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!

Continue reading


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.

Water, water everywhere, but….

Today we visited Rutenga Primary school, the last of the four primaries that CHIFCOD supports. This meant and hour and a half drive on the treacherous road
that I described in my post about Bunyonyi. This time I managed to take some photos of the men working the timber in the clearings at the edges of the forest. They work, we were told, from first light until 7pm, and need three or four meals a day to keep them going. The staple diet here is matoke (green bananas boiled to a pulp) posho (maize flour mixed with water and cooked to a  pulp) boiled or fried cabbage and red kidney beans boiled in water. This is predominantly a carbohydrate diet, and it is hard to imagine that it can sustain men employed in such intensely physical work all day long.

Speaking of physical work, this morning I decided to wash a few small items of clothing. We have found it very difficult to keep clean. You either get covered in a fine red dust if it is dry, or slathered with mud if it is wet. Clothes take along time to dry: there is rarely any breeze, and the air is humid. We have running water here (albeit cold) yet it took me about an hour to wash and rinse everything by hand.  Many people do not have mains water, having to rely on streams and rivers for their water. If you are having to collect water in those huge yellow plastic containers we see everywhere, the priorities for using water must be for cooking and washing yourself, with washing clothes low down on the list of priorities. The lack of water from a tap means that everything you do takes an inordinate amount of time to complete.

The only source of water

Rutenga Primary school has 300 pupils and 12 teaching staff.  There is no electricity. Their only water is from this source on the left, which used to have a tap attached until some people from the village vandalised the place over the last school holiday, breaking windows and wrenching off the tap. All the pupils are day pupils from the surrounding area. Many of them have to work on the land before they even come to school, and then face the gruelling walk up the mountains to more work before they get fed in the evening at home. Frequently they fall asleep in lessons. There were 67 pupils in Primary 3 class, but only  14 in Primary 7, once again reflecting the statistics that show that pupils drop out of school long before they reach the end of primary education.

There is no kitchen in the school, yet these two men cook food at lunchtime for 300 pupils on a daily basis. Come rain or shine, they have to prepare , cook and serve the meal here on the hilly rise near the classrooms.


The Deputy Head told us, when asked, of the main problems they face. Some of the main difficulties are a lack of resources (teachers have one textbook, pupils have an exercise book, and that’s it) and the fact that they have no electricity. It would make a

The electricity cable runs across the school grounds

huge difference to them if they could be connected to the electricity which has now arrived in the village (in fact, one of the main cables runs high above the school grounds.) Currently there is no way they can afford it. Their milling equipment  (for making maize flour for posho ) is defunct because there are parts missing which they can’t afford to replace, and the cost of fuel to run the mill makes it uneconomical. If they had electricity, that could all change.

The classes we visited were so excited to see us. They don’t see may white faces here.

Primary 3 class


Degrees of Separation

Today, Monday 5th March is the first whole day that Steve and I have spent in separate institutions – him at the University, and me at Great Lakes High School. Steve has been working on creating a  prototype database for student registration, sitting at the computer for much of the day. He had to change rooms after lunch because of a power cut, and work in a different building which is powered by solar energy.

His day was made especially good, I am told, when he returned to Mountain Gorilla Inn at lunchtime to discover that Dickens had made a mushroom and chilli stew with fried potatoes. That, together with the fact that Brighton beat Arsenal yesterday (we were able to pick up a relay of messages about the current score during our journey home from Bunyonyi yesterday in the pouring rain ) has put him in a very good mood.

At Great Lakes I did some team-teaching with Denis Tukamushaba with his English class, who were writing exam-style essays on such topic as ‘Do you think computers are a useful invention?’ and ‘ Describe a time when you felt justified in losing your temper.’ They hadn’t quite got the hang of it, wanted to turn everything into a story.

Later on I taught my literature class, studying the poem ‘Refugee Blues’ by WH Auden which has quite strong resonances  at the present time.  These kids don’t have much knowledge of European history, unsurprisingly. Back home,  I would want  a map of the world, some Blues music, some facts and figures about The Holocaust , before even looking at the poem, but hey-ho, TIA (This is Africa) and I had a blackboard and chalk. We managed.

I  found out earlier that Thursday is National Women’s Day, and the school will be closed. Bang goes another one of my lessons!

Rabecca, smiling as always

We have missed Rabecca today, but she will be back with us tomorrow for our last primary school visit.







The Jack Fruit tree

A few days ago, she brought us a Jack fruit to try. A Jack fruit is a huge, heavy thing that hangs from the Jack Fruit tree. When you cut it open, it is full of a sticky substance, and large seeds the size of Brazil nuts. Around each of the seeds is the casing, which you have to tease  out of the fruit. That is what you eat. It was delicious.



The Jack Fruit


Lake Bunyonyi

Beautiful Lake Bunyonyi

Lake Bunyonyi is one of the tourist attractions in Southern Uganda, very close to the border with Rwanda. It is a vast lake, reputed to be the deepest in Uganda, with 29 islands, some of which are inhabited, others which are set up for visitors to stay. It is extremely beautiful, and a haven for bird watchers.

