Sun sets in the west

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As the sun set in the west, we flew east, out of Uganda and out of Africa. I’m now sitting in Dubai airport full of tinsel, fake snow and bling, neon signs flashing in my tired eyes, trying to convince me I need their diamond jewellery, gold watches, top shelf spirits and overpriced goods. There’s even a Lamborghini on display. Overwhelming to say the least after the week I’ve just had. My cup of tea feels like all that’s keeping these dusty feet grounded.

My trips to Uganda have always been packed to bursting but I feel like this past week has surpassed all others. Refugee camps, solar budgets, Christmas parties, countless visits to far-flung families, several tearful farewells, a journey across the country to visit Rose’s father, a final meeting in the back seat of Dominic’s car flying through traffic en route to the airport… It’s been a busy time to say the least and my head is still spinning trying to take it all in. Where to start?

I returned to KAASO from Kampala on Monday, not riding co-pilot as I had hoped with my solar technician but on the back of a boda to the heaving taxi park where we negotiated our ride on a bus headed south and spent the next four hours sweltering sitting on the engine jammed in between sacks, boxes and of course the obligatory chickens. The pounding Kampala rains made it a steamy affair and I was immensely happy to return to my village home that afternoon. The solar story is long to say the least, and ongoing – negotiations and discussions continued right up until this morning when I had to cut them short to make my flight in time but we still hope to be able to have things resolved before the children flood back through the KAASO gates next year. I will keep you posted…

On Tuesday we packed all of the sponsor children into two cars and with me at the wheel of one and Harriet, the other volunteer, at the wheel of the other, we set off, headed towards the Tanzanian border. At Rose’s suggestion, we were to visit Sango Bay refugee camp on an educational tour for the sponsor children to remind them just how lucky they were. And that they did.

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Not really realising what a refugee camp was, the students dressed in their Sunday best, and on passing through the security checkpoint, were soon surrounded by swarms of wide-eyed children, hopeful of receiving some of the clothing the students had gathered to distribute and no doubt keen for a bit of excitement to break up the monotony of their lives in the camp. It’s a veritable no-man’s-land – many of the inhabitants are in fact Ugandans who left their homeland some 50 years ago in search of more land in Tanzania. Last year the Tanzanian government decided they didn’t want these foreigners in their country anymore and exiled people in droves. Ugandans, Rwandans, Burundians and Congolese were given warning of the impending exile but few believed it to be serious until soldiers arrived on trucks and forcibly removed them, leaving them time to take nothing but the clothes they were wearing. They trucked them across the border and handed them over to the Ugandan government who sent them to Sango Bay refugee camp. The camp now houses 5,000 people, over half of which are children. Unicef and other NGOs are helping to supplement the government supplies and rations in the camp and there’s a makeshift school for over 1,000 children but conditions are pretty dire. I felt uncomfortable being a spectator to such a scene but speaking to the students later, it was clear the visit had had quite an impact and it was interesting to watch the tables turned – the sponsor students are largely orphaned or with little family support and it’s easy to think of them as hard done by but here they were distributing their own clothing to those in even greater need. Everything is relative.

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The following day I threw a Christmas party for the sponsor students and those children still left at KAASO. There are a handful of kids whose parents or guardians have “failed to pick them” as Rose tells me, so they remain drifting around KAASO looking slightly lost and downbeat. So it was a delight to watch their eyes light up when I told them that of course they too were invited to the Christmas party and they eagerly took their place in line to enjoy the feast we had prepared. Henry and I did our annual Christmas tree trip to his mother’s garden where I stood holding a rusty ladder while he hacked at branches with a machete and the car was soon full of the smell of Christmas. His mum took the lead in decorating and soon the classrooms were strung with decorations, balloons and streamers I’d brought with me from San Fran and the Christmas tree was dotted with tropical flowers that the boys brought from the gardens. As I sit writing, Dubai airport is playing ‘Feed the world – do they know it’s Christmas time at all…’ Yes, yes they do.

