Description

“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” –Mark Jenkins

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

How to make a traditional Ugandan Rolex

A “Rolex” is a popular Ugandan street food, which we had the pleasure of tasting and watching being made by a local called Boaz.
Ingredients
A handful of shredded cabbage and carrot
2 eggs
1 pre-cooked Chapati (pictured) NB: a tortilla will do, but chapati is a bit thicker and breadier)
A good glug of oil
Salt
1 Teaspoon of beef stock granules / powder

1.     
Heat a heavy round flat frying pan, preferably on a traditional Ugandan coal stove which is glowing red and hot.
2.      If you’re using chapati, it’ll already be toasty and bubbly and brown, but if you are using a tortilla, toast it in the pan til it turns crispy – don’t be stingy with the oil.
3.      Beat the eggs and add all the veggies, along with the beef stock.
4.      Pour the egg mixture onto the well-oiled pan, and wait for the top to start cooking.
5.      Flip the egg mixture (omelette) over to finish cooking the other side.
6.      Once the omelette is cooked, place on top of your chapati, add a little salt, roll up together and enjoy!

Day 12 – Wednesday 22nd August - last day in Ruhanga

Feeling brand new today! So I got up washed, including my hair, and went out for breakfast of two boiled eggs and a slice of banana (not touching the tea anymore!).
Caroline and I then loaded the rucksack with donations and headed off in the direction of Paddy/Patrick’s house to distribute clothes, soap and colouring books and to take some photos of his youngest son Freedom (pictured), whom I will sponsor next year when he starts school.
We returned about 11am as the rucksacks emptied and spent some time cooling down in the computer room before dropping the images off in town for printing, buying Winnie a large English dictionary as a leaving gift from her new sponsor and treating ourselves to a fudge bar each – our first chocolate of the trip. We returned and loaded again to take our last hike up the southern hillside to say goodbye to Blessed and her family, Evez and her family and all the other children we had met along the way. After all, we still had an entire suitcase of goodies to distribute!
After a pasta lunch, we went back into town in a local’s car to collect the prints – we were the only 2 white people in a car that already had 6 adults and two children in it (I think!)  we certainly had 4 adults and a child in the front, and I admit I lost count of how many were crammed in the back!
Photo’s in hand a rucksack filled to the brim with pens and crayons etc., we took a boda boda past the lodge and straight to Winnie’s house on the Itojo trading park. She was overjoyed, as was her very proud and beaming father who proceeded to show the dictionary to every passing adult!
Winnie’s parents shop sold small terracotta coal stoves that I knew would be a perfect gift for Ant when we got to the campsite, so once I had given away everything in my rucksack I was able to squeeze the delicate mud pot inside. If I get it home in once piece it will be a minor miracle.
We took our final boda boda back to the lodge about 615pm, a peaceful and sad ride but both of us still had huge grins on our faces and the wind in our hair. Such a beautiful corner of the world, and one which has taught us an immense amount.
We washed, ate, packed, and tried a Rolex made by Boaz on his own charcoal stove before climbing under our nets for our last night of sleep in Ruhanga.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Day 11 – Tuesday 21st August - hideous day

Today was not a good day – but since this is a true-to-life blog, I’m not going to dress it up – this is traveling in a third world country afterall…. So don’t read on if you’re eating!
I woke at 6am in the pitch black, having shit myself, so had to clean myself up, wash my clothes and try to fight back the tears – It didn’t work – what I needed was a bath, hot soapy water and home comforts, instead I was sat on a concrete floor surrounded by own stench, my guts in agony, feeling like a prisoner.. .so the tears fell – albeit in silence.
I eventually pulled myself together, and with the help of a kettle got everything washed and rinsed and hung out to dry as dawn broke, telling myself it would soon pass and all would be well. I took yet more paracetamol and was thankful my fever had broken at last. I struggled out of the room with Caroline about 830am and James and Maud suggested they take me to the hospital. Knowing that there were rumours of an Ebola case at the hospital I opted for the clinic in town instead. Caroline filled her rucksack with sterilized supplies, needles and saline and such, and after a final dash to the loo we were on our way.
We were ushered in to see Doctor Denis immediately at his clinic in Ntungamo and had some blood taken for testing. We waited for the results over the road outside a hotel, where of course I needed to use the toilet again. The proprietor kindly showed me through the restaurant and out the back to the toilet, the state of which thankfully shocked my arse into changing its’ mind, so I took this picture and left – there was not even a sink or tap outside to wash your hands! After an hour, we returned to the clinic where thankfully the Malaria and Typhoid tests both came back negative. I was given some tablets (not sure what they are, or their purpose as they are not labeled and came in an envelope home-made out of official examination board paper!). I was then made to drink a lukewarm browny/white mixture for acute diarrhea in front of the dispensing lady and sent on my way, paying 35,000 UGS for the privilege. With any luck I will feel better soon.
After paying James another 20,000 UGS for the ride and help, we got back to the lodge and I crawled into bed to rest before lunch. The tablets had to be taken with food, so I had a few mouthfuls of rice and loads of water and lay down again. So far my body was behaving itself, but I was drained.
In the afternoon, I spent an hour or so sorting through photos in the computer room before I spun out again – but thankfully it passed after 5 or 10 minutes, allowing me to upload some blog and get some air outside.
Tea came and went and I just couldn’t risk it, sticking with the Docs orders of “drink 3 litres of water TODAY”.
630pm and the second dose of hot brown liquid was downed, not pleasant at all, followed by a stroll round the school with the camera to shoot Caroline attempting to milk the cow - hilarious! Now I’m definitely not drinking anymore tea – the cow is milked at the same time the calf is suckling and so to our horror, we saw that the bucket contains calf saliva aswell!
By the time dinner time came I was feeling heaps better and ate enough to take the next set of tablets. We went to bed pretty soon afterwards, feeling much better, but with my stomach still gurgling, I don’t think I’ve ever been more nervous to fart in all my life!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Day 10 – Monday 20th August

