Monday – Wednesday, 28th – 30th October
There was ice covering the car when we set off for Birmingham airport at 3.30am on Monday 28th – and brilliant lightning followed by warm torrential rain which flooded the roads at 11.30pm as Robert drove me from Entebbe airport to Ben’s home in Kireka, on the far side of Kampala. Between those two extremes, I flew over a patchwork of sunlit fields; expanses of fluffy white clouds; steep rocky mountains of the Alps and Baltic countries, some with snowy peaks; the deep blue Mediterranean sea; fascinating patterns and colours in the seemingly endless deserts of north Africa broken only by the Nile and the lake formed by the Aswan dam, which seemed to make little impact on the surrounding desert. It was dark by the time we flew over South Sudan, Uganda and Rwanda, but I followed the route on the screen in front of me, thinking of village life, refugee camps and wildlife below me, all fighting for life. After an hour in Kigali, when the plane was cleaned and new passengers taken on board, it was just a short flight northward, over Lake Victoria and back to Uganda.
Robert, helped by his younger brother Denis and nephew Simon, looked after me so well, all taking it in turns to cook and take me out to change money and buy a internet modem. In the meantime, Sam Opol was sorting out his car, which he is lending me, ready to come and collect me on Wednesday morning to take me to his home in Serere, in Teso.
Stephen Eitu (who knew Roger when he was running TDT and visiting Teso regularly many years ago) had come with Sam to share the driving as it is a long journey. We stopped for lunch in Iganga in the cool gardens of a lovely back-street restaurant, which we found by accident, set up and run by Musana, a community project. They decided to take a short cut on murram roads, which were mostly quite good, off the Tirinyi road to Pallisa and then northwards to Ngora. Halfway along, we discovered the road was blocked, so had to find an alternative, unknown route, which meant frequent stops to ask the way – not always easy because of different languages. It was fortunate that the roads were reasonably dry – until, that is, we passed Ngora when it started raining heavily again, turning the road into something of a quagmire.
Apart from a short nap, we talked almost non-stop for ten hours! We eventually reached Serere long after dark, at 8.45pm, where Margaret had a very welcome meal waiting for us. Their young twins were trying to keep awake as they had stayed up to see us. They decided not to eat the apples from our garden, which I had given them, but to take them to school the next morning! Robert travelled on the night bus back to Soroti to join me in Serere on Saturday to accompany me for the rest of my trip.
Thursday 31st Oct
Again, we talked a lot! Sam enjoyed showing me around and telling me about his dreams for becoming self-sufficient at home here in Serere where he and Margaret have already built a primary school which currently takes 200 children. He has already made a start, with rabbits, goats and bees, which he will expand, as well as adding fish, chickens, pigs and vegetables, all of which will be inter-dependent by re-cycling waste and surplus materials. We sat in the shade of a tree on the top of the hill his father passed on to him which has wonderful views over the surrounding countryside. It is all very green at the moment because of so much rain.
Lots of rain might sound a blessing, but the fact is that it is far too much at the wrong time – root crops are rotting in the ground and many roads are impassable, especially in northern Teso. So famine is anticipated, especially if the approaching dry season is also too long and severe, as it has been in recent years.
At 3.30, Stephen took me beyond Serere town to visit Kenneth Adiamet and his family in Obulaya. I haven’t seen Kenneth, or even been in touch, since he attended a Workshop I ran in 1997, but he left an impression on me because of the beautiful songs he was writing. Thanks to my old diaries and social media, I ‘found’ him recently – and discovered that he is the maternal uncle of one of TESS’s old sponsored students, Amutos Irene!
The final part of the drive was along a footpath into their compound which had been cleared and swept. Everything was laid out beautifully, and the compound was full of young children as well as adults. We hadn’t known much about each other, so some of the time was filling in the many gaps! Kenneth dropped out of school before taking his final Primary Leaving Exams (PLE) because his older brother, who was killed in the insurgency in the late 1980s, left a wife whom the clan elders asked Kenneth to “inherit”, which he was willing to do. He said they have been happy and love each other very much. They have seven children and sixteen grandchildren, with two more on the way! He has been working in the PAG (Pentecostal) church for many years, which is why he came on the workshop in 1997. About 15 years ago, at the age of 40, he decided to go back to school and was allowed to join secondary school as long as he also returned to Primary 7 to take the Primary Leaving Exams. He went to the same primary school as his own children were attending and lined up with all the children for roll calls! He passed his PLE and went on into the second year of secondary school, taking his ‘O’ levels (GCSEs) three years later. Kenneth has been a missionary in Karamoja, planting churches, and is now doing the same in Iganga. We had a lovely meal after it got dark, before returning to the Opols.
Friday, 1st November
Sam left at 6.00am (before I was awake!) to go to Mbale by public transport to teach at the UCU Campus there, which he does every Friday. He has 8 hours of lectures to give between 9.00am and 8.00pm, before starting the long journey home. I was in bed by the time he got home at 11.30pm!
Before breakfast, Margaret took me to the church on the hill which Sam’s father built about 30 years ago (in which I had spoken in 1995) for the weekly devotions for all the school as I had been asked to speak to the children.
After a late breakfast, we set off for Sapir as the new bishop of Soroti, Hosea Odongo, was coming to celebrate All Saints Day. We arrived when the Bishop and party were being given a tea break which we were invited to join. +Hosea was very welcoming to me and asked me to come and meet him in his office in Soroti on Monday.
Margaret and I were taken across to the tents and canopies which had been set up for the large crowd to give them shade. Helen Adoa was there and pleased to see me. She was Head Girl at Ngora Girls’ School when I took groups there in 1992 and 1994 to help renovate, extend and equip it. One of the 1994 team befriended her and helped her to build Halcyon School. She has gone on to build several schools and is now a very wealthy NRM MP!
As expected, it was a very long service – Hosea told me beforehand that it was going to be longer than three hours! We actually crept away after three hours, during which time about 50 people, mostly children, had been confirmed and two elderly couples were married. +Hosea was in the middle of his lengthy sermon when we left (after one a quarter hours), which was later followed by Holy Communion.
One of the couples at least had actually been married for 60 years – traditionally married, that is, which is a binding ceremony recognised by the state in which both clans are involved and cannot be broken. However, the Church of Uganda excludes such couples from full membership of the church and even from taking Communion. Due to a flawed understanding of the theology of marriage and the history of weddings in church, such couples are considered to be “living in sin”!! But very few couples can afford both a traditional ceremony, which always has to happen first, and the expense of a church wedding sometime later, when they feel they have to have a white dress and all the trappings of a European wedding. Sadly, both these elderly couples had ‘wasted’ money on white dresses, suits etc.
Michael Onyege had been invited for supper and came on his motorbike with his youngest child (about 3) and an older little girl. I met Michael in 1995 on the mission team I was part of in Serere, with John Omagor and others, and rediscovered him through Facebook just this year! His name rang a bell when it came up as a “suggested friend”, so I used a word search of all my diaries written in Teso and then realised who he was. We haven’t been in touch since 1995, so again, there was a lot to catch up on.
Michael is now a Head Teacher of a government secondary school. He was very knowledgeable about Brexit, and British and European politics – and shocked by what is going on. He feels Britain has lost all credibility in the world and will never again be a significant world player.
We had supper and the two children fell asleep. He had to wake them up and take them out into the rain to take them home on his motorcycle.
Saturday to Thursday, 2nd to 7th November: Kobwin and Soroti
Saturday, 2nd Nov: 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!
Sunday, 3rd Nov: We were up early and left home at 6.30am 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.
Monday, 4th Nov: 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.
Tuesday, 5th Nov: 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.
Wednesday, 6th Nov: I stayed in Ben’s house 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.
Thursday, 7th Nov: 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 is so hot and sticky.
Friday, 8th Nov:
I went to the hospital at 9.15 this morning with Denis and Ben (the eldest in the family) to be there with Margaret and Miriam when the doctor came to see baby Godwin. We had to wait a long time. Although Miriam is actually on the mental health ward at the moment, the doctor depended on her for help with everything in the sickle cell ward! She is clearly very knowledgeable and efficient. I think Godwin would be even worse off without Miriam around to provide support and make sure things are done. What about all the others who don’t have a Miriam or brothers to help them?
