The rainy season is on its way but so far very little rain has fallen. The clouds build up in the afternoon but pass over leaving a clear blue sky again. The dust covers everything. The ride into town is like going through a fog. The heat is increasing and now the evenings are warmer – definitely no blankets or the need for socks. It’s like everything and everyone is waiting for something to happen.
Surprise! Surprise! I saw someone sweeping the street in Jinja. It was the main road into town from the Kenya-Kampala highway and over the last 2 to 3 years it has been spruced up. It is now a dual carriageway with solar powered lights down the median strip. There are even some rubbish bins (not used!). I wonder just how long this phenomenon will last. Rubbish is everywhere here. Everyone just drops their rubbish where they are standing. Even at schools, the teachers and students alike litter the classrooms and playground. It is impossible to find a rubbish bin anywhere. In town there are a couple of rubbish skips always overflowing and in the village there are piles of rubbish everywhere which are burnt off every so often. No garbologists here .
I have a couple of busy weeks ahead of me as we have our last week of lessons before exam week and the graduation day. So for me there are final lessons to plan, exam papers to set and then mark, and graduation day to organise. This means arranging for a cake, a crate or two of soft drinks and music and also the transport for the women from the school to the Soft Power Education Centre. Then I have a few days to pack and say my goodbyes. As we all know, nothing happens very quickly here so I anticipate a very full 2 and a half weeks before I head home.
I have had a very eventful couple of weeks since my last email but suffice to say sometimes my happy bubble burst and sometimes it re-inflated. It is so wonderful to have so many friends in a country so far from home but at times it can be very draining and even heart breaking.
It is a shame there are so few volunteers these days so that Soft Power is re-thinking how to fund and run the Education Centre and its many programs (one of which is my English teaching program) to the best advantage. One idea is to focus on high school drop outs, particularly girls, and teach them life skills which would include a module of English. The program would possibly include the girls and their Mums. So I wait to see what will happen next year.
This is likely my last email from Uganda this year so I hope it finds you well and happy.
Sunday morning and I’ve just finished Mum’s Coles order for delivery next week. Everyone here is astonished that I can do the online shopping for Mum. I am a bit amazed myself. It is a lovely sunny day and the monkeys are playing. There are lots of little ones clinging to their mums.
From time to time things happen to burst my happy Uganda bubble and this week was a particularly difficult one. In true Ugandan style, I am never sure when I reach the school each afternoon just what classroom I will be using. This despite the fact that the head teacher assured me I would have the use of one particular classroom for the 3 months I would be teaching. This is not unusual and I have had similar situations before but this week it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and while I was smiling on the outside talking with the head teacher, I was seething on the inside. Not a happy feeling. But even worse, one afternoon I had to witness a mass caning of the children in primary classes 5 and 6. The children were made to lie down in the playground on their tummies while a man teacher walked around caning them!!!!! And I couldn’t do anything, although I have reported it to Tom who is Soft Power’s child protection officer.
And then to re-inflate my burst bubble, on Thursday I had a visit from Mariam who had been one of my students in 2013 and 2014. She came with a gift of bananas having walked from her home 5 kms away. She wanted to find out where I was teaching this year (someone had seen me around and told her) and if she could join. Kivubuka is too far from her home for her to attend and in any case I explained that we had almost finished this session. She then wanted to know where I would be teaching next year!
I’m still enjoying my afternoons with the wonderful women, it’s just the logistics that are a daily challenge. Here are some of the women from the three groups.
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Pic 1 is Group 1 - Samalie, Maimuna, Eles and Scovia are usually early for lessons and have missed very few classes.
Pic 2 is Group 3 - Aidha, Sarah, Zaituna and Edisa are also early to lessons and Sarah hasn't missed a class.
Pics 3,4 are Group 2 - Sarah, Judith and Norah are my best attenders and this Sarah has also not missed a lesson. We took a few photos trying to get Sarah to smile and finally managed a lovely grin on the solo photo.
