Monday 5th December
I was up early to visit St Stephen’s Hospital in Mpererwe so now I’ve done a full circle and I’ve ended up where my visit started. I stood at the fuel station reading my book and waiting for what seemed like ages before Gonzago, their driver, arrived to collect me. Another trek through the traffic delayed us somewhat and I wanted to call in at Katalemwa Cheshire Home as six of the wheelchairs I had ordered last year were still undelivered. Peter, the driver, was to collect them on his way back to Kumi on Saturday but only three of them were ready. I wondered if my visit would speed things up and that they would be ready very soon. The only consolation is that the price has rocketed and, as I had paid for them, I would get them at the old price.
Then I met the new Chairman of the Board of Directors of St Stephen’s Hospital and I am sure that his appointment is a positive step towards improved leadership. The Dentaid surgery has been installed and I saw Javira, the dental officer, treating a patient. I asked him what he liked best and he was not slow in saying that the biggest improvement was the chair! The small hospital seemed busier and so let’s hope that they will soon be increasing their patient numbers.
Back in Makynde Hill all I had to do was to tie up my cases with the tethering ropes made from the sisal plants, say my good byes and thank you’s and leave for the airport.
Another year which, on reflection, has gone well. I’ve learnt a few things from some experiences such as the Uganda Revenue Authority and I am sure I will be able to cope better with the next encounter with a snake. It’s been special to be with the Kumi Hospital staff, the plastics team, Helen, my families and students and, of course, my favourite, the children with disabilities.
Sunday 4th December
I woke to torrential rain and wind and, on looking out of the window, it reminded me of our camping days in SW Scotland. Matthias, his children and I set off for Kampala city centre where we were going to do some shopping and have lunch. We parked in a big shopping mall, Shoprite, went up the escalator and into a huge eating complex where we were surrounded by waiters all wanting to choose from their menus which piled up on the table. Fortunately, Matthias knew how to order and we had some Liberian, Indian, Turkish and Italian food all of which needed paying for separately. Noah wanted a book from Aristoc, the book shop which sells all kinds of goods, and I wanted to go to Banana Boat for a few small items to bring home. How civilized it is in Kampala except for the traffic! Then it was to the bread shop for some wholemeal bread and then even to an Italian ice cream parlour where I indulged in 2 scoops of chocolate and vanilla ice cream. Two months of abstinence of everything tasty made me appreciate these delicacies so much. It was Rebecca’s birthday on Monday so Matthias had ordered one of the most delicious Black Forest gateaux I have ever tasted. I really was back in the big wide world now! The next port of call was to the White Father’s Church where the German contingency was holding the second Sunday of Advent’s children’s service. We had readings and carols in candlelight and the lighting of the second Advent candle. It’s difficult to realize that Christmas is just round the corner when the sun is so hot.
Saturday 3rd December
Time to leave for another year and will I make it here next year? I hope so but I know that the project will be able to continue in my absence. It was fond farewells to Anna and Grace and thanks for looking after me so well and to the 4 Dutch medics and I know they will not forget their Kumi experience. Hanneke and Ouke were coming with me with their Dutch friends, Patrick and Amanda, to spend a weekend of luxury in Kingfisher Resort in Jinja before going to the Customs at Entebbe for, hopefully, a less stressful experience with URA than Sheilagh and I had. They had forgotten their money so we hadn’t got as far as Kumi Town when we turned round and I was back in the hospital. Time to inspect the fuel-saving stoves and there they were all lined up and drying after which they will be ready for the attendants to use. I’m very happy with this project but it does need the annual inspection and encouragement.
Four hours later, we left the others at Jinja and Peter and I continued to Kampala and, once again, the traffic was terrible. A pothole in a short cut we had thought of taking forced us to turn round and join all the other vehicles which had been thwarted as well.
Finally, we reached Matthias’ house and my luggage was once again unloaded. Now I was back to civilization and European food but no power which is very bad especially when I was used to solar power in the Guest House. I never go far without my torch and, once the light was too bad to see, I crept under my mosquito net and wrote up the last few days of my diary, an opportunity which evaded me so often in Kumi. I forgot many episodes I would have liked to record but I see that I am on page 50 and that’s long enough. I must mention Naomi, a young nurse from Kumi, who was working in Bombo with her husband and who went to a Kampala hospital last week to deliver her baby. She had a Caesarian section and died due to vomiting. The atmosphere within the hospital and surrounding villages was filled with grief and sadness. As is the custom, her body was brought up for burial at her home the following day. The husband and baby stayed away because he had not paid the complete bride price required before the marriage and he feared the consequences. A tarpaulin was erected for shade at her parent’s home and the coffin was laid out from morning to evening. Many people attended to pay their last respects before she was laid to rest.
Friday 2nd December
An early start to go by boda boda at 7am to the Kumi Mission Catholic Church to photograph the vestments which Sonia Boleman’s Parish Priest had kindly sent from Devon. Before this, at 6.30am, I heard a slight cough outside my window which heralded a visitor. It was Margaret from my HIV Women’s Group who wanted me to deliver letters to friends in UK and to talk for as long as she could but I needed to get ready.
Then Janet arrived, also from the group, with groundnut paste for me to take and I knew that today would be a day of visitors. James picked me up and I took my last boda boda ride to town for this year. The road was busy with women carrying bundles of firewood on their heads, three children rode on a sled being towed by two yoked oxen on their way to collect grass for roof thatching, a man carried a bed on the back of his bike and another seven large clay pots wrapped in netting and for sale for keeping drinking water from the borehole cool in the huts. Women and children were hoeing up their potatoes in their gardens, chickens and goats were scurrying across the road narrowly missing the bicycle’s wheels. Many lorries laden with sacks of crops topped by farm workers came along the road at precarious angles and I was expecting any one of them to topple over as they traversed the deep potholes which does happen all too frequently. Men were shouting loudly with words of encouragement and whipping the oxen ploughing the fields. In fact, the scene is constantly changing and it is totally fascinating to watch whilst riding along with the wind in your face. James dropped me off at the Mission where I attended an English Mass and, at the end, I was asked to introduce myself. Afterwards, I took photos of the two priests in their vestments, one purple and the other white. They were so happy with them. Although invited, I couldn’t stay for breakfast so I left them and continued on to the bank where I met Harriet. We had some business to do and we were kindly helped by Pius who is Florence’s son who was educated by our fund and has done so well for himself with a secure job in Centenary Bank. He looked so smart and is most professional and would certainly not be in this position without having had a little help. Now, I had nearly forgotten to buy the family with the progressive neurological condition some sheets and two radios as I had promised so we trudged through the market and managed to buy sheets at greatly increased prices from last year and two radios at £10.00 each. We couldn’t delay as we were waiting for the Mbale man from the garage regarding the shock absorbers so we returned on James’ boda boda (they wait for ages for you). I stayed at the GH to continue with my packing interrupted by several visitors and the pile of mail and gifts was increasing steadily. I needed to return to the hospital to ask the Workshop to get out two wheelchairs for me to take to CoRSU Hospital, and whilst there, I did the rounds of the departments saying “good bye, see you next year!”. Another cycle ride back to the GH with more packing and a pleasant surprise with the arrival of Fr Charles, the brother of Berna who is staying with us in UK at Christmas. She is doing a Masters in International Human Resource Management at London University and will be the only student not returning home for the holidays. I have learnt that she is being funded by the District Council for whom she works. I was hoping that no one thought it was me! Then I was summoned to the hospital by the Hospital Administrator to meet this garage man who was half a day late due to it being Friday and him being a Muslim who had to pray. He agreed that he had not fitted new front shock absorbers and tried to make excuses. Following a rather heated discussion, I asked him to return on Wednesday with new front and back shock absorbers as well as bushes and to replace them to compensate for our inconvenience. We will have to wait and see if he comes up with the goods. Next I had asked to see Lydia, one of my team, who is employed full time for the hospital but works during hospital hours on Wednesdays for Dr Ekure in his new hospital. I really find this unacceptable and I told her straight that she couldn’t remain on my team if she was going to be absent from Kumi Hospital when she should be there. What she did out of hospital hours was not my business. I had, earlier in the day, had a meeting with Dr Ruth, the Medical Superintendent, who had written to Lydia but there had been no response so she gave me the backing to take action. Lydia has until 1 January to decide. I regret having to do this as Lydia is the key player in the team but we have to have complete trust in each other.
