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Thank you for reading.

For me, this is the picture that sums up how people’s lives can change and be transformed through education.

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It would be great if anyone felt able to become a sponsor for a little girl like this. Please follow the link given, or contact karen@metafour.com

£15.00 a month will buy a child’s education.

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Uganda Haikus

This may seem a bizarre clash of cultures – haikus about Africa.

I have been writing a haiku every day since 1st. January this year. So this is the section which have been written for the duration of this trip. I cannot claim they have any literary merit at all – far from it! They are, however, little snapshots of thoughts each day.

22nd February Thursday

Crossing the Nile from
Thousands of feet: a ribbon
Of light on the land.

23rd February Friday

That journey was so
Endless that I almost felt
Sorry it ended.

24th February Saturday

That magnificent
View to greet us on waking
Was a real bonus.

25th February Sunday

When one mosquito
Net goes, can another be
Far behind? Let’s hope.

26th February Monday

The frustration of
Nothing much happening is
Relieved by some lunch.

27th February Tuesday

Is it possible?
The icy blasts back home seem
A whole world away.

28th February Wednesday

Such joy in the air
With all that singing and drums:
Hallejula, yeah!

1st March Thursday

Are we going or
Are we not? We just don’t know.
This is Africa!

2nd March Friday

Jack fruit and Jackness:
courtesy of Rabecca,
Both of them. So sweet.

3rd March Saturday

A myriad of
Experiences- where to start?
The Great Crested Crane.

4th March Sunday

A long trek to an
Orphanage throws poverty
Into sharp relief.

5th March Monday

A dusty place, school-
Either that, or a quagmire
Of mud and sharp stones.

6th March Tuesday

Those silent teachers
Spoke volumes in their empty
Stares: help us, please help!

7th March Wednesday

Woke up this morning
No power and no water.
This is Africa!

8th March Thursday

A day of total
Frustration for Steve as the
Modem stops working.

9th March Friday

Who would have thought we
Would come to Uganda to
Discuss our garden?

10th March Saturday

Graduation Day
Comes and goes with pomp and a
Few too many words.

11th March Sunday

Don’t step off the path!
A crushed butterfly may change
Our delicate world.

12th March Monday

Talk about a red
Mist descending before you:
The driver can’t see.

13th March Tuesday

I discover that
I rather like the sticky
Maize porridge today.

14th March Wednesday

A class of forty
kids struggle with the concept
Of summary. Ouch.

15th March Thursday

Building the nation:
What part will Bill Gates play in
This? A lovely boy!

16th March Friday

Writing letters to
Unknown and unseen people:
What of the outcome?

17th March Saturday

An open truckload
Of men speeds by, all singing
Loud, in unison.

18th March Sunday

The sound of urgent
Drumming spreads from the valley.
Is it war or church?

19th March Monday

Seeing those hippos
At night was just magical.
Starry starry night.

 

20th March Tuesday

A family of
Elephants crossing the road:
Power and glory.

21st March Wednesday

Driving for ten hours
You see a lot of changes.
Faster and faster.

22nd March Thursday

Time for reflection:
Entebbe and Kampala
Provide the backdrop.

A shocking sight

We left the park early in the morning, ready for the long journey to Kampala. At about 6a.m. there was a massive tropical storm with high winds, lashing rain and spectacular lightening strikes. We couldn’t help thinking about those fishermen, who would be paddling back to their village with their catch from the lake.

Once on a main tarmac road, there was still plenty of wildlife to see. A group of hyenas loped across the road with that ungainly gait, and there were plenty of baboons and water buck by the roadside.

The vegetation changed again, with the cactus- like trees giving way to the elegant flat-topped acacia trees in their hundreds. The dominant crop was now cotton, with flimsy straw shacks in the fields to provide shelter for the workers.

Later there were vast tea plantations on an industrial scale.

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There  were two shocking sights on this journey. We saw a woman and two small children scooping up water from puddles in the grass by the roadside, using small metal cooking pots to then pour the liquid into their bright yellow jerrican.