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The Kiwi Sponsor Committee we formed last year is still going strong (Ugandans LOVE committees) and every holiday they’ve been meeting to discuss the term, write letters to their sponsors (tragically both packages of letters from the last two meetings were lost in the mail but this time I’ve got all the letters safely in my hand luggage) and catch up on school life. Henry lead the proceedings as the Chairman of the committee and Dominic and Rose gave inspiring speeches. Rose talked of the “treasure of education,” reminding them just how lucky they were to have the support they did, encouraging them to “try your level best to find your way” but not to “jump for something – go step by step.” Dominic has the uncanny ability of being able to get across a serious message while still having the room in fits of laughter, myself included. He stressed the importance of the KAASO family, something we all belong to and that even though there are ups and downs, if you are family, you love each other regardless and will tolerate people for all that they are. Rose had the final word, thanking me so much for somehow managing to find sponsors for all these students and therefore changing the course of their lives. Her words reduced me to tears with their simple beauty: “Emma is not just a volunteer, she’s not just Emma, she’s a big lady – even if she looks a bit small. You see – she can create a way where it isn’t.” But that thanks is not mine – it’s to all of you who help, support, encourage and follow my journeys to KAASO. You help me create the way and for that I thank you.

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I managed to catch up with all 25 sponsor students – in their homes, at their schools or back at KAASO. It was nothing short of epic as what started as trying to help one 13-year-old Henry get to secondary school has become a kind of mentorship as I sit and discuss the futures of each and every student. It can be both exhausting and heartbreaking but I wouldn’t have it any other way. There are now four students at nursing school, two doing veterinary certificates, four more about to finish secondary school next year and range of others at various stages of their schooling. My dream is that one day they will all be qualified in one way or another, they will be working and able to support themselves and their families, especially the incredible grandmothers who tirelessly keep families afloat across Uganda, and that they will go on to become role models in their communities as a way of repaying the support they have had both from their sponsors and from the KAASO family.

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My final morning at KAASO, I went to visit Damian’s tomato garden. I didn’t know what to find as the days had run away from me and it had been almost a week since our first discussion. Turning the corner on that dusty path on a scorching morning, I couldn’t have been more impressed. He had slashed two thirds of his half acre plot, dug holes, filled them with manure, planted seedlings and carefully covered each one with homemade banana palm shades to protect them from the relentless equatorial sunshine. Hoe in hand, he was hard at work when I arrived and as he came bounding over to meet me, he couldn’t stop grinning. He was radiant and when I asked if he was enjoying himself I thought his face might explode from smiling so much. He was in his element.

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We went through the budget and he showed me his calculations of each and every shilling I had given him so far and outlined how he planned to spend the rest. I walked away feeling that if nothing else, that one project made every minute of waiting for this trip worthwhile.

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I left KAASO biting back tears as I said my goodbyes to Stellah, the girl I sponsor whose 17th birthday we celebrated together on Thursday, Henry and all the other remaining children. I know I will be back next year but it’s always hard giving those last hugs and turning out the gates with a sea of sad eyes and little waves following me. Loaded with children, suitcases and crops to take to Kampala relatives, I drove Dominic’s car with Rose as my navigator up to Kampala, distributing people and cargo along the way. We arrived late and hit Kampala’s notorious traffic, ending up thoroughly wedged around a roundabout in a pile up of cars, trucks, taxi vans and suicidal motorbikes, of which I inadvertently managed to hit two along the way. Fortunately no one was hurt, just a bunch of shouting at fist-waving at this crazy muzungu driver.

We set off the next morning to visit Rose’s father, ‘just outside’ Kampala – what turned out to be over a two hour drive away. It was a long and dusty road but wow was it worth it. Husband to eight wives, father to over thirty children (Rose lost count at 25) and a prominent magistrate in the area, her father is a fascinating man. In spite of his success, he insisted that all of his children learn the value of money, that food must be worked for and nothing taken for granted. Rose grew up with 15 siblings her age and together they would work in the gardens to ensure there was food on the table. When he retired, her father decided to open a primary school next door to his house to help educate needy children from the area and to keep himself busy. Rose clearly took after her father. Well-spoken, highly educated with excellent English, her father sat with me and thanked me profusely for coming all that way to visit him, saying he was honoured by the effort I’d made to “put him in my programme.” As we spoke, he sat looking from me to Rose and finally burst out laughing saying it was confirmed. I looked at him in confusion – what? It turns out that except for the colour of our skin, he believed that Rose and I looked so similar we could be sisters and henceforth declared that I was a daughter of his and part of his family. It was my turn to be honoured.

