Saturday to Thursday, 2nd to 7th Nov: Kobwin and Soroti
Saturday: I gave the Opol twins two craft models to make and paint, which I helped them do after breakfast and packing. We went to see the three baby rabbits which had just been born. “They’re so cute” said Apio, but I wasn’t so sure – they were ugly!
Robert arrived at about 3.00pm to take me on to Kobwin, using Sam’s car which he has lent me for the month.
On the way, between Sapir and Kyere, we stopped at the home, which is right next to the road, where Ilemu Angela Mercy, who is now about 5, lives. Her mother, Ikwenyu Angella Rose, was one of our TESS sponsored students. Tragically, she died in Serere ten days after delivering Ilemu, due to infection and haemorrhaging – there was no blood available for her. The clan decided that one of Ikwenyu’s uncles should bring her up. They now have seven children of their own as well. Robert keeps an eye on her, visiting several times a year, and paying her school fees which Ikwenyu’s old sponsors send. Ilemu’s school is almost next door – a private nursery and primary school, which we went to look at after leaving the family. It is the only school I have ever been impressed by – you could almost think it was in the UK, with every square inch of wall covered by the children’s work and posters. Ilemu is just finishing “Baby Class”. Ikwenyu, who was herself a teacher, would be so happy to know what a good school she goes to. I just hope they don’t get beaten for failing or misbehaving. As we sat outside the huts in their little compound, I heard a bird making a lot of noise from a nearby tree – and saw a Great Spotted Cuckoo which is new for both Robert and me. It is a migrant from southern Europe.
We stopped on the bridge near Kyere. The clouds and evening sunlight over the seething flood waters and fresh green swamp grass were so beautiful – one of my favourite places in Teso. Gull-billed Terns were enjoying a feeding frenzy in the turbulent water.
We reached “my home” in Kobwin, with John and Harriet Omagor, just as it was getting dark. We were warmly welcomed, and I settled into my grass-thatched ‘hut’ while Robert had the one next to mine. The family all live in the permanent brick and corrugated iron-roofed house which gets very hot – and very noisy when it rains. I prefer my little house! Somehow, a Scarlet-chested Sunbird had got into my house. Eventually, it fell to the ground exhausted and I was able to pick it up. It was wonderful to hold it in my hands and see how the torchlight reflected on its iridescent green and red feathers. It was happy to fly away into the dusk.
I was introduced to Harriet’s 9 month old baby, Samuel, and was asked to become his Godmother the next day. I protested that I was too old and wouldn’t see him grow up, but that was dismissed! We were up early and left home at 6.30am on Sunday to go to Kococwa church where John took the service and baptised Samuel. The couple who took Harriet to hospital and stayed with her until he was born (so as not to disturb John and Harriet in the night) were also Godparents. The singing and traditional music (played on adungus, harp-like stringed instruments ranging from small to very large) was lovely. We didn’t stay for the auctioning of produce (brought by those who had no money to give) but went home for a late breakfast.
Harriet’s husband-to-be, Isaac, and other special family friends stayed the whole day. In the afternoon, we all gathered on the grass in the compound, including all the little grandchildren, for speeches and prayers. Later, I enjoyed a long conversation with Isaac, who is a Chemistry teacher at Malera Secondary School but is also working part-time for a degree. Harriet, together with Maggie (John and Harriet’s youngest and my Goddaughter since 1999), now run their own clinic in a nearby trading centre as they are both nurses. She was forced to leave Ngora Hospital due to threats because she had refused to go on strike – she and the receptionist were the only people left working in the whole hospital. She and Maggie have a vision for specialising in the care of babies who are malnourished and so often sick.
On Monday, we went to Soroti for the day, taking with us Clare who lives nearby and who has set up an organisation to support sickle cell families – she herself has a sickle cell daughter. We wanted her to spend time with Robert’s older sister, Margaret, who is in Soroti Hospital with her baby boy who has sickle cell anaemia, an horrendous disease, even when suffered in the UK, as it is untreatable and so hard to control the symptoms and frequent crises.
I met with Bishop Kosea to discuss plans for a Mission which he has requested SOMA to run next year. Rev Sam Ediau, who is now the Diocesan Secretary, was also present. Clare spent time with Margaret while Robert did other things before collecting me to go to the hospital. Margaret told her things that she has never told the family.