In a small town we passed through, I saw a young man bend down to a brown, muddy puddle, scoop some water with his bare hands, and drink.

Once again, the shocking reality of people’s lives here, with no basic infrastructure to support them, is presented to you in contrast to the natural beauty of the surroundings – in this case, we were skirting the magnificent craggy Rwenzori mountain range.

Towns become progressively busier as you journey, and there are increasing signs of greater prosperity reflected in the predominance of brick built buildings rather than the wattle and daub structures which characterise Kanungu.

In Fort Portal, you suddenly realise there are two-storey buildings, when you have been used to only seeing squat buildings, and large advertising hoardings, offering a brighter, happier life, preparing you for the onslaught on your senses as you reach the frenzy which is Kampala.

 

 

 

 

 

Game for anything

 

Janon suggested that we set off at 7.am in search of the big game that had eluded us yesterday.
The landscape in this more northerly part of the park is altogether more arid, with yellowing grass and many of the cactus-like trees that dominate the landscape, in places towering to 50 feet or more, with massive circumferences.

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At first it seemed as if our luck was out. There were plenty of piles of dung, some with mushrooms already sprouting from them. There were well- worn tracks, obviously made by large animals.
Then we spotted a pride of female lions, resting and peaceful. We 50605E53-1363-44FD-AE0A-8BCE030ADB09found out later that there are very few lions in this part of the park, so we were very lucky to find them. Suddenly there was an abundance of hippos too – wallowing in whatever mud they could find.

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We counted eleven hippos in this mud bath

Finally, Jonan drove through a different part of the park, and we were lucky enough to see a whole family of elephants make their way across the road, in stately procession. They were very different from other elephants we have seen in zoos: not grey, but very very dark. What a fantastic sight!

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The family of elephants heading for the road

After that, seeing a large tree covered with hundreds of hanging weaver bird nests, like an over-decorated Christmas Tree, was not as exciting as it should have been.

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The wonderful Weaver bird 

Volcanic crater lakes abound in this area. This one is used as a source of salt.

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The salt beds in the crater lake

Later in the day we went on a boat trip along the canal. Uganda is a bird-watcher’s paradise.

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We watched the fishermen paddling out for their night- time fishing in Lake Edward.

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The next morning, Janon told us that he had seen that elusive leopard walking near our cottage at 6a.m. The one that got away…

 

Beware of the leopard

You will have to read to the end of this post to see the significance of today’s title.

Today we started on what will be a three- day trek, heading north towards Kampala and Entebbe. But for the moment, we are in Queen Elizabeth National Park, enjoying the flora and fauna it has to offer, with a ‘safari’ drive through the first half of the park. It has taken us all day to get to our first stop-over, staying in a ‘cottage’, so-called, overlooking the Kazinga Channel, which is the stretch of water connecting Lake Edward and Lake George.

Thirty-five kilometres out of Kanungu, the scenery and vegetation change significantly. It is flatter – being the Great Rift Valley – and the banana plantations are no more, having been replaced by maize as the main crop. Other vegetation is different too – there are stunning trees with blue and white flowers, and other taller ones with pendulous yellow flowers. The roads are smoother: the rough, rocky roads around Kanungu have been replaced by more clay- like soil which is much lighter in colour. The numerous potholes still make it a bumpy ride. Or as someone has said, ‘An African Massage’.

As it becomes more like the grasslands we were expecting , we see a whole series of  newly- erected buildings in the distance. Jonan says they are UN Settlement  camps for refugees from The Congo. Yet another stark reminder of how unstable Uganda’s nearest neighbour is. At one point today, we were just a few feet away from the border.

Suddenly there was a stretch of hedging , which we have not seen before. The plant used for this resembled the plant that is the scourge of many gardeners – Mare’s Tail. we passed a two-storey building under construction. It was a skeletal wooden structure , and interestingly, they had put the roof on before building any of walls.

