when they had no parents to do just that.

So in the midst of all this sickness, I guess it was only a matter of time before one of us fell prey to it. I was the lucky one. Fortunately it wasn’t malaria but I was hit by some chronic stomach bug which left me doubled over in bed wanting to die. Kirsty was a wonderful nurse, giving me plenty of drugs and forcing me to drink electrolyte solution tasting so foul I couldn’t help but wonder if the people making it had ever tried it – especially when you feel like you have an army marching through your belly…. And then a few hours later, Kirsty was struck down so the two of us lay in bed, writhing in pain and taking solace in the fact that at least if we died, we’d die together. After what felt like forever (in reality only two days) it passed and we are now fit and healthy. Although I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat maize porridge again which was what I’d eaten just before the pain started. Not a major loss.

I was one of the lucky ones. My illness left as quickly as it came. Others have not been so lucky. Two days ago I was walking through the school when Claire, one of the tiny girls from nursery came stumbling along looking awful. I crouched down to speak to her and quickly realised she could hardly breathe and was struggling with each breath. We brought her back to the house where Cherie tried to give her a spoonful of medicine but she vomited it straight back up over me. We needed urgent help. So I’m standing in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere with a seriously ill child who has no family for miles and we need to get her to hospital but there is no transport. It’s a terrifying feeling. I became more and more panicked as the girls tried desperately to find a boda boda to take her and I held her as she battled for breath. Finally one came and I jumped onto it with Claire and the school secretary. Half an hour of bumping along the dustiest roads with the worlds largest potholes (you could picnic in one), me clutching Claire, my ear to her head to make sure she was still breathing, we finally reached the hospital where, amazingly, the doctor saw us straight away. Sorry to the lady already in the room with her coughing baby.

It was infuriating not knowing what was going on – no one here asks questions. Like the girl who died of ‘headache’, you trust the doctors blindly and don’t bother to even ask what the problem is. Doctor knows best. Fortunately the doctor put up with my frantic tirade of questions and diagnosed it as an allergic reaction to the ‘environment’ which had swollen her breathing tubes and caused them to spasm. Or something along those lines. There was one moment of laughter when he first said she had allergies and I asked to what – food? He looked at me with a gleam in his eye and said that she probably hadn’t developed a sudden allergy to porridge, posho or beans – the only three things the children here are given to eat. They have eaten these all their life and will probably continue to do so. There is no variety. Continue reading

Advertisements

Back into the wild

Our crazy whirlwind of travelling on the beaten track is over and it’s time to go back off it. We have now realised that we are not the only muzungus in Uganda as we’d originally thought. Far from it. There are places here with hot water, cold drinks, power lines that actually connect to the houses (rather than passing over the top to go to Tanzania as where we live), bars and great restaurants.

P1020296

Last night we had dinner with an American guy we met along the way who made us all feel just a little bit amazing by being totally awed at how rural our experience was – he’d been doing medical research in Kampala for 6 weeks and hadn’t seen half of what we’ve been living the last two months. It was nice to be thought of as ‘hard core’ for once in my life and made me realise that perhaps what we’re doing here isn’t quite so normal as I’d convinced myself. Doesn’t everyone go and live in a village at the ends of the earth with three mud buildings and a school of needy children?

Sitting on a packed, scorching bus we made our way out of the city and back to where brick houses give way to mud huts, to where you can no longer walk the street anonymously but are constantly met with cries of ‘Muzungu! How are you?!’ everywhere you go, back to our world of cold bucket showers, dusty pot-holed roads but ultimately back to our home – where there will be 623 delighted children waiting for us. It’s hard not to be a little excited.

It’s going to be a couple of action-packed weeks back at KAASO, trying to do as much as humanly possible before the school holidays kick in and we head off south of the border – Rwanda awaits…

Thank you once more for your overwhelming support for our fundraising project. Donations continue to arrive and we continue to be eternally grateful. We are going to try and get construction started as soon as possible so will keep you updated as much as our technologically-challenged lifestyle allows.