Back at the GH, visitors were queueing up with black caveras with the usual nuts and paste as well as flour, eggs for Chris, cakes baked in saucepans, more letters and much more. It was most embarrassing and like a mini Harvest Festival. We ended up having quite a party on the porch until my supper was ready and I announced that I had to go in. My final supper with the four Dutch medics, Hanneke and Ouke and their two Dutch friends and Dr Eric and Dr Chebet, the weekend locum. Afterwards, they had planned a game of UNO which sounded a great way to end my stay so 11 of us sat round the table and Sarah brought in a surprise behind her back. They didn’t know what to give me and they seemed to get the impression that I was rather partial towards a Bell’s beer! So a most entertaining evening followed with so many laughs over the game and diversions from our already alternative rules making it more hilarious than ever. That was the end to my packing with the finishing touches to be continued in the morning.
Thursday 1st December
Home visits with Martin and Michael but this was to be my last Morning Assembly so I was duty bound to attend and say goodbye. Hanneke and Ouke had a couple of Dutch friends staying with them so there were welcomes and farewells. After this was over, I found Antony Edonu, one of my boys, who had come with a letter for me to bring home for his sponsor and also his report to show me. He has been promoted to Senior 4 which is a relief. It’s always a pleasure to see him as he is so grateful for his assistance. There would be no way he could be educated as his parents were both killed by the rebels. I had another photo to take of the eye apparatus which came in the container. Power was off and so I couldn’t take a photo of it working but at least I have proof that it arrived. I then cycled home to wait for the transport and I found Cecelia, Modesta’s daughter, waiting for me to give me letters of thanks, one for the bicycle and one for the solar light which I had been given last April. I am collecting so many letters to send to so many people in UK as well as Christmas cards that it will take me some time to sort these out.
The vehicle arrived and today the other two Dutch medics were joining us (Sarah and Anna) on the last day of home visits for this year. We were to review families I had assisted in the past and first off we saw a CP boy whose mother needed some advice regarding positioning of the child in sitting. He would also benefit from a wheelchair and we have distributed many of those which came in the container that I can see the pile disappearing before too long. At the next home, we found a 6 year old CP girl who was sitting on the ground, peeling cassava towards herself with a large sharp knife making us cringe in fear that she would cut herself. She too was promised a wheel chair! There was a litter of many piglets standing to attention in a row in front of a row of sisal bushes making a nice picture to photograph. Then we delivered a chair to a teenaged CP boy whose face lit up with joy. My two “old” boys followed and I hadn’t seen them for a few years but we remembered each other well. Their cow had multiplied and, over this visit, I am delighted in the way the past animal projects have benefitted the families. Michael had promised we would be home by 3pm but time was rolling on and we needed to check up on the post polio lady as I hadn’t seen her on her tricycle. She hadn’t been able to give a contribution towards the cost of the tricycle but I had told the driver to deliver it anyway as her need was greater than the amount she had to pay but today she handed me 30,000/= (£15.00), her contribution and how difficult it was for me to take it from her. She was so happy to be mobile as now she had the choice of riding or crawling and we found her on her knees weeding her sweet potatoes. Now off to my two girls, Rose and Mary in Kasodo who had been given a wheelchair each. Their brother, Sam, had an excellent report and was to be promoted to Senior 4. Their brother, Max, will soon be in his final year of University and it crossed my mind that, perhaps, when he has graduated, Sam could be helped through his A-levels. We will wait and see! Now there was no chance for me to be home by 3,4 or even 5 o’clock and I was due out (yes, yet again!) at 5pm so I had to phone to say I was at least an hour’s drive away. A very quick shower and change of clothes and, exhausted, I stepped over Anna sitting on the back door step saying I had come to Kumi for a rest and here I am with no energy left. “You didn’t come here for a rest,” she said firmly. “You came here to work!” so that was me put in my place! I cycled to Paul’s modest staff quarters, the young CP man who keeps the physio department well in control, where he lives with his young wife and their two youngsters. One is 2 and the other 3 months old. Paul had been told by many that he shouldn’t have children as they would be disabled like him but, happily, they are perfect and very bright. He has given me a photograph of his graduation so here is another of my successful students of which I am very proud! I sat down to dry tea and ground nuts and, as time passed, I realised that I shouldn’t presume that supper would follow and that it was time for me to leave. I knew that finances were tight but their home was sparsely furnished and I think they hadn’t one shilling to rub against the other but he never complains and is always thankful for his job. A Dutch film crew is arriving next week and Paul has been selected to lead the crew around the hospital and to take them to his village. He is the perfect choice and will excel at the task. I had had no lunch and I had told Anna that I would be out for supper. The others had left a few spoonsful of rice and half a spoonful of cabbage so I spiced it up with Ugandan tomato sauce, English mustard and ground pepper, the last two being from UK and it was surprisingly disguised as quite a tasty meal. By now, people had come to say good bye to me and the pile of ground nuts and paste and letters was mounting up. I had decided to start my packing and I was doing well when the light bulb sizzled and went out leaving me in the dark. I fumbled around for a while but gave up and went to bed.
Wednesday 30th November
Why did I ever mention the end of the wet season and the start of the dry season? I was only quoting someone else and they were surely wrong. Everywhere is very wet and there are even floods in areas.
I still haven’t completed many of my tasks and today I was determined to catch up with a few. Firstly, Chris had asked me to photograph the new tree plantation and so Henry, the old tree foreman, and I set off on our bicycles along the narrow tracks and through the farm, an everyday occurrence for him but, for me in my Wellies, it was precarious and I soon fell way behind him. I had difficulty knowing which track to take but we finally met up at the tree plantation where 5,500 gravelia trees were planted in August. I don’t know what I expected but I was disappointed to see an apparently barren field stretching to the horizon until my eyes became accustomed to small green twigs sticking out of the ground at regular intervals. These were the trees I was to photograph and I hope they will be visible. I thanked Henry, bade him farewell and continued with my next photographic assignment, that of Chris’ trees which, in comparison, are impressive if rather few in number. They are taller than I am and maybe this is as much as we can expect in less than 3 years.
Now, I was to meet Alex who deals with many of my schoolchildren in my absence, making sure that school fees are paid, the school text book programme continues and that the children with disabilities manage issues such as transport home, medical bills etc. We discussed the issue of Lawrance, an athetoid cerebral palsy teenager who attends Kampala School for the Disabled. I find it hard to believe he has achieved Primary 4 level and we must consider further ahead for his future as he will not be able to be employed nor be independent. We decided that we would slowly build him a permanent house in his village thus enabling him to live comfortably and maybe start a small business selling items such as beans and flour. The house would be a small 2-roomed basic structure with iron sheet roofing costing a few hundred pounds spread over the next few years. We were pleased with our progress and Alex is happy to continue with his responsibilities. Then I had a meeting with Harriet who also is in charge of some of my children in my absence. We discussed the future of our outreach team which has become the main area of my work and we decided that we must meet with the Hospital Administrator for his views. We had other issues including that of the vehicle which had been serviced recently and we had discovered, following Sunday’s puncture, that the supposedly new shock absorbers were in fact the old ones repainted! This led on to other issues and the meeting with Charles was lengthy but fruitful. We were to meet the garage manager who supposedly installed new shock absorbers but we know otherwise on Friday. Now it was time for me to change quickly into my African dress and to cycle to Akurut’s home for the compost to be judged. Members of the HIV group slowly ambled along carrying their entries in black caveras, samples were removed and I tried to look very knowledgeable about such matters in order to select 1st, 2nd and 3rd entries. Some had too much grass still unrotted which suggested to me that these members started too late to have it ready in time, others were too claggy whilst some were crumbly and were shortlisted. The next part was difficult so I had to take the plunge and decide on a winner who was delighted to win the first prize. A second and third were chosen and all entrants received a T-shirt (I still had a few remaining from the container). Those who had not submitted a sample received nothing much to their dismay and they came up with excuses which made me more resolute to stand firm. We then discussed the next stage and it was decided that they would use the compost to grow crops of their choice and that these would be sold and the income deposited in the group’s account. The accrued sum would be the basis for a further competition in 2012. The women had brought with them their goats which have doubled in number in spite of some deaths due to a disease which has been rampant throughout the region. I was about to take my leave thinking I would get away without being given a meal but, no, I was ushered into the mud hut and presented with a full spread of food. I had said to Anna and Grace that I would be eating at the Guest House, a rare event these days, as this was to be an evening in and one to look forward to but I had to phone and say I had already eaten. Farewells said, I had promised to call in to Modesta’s to see how her back pain was progressing. There she was sitting on the ground with her granddaughter cradled in her arms and many children playing around. Her room is no bigger than 8 feet square and all 10 of them sleep somehow and poor Modesta crawls under her husband’s bed to sleep. I had given her my cockerel which I had received from Peter (see Monday’s entry) and so this was to join them along with the hen and its 5 chicks. She is the caretaker of the bird so it is still mine! There is a small window with no glass as well as all their bags of crops, their entire wardrobe for 10 people thrown over a line suspended across the room, the clay water pot which keeps the water cool and their worldly goods of which there are few….and they are happy in spite of their struggles. (Or are they?) Soon, a table was put before me with an omelette, a plate of rice and a mug of African tea for me. I had already eaten one meal but try I must to be polite. The eggs are always so fresh and tasty unlike those back home in the supermarkets. As I had cancelled my supper I felt unrushed and able to relax until I reluctantly took my leave and was escorted back to the GH by the children who chattered away. They are looking forward to Dr Grace’s return and one little girl announced, “Grace likes to laugh a lot!” A lovely comment! I did, however, have another task to accomplish and that was to judge another women’s group’s competition which was handmade items saleable in Europe. I passed this onerous duty on to the others in the GH having supper and left it to them. Sadly, the number of entrants was only two so selecting first and second prizes was no hardship but they wanted to know who would get third prize as they had more than one item entered. [The sequel to this is that on Friday, two teachers brought their entries which were equal in quality to the first prize not knowing about the closing date on Wednesday. I bought these from them and asked the winners to give me theirs and I am to bring them home to see what profit, if any, I can make and give it to the group.]