We were able to take a break and stay over

On the way

on Saturday night for the weekend, thanks to David Kabanza’s organisation of the trip. I feel that I need to pace myself a bit more when using superlatives, because those of you who have been reading previous blogs will know that I have not been backward in using them. However, in this case, I think I will be hard-pressed in future to top the experience of driving from Kanungu via Rutenga, The Mafuga Forest, Karukara and Kabale.

The road is, of course, a dirt road which weaves its way through the mountains with breath-taking views of  green mountain ranges, hills and valleys. However, the road is so poor that you fear for your life in places.   Most of the time it is not wide enough for vehicles to pass each other. Fortunately, we met very few, and just jockeyed for position on the road with small motorbikes. The camber of the road means that you veer towards the edge with alarming regularity, at a troubling angle. At one point I suggested that we all should sit on the left-hand side of the people-carrier, including the driver (who would then be sitting on Steve’s lap) in order to address the acute angle. This met with much hilarity from our Ugandan companions, who seem to find the possibility of instant death highly amusing. Added to this, the road suffers from frequent rock and mud slides, which also brings down trees. The sides of the roads are littered with them. It really is a jolting ride, and when you finally reach a stretch of tarmac, it feels like you are floating over the surface.

The forested area is used by small family units or co-operatives, it seems, in the production of timber. Every so often you find in a clearing in which there has been erected a huge platform. This has ten or more  huge eucalyptus trunks on top, and there are two men – one on top, the other underneath, who are working a lengthy saw through the length of the wood. Everything is done by physical labour – apart from the saw, the only tools are machetes and axes.

women working in the quarries

The nearer we got to Kabale – the journey takes two and a half hours – the landscape changed, and  forests were replaced by quarries, which are also worked by hand. It was hard to believe that women and small children were engaged in breaking up stones to different sizes.  In other places, they were digging sand out of the ground.

Kabale itself is the biggest town we have

Busy with bikes

selling the merchandise

seen, bustling with life. It was noticeable that there were large numbers of cycles here that had been adapted to take a passenger, with women riding side-saddle behind their men. Other bikes were carrying large milk-churns, collected, no doubt, from the ‘Honest Dairies Milk Collecting Centre’ down the road.  One bike had the added benefit of a wheelbarrow in tow.

Female officer with machine-gun

There are many mobile phone providers  and hard-selling adverts on billboards, offering all sorts of deals. You don’t see many smartphones, but most people seem to have little Nokia. People use their phones to pay direct  and make financial transactions, although this is a pretty insecure way of using money.  I was surprised to see a female police officer walking along the street, toting a machine-gun. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised any more.

From Kabale it was a short hop to the lake. We took a boat across to the island of Bushara, staying in a tree house about 40 feet off the ground, amongst the

Our tree house verandah

eucalyptus and avocado trees, overlooking the lake. The shower was on the verandah, surrounded by bamboo, with no top, so you could look up at the stars in the night sky, or watch the cormorants in their nests at the top of trees. Hot water was produced by a solar system in conjunction with a more traditional  wood-burning method. We took advantage and had three hot showers during our brief stay!

That very special bird

We saw an extraordinary number of different birds, largely thanks to our guide, who called himself Robin. The best of these was the  Crested Crane, the national bird of Uganda, which appears on their flag. Penalties for harming this bird or stealing its eggs are pretty draconian. You pay a price for the beauty of the natural surroundings. That price is the extreme poverty which you can never escape. Robin took us to visit an orphanage on the mainland, which houses 100 children in cramped and unsanitary conditions.  Most of them, we were told, have become orphans through an outbreak of Ebola

Some of the children at the orphanage

in the area.  They do not have the money to send them to school. It was heartbreaking.



Thank you

My first task every morning is to check the stats for this blog. It is nice to know there is a growing audience! So far, it has been read in England, America, Portugal, Spain, Finland ( hello lovely family!) and Australia and New  Zealand ( hi Shelagh and John!) So many thanks to all of you for showing an interest. This morning there had been 88 views! I realise that in this age of connectivity, that is a relatively small number, but it seems to be growing, and some of you have been kind enough to promote the blog to others.

We have been following, as best we can, the weather in England. So, the end of the world has arrived! We certainly chose a good time to be away. When we talk to people here about the temperature  back home, we are greeted with incredulity. “How can you survive? How can you possibly live? You will surely die!”

This morning we walked up to Kirima Primary to visit Dennis, the Head teacher. Steve has made the first steps in helping Dennis in using e-mail more readily. I brought some children’s books from home to give to the school, but I wished I had been able to give more. Anyway, they now have Roald Dahl’s Enormous Crocodile and Eric Carl’s The Hungry Caterpillar, amongst others.

Children in Primary 7 can be as old as 14. This maybe explains the explicit signs painted on the wall, stating the dangers of sex, HIV and AIDS.



The boys’ dormitory which will be demolished

It is a large site which is going to suffer when the new tarmac road is built, since dormitories for the boys will have to be demolished to make way for the road. Attempts to buy some neighbouring land have proved fruitless.




In the afternoon we visited Nyamirama Primary which is even further away than Great Lakes High, in a more remote area.

