Back home to KAASO – where the water doesn’t flow but the smiles are wide…

Back in my world of wide eyes and even wider smiles and little hands that find my own. After six weeks on the road it really did feel like coming home pulling into KAASO where children came running to greet us from all directions. It’s like being a celebrity in a middle-of-nowhere, rural Uganda kind of way.

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We had barely jumped off our motorbikes when we were taken by the hand and led on what felt like a glory tour around the school, hearing shouts as children ran from dormitories, racing over to welcome us home. We were given Ugandan hugs – i.e. being launched at with such force that last time we returned from a trip I ended up with a bruise on my hip bone.

We soon discovered that two months had not been enough time to fix the broken water pump and the children were still having to carry water from the well in jerry cans on their heads – this was ‘Africa time’ in the extreme. Energised from our trip and feeling the full motivation of just-returned-ness, Cherie and I decided the next day to go to the well with the children to fetch our own water rather than going out of minds with no water to bathe, wash clothes – or flush our toilet. I don’t think we quite realised what we were in for. We followed the children through the school, past several mud huts, through the forest, into a field where we continued to walk until we finally spotted the well – at the bottom of a rather large hill. Trying not to look fazed, we traipsed down the mud path until we got to the well. There was a crowd of children filling their jerry cans and no line that I could decipher but the children seemed to have some kind of system arranged between them. From what I could gather, it was largely based on hierarchy. Being two red-faced muzungus, we did not feature in this hierarchy.

Eventually, we realised that we would wait all day unless we just shoved our jerry cans under the water spout, pumped by a small child that seemed happy to continue pumping for us. We ambitiously filled two 10L jerry cans each then quickly realised our mistake; most of the children had one 5L jerry can. Yes, we were much bigger than most of them but not necessarily much stronger. We struggled back along the dirt track, having to pause embarrassingly frequently along the way. It was hugely satisfying to make it back to school and the looks on the teachers’ faces was worth the effort when they saw the two of us emerge amongst the children carrying our own jerry cans. Unfortunately we got distracted by the gorgeous nursery children who came running out to see us; many of them we hadn’t seen since we got back so we picked them up and spun them around and chatted as best you can with a 5-year-old Ugandan child. It wasn’t until some time later that we turned around to realise our jerry cans had gone. We searched everywhere until we finally asked Rose in desperation – ‘Where would you take a jerry can if you were a small child?’ To the kitchen, she smiled. Back down across the school and there were our jerry cans lined up neatly outside the children’s kitchen – a wooden shack with a fire and giant cauldron-like pot full of porridge. We grabbed our jerry cans and vowed to take more care next time – if we could manage a next time…

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Other than the marked absence of water, the thing that struck us most about being back was the presence of a giant building standing proudly – the new dormitory, soon to be officially named ‘Kiwi House.’ It never ceases to amaze me how slowly things happen here – like fixing a water pump – and yet, given the funds, buildings sprout like wild flowers, almost overnight. Since we had left six weeks ago, they had finished the walls, built an impressively high roof, plastered over the bricks and were starting on the ‘veranda’ (a grand word for what it is but indulge me). Quite simply, it looks incredible. Dominic had told me time and time again while we were away that it was the best building they had ever had at KAASO and that they were so very proud of it but I hadn’t quite realised just how impressive it would be. We are so thrilled to have helped them to create such a landmark – and so grateful to you all for your incredibly generous donations. We have not finished yet with a few phases still to be completed – like window panes and paint – but the end is in sight. Dominic tells me like a broken record that they never dreamed they could have achieved something like this and that without our fundraiser, it would never, ever have happened. So I extend his gratitude to you all – webale nyo as they say in Luganda.

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It has been my dream since I first arrived to somehow put on a production – a school show. I grew up doing more shows than most would consider humanly possible and absolutely loved every minute. I wanted these children to have the same opportunity. So I put the idea to Rose and Dominic, heard their hilarious stories of performing in plays in their university days and got the go-ahead. So I sat down, wrote a play, typed it up on the archaic typewriter, had it ‘photocopied’ on the even more archaic duplicating machine, allocated parts, made a rehearsal schedule, distributed scripts and launched into it. And I can’t stop grinning. I re-wrote The Wizard of Oz, creating an African version, The Wizard of Mwanza. The play is set at KAASO (instead of Kansas), in which the rainy season comes in the extreme and Kiwi House (our lovely new dorm) washes away to Tanzania. The girls spend the rest of the play in the jungles of Africa trying to get home, only to meet the Wizard (Dominic) who stirs a tornado to blow them back to KAASO and they all live happily ever after, realising that there really is ‘no place like home.’ It will be performed for their parents and guardians at Visiting Day in October and I’m hoping against hope that the children in the play will have people come along to support them. Even if they have no parents, I hope that there is someone to come and cheer them on. It’s so much fun working with the kids, watching them grow and light up when you praise and encourage them and I’m finding some great little actors and actresses among them. Today after the rehearsal, I was buzzing so much that I decided if I had done nothing the entire six months except for this play, I would be able to leave happy.

But of course that is just one of many things that colour my world here. Last Friday we were under a strange kind of ‘house arrest’ when the riots of Kampala spread to our region and there were fires and gunshots in Kyotera. In an unbelievable-in-the-rest-of-the-world kind of way, the mobile phone companies were cut off by the government so that people couldn’t communicate with each other. Obviously this was to stop the rioters but it seems incredible that a government can simply barge into the nation’s main mobile company and tell them to shut down the network – and for them to agree to it. Three radio stations are still suspended – they were said to have reported badly against the government. I am grateful that this kind of corruption exists only at a higher level and that it is not part of our daily life here at KAASO. Fortunately the riots have blown over now so I (and mama) can sleep at night. It’s also nice to be able to venture outside the school grounds again!

Time is now flying and with only six weeks to go, I am trying to make sure I do everything I want to do here before I am rocketed back into the Western world. Sometimes it’s overwhelming to try and get my head around the change it’s going to be but I push that to the back of my mind for now and catch the eye of a grinning child as she greets me – “Good morning Madam Emma” – at 6 o’clock in the evening. And I just can’t help but smile.

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