Tuesday 29th November
My last Tuesday and, as usual, my first visitor was Moses, the blind boy, who came to collect the third and final box of the Braille Songs of Fellowship. The Dutch medics had left one of their omelettes so he gratefully tucked into a tasty breakfast. He delivered a Braille letter for Sheila in Darlington and another for Pat who had previously sent him some shoes. Two of the Dutch students were to come with us to our outreach clinic and so we soon set off for a lengthy journey far north and beyond Obalanga where I had visited a few years ago when the camps were in full force. That year, I saw hundreds of mud huts spreading far into the distance where thousands of internally displaced people lived in extremely distressing and squalid circumstances. Many of these people have returned to their homes as the rebels have left to enter the Congo. The huts have, on the whole, collapsed but the people are still incredibly poor and neglected unlike the Ugandans in the south of the country. We reached the Health Clinic to see a vast mass of people before us, some potential patients but many who came out of curiosity as a visit from the big outside world is surely an event not to miss and our arrival had been announced on the radio. We set up our clinic in a small room and shared it with the clinic nurse whilst the eye clinic was next door in an equally small room. We divided into two teams and started to assess the children. I was doing well with my diagnoses of a hydrocephalus child with an enormous head and malnourished body, three cleft palates and a burn contracture and passed over those whose complaint was not immediately apparent to me. Halfway through, Jolyne, (spelling?) one of the Dutch girls, wanted to go to the loo so we both waded through the long grass to the pit latrine. On opening the door, flies flew up from the pit like bees from a hive so we quickly shut the door and decided to squat behind the latrine out of view of 75% of the world and not caring about the other 25%. We screened so many children until all had been seen and the people had dispersed. There is always a mobiliser, a person who announces the clinic through the churches and schools, and today she was the deputy head of a local school. I had taken my last bag of football shirts together with a football from the container which I presented to her and for which she was very grateful. The drive back was so long and we finally arrived home at 10.30pm. I have advised Harriet that clinics must not be held so far away from the hospital in the future as I am unsure if the patients will be able to afford to reach Kumi. Often the hospital bus takes and collects but not on a regular basis.
Monday 28th November
After dealing with some hospital issues, Martin and I set off on his motorcycle to spend the day making home visits to some of my families I have known for years. Our fist boy was new to me, a CP of 7 years who was inside his hut presumably naked. The mother quickly dressed him and sat him on a grass mat for us to assess. It became evident that this boy was bright and, although unable to use his arms and legs functionally, he did manage to hold a crayon and make meaningful markings on paper. Our plan developed into providing him with a wheelchair and then encouraging the mother to have him admitted to the primary school. He may get no further than Primary One but this is better than staying in the hut each and every day. I wanted to see the mother of the late Peter who had his legs tied to keep him from wandering off. However, she had gone to the market but I was pleased to see that she had finished the roof of the hut which we had helped her with and the compound looked tidy. On to Peter whose 5 year old son, Moses, had been one of “my boys” for a couple of years. I had given Peter money for a couple of chickens and these had now turned into a bull and a cow which had calved, 3 goats and more chickens so the outcome of this project is as good if not better than I could have ever expected. He had also planted 40 improved orange trees which were starting to fruit. We could see that Moses had improved and could even pull himself up as though he wanted to stand so here was another child needing parallel bars. The father and Martin had soon cut suitable branches with the panga, made holes in the murram with a hoe and erected the parallel bars tying the separate pieces of wood together with stripped grasses. Moses was helped into standing and, after a few lengths, he could manage to walk up and down unaided and he found his own little method of turning round. Their faces were incredibly happy and how this child had changed from the malnourished, under-developed toddler we had found only a few years ago. The father sent a boy to catch a chicken which was presented to me in gratitude for what had been achieved. It was not just any old chicken but a splendid cockerel with iridescent plumage. How proud I was to tuck the bird under my arm and ride off on the motorbike to the next home. The day continued well with visits to Charles,the boy with arthrogryposis, who sadly had malaria so we couldn’t do much there but we did see the cow which we had supplied last year and its new calf as well as the orange trees which Martin had bought for them. He showed the father how to hoe the soil around each tree to make a saucer shape and then cover with dry grass to catch the rain and to prevent evaporation. Another child belonged to a very sad family with both parents HIV positive and with 9 children. The drunkard father often beat the mother who would leave and then return and so the years passed with a new baby every year. We discussed family planning with them and we encouraged them to attend the clinic at the hospital so that, at least, their family would stop increasing. We could feel nothing but dejection as we rode off armed with another gift, this time a couple of pumpkins. A few more families and we were ready to return with me carrying a heavy cockerel, 2 pumpkins and also a bag of maize. I was going out for supper so I had to be back in order to have a quick shower and then to walk to Francis Okerenyang’s home. The hospital road seems to get longer by the day and I was pleased when Matthias, the hospital electrician, stopped and I jumped on his bike and rode side saddle into the dusk and none too soon because, as soon as I arrived, the heavens opened and I was sheltered in their brick house with iron sheeting roof. I sat next to 3 large sacks of raw cotton and 2 of groundnuts, their cash crops waiting to be sold. When the rain is heavy, there is no opportunity to hold a conversation and so we sat in silence being deafened by the noise. Not only this, but the sun had set and darkness was upon us so we sat in the dark unable neither to see nor speak. A strange situation and I did wonder what I was doing there. The daughters were doing the cooking and doors would open but I couldn’t see what was going on. Someone came and sat on the floor cradling a baby and then a man entered. I knew both but had to be prompted in order to greet them in the usual fashion. Soon the room was occupied by several people all still sitting in silence but able to see each other due to their excellent night vision. It seemed an age before supper was brought in and, as I had been expected the night before, I think the same food was served up or cooking in these atrocious conditions may have made serving hot food impossible. The rain fortunately ceased and I was able to take my leave and be taken home on Moses’ motorbike.