P1020292

River wild & stories shared

We have ventured along the red roads of Rakai, through the madness of Kampala and now find ourselves in a town called Jinja. From here, the Nile springs from beneath the ground to join a flow from Lake Victoria which winds its way through Uganda and Sudan, eventually finding itself in Egypt which most people (myself included until now) think of as the home of the Nile. As of today I stand corrected – Uganda is in fact the source of the Nile.

P1020237

It was not until arriving in Jinja that we realised just how rural Rakai is. Here there is electricity, running water, large buildings and even a brewery (Nile Lager!). We crossed the Nile today over the Owen Falls Dam which supplies power not only to Uganda but also to Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda. Tragically, most of the power goes overseas and for some insane reason the price of power is more here than what they sell it for in neighbouring East African countries. Sometimes the logic of this place is lost on me.

Last night was spent in the home of a Ugandan pastor named John who runs a school/orphanage just outside Jinja. He is hoping for his project to be added to the Kids Worldwide portfolio and so we spent a night asking him a million questions and feasting on Ugandan food – the hospitality here is outstanding. We went into the school today and met all of the kids. There are only 60 in the whole school (a single class at KAASO!) but next thing we knew, the entire school was in a classroom and we were singing and dancing with them, teaching them songs and I just wished I’d brought my guitar. John, the director has intentionally brought all of his teachers from the north of Uganda where people do not speak Luganda so the children are taught entirely in English. They are hugely intelligent and have the same warm smiles as the kids at KAASO. It feels strange to be away from KAASO, our Ugandan ‘home’, so it was nice to have the chance to spend some time with new children in a different part of the country.

P1020112

The few days we spent in Kampala were overwhelming – three city girls plunged into the middle of rural Uganda for two months then pulled back into the big city… We were amazed by everything we saw (I actually asked someone if their lights ran off a generator or solar power – he looked at me as though I was mad – ‘Uh, we have electricity.’ Of course.) We stayed in a little guest house in the middle of Old Kampala and when we checked in I tried to show off my Luganda. The man at the reception looked at me confusedly. He did not speak Luganda. Patrick was his name and he was a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. So I launched into French (a damn sight better than my Luganda!) and found out his life story. Continue reading

Translating words into action…

Life at KAASO continues to spin me, throw me, baffle me and make me smile. The sun is beginning to climb and you know that in a matter of minutes the day will be scorching beyond belief. After six weeks here there is a strangely contradictory sense of really belonging, while also knowing that you will never quite understand what’s going on. It’s a paradox you learn to embrace, to accept and ultimately to enjoy.

Many of you have expressed a desire to contribute, to donate in some way and for this I am eternally grateful. We arrived here knowing that we wanted to do everything in our power to help the school and the community – yet also knowing that we needed to first spend some time here to soak it all up and to understand what really needed to be done. Having talked with Dominic and Rose for hours the past weeks we have finally worked out the greatest fundraising priority for the school: the completion of the half-finished girls’ dormitory so that the computer lab and library can be vacated and used for their original purpose.

P1000327

P1000325

The computer lab/library has been completed for some time now but due to lack of space and funds, is currently being used as a girls’ dormitory. As strange as it may seem for children in rural Uganda to need a computer lab, you would be surprised at how great the need is. Many children that are lucky enough to leave KAASO to go onto secondary school end up top of their classes in everything – yet they are failing the computer classes for they have never even seen a computer before. Around the world, computers are becoming indispensable and Uganda is no exception.

In the words of the District Chairman at a recent fundraiser: ‘Very few of our schools in Rakai District having computer training facilities. You may ask: why do these people in the developing world need computers? Computers are now part and parcel of our life. We are trapped between the developed world and our traditional ways. I appeal to you passionately, please help our children to move forward so that we do not become backwards. The world is now a global village, help us to join it.’ Continue reading