I am very grateful to Roz for writing this Blog while I have been doing various things (including checking out some of my bird photos and making a list of all the new species I have seen!)……
Thursday, 16th November
On Thursday morning, we drove to Soroti Secondary School to meet with Simon Olaki, deputy head teacher. Simon, aged 42, was born totally blind and his mother was told by her family to throw him into the pit latrine but she refused. He attended Madera Primary and St Francis Junior Secondary Schools for the Blind where he learnt Braille. With no ‘A’ level facilities for the blind, he went to Teso College, achieving the highest combined ‘A’ level results in the school! He got a 2.1 degree in English and Education at Makerere University in Kampala. Having received unconditional offers from three universities in the UK to do a Masters, he is applying for a Commonwealth Scholarship through the Leonard Cheshire Foundation. Margaret arranged to meet again on Saturday to help complete the next application stage. A truly remarkable and inspirational man. Simon lives in a school house built by the World Bank in the late 1960s which is identical to the one Margaret and her family lived in in Kabale from 1970 – a strange reminder from the past!
We later visited Amercet N’ainapakin (Shelter of Peace) home in Soroti. This was started about 17 years ago and offers shelter for short or longer periods of time for babies and young children abandoned or unable to live within their family. It was founded by Els van Teijilingen, from the Netherlands, under the banner of Youth With a Mission. Els showed us around the complex and we saw many young babies being cared for by volunteers from abroad and staff. One of the saddest was a newborn baby born in the bush to an older primary school girl just outside the school compound and been thrown into the pit latrines. With help and support, the baby will soon go back to her mother and family. Amecet has cared for two of our “TESS babies” whose mothers (sponsored by TESS and qualified as a teacher and a midwife) who died after childbirth. Els explained that volunteers are always welcome, particularly those with some medical or nursing experience. The reception area’s walls were full of photographs of hundreds of babies and children that have passed through their hands. Roz left a donation that had been given to her for the purchase of mosquito nets, which will be made to fit the small cots, along with some baby clothes. (Perhaps you would like to follow their BLOG to get occasional moving stories of the joys and heartaches of some of the babies and children they care for.)
We went to the simple home in Soroti of Emmanuel Eyomu, brother of one of our former sponsored students, Adongo Jane. He is a very keen and gifted artist and showed us some of his work using different media and techniques. He told us how difficult it was to sell his art in Uganda. Margaret has arranged to take seven home to show at an exhibition taking place in Nottingham. (If anyone would like to borrow them to exhibit, perhaps in a church or hall or small gallery, please get in touch.)
We were later collected by Robert and stopped in Soroti to buy him a crash helmet. Although it is law in Uganda to wear a crash helmet, as are seat belts, very few motorcyclists do so – many lives would be saved if they adhered to this. Robert doesn’t have his own motorcycle, but frequently goes home to the village on the back of a “boda-boda” motorcycle. We later visited Reverend Abraham and Grace Eruku and some of their family at his home and shared supper before returning home.
Saturday, 17th November
Margaret went back to see Simon this morning to complete the second part of his application but owing to problems with her computer, she will finish it in the UK. Meanwhile, I went to see Olivia Ediau and their children at their home. Reverend Sam was away at a friend’s wedding. I saw the new baby girl born last Sunday to one of Olivia’s neighbours and who has been named after her. Olivia’s oldest girls, Blessing and Margaret, were both still at school (on Saturday afternoon) when I arrived but I was met by Favour, Faith and little Sam and spent time reading and playing with them. It was Faith’s 7th birthday and when all the children were present, she cut her cake and we sang happy birthday to her. Margaret arrived later and had brought some more balloons, which the children enjoyed very much. They also made paper aeroplanes and took them into the garden to see whose went furthest. All the children had been upset last Monday when they arrived home from school to find we had gone – and there were more tears today. We will see them again before we leave for the UK.
It was quite a noisy Saturday night as the music from the disco some way off could still be heard loud and clear, well into the next morning!
Sunday, 18th November
We both attended Soroti Cathedral (where Naphtali has recently been made the Vicar) this morning for the English-speaking service and were pleased to see it well-attended after declining so much over the last few years. We were both asked to introduce ourselves to the congregation and Margaret spoke of new beginnings since Bishop George Erwau retired in June, but that Naphtali would need the support of the congregation to take the church forward in its ministry. She spent the afternoon trying to catch up with the Blog on her lap top but unfortunately the modem finally expired and even Microsoft collapsed!