Sunday 27th November
My team certainly deserves a treat for all their splendid work over the year and they wanted to visit the Sipi Falls and today was the day. We planned to leave at 8.00 am and Paul kept UK time and arrived at the Guest House at precisely that time. Florence was next and it wasn’t long before we were piled into the Land Cruiser with the rest of the team to collect in Kumi Town. Unfortunately, some of the team were on African time and it wasn’t until 10.30 that we finally set off. So frustrating for those who were ready on time! I told them that, if we do this again, then the vehicle would be like an aeroplane and it would set off and late-comers would miss out. I don’t think this would make the slightest difference however! So finally we were off for the day’s outing and the refrain of “The day we went to Bangor” came to mind but it would have been a little silly to burst forth with this song. The first 15 miles went well and then….we got a puncture and, by the time we stopped, the tyre was ruined. What could we possibly do? The spare was like glass and we were about to ascend a mountain. If I hadn’t been there, they would have sent for a hospital car for a spare wheel but then they wouldn’t have been going into the hills so the situation wouldn’t have arisen. I ahd just given Ruth the money to buy a cow and so I asked her to return it so that we could continue to Mbale on the spare and buy a new one. The next part of the sage was tedious and so I won’t bore you with the details but we set off once again at 12.30 after an 8.00 start! Should be continue or abort the day? The consensus of opinion was to continue and, by this time, I was so peeved that I turned to Paul and asked him to pray. He started and then told George, the driver, not to pray as one always closes the eyes when doing so. George said he would peep through one eye and so the prayer was said and a perfect day followed. We drove up a steep, winding road through beautiful scenery stretching far into the distance way beyond Kumi and the lakes and northwards towards Sudan. The vegetation is very different from Kumi with plantain plantations in abundance and square mud huts with chillies drying on the roofs The coffee beans were laid out on the road side for drying and the slopes were planted with hundreds of cabbages. Sipi Falls is the main tourist site of this region but we saw no other muzungus (just me). We arrived at a car park and walked up to the entrance of a lodge where bandas (mud huts) could be hired for 50 dollars per person per night. We looked round one which was 350 dollars per night for up to 7 people and the team were mesmerised at the luxury. The Sipi Falls were in full spate and could be viewed from the comfort of the bed. Lydia had to have her photo taken perched on the edge of the bed and again up on the mezzanine floor. Will this be the place for a weekend retreat for us next year? NO! I had no intention of ascending the hillside as I have been before and it is steep and so I had decided to stay with Paul who has a disability but Florence was recovering from a broken ankle and so I had the choice. I couldn’t resist the challenge and so the rest of the team set off armed with sturdy bamboo poles for support. Our guide reassured us that the paths were not slippery as there had been little rain but my opinion was somewhat different and I couldn’t maintain my foothold (walking boots were definitely the order of the day). A young lad appeared from nowhere and took my hand to pull me up. My first reaction was to refuse but I was soon more than grateful to accept his help. We were over 6,000 feet above sea level and this was my excuse for frequent rests to get my breath back. Although cool at this height, my hair was dripping with sweat and any lesser mortal would have returned to base camp. We continued up the slippery slopes and over rickety bridges until we could suddenly hear an almost deafening noise. The first waterfall we encountered cascaded noisily over the cliff top above crashing down into a pool below and causing a most refreshing spray. We could walk behind the water and enter a manmade cave where I presume people had lived in bygone days. The guide told us an amusing story about a hyena, a cow, a goat and a sheep and was obviously used to entertaining the tourists. We continued away from the falls where we could hear each other speak once more, through coffee and banana plantations and past square mud huts with pretty gardens which we were presumably supposed to admire, take a photo and then the owner would have appeared from nowhere demanding money for the photo but I was the only one with a camera and I was aware of this practice. At this point we had the choice of descending or continuing upwards to the base of the highest waterfall which we decided to do. The ascent was not so steep and we soon saw a most beautiful cascade of water and a rainbow to complete the scene. This time, we were drenched and refreshed by the fine spray. Back at the car park, we voted to continue along the road to a town called Kapachorwa where we found “Noah’s Ark Hotel for VIP’s only” so we decided we were indeed VIP’s and we entered and ordered a meal. Fortunately, I had taken a pack of playing cards and also UNO which kept us well amused while we waited for our supper to be served. The evening ended much later than we had anticipated and we drove home with the skies being lit by constant lightening and we forgot about all the earlier inconveniences and decided that the day’s outing had been most successful.
Saturday 26th November
The start of the weekend and a busy schedule lies ahead. Ketty, the schoolgirl who disappointed me last year by failing her exams called early with a letter for me and to ask me to reconsider my decision to exclude her from my education programme. She sat humbly and contrite and I decided that, if her Senior 4 results were good this time, then she could apply for a nursing course and let me know if there was a possibility for her to be accepted. At 10 am, James, now my regular boda boda boy, came with his uncle’s car to take Florence and me to Soroti for a day with her family. The journey went smoothly (apart from the potholes) for a couple of miles and until we ran out of fuel! The car ground to a halt and I feared the battery would fail from the incessant attempts to start the engine again. No fuel was the cause so James jumped on the back of a passing cyclist into town and soon returned with a litre Coke bottle of petrol. Problem solved and the rest of the journey was fine. Florence’s son, wife and baby daughter live in Soroti in accommodation within the engineering works area of the town. We parked the car and walked through a passage between two workshops with sparks flying from the welding, hammering and general clatter going on before entering a small courtyard in which there are 8 families living. They cook and launder in the common area and the children swarm around by the dozen and I wonder how they manage to survive but this is their way of life. Not easy! I waded through the washing on the line, removed my shoes and entered a small room filled with overlarge upholstered chairs, a coffee table and a TV. Twelve of us somehow managed to squeeze into the room where we drank a soda before Florence and I left to visit her mother in their village in the bush. What a contrast to town life. Here the most obvious difference is space with room for all. Florence’s mother is an old leprosy sufferer and lives completely alone in this remote spot. Again this is what she is used to and it’s apparent that she is happy. Although we were not going for lunch, she had slaughtered a chicken which she cooked on an open fire with some rice and greens which were duly packed into a basket for us take to the town house. Florence and I sat inside the local “church”, a thatched barn-like building next to her mother’s home, eating groundnuts and drinking African tea whilst the cooking continued and the thunder roared overhead. On returning to Pius’ home, even more of us sat on every available surface to enjoy our lunch whilst the TV churned out loud gospel music from the religious channel and conversation was zero. But it was lovely to see the family again with Florence’ daughter, Martha, who I have seen grow from a 6 year old girl to a 16 year old young woman. All too soon it was time for farewells and we set off to Kumi still on the same few litres of fuel which I thought may not last the journey. Neither did James as we stopped in a trading centre and he shouted to a shopkeeper who took the Coke bottle which was filled with petrol. James, seemingly, had no intention of returning the car to his uncle with a drop more in the tank than when he collected it in the morning!
Friday 25th November
If I remember rightly, it was on this day last year that the snow arrived in UK and so let’s hope that the weather is kinder in 2011.
Some days here, I get terribly confused with plans. Today was Adesso Sports Day Part 2 and Sam said it was to start at 9.30 am. That was fine but he had invited Hanneke to the games which were to start at 3.30 pm and so I phoned Sam for confirmation. Yes, the games started at 3.30 but what about 9.30? I asked and Sam confirmed that, yes, we were to start at 9.30 but that was his plan unknown to me that I was to visit his village! Now this entailed an hour’s motorcycle journey along the main road and this, I hate especially after so much rain. But what could I do as his family would have done much preparation for the visit of a muzungu? Thank goodness I didn’t know the night before as I would have slept badly. The appointed time arrived, I put on my longest skirt which would allow me to get on and off and sit astride the bike with a modicum of decency and my helmet, said a prayer and we were off. When the actual time comes, it’s not so bad as the build up beforehand and I quite enjoyed the ride, slaloming round the potholes and moving over to what we would call the hard shoulder as the fuel tankers, 40 foot Maersk containers and heavily laden trucks bound for Sudan almost brushed our shoulders. Then we turned off at Mukura and drove for seemingly miles before reaching his village where many tiny tots appeared like magic from nowhere. Introductions over, I was ushered into a freshly cow-dunged mud hut where I was to have my meal. My hands were washed and a most delicious meal was laid before me; dodo, ebor, atap, sweet potatoes, cabbage, rice. The flies prefer the food to the cow dung and so I shared my meal with very many as they buzzed from dish to dish. After lunch, Sam showed me round his orchard of improved orange trees, a project which produces a good income for the family, before we mounted the bicycle with me carrying a large bag of very large oranges and sped off to be in time for the sports day. I transferred my mode of transport to my simple bike and rode over the airfield to the school. The netball started with Steffie House playing Elizabeth House which ended in a draw. On to football with Richard House playing Elizabeth House and the players showing great talent as they kicked the ball barefooted from one end of the pitch to the other only to be thwarted by the skills of both goalkeepers. Elizabeth House won 2-0 and then it was the turn of the volleyball players who have won national competitions and even a match against Kenya. A couple of years ago, we gave them tops and shorts with the school name and the player’s number printed on the back and ever since the school has gone from strength to strength in sport. The score here was Thomas House 2;Steffie House 1 and so the final total for the day was somehow inconclusive and the netball teams were to have replays. The teams lined up for their “gold” medals on red, white and blue ribbons (bought from Wilkinson’s in UK ) to be draped round their necks and everyone returned home happy after an afternoon of friendly camaraderie.
It w A quick change of clothes for me before I jumped on the boda boda to join Consolata in town for supper at Green Top Hotel. We continued our conversation from where we left off a few weeks back after I had just arrived and we continued until time for us to leave. The rain had returned and I arrived home very wet and bedraggled and also tired after a long and eventful day.
