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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Adventures in Maasailand

The roof of the bus was loaded to the heavens with baskets, chickens, sacks of rice, people and two Kathmandu packs. Inside were dozens of old men, women, children, babies, more chickens and two dusty Kiwis.

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The road looked more like a dried up river bed than anything passable for a 4WD, never mind a bus and it almost got the better of us. At one point we had to all jump out as the yellow bus rocked wildly, stuck in the sand and they thought we might tip over – so better to watch from the sidelines. Somehow the bus was freed without flipping and we continued into the wild. We were dropped on the side of the road (in what turned out to be the wrong town) where we waited. And waited. Eventually two lone motorbikes appeared on the horizon, pulled up in front of us and motioned to get on the back. We assumed they were for us. We sped over more dusty roads as the sun set over Mt Kilimanjaro, rising spectacularly before us. We swerved onto a bridge made from branches and pulled up outside a wooden house in the bush. A man with circles branded onto each cheek, the mark of the Maasai, came from the house and extended his arms in greeting – supa! We had arrived in Maasailand, our home for the coming days…

I have never experienced such incredible hospitality, such generosity, such kindness of spirit, such a desire to teach or such a passion to preserve a unique and beautiful culture as my time with the Maasai. Tumaina, our host, went out of his way to ensure we felt at home – despite being so far away from home in every possible sense. We were warmly welcomed by the entire community of Rombo, a Maasai settlement on the Kenya/Tanzanian border in the shadow of Mt Kilimanjaro and from the moment we arrived, Tumaina made sure we were well looked after. There was hot water waiting for us to bathe (in a bucket but it still felt like luxury), rice and beans to eat, sweet Maasai tea to drink, and waiting under our pillows were beautiful beaded necklaces that his mother had made for our arrival. We were blown away.

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Tumaina was determined to teach us the ways of the Maasai and the first morning was a hilarious occasion – he left the two city girls in the bush to start a fire and keep it going to cook our omelettes (Maasai style) and heat milky tea for breakfast. Inevitably we used all the wrong wood and leaves and the fire went out but he patiently showed us which ones worked best, which ones they used in the bush and soon the fire was roaring. We cooked up a feast – there was no way we were ever going to go hungry here, despite there being the worst drought in living memory with carcasses of cows littering the bush, we were to eat like queens.

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A friend of Tumaina’s arrived to take us to visit his house. When I asked him where he lived, he replied ‘On the border with Tanzania.’ That sounded like an adventure. And far away. And of course we were to use the only transport possible – our legs. Two hours in the scorching sun through land drier than I have ever seen in my life, past withered cows and people (Mayeni, our host for the day, told us that 70% of the Maasai cows had been lost this season and the elderly are also dying – not from hunger or thirst but from broken hearts – here cows are valued as highly as people) until we finally reached a dusty crossroads with nothing but a donkey to mark the spot. This was the border with Tanzania.The Maasai do not recognise the difference between Kenya and Tanzania – this is Maasailand and they live within it. The government and others can make arbitrary borders but this is their land and there is no distinction made between the Maasai from either side – they are one people, united, strong and proud.

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River wild & stories shared

We have ventured along the red roads of Rakai, through the madness of Kampala and now find ourselves in a town called Jinja. From here, the Nile springs from beneath the ground to join a flow from Lake Victoria which winds its way through Uganda and Sudan, eventually finding itself in Egypt which most people (myself included until now) think of as the home of the Nile. As of today I stand corrected – Uganda is in fact the source of the Nile.

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It was not until arriving in Jinja that we realised just how rural Rakai is. Here there is electricity, running water, large buildings and even a brewery (Nile Lager!). We crossed the Nile today over the Owen Falls Dam which supplies power not only to Uganda but also to Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda. Tragically, most of the power goes overseas and for some insane reason the price of power is more here than what they sell it for in neighbouring East African countries. Sometimes the logic of this place is lost on me.

Last night was spent in the home of a Ugandan pastor named John who runs a school/orphanage just outside Jinja. He is hoping for his project to be added to the Kids Worldwide portfolio and so we spent a night asking him a million questions and feasting on Ugandan food – the hospitality here is outstanding. We went into the school today and met all of the kids. There are only 60 in the whole school (a single class at KAASO!) but next thing we knew, the entire school was in a classroom and we were singing and dancing with them, teaching them songs and I just wished I’d brought my guitar. John, the director has intentionally brought all of his teachers from the north of Uganda where people do not speak Luganda so the children are taught entirely in English. They are hugely intelligent and have the same warm smiles as the kids at KAASO. It feels strange to be away from KAASO, our Ugandan ‘home’, so it was nice to have the chance to spend some time with new children in a different part of the country.

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The few days we spent in Kampala were overwhelming – three city girls plunged into the middle of rural Uganda for two months then pulled back into the big city… We were amazed by everything we saw (I actually asked someone if their lights ran off a generator or solar power – he looked at me as though I was mad – ‘Uh, we have electricity.’ Of course.) We stayed in a little guest house in the middle of Old Kampala and when we checked in I tried to show off my Luganda. The man at the reception looked at me confusedly. He did not speak Luganda. Patrick was his name and he was a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. So I launched into French (a damn sight better than my Luganda!) and found out his life story. Continue reading

Under African Skies

Everyone had told me that Africa gets under your skin and I had understood the concept but not yet experienced it. It’s hard to believe we have only been in Uganda for five days, at KAASO only four. And yet I feels as if I have been here forever. While the enormity of everything continues to overwhelm, I know this is where I am meant to be.

When we first arrived in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, we were met by Dominic, the director of the orphanage/school at which we are living. He was and continues to be full of smiles, full of life and a complete inspiration to us. We were led to the carpark and directed to put our bags in the boot. He opened the boot to make space and I blindly put my head in only to be hit in the face by a startled chicken rocketing towards me that had been held captive in the boot – a gift from his cousin. It was a hilarious start and set the scene for this world of surprises that we have come to accept as (almost) normal.

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Kampala was a feast for the senses – smells, noises, sights and tastes we had never before experienced. Baskets of bananas balanced on heads, boda bodas weaving precariously through gridlocked traffic, markets overflowing with fresh fruit, chickens running freely, brightly coloured clothing wrapped around tall, proud women and an overriding sense of movement.

Dominic drove us down from Kampala into the countryside. Here the earth was so red, the sky so blue and the mass of banana plantations the most stunning green. We crossed the equator and into the Southern Hemisphere and I was amazed to simply pass from one hemisphere to another without ceremony – I was brought up to believe it was by sea that you crossed the equator with the obligatory toasts and libations to King Neptune. We arrived at KAASO in the evening, exhausted but happy to have arrived at last.

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