Most sick children and their families were outside enjoying the fresh early morning air – until they were all called into the wards at about 10.00 for the ward rounds and treatment. It must be such a stuffy atmosphere inside during the night, with so many people sleeping in the wards, filling every square inch on, beneath and beside the little beds. Margaret said she hadn’t had any sleep. Some carers have mats to sleep on while others sleep on flattened cardboard boxes or squeeze onto the little beds with their babies.
Godwin looked very poorly and couldn’t really be roused. He is on liquid morphine, but hasn’t been having the laxative that was prescribed – because there wasn’t any in the ward!! So he is very constipated, vomiting and not breast feeding or drinking. (We have now been and bought the tablets in the town.) Nearly all the children look seriously ill, yet they make little or no sound even when painful things are done to them, often quite roughly.
The doctor doesn’t think Godwin needs a scan at the moment, but wants him to have the Hb electrophoresis blood test which can only be done in Kampala. So blood was taken from him ready to send, while we went to the Police again to see if they could force Okello (the father) to sell a cow and bring the necessary money, which he is still refusing to do. He has even switched off his phone. The Policewoman said they should first get the clan leaders to try and sort it out and sell a cow, so Denis and Ben went straight off to Tubur village while I went back to the hospital. Six hours later, they aren’t back and I haven’t heard from them, so I don’t know how they are getting on.
I also went to see Amutos Irene (one of our old sponsored girls) who now has a job as receptionist at the Cathedral community centre which sells lunches. However, there was a problem and no lunch was ready! So after talking to Irene, I went into town to get some lunch before coming back to the house. A big funeral for an ex-Government Minister from Serere (Omax Omeda) who died on Wednesday was taking place in the Cathedral.
I am fascinated by the rapid progress of the ants’ artwork in my bathroom. This is how far they have reached in just 30 hours!
I am meant to be going to stay with James Ikara in Nyero today, but it is looking unlikely as Denis still isn’t back from the village. If I stay here another night, I’ll update you on the ants’ progress!
I am concerned about what condition the blood sample will be in by the time it reaches the lab as it is now 5.30pm on Friday evening. I suspect they will have to try again on Monday. I hope and pray he gets the care and treatment he needs over the weekend.
Is there anyone reading this who could somehow generate some support and expertise for services for sickle cell children in Teso? Clare, who came with us from Kobwin on Monday, runs a weekly clinic in Ngora (the only one for the whole of Teso) with no funds. Because of her passion to help children like her daughter Laura, she also travels long distances to visit families at home to give advice and encouragement, but without any resources or financial backing. Her only income is from the crops she and her husband grow. Spending so much time this week in the overcrowded ward full of such ill “sicklers” and their families just illustrates the desperate need for help.
Saturday to Wednesday, 9th – 13th Nov: Nyero and Tubur
Saturday, 9th Nov: Denis and I didn’t manage to leave Soroti until about dusk last night – and, in the dark, overshot James’ place by Nyero Rocks. We soon realised our mistake and were turning round when James phoned us as they had been waiting by the road and saw us go past!
It was very hot on Saturday morning when we walked with James, Julius (his most faithful teacher) and little Margaret aged just 2, past Nyero Rocks to the beautiful site where they have built dormitory blocks next to James’ original home. Both staff and students worked together. We couldn’t believe they did it in three weeks! They would have been completed if £1,500 hadn’t been “eaten” by one of his own staff. James is so upset and frustrated by it and is now stuck – and being threatened by that person for personal reasons as well. He has sent all the students home (only about two weeks early) for the long end of year holiday, while he hopes and prays he might somehow manage to complete the buildings in time for the start of the new year at the beginning of February.
Three years ago, when James was short of money to pay for his children’s school fees, he rented out his three houses which he had built himself (two of which are built up on rocks with lovely views) to the Korean Christians who built and run the nearby University. Because he was so desperate, he agreed to a five year contract in which they paid him the full amount, a pittance of 1.5m UGX (less than £375) for all three houses for five years, a woefully inadequate amount which he can do nothing about now – except wait until 2021 when he looks forward to taking the houses and the land back again and using them for his Training Centre.
Denis has never seen the rock paintings. As he is planning to bring tourists there, we took him to two of the six sites. They are not painted on the walls of caves, as so many rock paintings are in other parts of the world, but on huge overhanging rocks which provide shelter. It was so cool, hidden amongst the rocks which have been perched, apparently precariously, on top of and against each other for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years. Ngora and Nyero have so many of these amazing rocky outcrops which make you wonder how giant boulders have ended up high on top of other rocks. What mega forces and earth movements happened hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years ago? Yes, I believe that all creation, which is continuously evolving, is God’s work, but not that God literally placed the rocks in these positions, as many people in Teso believe.
After lunch, Denis went back to Soroti while the rest of us talked. We discussed James’s future plans for developing the site, all of which is his own land. He wants to convert the original buildings next to the rock painting rocks into tourist accommodation and a restaurant which will be run by students and provide income for the Training Centre. The number of tourists, including many Ugandans and school groups, is increasing. Margaret wasn’t at all well, with a chest infection, so James took her to a clinic for treatment.
Personal and institutional development, and life generally, is so hard for the very few who try to stand up against corruption in a country where it happens at every level of all parts of society, including in the churches where it seems to be getting worse, especially because it is rife amongst the leaders at the very top. How can countries ever get rid of corruption when it is so ingrained? I think it can only happen by change at the top, including in the Police, working down because the people at the bottom are so poor and have no power or influence or choices when their families depend on them for the essential basics of life. How can a mother refuse to pay a bribe to get treatment for her very sick baby? Once again, I have been hearing so many disturbing stories about corruption and violence.
There is one family I know of where the wife (Immaculate) left her husband (Thomas) for another man several years ago, after years of unfaithfulness, leaving Thomas with several children who are mostly grown up. Thomas later took on Betty who had been abandoned by her husband, leaving her with two young children. Thomas and Betty have lived together for several years now and have another child together; they are very happy. However, Thomas’s third son is becoming very aggressive towards Betty and her children. He has been waylaying them on their way back from school and beating them and is also threatening to poison them unless Thomas gets rid of them all. The threats are very real. They don’t want to separate, but they feel the only way to ensure their safety is to move them away. But they can’t afford anywhere for them to go to.
The divisions within Kumi Diocese (in Ngora) are as real as ever and have come to the fore in the recent election of the new Bishop. Bishop Thomas Irigei, who has been bishop for 19 years, is retiring and is in poor health anyway, having had a leg amputated due to diabetes. But as in Soroti Diocese over the past 10 years, it seems that corruption and infighting are now rife and the first election failed. The second attempt resulted in Rev Charles Okunya being chosen, but not without opposition and concerns.
Denis was delayed coming back to Nyero so he stayed in Soroti, while James, Elizabeth and little Margaret walked with me about a mile, through cultivated ‘gardens’ and homesteads, to Kokas and Margaret’s home arriving just before sunset.
Sunday, 10th Nov: Denis arrived from Soroti and we all went to Nyero church. Kokas later showed me his chicks which he had incubated nearby. Having retired about two years ago from being a parish priest and Archdeacon, he is starting to set up a family poultry business to supply both eggs and meat to a wide market. He still has a dairy cow (some of us gave him his first cow about twenty years ago) which he milks himself – I enjoyed the fresh milk.
I have known Kokas almost longer than anyone in Teso, having first met him in 1994. Stella, their eldest grandchild whose mother died while Kokas was staying with us in Wednesfield in 1998, came home for the weekend to see me. Our family sponsored her through secondary school and vocational training in plumbing. She has gone through a very tough time since her early teens, including severe depression which often wasn’t treated or managed properly, and then a disastrous marriage to a man who already had two wives and a number of children. Stella had three children with him, but he was just using and abusing her, often beating her badly. Over the last few years, she has found she can talk to Robert who is very compassionate and wise. She eventually left the man and went back to stay with Kokas and Margaret before going to live with Rachel, her aunt in Tororo, where she has settled well. She had to leave all the children with the man. However, although she would like to see them (but the man won’t allow her to), she believes they are being well cared for especially as she feels she is unable to manage to look after them herself. I wonder if, after suffering depression all through her teens, she has actually been suffering post-natal depression, especially with the last baby, so that she has never been able to cope with them or form a strong bond. She is just starting up a small business from Rebecca’s home, baking cookies to sell locally, and seems happier than I have ever seen her, so I hope this lasts. We brought her back to Soroti on Sunday evening so that she could see Robert again on Monday when he returned on the overnight bus from Kampala.
When we left Kokas and Margaret after lunch, we stopped at Ngora Deaf School to meet Charles Ekadit, the Headmaster. It was the first time for Denis, who was fascinated by the way he and the children all communicate with each other through sign language, and how quiet and peaceful the place is. I brought a simple a peg loom which Roger had made and lots of scraps of material (as well as scissors) collected by Margaret Bates and her sewing friends. We sat under a tree and showed him how to set it up and weave rag rugs, making a small sample, but none of us was convinced that he had really understood! However, he said he would ask James for help if necessary.
Earlier this year, a loud bang near Ngora town was followed by smoke coming out of a rock for several days, which caused great alarm as they feared a volcanic eruption, but it was deemed safe by geologists who came from Makerere. It was quite a mystery. So we decided to go and find it and see for ourselves. It was behind all the rocks of Ngora, along tracks I had never been on before, between Ngora and Kobwin. We had to keep stopping to ask for directions, but eventually ended up in a homestead where the women were very happy to take us to the nearby rocky outcrop to show us the crack that smoke had emanated from. There wasn’t much to see although the rock was different from many of the outcrops in that it was more like one vast rock rather than lots of rocks piled on top of each other. It was beautiful in the late afternoon sun, so we scrambled up to the top. The views were wonderful as we watched the sun set. We all loved it up there and were so pleased we had made the detour on our way to Soroti.
Monday, 11th Nov: It rained heavily again in the night. Why doesn’t rain always come at night?! After meeting up with Robert and having breakfast together, we went to the market to buy food for the next two days in the village. There were a few other things to do, including putting Stella on a “taxi” minibus to go back to Tororo. By then it was lunch time, so Robert and I had lunch at the usual local restaurant before setting off, first to see the new plot of land he has just bought just over the border in Kaberamaido district, not far off the main Lira road.
Robert is thrilled with his land and so excited about his plans for building his home there (grass-thatched huts in the first instance) and developing a small farm. It is situated near a swamp, so there will always be some water and pasture for his animals. He has already established friends there who are helping him plough some of it and plants cassava, and he has arranged for them to make some bricks from the anthills. His two boys, Sam and Ronny, will spend their long holiday there and build their own little houses whilst renting a room in the nearby trading centre. Robert will be with them whenever he can, but December is a busy time for driving tourists and he starts his new driving job in January, all of which will help him fund his plans and pay school fees again in February.
We arrived at his home in Tubur to find Arakit and Daisy back home from school. Arakit is three and a half and Daisy, a distant cousin, also lives here. They are like twins and apparently never quarrel. They both disappeared in February (aged two and three) and were missing for at least four hours while everyone frantically searched for them. They were eventually found at school! They were both so keen to be at school that they are now there permanently, in the nursery class, and enjoying it.
Arakit was named after me. If anyone asks her, “What is your name?” she replies “Arakit Margaret Ruth Stevens”. She calls herself “the Muzungu (white person) from the village” and me “the Muzungu from town”! She was very shy the first evening, but that had gone completely the next day, when she and Daisy spent all their spare time with me, chattering away non-stop. Arakit is very big for her age, much taller than Daisy who is older.
Robert cooked dinner for us all, including his parents, while the rest of us sat outside shelling groundnuts. There was light from the full moon even though there were clouds covering it. It was nice to feel cool after such a hot day. The animals were all around us. The girls both have terrible colds and coughs, which I am hoping I won’t get! They both fell asleep on my lap – one at a time.
Tuesday, 12th Nov: It was a cool night. I slept well in my little house with a freshly smeared floor (dried cow dung) which has a hard surface and a pleasantly fresh smell. I heard the school bell in the distance at about 6.00 waking the children up in the surrounding area, but was pleased to go back to sleep while the little girls got up. I didn’t see them until they came home at lunch time, looking cute in their uniforms. Fortunately, the little ones don’t have to go in the afternoon.
It was lovely to have a quiet breakfast with Robert sitting in the shade of one of the houses, with goats, cows, chickens, dogs and a cat wandering around looking for food. He is intent on putting weight on me – he gave me toast and honey, lemon grass tea and then potatoes and pumpkin cooked with a few tomatoes and onions. I have spent a lazy day, catching up on my photos and diary while Robert was sorting out his animals and other things. He called the local veterinarian to come and de-worm the goats which are actually Becky’s goats, the products of the one goat (“Harriet”) that I gave her and the hen (which produced so many offspring which he sold to buy more goats) Robert gave her for her birthday when she was in Soroti with me about five years ago. Roz added to the herd last year by giving Robert a good hybrid male, “Frank”. Robert sold about seven of the goats last year and bought a cow for Becky, which is nearly old enough to be mated. So her livestock are increasing! A half-grown kid has amused us as it ‘carries’ a plastic chair on its back around the compound. At first, I thought it had got stuck under the chair and was just trying to get out. But it kept coming back, getting under the chair, lifting it and moving it across the compound!
The girls came back from school and had millet porridge for lunch. Who needs a sandpit when there is soft dry sand in the compound?!
It got very hot until it rained in the afternoon – a short, sharp storm, which made it quite chilly sitting outsidein the evening. The girls helped Betty collect up all the cassava which was drying in the compound, the chickens took shelter and there was just time for Robert and the old veterinarian to finish de-worming the goats before the storm broke.
Wednesday, 13th Nov: The morning was sunny and fresh, so Robert took me around his tree plantations – a long-term investment to pay for his children’s university education in the future. Once again, we saw a bird amongst his trees that neither of us has ever seen before in Uganda – an immature Greater Honeyguide this time. We picked oranges to take with us. [The people in Teso were told about 15 years ago to plant lots of orange trees because the government going to build a juice factory near Soroti. You now see orange groves everywhere. The juice factory, however, was much slower to materialise; it wasn’t even used when it was completed – until a few months ago. But guess what – they ‘import’ oranges from elsewhere in Uganda and won’t accept the oranges from Teso. So once again, Teso has been let down and people can’t find a market for all their oranges.] Robert sprayed all the animals against ticks, the girls came home from school, I gave them a few small things and we had lunch before setting off to Ococia for two days. Arakit Margaret had insisted that a chicken be killed for me to eat before I left – so chicken it was for my last meal there!
Wednesday and Thursday, 13th – 14th November:
Ococia Catholic Mission and School for Special Needs
Wednesday, 13th Nov: We left Tubur for the half hour journey to Ococia at 3.30pm. Emma (Emmanuel Eyomu, an artist and brother of Adongo Jane, one of TESS’s old sponsored girls) was worried about us leaving ‘so’ late in case it rained, which makes parts of the road impassable. But there was no sign of rain.
We found Emma sitting on the veranda with another teacher, surrounded by the thirteen children in the special needs school who gave us such a warm welcome, with hugs and smiles. We immediately felt relaxed and at home in such a happy environment.
The small buildings are freshly painted in white and blue and covered with Emma’s wonderful murals. The toilets are certainly the most beautiful toilets I have seen anywhere in the world! On the walls of a neighbouring building, he has painted a half open door and a woman standing at an open window waving to passers-by – everyone is at first fooled into thinking are real and some wave back!
Emma showed us around, not only the school, but also the nearby hospital which is actually only a Health Centre III, so doesn’t have a doctor or theatre. However, the nun, Sister Veronica, who runs the hospital is a very experienced, highly trained nurse and a remarkable woman. We have never seen a hospital like it in Uganda, well laid out with strong iron beds made locally. Even at the end of the day, it was so clean. As we walked towards the administration block, we saw Sister Veronica herself sweeping the building. Emma introduced me to her and left us to talk together for some time. Apart from periods away training, she has spent most of her working life in this hospital and has as much experience as most doctors. The stories of the LRA invasion in 2003 and the risks she took to keep the hospital running, despite the attempts of the LRA to abduct her, were horrific and tragic. She was treating and stitching terrible wounds and gunshot injuries, especially head wounds including those where ears, noses and lips had been cut off, and yet they had virtually no equipment or drugs or food left. (The infamous Lord’s Resistance Army waged an horrific war mostly in the north against the government and people for so many years, killing thousands across northern Uganda and abducting thousands more, mostly children, to fight and to be sex slaves and porters. A few of our sponsored students were abductees who had escaped after several years and are still deeply scarred and unable to live a normal life.) We also talked about sickle cell children and their care and treatment – they have many here and so make sure they always have blood available for them. Robert and I agreed that next time his sister’s baby has a sickle crisis, they should bring him here, which is just as close as Soroti Hospital. They are hoping to build a theatre and extra wards next year so that they can be upgraded to a Health Centre IV and get a permanent doctor.
A small team of ophthalmologists arrived about the same time as us to do cataract operations over the next week. There are also two Dutch women audiologists here for two weeks. I stayed with Trus and the volunteers, which has been interesting, while Robert shared Emma’s room and ate locally.
After dinner on Wednesday, we joined the weekly campfire led by Emma who was brilliant. It included storytelling, singing and dancing, at which everyone – visitors, staff and children alike – were expected to take their turns, with much encouragement and praise. It was a very special experience with so much laughter.
The Dutch woman, Trus (probably in her early 70s), has been living here for ten years working in the hospital. She became aware that she never saw children with learning disabilities which puzzled her, so she started investigating and found there were many, but they are kept shut away in their grass-thatched houses as they are considered mad, a curse and something to be ashamed of. I have sometimes wondered if Down’s Syndrome is something which only affects white races (just as sickle cell anaemia only affects Africans and Balkan people) as I have never seen anyone in Uganda with Down’s – until now. Seven of the thirteen children have Down’s, with all the same features and symptoms, but they are kept hidden away. The others have brain damage which may well have been sustained during difficult births. The families need educating perhaps even more than the children, who make enormous strides once they come here where they are so loved and nurtured and valued. “I have five children – and one mad one.” Now they are beginning to say, “I have six children”. The school takes them from about seven to fifteen, after which there is nothing for them. Many come unable to do anything, including talk or use the toilet. Now they can play games, ride bicycles, speak Ateso and even some English, look after themselves, learn skills and crafts, help with the chores, get on with each other – and, most importantly, they are so happy.
Emma now teaches here every day although the children go home on Fridays for the weekend, so he goes back to Soroti then. He has a wonderful gift with the children, so gentle and sensitive, fun and creative in all his interactions with them at every level. None of the teachers has had any training for working with special needs children. It is clear all the children are making progress, even the two or three with challenging behaviour. Trus will not allow any beating (common in every school) – she will sack the teachers immediately if they do. So they have found alternative ways and the children are very well behaved, something which Ugandans think is impossible without beating!
Robert has also been very impressed and happily spent the whole of Thursday with us all. I showed the staff how to do peg loom weaving in the morning, using long strips of fabric – Robert was able to take it over and teach others – between them, they completed a small rug which they were very impressed with. Now that they know how to do it, they can get more “looms” made to teach some of the children. In the meantime, I showed the children how to use scissors to cut fabric and, later, finger “knitting” to make bracelets. I was surprised how many of them caught on, even though it took most of them a long time; they were thrilled with their bracelets. One boy has a deformed arm and hand, which made it very difficult; but he was determined to do it, so with my help and using a pen instead of his finger, he made a bracelet. It was so rewarding to see how delighted he was. I showed them how to make origami flowers in paper and fabric, and decorate paper flowers which, when folded and laid on the surface of a bowl of water, open up to reveal the colouring inside (something I was shown recently).
They had various other activities, with frequent short breaks, such as playing with a coloured parachute and other games. In the afternoon, all but two of them, who were frightened, had so much fun throwing themselves around in a 3m x 4m x 0.7m deep pool. There is also a trampoline and three small bicycles which many have learned to ride.
After clearing up, Moses took me into the lovely octagonal church in which Emma has painted amazing murals of events from the Gospels. Moses is the last born in Emma’s family and is having a year out of school because Emma can’t afford to pay his ‘A’ level fees at the moment. So he is helping around the compound and sleeps with the boys, one of whom has epilepsy, at night. Emma took Robert off to watch volleyball and play pool – Robert is very good at the latter, so he was looking forward to beating the locals as well as Emma!
Friday to Sunday, 15th – 17th November: Ococia to Oditel to Soroti
Friday, 15th Nov: We spent a little time at the school before leaving with Emma at about 10.00 on Friday and stopped at the weekly market, which is where Emma sometimes takes the children. At first, people used to say, “Why are you bringing those mad children here? Take them away.” Emma patiently explained that they weren’t mad but were like any other children except that they have a disability. They are now accepted.
We drove for about twenty minutes to get to Emma’s village home where his mother lives. I last saw her in a camp in Soroti about fifteen years ago – she still has two of the photos I took then of the family. Emma told her very firmly that we couldn’t stay for more than about an hour, so there wouldn’t be time for her to cook a meal. She was very disappointed, so cooked sweet potatoes and isuk, which I have never eaten, or even heard of before. They are related to groundnuts and had been boiled in their shells, so were soft to eat and tasted similar to boiled groundnuts. His old grandmother and another brother also came to see us.
We managed to leave at about midday and drove on to Oditel which is where hundreds of unidentified bodies were buried in a mass grave as and when their remains were found in the surrounding bushes after the LRA invasion in 2003. There is now a memorial to them.
Jane Adongo (Emma’s sister who was sponsored through TESS) is now the Clinical Officer at Oditel Health Centre III. We were shown around while Jane finished treating a baby. They have two small wards, where some people were on drips for malaria, and a delivery room. It was lovely to see Jane at work and she was so excited to see us. She then took us back to her accommodation where her 18 month old boy was being looked after.
Two girls who came to the Health Centre were in the same class as the triplets I wanted to meet, so went to the nearby school to fetch them while Robert and Emma went off to find their father Elwoku David in the village. Josephine, their first born, now married with two children, heard I had come and arrived first, riding a motorbike which she had borrowed.
Josephine was 11 when I first met the family by chance in one of the IDP (refugee) camps in Wera in 2004. I had been walking around the camp in 2004 on my own whilst waiting for someone, and saw Elizabeth holding triplets which she had recently delivered in their only overcrowded hut, without any help. Suddenly, their family had increased from four children to seven. The triplets were surprisingly big but already showing signs of lack of food because Elizabeth couldn’t produce enough milk for three when eating only one miserable meal a day. So I had asked if they would like me to take them to Soroti Hospital for help. Sadly, the doctor in the hospital refused to even check them, not even uncover their faces which were wrapped as usual, because they weren’t actually sick! The Nutrition Ward couldn’t help because their special milk was only suitable for babies over six months. The family stayed with me that night – and I saw why Elizabeth was exhausted. Because she didn’t have enough milk, and only two breasts, one baby was always screaming from hunger – I took each baby in turn into bed with me so that she could sleep with two babies feeding until I couldn’t pacify the one I had any longer and swapped with one of the others! After discussion with Ruth Obaikol, a newly qualified doctor, and her father Bishop Charles, we bought bottles and formula milk and I taught her how to sterilise and make up the milk (not easy to do in the camp, and therefore a risk) and suggested she gave them a bottle only once a day, last thing at night, to fill them up so that she could get some sleep. Charles and I also went shopping in the market before taking them back to the camp and bought enough nutritious food to last the whole family for a month so that Elizabeth would be able to produce more milk. I left money with Charles to buy food every month for a few months. Amazingly, all three of them survived and the family later moved to the camp in Oditel, near their original home, where I visited them again the following year. I last saw them when they were five. When Joseph was a toddler, he was seriously scalded on his right arm, his back and buttocks, with boiling milk. The scalds weren’t properly treated, so became infected and took a long time to heal, leaving terrible scars. Fortunately, he doesn’t remember anything about it. I last saw them ten years ago, when they were five.
The triplets arrived from school, after Josephine, followed by their mother and later by their father who came on a bicycle. They now have nine children. The older four all dropped out of school during Senior 1 or before, because of no money for fees. Their father, David, is an alcoholic, although he has had one or two periods when he has stopped drinking. But he has a reputation in the area of being a drunkard. Robert and Emma saw their home – only three poor grass-thatched huts and four “gardens” for cultivating. He should have managed better by now, especially as he has some education and speaks English quite well.
Joseph’s burn scars have made him very shy and he has been bullied a lot, so fell behind a bit at school and is now just finishing P5 while the other two, Mary and Julius, are finishing P6. They are obviously all very bright, coming 10th, 13th and 7th respectively in their end of year exams out of about 140 children in each class. They deserve to go on to secondary school in a year’s time, and told me they want to be a pilot, a teacher and a nurse. I asked the father if he intended to keep them at school, considering all the others have dropped out of school – he said he didn’t know. I told him if he doesn’t look after them now and educate them, they won’t be able to look after him when is old and needs help. Robert and Emma still hadn’t come back, so I decided to tackle him about his drinking. Jane translated when necessary so that they could all understand. He assured me he doesn’t drink every day and that he only has one drink when he does. His children’s reactions to such statements showed he clearly wasn’t telling the truth! I asked, “If that is true, then why do you have such a reputation in the community? And it isn’t your family who have told me.” No answer – but he did say he would stop drinking! But it isn’t that easy, especially when it’s part of his life and culture and there is no help here for alcoholics.
When Robert and Emma returned, I quickly filled them in on the conversation so far and they happily took over from me, speaking very firmly about paying school fees and telling him the importance of planning how to cultivate his gardens and ‘invest’ any surplus so that he can’t use the money for the wrong things. They agreed it was appropriate for me to give them 50,000 (about £11) as a contribution to next term’s fees: but we found that the father still owes 25,000 for this last term – such a small amount that Robert was disgusted he hadn’t paid it. We gave the money to Jane and told Mary (who is clearly very responsible) to bring the bill from school on Monday. The children have a problem studying at home as it is dark, and they have no light, by the time they have come back from school and finished the chores, so I gave them my little solar lamp which gives a very good light. When we got up and moved around to take photos, Elizabeth managed to tell Robert that she has had enough of David regularly beating her when he comes home from drinking.
We talked a lot about the situation as we drove onwards to Soroti. I was worried that I shouldn’t have challenged the father about his drinking and paying school fees – it is certainly not something I would have done in the UK! But things are a bit different here, especially where there are no statutory services to sort out such problems. They were adamant it was the right thing to do, which is why they happily took over from me. We talked about what on-going support there might be. They are Catholics, as is Emma who knows the Catholic priest very well and said he is a really good pastor, so he will talk to him about the family and see what support he can give them. Emma said he will also come back when term has finished and talk to all the family, together and individually, and keep an eye on things. And Jane is also there all the time. The tragedy is that this is not an isolated case.
We dropped Emma at his Soroti home on Friday evening and came to Ben’s house where he was already waiting for us, having come back from Kampala the previous day to see me. However, he had been involved in an accident, as a passenger on a “boda-boda” (“taxi”) motorbicycle, just as they were leaving Soroti to go back to the village to see how his sister, Margaret, was. Fortunately, his only injury was to his right hand, which was badly grazed, bruised and swollen.
Saturday, 16th: Ben was very unwell during the night, so Robert took him into town to be tested for malaria – which turned out to be negative. While they were out, one of Robert’s sister’s older girls told me that things were much worse in the village. The previous day, Margaret’s husband had come to the home and beaten up the two children aged about 10 and 12, even stamping on the head of the older one. He had a lot of chest pain and started vomiting blood, so was admitted at the nearby Health Centre. The father refused to pay for his treatment, so Margaret said that she would go with all the children to report to the police and each child would be able to tell exactly what was going on. He then ‘found’ some money. The baby had been discharged from Soroti a week ago, but his face and eyes were swelling – they wondered if it was due to the medicine he had been given to take at home, but Ruth didn’t know what it was. I called Robert to come back to hear what she had told me. We discussed the need to report the violence to the police and go to the village to help Margaret. But that’s when Robert started to get severe pain in his neck which spread to his back, making it impossible for him to travel, and Ben had already gone to bed.
By the afternoon, Ben was recovered sufficiently for us to spend several hours working on his tour business, Homestead Tours and Safaris. But Robert was at his home in bed – with the car parked nearby. He did manage to get out of bed and take me to the other side of Soroti at about 7.00pm to stay with Naphtali and Gaudesia for five nights, and then went back home with the car. He later went to a clinic where he also tested negative for malaria. He had a very bad night and sounded very unwell on the phone. As I was praying in bed, it dawned on me that Ben’s accident and both their unidentified illnesses, which confined them to bed and prevented them going to the village, were not just a coincidence but due to a spiritual attack. This is something which appears to be much more common here than at home. Margaret’s co-wife practices witchcraft against her already. I realised it was necessary to pray against this very specifically and for protection for the whole family in this terrible time of suffering and violence.
Sunday, 17th: Naphtali, who is Vicar of the Cathedral, was keen that I should come to the 11.30 English service. He actually has four services, running from 6.30am to about 1.30pm (although he didn’t get home until 2.30)! Robert, who was still very unwell and in a lot of pain, came up with the car before 11.00 and we prayed together before I took him home and then went to the Cathedral with Susan, one of Naphtali’s daughters.
After a late lunch, I went to the home of Sam and Olivia Ediau and their five children. Margaret, the second one, is my Goddaughter. Sam was out all day, but the children were, as always, so excited to see me and it was lovely to catch up with Olivia. I had brought various little presents for the children, so spent time playing with them and making them up. Little Samuel (five) loved making the cardboard kit car. We had another meal, at about 4.30. At 7.00, we cut the cake Olivia had made as Blessing (first) and Faith (fourth) have their birthdays in November. They are all still in primary school, but Blessing has just finished taking her PLE exams and will go into S1 in February. Favour (the third) takes after Olivia’s father and is taller than Margaret and even Blessing!
We recalled when Faith was born in Soroti Hospital eight years ago. Olivia had been sent out in the dark to walk around the filthy compound next to the main road because the midwife said she was nowhere near ready to deliver. We struggled to help her in when the urge to start pushing overtook her. I literally caught little Faith, preventing her falling headfirst onto the concrete floor as she slipped out while Olivia was still standing, unable to get up onto the high delivery bed and the midwives were still messing about.
Sadly, I forgot to take my camera or iPhone with me, so didn’t get any photos. I got back to Naphtali at about 8.00pm and phoned Robert. He was so much better and said our prayers had been answered although he couldn’t actually get through to anyone in the village by phone.
Monday to Wednesday, 18th – 20th November: Soroti
Monday, 18th Nov: We picked up James Ikara, his wife Elizabeth and little Margaret, who had travelled from Nyero, from Soroti and set off for the little trading centre of Adamasiko between Arapai and Tubur for the great celebration and workshop that Joel Odongo had organised for the project he has recently set up.
Joel grew up with his grandparents in a remote village and was sponsored by TESS through secondary school to University, where he did a degree in IT. He sold off some crops and a few sheep and goats he had reared from the animals TESS gave out and bought his first computer. His business grew – he rented a little shop on the edge of Soroti and was able to buy several laptops, printers and scanners with his profits. Then just before Christmas last year, thieves broke in one night and stole everything. In a country with very limited police resources or insurance, there was nothing he could do about it. He returned to his village devastated and was very depressed for several months as he had nothing to start up again. I kept in touch with him on Facebook and tried to encourage him and suggest things he might be able to do locally which didn’t need any start-up resources.
Together with a few friends who didn’t have jobs, he learnt how to make liquid soap and petroleum jelly which people here use for moisturising their skin. He started to pick up and decided to set up a project to help others who had dropped out of school without any qualifications to gain skills and earn some money working locally. He sold his bicycle and a friend sold some goats so that they could hire a small incomplete building in Adamasiko trading centre a few miles from his home. Since he no longer has a bicycle, he now takes a short cut home through the swamp, which means removing all his clothes!
I suggested a few months ago that Joel and his group should visit James Ikara in Nyero for support and ideas. James, typically, gave him some sewing machines and tools, and lent him his compressed earth brick machine. In addition, James, and Julius and one or two other teachers from Nyero have been coming to Adamasiko for a few days at a time to help teach and train – and Joel has made James the Country Director of the organisation he has set up! Who knows – big things always start small! The problem for all of them is paying for transport to and fro, which is considerable, especially when they are earning nothing. I was able to give Joel a very good laptop from one of our family which he is thrilled with – and now intends to use it for the project and start teaching others how to use a computer.
The workshop on Monday was the first event Joel has organised. All the students, their parents and local government, political and community leaders were invited and a programme drawn up, in which James and I were the main speakers.
The day started in their little office with the inevitable signing of the visitors’ book – Joel was quite emotional. While guests assembled, we were shown around the various sites, introduced to students and staff, all of whom made short speeches, and saw the students’ work. We were escorted everywhere by two women in beautiful costumes singing and dancing with flags – it felt uncomfortably like a royal procession around the trading centre!
They now have nine girls and women learning tailoring, four young men doing bricklaying, one doing carpentry and one doing motor mechanics. Their workshop is another unfinished building, with just murram gravel on the floor. We were taken out of the trading centre to see the very small church they are building at the request of the community. They are making their own interlocking compressed earth blocks using James’s machine and have already reached shoulder height. It is amazing what they have achieved from nothing in such a short time – and out of what was such a disaster for Joel. He is a remarkable young man.
The event took place on the large covered veranda of the “Moonlight Pub”! Dignitaries, all of whom had to introduce themselves and make a short speech, sat at the front around tables while everyone else sat in rows facing us on plastic chairs. Instead of providing sodas (fizzy drinks) and cakes etc for morning break, which is expensive, they served water, slices of pawpaw (papaya) and peeled oranges. I was asked to speak on their motto: “The right multi-purpose tool is the hand”.
Joel could see the rain clouds rolling up, so tried to hurry up proceedings so that everyone could be served lunch without getting soaked. Only about half had been served before the heavens opened, so the food was hurriedly moved inside which wasn’t easy. Rivers poured down the murram road outside and people collected water off the roof in plastic mugs to drink.
After lunch, there was dancing and singing, James and I were given a shirt and dress respectively (sadly mine didn’t fit, so I have had it altered in Soroti as they want a photo of me in it!), group photos were taken, final speeches made and prayers were said. By then the rain had stopped and people were able to leave to go home.
Joel took us to his grandparents’ home, which Robert had visited years ago when Joel was a young TESS student. In fact, Robert drove the minibus through bush – the first vehicle ever to reach the village, as a result of which a track has been opened up: “Robert’s Road”! Robert also said the home was very bushy then and in poor condition, with the neighbours taking advantage of an old couple with young orphans and taking land away from them. Joel earned respect from the neighbours when he went to university and they gave back the land they had taken. It seems mostly Joel’s work which has transformed the compound and their “gardens” around by planting trees and cultivating. He has also started keeping bees and has thirteen local hives (made from hollow borassus palm trunks) hanging in one huge mango tree which he planted when he was in primary school. He is pruning his trees and drying the wood for firewood. They have a shea nut tree in the middle of the compound, providing shade – and of course, nuts, which he is drying to extract the oil to make better petroleum jelly. The sheep he was given by TESS in 2011 is still producing well. In fact, he gave me his current lamb! We had to leave it there, but Robert will collect it sometime to take back to Tubur to live with Becky’s goats.
We were taken into the largest central grass-thatched house and given another substantial meal! Then we all moved outside and sat in a circle on the local folding wooden chairs, while the women and many extra children sat on the “verandah” around one of the houses. Once again, there were speeches – from everyone! Both Joel’s grandparents spoke – and said what a hard struggle life was until Joel, the youngest in the family, was sponsored.
The sister he “follows” also still lives there. She isn’t married but has a beautiful 14 month old baby girl who was born at 37 weeks weighing only 1kg. She has never really developed and still can’t hold her head or control movements. Her rib cage is asymmetrical, the right side protruding a bit. She quite often gets pneumonia. They all depend on Joel now. As we were leaving, we were given many gifts – in addition to the lamb: a chicken, groundnuts, groundnut paste (peanut butter) and honey in the comb.
Joel is engaged to a girl he met at university who comes from Bukedea (south Teso). He hardly ever sees her as her parents won’t let her come to Adamasiko until Joel has paid the dowry – probably about five cows. He has no idea how he will raise so much money, but he hopes to get married in June and bring her home. They are planning to do what I have long been urging to happen – combine the church wedding with the traditional marriage. Although he goes to the nearby PAG church, it is important to him to get married in the Catholic church. I am not sure whether they encourage combining both celebrations, or whether it is Joel’s idea, but it will save so much money and avoid the problem of being excluded from taking communion! Robert has a plan – that he will collect the lamb one day, as agreed, but he will later give him one or two goats to help towards his dowry.
We had thought we might be able to go on to Robert’s village for a quick visit to check up on his sister and family. But it was dark by the time we left Joel, and James and his family still had to get a “taxi” from Soroti to Kumi and then a “boda-boda” to Nyero. They didn’t get back until 9.30pm. It was an interesting and encouraging day, but we were all exhausted by the end of it! I hate being the centre of attention, and sitting for hours on plastic chairs isn’t comfortable. I would hate to be royalty!
Tuesday, 19th Nov: We arranged to meet up with Joseph Asutai who has set up Awoja Riverside Farm (between Soroti and Kumi) to find out what progress he has made since a year ago. He is doing amazing work helping communities improve their agricultural methods and stop using dangerous chemicals. His irrigation scheme is now complete, using solar power to raise the water from the lake into a high tank from which it is distributed by gravity.
Instead of doing all the training and experimenting on his farm at the edge of the swamp, he is now forming groups all over Teso, registering them and providing training in their villages. He has a real passion and vision. The simple conference centre is now in use although the kitchen, designed to use solar power and less firewood, isn’t finished yet. The accommodation is more or less ready. He doesn’t want to advertise it until it is completely ready and has been formally dedicated and opened, hopefully at the end of the year. It is a beautiful place by the lake and swamp, but it gets so hot there as it is open with no big trees to provide shade.
Robert and I were expected at the TESS offices in Kapir, just the other side of the lake and swamp, for a late lunch with Scovia Aliano and Doreen Ajilong. Scovia is an ex-TESS student who has been the accountant for many years now and has kept the office running through all the difficulties. Doreen Ajilong has recently replaced Christine Ariokot (also an ex-TESS student) who had to leave at the beginning of this year. I have not been able to visit the offices for some years because of problems both here and in the UK, nor has Robert who used to drive for TESS (until he couldn’t cope with the situation any longer eighteen months ago and left). But with significant changes at both ends, I was so warmly welcomed by both Scovia and Doreen who seems lovely and gets on so well with Scovia. Doreen talked about how they all work as a team, including Moses the gardener and caretaker, and the security guard (with her gun, which she holds on to permanently!). That was clear to see – everyone was relaxed and comfortable to sit together and share the lunch which Doreen and Scovia had cooked. I haven’t seen Scovia looking so happy for a long time. There were the inevitable speeches – and tears of happiness this time, instead of tears of sadness as in the past. Unknown to me, Bishop Charles had been invited, and five students doing short courses on site also joined us for lunch, which was nice. There was a celebration cake, half of which I was given to take away.
We all left about the same time, at 6.00. Just out of Kapir, Robert wanted to greet the women who sit by the roadside selling potatoes and pumpkins – they are just some of the many friends he makes wherever he goes, all over the country! The old woman used to cook meals for Robert when he first worked for TESS and lived in Kapir trading centre. I was surprised that they all knew who I was and greeted me as Mama Margaret! They saw the cake and asked if they could have a piece, so we gave it all to them, which they were very excited about!
We stopped at the roadside as we crossed Awoja swamp for half an hour to look for birds – and were rewarded by a flock of Bishops, Black-headed Weavers and Cisticolas, as well as Squacco Herons, Open-billed Stork and Whistling Ducks flying over. Earlier, we had seen Bee-eaters (unidentified, but probably Madagascar) and a small black tortoise about to cross the road, but we turned it around and it made its way back towards the swamp: I was surprised at how quickly it ran – maybe not as fast as a hare, but certainly not slowly! The sky was beautiful.
Wednesday, 20th Nov: A day of catching up and repacking – I can now get one suitcase inside another! We had hoped to visit the very nice-looking new Teso Museum, which replaces the room in the Emorimor’s offices elsewhere in Soroti, but it is not yet officially open as they haven’t yet appointed staff, which was disappointing.
I stayed again with Naphtali’s family in Soroti although he was actually away overnight in Mbale, where he teaches one day a week at the university. He went on to Tororo Eye Hospital the next day to book an appointment to have his second cataract removed.
Thursday to Monday, 21st – 25th November
Thursday, 21st Nov: Robert and I left Soroti (and Teso itself) early on Thursday morning having fulfilled most of my expectations (and some of others’) during my three weeks in Teso. But it’s impossible to meet everyone who wants to see me. Even if there were time, I don’t have the energy! So I slipped away – and am still getting phone calls from people who didn’t realise I had left Teso already and had hoped to see me. But I had qualms of conscience about looking forward to a day or two of pleasure away from Teso and all the pain and problems, although the phone still works! I had texts from Sharon telling me she was in too much tooth pain, which no drug was easing, while she had to wait several days to have a tooth extracted. Hopefully, it was done today (25th).
We had planned to go north to Kotido for a night or two and then south to Pian Upe Reserve before returning to Kampala. But Robert met some tour guides in Soroti the previous evening who had just arrived from Kidepo on the South Sudan border who told him the road was impassable – they had had to do a long detour. The rainy season has been exceptionally long and heavy all over Uganda, causing much flooding and destruction. So we opted to just go to Pian Upe for two nights, using another route although the short cut from Bukedea to Sironko was impassable, so we had to go via Mbale.
As usual, we stopped for half an hour at Awoja swamp to look for birds. The grass looks like a vast lush meadow, but hides the fact that it is actually growing in deep flowing water which opens up where it flows swiftly under the road towards Lake Kyoga and so on into the Nile. It is strange to see fishermen with long poles gliding through the grass, which is almost shoulder high, as they stand on invisible dug-out canoes. Unlike other parts of Uganda, there is very little papyrus in Teso swamps which I think makes them more beautiful and easier to see birds. It was a treat to see a Squacco Heron catch quite a large black fish and fly off with it. We also saw a Senegal Coucal (I’ve only seen it once before, elsewhere in Teso), an African Pygmy Kingfisher eating a fish, bee-eaters, Northern Red Bishops, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Winding Cisticolas, Black-headed Weavers, Lesser Jacana, Black Crake and lots of swallows.
The road is tarmac all the way from Soroti until the right turn off the Mbale road which takes you up to Sipi and Kapchorwa. But the road straight ahead, which we had to take, is a murram and dirt road which goes all the way north into Karamoja (with turnings which even take you into northern Kenya (Turkana) and South Sudan. So it is used by some heavy trucks, although there is very little trade between Karamoja, which is still very undeveloped, and elsewhere.
The murram parts of the road weren’t too bad – apart from many deep potholes. But the parts which were just ordinary soil through swampy areas were deep holes filled with thick dark mud which had been churned up by trucks. Fortunately, despite skidding, we didn’t actually get stuck. The views of Mt Elgon, which lies across the border between Uganda and Kenya, were lovely and we could even see two of the three main waterfalls at Sipi – as well as many others – although the summit was hidden behind the threatening clouds.
Ahead of us were the mountains of Napak and Kadam and many other lovely little hills and craggy rock outcrops. We crossed a number of rivers carrying the high rainfall from Mt Elgon onto the plains, which eventually feed into Lake Kyoga (and hence north-westwards into the Nile). The surrounding savannah is normally very dry with short grass and is described in Bradt as “semi-arid surrounded by savannah with acacia (thorn) trees scattered amongst the tall, lush grass. that usually receives some rain in April and substantial showers from June to early September”. As in the UK, this year has been very different! Not only has there been exceptional and prolonged rain in Karamoja and Teso, but also on Mt Elgon which then pours onto the plains causing serious flooding. There are also frequently landslides on the southern slopes of Mt Elgon, killing hundreds of people. We passed a huge resettlement project in the district of Bulambuli where thousands of people from the areas devastated by landslides have been moved. Although the houses are new, permanent and safe, they are so sterile looking. Identical little brick and iron-roofed houses have been built close together in many long rows about ¼ mile long, with no thought for planning and their traditional way of life – so alien and different from their natural environment and little villages on the lush mountain slopes.
Pian Upe is the second largest protected area in Uganda. It is planned to make it a National Park next year, which will increase the resources available to develop the area. It has a rich variety of animals, including some very rare ones such as the Roan Antelope which isn’t found anywhere else in Uganda. However, during the years of turmoil, some of the bigger species became extinct or reduced to a handful. Only a month ago, fifteen giraffes, mostly pregnant, were moved from Murchison Falls National Park – they are being monitored and have already moved westwards deep into the area towards Katakwi and Lake Opeta in Teso. Already, a few hippos are appearing in Teso. There are plans to move twenty five more giraffes early next year and hopefully some elephants later on if they can get a licence. But it is such a huge area that it won’t be so easy to see all the animals until they increase a lot in numbers. There is money for developing a network of murram tracks throughout the park which will start in a month or two. The landscapes are stunning, so if it becomes easier to see a variety of animals, it will definitely become one of the best parks to visit, especially when combined with visiting Mt Elgon as well as Kidepo in northern Karamoja. This should encourage more tourists to start exploring the eastern and northern parts of Uganda, which is what Ben, Robert and I have been working for, instead of the over-used western routes resulting in an unfair distribution of income and resources. Re-opening the direct road eastwards from Katakwi through Pian Upe will also be a great asset as it will also open up Lake Opeta in Teso, a very special and unique area for birds and animals.
We stopped to look at birds along the way. And butterflies were lapping up the moisture on the muddy roads.
We finally arrived at the park facilities where there are little staff houses, offices, canteen and bandas for visitors. I always enjoy the frisson of excitement of arriving somewhere new as I look around at the environment and check out the accommodation. There were three simple but comfortable en-suite bandas at the top of the little hill, with lovely views and lots of trees around which were alive with little birds. The views were constantly changing colour and detail as the clouds moved and lifted or shed their rain, while the sun came and went and then set behind clouds. A pair of Golden Crested Cranes (now officially called Grey Crowned Cranes – one had only one wing), three young ostriches and an oribi wandering around the compound, all more or less tame. In fact, the oribi (like a young goat) was sniffing me literally nose to nose and loved being scratched and rubbed! Ostriches are strange birds, taller than me, and have only two ‘toes’, one of which is enormous, on each foot. They look as though could really kick a punch – not worth getting too near to check that out! After checking in, paying, ordering a simple supper and settling in, we wandered around looking at the birds as dusk approached. There was a birding guide taking a couple round who hung a recording of bird songs in a tree – and the trees around came alive with so many little birds, including a beautiful oriole and a pair of Red-headed Weavers.
Friday, 22nd November
We were up by 6.30 to go for a game drive in one of the park vehicles (a pick-up truck) as Sam’s little vehicle wouldn’t have coped with the track and the grass is so tall, we wouldn’t have seen over the top! Robert sat inside with the driver while I stood in the back with the guide – and his gun. There was only one track which could be used. It wasn’t possible to see any small animals as the grass is so thick and high in most places. But we did see the heads and horns of a few Topi and Jackson’s Hartebeest in the distance – and also, what we really wanted to see, two Roan Antelope, albeit in long grass in the distance disappearing amongst acacia trees! We had both imagined they would be small animals, but they are bigger than topi and hartebeest, and only a bit smaller than Eland, which we didn’t see. The mountain views as the sun rose, including Mt Elgon to the south (although the clouds were covering the top), Napak and Kadam to the north and others a few miles away in Kenya, made up for the lack of animals. Our guide wasn’t very interested in or knowledgeable about birds, so we drove past most of them which was frustrating for me and Robert! One very interesting, large bird flew up from the track in front of us. “What’s that?” I asked excitedly. “It’s a bird!”
We had to return along the same track as the circuit was impassable. As we approached the ‘main’ road, we stopped by some rocky hills and walked up to the top where there were some wonderful sculpted rocks and caves with lovely views. There were footprints of baboons in the dust. The main one has been used by the Karimojong for generations at least, for shelter and gatherings. There are a few small paintings of animals (including a giraffe and an antelope) on the walls which look similar to those at Nyero. If they are, then they must pre-date the Karimojong. After eating a snack, we climbed on top of the rock where we heard baboons and saw rock hyraxes – they ran so fast across the rocks and quickly disappeared. On the way down, we saw two rocks which were smooth and shiny where the Karimojong have sharpened their tools as well as a little pool in the rocks which the guide said is filled by underground water from higher up. However, it wasn’t flowing and was a bit stagnant, in spite of all the rain, so I’m not quite sure if that’s right. But it must be an important source of water if it never dries up.
