The heavens finally opened, bringing thunderous rain tumbling from the sky and everyone is rejoicing. Since morning, the school has been a hive of activity with children and adults alike running around positioning strategic tubs, buckets and jerry cans to savour every magical drop. A river of muddy water is running through the school, bringing justification to the bridge that otherwise does nothing but span the dusty earth that takes me from my room to Dominic and Rose’s house.
The week since I last wrote has been a roller coaster of emotions, of highs of lows, of heartbreak and happiness. And above all, I have never felt so humbled in all my life. One of the main reasons I wanted to come back this year (other than the fact that these visits have turned into annual pilgrimages) was to visit all of the sponsor children as the first wave finished up their fourth year of secondary school and it’s time to start thinking about their futures. Many children leave secondary school after their fourth year to pursue more vocational courses which helps to speed up their education and get them out in the workforce earning money sooner so that they can support themselves or their families or both. The amazing thing about this year’s visits has been that because the school term has ended, I am visiting each of them at their homes in their villages, meeting their families, and consequentially feeling the full weight of their gratitude for the first time.
My first visit was with David, a boy whom we met in his final year of primary school in 2009. I’ve visited David several times at his secondary school and he is one of those boys who is always smiling, always upbeat and positive. I had no idea what to expect from meeting his family when Rose and I jumped on the back of a boda, the motorcycle taxis used for transport here. We rode over dirt roads for about half an hour before pulling up outside the crumbling mud hut that housed David and what remained of his family.
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 →
It is hard to describe the feeling of being constantly busy, constantly overwhelmed and forever spinning when it seems that all I achieved today was my washing. It is said that Africa runs on a time of its own, that if you get one thing done in a day you’re doing well. It is very easy to think that you understand such things without actually having experienced them for yourself. I am doing so now.
The rainy season seemed to stop overnight (with a very dramatic final thunderstorm) and now our days are filled with scorching sunshine that goes right through you. We are a stone’s throw from the equator and it really does feel as though the sun is directly overhead, beating down mercilessly as we try to do such simple tasks as washing. I showed Rose a picture of a washing machine today and she laughed in disbelief that we simply push a button and the clothes come out clean. Here it involves hours of backbreaking scrubbing, multiple tubs of water (to be filled from a slow-running tap on the other side of the school) and that good old multi-purpose laundry soap.
This morning was filled with much amusement, despite the sweat pouring from me, as every child, adult or animal that passed me paused and thanked me. I was confused as this had happened before and it made no sense for everyone to be thanking me for washing my clothes. Thanking me for being clean? For finally scrubbing up? Because they thought I might do theirs too?? As it turns out, in Ugandan culture each time you pass someone doing any kind of work it is customary to thank them. In fact you must. You must thank each person for the work they are doing, whether it benefits you or not. I guess they just like to encourage things getting done. Now that I can understand.
Every day here is full of wonders. Wonder in the sense that I wake up each morning having no idea how the day is going to pan out, what wild tangent it will end up on. Yesterday we went into Kyotera to go to the food markets and buy school supplies at the local stationery shop. The markets are a feast for the senses; mountains of fresh fruit and vegetables are piled high on makeshift tables on an uneven dirt hillside. Children either run towards us or away from us crying muzungu!! in wonder, horror or a mixture of both. We bought huge juicy pineapples and bunches of tiny sweet bananas and sat munching them on the side of the road (you can’t eat while walking here but there are convenient bench seats all over the place). The markets also feature hunks of dead animal suspended from hooks, swarming with flies. Kirsty is thankful everyday that she is vegetarian. Cherie and I have vowed to try everything here which is quite a challenge at times. I have eaten unchewable meat, an untold number of stones in my rice, any stray bug that flies into my meal, as well as Uganda’s favourite treat – grasshoppers. They’re crunchy, they’re green and they still have eyes that look at you as you eat them. Can’t say I’d recommend them. Continue reading →