On my way back from lessons around 5.30 in the afternoon we pass two bore holes (water pumps) and there is always a line-up of jerry cans and children doing their afternoon chore of fetching water. How do they carry those heavy jerry cans! I’m always greeted with smiles and shouts of “Hello mzungu. How are you?” Another chore for many children is collecting firewood. Yesterday late in the afternoon I was walking to the village shop following a line of four children carrying enormous bundles of sticks on their heads, a fifth child who was about 3 years old took up the rear of the line with a small bundle of twigs on her head. You can’t help but smile but then I always thank goodness for where I was born.
As I indulge in my weekly soaking of the feet, I have a little pang of guilt thinking of the waste and would I be doing it if I had to carry the water from the bore hole or the river?
Hope all is fine for you and yours. Until next time, be happy and keep well.
Mama Joyce! Some of you may remember my stories of Mama Joyce and her restaurant, which sadly is no longer because she couldn’t afford the rent for the land where her little shack was built. I think it was in 2010 I arrived to see an empty space where her restaurant used to be. She did continue her business down near Bujagali Falls feeding the fishermen and the swimmers who used to risk their lives going over the falls on jerry cans. Then when the Falls were inundated with the completion of the dam, she continued to feed the boatmen that now ferry people across the river/lake. It seems that recently someone else set up in competition and quarrelling soon ensued. Last week it became extremely bitter and ended up with Mama Joyce being taken off in handcuffs by the police to spend a night in jail ‘to cool down’! Mama Joyce is in her late 50’s and takes care of several grandchildren. One of her daughters, Helen, then had to find the 100,000 shillings (around $40) to have her released! One of the grandchildren, Prossy came to me the next afternoon to ask if I could help saying her mother had only been able to collect 40,000 shillings in donations by friends and neighbours. I gave Steve, my trusty boda boda driver, the 60,000 shillings to make up the difference and he took Helen to the police station to pay the money for Mama Joyce’s release. She was so distressed when she arrived home; it was heart breaking! Another awful example of policing in Uganda.
Now for a bit of good news: Kibbi, who used to work with Soft Power as the volunteer co-ordinator, and his wife Mary became the parents of a healthy baby girl named Mercy. Kibbi and Mary have a 5-year-old son and tragically lost their 1-year-old daughter, Passion 18 months ago so the arrival of a daughter has been lovely news. Childbirth here is fraught with danger, even though most women these days go to hospital (such as it is) for the delivery. When I congratulated Kibbi on the arrival of his daughter saying ‘well done’ I also added ‘but of course Mary did most of the work’. Kibbi was quick to tell me that he was the one on hand with the money as each process of the birth (Mary had to have a caesarean) required money before the doctors would continue!
I was a bit off-colour for a couple of days but all good now. After not eating for a day and a half, I went to town to The Deli to get a vitamin-filled green juice: pineapple, avocado, spinach and lemon. Sounds a strange combination but it was delicious and helped my grumbling stomach calm down.
We still have more dust than mud although the afternoon storms, which pass quickly, are becoming more frequent.
It’s Friday afternoon and I have just come back from town and am covered in dust. I’ve managed to avoid boda face by wrapping my whole head in a scarf. I’ve been somehow busy (as the Ugandans would say), in other words, I have been a bit busy and too tired at the end of the day to turn on my laptop. Life has settled into a routine and the weeks are just flying by.
We have celebrated Eid (the end of Ramadan). In this Christian country it is a public holiday just as Easter and Christmas are public holidays. Music filled the air until the wee small hours and the whole village joined in the celebrations. I’m accustomed to most of the sights and sounds of Uganda but the extreme volume at which music is played is a little tougher to tolerate, especially at 4 in the morning when it seems like it is just outside your window.
Teddy’s brother Eldrine 19 is in Senior 4 and he boards at Jinja S.S. School in town. He stays in the same hostel as Topher 17 who is in Senior 3 and whose school fees we have been helping with for the last six years. Both are earnest students and study hard. Eldrine wants to be an Engineer and Topher hopes to be an Architect. So last Saturday I took them for lunch at a local food restaurant run by a friend, Rebecca. After lunch, which cost a total of $4 for three meals and two soft drinks, we did some supermarket shopping. Top of the list was sugar which they put in their morning porridge. Next was bread and the strange spread called Blue Band which resembles margarine but is not kept in the fridge. Then some laundry powder because the boys have to do their own washing. And finally some Nescafe coffee for those late nights studying. What really blew me away were the school hours for Eldrine who will be sitting for the Senior 4 or ‘O’ level national exams at the end of the year (our Aussie Year 10). The school day Monday to Friday starts at 6.30am and, with breaks in the morning and afternoon and for lunch, finishes at 6.30pm. And there are classes up to midday on Saturdays.