We had a late breakfast of an omelette rolled up in a chapati when we got back and relaxed until we drove the seven miles into the nearest town, Nakapiripirit – although it could hardly be called a town! As it was market day, it was seething with people, as was the road for the five miles approaching the town. Even Robert felt he was in a foreign country and was as fascinated as I was and keen to take photos – it was so different from anywhere else. The Karimojong dress differently. Most men carry long sticks and wrap checked blankets around their shoulders or tied round their waists instead of wearing trousers. Many of the younger women wear heavily pleated, multi-coloured short skirts which swing as they walk along, and their plaited hairstyles are distinctive. Some, both men and women, were wearing earrings, nose rings, head bands or neck bands while many of the men had hats, often with an ostrich feather sticking up. We met a noisy procession walking out of the town as we approached – they were obviously celebrating something! People, including young children, clearly walked many miles to and from the market, always briskly in spite of carrying heavy and sometimes unusual loads, including huge granary baskets.
We had planned to go birdwatching again before dusk, but heavy clouds built up with distant thunder and we could see it was raining hard around us. It started drizzling and got very cold. The birds all disappeared, so we did as well! It wasn’t until about 8.00pm that it started raining on us …….
Saturday, 23rd: …….. and it continued raining all night until dawn when it reduced to drizzle. Although I love sleeping with the sound of rain on iron roofs, this was too much. Both Robert and I were very aware of having to drive on a road that was already very bad in places and could only be much worse by now, so we got up a bit earlier than planned to get going, without stopping for breakfast, before heavy vehicles made it impassable. We realised later that those ten minutes made all the difference. We also needed to get the car worked on in Mbale. It was making a knocking noise, which was checked by some mechanics in Nakapiripirit who thought a bearing needed to be replaced, which they didn’t have. Robert had to get to Kampala that evening so that he would be available very early on Sunday morning to drive a tourist for a tour of Uganda.
Although the road was very wet, we were relieved to see from the tracks that only one vehicle had already passed in front of us although there were a few motorcycles out – and a young ostrich! It was running towards us in front of a motorcycle. The rider was obviously nervous about passing it as they can be very aggressive. Taller than the car, it gave us a disdainful look as it ran past us. Later, we disturbed some ducks swimming in the deep puddles on the road! Cows in the middle of the road were a minor obstacle. Although the clouds were very low, it was only drizzling.
Robert successfully negotiated several bad patches, including one where a truck was stuck. At one point, the road was flooded, but there was nothing for it but to drive at a reasonable speed to avoid getting stuck through the dark muddy water without knowing what was beneath the surface. Halfway across, the front of the car dropped down deep – and a bow wave of brown water sloshed right up and over, completely covering the car. It happened too quickly to be frightened, but we both heaved a sigh of relief when we came up on the other side onto “dry” land. My only regret was that I didn’t have the video running! But the car appeared to be none the worse and we continued, knowing there were more obstacles ahead.
At one place, the water flowing under a bridge was too much, so was coming across the road. But the real problem were the patches where the road is nothing but deep, sticky mud. We asked if there were any alternative tracks we could take, but there weren’t any, so we carried on. It wasn’t long before we came to a halt behind a long stationary queue of lorries, ‘taxis’ and cars which stretched in both directions. The lorries at least had obviously spent the night there because of one lorry stuck in the mud ahead. Robert got out to investigate. Two ‘taxis’ had tried to get through by going off-road – and were completely stuck. There was a huge crowd of people by the roadside, as well as many sacks piled up in the mud – we didn’t know if they had fallen off a lorry or had been taken off to lighten the load. Sacksful of rice husks had been spread over the mud to make the surface drier. With the help of a gang of young men from the nearby village who charged 2,000 UGX (about 45p) for each vehicle they helped, cars were able to overtake the waiting lorries and started, very slowly, to get through the deep mud and up the other side. Having got across, we stopped to check the car – we were thankful to have a small car even if it wasn’t so suitable for roads where a higher clearance is needed. We looked back – and found a big articulated lorry had decided to attempt the crossing. Not surprisingly, it was completely stuck deep in the mud, tilted and slewed across the road with no hope of getting out because of being so heavy. We were so thankful that we had set off ten minutes early as we would never have got through otherwise. [Robert has just had to drive a tourist today from Sipi on Mt Elgon to Kidepo in northern Karamoja and had to turn back at the same place because of another lorry which was stuck and blocking the road completely. He had to go a much longer way via Soroti, which was also bad. It took them 11 hours.]
It was a great relief to reach the tarmac! It had taken us two and a half hours to do the murram stretch instead of less than an hour. We went to a sort of “garage” where the car was examined. Robert told me later the man had said, “Let’s do lots of work on it and replace various things as it is a Muzungu (white person) paying”. Fortunately, Robert knows cars quite well and was able to tell him that we only needed one thing doing and that he was paying. So two men set to in the muddy yard, jacking up the front, removing the wheel and then placing it under the car with a rock on it to hold the car up while he did the same thing the other side! They didn’t have a pit or a ramp or any other lifting equipment. We stood over them throughout – the only safe way to get repairs done. An hour later, we were on the road again – with no more ominous knocking sounds! As we drove out of Mbale, we were shocked to see all the flooding on both sides of the road. We stopped in Iganga for lunch and reached Ben’s home in Kireka, on the outskirts of Kampala, at about 5.00, but had to sit outside for an hour and a half until Ben came home!
Sunday, 24th: Robert left at 6.00am before I was up to drive a nine day tour. Ben also left on Sunday evening to drive another tour. So Denis has once again stepped in and is looking after me and driving for the rest of my time. Simon Etoru (Charles’ son) is doing all the cooking for us – a very good cook. I spent Sunday doing my photos and writing this.
Monday, 25th Nov: We spent today visiting SINA (Social Innovation Academy) at Mpigi (beyond Kampala on the other side on the way to Masaka) and have made some very helpful contacts and picked up many useful ideas which I hope will benefit Teso as the links are made. Espoir (a refugee from DRC and Rwanda, who now works there) is going to meet Joel Odongo in Kampala on Friday when he comes for a day’s workshop run by “Teach a Man to Fish”. An artist (Edgar from Mbale) is going to make contact with Emma Eyomu and has ideas for him. And a woman from Soroti wants to discuss the possibility of setting up the SINA model in Teso. We left before Etienne (the German founder) got back – he had asked to meet me because one of our ex-TESS students, Itwomo Catherine, had applied for one of their short courses at my suggestion and had told him about me (don’t know what she told him!), so I will be in touch with him later. One of the things we liked most was their up-cycled building materials: plastic bottles, plastic jerrycans, rubber tyres and tiles from Coca Cola plastic waste.
Tuesday, 26th Nov: I visited Sam Opol in Mukono for a couple of hours. It wasn’t possible to see Josephine Aguti (ex-TESS) who has recently returned from doing a two years’ Master’s in railway engineering in Addis Ababa.
After lunch in Ben’s home, Denis took me to Entebbe, visiting Agnes Amajo (ex-TESS) at her work place in Nsambya. Agnes did Fashion and Dseign and is now working for the Jesuit Relief Services training refugee women and men in tailoring and design at a very high standard. They take orders for wedding dresses amongst other things.
We couldn’t find Hapa’s house, so phoned Babu who came out in his car to find us and lead us there. We were nearly there when we heard a very loud hissing – and found that the best tyre had a large hole through which air was rushing at high pressure! However, the tyre didn’t seem to be going down and the air stopped coming out after about five minutes, so Denis was able to drive to a garage who said it couldn’t be repaired, so I had to buy yet another tyre!
Many of the Nganwa family were at Hapa’s house: his wife Alice, William and his daughter Samantha, Babu and his daughter Peace, Baka, and a daughter of Jean. I don’t think I have ever been with so many of them all at once since childhood! After a lovely meal, Hapa and Babu took me to the airport, to start the long journey home.