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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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