Full tummies at Rebecca's restaurant :
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Teddy and I visited Uphill School which has been built with the kind donations of friends and family. The students have been attending since the beginning of this year albeit the building is not quite finished. We still have to have proper doors on two of the classrooms and the outside of the building has to be rendered. We were welcomed warmly and the children entertained us with poems, songs and dancing. It was a special day and all the children have written a card with their name and age thanking everyone for supporting them with their education. We met with the teachers who are enthusiastic to make the school a success and a place of good learning. I am very proud of the school and what we have achieved. We left the school with all the thank you cards plus avocados, gnuts (peanuts) and maize (corn) on the cob. This afternoon I came home to discover the monkeys had eaten my avocados that I’d left to ripen on my doorstep. All that remained was some skin and two seeds.
The prefects led the singing and dancing:
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We seem to have settled into the dry season now with the odd thunderstorm in the afternoon which never seems to quite settle the dust on the road. The days are hot and sunny but the evenings are nice and cool.
I continue to admire the women who come to my lessons in the afternoons after they have finished the morning chores of fetching water, collecting firewood, tending their vegetable gardens which are sometimes a long walk from home or handwashing the family’s clothes. I watch them as they climb the hill to the school and think how tired they must feel. After all, I have sat in the office preparing lessons and taken a boda boda ride to school. But they walk into the classroom with beaming smiles and greetings. Edisa continues to be dedicated to her English lessons, Judith continues to help her older classmate, Sarah, and Samali continues to giggle every time she speaks English.
Hope all is well in your corners of the World. The same can’t be said for all corners of the World; I will have to stop watch the BBC World News in the mornings!!
To finish with a smile on your face:
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The little ones without school uniforms are the pre-schoolers.
Love, Jenny xx
What has happened to Hotmail? Causing me a bit of frustration!!
This week has been sunnier and dustier than last – no bed socks needed. I’m sitting in the outdoor banda in the Eden Rock garden waiting for Mag’s car to take her to the airport. Mag is doing her last minute packing. We have had a lovely week of dinners out with friends in the village and in town to say goodbye.
I should have touched wood when I joked about the bat outside my banda door. This week it happened for real. A bat decided he was going to spend his sleeping day hanging from the awning outside my door. I heard him arrive one morning and had to phone Nelson (our favourite Eden Rock staff member) to come and chase him away before I could leave my banda for some brekkie. No photos this time!
Walking through the village this week I met a young man who told me his name was David and that he was very happy to see me and was Ryan also here. He then explained that he and Ryan used to go fishing and one year (I think it was in 2009) Ryan had given him some lures to use. He proudly showed the lures tucked away in his bag and told me to remind Ryan of his fishing friend. He hoped they would go fishing together again one day.
On Friday it was the sports carnival for the two Soft Power pre-schools. It was the most exhausting morning I have had probably since the last such sports day I attended! 180 children all excited, not to mention their Mums on the side lines cheering them on and the very competitive teachers wanting their students to win! It was mayhem and the noise was off the Richter scale. Every event in Uganda is accompanied by music and it must be loud. I was the scorer and as the first, second and third place getters in each game were brought to me by a teacher or volunteer, I needed to hear the name of the child to record on the scoresheet. The children in Uganda tend to speak ever so softly when talking to an adult so I had no chance of hearing any names. This is a couple of the quieter moments:
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Even now I wonder how I managed to keep my cool and finally have a completed scoresheet. The end result was the children were either exhausted or manic and the grumpy scorer person left when the music volume went to overdrive. I went to town to meet Teddy at The Deli where you can get some food almost like at home.