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My final night was spent at John and Mirriam’s where I watched on with amusement as Rose and her brother tried lasagne for the first time and her brother’s young boys raced around the front courtyard in John and Mirriam’s daughter’s pram, captivated by this alien contraption. As I sat at the dining table, enjoying a precious glass of Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc which John had been saving for a special occasion, I felt so incredibly grateful to have this amazing network of friends who have come to feel like family in an unlikely corner of the world. The best part is knowing that I will always be going back and that these relationships are forever.

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Fittingly, my last day in Uganda was hectic. Dominic was meant to join us in the morning, coming up on the early bus from KAASO as he had had two weddings to attend in the village the previous day. Of course, the bus never showed and so he missed the meeting Rose and I were having with Rotary John. We were just driving out of his compound gates for the airport when a motorbike came flying in with Dominic hanging off the back, grinning as he jumped off the bike and into the car. All the way to the airport I sat discussing the future of KAASO with Dominic and Rose, hearing their hopes and dreams and brimming with pride. Every time I come back here I am reminded, yet again, of how incredible those two are and how lucky I am to have stumbled across this little gem in a tiny village in the middle of the African continent. What they have done, what they do and all I know they will do, inspires me endlessly and as I look around this glittering consumerist world of Dubai at Christmas, I close my eyes and picture all those little faces I left behind and I am reminded of what’s important in life. And for that I feel truly, truly grateful.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas with those you love.

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To the beat of the drum

You never know how much you want something until you can’t have it. Postponing my trip to Uganda was a decision I made out of respect for those I love and one I knew I had to make, even if it hurt. This past month has given me time to think, process and reflect, and has made me realise, more than ever before, just how much KAASO means to me.

What scared me most was not knowing how long this postponement would be, worrying that if Ebola did manage to spread across the continent and wreak havoc in East Africa, it could be a very long wait. Luckily, that wait was not as long as I’d feared. The case of Marburg found in Kampala turned out to be just that, a single case. It has been contained and all those quarantined released. While Ebola continues to be a terrible plague across West Africa, life in Uganda continues to move to the beat of its own lively drum.

So, after many long discussions, hours of research and several hilarious conversations with the village (one of which was with Teacher Enock who told me, “Madam Emma, you may come back. Marburg – he is not here!”), my flights are booked and on Friday I return to my Ugandan home. And I do so with the full love and support of my family who are right behind me in my decision.

Thank you for all your messages this past month, to those of you who reminded me how to smile when my face forgot, who reassured me that my little friends would still be there waiting when I returned.

As Dominic replied when I forwarded him my flight details:

“This is very good. We shall be so happy to have you on the 23rd. Everybody here is very eager to receive you and I think the whole school will go crazy when you arrive.”

The feeling is mutual.

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Laying eggs, laying bricks

When I was last in Uganda in November 2013, a volunteer named Daniel O’Kelly had fundraised with his family to construct a chicken house and had left enough money to purchase 200 chicks. The building had been constructed and the chicks lined up with the breeder in Kampala but KAASO lacked the funds to buy chicken feed and other essentials.

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Thanks to the generous support of family and friends, we raised the money to complete the project. Trucks arrived bearing giant sacks of feed and Dominic went out and purchased the troughs, drinkers and lanterns needed for the chicken house. Money was set aside to vaccinate and de-beak the chickens on their arrival.

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When Dominic and Rose drove me to Entebbe Airport, they came back with a car full of 200 chicks – this was one time I was happy to be on a one-way journey to Kampala… Now, seven months later, the chicken project is thriving. Last year in the USA, Dominic was introduced to the concept of ‘Career Academies’. The basic concept is to integrate projects into the school that will help the children learn practical skills beyond the standard academic curriculum. Rose adopted the chicken project as a career academy, selecting students to be ‘chicken monitors’ and teaching them how to raise chickens so that one day they can use these skills to set up a chicken project of their own.

Thanks to the love and care of these chicken monitors, the chicks have turned into chickens and the first eggs have been laid. When I asked Rose if they had sold or eaten the first eggs she laughed heartily. ‘Oh no! We must first eat them because we are longing! So long we have been longing for these eggs and now they have come. Eh, they are so tasty!’ The project will help vary the children’s largely monotonous diet and the remaining eggs will be sold to buy chicken feed and keep the project going. The idea is that the project becomes self-sustaining, generating income for KAASO, providing protein in the children’s diet and helping teach new skills to the chicken monitors.