Monday, 19th November
This morning we left early for the long journey to the eye hospital in Tororo, run by the Catholic Church. We were initially taking Naphtali for a check up as he is awaiting a second cataract operation, but since arriving, we had found two more ‘patients’ in need of help, so took with us Robert’s father and Reverend Kokas. Robert even renamed our vehicle ‘the eye bus’! There were plenty of other people, young and old, waiting patiently to be seen, so Robert, Margaret and I went into town to see if Margaret could get her laptop repaired. A very nice young man from Kenya solved the problems. On our return to the eye hospital, Robert’s father had been dispensed reading glasses and Naphtali given a prescription for the most expensive ‘designer’ frames they had! We found something more appropriate and he seemed very pleased with the result. Reverend Kokas was diagnosed with Macula Disease in one eye was told to return the next day for a field vision test to check for possible glaucoma. We explained the procedure to him – explanations seem to be lacking when it comes to medical matters in Uganda.
On our return, Margaret spent the evening with (Retired) Bishop Charles Obaikol and Margaret, although Margaret Obaikol wasn’t very well and went to bed early. Robert Angiro (Archdeacon of Katakwi) dropped in – and also stayed for supper.
Tuesday, 20th November
We were all up early this morning, with Naphtali and his wife Gaudesia joining us for our trip to Kidepo Valley National Park in Karamoja (north-east Uganda), which borders Kenya and South Sudan. This trip would not have been possible some years back for security reasons during the periods of turmoil and lawlessness by the Karimojong. It was a very long, hot and dusty drive (8 hours, including brief stops for a picnic breakfast etc), travelling on murram roads some of which were in a terrible condition in places. But the stunning scenery and sense of experiencing perhaps a ‘real’ Africa seen in old books was all around us on the journey, from the breath-taking hills and mountains to the bleak existence lived by so many people who struggle to find water when all the rivers and streams we passed were virtually dry. They also have to cope with ferocious winds that whip up the dust and dry soil. It was a truly unforgettable experience.
We stayed in green-painted bandas – the inside walls were probably warm enough to fry an egg on! We were surrounded by waterbuck and jackals, all undisturbed by our presence, and went out for a short early evening drive around the park. We were so very fortunate to come across a large and handsome male lion, resting on top of a huge rock having a snooze in the setting sun, with a number of hyrax nearby for company. Further afield, we came across oribi, hartebeest, buffalo, warthogs and elephants. Another visitor told us over supper that very early in the morning that day there had been two lions present around the bandas roaring for about 2 hours – we hope they return tonight and will keep our windows open so we don’t miss them!
Wednesday, 21st November
Sadly, the lions did not reappear in the night although we heard three roars in the distance as were going to bed. We were up early to go on a morning’s game drive to the border with South Sudan, the best area in the park to go bird watching. Unfortunately, just as we were about to leave, we discovered the vehicle had a flat tyre but with some help, it was soon changed. Margaret went off photographing birds.
We set off with Dennis, one of the wardens who guided us to make sure we wouldn’t enter into South Sudan by mistake! His bird knowledge was excellent and we saw several species Margaret and Robert had not seen before. Robert kept thinking about Roger and how he would have loved to see the birds – and even came up with a plan for Roger, which wouldn’t involve long road journeys, to come next time! We passed over some dried up river beds. Naphtali was very pleased to see a herd of zebra, one of the animals on his wish list, and although we didn’t see any giraffes, we also came across elephants, jackals, waterbuck, oribi, buffalo, baboons, hartebeest, a duiker and an ostrich. Near the border, there are guards and wardens present. We stopped at one of their camps for a picnic breakfast. There were two 8 month old ostriches, already taller than us, that had been rescued as chicks and now stay around the site. Indeed, if other ostriches appear, the two hurry back to the safety of the guards!
We stopped by a very small hot spring which was almost lost amongst the vegetation. We could just put our hands in it. It disperses into a lush marshy area, such a contrast with the dry, arid grassland, much of which has been burnt.