Thursday 24th November
The entry for today will be short as the day was uneventful. It started with a sleepless night for me and I think the decaffeinated tea I have is not so caffeine-free after all as, although I was very tired, I failed to close my eyes for hours and I woke ridiculously early. George was also tired as he had been on duty and had been called out for emergencies during the night but he is never down-hearted. After he had driven us to town, he remembered that he had forgotten to pick up Martin and so he had to go all the way back. I walked through Kumi Town, renewed my modem, bought some lollipops and a Daily Monitor to read about the latest on the oil corruption before he reappeared with Martin. We had far to go; up through Soroti, on to Otuboi and then we branched off along a very pot-holed track with the vehicle often at an angle of at least 45 degrees and me wondering how far it can tilt before tipping over. Windows had to be closed as the bushes were thrashing the windows and, if left open, the strangest insects would enter along with leaves and twigs. Leaves of many different shapes and colours often turn out to be insects in disguise and always make me jump as I try to remove them. On arrival, we set our clinic up under the mango tree, gave our introductions which are translated for the people and then saw the clouds gathering and darken. A decision was made to move inside and how wise it was as, no sooner had we picked up our heavy wooden chairs, than there was the ominous plop, plop of large rain drops. “Inside” was a bit of a joke as there were no windows nor doors in the classroom we entered and I was soon soaked and I wondered how the children coped each day the rain blew in. We moved from wall to wall as the wind changed direction, the thunder crashed and the rain showered on us and we soon felt so cold and wished we were in sunny Uganda! Inclement weather always deters people from attending a clinic and so it wasn’t too long before the queue was over and our day’s work was almost done. On leaving the classroom, we saw two men who had been waiting for us in a shelter but, being post polio paraplegics, they had refrained from crawling across the mud to see us and so we could easily have missed them. They requested tricycles which would transform their lives. Their wish would easily be granted and, once the tricycles were delivered, their lives would be changed. .Now we had to splodge across a squelchy sports field to reach the car, start the engine and turn on the heater. But the rain continued and the journey home led us over difficult roads and through the floods. Lorries leaned at perilous angles having slipped and slid off the road ending up with their wheels half-submerged in mud and their load looking as though there was no way it would stay in situ. We arrived home and the rain continued and the rain went on and on into the night. How wrong we were to think the hot, dry season was here!
Wednesday 23rd November
Fieldwork with Martin and Hanneke joined us for what turned out to be a day of inconvenient events. As we collected Martin from his home, his wife, Josephine, heard a hissing sound coming from the wheel announcing a puncture. The spare wheel was being mended and, after a few phone calls, another driver came to our aid, the tyre was changed, a lot of mutterings under the breath about hospital maintenance were uttered and we were off again to take the tyre for repair and to fill up fuel. We decided to renew the inner tube which was well-patched but the man with the spares had locked his keys inside his mud hut and was off to get cutters to remove the padlock so that he could open his “shop” to start work. After considering leaving without a spare and deciding this was not wise, we did finally set off much later than we intended.
We started by visiting Stephen, Gabriel’s brother, and I was delighted with the progress he is making with his house which is being built slowly, slowly, over the years. He now has a roof and can sleep in it in spite of no doors or windows. He showed it to us with much pride. We continued by passing Aliasit Farm where I have spent many a day taking staff and mothers for sustainable agriculture training . I failed to go last year and I was pleased to see that all was well, the hundreds of hens had been sold and they were to start on a new batch but most interesting was the installation of a bio gas system made from cow dung which produced enough methane to light a gas burner for cooking and to light a small bulb from the one cow and two calves there at present.. We picked scumaweeke (not sure of the spelling) which is a green vegetable resembling cabbage when growing which is often served but I’ve never seen it before cooking. It must be full of iron and vitamins as it is so green and spinach-like. Next stop Ngora School for the Deaf as we had some things to drop off for Apulamera and here we met a Dutch couple who were doing their annual maintenance and renovation programme so it was good for Hanneke to meet them and they have since visited the hospital. It’s useful to increase our contacts whenever we can! We continued, passing Silas sitting at the roadside mending shoes and we gave him a wave. I wanted to check on Moses Okenyekure and here we had our second mishap of the day when the front offside wheel disappeared down a pothole and there was a resounding crash! I really thought that, this time, we would have to be towed out but, no, a hoe and a few rocks and lots of manpower did the trick and there was no damage whatsoever. Once out, we could see the extent of the hole, not large but with vertical sides and hidden from sight by greenery and a thin layer of murram. My photo tells it all. Anyway, to get back to Moses, we decided to continue with help with his house and Martin will feed the funds as and when required but only slowly. Then to the home of Sam Okirior, a stubborn CP boy who I have known for years and who we have decided to give a wheelchair and whose lovely father died a couple of years ago. We went to a few more homes where I had started a group programme with an ox and plough and other projects before finally returning home at a respectable hour as I was taking Stella and Tom to North East Villa and we were being joined by Hanneke and Ouke and Dr Eric. Once again, I have been to Stella’s home for supper so many times that I wanted to reciprocate her hospitality. For the first time since I arrived, Anna and Grace in the GH didn’t have to cook an evening meal nor did it help their income but then, for one night, it must be a pleasant change. We took 3 boda bodas into town and, on arrival at NEV, we ordered our meal which often takes some time to arrive. Fortunately I had taken the card game, UNO, and the 8 of us filled a good 3 hours of waiting playing the game. Nathan aged 10 and Joshua aged 7 managed well and there was keen competition amongst all. Finally, the meal arrived but mine was last when others were finished; a mere plate of vegetables and chips which, when they arrived, were barely cooked. I gave the manager, James, some constructive criticism but I doubt it will sink in and nothing will change. It’s always best to order well in advance of arriving but I couldn’t make a choice for others. George, the driver, came to collect us rather than go back by boda boda and we all decided it had been a pleasant evening but that it was difficult to beat the food in the GH.
Tuesday 23rd November
Tuesday usually starts with a visit from Gerard Moses, my blind friend, and today was no exception. He sits there expectantly and waits for me to greet him, today to collect the second box of Braille Songs of Fellowship. I had little to offer in the way of refreshment after his long trek through the bush and he was happy with dry bread and water. I watched his fingers sense the words embossed on the paper and listened to him sing the verses he recognized. His eyes lit up (can this be if you see nothing, I wonder) as he fingered the words of Silent Night.
Then the vehicle arrived for me and we were off for field work with Ruth today. We managed to set off promptly with a tricycle and 2 wheelchairs tied to the roof of the vehicle and many discharged patients on board enjoying a free trip to a convenient drop off point. Our first visit was to little William’s home where we had given a cow but we failed to see it last week. The mother had said they had taken it far to drink water but it is important to follow up these families and we also needed to take a photo of the cow christened Mrs Surestart to give to Helen back home. We found the boy walking up and down the parallel bars with great enthusiasm so it shouldn’t be long before he is running around unaided. The next child was a tiny 5 year old with brittle bones and he must have broken so many of them as his little arms, legs and chest were so deformed. Nothing for us to offer him but advice to the mother and a small wheelchair which may enable him to start school. I watched the two yoked oxen dragging a cart laden with grass for thatch roofing pass through the compound and reflected on how different from home with no traffic sounds and the peace only disturbed by the children and the cockerels. It was another parallel bar production day as there are so many cerebral palsy children needing just a little encouragement and support to get them standing and on to their feet and walking. We have previously provided wooden walking frames on wheels but these bars are made out of local materials and are therefore free. One father was so grateful that he disappeared for a few minutes and returned laden with pawpaws and oranges as his way of gratitude. We ended up with seeing a 7 year old boy who walked crabwise because his hip joints had been destroyed by osteomyelitis and with pus dripping from the sinuses on his buttocks and abdomen. This is when the hospital desperately needs an orthopaedic surgeon but the boy has to wait until the Dutch team comes in January. We ended up with the parents having to pay for the Xrays but the fund would pay for the surgery. It’s important that they contribute in some way as this will prove their commitment to the treatment. It was a lovely day driving through the bush and the narrow tracks but we had had no food all day except for a few roasted groundnuts and, of course, our water. The team must have been discussing their hunger pangs as they hinted about stopping at a café where we ate the other day and which was on the way home. We do need a few treats now and then and we enjoyed a welcome meal costing less than £3.00 each including fresh passion fruit juice. So we were late home but happy with our day’s achievements.