Woke up at 5am in severe pain: stomach cramps, nausea and dizziness.
We watched the sunrise (which wasn't that great due to the thick cloud hanging along the horizon) before housekeeping arrived with our morning tea at 7am. The next hour was magical despite me feeling horrendous - a warthog came and then the monkeys returned, stealing sugar from right in front of us and attempting to get into our tent by pulling open the side window mosquito netts which were attached with thick velcro! they had clearly done it many times before.
At 830am we really didn't want to leave and I was nervous about leaving the proximity of such a luxurious toilet for a 3 hour bump car ride! but we could not afford another night and could not ask Wilson to skip work either.
Caroline started her day with a full English, whilst I opted for sipping water continously in the hope of flushing out whatever bug I had picked up. We settled the bill, bought a few items from their gift shop and ventured down to find Wilson and the car.

I spent the drive back sleeping and praying I would not hurl in the back of the car, or worse... have to make a short call in the bushes.
On arrival back at the lodge around 12:30pm, I crawled into bed under 2 duvets where I stayed for the rest of the day and night, wretching, shivering, sipping water and sleeping.

Additions to sighting list;
Hadada Ibis
Ross's Turaco
Common Duiker

Day 9 – Sunday 19th August

A lodge worker arrived with our tea basket just before a very cloudy dawn.  So we got up, washed, dressed and headed down to the main lodge, excited about a mornings trek through the African bush on horseback.
By 730am we were saddled and ready to go; Caroline riding Dabra, me on Samasung and our guide, Nicholas, riding Ballycat with our picnic breakfast in a rucksack on his back.
The ride was fantastic and I was shocked at how close the zebras and game came to us even though we continued to chat away in normal voices. Even in a vehicle I 've never been able to get near to Impala or Zebra and yet on a horse, they don't seem bothered at all. It took a few scary canters to get back into the swing of riding, but by 9am I was thoroughly enjoying it (although I can't say the same for my arse!).

When we returned from our ride at 11am we were told that a troop of vervet monkeys had gotten into our room/tent and pretty much trashed it - housekeeping had done their best to clear everything up, but when we got there we discovered that they had chewed through the toothpaste, eaten the good bacteria tablets, torn the cover of my wildlife guide and snapped all the cigarettes in half and thrown them over the balcony!

Unfortunately due to the lack of sunshine, there was also no hot water available for a shower, so I managed a cold one and Caroline decided not to bother. My arse was in agony and I had bruises all down one calf (despite wearing chaps) - only one thing for it.... a bottle of number 9.... Nederburg Chardonnay.
After another glorious 3 course lunch, we took our aching muscles and remaining wine back to our tent to chill out and have another go with the binoculars. A totally chilled afternoon.

Sighting list;
Vervet Monkeys
Yellow Baboons
Topi
Reedbuck
Impala
Defassa and Common Waterbuck (pictured)
Bushbuck
Burchell's Zebra
Warthogs
African Grey Hornbill
White-Bellied Bustards
Helmeted Guinea Fowl
Starlings (irridesccent blue and purple - need to look up proper name)

Day 8 – Saturday 18th August

We were up nice and early but unfortunately our chef wasn't; she had gone out with the other volunteers last night to the nightclub in town and was still in bed, Resty was not impressed, but she gave us a bunch of bananas to take with us and we left just before 8am with Wilson driving his beat up Toyota Corrola with the cracked, blacked-out windows and cardboard flooring. We wondered whether or not it would even make it. Turns out Wilson is Amon's brother, but sadly he does not speak the same level of English as Amon. We got 15 minutes down the road before we remembered that we had not padlocked our room. After some discussion, we decided it was best not to draw attention to the fact and simply hope no-one noticed. It's not really that we don't trust them, but more that the lodge staff know we have a large amount of equipment still in our donation cases and the temptation may just be too much. So we decided to leave it and hope for the best - as our friends in Australia would say... "if they steal something, they clearly need it more than we do".
After just over an hours driving to the other side of Mbarara, we reached Sanga and turned off the tarmac road onto a very potholed dirt track leading to the Lake Mburo national park. Another 13kms later and we reached the Sanga gate where we had to pay $35 US dollars per person per day to enter, plus 20,000 UGS for the car. They let Wilson go free of charge.
Another half an hour of very bumpy dirt tracks and we reached Mihingo lodge perched high up on top of the rocky ridge overlooking both Lake Mburo and Lake Kacheera - truly stunning.  It was 11am when we arrived and we were met by Nathan and Iddy (assistant manager). Iddy took us to the main lodge bar area while Nathan took Wilson to the drivers quarters.
The place is incredible and it's website simply does not do it justice, the views, the space, the decor and the people could not be more perfect or fitting -  a welcome change from the brats doss-house we had come from. Caroline and I tried our best to look as if we fitted in, dressed in shabby unwashed clothes and not having had a hot shower in over a week. But the simple task of having a brew was beyond both of us; Caroline managed to chuck coffee granules all over the smartly laid out tea cups and then, shortly after I had been laughing at her and saying "can't take you anywhere", I managed to do a classic comedy slip, rolling on a twig coming down the stone steps, and threw my entire cup of tea down me. The cup can only have held a couple of mouthfuls, yet I still managed to cover every item of clothing I had on, smash by back into the steps and give Caroline a good giggle for over 48 hours;talk about Karma.
A moment later as I was changing into my one remaining item of clean presentable clothing (that I had been reserving for dinner) Iddy appeared with two glasses of ice cold dry white wine and informing us that our room was ready. She is an angel.
After exploring our room in amazement, shrieking and leaping around like little girls at our good fortune, we returned to the main lodge area for a 3 course lunch of Gazpacho soup, cold meat and a range of salads, keylime pie, cheese and biscuits, all washed down with another bottle of white.... we couldn't move afterwards and retired to our room having booked a driving safari for 4pm.
Unfortunately when 4pm arrived, so had a large number of storm clouds and Iddy had received word that they were burning a couple of areas of the park which they do every year before the rains come to thin the grass. She said it would mean it would be difficult to find the animals and if we got caught in a storm, the truck is open top and so we and our camera gear would get soaked. She gave us the option of a drive to see the hippos at Lake Mburo, or another bottle of wine in the hide 40m from the watering hole at the foot of the hill. We opted of course for the wine, and Chris (the lodge manager) carried a cool box down the hill for us with brief instructions for what to do if we came across buffalo.
The session didn't yield many sightings, and most were a long way off, (Iddy's idea of 40m was clearly out of sync with ours -  we reckon it was more like 100 - 150m from the watering hole.) but it was good fun nonetheless, and gave Caroline her first real go at spotting using binoculars.
We returned before dark for blissful hot showers and a change for dinner. Thankfully my tea-soaked clothes had dried and, being a similar colour to milky tea, were passable for another night, (the same could not be said of my socks!). At this point Caroline and I had both agreed we needed to stay another night as we simply couldn't bear the thought of leaving after our horse riding trip in the morning, so Chris radioed the drivers quarters and called for Wilson to come up so we could ask him.
Dinner was divine - Stuffed peppers to start, followed by a buffet style main of chicken legs in sauce with various vegetable dishes and rice, then bread and butter pudding with custard for dessert. Needless to say we were stuffed again.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Day 7 – Friday 17th August