Margaret has been surprised at how many European birds we have been seeing which have migrated here for the winter. For example, there are hundreds of our Wheatears here.
We returned to our camp at lunchtime. Margaret and I spent several hours in the afternoon making up the photo greeting cards that Margaret has produced for Homestead Tours to promote tourism. We were not alone, however, and had the company of Patas Monkeys, who entertained us with their antics, as well as Waterbuck, Warthogs and Jackals.
Early evening was spent travelling around another part of the Park and Naphtali ticked off another animal from his wish-list, some giraffe albeit far away in the distance.
Thursday, 22nd November
Sadly, it was time to leave early this morning but on the way out, we were amazed to see groups of zebra, elephants, hartebeest, waterbucks, giraffes, jackals, oribi and warthogs, all grazing in the early morning sun, as well as an Augur Buzzard and a vulture. We even saw a mongoose outside the park, scurrying across the road in front of us.
Driving back through Karamoja, we again got the sense of isolation and wilderness experienced by the people living there and the hardships they must endure. We passed only one primary school in the northern half, and yet there were so many young children around. We saw many young girls carrying small jerry cans and huge bundles of chopped wood and grass for thatching, young boys herding cattle and goats, donkeys being used for carrying goods – all whilst walking through the incessant winds. By the time we reached Soroti, we were covered in reddish dust just from the journey, yet we could wash it off ourselves and our clothes – they cannot without water. It was lovely to be met by Susan and Irene (Naphtali and Gaudesia’s daughters) with fresh juice and a late lunch. We couldn’t wait to wash the murram dust off us, which ran down the drain in a thick, orange sludge!
At 5.00pm, we met with Joseph Asutai in the lovely gardens at Hursey Hotel to hear more about his plans for developing Awoja Riverside Farm. We were very impressed. He says that recent statistics show that poverty levels have actually risen in the eastern region (including Teso) to the highest ever, which is shocking considering progress in the rest of the country.
The sun set while an orange full moon rose. We took the opportunity to leave 50 cards for the hotel to sell, as well leaflets about Homestead Tours. Joseph dropped us back at Naphtali’s home.
Friday, 23rd November
We had a lazy morning doing odds and ends while Robert went to Mbale to collect Sam Opol who returned on the overnight bus after spending 3 weeks in Nairobi. He wasn’t at all well. Margaret Opol came from Serere. Margaret and I had lunch with Naphtali’s family (he has been out all day working at the Cathedral) and then Margaret took Sam and Margaret Opol to a back-street café for a late lunch. Then they went to sit in the shade of the Hursey Hotel gardens to catch up while I stayed and wrote this Blog update and finished making the remaining cards which we will leave with Robert and Ben to sell to the clients they take round on tours of Uganda. Robert is thrilled because he was recommended by some tourists he took on a tour for a very expensive, up-market tour company in September, as a result of which, they have asked him to take another group in December. Since getting back from Mbale, Robert has had a well-deserved restful day.
We were expecting Ben Ejadu (Robert’s older brother who runs Homestead Tours) to arrive in Soroti yesterday from Kampala, but he was ill with malaria and not well enough to travel. We hope to meet up with him at some point.
To try and beat the problems of writing the Blog on the internet, we will copy and paste this from Word, now it is working again, and then try and insert some photos. Hopefully, it will be quicker and less frustrating for us! It has been lovely listening to half a dozen young children playing in the dark outside our room until 10.45pm with so much laughter and giggles – and no bickering.
Tomorrow is the TESS Alumni Reunion which we will all attend. Robert has taken a contribution from us down to Joseph Okorio who seems to be left to organise it on his own. Joseph needed to go and buy some food. It will be held at what is misguidedly known as the Diocesan Medical Centre. The Diocesan Girls’ Hostel, where the Reunion was held last year, was built by Bournemouth Deanery, but has now been taken over by Kyambogo University as an outlying campus! John Omagor is coming early to see Margaret for a final meeting.
We leave Soroti on Sunday to start the journey home. We have booked two nights in basic accommodation at Griffin Falls Camp in Mabira Forest before returning to Entebbe ready for our flight home on Wednesday. So this may be our last Post until after we get home. Thank you for following us this far!