Friday, 11 December 2009

Return to Uganda: week one

Do I mention that whilst its 3 degrees and fog in London it's only a mere 19 degrees here in Kampala and I'm a bit put out to be putting on a jumper...? Are you stopping reading out of utter disgust? It's a good job I don't have any photos of my tan yet...

Ok enough enough. Tis unfair on you poor Brits left back in grey Blighty. Be heartened that your streets are well tarred, your electricity is constant and you don't have questionable goings on in your lower gut region.

The unusual thing about this first week back for me is that I only recently left. In a way it was a four and a half month 'visit' to UK so getting back into sleeping under a mosquito net, boiling milk, putting on suncream and riding on the back of motorbikes through a dusty, warm city is just getting back to the routine.

The week or two running up to going was a bit manic with the added pressure of getting Christmas pressies sorted for leaving in UK and taking to Uganda but thanks to my friend Laura for wrapping them all! :) Although, in some ways it was easier this time because I've really brought much less stuff. I know I can survive on 3 skirts, 3 pairs of slips ons and flipflops (called slippers here), a small range of toiletries and a small supply of good reads (which became a big supply at Heathrow WHSmiths!).

I was helped out of London by my lovely cousin Helen (thanks to Rob and Lauren (and Pete) for putting me up in their flat for November) and we rode triumphiantly out of London on her galiant horse Ed (or maybe it was her LandRover - same valiance and odour)! My dear sister Cathy and her son Adam saw me off at Heathrow the next day at dawn. Big hugs over her now bigger bump. I'll not be back until she's at 31 weeks!

The flight was full of friendly Ugandans and even one rather familiar looking Ugandan who was going round greeting everyone... oh yes that'll be President Yoweri Museveni!!

I was met (eventually after thinking I'd lost my passport -eek) by my cousin Laura (here since Aug working at Rainbow Int'l Sch) and my good friend Gloria who lives in Kampala.

Sunday, Gloria took me to see her sister Doreen who was so big with pregnancy that I am not surprised she delivered a bit early last night - they have a baby girl! Congratulations to Doreen, Isaac and all the family!

Monday I rested because I was just in a real daze. Didn't really sleep well and felt jetlagged. Also recovering from previous fortnight!

Tuesday I headed off into the unknown to visit my friend Rick up in Luwero district (north of Kampala). But as always in Uganda, you are never alone! On both the matatu (minibus taxi) journeys, one into Kampala and one out up to Luwero, I met a lovely person who I chatted with the whole way and they ended up paying my fare!! The first person was called Willy from Baziga where I'm staying with Laura, he has four children and his father recently passed away so he was on leave from work. He was worried that I would not find my way from the Old Taxi Park to the New one so he directed me all the way through the craziness of morning market streets.

On the 2nd bus I met Eric who works in Bombo, he is a trained nurse then retrained in IT and works on medical databases but in his spare time he has set up a counselling group for people with AIDS. He gets them to talk to each other and even supports them with phone calls during the day.

I hardly noticed I was arriving at the unmarked Kyasanku stage (busstop) with no shops only known after the local witchdoctor. But I merrily got off and with other people around I was able to establish that this dirt track was in fact the exact dirt track that Rick had described which leads to Bajjo village. And there he was wondering up the road with elderly villager Nathan who studied at Guildford University! I explained to him about the pilgrimage we used to do on Easter Mondays up to Guildford Cathedral and saw that this was something they could really understand.

In a pretty symmetry Rick was able to introduce me (to most of the village!) as someone from his village since indeed we are both from (mighty mighty) West End.
Also introducing me as someone from his 'tribe' was stretching it a little ... but quite amusing.