Once inside the park, which stretches for hundreds of miles, we were surprised how much water there was. Small ponds were surrounded by reed beds as well as low-lying grasses. These were interspersed with tiny daisy-like flowers and others resembling pale yellow scabious. Amongst these were clouds of tiny pale cream butterflies, their wings tinged with delicate caramel. The track you have to drive along is barely visible in the vast terrain, and it is rough and rutted. From one large puddle that we drove through, a turtle emerged, lucky to escape being crushed, and scuttled hastily into the undergrowth.
F9D486C0-1AC3-4E3B-B0A6-965BD02A66C8We saw a range of animals, but not the elusive tree-climbing lions we had hoped to see. Wart-hogs, monkeys, all kinds of antelopes, hippos bellowing in the muddy waters of a swiftly-flowing 68A28538-0987-43A4-922D-CECC56F94B49river bordering The Congo, birds with impossibly thin and long stilt-like legs, birds the size of blackbirds with purple-tinged bodies and iridescent blue wings,
tiny black and white birds with long flowing tails.

Going further north, the terrain changed to jungle- like vegetation,with baboons seemingly holding unruly meetings in the middle of the road.
Kazinga channel leads into lake George to the south, from Lake Edward to the north. Our ‘cottage’ was on a spit of land overlooking the channel.

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Female Water Bucks

There were warthogs outside our back window and Water Bucks grazing to the front. We were told by the staff when we checked in, to ‘beware the leopard that comes at night’.
Much later in the evening, we heard four hippos grazing by our cottage in the dark.We crept outside. We stood with our backs to the wall, with Waterbucks standing motionless to our right, four hippos almost within touching distance to our left, and a canopy of African stars above. We held hands and held our breath, not entirely sure whether we wanted the leopard to emerge at this moment or not. It was a magical moment.

All things bright and beautiful

The Christian religion is central to people’s lives in Uganda. You see trucks in the roads with various messages on their windscreens , like ‘Jesus Loves Me’ or The Lord Saves’. Different branches of the church abound – Anglican, 70735359-0E71-454A-B997-9F1ED2182032Catholic, and many others, but today I promised Rabecca that I would go to the service at the Methodist Free Church in Kanungu, whilst Steve was busy at the University handing over and explaining the key aspects of the data programme he has devised.

Jonan, the driver, picked me up in good time to make the 20 minute journey. But TIA. The car spluttered to a halt about 10 minutes into our journey. Jonan announced that he had thought there would be enough fuel left in the tank, but clearly not.
It never ceases to amaze me how situations like that are resolved so simply here. Jonan got out and flagged down a passing boda boda, and armed with my 20,000 shilling note, the driver headed off to Kanungu town.
Ten minutes later he returned, carrying petrol in a plastic container, with a wad of paper in the neck to stop it spilling out. The other hand was free to steer the vehicle. Not that this was an accident waiting to happen!

B00E4437-C806-4508-9B33-377DBB15F33BI am not a religious person. But this church service was such a joyous occasion – drums beating out the rhythm for lots of harmonious singing with children getting up to dance as we arrived.
C4189273-74EC-4EFA-9634-83DF1E2F2120Then the Pastor said a long melodious prayer, during which the entire congregation spoke out loud their own private prayer.

5ECEE03F-A026-44C8-8671-9294449AAA04A young woman gave a reading from the bible in Rukiga – everyone got out their own copy – also in Rukiga – and followed the text themselves.
Gradually more people arrived, with babies and small children, who wandered in and out during the whole proceedings.
Rabecca got up and sang a beautiful solo of ‘Set Me Free’ with a soft drum accompaniment.
Another speaker got up and read a passage from the bible. New members of the church were introduced, and then I realised I was being invited to speak! I went to the front and spoke of how privileged I felt to join in their act of worship. I am glad this happened on our last day, because I really did feel a part of this community – there were so many faces I knew. Milcah, Sarah, Mamento, Honest Wilkins, Winnie, Esther, Kenneth. Denis came to sit beside me, and offered brief summaries of what was being said from time to time.
There were three pastors delivering impressive sermons. Despite not understanding a word, I could see clearly they were natural orators who knew their audience well. 1FDA0634-B2A0-48D6-917F-10F26357FB82
The final piece of singing by the whole congregation was so beautiful that I was moved to tears. I only wish I could have shared this with you. What a contrast this was to a church service in England!