Here are some of the latest shots of the chicken project from Amanda and Kartal Jaquette who have just returned from KAASO:

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And here we have it – our precious first egg!!

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With thanks and love to the generous donors behind this great new initiative:

Willem Jan van Andel

Don & Maureen Robertson

Christine Belanger

Judy Blackman, Shelley Duncan & Margaret Koski

Catherine Smith

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Not only are the chickens laying eggs, but the workers have been doing their own laying – brick laying! With another amazing donation from Willem Jan van Andel, the KAASO school perimeter will finally be enclosed. Here are the latest images coming out of the village showing the front wall that now separates the school from the road. The fence will soon be completed with metal gates at the main entrance and iron bars filling in the triangular spaces. KAASO has children as young as 3 years old and now the entire school can be closed off, helping keep the children safe and secure.

It is an exciting time at KAASO with Dominic about to head off to the USA on Saturday where the KAASO network will no doubt grow further.

Thanks so much to you all for reading, for caring and for being a part of this inspiring journey.

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Leaving on a jet plane

On this, my final day in Uganda – for now – the heavens have opened and the rains are falling. Unfortunately not on the crops of the village but on the capital of Kampala, where rivers of mud flow through the streets and the traffic has come to a standstill. It’s hard to believe I have come to the end of my time here, and this past week has been full to bursting, trying to fit in every last minute task on my list, saying a thousand goodbyes and sharing countless hugs.

Last Saturday we had a wedding at KAASO for some of the school’s neighbours who tied the knot on our school field. In the days leading up to the wedding the school was a hive of activity, with friends and relatives arriving throughout the day and night and Rose and Teacher Sarah running around preparing mattresses in the classrooms to house the onslaught. I was dressed in one of Rose’s beautiful satin gomesi, the traditional Ugandan dress, and was inundated with praise for how smart I looked from every man, woman and child. A muzungu in a gomesi causes quite a stir in the village.

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A Ugandan wedding is like nothing you have ever seen. Over 1,200 chairs were lined up under circus-top marquees and strings of lights, flowers and lace criss-crossed in between, leading up to a giant central maypole. No sooner had the bride and groom entered with their entourage, than the rains came crashing down. Thunder and lightning filled the sky as over a thousand of us tried to squeeze under the sodden tents. I had Brenda with me and we huddled together until the tent looked set to crumble and the water was past my ankles; we decided to make a run for it. We splashed our way across the water-logged field and took refuge in one of the classrooms, where dozens of others had had the same bright idea. Taking a seat on a damp mattress on the floor, Brenda promptly fell asleep in my lap while we waited for the rain to stop. Two hours later, the skies cleared, the marching band recommenced and the festivities continued. We ate and drank and danced until I finally snuck away with Brenda to get some sleep, waking at 5:30am to hear the music still blaring from the field. Ugandans sure know how to celebrate.

Before coming here, I had had a generous donation from a friend who suggested I throw a Christmas party for the children. I ran the idea by Rose and it was quickly decided that we would use this occasion to bring together all the sponsor children to celebrate, along with those few children remaining at KAASO for the holidays. Rose and I hit the Kyotera markets, buying sacks of rice, bargaining for bunches ofmatooke, selecting tomatoes, avocados, cabbages and potatoes. In the midst of it all, the car broke down and several hours ensued with me at the garage, somehow having lost Rose, driving around Kyotera in circles, eventually finding her at a roadside stall where she’d gone to visit Dominic’s sister. It was dark by the time we got back to KAASO where I was grateful for our team of helpers who magically appeared to unload the car for us.

The day of the Christmas party, we awoke at dawn. Sacks were laid across the dirt courtyard, giant cauldron-like pots lined up, fires were lit and the peeling began. The sponsor girls were responsible for the food while the boys slaughtered chickens then decorated the school ‘hall’ (three of the classrooms with the wooden petitions removed). I made myself scarce for the chicken slaughter but enjoyed helping with the decorating. I had bought Christmas decorations while in London staying with my brother and the children delighted over the flags, banners, streamers and mini Christmas trees I pulled from my bag.

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Back in my village home

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.

