The Kiwi takes flight!

It’s raining outside which puts us under a strange kind of KAASO house arrest – leaving is at your peril as the dry earth turns to lethal slippery mud and you are saturated within seconds. Trying to get into town is impossible, the boda boda (our only way out of here) drivers won’t risk the roads in the rain and the whole place just kind of comes to a stop. So I sit under my mosquito net listening to Kiwi music and waiting for the rains to clear and the scorching sun to dry the earth once more. At least it’s good for the plants…


As always, I feel as though the last week has flown, even more so when I open my diary to see written on tomorrow’s page: “One week”. Six months is fast coming to a close. The days are frantic in an African kind of way which means that while you feel busy you’re not often getting a lot done but still end up exhausted by the end of the day. You learn to live that way. It’s going to be a shock to the system to get back to the ‘real world’ where you’re expected to actually tick off everything on your day’s list and not just be satisfied with one out of ten…

Last Sunday was a day of epic proportions. School visiting day saw what felt like hundreds of parents and relatives flooding through the school gates in their colourful gomesis to be met by children who raced to greet them then hung off their arms in delirious excitement. It was wonderful to see so many reunited with their families and to confirm that some did, in fact, have families.


You can never be sure here. I was proudly introduced to numerous mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters and had many hilarious conversations in Luganda – needless to say, they were short conversations! This joy was undercut by the the children who stood waiting at the gate all day for parents who never came, leaving them in tears of disappointment.


The day began with an 8am two-hour mass which Cherie and I somehow managed to dodge – it was our job to decorate Kiwi House for the official opening and we, of course, took our job very seriously. Unfortunately the moment that we chose to begin decorating was not exactly ideal. We’d tried to wait until the mass was over to avoid causing a commotion outside the window hanging our paper chains and fans that we’d made with the children but eventually mass dragged on a little too long and we decided to just begin. So I was balancing bare foot on a chair trying desperately not to fall off in the scorching heat as I tried to thread the paper chains through the rafters, Cherie was laughing at me and trying to help at the same time when the entire congregation came outside. To our horror, the priest began to bless Kiwi House, half dressed as it was with us standing covered in paper chains. Not quite how we’d pictured it. The crowd watched us with amusement as we tried desperately to get it done but we gave up and stopped as they started to take photos of Kiwi house half-draped with paper chains and boxes all over the veranda. It was hilarious.


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Home Sweet Home

The skies are grey but there’s still a certain kind of light here which means the colours remain so bright and alive – the banana palms are vibrant green, the muddy earth so red. These last two months have been the supposed rainy season but the rains have largely failed, with only three or four days of what people here would call ‘real’ rain. For a summer sailing girl like me, sunny days have always meant being outside, swimming, soaking up the sun and enjoying evening happy hours at sunset. I’m quickly learning that sunny days here mean famine. Dominic came in looking grim the other day and said that because of the lack of rains, next year much of the country would starve. He said it with regret but without sensation; here such things are a fact of life. Teacher Sarah has planted her own garden of crops and actually knelt down and praised the Lord when it started raining yesterday.


It really feels as though a change has taken place in me this term. While our first few months here were all about learning, asking a million and nine questions, trying to piece it all together and make sense of everything, since we have been back it now feels as though this place is our home. Yes, everything is still completely different to all I’d ever known before I came here but now I have finally formed a kind of routine in which I have come to accept that nothing will go to plan, plans will change and no one will tell you, but that’s life. Once you get your head around that, it all feels strangely ‘normal’.

I teach English classes most days to my gorgeous little 5-year olds and everyone is amazed that they actually understand me but I have been teaching them almost every day for the last few months and we have reached some kind of hilarious understanding – usually involving me jumping and dancing around the room to get my point across. They laugh, they learn, we get there. I’m also teaching English to the older children who are preparing to sit their Primary Leaving Exams. It’s a big deal here – if you fail you have to repeat the year again and again until you pass to go onto secondary school – if you can afford it and that’s a big if. Some in Primary 7 class are 16 or 17 years old, either due to being held back or simply because their parents could not afford to send them to school until they were older.

I do a bunch of music classes which leave me with no voice but a huge smile, watching the children dance and sing – along with the teachers who love to join in. I’ve never felt like such a celebrity in my life – I only have to walk near the classrooms with my guitar and all of the children run to me screaming “P1?!”, “P2!?”, “P3?!” desperately hoping that it will be their class I’m coming to. One of my little favourites, Brenda, took my hand as I walked into the class of rioting children who had already begun to sing and whispered in my ear with a little smile, “Thank you for coming Madam Emma.” It makes me want to smile and weep at the same time, their gratitude is immense. I’ve just started teaching them ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ and it’s all I can do not to cry every time I play it but I can’t help myself. It’s incredible to bring songs from my childhood to the children here and I know that they will live on at KAASO forever – these children never forget a song!


I also help the teachers to mark exams which provides endless entertainment (in an exam letter to a friend, a girl called Florence signs off “I command you to stay a virgin and lovely as you were”) and frustration (when the English exam is written in improper English – how can a nation learn??). As crazy as it sounds, I don’t think I really quite understood when I came here that I would be living and helping in a school not an orphanage and although many of these children are orphaned by AIDS, most go about their day quite normally as you would find in any school around the world. Well, not quite, but it’s not the dramatic scene I had pictured before coming here. My days are filled with wide eyes, big smiles, little hands, greetings of “Madam Emma!” and usually no more drama than a scraped knee. I’m going to miss it.


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