Monday 22th November
The dry season is round the corner and the temperature is rising. Up till now, it has been relatively cool but soon everyone will be complaining of the heat. The dry winds start and I wonder if I should still don my sun screen as the dust sticks to my skin giving the appearance of a deep suntan which soon washes off under the shower.
A rare hospital day starting with Christmas carols sung as hymns in Morning Assembly and then I walked up to the departments listening to the deep tones of Jim Reeves (remembered by those over 60 years old) coming over the PA system. I wonder if I am the only person in the hospital who can put a face to the singer, I think so! I was immediately shadowed by Jennifer and Joseph’s mothers who wanted me to dress their skin grafts. They say they will return to see me next year when I am here! Jennifer’s was fine and she could be discharged but Joseph’s needed supervision for a little longer. The mother is so worried that the hand will have to be amputated and no amount of reassurance will convince her that some wounds take longer than others to heal. The mothers want only the muzungu to see to their children and are very happy but this is not good and so I am asking Lydia to see to Joseph on Wednesday. Not only is Lydia most capable but I take her advice as to what I should do! Maybe the lollipops I use as dummies help. Mr Viva’s nurses used mild sedation for the children’s first dressing change but I find lollipops and a story book equally effective. The workshop keeps me busy and I keep them busy as there are always tricycles and wheelchairs to prepare for our next outreach. We are certainly getting through the wheelchairs and, even though they are not as durable as the locally made type, they are proving most beneficial in getting children such as CP’s off the ground and easier for their families to transport instead of struggling to carry them. I visited the newly renovated children’s ward to see the container mattresses on the beds with very satisfied mothers and babies enjoying the comfort and cleanliness. A long cry, indeed, from the torn and shabby specimens in the other wards. It’s good to see the container items in their rightful departments and now I can say with confidence that the task is complete. The fuel saving stoves for the hospital attendants are nearing completion and Joseph, one of the leprosy patients and trained in making these stoves, continues to sweat and slave at kneading the mud with never a complaint. I hope he is happy to have something to do. I continued with the emptying and sorting out of the physiotherapy drawers, cupboards and bookshelves, a task which I think only happens when I come. The gecko droppings were swept up by the bucket full and many papers were sorted and thrown out. It’s impossible to remove all the dust and I finally leave the hospital feeling very grubby and hot. Back at the Guest House, I decided to take things easier and rest a while but firstly, Alex, one of my many contacts for receiving funds drove up on his motorbike with a bundle of UGX to last me until I leave. We sat outside in the shade of a lemon tree whilst I experimented charging up the solar light I had been given and which arrived in the container. Alex was soon followed by Martin (CBR worker) and Stephen (brother to the late Gabriel, my dear friend) who was bearing a live chicken and large bag of groundnuts for me. It was a pleasant afternoon and all too soon for them to leave and for me to shower before leaving for my supper date at Simon Peter’s. His wife and 2 daughters were there with an orphan and I again enjoyed the evening touring the compound before darkness to see their crops and landscaping with calla lilies and a big leafed plant which makes the skin itch if you touch the leaves. I carry my gumboots always at night now in fear of snakes but SP offered to drive me home all of 250 yards in his ancient car with the Liverpool sticker on the boot lid. This car was incredibly ancient when I first came here 10 years ago and I remember well going to Soroti in it and having to disembark whenever there was a pothole as the suspension touched the ground more often than not. Anyway it started, there was no traffic to encounter and the distance was so short, and I didn’t have to worry at all.
Sunday 21th November
Now I am up to date with my diary for the first time and it’s Sunday morning with the big day in the Catholic Church but I am going to Bukkedea by public means to visit the village of Margaret, house mother of the hospital Children’s Village. There will be a full day of celebrations in the church starting at 7.30am and now it is 9.00am and I shall go for one hour in about an hour. I’m sitting on the porch with many chickens with scraggy necks and a cockerel for company. The sun has just started to shine through some clouds and I am about to pick some bourgonvillia flowers to press between pages in a book.
More on today another time….
I got no further as my phone rang to tell me that the priest had arrived on time and so I left quickly by bike. Masses are few and far between in the hospital church and this one was very special with the altar hidden by harvest gifts of all descriptions and also with babies being baptised. The choir’s singing resounded beyond the doors and windows and into the fields of crops beyond. The 4 medics had come with Hanneke and Ouke and so the white representatives were evident by their presence (and colour). The little children paraded up the aisle and sat on our knees when tired burying their sweaty faces into our chests. The Mass ended and the speeches started but not before I had taken my leave and cycled back to the GH to find Margaret (housemother) waiting for me. So we hired a boda boda which took us to town where we waited for a public taxi and waited and waited…without shade for shelter from the sun. Finally we squeezed into the back seats of a very scruffy bus (why do I always end up in the back where the potholes bump you most) and had a hair-raising journey to Bukkedea swerving at great speed from one side of the road to the other in an effort to avoid the potholes but rarely achieving this. I am always thankful to arrive at my destination but I was aware that I had to do a repeat performance in a few hours. We hired another boda boda, one for us both, and rode side saddle deep into the bush and through many villages until we reached Margaret’s village where many of her family live. Suddenly, the heavens opened and we entered one of her huts where I was introduced to many family members before a very pleasant lunch arrived. A tour of her land followed and I saw her many orange trees which are a most lucrative income generating project which helps provide funds for school fees. Then the boda boda boy started beeping his horn to inform us that he had waited long enough and he wanted to leave. Perhaps there was a football match on tv at the trading centre. Now we waited once more for a public taxi and this time it was not so frightening and I almost felt relaxed as the driver drove more considerately and slowly. It was a good day for me and I hoped the week would continue in a similar manner.
Saturday 19th November
The day started with a visitor waiting for me on the porch as I emerged from my room. Jane Florence, the new head teacher of Olelia Primary School, was welcome and I was happy to meet her at last. She had come to collect a box of children’s books and football kit plus a football for her school which is very rural and has little to offer the children. I have, in the past, supplied desks but my contact lapsed when the previous headteacher retired and so it was good to renew our acquaintanceship. After hearing all about her family, she fetched a boda boda to transport the very heavy box to the school and, at the same time, the Land Cruiser came to take me to Joy Nursery and Primary School for the Annual AGM. Chris chose this moment to continue last night’s call and I was too involved with motor bikes revving and passengers babbling so, once again, I had to abort the call. I shall have time when I reach UK to listen to his tale!
I squeezed into the vehicle and we were off to the school where I knew it would be a long day of speeches interspersed briefly by the different classes singing and dancing in their traditional ways. A Primary 6 girl stood in front of the 500 plus parents and gave an oration which any politician would be proud of. She fluffed her difficult words only once, screwed up her face for a few seconds and then resumed her speech faultlessly. The school is private and I presume of Korean origin as the Director looked distinctly oriental and Kumi University is also involved with the Koreans. There is an American theme with no expense spared, the pupils graduate from nursery to primary with gowns and mortars and certificates. Balloons festooned the church hall and it seems a far cry from the local government schools where there are no desks, chairs, books, pencils and sometimes no teachers. So the gap even in Kumi is widening between the haves and have-nots and more help is needed for the poor. You can’t blame those who can see that education is the only way forward and are willing to devote their energies and income from selling crops down to their very last shilling. Their children speak only English in the schools but Ateso is spoken in their homes so that they are bilingual thus enabling them to be able to settle in other regions of Uganda. It’s the rural peasant farmers who live so simply who will never ever have such opportunities and their children are lucky if they get an education of any sort as survival is uppermost in their priorities. These private nurseries are popping up like mushrooms and some better than others with the smaller ones charging fees of around £20.00 per year.
It was a long day and followed by lunch at 4.00 pm of rice and meat so I had to do with a plate of local rice and water. Good for the soul, I suppose! Back at last to the Guest House but not for a quiet evening as Martin and Josephine called round. Three weeks ago, Josephine gave birth to a dead full- term baby and has to return to work as a hospital sister on Monday so I was grateful that she had taken the time to visit me. We sat outside in the porch and shared a drink and banana and I listened to her tale of woe. She looks so depressed and certainly not fit to return to work. She was feeling the cold and I gave her my large kikoi to wrap round her for warmth. It suited her well but serves me as my sheet. Then Stella, the teacher from Adesso School arrived to join the small party and we stayed out until the little insects had nibbled my feet and ankles causing intolerable itching.
Friday 18th November
It’s got to be another box day as more have appeared and the Guest House is in a big mess. So I had to finally get everything sorted and dispatched to various places. The local nursery schools would get many of the children’s books: shirts donated by a warehouse which stored football kits for the workshop staff as they had been so helpful, football shirts and balls for primary schools and so I went on until there was order about the place. The truck from Ngora School for the Deaf turned up with the 6 collapsible chairs and table I had ordered from their students in the carpentry class. I like to support the school but better to make them busy at the same time. Now I was late for a day in the hospital and there was much to continue with. Samson and Agnes of the fuel-saving stove and bakery projects collared me to give me some advice on the understanding of their culture as they pointed out that I had slipped up along the way. As the bakery wasn’t working, I had asked Agnes to return the two bicycles I had provided for them but they were not at all happy about this request! We had a useful discussion about the way forward and, hopefully, we sorted out our differences with no ill feelings! We visited the shed where they were making the stoves to find the team up to their elbows with termite hill mud and grass and with sweat dripping down their bodies.
The Land Cruiser needed servicing and, as it is an essential part of my project, I wanted to reinforce the importance of keeping vehicles maintained. The nearside rear indicator wasn’t working and I was useless at sticking my arm out every time we were turning left (even when there was no other vehicle in the vicinity for miles!) much to George’s amusement. Also the fuel gauge isn’t functioning not that I feel this is of much relevance as, if the fuel level is low, there is no opportunity to do anything about it as fuel stations are in no way dotted around the countryside so you must make sure you start off the journey with enough and a little more. There is always so much hilarity in the vehicle by the staff unless they are tired when there is silence. Lydia’s infectious laugh makes me smile as she sounds as though she is about to lay an egg but, what amuses them, I know not as they speak in their local language and I know only very few basic words and phrases.
Back to my day and Joseph and Jennifer were waiting to have their dressings changed. I had my lollipops ready to keep them from screaming with fear more than pain. Jennifer’s had healed nicely and, once her malaria treatment was completed, she could be discharged. She has gained a useful pincer movement with her newly formed thumb and hand. Joseph’s graft, I am pleased to report was tons better and I was grateful for the honey dressings we had been given. I shall change the dressing on Monday and hope that he, too, can go home. I met a third plastics patient, the Reverend, who was very happy with the result of his surgery and he reported that he had no pain. Dr Apio (eye surgeon) wanted some books for her 6 year old daughter and Sr Rebecca, Senior Nursing Officer, wanted honey dressings for her daughter also 6 years who had spilled boiling water down her leg. Sr Rebecca invited me to her home for a bite of lunch and we sat down together to eat sweet potatoes and beans at 3.00pm whilst her children and others sat on the floor to eat their meal. Back at the Guest House, the Joy Nursery School bus driver, called to take a box of children’s books to Joy School and the room was looking better than first thing this morning. One meal over and it was almost time for the next when I was to visit Sam, the teacher from Adesso School. I had a cold shower, donned my skirt as I wouldn’t dream of wearing trousers for dinner at a local home, took my Wellies (snakes are still uppermost in my mind!) and went in search of Sam’s house as staff quarters (he is married to a nurse) mostly look the same. I was soon sitting in his compound on the customary low wooden chair with his two 4 year old children (maybe only Patricia was actually his) playing farm dominoes and confusing the horse (what is this?) with the ram. We could blame my wind up torch light which kept going dim. The skies were clear and so the stars were a distraction for me with all the fireflies briefly flashing whilst darting just above our heads. Chris phoned from home (Darlington) but I asked him to try again as he wanted to tell me all about his new family history updates and I realized that the call would not be brief. We enjoyed our meal before I finally bid my farewells and sped off down the road on the back of a motor bike. So I needn’t have brought my Wellies after all but best to be prepared. It’s difficult to comprehend how different our lives are here and how special it is to share a meal under the stars with the African sounds of the insects, the chatter from the houses, the warmth of the air and unfortunately the abundance of bats and mozzies and the possibility or, worse still, the probability of lurking snakes. So back at the Guest House, I came down to earth as it was Movie Night. Hanneke and Ouke had prepared a film, Forrest Gump, using their laptop, the hospital projector and a sheet. The medics had organized the food and drink and they were sipping sodas and beer and dipping home-made chips into guacamole made from the abundant avocadoes available here. Grace who works in the GH enjoyed the evening but was scared at the part of the film where Forrest Gump was fighting the war in Vietnam as she didn’t know that the warfare amongst the whites was so extreme.
Thursday 17th November
George and Lydia picked me up from the Guest House bang on UK rather than African time and we were off and away for our outreach clinic in Serere. Brilliant! We may get an early night! Half way to Kumi Town (I’m sure you know that the hospital is set away from the town by about 9km as it started off as a leprosy centre in the 1920’s) I remembered that we had left Emma, the 19 year old with the new leg behind so it was a u-turn and back to the hospital. How could we forget! There he was walking with a new prosthesis made in the Workshop and a metal stick which came in the container. How must he have felt as only 48 hours earlier he had no idea that he would ever have 2 legs! And how long would this take in UK? We had also forgotten the repaired leg for the other man. Simon Peter who had made the leg had been into town to buy new shoes for Emma and the man with the repair whose shoes had been abysmally shabby. Of course, we got delayed and our early start was a thing of the past. We passed Cecilia, Modeste’s daughter walking back from town which meant that she had walked for two hours to school and been turned back because the fees weren’t fully paid only to spend a fruitless day at home.
We needn’t have worried about the lack of fuel last night as there had been a delivery at the Shell garage but it meant we didn’t have to delay further having already filled the tank. Once we reached Emma’s
trading centre, I glanced round at him sitting in the back and saw that he had seen a friend and his face and thumbs up sign said it all. I would have come from UK to see only this! He was so grateful and strode off proudly. Then we continued to find the man with the repair and he too was very happy especially when he realized that he had also got a new pair of shoes and he cycled off with a foot on each pedal. The day was going well and we called in to Mary and Goretti to give them a bag of goodies out of the container; a crucifix, 2 rosaries plus a large wooden one and a few extras. They had to reach up to see inside the orange Sainsbury’s bag as they are so small.
Now it was time to start the clinic at a secondary school at Aluko where there were few waiting for us which is always a disappointment but we needn’t have worried as they trickled in and we screened over 70 children with all bar one having conditions secondary to malaria. I left before we were through to go with George and Amos in search of a bicycle as I hoped to give Emma a bike which he would be able to ride in a month or so when he had got used to his leg. The doors of the cycle shops were all barred and padlocked and my hopes were to no avail or so I thought as anything (almost) is possible here. A few phone calls later and one of the doors started clanking from the inside as the padlocks were released and inside there were many bikes for sale. The task was accomplished and the bike securely roped to the roof and we were on our way back to the clinic. The queue of patients had finished and we set off home but in search of 4 bags of charcoal as this is far cheaper and of better quality than in Kumi and makes the journey more worthwhile. Lydia, Harriet and I stopped at a friend’s of Lydia’s and we shared a bowl of freshly roasted groundnuts and a soda sitting under a tree in their village. Pigs scurried around, sheep grazed and chickens disappeared into and reappeared out of the mud huts. The cassava was spread out over the ground drying for storage for the dry season which we can feel is almost upon us. A most pleasant way to spend a short while after a clinic and while we waited for George to return with three bags of charcoal and a bike on the roof and one bag of charcoal inside. Now we knew we would be returning in daylight as all we had to do was to drop the bicycle off with Emma and drive back through the herds of cows as they made their way home for the night.
How lovely to have a shower before supper and to sit outside and while away a couple of hours with the local children!
Wednesday 16th November
The day started better than it ended. A second day of home visits but with Ruth this time. We were late in setting off as we had many duties to perform in the hospital. I started off with Morning Assembly and we, muzungus, had planned a happy birthday greeting for Dr Nicholas who, the night before, had told us that no one had ever wished him a happy birthday in his life. So the 6 muzungus here at present stood up and sang our good wishes to him. Charles Okular thought it would be a good idea if they took on this practice for everyone. The mother of little Joseph showed me his dressing which was oozing exudate so I renewed the dressing. The standing frame for Mary Hope and a wheelchair were tied to the roof rack. The fuel saving team wanted lunch money and all these duties took time so we left later than we would have liked. On reaching Soroti, we searched high and low for an allan key to adjust the standing frame. Ruth had been waiting for us and then we started the day by visiting Mary Hope in Bethany School. We were to attempt to stand her up in this sophisticated frame which arrived in the container. We succeeded and Mary Hope was very happy to be standing for the first time in her 18 years. What next for her? We decided to return with the frame to the hospital and Mary Hope would be admitted into the Children’s Village in January with her mother to practice together. Next, Madera School for the Blind when we distributed the sweatshirts from St Mary’s School in Richmond, N Yorkshire and delivered the Braille hymn books sent by a church in Darlington. Once more we were serenaded with a welcome and thank you song.