The journey was spectacular as usual, opening up new vistas far across the Rift Valley, where a ribbon of silver glinting on the horizon proved to be Lake Edward. Dotted along the way were the giant anthills, looking in places like prehistoric monuments of red stone. In this area, coffee seems to be the crop: large tarpaulins were stretched out in front of people’s houses, with a solid covering of coffee beans drying in the sun.

In terms of traffic on the road, it seemed to be characterised by abnormal – or optimistic – loads. We saw one small motorbike carrying four people, none with a helmet. Later we saw a motorbike with the passenger carrying an up-side down push-bike. In Kanungu we watched some men strapping a sofa onto the back of a motorbike, but didn’t stick around long enough to see if they were going to add the matching armchair as well.

Someone’s mum is going to be asking about that sock

Clearly Nyamirama, which caters for 400 pupils , is in a desperately poor area.  Amos has been the Head for eight years, and the resources he has at his disposal are very, very thin. There is no computer in the school. They have built the brick base to house a water tank so that they can capture rainwater. But the base remains unused because they have no funds to buy the water tank, which would cost no more than £450.00. If they had the tank, they would not have to buy water, which is an expensive commodity.




The Girls’ Dormitory Looking So Neat!

These dedicated teachers do a remarkable job. The teachers live on site, in very basic accommodation. Pupils aged 10 upwards board at the school, in a large dormitory for boys and another for girls. Some of the bunk beds have three layers! The girls’ dorm was immaculate, and each girl had left her bed fashioned with pieces of cloth in a special design which showed great care.




You can take a person out of teaching…

My first lesson at Great Lakes High School!

The Literature O Level class is very small – being, as I said before, an optional subject. With only six pupils  it was not a problem for me that Dennis, their wonderful teacher, was only able to turn up about half-way through the 80 – minute lesson. (Dennis is a rare breed in terms of teaching – there are very few teachers of Literature here, so he works across several schools and colleges, driving between each  on a small motorbike – although you would not imagine how he can turn up looking so exquisitely immaculate having journeyed on these dusty roads.)

The lovely Literature class – from the left: Bill Gates, Ignatia,Gift, Dennis the Teacher, Caroline, Denise and Pleasure.

What a pleasure that lesson was! I I introduced them to their O Level Poetry Anthology, and we studied a moving poem – Letter From a Contract Worker, by Antonio Jacinto, an Angolan poet. They were very quiet but I think they may become a bit more relaxed as time wears on. Lovely kids.

The journey to the school takes about half and hour, and is a spectacular drive, with stunning views across to the Rift Valley, and eventually Queen Elizabeth Park, where we hope to be going for our last weekend in Uganda. The minimal edges to the roadsides mean there is the inevitable scattering of the small, multi-coloured goats that are tethered to graze, and the occasional small herd of miscellaneous cows, as we thunder over potholes and avoid the large stones and other debris which litter the road. Also, lots of young children tending animals or working in the banana groves.  The sightings of these children bears testament to the shocking statistic we heard tonight – there is a 90% drop-out rate of children from Primary 1 classes to Primary 7 nationwide. We had already noticed that the classes got smaller and smaller as we observed groups in the primary school we visited yesterday. What is even more shocking is that this statistic  does not even take account of the fact that 60% of children never go to school at all!

Winnie takes a break

Steve met with the Head of IT again and was able to have fruitful discussion about how changes can be made which will improve the safety of the working environment in the IT lab. He was accompanied by Winnie, the irrepressible  IT  staff member at the university.


We are slowly getting used to the rhythm of life here. There is the constant making of plans which are suddenly altered for no apparent reason. There is the lack of urgency at almost every level and aspect of life. There is the constant ‘losing’ things which seems an impossibility when you are living out of one suitcase each  in a small room, but nevertheless things are ‘lost’ and then ‘found’ on a regular basis. There is the smell of woodsmoke which presages the serving of a meal. There is the sound of crickets, which starts at nightfall, sometimes stopping in unison for a few moments (maybe there is only one cricket making all that noise?) and then resuming with fresh vigour until daybreak. There are the cold showers – we’ll never get used to that! There are the men with machine guns, even in this remote rural setting, guarding the banks. More of that later.

The view from the University

A word about the University. It was a college until fairly recently, when it gained university status. It predominantly runs courses in the sciences, engineering and IT, as well as teacher training. It sits in a beautiful location within walking distance of Mountain Gorilla Inn. The site is not much bigger than an English school. There are fairly basic boarding facilities for some students. When we visited last Sunday, most students were in their

The boys in their dorm

dorms, but we managed to entice some out to speak to us. Many people here seem very shy as well as very softly-spoken. We managed to engage with a lovely group of young men who were happy to discuss the various merits of Premier League football teams. Manchester City and Arsenal seemed to be the favourites!



The University kitchen

The University has its own kitchen to provide lunch for anyone who studies or works there. Of course, there is no gas or electricity for this mammoth task, and even though we visited the kitchen after lunch serving had finished,  the space still retained a fiery heat from the three open fires which are used to heat the cooking vessels  above.