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.

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.


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!


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.



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.


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.

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?


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!

And the rain, it cometh

The normal view from Mountain Gorilla Inn


It has been raining all night, and it continues to rain with increased intensity. As we sit down to breakfast, we both remember that we have forgotten to bring our malaria tablets from our room. You need to take one at the same time each day. Steve braves the torrent to go back to our room and get

them. Above is the normal view, compared with how it looks this morning. The mountain has gone! I am now fearful of getting to Great Lakes today, and even more fearful for Denis, who travels to different schools on his ‘iron horse’, as he puts it, or in common parlance , his ‘boda boda’.This is our last chance to get together before we leave next week, and I have some things to give him.


Rain, what rain? It is amazing the way the roads dry out, even after such vast quantities of rain. The worst hazard was not the slippery roads, but the boda boda coming towards us carrying a passenger with lengths of metal across his lap, making it easily as wide as a car. A cat’s whisker was the clearance on what is, effectively, a single-track road.

00E5E77E-D468-49E0-8B8C-35B3B66992D4Have said my goodbyes to the kids and to Denis. One of my pupils, Pleasure, has disappeared entirely. The other girls told me that her parents have not paid her school fees. That must be the end of her educational opportunities: she will not be able to take her O-Levels.  Just another painful statistic in the lives of these kids.

Goodbye was a tearful exchange all round. Denis and I have vowed to continue our teaching partnership via WhatsApp. He expressed his delight in the connection we have made, and I returned to Kanungu.


Only Connect


On the way to school

To Kirima Primary again today. Had a longer chat with Denis, the Headteacher, who also has overall responsibility for the three other primaries in the CHIFCOD family. He had a busy week last week with many lengthy meetings with officials from the Education Department. It seems that Rutenga Primary, where we visited last week, does not have the official licence to run as a parents’ school. They have just a few days to get the paperwork in place before they could face the same fate as some of the other schools in the area who have been closed this week after being found wanting in the paperwork department. Denis is upbeat about it, saying it will all be fine. In our experience so far in Uganda, from seemingly chaotic and disorganised situations, things do end up ‘fine’ so I hope his optimism is well- founded.

11FC2DAA-B2E4-48B7-BC6C-AA6039C8788CI sat in on Valence’s English lesson with Primary 7 ( the oldest pupils) which was focused on formal letter- writing. I asked if I could take the lesson on Friday, building on this set of skills to write some more informal letters to their English counterparts in local schools. I’m looking forward to that. It would be great if we could set up a connection.

Later in the day Steve also went to talk to Denis, and to do some training in how to send emails and how to use Excel to create pupil lists.


Kazuru camp

In the evening we went to Kazuru camp at the invitation of Lauren and Rebecca, where we met the four young volunteers and had a lovely meal – Ugandan pizza, guacamole and fried potatoes. Delicious!








Down to earth with a bump or two


Back to work today. Despite having arranged an early breakfast and a car to pick me up, the driver arrived some 30 minutes late, meaning that I was late for my language lesson with the O-level class.
How that driver even sees the road is a mystery to me: clouds of red dust envelop everything on the way there – there has been no rain for quite a few days now – and on the way back, visibility was also just about zero, as we are caught in a rainstorm. Windscreen wipers don’t work, and the windows mist up. Despite this, he seems determined to shave minutes off the driving time with every journey.

More practice with essay titles, the style of which are reminiscent of the papers I sat all those years ago. Often they contain proverbs or sayings which are taken literally by students.  ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’ is almost certainly going to invite a story unfolding in the kitchen. Best to steer them away from choosing those kind of questions.

Today I had a proper tour around the school. I have got quite used to a goat walking past my classroom door, and steering a path round


Waiting for the pot

the cows grazing on the rough grass on the lawns. I was more surprised to see the rabbits who would be providing the staff with a meat meal twice a term. The school seems set for expansion, with additional dorms for A- level students.
For the Literature lesson I used a poem called Armanda by the Kenyan poet Jared Angira. There are all sort of cultural barriers to understanding. Despite being written by an African writer, the poem is littered with unfathomable expressions for these students. Tango, whisky on the rocks, Dunhills, Scrabble, turning the apple-cart, to name just a few.

I have talked a lot about what we have seen here in Uganda. What have we not seen, that has surprised us?
We have not seen rubbish littering the place. We have not seen anyone smoking in public. We have hardly seen any flies. We have not seen a single horse or donkey.

C2C04673-4432-4222-A2CF-C5D1080256A5But I did see this camel pass by later this afternoon.


Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

The entrance to the forest

We were staying in the village of Buhoma, which is the most northerly access point into Bwindi. A walk in the forest is a must. The cost of taking a guide seems extraordinarily expensive until you realise it is not only the guide who comes with you, but two guards armed with automatic rifles. One to walk ahead of you, the other to take up the rear. Why armed guards? I hear you ask.

Herbert, our excellent, knowledgeable guide explained that it is possible that we may encounter roaming elephants, baboons, chimpanzees and even some unexpected mountain gorillas. All of these could

our guide, Herbert, and the two riflemen, David and Roland

pose a threat to life and limb, so in such an instance the guns would be used to fire warning shots to scare the creatures off. He also explained that the first footpath we were taking is used by villagers who are walking to their village some 13 k away. They have special permission to use this route through the forest in order to avoid using their normal route, which is dangerously close to the border with The Democratic Republic of The Congo and various ruthless and lawless gangs who operate from there.

He told us that the situation had been particularly bad some twenty years ago, when tourists as well as local people had been attacked, kidnapped, and/or killed in this area. Armed with this alarming – if now apparently historical – information, I did wonder whether the armed guards were really just to frighten off chimpanzees.

Let it be said now that nothing untoward happened to spoil a wonderful walk through this ancient rainforest.

We have been in Uganda long enough to have noted that three non – indigenous species of trees dominate the landscape. Namely, eucalyptus – brought here from Australia, banana trees from South America, and a species of fir tree from Canada. Eucalyptus, although it provides cheap timber, and re-grows once the trunk has been felled, needs a lot of water. Our guide told us that the once plentiful stream in his village is now completely and permanently dry, as a result of extensive eucalyptus planting, particularly close to the edge of the stream.

Tree ferns

Needless to say, you will find none of these species in the forest, nor mango or avocado, which are also non – indigenous plants. Instead there are majestic tree ferns, and massive trunks of mahogany and other native trees that tower above you, providing lots of shade. Impenetrable is the word. You can see that beyond the path, it is a mass of vegetation. The path itself has a complex pattern of tree roots and iron ore rocks, which have been polished to a gun-metal patina by many footsteps traversing them.

There is a lot of controversy about the Batwa people, the indigenous hunter/ gatherers who populated this forest in the past. Because they had no modern legal rights to the land, they were removed and now live in the villages on the outskirts of the forest. As pygmies, they seem to have become a curious side-show on the one hand, and the object of ridicule on the other, their way of life destroyed. We did not take up the option to ‘go and see them’.

We turned off the main track to follow a tortuously narrow track which went deeper into the forest, leading us to three successively more impressive waterfalls. You want to look up, but you can’t, for it is far too treacherous underfoot.

The  variety of fungi was amazing. There were  silver mushrooms like tiny iridescent pearls. There were mushrooms that looked like that last circle of a Werther’s Original before you decide to crunch it rather than suck it.  Others were like those gaudy fluorescent  buttons you find on children’s clothes. There were some like those poached egg sweets you can get from a traditional confectioner. Others looked like frayed circles of linen that have been in contact with something rusty. Some seemed to be coated with white, fine icing sugar, with a drop of coffee on top.

On the way back from the waterfalls, we were lucky enough to see several red-tailed monkeys, which first crossed the path in front of us, then disappeared into the thick undergrowth.  And the butterflies! They seemed to congregate in sunlit patches – huge numbers of blue, yellow  and white butterflies mixed with multi-coloured brown, red and black ones, as well as huge swallow-tail emerald green ones, edged with black, dancing in their hundreds in a well – orchestrated semblance of a blizzard. I had to tread carefully to avoid stepping on any of them. It felt like I was a character in Bradbury’s ‘The Sound of Thunder’ – don’t step off the path! The eco-system will be destroyed!

What a privilege it has been to visit such an amazing place. Next time we have vowed to save enough money to take one of the gorilla-trekking options, which currently costs $600. per person. It has been described as the most awesome wild-life experience you can possibly have.




A day of two halves

We started the day again with no water. Also no breakfast ready. Everything was topsy-turvy because Mountain Gorilla Inn is to be used for a reception after the Graduation Ceremony up at the University. Dickens has got quite a catering job on his hands!

Eventually someone rustled up something for us to eat, and we made our way up to the University, feeling unwashed and scruffy ( who packs a suit when you are travelling?)

We were introduced to the visiting vice-chancellor from Nkumba University in Entebbe, with whom Great Lakes are affilliated, and some of his key staff. Also present  was the local MP who is the Government Minister for housing, the Honourable Dr. Chris Baryomunsi,  as well as Bishop Hamlet Kabushenga who is the Chancellor of the University.

1144E002-0CA8-4DE6-AFB7-499C44A5995CIt was an interesting experience. Speeches were somewhat longer than we were used to. The Government Minster gave an interesting historical overview of the progress of Uganda, followed by a summary of the speech in Rukiga, the local language. At Bishop Hamlet’s invitation, I made a brief contribution and then passed the proceedings back to the academics.

F8119955-5B88-4DED-B771-1A93D927BE01For me, the most memorable part was the wonderful traditional dancing performed by some of the students. Such energy and vitality, and sheer joy! It even got the Vice-Chancellor to his feet, joining in for a bit.


After lunch, Hamlet very kindly suggested we should stay overnight in his Lodge on the edge of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, 988CE22C-1A3B-4EF1-8D33-2C04E1CBAA0Afrom where I am now writing this post. We are sitting on a verandah overlooking the forest, reflecting back on both parts of the day, and looking forward to a short guided walk through this habitat of mountain gorillas tomorrow.