Hello from Uganda! (I did try to find the Ugandan translation for 'hello' however I have learnt that they speak 17 languages in this country alone therefore I'm sticking with English for now!)
Due to my short attention span I have decided to keep a travel blog instead of writing in a daily travel diary. I also thought it would be a lovely way to update family and friends from back home on my whereabouts seeing as keeping in contact isn't one of my strongest points and to reassuare the mother that I am still in one piece/haven't lost my passport - I am/it's in my shoulder bag! There's still time though...
The plan for the next two months includes a month volunteering for the charity 'East African Playgrounds' in Uganda before travelling for a month through to Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar. I've been in Uganda for just under a week now, living and working in a district called Kittengesa which is in a small town called Masaka. The standard of living is extremely basic! We are living on a classroom floor, have no electricity and we have to collect and purify our own water from a water tap (we also have huuuuuuuuge spiders for pets and a hole for a toilet!) However, it already feels like home and there's nothing more welcoming than waking up in the morning and hearing the schoolchildren playing outside :) The charity I am volunteering for is run by two ex-Leeds Uni graduates Tom and Carla who have both become like an older sister and brother to the group and have inspired us all by how much they have achieved since graduating - also scared us a little! The group is made up of ten students and considering we hadn't spent much time together as a group before the trip, we're already getting along like one big happy family with lots of laughs which is reassuring seeing as we're travelling together after the volunteering finishes.
I'm currently sat in an internet cafe in the town of Masaka which is where we'll be spending the weekend relaxing and eating 'normal' food after a week of hard work digging and hand-mixing the cement! Ground Force eat your heart out. Seriously, I wish I had been pre-warned as to how much physical work we would actually be doing or I would have taken more advantage of my gym membership this year. Each morning I have woken up to discover new muscles that I never knew I had and after four days of manual labour I am a broken woman! Our flight arrived into Entebbe airport in the early hours of Sunday morning after a short stop in Cairo and a midnight celebration for Kate's nineteenth birthday. As we were the only two sat together I had the very important duty of singing happy birthday to her - a painful experience for both the passengers and the birthday girl herself. We managed to catch a few hours sleep at a bagpackers hostel before embarking on the four hour journey to Kitengeesa. This was the first opportunity we had to see what Uganda was like and the first thing that struck us was how green Uganda is. It really is a truly beautiful country with stunning scenery and such a rich culture.
The routine for this week has been: an early rise at 6.30am, building begins at 9.00am and finishes at 5.00pm and we're usually begging to go to bed by 9.00pm after an evening of games and dinner of rice/potato and some form of beans...GIVE ME MEAT! I'll quickly go through some things that have happened this week as my tummy has started to rumble and the hotel where we're staying this weekend has a swimming pool which sounds lush after a week of high temperatures and continuously feeling dirty.
Firstly the building has to be mentioned! The design for our playground includes three sets of swings, a slide, a see-saw, a set of monkey bars and a zip wire. All sounds fairly simple in theory however I underestimated how much work we would actually be doing. Monday was a shock to the system as I was handed a pick-axe and hoe (a type of building equipment which did create an immature giggle from me) and told to dig a 3 foot hole. All very well but in 30 degree celcius weather?! By the end of the day we were all very proud about how much we had achieved and considered ourselves experienced builders by this point!However, my health took a turn for the worst on Monday night as I was sick during the night before being sick again at Tuesday's breakfast...the first to be ill - typical! It won't surprise many of you back home to hear that I had sunstroke after my stubborn refusal to wear a sunhat on the first day, 'I'll be fine! It's not that hot, I want to get a tan on my face!' Not a wise move. Therefore I spent Tuesday resting, feeling a bit sorry for myself/being overdramatic thinking I had malaria and I also woke up after a short nap in the playing area to find hundreds of little black faces staring at me to see if I was still alive. Actually whilst I'm on the point of the children I have to mention how they pronounce my name - 'Sam-ehh' - yes the Ugandan children are pronouncing my name in a broad northern accent which I am sure has nothing to do with how I am teaching them to say it.
Anyway back to the week! By Wednesday most of the digging was completed therefore the mixing of the cement could begin. Seeing as we have no cement mixers it all has to be done by hand which takes such a long time and is very exhausting! As we are still working when the school ends for the day, most of the time the children come to help us which is very embarrassing for us as an 8 year old can use a pick-axe much better than we can! One child took one look at Harriet using the the equipment, shook his head and giggled 'silly mzhumgu!' Ahhhh yes, 'mzhumgu' means 'white people' and we have gotten used to hearing it wherever we go! Thursday was probably the best day of the week so far as we completed all our jobs for the next week and a half putting us in front of schedule therefore Carla and Tom announced that the weekend could start a day early, therefore giving us a day free to swim and shop. We also taught the children at the school the macarena, hokey cokey and the dance to Saturday Night - all important life skills. After another repetitive dinner of potatoes and beans, Tom asked the group who would like to drive into the centre with him for some pork and a beer. Not one to miss an adventure, Helen and myself jumped onto the back of the van with the rest of the boys and drove to the centre where we watched a street seller carve at a dead pig hanging from some string - certainly an experience. At first I was just happy to watch, however once cooked there was no way I could refuse some tasty meat! We then sat under the stars (which are so clear and beautiful by the way) drank local beer and talked for hours. Such a lovely night :)
Okay I have ten minutes left on this computer...go go go! Today we woke to the sounds of Harriet and myself jumping around the room singing 'holiday!' as we were leaving the school to come to Masaka for the weekend. Of course we had to travel in style to the town...on a bouda bouda which is a motorbike! The twenty minute journey was one of sheer panic. Helen and myelf definately pulled the short straw and got the craxy driver who decided to overtake every car/motorbike on the road and left us with very windswept hair. However he did provide us with gorgeous views from the hillltops and I am now hooked on the idea of having a motorbike for my first car (note to the father!)
My time is running out so I'll have to end this here; it's been an amazing week and i'm absolutly loving it! Missing english cups of tea but apart from that at the moment I don't want to come back to England for a while. Will try to write again when I can and I hope everything is well back home and everyone's having a lovely summer :)
Much Love, Sami x
Ps, Happy Birthday to Lucy Robinson! So sorry I can't be there but I've gotten you an African gift.
Pss, The sweets that you gave my Lucy O'Dwyer have been a lifesaver! Mike from the group said you are his new best friend after he munched down some maltesers after another carb filled lunch!