Saturday, 24th November – TESS Alumni Reunion
John Omagor came over from Kobwin to see me briefly as there were a couple of things he wanted to discuss. Then we went with Robert to the TESS Alumni Reunion. Robert was the Driver for TESS for nearly 7 years until he left a few months ago and is much loved by all the TESS students, both past and present, most of whom didn’t know he had left. So he was welcomed as warmly as we were. Joanne Carver, the UK TESS Manager, is in Soroti with her family for six months having arrived in September. She was already in the Centre as the start time was given as 9.00am, but only the three organisers, Okorio Joseph (the President of the TESS Alumni), Akullu Irene and Amajo Agnes were there. We didn’t arrive until 9.45 as we knew it wouldn’t start until much later. Joanne left soon after as she and Christine Ariokot (the Uganda Manager and herself a TESS Alumna) had planned to go out visiting some schools! We didn’t get to talk to Joanne although she spent a long time talking to Agnes and writing down notes about her. So there were no representatives from TESS and Bishop Charles was away at an event in Kampala. Sam Ediau (the original TESS Manager who is now Diocesan Secretary and is the Patron of the Alumni Association) was there.
Everyone was given “breakfast” (tea and bread) as they trickled in from about 10.00 onwards. The slow start gave me a good opportunity to meet everyone individually, catch up briefly and take their photos. A number of them brought their babies and toddlers and Alupo Loyce came with her new husband having got married only a few days before. There were about 45 who came, most of whom had not come to the original Reunion 18 months ago, which was really nice.
Amajo Agnes, wearing a glamorous dress she had designed and made herself, did an excellent job as the MC for the day, keeping things moving with humour and sensitivity. There was some worship, and everyone was asked to introduce themselves saying briefly what they are doing now. Joseph, Roz, Sam and I were all asked to say something more. But the most important part of the day, apart from all the informal reunions, was the opportunity they had to come forward and give their “testimonies” which were inspiring as they told how and why they had been taken on by TESS more than 10 years ago and what they are doing now – such a variety of jobs and roles which are not only giving them a future, but enabling them to change their families and wider communities. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling well enough to make notes.
Just a few “before and after” photos of some of the TESS Alumni – some don’t seem to have changed very much
We remembered the TESS Alumni who have tragically died (Ikwenyu Angella Rose, Abeja Susan, Angoro Irene and Alupo Mary Scovia), as well as about seven others who died whilst still being sponsored and who should have been Alumni by now. Joseph suggested they should have a thanksgiving and memorial service for them, perhaps next year. Back at home, we don’t expect to hear about deaths amongst friends whom we went to school or trained with until we are so much older.
I wasn’t feeling well, so went straight to bed after returning to Naphtali and Gaudesia’s home at about 6.00pm, while Roz went to say good-bye to Sam and Olivia’s children. Naphtali was still out at the Cathedral, including a Baptism service in the morning for 21 babies (including one of his own grandchildren). So I didn’t see him to say good-bye to as he left home on Sunday at 6.20am in time for the first of the four services of the day which run, without a break, from 6.30am to about 1.15pm!!
Sunday, 25th and Monday 26th November
We had been so well cared for by Gaudesia and their two daughters, Susan and Irene. We left Soroti at 10.15, giving a lift to one of our old students, Amuge Sherry. We stopped in Mbale for lunch with Joseph Okwalinga (one of Kokas’s sons) and his wife and baby as we had been unable to go to the baby’s Baptism the previous Sunday. Ismael (Kokas’s youngest son), whom I have known since he was a baby, also lives in Mbale and so came for lunch, which was lovely after many years. When he was four years old, he had tripped over a fallen electricity cable in long grass and used his hands to try and take the wire off his feet, which resulted in serious burns to his hands. He had plastic surgery on one hand at Kumi Hospital by a visiting surgeon in about 1998, but it was so painful and not very successful in straightening his fingers that he refused an operation on the other hand and has learnt to cope. He is now a Medical Laboratory Technician and seems very happy and settled.
The Mbale-Tirinyi-Iganga road is still being renewed after more than two years, so parts of it were quite bad. The usual reason for delays is money being “eaten”. It was also very hot and the long journey to Mabira Forest (near Lugazi, on the Kampala side of Jinja) became something of a nightmare as I felt more and more grotty! We dropped Sherry in Lugazi and reached Griffin Falls Camp at about 5.00pm, just in time for me to collapse into the bathroom and then onto a very welcome bed! Robert agreed it would be sensible for me to use the Malaria test kit I had with me, so he efficiently pricked a finger and squeezed drops onto the special strip and added the phial of solvent. It takes at least 15-30 minutes to show a positive result – after about an hour, there was a definite positive result, so I started taking Coartem. I didn’t have a good night and stayed in bed virtually all Monday, but was able to get up in the evening for some home-made pumpkin soup and a tiny, sweet banana. It had poured with rain at sunrise, but Robert and Roz went for a walk later on through Mabira Forest. They enjoyed it very much and Robert managed to take some photos with my camera of Red-tailed Monkeys even though they move fast high in the trees; but they didn’t see many birds because the vegetation is thick and dark. They both spent a lazy afternoon relaxing.