Two new people arrived yesterday, Catherine from Doncaster and Alex from Cheltenham. Both on gap years and both teachers. We helped them get settled by passing on what we have learnt in the last week and spent last night trying to get photos on the laptop and getting an early night. Caroline’s joint aches have eased, but it seems her stomach isn’t at all happy with ground nuts!

Teaching in the morning in P2 with Alex and Caroline trying to get the kids to understand how to tell the time. A few of them looked bored because they knew it already but the majority looked bored because they simply could not get their heads around it. I have to say, it’s not so easy trying to explain it to a bunch of 7/8 year olds when you really attempt it, and have no tools to use, only a blackboard and two different length rulers! we ended up limiting it to quarter past, half past, quarter to and o’clock, then eventually gave up, moved the benches and played “what’s the time mr. wolf”, which of course they loved! When the kids were taken off again at break time to shift bricks, Caroline and found blu-tak in the resource room and finished putting up all the revamped posters in the Baby 2 classroom (pictured). Looks way better now it’s all finished – very proud of our efforts.
 
After lunch Amon (project manager) took me and Caroline to the nearby Itojo Trading Centre where the child she sponsors lives. 10 year old Winnie turns out to be the only daughter of Amon’s cousin’s brother (surely that makes him another cousin? but I wasn’t going to challenge it). Winnie lives with her mother Harriot and her father Asaph in a shop on a dusty back road in Itojo. They sell fruit, homemade butter, vegetables, mats, coal stoves and all sorts of bits and pieces. They welcomed us in and gave us pineapple and papaya whilst Caroline gave Winnie a new school shirt and jumper, pen, pencil, rubber, ruler and exercise book – she was made up. Whilst Caroline was spending time indoors geting to know Winnie, I wandered with the camera outside and found their 3 day old goat!
I gave Harriot some soap and shower gel and Winnie’s Uncle Stephen gave us a ride home on his motorbike.

After a really quite lumpy cup of tea, we decided to pop down the road to see Patrick again and deliver the pictures we had printed of him and his dog, Obama. He was so grateful that he bought us both a Sprite at his local shop/bar. He had been working in his fields clearing the ground and cutting the grass with his panga (machete) and needed a drink himself.  We wandered home in time for dinner. Another cracking afternoon.

We are off to Lake Mburo at 8am tomorrow morning and so are going to try and get an early night (rather than join the others at the local nightclub, where they nearly got arrested last week!). We believe the lake is about 3 hours drive from here, and so we have paid for a car and driver (Wilson) to take us and bring us back on Sunday – I’m not sure I’m recovered enough yet for another ride on the post bus! We have managed to get Wilson a drivers room at Mihingo Lodge for 10,000UGS (about 3 pounds!). The price even includes 3 meals for him – bargain.

A couple of photos....

This is me with Juliette. I believe the two boys are sons of James who works here as a maintenance manager. Juliette goes to our school and they all guided us through the banana plants on their hillside opposite the lodge.

The second picture is me playing aeroplanes with Derek on the Southern hill behind the school. The children are so incredibly happy and playful, they love to take you by the hand and lead you through their homes and gardens showing you where each animal sleeps and where they do their washing etc.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Day 6 - Thursday 16th August

After breakfast (pictured) we spent the morning in the school, starting with the P3 class (8-9 year olds) with Kenneth, and then break time playing ball and taking photos, followed by P2 class (7-8 year olds), all on my own, no teacher, and no instructions! I marked their English work from the previous lesson and then set them some maths homework – ten questions – which they copied down into their books. By this time it was 12:30pm and so Kenneth said they could go home.  Turns out that the star trooper from the brick moving session was a little girl called Sylivia, who is in the P2 class (pictured). I also met a lovely quiet girl in the class called Gauda, who was using half an old elastic band as a rubber, so as they left and were walking home, I noticed they were trailing behind the other kids so I decided to quickly nip back to the room and get her and her two friends a new rubber each (thanks to Waz and Emma for the stationary donations – there are 3 ecstatic young girls who also say thank you to you).
Lunch was nice (pictured) and traditional; tomato rice, avocado (another gift from the villagers), ground nuts (the pink stuff that looks like vomit) and dark cabbage with carrots.
After lunch we were aiming to return to the baby class and finish putting up the revamped posters, but Caroline and I were exhausted and decided it would be wiser to get some rest to enable us to continue (Caroline is feeling achy in her joints which is a slight worry, but no fever or nausea). I slept for a couple of hours and awoke to the sound of Caroline single-handedly trying to discipline the children outside our room – a couple of the lads were bullying the other girls, one in particular called Joanne who was in tears. Caroline came in to get me, understandably stressed – where were all the other volunteers? And where were all the staff? – the place seemed deserted. I got up and went out whilst Caroline got some colouring things from the room to try and calm them all down. It worked like a charm, we told the boys they could not do any colouring as they had very bad manners and so they moved away a bit to play football.
Unfortunately shortly afterwards when it was time for the children to leave, the boys took the chance to start on Joanne again and pretty soon she came running back down the drive for safety – Caroline investigated and found the boys waiting in the bushes along the road – so she helped Joanne across the road and into the arms of a woman she knew. Hopefully she will make it home unscathed.

Day 5 - Wednesday 15th August

Some of the girls got up early this morning to go visit the refugee camp a few hours drive from here, so instead of waiting for round two of breakfast we ate a papaya we had been given and tried to get some photos off our cameras onto USB sticks for later.
One of the girls had said yesterday that she wanted to take the class this morning with an English lesson, so we decided to go paint one of the baby classrooms that isn’t being used. James got some paint and rollers for us and we were shown to a small, filthy and very old classroom on the far side of the playground.  There was bat poo all over the teachers desk, and only matting for the children. The book case was overflowing with paper, mud, wood and old books some only the hardback covers with no actual stories inside.
We gave the walls a first coat and then as it was drying we removed everything from the shelves and sorted through tidying as we went and swept the room (with hand brushes made from Ugandan reed grasses!). It looked million times better, but the paint was so thin we couldn’t really tell where we had painted. We put a second coat on and sat on the matting revamping the posters and artwork that we had removed from the walls. It was clear that they didn’t really have too many colours when they made them as most pictures were simple black outlines. Thankfully Mum had donated a big pack of jumbo felt pens so Caroline and I got to work making good use of them.
Lunch was gorgeous; rice, beans, slaw and squash.
After lunch, we tried again to blog and sort some photos, without much success. So returned to the classroom to finish. The second coat didn’t look as bad, but still pretty disappointing, so we finished the posters and left around 4pm gasping for a brew. Unfortunately afternoon tea is not delivered until 5pm, so I went to lie down for a bit and wait – but fell asleep - not good. Thankfully when I woke at 545 there was enough left for a cuppa, but the milk, which has to be heated for us as its not pasteurized, was running very low. Still a good brew, although I do miss my Early Grey.
Dinner was chips, tomatoes, slaw, plantain and gouda cheese (a treat from Denis).
Then we retired to the campfire to watch Rolex’s being made. First they make a chapatti (flour and water pancake) with carrots and onions in, then they make an omelette with cabbage and carrot in, then they lay the two on top of each other and roll up into a sausage.
You were supposed to order a Rolex earlier if you wanted one (and pay an extra 5,000 UGS), which Caroline and I didn’t – but I’m now hoping we get another chance – they looked quite good.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Day 4 – Tuesday 14th August

Eggs and bananas for breakfast again followed by another science lesson with Kenneth but with a different class where I discovered Nakatu is one of a twin! Her sister got moved in class a couple of times and appears to be quite the naughty sister.
Blessed was not at school, so unfortunately she missed out on the BTR Brakes pens that we handed out to the class – they were all fascinated with the fact that they had clickers on the end to make the nib pop-out – very amusing to watch.
At morning break time we went out to play netball again, but as I was returning with the ball, (and Caroline was showing a group of children photos of our family), Jameal came and took 42 children in total over the road to carry bricks from a supply pile, to the new toilet block they were building. When we got there Jameal simply told the children the bricks had to be moved and showed them where they were to go – about 200m inside a banana patch. It was chaos, children with bricks on heads, some of the little ones struggling to carry them, dropping them, breaking them and trekking dangerously through the banana plants on rough ground. We suggested forming the children into a line and passing the bricks along the line, which didn’t take long to organize and suddenly the kids were filled with enthusiasm, every time part of the line was waiting for the bricks to come their way, they would start clapping and laughing to indicate to the others further up the line that they weren’t going fast enough. The little trooper I had next to me was a star, she was tiny, but strong as an ox. By the time the 30 mins was up, a huge pile had been moved into position and the builders were very pleased with the efforts. So much so that when the kids returned to the lodge, Denis (the lodge Director) gave them a bottle of pop each before we all went back to class for Caroline and I to make cootie-catchers with them whilst Jameal was helping with another class. Jameal returned to set their Maths homework, but sadly, everything has to be dictated and written down as they don’t have text books, only exercise books, which means that the setting of homework took another 30 mins and the kids were late getting away.
Lunch was squash, potatoes, mushroom stew and cabbage/beetroot slaw.
We set off for Evez’s house soon after 2pm and she had prepared Matooke and ground nuts for us to eat with pineapple. She showed us all her family photos and her eldest brother who graduated from Kabale university last year in accounting explained more about the family, the situation and their way of life. Fascinating.
They gave us a pineapple as a parting gift and we left some of the printed photos of them as presents to add to their album.
We set off further up the southern hill to find Blessed’s house and deliver more photos of the games we played with them yesterday (as well as her BTR Brakes pen!). Her mother Rose was so grateful she could not believe we were leaving the prints for her to keep. We spent some time in her house playing with the children while Blessed wrote us a thank you letter with her new pens and rulers. The children sang songs for us and we shot short video clips of them which they then wanted to watch back over and over, giggling. We left soap with Rose and they all walked us back along the path to the edge of the hillside where we said our goodbyes. Such an amazing family and so welcoming. Rose understood a little English, but her 9 year old daughter, Blessed, speaks and understands much more and is in fact top of her class – the class Caroline and I were teaching yesterday.
It feels so good to give and to make a difference, but it’s also so humbling to see these kids with absolutely nothing, and yet the biggest smiles and laughter I’ve ever witnessed.

Day 3 - Monday 13th August

Eggs and baby bananas for breakfast followed by a quick goodbye at the roadside to young Sam who left today.
We spent the morning in the school, I started with a science lesson with the headmaster Kenneth before one of the students stormed into the classroom and announced she was doing some craft activities with the children, so Kenneth and I left her to it and I took some of the girls out to play netball which was fine until they started arguing about who was one whose team!
So I got the elastic out again and we had about 10 girls learning the various instructions, IN, ON, OUT, LEFT, RIGHT, TURN. They soon got the hang of it and before long break was over and Jamil (another teacher) called them back in to lessons. I joined Kenneth’s class again since he had moved to the next room where Caroline had been marking work earlier. Nakatu, a young girl who had been playing netball with me, was also in there and so pleased to see me. It was an English lesson.
Following lunch Caroline and I went into town again on a boda boda to get new sandals (my flip flop blisters made netball agony with all the dirt and grit on the floor!)
We put more photos in to be printed at Imani’s this time of the family on the southern hillside, and attempted to kill time at an internet café (which must be the only café that doesn’t serve any kind of food or drink!), Caroline managed to successfully log on, and just as she started to type, the power went out – so we abandoned the idea and returned to collect our photos and another boda boda home – they are excellent fun and a nice way to dry the armpits in the heat.
After dinner (rice and beans), Ollie arranged a poker game for everyone, 5,000 UGS to play and the game started with a 500 UGS minimum bet, which quickly turned into 5,000 as the night worn on. I lasted quite well, considering 11 people started, but Caroline managed to come second only to Neil in the end, a tense and impressive finish for a beginner. Neil walked away with the 55,000 pot and Caroline got her stake back.

Day 2 - Sunday 12th August

Five people left the lodge today - Michelle and Ruth, Laura, Joy and Kat (Irish), and to be brutally honest I wouldn’t mind a few more moving on too – specifically the spoilt gap year kids who are not only lazy, but rude and spiteful – ok so I don’t really fit the mould, I don’t like litter louts, I don’t wear the latest fashion and I don’t have a problem wearing socks with sandals (mosquito protection), but there’s no need for people to be so openly bitchy. Tears and minor paddy over, we had breakfast and went off exploring. This time we chose the southern hillside and climbed to the top of the “mountain”, escorted by Joshua (a 14 year old lad from one of the houses at the start of the hill) – it took us almost an hour to reach the top, but the view and the peace was incredible. We could hear the gospel singers at the funeral already in full swing, and food preparations were well underway as we could see Joshua’s sister set off carrying plantain on her head to contribute. Joshua went back down the hill to water his animals leaving Caroline and I to spend a peaceful time sitting alone admiring the view and the voices.

On the way back down the mountain, we stopped at Norway’s house and taught the children to play elastic and airplanes. Norway was sick and lying on the grass outside the house, so she said she was not going to the funeral, but it seemed most of the villagers in and around Ruhanga would be attending – so we would at least know a few people.

We left Norways and as we passed by Evez and Joshuas house again on the way back to the lodge they invited us for food and drink on Tuesday afternoon. Evez was very excited and said she was looking forward to preparing something special for us to try.

In the afternoon we walked with Denis to the local funeral held at a house in the hills. The old lady who died was an ex councilor and so the event was bigger (and longer) than usual, but interesting nonetheless. The body is placed in a coffin the same as British funerals and flowers are placed on top, but the coffin sat in the garden of the son’s house where a PA system and marquee were set up. Hundreds of people turn up and food is provided by all the villagers donations. The house being on a hill meant that the hillside was covered in yet more attendees who listened to proceedings (mainly singing and speeches) from various members of the family and other villagers who knew the lady. Once all speeches were finished, the coffin was carried down the hill to a hole that had been dug in amongst the banana plants – the crowd follows, clambering over the ploughed ground between the trees and surrounds the hole. Most can’t see what’s happening, but Denis explained all to us whilst his friend took Caroline’s camera in closer for us – the coffin is lowered in and flowers placed on top whilst prayers are said and another song sung. Then the male villagers pick up about 15 spades and each of them shovel for a few seconds before passing the spade to the next male. The hole is filled and a mound created within no more than 5 minutes it was incredible to watch. More flowers are placed on top of the mound and the crowd climbs back up towards the house for drinks, food and chat. At this point we were greeted by all sorts of people wanting to shake our hands, say thank you for attending and ask questions about our work here.  We didn’t stay too long, but walked back down the hill where Denis’ friend was wiaitng to give us a lift back to the lodge.


Dinner of chips, liver and coleslaw, was followed by an evening of writing journals, drinking wine stashed from the plane and nibbles. Another awesome day.

Monday, 13 August 2012

check me out - 3 posts in 1 day!

Caroline and I got up about 730am after our very poor first nights rest.
Breakfast was made after a very hung-over Nita staggered down from her banda demanding eggs on toast from a member of staff - I was mortified, Nevian (Lodge staff lady) was on her hands and knees clearing cigarette buts from the lawn at the time. I started to help her by picking up the empty beer bottles that littered the place and Nita went back to bed to wait for breakfast – the behavior of some of these volunteers is appalling. The staff are not here to clear up after us and it made me quite angry and embarrassed. So after breakfast of eggs, tea and bananas we decided to leave camp and go walking. No school on Saturdays.
So we loaded our rucksacks with camera gear, water and miniature soaps collected from hotels and set off up the hill over the road from the Lodge. In amongst banana trees we followed a trail leading up through the villagers plots and very soon were surrounded by children all wanting to hold our hands and say hello.
“Agandi” is a greeting of the Ankole tribe which is similar to our “hello, how are you?” and is usually met with big smiles and “I’m fine” in perfect English even from the tiny ones.
At the first house, we met a guy making bricks. He is building a new house and needs 10,000 in total. He makes every brick by hand! We spent some time with his family blowing bubbles, taking photos and catching avocados that he threw down from the tree in his garden for us.