Rick and his friends Karl and Anna were back in Bajjo on a 2 week visit following up from their 6 month stay in 2008. You can read more about their programme at

I arrived on Community Party day in Bajjo organised by their Project Staff. There were 5-a-side football, netball and volleyball tournaments and as 'honoured visitor' I handed out trophies and certificates. There are lots of children in Bajjo which is a fairly cut off village, despite it's proximity to Kampala (40mins) and smaller towns. But it's a village typical of many in Uganda with little money invested from outside for infrastructure such as a school, clinic or church. The first two of those they now have and the church at least has foundations and nearly walls. But this is all due to the hardwork and fundraising of the local community. The support given by the Wanna Be Amazin idea is not just new games pitches, pig farming and library but also a real sense that they are supported as a community and are interesting to the outside world.

There are of course also some disabled children who are not getting diagnosed and refered unless someone e.g. Anna (a physiotherapist) has intervened. It makes me realise again how special our programme is at Chilli Children and how it is really needed all around the country. Because while there are facilities for treating and supporting disabled children, it's going out and finding them that is needed, as we do in Rukungiri and Kanungu. People in villages in Uganda don't go, oh look we've now got a disabled child let's google to find out what we should do. It's the local health centres that should know but with such a massive range of disabilities and poor training they are just not aware. Anyway, that's my usual rant. On a positive note, just before I left UK I met up with Accomplish Trust who are setting up/joining up similar clinic/operation facitilies for disabled children in Kasese district just north of our areas. We want to work together in the future and hope for a connected network of community disability organisations in Uganda. Please pray/hope/meditate/remember this idea!

What was unusual about Tuesday for me was just being in one village for a whole day (instead of rushing in and out - and whilst there working!). It was lovely playing with all the children and watching them play all day. As sun was fading quickly at 6.30 we were over by the big football pitch (ex-bog that they managed to drain a bit) watching the final match of the day, Wanna Be Amazin staff (Brits&Ugandans) versus Rest of Bajjo.

As the game went on, the hundred or so children who were the main spectators ran around the side of the pitch and carried on their games of what in my playground language we called 'it', 'ring a roses' and that running train game where everyone holds hands in a line and the one at the front runs, the others follow but somehow the speed increases down the line so the ones at the back are practically flying off the end! They were so free. A big group of kids all playing together, looking after each other. It reminded me of growing up in West End and playing on the Rec or out in the fields behind Kings Road until we got really hungry and the sun was fading. Bliss.

As most of the population of Uganda heads back to their home villages for Christmas (like a fair bit of the UK) I just hope that we can all reflect on how precious village life is: community, friendship, all ages mixing and caring for each other, freedom to run around, green space, football pitches, nattering. It's not just some ideal. It's actually there, all over the place.


Coming up: next week holiday in Kenya, Tiwi beach, then Christmas in Rukungiri staying with David and Lyn. Pat (Project founder) returns to Rukungiri after 4 years away. January working with the project team on future plans including potential grant proposal for chilli. February returning to UK to look for some income! Gis a job, guv...


Merry Christmas to all in case I don't get to blog before then. If you are looking on here to find out where to send me a Christmas card - I hope you've figured out by now that there's no point sending one! I am not sending any either.

Just a last word to say thank you to all who've helped me this year. It's still an unusual thing to do to not have a job and work in UK and Uganda for a charity but time will tell if it has been worthwhile. I really feel it has for the charity. Graham has certainly seen a good increase on income but I would be really chuffed with a few more regular givers. Wink wink. Nudge nudge. Say no more...

For me personally this year has also been brilliant. I feel like I've got over a lot of insecurities about needing a fixed place to live and just going with the flow more. It's been greatly aided by good health and understanding friends and family. I've had masses of experience - particularly in managing myself, my time and mutually-useful relationships.

The thing is that the more you let go of holding on to things you think you 'need' in life, the more opportunities arise to do other things. And that's about as deep as I'm going to get on here. There's a lot more I could say about my new philosophy on life. But I won't bore you. And the thing is that you probably are too busy! I am amazed if you've read this far! So I just wish you well for Christmas and wish you will also find space to play with children!!

1 comment:

your sister-in-birth said...

Yay! If only more people in the world would stop and play with children and realise that is one of the most important things in this whole world - because they are the most important things in this whole world. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx