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.



Anything can happen


Our washing facilities for the past two days!

Another entire day with no power and no water. We have now had two of the large yellow ‘jerricans’, so- called, delivered to our door. How someone manages to carry it – it’s unbelievably heavy – and where they have managed to get the water – I just don’t know. Rabecca said there is a well further down the hill, and I have indeed seen people carrying water up from there. One can is just about enough for two people for a day – a minimal wash twice a day, and flushing the toilet. It really does concentrate the mind regarding how we take water for granted and waste so much of it in the developed world. It feels crazy to be throwing it down the toilet after someone has taken so much effort to collect it!
Rabecca and I went to Kirima Primary this morning in the hope that I could join in with some English lessons. However, the only subjects available were a maths and science lesson, so we joined in with those. The maths lesson in particular was very good – clear explanations of the methods you need to use in order to solve problems. However, I am not sure all the pupils understood. When asked, they chanted in unison that they have ‘got it’, but I remember from my own school days that that is the easiest way of avoiding the shame of having to admit that you ‘don’t get it’.334FFFB3-3FE2-42C6-A1F0-063B3D2D2947

At the university, Steve is still struggling to find uninterrupted time to finish the task he has set himself. By having to work in the staff common-room where there is sufficient solar power to run a computer, he has had a stream of friendly and well-meaning people who want to chat about all manner of things, but mainly Premier League football.
It has been a frenzy of activity at the University this week, because it is graduation day tomorrow. We have discovered that we are guests of honour, which is more than a little daunting since we are expected to say a few words during the ceremony. We know there is going to be some traditional dancing – because we saw it being rehearsed earlier in the week – and we have heard some wonderful choral singing echoing through the buildings. More details after the event!

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To have, and to have not

We woke up this morning to no power and no water. Yesterday the heat had been building up. Normally it’s around a steady 23 degrees – (remember the fact that although we are very close to the equator, we are almost 5,000 feet above sea level here) – but it was clear from early yesterday morning that it was going to be much hotter, and indeed it reached 29 degrees. Rabecca told us that a storm always follows such a rise in temperature, and sure enough, by 5 o’clock, a torrential downpour began, the likes of which I have never seen before. ‘Downpour’ somehow suggests something short- lived, but not here! It must have been at least an hour, and then was followed by another, equally fierce, much later in the evening. The net consequence of these storms is loss of all services.

Breakfast somehow miraculously appears. There is always a flask of boiled water for the tea, bananas, more pineapple than I have eaten in my whole life, and, if we are lucky, fried or boiled eggs. Dependent, it seems, on the ‘egg man’ who may or not call first thing. We are also given a packet of very dry sliced white bread, which is very sweet. We think that maybe Dickens is under the impression that that is what English people like.
We asked him yesterday if there is any local bread, but no luck so far!

Another frustration this morning is that the modem we have bought has stopped working, meaning that we have no internet again. I can’t upload pictures to the blog, and Steve can’t do his work.

We have introduced a phrase amongst our Ugandan friends here, which is ‘The Day After Tomorrow’.
We use it to explain when we think something that has been promised/arranged with the best of intentions, is just not going to happen. ‘ They’ll do it the day after tomorrow!’
We have visited the coffee plantation and factory which is part of the CHIFCOD organisation, which has Hamlet at its helm. Local farmers who have relatively small harvests of organic coffee beans bring them here: it is a community enterprise which supports them and also helps with the funding of some children’s education.
They produce the best grade of coffee – Arabica – as well as Robusta, the next grade down. We saw the whole complex process, but the beans are finally sent to another factory in Kampala for roasting and packaging.
I can highly recommend it! Gorilla Summit coffee – I think you can get it from Taylor’s of Harrogate as well as direct from Hull Collegiate School. Apparently a lot of the coffee that is grown in Uganda by small producers, is sold to large companies from Kenya, who not only exploit them to make big profits, but it is packaged and sold as ‘Kenyan’ coffee.
The other place we have visited recently is Kazuru Camp. This is the base for volunteers working through for 6 or 12 weeks, and for Limited Resource Teacher Training (LRTT) which uses qualified teachers to improve teacher training in the area. It is high in the mountains near here, with views over Bwindi Forest and the distant hills that mark the beginning of The Democratic Republic of Congo. There are still large numbers of refugees fleeing from the conflict there. We have seen the white UN vehicles on the roads around here, transporting desperate people to camps in Kisoro, which is the largest town close to the border. They will be safe there, but what possible future there can be for them is hard to imagine.
The two young women who are running Kazuru camp seem remarkable. Lauren is American (or possibly Canadian?) and Rebecca is from the Home Counties. They have a wealth of experience between them of working various locations in the developing world.
They have goats to keep the grass down, and have recently bought a pig from the University! As well as sleeping quarters, there is a beautiful large communal area where training takes place, with plenty of space outside for badminton and barbecues. They told us they frequently see black and white monkeys in the trees, and hear chimpanzees calling to each other in the night.