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.
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.
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.
Patrick was from the small village of Masisi, located north-west of Goma. In 1997 when civil war broke out, it did not affect him dramatically at first. He studied at university in Goma, graduating with a degree in political science and international relations followed by post-grad in IT. He was seriously intelligent. But then 2004 came and the rebel activity got out of control. His first sister was murdered, the second raped then murdered, leaving behind 8 orphaned children between them for his elderly mother to look after (his father had died years ago). He decided to escape to Uganda to try and earn some money to send home to bring the remainder of his family to safety. On arrival in Goma he was arrested as a suspected spy, beaten horrifically and thrown into jail. He stayed there for 3 months until he managed to escape with a group of other prisoners and bushwhacked through the jungle into Rwanda. From there, he was accepted into Uganda as a refugee and ended up in Kampala homeless, penniless and looking for work. Not an easy prospect for someone who knew no one and spoke no Luganda. Eventually he found work in the guest house where we were staying where he worked day and night, trying to save money for his family. I asked him if he worried about his family, if he was still trying to bring them to Uganda. ‘Of course I am worried, I worry all the time,’ he said simply. ‘But there are 11 of them. Where can I possibly put them?’ I doubted the guest house would take too kindly to him housing 11 others in his small room. He spoke without sensation, plainly but the emotion was there and it was so difficult feeling so helpless. I told him that I was hoping to write a book, to share stories like his so that at the very least people in other parts of the world would be aware of such situations. He looked at me hopefully. ‘Yes, then maybe they will help, maybe they will read about the Congo and they will help us.’
Yes, I thought to myself sadly, maybe.
Everyday there are new stories like Patrick’s and they are heartbreaking to hear. It’s not an easy situation and yet I feel that we are helping in some small way by being at KAASO. It’s only one tiny village in one small part of Africa but it’s a start.
Thank you so much to those of you who have donated, offered to donate or sent words of support – your generosity has been overwhelming. We have raised $4000 so far which is incredible and are still holding hope that we will reach our target and see the project through.
The air is thick but the day is starting to cool a little so we are off to wander the streets of Jinja and experience a very different side of Ugandan life to what we have so far seen. Who knows what lies around the next corner, every day is so full of surprises that I have given up even trying to anticipate…