In the afternoon, Jonan, who will be taking us to Queen Elizabeth Park and then finally to Entebbe over the course of the next three days, offered to drive us up for a walk on the mountain which we see every morning as part of our view from the Inn.

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What an impressive vista it gives! After walking through an eerily- quiet pine forest and then a tea plantation, we got a 360’ view of the landscape. It was 6,000 feet above sea level! It was a wonderful way to spend our last afternoon here.
Later in the evening we had a farewell dinner with some of the key people we have been working with. We have received such kindness and appreciation during our short stay here.

I wanted to write you a letter

‘I Wanted To Write You a Letter’ was the title of the first poem I taught here, and it seemed an appropriate title to describe the wonderful day I have had at Kirima Primary School today.

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P7 concentrating on their letters

Valence allowed me to take the English lesson with P7, which is the oldest group in the school. It covers what we would consider the first two years of Secondary School here; some of the pupils were 14 years old, going up to 15. Children here are kept back a year if they don’t pass their end of year exams.

We talked about some of the differences between their lives, and those of children in England. These children board at the school, going home only in the holidays. Their day starts at 5am – yes, you did read that right ! And lessons start at 7.15 . They were astonished when I told them that most English children would still be in bed at that time!

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A teacher puts the final touches to the maize porridge in the staffroom

They have a repetitive diet, some of which is described in the letters. I had some of the maize porridge  which is served to teachers at morning break. It looks rather like wallpaper paste, with a similar consistency. Ground maize and water are clearly the main ingredients, but I think there must be something else to create that gloopy nature. I have to say, I quite liked it, but for Steve it was too reminiscent of semolina puddings at school.

The aim of the lesson was for them to write something of their lives in a letter, which I shall take back to England and use in local primary schools. It is a sobering thought that in most letters, they talk about the jobs they have to do when they go home for the holidays – collecting water, hoeing, fetching firewood, looking after cattle or goats.

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I am hoping to set up if only a brief correspondence with an English child, so that there is some exchange of culture, experiences and ideas. There will be a photo of each child to accompany their letter.

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What care they took! Their concentration was amazing – so quiet and focused! Even when I took a short video of them working, most of them had no idea I was doing it.

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They asked if they could decorate their letters. Of course! A few stubby coloured pencils were found and shared. Valence said that they wanted to colour them, because the letters were special for them, and they wouldn’t want to send them without a personal touch to each one.

Meanwhile, Steve was working with Denis, the headteacher, offering him some more training in using the computer to facilitate record-keeping, and thereby freeing up some precious time.

After lunch, I returned because I wanted to see a debate. Denis introduced debating about four years ago, and P6 and P7 lock horns in a war of words, as do P4 and P5. Every Friday afternoon there is a debate, followed by an inspection of the dorms. Today’s debate: is village life better than town life?

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What an excellent idea this seems to me! It develops confidence and language skills. (Remember, for these pupils, English is their second language). It promotes tolerance and a respect for procedural rules. These pupils are given the motion to debate earlier in the week, and they not only decide amongst themselves who is going to chair, be time- keeper, secretary , proposers and opposers, but they also run the whole debate themselves. Teachers can join in by asking questions/ raising points from the floor, like everyone else. There was a steady stream of eager people who wanted to take the main speakers to task about some aspect of their points.

One unfortunate speaker was admonished on a point of order – ‘Should a speaker be permitted to present his case with his shirt hanging loose?’ He duly tucked it in before being allowed to continue.

I was really impressed. Much of what was said, I couldn’t hear – they tend to speak very softly – and the Ugandan accent is not always easy to fathom. However, it was clearly a successful activity in so many ways.

We now have five days left before we leave Uganda. I’m sure there will be more to share with you over those few days!