Off the beaten track

There is dust that won’t wash off, there are smiles that won’t fade, there is laughter that won’t be silenced and time that won’t slow down. In a place where everything happens slowly, my time in Uganda went all too quickly and before I knew it I was being rocketed from the dusty roads of the village to the sandy freeways of the desert wondering if it was all just a dream. In a way it was.

In Uganda you feel as if you have lived a thousand days in one and by the time you crawl into the cocoon of your mosquito net each night, the morning seems like a distant memory. The days are so full and phenomenal that your head is constantly spinning. On this visit to Uganda, Rose took it upon herself to show me the world beyond KAASO, straying seriously off the beaten track, wandering down every vaguely trodden path in the village, visiting over twenty households from the Empowerment Group, meeting pigs, chickens, goats and cows, traipsing through banana plantations, admiring expertly crafted woven mats and baskets, and meeting hundreds of extended family members from 9 days to 90 years old. It was an intense but incredible experience.

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When I was last at KAASO in 2009, the Empowerment Group was little more than a chance for the women to gather and chat through the evening while weaving mats and rolling magazine beads. It’s amazing the changes that have taken place over the last two years. The group is now well organised, motivated, determined and ultimately empowered. Their microloans project is thriving and helping solo mothers to send their children to school and feed their families. I felt humbled to be so warmly welcomed into their mud and thatch homes and embarrassed by their generosity as we were showered with gifts of avocados, melons, pineapples, cassava, matooke and even a feisty rooster which Rose carried for the rest of the day flung over her shoulder. I kept my distance behind while its eyes watched me the whole way home. That night we feasted on chicken. Life is immediate in the village.

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World of Wonders

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.

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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.

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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

Muddy feet, music lessons and many mozzies

P1000260Africa is inspiring. I am constantly lost for words, overwhelmed and blown away by the spirit of the people in this place. There is so much to absorb, so many wonders around every corner that it is hard to keep track of them all. I am a child again. Muddy feet and wide eyes, everything is new. I truly love it here.

Sitting down and trying to capture it all is a challenge but I will attempt to rise to it, to bring this place to life for you all wherever you may be. At first it was a little daunting, trying to work out what exactly we was best for us to do and we quickly learned that there is no such thing as a direct answer around here. Life is not black and white but shades – time is flexible, schedules are constantly shifting (if they exist at all), you start one thing and then find yourself half way through another, spontaneity is the name of the game and yet there is some kind of organised chaos in which everything gets done in the end somehow, in someway. You soon let go of any attempts to pin this place down, it moves to the beat of its own drum.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASchool has begun. Monday saw a flurry of activity as children arrived on the back of motorcycles, bicycles, some lucky enough to come by car but the vast majority on foot. The arrival of the students meant a flood of sugar, laundry soap (used for washing: clothes, dishes and people), books, sugary toothpaste, razor blades (used for sharpening pencils, cutting fingernails and shaving hair), pens, pencils, safety pins, brooms (bundles of tied-together straw), hoes (?!) and of course jelly – the wonder cure which boasts to fix pretty much any illness, including every kind of rash imaginable. I’m sticking with my talcum powder for now… The arrival of the children was exciting and heartbreaking at the same time. So many of them were without parents, without school supplies and or any money to pay for them. We soon learned that there was no set rule as to who paid what – or didn’t pay at all and so we quickly resorted to stacking the supplies and left the decisions to the teachers. The school is now filled with laughter. The children are so spirited, so excited by everything and they never stop laughing. There is so much joy here, it is contagious. We are still only half way through receiving the students but by next week we will be: 623 children, 19 teachers, 9 cooks and matrons, Dominic, Rose and 3 muzungu. We are quite a sight.

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