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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. Continue reading

Back down the red dirt road

I left this place with a promise to return. Whether or not anyone else remembered my promise, I certainly did and I know I would not have felt complete had I not honoured my word. To return at all was a dream come true. And to return with both my parents was beyond a dream.

After so much time away you can’t help but wonder if the children will still remember you, one of many volunteers to have made the trek down this red dirt road and I worried that maybe time had washed away the sense of belonging I once felt here.

I was wrong.

From the minute we touched down on African soil I felt an overwhelming sense of belonging, a warmth that extended past the heat of the day and a feeling that everything was in its place; I had come home. Dominic greeted us like the long lost family we came to realise we were to him, engulfed in emotional hugs. We spent a night amidst the chaotic rumbling of Kampala where you feel as if nothing is ever still and if you pause for too long you will be carried away by the crowd.

The road back to KAASO took my breath away. It felt as if I had never left as we flew back over dirt roads, through villages that had changed little in my years away, the urban quickly giving way to rural as banana palms overtook the roadside and buildings turned to mud. We arrived late at KAASO in the black of night and I assumed the children would be sleeping. Yet again, I was wrong. There was a cacophony of sound as from the darkness emerged a hysterical mob of children who would have carried away the car like a sea of ants had we not quickly jumped out and instead let ourselves be engulfed by the swarming crowd. Little hands fought to find my skin with cries of ‘Madam Emma! Madam Emma is BACK!!!’ White teeth and eyes smiled at me through the night and as their cries turned into song, my tears fell freely. ‘You are my Sunshine’ merged with ‘In the Jungle’ and the guitar soon came out for an impromptu rendition of ‘Que Sera Sera’, little bodies swaying, overcome with joy. I was home.

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There is always the worry that in returning somewhere, things will have changed. Here, I had feared that perhaps this would be for the worst. I was crazy to have doubted for a moment. Dominic and Rose have taken this school, in the words of Ivan and Miral, from good to great! Kiwi House still stands as proudly as ever, there is a full-time librarian in a library complete with books, the other volunteers here have been taking daily computer classes on the laptops we left behind, there is a live-in nurse in the sick bay Cherie so lovingly painted in the hope that one day it would be used for its intended purpose and the children are still laughing, smiling, living, loving – and singing. Even the new children know every single word to the songs I taught in 2009. It is overwhelming. Continue reading

The eve

In Notting Hill I sit, where the sun shines through the rain, preparing for my journey back. This time tomorrow I will be wedged into a car between countless bags, my parents and guitar, Dominic, and no doubt a few chickens thrown in for good measure, headed for Kampala. It is hard to imagine how it will feel to be back in the village that stole my heart two years ago.

All I know is that the thought of hundreds of smiling faces waiting for me at the end of the long dusty road is enough to make this already emotional girl weep.
Nothing ever felt so right.

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Setting forth

One year and seven months later, I am flying high. I left Sydney in the red light of dawn this morning, the rising sun following behind as I flew westwards. In September last year I moved to Sydney to write and to pause, to collect my thoughts and create some semblance of stability in the ever-changing tide that had been my life on the road for the past four years. I adopted local cafes, local bars, local walks, local bookstores and of course my local beach. And in spite of my perpetual fear of ‘settling’, I found myself overcoming such worries and falling head over heels with my new home. It’s nice to know I now have a base in the world from which to flit and as my taxi took me through the deserted 4am streets, I was sad to leave. But I will let the winter take hold in my absence and return in August with the scent of spring.

I went to the beach yesterday evening one last time and watched as the sky faded from pink to blue and darkness overtook. The surfers squeezed the remaining light out of the day and two ambitious fishermen cast their lines into the surf. I was bombarded by seagulls and shared smiles with evening walkers, fellow drifters able to enjoy the last of the light that slips away while the 9-5 workers battle the traffic home. I walked on the warm sand at the water’s edge, retrieved my flip flops where they faithfully wait for me each day and farewelled the beach that has come to be my source of inspiration over the past months.

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I made a promise, not only to myself but also to the children of KAASO that I would be back to Uganda within two years. I’m not sure they really understood but I am a girl of my word and now, 19 months after leaving the village, the time has come for me to return. Thus I find myself on the start of a journey that will ultimately deposit me back in the place that stole my heart. I have with me over one hundred children’s books, laptops, cameras, coloured pencils & paints, mosquito nets, malaria tablets, my guitar and my parents in tow. I still can’t quite believe I managed to convince mama and dad to join me on this potholed road but in spite of initial hesitations as riots erupted in the streets of Kampala when we were about to book our flights, the dust has settled and I will have at my side two very excited companions on my journey back to KAASO.