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Today was washing day. The sun was shining so I washed everything confident that it would dry. It’s not much fun having damp clothes hanging around the banda all week. I’m not sure what I worry about the most when I hang my clothes out to dry: whether a mango fly will lay her eggs on my undies with dire consequences or whether I will see a monkey running around the Eden Rock garden with a pair of my undies on its head!
It’s a lot easier hanging clothes on a line with pegs!
What keeps me sane in Bujagali? My time with the delightful women in our afternoon classes.
It has been rather a cool week and I would even say cold (wearing socks at night in bed suggests that it is cold rather than cool!). And yes it does get cold in Uganda even though we are sitting on top of the Equator. There has been a little rain but luckily I have dodged it …. well there was one morning when it rained while I was at the Education Centre preparing the day’s lessons. By the time I was ready to leave it had stopped but I then had to walk through the village negotiating the squishy sticky slippery mud see the result.
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Lessons are going well and the women have been attending on time (an achievement in Uganda!!). I’m teaching Monday to Wednesday and trying to get all the paperwork done on Thursday so I can have 3 day weekends. Well, that’s the plan anyway. I haven’t got to know the women yet but do have a couple of class favourites (wrong, I know). In the beginner group there is Edisa. She is mid 30’s, never went to school because her parents died when she was young and her grandmother couldn’t afford to send her to school. She was excited when she came to register for lessons to finally be able to go to school. She is very earnest in class and tries very hard and I’m sure she will be one of my success stories. I will keep you posted. The middle group has Judith, who is very beautiful. She is in her late 20’s and happily helps Sarah who is much older and often has a problem with pronunciation. The top group has Samali who is 23 and has 3 young children (sometimes she brings all of them to class). She has a good knowledge of English on paper but goes into fits of the giggles whenever she has to speak English. My challenge with her will be to help her blossom into a confident young English speaking woman.
One of the intriguing things about the village men and women in Uganda, and indeed much of Africa, is their clothes: the men wear trousers and shirts and the women wear dresses that we would call formal wear. The clothes are often threadbare and much mended but it seems so different to our casual way of dressing. They usually have their Sunday best and for some children this is their school uniform. The younger generation, especially in the city (Kampala) are beginning to dress as we do in the western world but even so it looks very “dressed up”.
There was major drama at Eden Rock late one afternoon. I arrived back to find a young Israeli couple who had been staying in the dorm accusing an Eden Rock staff member of theft; the young man was extremely angry and shouting; the young girl was hysterical and sobbing and hyperventilating. The Eden Rock manager was arguing with them. Wrong! The vague story seems to be that the couple checked out of the dorm in the morning to go rafting accidentally leaving a wallet in the dorm. They thought it must have fallen out of their backpack as they left. One of the housekeeping girls went into clean the dorm found the door unlocked and a wallet on the floor with Israeli money in it and handed it to the manger. What eventuated was typical of policing in Uganda. The police arrived and took the couple, Rebecca (the housekeeping girl) and Nelson (whom they said they had given the key to after locking the dorm door) to the Police Station to make a statement. They came back with the couple, demanded the manager pay the couple the money they had lost (the equivalent of about $170) and said that Rebecca and Nelson would spend the night in jail and the manager would have to pay to have them released in the morning. It was awful, awful. While I don’t know Rebecca, I do believe her story and I’ve known Nelson ever since I’ve been coming to Uganda and he is as honest as the day is long and was completely innocent. He said they had to sleep on the floor with no blanket and no food with 5 others in the cell. Nelson was devastated that his reputation was tarnished. We will never know what really happened but we do know that justice wasn’t done that day!
Thought you might like to see the lovely Eden Rock grounds and the monkeys that visit us regularly.
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And do you do you think this looks like a bat? I did! Always on the look out for creatures great and small, as I went to leave my banda one evening I did a double take and then I took a photo! It’s a dead leaf and it’s still there.
Today is a little different to last weekend. It’s raining. No monkeys playing. They are hiding somewhere. It is a relatively recent thing for monkeys to come into Eden Rock. They used to be in the trees across the road along the river but have now found the joys of the fruit trees in the Eden Rock garden. Eden Rock is no doubt Eden to monkeys but not quite so to humans – we go from the downright humorous situations to the downright frustrating but I think I have mentioned those often enough previously so no need to now!
