We’ve been here a week and I have finally got access to the computer! It has been a fascinating week in all kinds of ways – sights and smells and sounds of Africa, as well as of each other…
I think all of us have been struck by the poverty – yet as in our own society it is in the contrasts between rich and poor that the poverty is accentuated. We bought our snacks and drinks at a posh supermarket in the middle of Kampala, at prices that were OK for us because they were like English prices (two pounds for a box of Pringles and a bottle of Ribena). We saw quite a few ex-pats and richly-dressed Ugandans in there too. But then we learnt that we had spent about a twentieth of a teacher’s monthly salary which brought it all into some perspective. We went into a local supermarket yesterday which was dark and dingy and had hardly anything in it that was snack-like – because it is a European thing to snack… We went into an enclosed fruit market which was very interesting but a bit intimidating, because they all leapt up (even a man with one leg) to try and interest us in their wares. It is hard not to feel like you are a voyeur and that they are staring at you.
On the bus going through Kampala we have often been accosted by children begging whenever the bus stops at a junction or in a queue, which has been quite upsetting for some of us. Likewise, we have seen very poor families living in mud-bricked shacks just 100 yards from where we are staying in a posh ex-government official’s house. We have a beautiful garden to relax in, whereas they have a red-dust yard with a few scratty chickens running around. The ultimate came yesterday, when a group went out for a walk and encountered a woman who was the caretaker for a school. She lived on site in a shack in one corner of the yard, with about 6 or 7 children. The eldest was ironing school uniforms with an old press-iron, but none of the kids went to the school because they couldn’t afford it. The woman was breast-feeding her smallest, who was about a year old, and went up to Ruth Donnan and asked her to take the child back to England with her.
We have all been very impressed with what we have seen of Watoto. Seeing the village and school already in operation, chatting to the children and some of the mothers who each look after 8 children in a house – seeing the cramped conditions and yet the happiness that pervades every household and the smiles on the kids and their big smiles and fascinations with little things like sunglasses, that they have never seen before… Their lives are certainly very different from what they would have been and the plans are impressive for expanding Watoto into Northern Uganda to the war-torn areas where they are rehabilitating boys who have been forced into being boy-soldiers in the civil war. It would have been so easy to have just built up a church in Kampala and not done anything for the very poorest – but all credit to them that they have not only achieved what they have already got but are not content with that. The structure in Watoto seems very efficient, and the baby unit called Bulrushes was particularly impressive and upsetting, because the tiny babies were in incubators and were fighting for their lives, the slightly older ones were playing in a nursery not that different from our own in England – but we were all aware of how few children are able to access such care and love.
It has been great to complete our school room build in just four days, from foundations to a big walled room with windows and a door, with us having heaved bricks from one end of the site to our building, then helped mix mortar, lay bricks, construct scaffolding etc. Some of the men went off to complete a high internal wall in another school room, which included bricklaying above our heads, balancing on two or three bricks to get that high because there wasn’t room for more scaffolding. At least being on that build meant we were out of the sun which at times has been horribly hot. I forgot to do the back of my legs with sun cream on the first day because it had been raining when we set off and my sun-tan spreading was a bit hurried – and I have suffered because of it (it’s getting better now). It has been really good having everybody mucking in and taking part – with many people finding that they could lay bricks to a standard which surprised them and the Ugandans who were overseeing our efforts.
Now we have a bit more free time, so there are a few more trips planned to places like the spot where the Nile leaves Lake Victoria. More on that when we have done it!
Many of us are reflecting on our wealth and security compared to what we see of a hand-to-mouth existence for those all around us. Personally I have been struck by what I haven’t seen, which is old people. There aren’t any! Not out and about anyway. I heard that about 85% of the population is under 30, due to illness generally in a land where you have to be able to pay for any treatment, and to malaria and AIDS. Imagine how empty the streets of Whitley Bay would be if there were no pensioners wandering about.
From a family point of view it has been really good to see how close the three of us have been. Naomi got very tired a few days ago and things got a bit niggly with some of the girls she has been sharing who didn’t understand about her ME, so Ami and Naomi have spent a lot of time with each other and chatting with me. Things are getting a bit better in their little group now but it has been really good to see the two of them gelling so well. And with me too! We have also shared some reflections on our different perspectives on all our experiences and observations and I have been very impressed by their reactions. I think we will all be changed by our time out here in all kinds of ways. Interestingly also, the people in our group whom we knew less well and whom we were a bit hesitant about before the trip have been amongst those with whom we have got on best!
Anyway, that’s enough for now – I’ve got to go and get ready for a day’s trip to the big church at the centre of Watoto and some shopping in the posh supermarket and a less-posh craft market this afternoon. Tomorrow we have to get up at 4.15am for a 5am start on the seven-hour journey to our safari base in Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Thanks to all of you who have used the blog to send their greetings – we have valued our link with the UK through you – hope you are not too bored by our ramblings.