I am holding my breath for that first step on African soil, those first crushing Ugandan hugs, the first sight of Kiwi House, the first song shared beneath my music tree and of course my first bite of matooke…

Out of Africa

It is the beginning of the end. I am now in Kampala on the start of my long journey ‘home’. Home being London for 48 hours then the south of France where I will be working on the Louis Vuitton Trophy for three intense weeks before crossing the Atlantic on the good ship Sojourn… Nothing seems quite real and my head is spinning trying to comprehend the fact that I have, after six incredible months, left KAASO and will soon be out of Africa. Half a year seemed like such a long time from the outset and there were definitely times when it felt like time was standing still – when you’re tired, when you’re scared, when there are bats in your room, when the pump is broken and you have no water, when the solar power dies yet again and you’re sitting in darkness… But these last few days have flown by so quickly and now I’m left wondering where the time has gone. I will soon be sitting on a plane wondering if this was all a dream, knowing that I will never fully be able to comprehend all that has happened, all I have seen and done and been fortunate enough to have been a part of for the last six months. It’s overwhelming.

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This last week has been an extended farewell, a week of finality – final classes, final songs, final hugs, final smiles, final meals, final bucket bathes, final discos, final KAASO hill evenings, final goodbyes and, inevitably, final tears. It’s so difficult leaving such a special place not knowing when I will be back, not knowing when I will see these gorgeous little faces again. But one thing that has emerged over the past months is that there is no way I cannot return. Somehow, I will find a way to get back to this incredible world. I don’t think I could live here forever – I have missed the sea, missed family and friends, drinkable wine, food other than matooke and beans and I am a beach girl at heart – but Uganda will forever be a part of me, part of my history and a part of my soul and the idea of walking away forever is incomprehensible. So I will be back, this much I know. The ‘how’ will follow…

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Before leaving, I spent as much time as possible with the children, in classes and around the school, trying to make the most of my final days with them and making sure these memories were etched in my mind forever.

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The teachers tried to explain to the younger children that we were leaving and would not be coming back (for now) but I don’t quite think they understood. The older children certainly did though and we received floods of letters and notes asking us not to go and telling us that they will never forget us. As if it wasn’t already hard enough to leave.

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Bats & beads, dorms & divas…

I have blisters on my fingers from sharpening coloured pencils, I now find it normal to kick giant centipedes from my room, I’ve gone cross-eyed from tying knots in beaded fishing line, the bat that lives in the roof above my head no longer bothers me, I hardly notice the cockroaches that run across our dining table, I say sorry to people for things I didn’t do, I know that I will not be able to walk past a single person without greeting them for five minutes repeating the same phrase, I think nothing of crunching gravel in my rice and when the pond water is muddy brown, I bathe in it anyway. I am officially becoming Ugandan.

So we thought it was about time we got out of the village and had a weekend in the city. Yes, that same city where people literally ran riot through the streets not so long ago but now you would hardly know except for the marked presence of soldiers in the streets. In typical Ugandan fashion, they rioted, made a horrifically gory calendar to celebrate/commiserate/commemorate the dead and dying and forgot about it. And so here I find myself, in the Kampala in search of a glass of wine and a good coffee. So far so good.

With less than a month left at KAASO, time really is flying and the days are so full. The highlight of the week was undoubtedly watching the girls move into their new Kiwi House. And when I say move, I mean move. Triple-decker bunks were carried from the library/computer lab to the new dorm by the 100-odd girls who are now living in Kiwi House. It’s hard to give an idea of the scale of it but picture 100 girls, 100 metal trunks containing all their worldly possessions, another 500 children watching on with interest and in the midst of it all, workmen still working, making bricks and mixing concrete (with their bare feet). It was a sight to see. But construction is all but finished, they are just finalising a few last minute things and then Kiwi House will be complete. It’s an incredible achievement, one we only dreamed could ever be possible and you all have made it happen so sending you all more thanks than you could ever imagine. The official opening is going to be held at Visiting Day on 18th October so we will celebrate in style, probably with an insanely sweet orange soda or some such delight…

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