It’s raining outside which puts us under a strange kind of KAASO house arrest – leaving is at your peril as the dry earth turns to lethal slippery mud and you are saturated within seconds. Trying to get into town is impossible, the boda boda (our only way out of here) drivers won’t risk the roads in the rain and the whole place just kind of comes to a stop. So I sit under my mosquito net listening to Kiwi music and waiting for the rains to clear and the scorching sun to dry the earth once more. At least it’s good for the plants…
As always, I feel as though the last week has flown, even more so when I open my diary to see written on tomorrow’s page: “One week”. Six months is fast coming to a close. The days are frantic in an African kind of way which means that while you feel busy you’re not often getting a lot done but still end up exhausted by the end of the day. You learn to live that way. It’s going to be a shock to the system to get back to the ‘real world’ where you’re expected to actually tick off everything on your day’s list and not just be satisfied with one out of ten…
Last Sunday was a day of epic proportions. School visiting day saw what felt like hundreds of parents and relatives flooding through the school gates in their colourful gomesis to be met by children who raced to greet them then hung off their arms in delirious excitement. It was wonderful to see so many reunited with their families and to confirm that some did, in fact, have families.
You can never be sure here. I was proudly introduced to numerous mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters and had many hilarious conversations in Luganda – needless to say, they were short conversations! This joy was undercut by the the children who stood waiting at the gate all day for parents who never came, leaving them in tears of disappointment.
The day began with an 8am two-hour mass which Cherie and I somehow managed to dodge – it was our job to decorate Kiwi House for the official opening and we, of course, took our job very seriously. Unfortunately the moment that we chose to begin decorating was not exactly ideal. We’d tried to wait until the mass was over to avoid causing a commotion outside the window hanging our paper chains and fans that we’d made with the children but eventually mass dragged on a little too long and we decided to just begin. So I was balancing bare foot on a chair trying desperately not to fall off in the scorching heat as I tried to thread the paper chains through the rafters, Cherie was laughing at me and trying to help at the same time when the entire congregation came outside. To our horror, the priest began to bless Kiwi House, half dressed as it was with us standing covered in paper chains. Not quite how we’d pictured it. The crowd watched us with amusement as we tried desperately to get it done but we gave up and stopped as they started to take photos of Kiwi house half-draped with paper chains and boxes all over the veranda. It was hilarious.
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.
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…
It never ceases to amaze me that in a country characterised so fully by ‘Africa time’ you can still feel as though you have lived a week in a single day. Every morning I write a huge list of all the things I hope to get done and every evening I laugh at myself as I see how few of them I have actually managed – and yet the days are so full that I often can’t remember the morning by the time I go to bed. Full and fulfilling.
So much has happened since I last wrote that it’s overwhelming to try and choose what to share with you in your far-flung corners of the world. I have sat on a white sand beach and watched the sun set over Lake Victoria, travelled over more potholes than I ever thought possible in one road, danced at a traditional wedding ceremony amongst over 1000 Ugandans, joined the school choir singing in three part harmony in Luganda, attended an inspiring and heartbreaking AIDS workshop, helped at a fundraiser for an incredibly poor school near the Tanzanian border, shared a beer with the Chairman of the district and watched hundreds of school children perform in a music festival under a makeshift marquee held up with sticks. And that’s just the last week!
The Ssese Islands were stunning. Breathtakingly so. After one of the longest short journeys of my life (how can you travel so far and cover so little ground?!) we arrived, barely recognisable we were caked in so much dust, at a campsite by the shores of Lake Victoria. We were overwhelmed to see so many fellow muzungu, it almost seemed indecent to see people in bikinis after so long of our modest village dress. It was amazing to enjoy a beer that was actually cold and to meet an mixture of interesting people from around the world who had been volunteering and travelling in various parts of Africa. The sunset was spectacular over the lake and as we sat sipping our drinks it was easy to forget where we were. There is a kind of bitter-sweet feeling to be somewhere so overwhelmingly beautiful as it’s constantly undercut by guilt at being so lucky to enjoy such paradise while so many suffer.
We met a local boy working at the campsite named William. He had dropped out of school last year when his father died and his mother was unable to pay for his school fees. He was spending this year working to try and save enough money to finish his final year of secondary school. He was 22. The dedication to education here is phenomenal, if children back home had any idea how hard people here worked to put themselves through school and just how devoted they are to their studies – it’s inspiring! We returned to KAASO dusty, battered and bruised from another epic journey crammed into a taxi van with 20 people, 10 sacks of sugar, 4 babies, more bags than I could count and no doubt a chicken or two had found their way in… It felt good to be ‘home’. Continue reading →