As dusk falls in the Forest, the monkeys make a lot of noise as they argue over the best branches to sleep in at the top of the trees, but then it becomes peaceful with only insects making quiet and soothing noises. But later, the Tree Hyraxes start ‘whistling’ for about five minutes every half hour or so, making a very loud and somewhat eerie repetitive screech which they repeat about 20 times with increasing urgency before falling silent! I have never come across anyone who has ever seen them as they are very secretive and nocturnal.
Tuesday, 27th November
I was very grateful for a second night in Mabira Forest as I wouldn’t have coped with travelling to Entebbe on Monday. But by this morning, I was able to eat some breakfast, pack and face the day. It was lovely to get close views of Great Blue Turacos and Black-and-white Casqued Hornbills and, at the opposite extreme, a brilliant Pygmy Kingfisher. Although we were once again surrounded by Red-tailed Monkeys, it is so difficult to see them, let alone photograph them.
The urbanisation of Kampala now extends 20 miles out eastwards beyond even Mukono which now also suffers from permanent traffic jams. However, Robert knows various back routes, albeit on bad murram roads. We stopped at the Anglican Seminary at Namugongo which is built on one of the sites where many boys and young men, mostly from the Kabaka’s court (King of Buganda), were tortured and then burnt, both Anglican and Catholics together, for refusing to renounce their Christian Faith in 1885 and 1886. There has long been a simple shrine on the site, but this has been developed over the last few years. Although not yet fully finished, the story has been graphically re-created using life-sized figures both outdoors by the spring, where the executioners washed themselves and their implements of torture, and indoors. It isn’t officially open, but we were fortunate to ‘bump’ into the caretaker Bishop who called one of the students, originally a Sudanese refugee, to show us around. The experience was moving, but somewhat marred by a bus-full of very loud Kenyan tourists from some Kenyan Cathedral who didn’t show any respect or reverence but were climbing around and photographing each other amongst the figures. It was an important experience for Robert who had never been before and didn’t really know the full story.
We continued the slow and tortuous journey through the suburbs to Ben Ejadu’s home (Robert’s older brother with whom he now lives when not driving tourists) for lunch. Charles Etoru, (a much older brother who lives in Leicester) arrived from the UK last night and also had lunch. Ben’s wife, Sheila, had her second baby two months ago – a fact which Ben “forgot” to tell me, or even Charles, despite various communications! We were able to talk about the development of their tour company, HOMESTEAD TOURS AND SAFARIS.
We completed the journey to Entebbe using a newly opened stretch of Uganda’s first motorway which by-passes Kampala and the congested conurbation between Kampala and Entebbe. It passes some slums and filthy open drains as well as some lovely open landscapes.
We did some bird watching in the garden of Sunset hotel. Robert and I photographed a Woodpecker (probably Olive), a Double-toothed Barbet and a Black-and-white Shrike-Flycatcher. Robert stayed elsewhere. Roz enjoyed watching a re-play of the Manchester City v West Ham football match – as well as some BBC World News, so we started the process of re-entering British culture!
Wednesday, 18th November
After breakfast, Robert took us to Entebbe Botanical Gardens for the morning. It is a huge park on the shores of Lake Victoria with bits of forest, shrubs and trees, mostly growing naturally. It is rich with birds as well as some animals such as squirrels and monkeys (Black-and-white Colobus) – we even had close glimpses of otters. We watched Pied Kingfishers behaving strangely on the sand (were they sunbathing?!) as well as Egyptian Geese fighting and possibly mating in the water. Black Kites came to the water’s edge to drink. There was a large flock of Great Blue Turacos, more than I have seen in all previous visits combined, and two different kinds of Bee-eaters. (Some of these photos have been taken by Robert.)
We spent the afternoon re-packing, Robert bought me some passion fruit to bring home and I spent time showing him how to edit photos on my little laptop which I am leaving with him. Having travelled all over the world with me for more than ten years, it has almost come to the end of its life, but Robert may be able to get a bit of use out of it before it finally dies! Robert left us at about 6.00pm. After spending all day every day with him for the past four weeks, it felt very sad saying good-bye. The hotel arranged transport for us to the airport at 8.00pm, ready for our KLM flight home at 11.30pm.
I was very disturbed to see more than 200 young Ugandans, mostly girls, queuing with the rest of us to pass through security into the departure lounges, apparently all heading to Middle Eastern countries. They were in groups, each group identified by different T-shirts or outfits with the names and logos of various “recruitment agencies” on them. Some of them were so young, perhaps only mid-teens. They looked confused and even scared. I really fear for them as they will almost certainly find themselves isolated, trapped and abused as modern day slaves instead of starting the bright new future they have almost certainly been tricked into thinking they are setting off for.
Thursday and Friday, 29th/30th November
Roger met us at Birmingham Airport at 9.00am – and Frank came up to Loughborough to collect Roz. Although one of my cases arrived, most baggage had been left in Amsterdam, causing chaos and delays as we all had to complete forms.
I had been looking forward to relaxing in my own armchair – and in my bath! But I realised that I probably used as much water in my bath as I had in the four weeks of “bathing” in plastic bowls using water poured from large yellow jerrycans. It felt strange to be covered with lots of bedding and not have a mosquito net!
Although I am feeling much better than a few days ago, I have been to the doctor who has sent off blood samples etc to check that I don’t have anything lingering in my system!
My missing case arrived at 4.00pm this afternoon. The passion fruit have suffered somewhat from the delay. But Emmanuel Eyomu’s paintings travelled well.
I have a lot to catch up on and follow up arising from our trip.