I’m sitting at my makeshift desk looking out the window at the children sweeping the dust and cleaning the compound, moving quickly as the skies have darkened and thunder is rolling in. After months of no rain with only a few scattered storms, everyone is desperate for the water that will quench the thirst of the dry fields and withered crops. I am back in a world where the weather gods dictate the fate of the people who rely so heavily on the land below. Worlds away from our society of overflowing supermarket shelves and produce imported year round so that we barely know what should be in season when. For a city girl, this was all new to me in 2009. Now I just feel an overwhelming sense of belonging being back in my village home.
I arrived to the waiting smile of Dominic and, as usual, the journey south to the village was colourful. We stopped by to visit Rotary John who welcomed me warmly and filled me in on the projects that had been going on in Kabira. Beehives, micro-finance projects, eucalyptus forests, poultry farms, pineapple plantations and piggeries have kept people busy and while the drought hinders such efforts, the determination of the people is strong. We left John in Kampala and continued our journey south, making our way along roads which have been steadily improved over the years but this doesn’t seem to decrease the length of the trip. I first thought that we lived a thousand miles from Kampala but in reality it is only around 300 kilometers.
This winding journey is an appropriate way to adjust to African time. Dominic and I chatted about his trip to America and it was clear that he had been affected hugely by his time there. I didn’t think it possible for him to be even more motivated, even more determined, even more inspired than before but he has proven me wrong yet again. The trip opened his eyes to a world beyond his own and he made a huge number of friends from across the globe with his contagious enthusiasm and magnetic personality. Already some of these connections are starting to help KAASO and I feel incredibly proud that we could help facilitate these relationships.
At KAASO, I was welcomed by a mob of excited children who sang and danced and clapped as I entered the school gates. The first face I saw was that of Brenda, one of the little girls from my P1 class in 2009, now 11 years old and growing up fast. It is amazing to watch these children grow over the years and even though every year there are more and more new faces, the old ones take me back to the time when I called this place home.
The children are sitting their end-of-year exams at the moment and I am grateful to have this time with them before they leave next Friday. Some children will remain here for the Christmas holidays and I have many plans of things we can do together so that they do not feel so alone. As I write, I have Brenda and her friend Cissy sitting on my floor reading some of the many books I lugged here – I have my own little library in my room where the children appear soundlessly at the door, whispering their shy requests for books which are gladly granted.
It’s incredible watching Brenda turn the pages of these books, hungrily ploughing her way through my collection. In 2009 she was the last in my P1 English class and I would teach my lesson and then sit with her after class trying to explain a language that was far beyond her. Now, she comes to me daily with stories to tell and laughter to share. She proudly told me that she got 87% in her last English exam and that it is now her best subject. It made my day. It was her birthday the day I arrived and I gave her a small gift but she could only muster a half smile. It all made sense when she explained to me that her father had recently died which leaves her with no one but an elderly grandmother – her own mother died four years ago. But such stories are common and she takes it in her stride and turns another page.
I was proudly shown around Mark House by the children and Mama Fina, the matron of the dormitory who keeps it spick and span, every bed perfectly made with mosquito nets hanging overhead. There are lightning rods on the roof and fire extinguishers on the walls and row after row of double decker bunks fill the space. We succeeded in achieving our goal – a dormitory for the youngest boys in the school that is fire-safe and meets all regulatory standards. There is still a way to go to get all dormitories to this level but it is a start and the gratitude for our efforts is overwhelming.
The guitar is still going strong and last night I gave my first guitar lesson to one of the teachers who Justin, a past volunteer, had been teaching. He came to me requesting that I teach him some new chords and a hilarious lesson ensued, with an audience of a hundred excited faces singing along as we played.
By the time I manage to post this, I will be in Kampala where I am going to visit friends I met here the first time, Sonia and Paul, still going strong with AfriPads. I will also have the pleasure of joining an old friend from Wellington, John, and his girlfriend Miriam in celebrating their daughter’s first birthday. It’s so nice to have friends from around the world here and I am grateful also to have Kim still living up the road to share stories and a drink up KAASO hill from time to time.
Well, it appears the storm has passed somewhere else, leaving everyone here to pack up their expectant water tubs and go about their day. Only the washing hanging on the line is happy for the evasive rain.
This is my fourth day back in the village on my fourth trip here, four years after I first set foot in Uganda. It’s amazing how at home I have come to feel and how much I am accepted as part of the family. I only hope one day I can share this place I love so dearly with some of you. In the meantime, I will keep the messages coming…