There is a special paediatric sickle cell ward, overcrowded with about thirty ‘cots’ crammed in together. For the previous two nights, there wasn’t even a bed for the baby. Mothers have to sleep on the ground under the cots at night. Some children were too big for the beds. They were all so sick and many in a lot of pain; some, like Margaret’s baby, were having blood transfusions – he had finally fallen asleep after a painful struggle to get a canula into a vein. I found it very distressing, especially as there is little hope for these children who are condemned to a short life of suffering, sickness and pain. One of our sponsored students, Angoro Irene, who became a midwife, was a “sickler” and died after delivering her first baby two years ago.
Margaret’s husband has abandoned the family for another wife and has refused to support them in any way for a long time now, leaving her to struggle on her own whilst being bullied by the co-wife. Robert was, by now, very angry about the situation as Margaret had no money for food and has been in the hospital for two weeks now. With the encouragement of Clare, Margaret finally agreed to go with Robert (they wanted me and Clare to go as well) to the Police CFPU (Child and Family Protection Unit) to report him. That was another disturbing experience, but Robert was very good at handling the situation and kept cool despite his anger, showing photos that I had taken in the hospital. Margaret was prepared to make a statement, a case was opened and the Policewoman phoned the father who was very argumentative. She told him she wasn’t going to listen to him now – he must come to the hospital the next day and then come with his wife to report to the CFPU, otherwise he would be arrested. (He was once a Policeman himself but lost his job for some wrong-doing, so he is afraid of the Police.) It seemed that it helped that I was there.
We eventually had lunch at 4.00 – and Robert told me that he had been asked to go to Kampala for interviews the next day with the American boss of IFAW, the wildlife organisation working in the national parks which he has been driving for on a casual basis for the past year. The local office sent his details months ago to the USA requesting that Robert be taken on permanently. This was an opportunity not to be missed, which he has been waiting for, so he stayed in Soroti to go on the night bus to Kampala. But he had arranged for Denis (the youngest of his nine siblings) to accompany me and take me back to Kobwin.
We got well and truly stuck in the mud a few miles from John’s home. It had been fine in the morning, but someone had ploughed across the dirt road – and it had rained heavily in the afternoon! By now it was dark, but three men soon appeared, willing to help. After putting shrubby branches under the wheels, with me driving and four men lifting and pushing, we eventually got out! But they were all covered in mud which the wheels had thrown up as well as having to paddle in it. No phone calls were getting through, so John was wondering what had happened to us.
On Tuesday, Denis went back to Soroti to be with Margaret and accompany her to the Police station to make sure that everything went according to plan. The man arrived at the hospital but refused to go to the Police. So Denis went to tell them and they phoned him and said they would come and arrest him if he didn’t come immediately with Margaret. He was made to sign a statement that he would now support all his children by Margaret, which can be enforced. I hope it works. If the co-wife continues to bully and practice witchcraft, then they can also report her. Meanwhile, Robert had a successful interview in Kampala, but was asked to return their offices the next morning.
I spent the day talking with John and also with Harriet (his daughter) who has had so many struggles, disappointments and illness and sometimes gets quite depressed. She was told she would never be able to have children, so Samuel feels like a miracle. Isaac still wanted to marry her even if she couldn’t have children, which is unusual. So it was a relaxing day at home, with Denis returning at 6.00pm to collect me to take me to Soroti.
Charles Etoru (much older brother who lives in Leicester) arrived at Ben’s house at the same time as us, having had a long trip around Rwanda, DRC and Uganda with a Congolese national park manager. They were visiting projects set up for widows and orphans of the many Park Rangers who have been killed by poachers and rebels whilst on duty. We all stayed in Ben’s house in Soroti, but went out to a back-street restaurant serving local food which I had taken Robert to the previous day.
I stayed in Ben’s house yesterday (Wednesday) to write a report for SOMA, sort out photos and catch up on correspondence and washing! The latest gadget for getting internet access is a little ‘box’ called MiFi which Robert and I bought in Kampala when I arrived. But you also have to pay a tax levied by the government for using WhatsApp and social media – they don’t like the idea of people getting something free, so are cashing in on it! I didn’t see Charles again – he left early for Kampala as he is flying home on Thursday.
Charles (retired bishop) and Margaret Obaikol invited me for supper at 6.30. Unknown to me or the Ocens, he had also invited Freda and Henry whom I haven’t seen for some years although we used to be close, so it was a big surprise for all of us! We had a lovely evening.
When Denis and I got back to Ben’s house, we saw water coming out under the front door. It was raining, but not enough to cause that! We opened the door – and stepped into a one inch deep flood which poured out! Someone had left the sink tap on and the plug hole was blocked. It had filled most of the house, which fortunately has concrete floors. We were so relieved that, because of the slight slopes, it had only just started coming into my room and was inches away from my computer and other electrical gadgets on the floor – disaster just averted! It took about an hour for Denis and Albert to push and sweep all the water out of the house through the front door. All is well, although the water bill will be high.
A huge spider came into my room, but it disappeared when I tried to deal with it – where to, I wondered?! This morning, I noticed a fine soil ‘tube’ had appeared between some of the tiles in my bathroom. We broke it away – but it was re-made within a few hours! We looked outside – and found the external hole at the bottom of the wall where the ants are living. In fact, the whole house is being eaten away from inside the walls, not by termites, the usual culprits, but by minute ants about 1mm long. There are reddish-brown soil ‘tubes’ going up beside most doors, inside and out, from somewhere inside or under the foundations.
Robert didn’t come back as expected on Wednesday, so Denis is still with me. Although Robert’s contract won’t start until January, he was asked to drive the US boss to QENP for meetings, so he hopes to come back here on the night bus on Sunday night. This means we have had to change the itinerary yet again, as we had been due to go to Tubur, his village home, this weekend, to spend time with Arakit, his three year old named after me. Instead, Denis will take me to Nyero, where I will spend Friday night with James Ikara at his Alternative Technology Training Centre and Saturday night with Kokas and Margaret Osekeny (friends since 1994) before returning to Soroti on Sunday afternoon. Robert and I will then go to Tubur on Monday for a couple of nights before continuing with the planned programme to Ococia on Wednesday.
Today (Thursday), I have had another day in the house, catching up, which has been nice. It rained all through the night but has been very hot today, with no breeze. We have been snacking here and going out for meals as there is no one to cook for us.
At 6.00, we went to the hospital as Denis told me the baby was worse. Margaret was outside with him. His abdomen is very swollen (because of his spleen), as are his hands and feet. He is weak and dehydrated and was sleeping in her arms. Miriam, a nurse in Soroti Hospital and daughter-in-law to the eldest son in Robert’s family, joined us – she has been keeping an eye on them each day. Although he has been diagnosed as a carrier, she is convinced he is a full “sickler” because of the combination of all his symptoms and his deterioration. An expensive test (70,000 UGX), which can be done privately in Soroti, will prove his status and affect his treatment. She also thinks he should have a scan to see how enlarged his spleen is. Miriam will come with us to meet the doctor tomorrow at 9.15 and discuss the best way forward.
The husband has refused to come back to the hospital, and we learnt from Margaret this evening that he only gave her 5,000 Uganda shillings (just over £1) on Tuesday, after signing the statement to support the children! Over the years, Margaret has worked so hard cultivating and selling her crops that she has managed to buy several cows which she could sell for at least 800,000 each. But the husband is refusing to let her sell them, claiming that they are his. I have just talked to Robert, who is two days away in Kasese, but he is going to phone the man now, and the policewoman tomorrow. He said if he had been here, he would have gone to the village himself and just taken one of the cows and sold it, which would solve the immediate problems.
Margaret also told us that she has to pay 10,000 every night to the night staff to get his prescribed treatment, but doesn’t want us to tell anyone as they will suffer and treatment will be refused. How can medical staff do this to poor people and suffering children from the villages? Although I will pay for the test and treatment tomorrow, the man won’t be told this as he must be made to pay it, but with the weekend coming up, there is urgency to get it sorted tomorrow and even get the baby referred to Mbale Children’s Hospital if necessary. We prayed with Margaret before leaving her this evening. It is her faith which is keeping her going, but she is exhausted and worried. Robert doesn’t know when he can get back to Soroti and is feeling very frustrated. He seems to be the only one who can really deal with the situation. I asked him if he could also get his clan elders to put pressure on the husband’s clan elders to make him meet his responsibilities, which he said is very possible. So we’ll wait and see how far we get tomorrow. It may mean altering the programme again!
In the meantime, I am looking forward to bathing in cool water before going to bed – it so hot and sticky.