The children from the first house (Tracy, Juliette and others with names I can’t pronounce) followed us for the next of hours as we visited house after house on our climb to the top of the hill.  Also at the top, we met Patrick - Ex Ruhanga Lodge English teacher and now working in another school down the road. We took pictures of him and his family and promised to return with prints for him as soon as we could. He was not impressed with Mzungus coming and taking pictures and not giving them any - they think we take them home and sell them!

Came back to the lodge for lunch at 1pm - basic but nice.

In the afternoon we both got on the back of a Boda Boda taxi (motorbike) into town (Ntungamo) which cost 4,000UGS (about 75p), to get some of the photos printed for Patrick. A few interactions with the locals and we found “Imanis” a photoshop where the lady printed our images from SD cards for 500 shillings each print (about 15p) a small price to pay for the look on their faces as we went back up into the banana hills and gave out the prints. The only problem was that when we had taken the photos earlier, all the subjects were in the same house, socializing, but when we returned, they were all back in their own house dotted all over the hillside, so a young girl called Arrin helped us locate them all by looking at the photos – exhausting work!

We had a lovely peaceful dinner on our own as everyone else went to a restaurant for a last night meal for the 5 volunteers who were leaving the next day. Beans and rice with hot cabbage and stashed red wine from the plane.
Wrote our journals all evening until the power went at 915 just as some of the others returned (apparently their meal was awful!), so we ended up going to bed at 930pm which is no bad thing as far as I'm concerned! What an incredible first day – met the locals, learnt some new Ankole words, hitched a ride on a motorbike and got invited to a local funeral tomorrow!

ps

the internet access is slow diabolically slow that there is no way photos can be uploaded - the cursor cannot keep up with the keyboard, let alone redraw the screen in any sensible amount of time.

Arrival and the first night

The place is absolutely nothing like we imagined. When we first walked in, there was a “banda” (An African Roundhouse) on the left with two girls sunbathing on the grass outside; Sarah, a young traveler from Cardiff and Nita a half-caste (can you say that these days?) from London. They had traveled separately, but met on the bus from Kampala a little over a week ago. They seemed friendly enough and to our amazement invited us clubbing in the evening – the last thing we imagined we’d find in this remote village of Ruhanga was a nightclub!
Further into the compound we reached a central area where more girls were sunbathing, reading and chatting and I have to say it was more intimidating than the bus ride had been – but we were shown to our dormitory and decided we’d wash, change and unpack before introducing ourselves to the group.
Our room has 4 beds (2 singles in an L shape and a set of bunks). There is a shower on the wall in one corner above a cold water tap and 2 buckets. A hole in the bottom of the concrete wall allows the water to drain out. There is no toilet, no sink and bars where the windows would normally be. The metal door has a huge hole in it in place of a handle and a sufficient bolt to be able to padlock it shut. There is a kettle, a light and an electric 4 way, but intermittent power.
Caroline got straight to bed exhausted, whilst I had a cold shower and headed out to meet the others and have some tea and chapatis with jam.
The group are ok, very young and all female except for Sam and Ollie. A mixed bag of independent confident travelers from all over the UK, Ireland, and one from America. There is also a 9year old called Fraser who is the son of Erica and Neil who are English but currently living in Dubai. Both are in their mid 30s, making Caroline and I the oldest volunteers in the group. We weren’t expecting to be amongst so many volunteers, we think there are between 15 and 20 here at the moment, we also weren’t expecting school to have finished over a week ago. We were told that our first week would be school term time and our second would be summer camp – so instead of feeding porridge to 400 children, we have only 50-60 to deal with. However there is still plenty of work to do.
The group spent most of the evening by the campfire playing a drinking game whilst Caroline and I pretty much crashed out after a dinner of chips and something similar to coleslaw. The group arranged lifts into town (Ntungamo) for 1030am to go clubbing – but we were both dead to the world by then.
They managed to wake us up when they returned at 3am though and continued partying on the grass right outside our room until 530am which wasn’t welcome at all. We’ll get them back in the morning.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Finally got internet access - albeit slow - here is the journey so far...