The three main obsessions in Uganda are education, religion and fornication:
A visitor can’t go far without being approached for help with school fees or listening to a child desperately wanting to go to school but unable to because the family can’t afford the school fees. The desire for an education is strong and many children walk for miles to go to school every day. Schooling is tough and strict here and in the years when there is an important exam at the end of the year, the hours are long. Some of the children at the school where I have the use of a classroom for the women (Kivubuka Primary School) are still in class when I leave at around 5.30!
You can’t go far in most of Uganda without seeing a place of worship at regular intervals. Around this area it is mostly Pentecostal or Catholic churches with the odd Mosque. Questions and discussions about religion are common and worshippers spend hours in their places of worship. I’m one of little faith but I think it is a wonderful thing if your faith gets you through life, especially the hard life of a village Ugandan. In this village (Kyabirwa) alone which is about the size of Watson’s Bay (a Sydney suburb) there are at least 10 churches and 1 mosque.
And as for fornication, I am not a witness to the act but am very well aware of the overwhelming number of children everywhere you go. Fortunately, the soil here is also very fertile so, although the children may be malnourished from a poor diet, they are not starving.
I have finished my first week of lessons and I really do enjoy it. The women are a delight. On the first day, at the end of the classes, I was using the duster on the old fashioned blackboard (no whiteboards or smartboards in rural Uganda) and getting covered in white dust but found myself smiling. I even said (out loud “I love doing this!”). So today is a relief from both the orange and white dust.
Further instalment next week. Keep well and be happy.
Love Jenny xx
The road to town is full of dust. My hair and feet are very orange and every day I have ‘boda face’.
Where am I ? Uganda of course. I have come back again this year for a 3-month teaching program for the women in the village of Kivubuka.
I have been here a week now and have encountered the usual Ugandan frustrations but keep reminding myself “You are in Uganda!” By the end of next week, I will be in the swing of things. We have had two days without power and the generator at Eden Rock has decided it has had enough so there has been no hot water or light in the evenings while trying to get ready for the social whirl of welcoming dinners: with Teddy’s family, with the family who have adopted Mag, with one of my original students in the village, with one of Mag’s knitting ladies and with Shaz (Soft Power manager) and a couple of other ex-pat friends in Jinja town.
It is so lovely to be greeted with beaming smiles and questions of “How is there” “How is everyone at home” “How is Australia” everywhere I go. The response of course is “good” or “fine” and then I have to ask the same questions and receive the same response. A walk through the village to the Soft Power Education centre can take some time!
I’m off now to retrieve my washing from the bushes where it is drying before returning to Kivubuka school for another round of registrations……….
Sunday afternoon now and I am sitting in Eden Rock garden watching the monkeys play and trying to type this email. So far 30 women have registered for lessons and, as usual, I will teach them in three groups according to their English knowledge now. There are some very beginners and some who have a good knowledge of English but want to have the confidence to actually speak it. Monday will be hectic as I plan to start the lessons even though I know that there will be several more women arriving and wanting to join the classes. Patience is a virtue and I will need to be virtuous on Monday!
We have had beautiful sunny weather which of course means lots of dust but I’m happy as long as I can have that shower at the end of the day. The mud that comes with the rains is not so easily showered away.
Mag and I took Teddy and her beau, Abraham, for dinner for her birthday. Teddy has reached the age where she will now no longer tell people how old she is! It was a lovely evening under the stars at the Jinja Sailing Club which is on the river but without a sail in sight. Abraham is very polite, charming and handsome and obviously thinks the world of Teddy. She tells me she has “read him the riot act” (not her actual words) and he says he is happy to abide by her rules and so far he has. They have known one another for 5 years but after many attempts by him to get together, they have only been going together for about 6 months. He sent me a message after the birthday dinner saying he was very nervous about meeting me but is now happy he has and thanked me for being kind - I did ask him many questions, and so did Mag, and he gained approval from both of us. Poor fellow, it must have been stressful.
More tales to come but bye for now. I hope you are all well and happy.
Love, Jenny x