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.
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.
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.
Our crazy whirlwind of travelling on the beaten track is over and it’s time to go back off it. We have now realised that we are not the only muzungus in Uganda as we’d originally thought. Far from it. There are places here with hot water, cold drinks, power lines that actually connect to the houses (rather than passing over the top to go to Tanzania as where we live), bars and great restaurants.
Last night we had dinner with an American guy we met along the way who made us all feel just a little bit amazing by being totally awed at how rural our experience was – he’d been doing medical research in Kampala for 6 weeks and hadn’t seen half of what we’ve been living the last two months. It was nice to be thought of as ‘hard core’ for once in my life and made me realise that perhaps what we’re doing here isn’t quite so normal as I’d convinced myself. Doesn’t everyone go and live in a village at the ends of the earth with three mud buildings and a school of needy children?
Sitting on a packed, scorching bus we made our way out of the city and back to where brick houses give way to mud huts, to where you can no longer walk the street anonymously but are constantly met with cries of ‘Muzungu! How are you?!’ everywhere you go, back to our world of cold bucket showers, dusty pot-holed roads but ultimately back to our home – where there will be 623 delighted children waiting for us. It’s hard not to be a little excited.
It’s going to be a couple of action-packed weeks back at KAASO, trying to do as much as humanly possible before the school holidays kick in and we head off south of the border – Rwanda awaits…
Thank you once more for your overwhelming support for our fundraising project. Donations continue to arrive and we continue to be eternally grateful. We are going to try and get construction started as soon as possible so will keep you updated as much as our technologically-challenged lifestyle allows.