Spent the day at work until Mum and Caroline collected me at 4:15pm - let the adventure begin!
The journey to the airport felt just like any other, not really excited or nervous just an airport trip like any other for work - but when we arrived and waved Mum off, it suddenly became real! We were going to Africa, and I couldn't wait.
We had 3 hours at the airport until the plant took off, so decided to do a bar crawl of the lounges - Caroline had not been to BA's Terminal 5 at Heathrow before, so we started in the South lounges with food wine and nibbles before heading over to the lounge at B gates for Baileys, Bloody Mary's and Rum.
We boarded the plane on time, but unfortunately a couple of people had checked their bags in but failed ot turn up at the gate, inconsiderate gits, so we were delayed an hour on the tarmac whilst their bags were retrieved and removed from the plane. Once we were finally airborn, we quickly became chilled (pissed) and happy (ridulously excited). Dinner was served, wine was stashed and giggles were had. The eight and a half hour flightwas a mixture of micro sleeps, random questions, lots of giggling and a soggy tuna sandwich for breakfast!?!. We touched down just after 8am in Entebbe airport and joined the visa queue which was remarkably quick and easy. $100 US dollars lighter we were formally in the country and searched the crowds for our names on a board.
No name board in sight, we headed outside, where Godfrey was waiting for us - such a relief, all was going to plan.
Godfrey took us in his jeepand we loaded up all 4 of our suitcases and left on the main road to Kampala the capital, stopping first to change some money. Within the space of 15 minutes I had become a millionaire when $500 turned into 1,100,000 Ugandan Shillings!
The 30 minute drive to the central city bus depot was an eye-opener for sure - not too many traffic lights, no roundabouts and zero lane discipline. We eventually made it to a chaotic and busy bus station where a Kibale-bound bus (the only one leaving that day) was full to the brim and about to leave. It was 930am, Godfrey worked his magic and managed to get us and all our luggage on the bus with help from two of his friends who assured us the driver now knew where we were going. We were the only Mzungus (white people) on the bus - in fact the only Mzungus we had seen since leaving the airport - and we got the distinct impression that the two standing Ugandans had been turfed out of their seats to make way for us - seriously shameful feeling.
I found a seat next to a 23 year old girl who was going to Kibale for her cousin's wedding and Caroline was squashed on the end of a row with a young single mother and her 12 week old baby called "Peace" and another bloke on his way to Kibale. The bus was hot, smelly and jam packed full of people, luggage, groceries and bananas. Knowing we had at least 5 hours on the bus we were no longer particulary excited! However, we set off with windows open and very soon the smells were flushed out and it became quite chilly.
Many people slept while others chatted or listened to the incredibly loud radio blaring out above our heads. An odd guy calling himself "Dr Bride" clambered the aisle almost preaching about Ebola, faith and Uganda and dishing out menthol medicated throut sweets before we left the city centre and entered lush countryside and things quietened down.
There were a few stops along the way during which people would thrust barbequed meat on skewers and chapatis in clear plastic bags up to the windows - we finally stopped for a "short call" (pee-stop) after about 2 and a half hours  - not a moment too soon as far as I was concerned. We both clambered over the baggage wedged in the aisle much to the amusement of the locals who were clearly thinking... look the Mzungus are going to go too! Thankfully we had read about these stops and were suitably attired in long skirts... however in hindsight, we should have ditched the knickers to make life easier (and dryer in Caroline's case!).  I have to say I've never experienced anything quite so imtimidating, funny or bizarre as that short call. We were walking towards the scrub and could feel a hundred pairs of eyes burning into the back of our heads, but desperation meant we had no choice. 30 people, men, women and children, all squatting randomly around us with not a care in the world  - they were everywhere, in full view, males and females mixed - there was no hiding at all... "just get on with it" I told myself. So Caroline and I, side by side, manouvered ourselves into position facing the bus but partially hidden by long grass. Im not sure whether it was the amound of time we had been holding it for, or being surrounded by complete strangers, but to our horror, we both got stage fright - nightmare. Not now, please - we knew we had another 3 hours o nthe bus at least - we had to get it done. Eventually after a major balancing act, a soggy patch on Caroline's skirt and endless giggling, our mission was accomplished - and just in time too - we had barely made it back to our seats when the bus was off again, bumping over potholes and veering from side to side through endless banana plantations and grassy swampland.
The recent rains had washed so much of the road away in places, that sleep was impossible... we'd drop off and 5 minutes later we'd be woken up as we hit another mammoth pothole and were catapulted towards the roof! The bus journey was long, tiring and uncomfortable, but I don't think either of us would have missed it for the world - a top experience indeed.
When we drive through Mbarara, we telephoned Denis, the manager at the Lodge, to tell him we were on a blue bus and should be arriving within the hour - he said that although he wasn't going to be there to greet us, people were waiting for us.
Sure enough the plan was perfect and within hlaf an hour we were saying our goodbyes to our fellow bus travellers and humping our luggage out of boot number 2. Restee, a Lady working at the Lodge, met us along with Sam, another volunteer from Cheltenham. We'd finally made it, it was 415pm - exactly 24 hours since our departure. Shattered, hot, and smelly - but very happy. The place is more beautiful than we imagined and as remote as we had hoped.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The Journey - August 9th-10th

Spent the day at work until Mum and Caroline collected me at 4:15pm- let the adventure begin!
The journey to the airport felt just like any other, not really excited or nervous just an airport trip like any other for work - but when we arrived and waved Mum off, it suddenly became real! We were going to Africa, and I couldn't wait.
We had 3 hours at the airport until the plant took off, so decided to do a bar crawl of the lounges - Caroline had not been to BA's Terminal 5 at Heathrow before, so we started in the South lounges with food wine and nibbles before heading over to the lounge at B gates for Baileys, Bloody Mary's and Rum.
We boarded the plane on time, but unfortunately a couple of people had checked their bags in but failed to turn up at the gate, inconsiderate gits, so we were delayed an hour on the tarmac whilst their bags were retrieved and removed from the plane. Once we were finally air born, we quickly became chilled (pissed) and happy (ridiculously excited). Dinner was served, wine was stashed and giggles were had. The eight and a half hour flight was a mixture of micro sleeps, random questions, lots of giggling and a soggy tuna sandwich for breakfast!?!. We touched down just after 8am in Entebbe airport and joined the visa queue which was remarkably quick and easy. $100 US dollars lighter we were formally in the country and searched the crowds for our names on a board.
No name board in sight, we headed outside, where Godfrey was waiting for us - such a relief, all was going to plan.
Godfrey took us in his jeep and we loaded up all 4 of our suitcases and left on the main road to Kampala the capital, stopping first to change some money. Within the space of 15 minutes I had become a millionaire when $500 turned into 1,100,000 Ugandan Shillings!
The 30 minute drive to the central city bus depot was an eye-opener for sure - not too many traffic lights, no roundabouts and zero lane discipline. We eventually made it to a chaotic and busy bus station where a Kibale-bound bus (the only one leaving that day) was full to the brim and about to leave. It was 930am, Godfrey worked his magic and managed to get us and all our luggage on the bus with help from two of his friends who assured us the driver now knew where we were going. We were the only Mzungus (white people) on the bus - in fact the only Mzungus we had seen since leaving the airport - and we got the distinct impression that the two standing Ugandans had been turfed out of their seats to make way for us - seriously shameful feeling.
I found a seat next to a 23 year old girl who was going to Kibale for her cousin's wedding and Caroline was squashed on the end of a row with a young single mother and her 12 week old baby called "Peace" and another bloke on his way to Kibale. The bus was hot, smelly and jam packed full of people, luggage, groceries and bananas. Knowing we had at least 5 hours on the bus we were no longer particularly excited! However, we set off with windows open and very soon the smells were flushed out and it became quite chilly.
Many people slept while others chatted or listened to the incredibly loud radio blaring out above our heads. An odd guy calling himself "Dr Bride" clambered the aisle almost preaching about Ebola, faith and Ugandaand dishing out menthol medicated throat sweets before we left the city centre and entered lush countryside and things quietened down.
There were a few stops along the way during which people would thrust barbecued meat on skewers and chapatis in clear plastic bags up to the windows - we finally stopped for a "short call" (pee-stop) after about 2 and a half hours  - not a moment too soon as far as I was concerned. We both clambered over the baggage wedged in the aisle much to the amusement of the locals who were clearly thinking... look the Mzungus are going to go too! Thankfully we had read about these stops and were suitably attired in long skirts... however in hindsight, we should have ditched the knickers to make life easier (and dryer in Caroline's case!).  I have to say I've never experienced anything quite so intimidating, funny or bizarre as that short call. We were walking towards the scrub and could feel a hundred pairs of eyes burning into the back of our heads, but desperation meant we had no choice. 30 people, men, women and children, all squatting randomly around us with not a care in the world  - they were everywhere, in full view, males and females mixed - there was no hiding at all... "just get on with it" I told myself. So Caroline and I, side by side, manoeuvred ourselves into position facing the bus but partially hidden by long grass. I'm not sure whether it was the amount of time we had been holding it for, or being surrounded by complete strangers, but to our horror, we both got stage fright - nightmare. Not now, please - we knew we had another 3 hours on the bus at least - we had to get it done. Eventually after a major balancing act, a soggy patch on Caroline's skirt and endless giggling, our mission was accomplished - and just in time too - we had barely made it back to our seats when the bus was off again, bumping over potholes and veering from side to side through endless banana plantations and grassy swampland.
The recent rains had washed so much of the road away in places, that sleep was impossible... we'd drop off and 5 minutes later we'd be woken up as we hit another mammoth pothole and were catapulted towards the roof! The bus journey was long, tiring and uncomfortable, but I don't think either of us would have missed it for the world - a top experience indeed.
When we drive through Mbarara, we telephoned Denis, the manager at the Lodge, to tell him we were on a blue bus and should be arriving within the hour - he said that although he wasn't going to be there to greet us, people were waiting for us.
Sure enough the plan was perfect and within half an hour we were saying our goodbyes to our fellow bus travellers and humping our luggage out of boot number 2. Resty, a Lady working at the Lodge, met us along with Sam, another volunteer from Cheltenham. We'd finally made it, it was 415pm - exactly 24 hours since our departure. Shattered, hot, and smelly - but very happy. The place is more beautiful than we imagined and as remote as we had hoped.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Almost finished the packing last night before Caroline and the nieces turned up, fresh from the campsite (but not smelling that fresh). So with the littlest in the bath, Caroline and I ran over some of the final details of the trip and I think we’re pretty much covered – apart from Caroline’s SLR camera not having a charger, a spare card, or any auto-focusing at the moment!!
Although Uganda is on the equator, the Ruhanga project is high up at 1500 metres so the evenings will get quite cold. I have packed a fleece and a waterproof jacket as well as some warm socks, but couldn’t fit the waterproof trousers in, especially after now deciding to take a large towel with me, (I might regret this decision), but I’m certainly looking forward to the nightly campfires that will be burning away the mossies,    …talking of mossies, I started taking the Yeast / Vitamin B1 this week too, tastes foul and repeats a little (well quite a lot actually), but if it works I don’t really care.
I’m currently sat in my hotel room in Krakow (Poland) in slight disbelief that the 500 or so days we had to plan this trip since deciding to do it are almost up – and in 48 hours’ time we will be wandering Heathrow at the start of either the most amazing experience to date, or complete madness setting in. For me Africa has always held a prominent place in my heart – it’s a magical, mysterious, breath-taking and occasionally frightening place, steeped in culture, traditions and obscure religions, all providing huge fascination for a closet Animist like me.
I often wonder what became of Emelia Ngwenya and her family (I'm holding her baby brother David in the picture). She was the first child I sponsored when I was just 15 years old. Sadly a few years after visiting her in her home village in the Masvingo district of Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe made it impossible for the charity to stay in the country and they were forced to leave. Sometimes I wonder too whether it’s all worth it. Is it better for Emelia to have never known what she could now be missing (clean water, school lessons, medical supplies)? Is ignorance really bliss?

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Killer virus kills 14 people!

The Ebola virusOk so the news wasn't great from Uganda this week...
A few weeks ago in Kibaale (300kms North East of Ruhanga but still in the Western district), a number of people were found to have died from an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-19048998

Since then 14 people have died (some of them children) and most of them from the same family, when the virus spread at a funeral and was then passed to the health workers who were treating the patients.  The BBC reported that "President Yoweri Museveni has urged people to avoid physical contact, after the deadly Ebola virus claimed one life in the capital, Kampala."
Since we will be flying into Entebbe and then going into Kampala bus station to catch a bus out to Ruhanga, I have decided to wear gloves during the journey to avoid appearing rude and not shaking peoples hands.
There is unfortunately no cure or vaccine for Ebola, but some googling of alternative (homeopathic) remedies has revealed that the venom of a particular Timber Rattlesnake is known to be effective if taken immediately... Knowing the ease with which viruses seem to seek me out and munch through my blood cells (and remembering all too clearly my frightening episode with Malaria), I decided to order some "Crotalus Horridus" in tablet form just in case - you wouldnt believe how hard it is to get hold of in the UK due to ridiculous shipment and advertising laws that have been handed out by the EU. I only hope it arrives in time - 8 days to go! 
Click here for Tuesday's BBC News update