The very mentally disturbed boy with an equally disabled mother was next to receive a wheelchair at the Princess Diana Health Centre. I find the home of this boy in the staff quarters most unpleasant and the smell quite repulsive but that doesn’t mean we can’t do our best for the boy. He is a microcephalus and so with limited intelligence but he was well able to grin like a Cheshire cat when we tied him into the wheelchair. We made sure the mother was capable of maneuvering the chair without tipping the boy out and my fingers are crossed that he will be alright. I was relieved to leave the home and get some fresh air so we set off for the homes we had visited 2 weeks ago where Ruth had bought the cows, Mrs Surestart and Mrs MacNay (names requested by Helen when she was here). Mrs MacNay was a fine, pregnant black and white cow which will provide milk very soon for the cerebral palsy boy who was walking well between the parallel bars which Ruth had constructed out of local materials. Then we went to photograph Mrs S but they had taken her far to find water for her to drink and we didn’t have time to wait to see her. We shall return next week to complete our mission. This progarmme would have done us for the day but Ruth insisted we continue with home visits so were off into the bush for what should have been about 6km but that it was not for sure! We went deeper and deeper with the tracks getting narrower and with the bushes lashing against the windscreen, through the potholes and ridges until we wished we could turn back but doing a 180 degree turn was out of the question. Finally we reached a clearing and a family with a CP child for whom we could not offer anything constructive and then we continued while the rest of us were just too tired to show any form of enthusiasm and we still had to get back home. We did see one of Mr Viva’s cleft palate repairs which looked so good but the girl complained of pain. At last, we were making our way back and we knew it would be after 8pm when our day’s work was done. Driving through Kumi Town, we saw a long queue of vehicles waiting for fuel which meant that, by morning, the price would be sky high in order to impose rationing for the motorist so we joined the queue and didn’t get back until 9.30 by which time my supper was stone cold and I was tired and dirty.
Tuesday 15th November
Sometimes my days start early and today was no exception with Moses coming at 7am as requested to discuss the future education of Gabriel, Brenda and Leah, 3 of my children. No sooner had he left than another Moses, the blind boy, arrived and I was able to give him an unwanted omelette from our breakfast table. He was amused by the word and wanted it explaining and spelling. He took away the first box of Braille Songs of fellowship with which he was highly delighted.
Outreach field work in Serere today and after leaving the hospital we first visited the hydrocephalus and spina bifida girl we identified with Mr Viva and we gave her a wheel chair. The mother was very happy and is now able to push her instead of carry her around. Then we passed through Nyero and gave Silas, the post polio man, some materials for him to continue with his shoe mending business. We continued across the bridge where the water continues to rise and the snake birds dip and dive for their food and then through the herds of many long-horned cows which can be so stubborn as they keep their stance in the road while we beep the horn and flash the lights. Sometimes I wonder how they manage to hold up their heads with such enormous horns attached. On then to pick up Amos and we called at “Happy Days” nursery to see the cow and its calf and to receive drawings by the children and a letter of appreciation from the head teacher. We were given a rapturous welcome with the children singing loudly. Whilst passing through a trading centre, Lydia went into a shop and I stayed outside to see a young man of 19 years with one leg enter the shop. On exiting, we asked him why he hadn’t got an artificial limb and he said he had been to Kumi Hospital but the cost was too high so he did without. We suggested he got his things together and waited for us to return in the evening and then tomorrow he would have a new leg fitted and we would take him home on Thursday. It all seems a likely story if we were in UK but this is perfectly possible here. Every year I visit Mary and Goretti, the two tiny ladies with a genetic syndrome. Their tricycle (they share one tricycle with one up and one down) needed some welding and new wheels and chain so George tied the tricycle onto the top of the vehicle and the ladies clambered into the back so that we could take them out for lunch while the tricycle was repaired. The only café we could find was not the best and it was supposed to be a life time experience for the ladies. They descended from the vehicle and sat with their noses touching the table and with schoolchildren surrounding them as they are, I suppose, what you would call freaks. The food was disgusting and we couldn’t eat it so I refused to pay but my exit was barred by a black arm across the door. They would make a loss, they said but, on my part, we would go hungry and the ladies’ treat was a flop. Back in the vehicle and feeling more comfortable, we met a man whose artificial leg was broken so we said we could take it for repair and bring it back on Thursday. The workshop would be busy on Wednesday! He removed the leg and he cycled off pushing the bike along with his only foot which was shod in an almost non-existent shoe. The repaired tricycle was tied to the roof rack and the ladies were on their way home very happy with the day and, no doubt, relieved that their dining experience would not repeated for many a year if ever again. Late home as usual and just time for a brief supper, shower and bed.
Monday 14th November
The container contents must be sorted out today or the task will linger for many a day when I have other things to do. The orthopaedic storeroom was still piled high with so many boxes, wheelchairs etc that it was difficult to squeeze in. A plan was needed and so the wheelchairs were sorted out and Paul started to stencil “Donated by Kumi Hospital” on the sides. I delved deep to find the standing frames and CP chairs which had been donated by Physionet. I needed a standing frame for Mary Hope for Wednesday so I had help to assemble them and to decide which would be the most suitable. So many adjustments are possible and far more complicated than the local frames but, of course, more adaptable. That sorted, it was time to tackle all the boxes mainly full of surgical accessories and consumables. These needed distributing to the various departments or they would still remain until I returned next year. Unfortunately, for me, there were still some for my attention and so these were loaded in to the Land Cruiser and once again and after all my hard work yesterday, the GH was cluttered with boxes. The nightmare continues!
The hospital management committee had been meeting all morning and was enjoying lunch when I walked past the office and I was asked to join them. A welcome treat to have lunch and it was very good and varied. I had taken all the baby bundles into my storage room and also the smart clothes which I had been given to sell in UK but I decided to give the staff a treat here rather than sell them for little money.
I am still here as a physiotherapist and patients needed treating. Little Joseph and Jennifer needed their dressings changed following their skin grafting by Mr Viva. Joseph’s looked sloughy and I was hoping that the honey dressing from the container would be beneficial. Jennifer’s graft looked better and her thumb was moving nicely. Then an old lady of surely lesser years than mine came complaining of leg numbness following quinine injections, a complaint I am unfamiliar with but I managed to help her with an air of confidence. Surprising how useful it is to have a white skin!
Sunday 13th November
If Sunday is a day of rest, then today can’t be a Sunday! It started with a cycle ride to church for prayers. I arrived at my usual one hour late but got there early. The singing was particularly invigorating and I managed to stay till the end knowing what tasks lay ahead of me. On my return, my first visitor was Ketty who has been helped through secondary school until she failed her Senior 4 exams. She arrived with her aunt and, although it’s a long, convoluted story, my decision was to delay helping her further but I shall keep in touch with her progress. Next visitor was Sam who was most persuasive in requesting a further sports day at Adesso School over the airstrip from the GH. He has also invited me to his village and I agreed that I would go the afternoon of the sports day as this will definitely make it end on time. Darkness falls around 6.30 pm so, wherever you go, you know you will return in the light or hope to do so especially as, this day, as Sam’s village is a 45 minute pickipicki ride (ie by motor bike). Next visitor (they were queueing up!) Francis Okerenyang and he and Anna spent hours sorting out the religious items into piles for different churches (or sort of open air churches with no buildings under mango trees). The church vestments are grand enough for Rome’s St Peter’s Basilica and I’m sure the priests who are coming to Kumi Hospital next Sunday will be thrilled to receive them. A new priest is arriving in the parish and 2 priests leaving and also a priest is newly ordained in Madera Seminary in Soroti so there are many opportunities for distributing these magnificent vestments. It’s a rare event to have a priest say Mass at the hospital so it will be heaving in the congregation and I am sorry to have to miss it due to a previous engagement although I may manage the first couple of hours. So Francis and Anna were working on that category whilst I was sorting out books and baby clothes when two of Dina’s children, Evelyn and Simeon called, and they proved to be very useful. Simeon aged 10 willingly emptied and washed the bookcase which has been built up gradually over the years mainly with books I have brought out and we stocked it with new arrivals whilst Evelyn aged 14 made up baby bundles for the maternity ward and children’s ward. She wrapped a selection of vests, knitteds and nappies into a crocheted blanket or old towel or baby sleeping suit and tied thepackage with sisal string. The bundle pile grew and the baby clothes piles diminished until the task was completed. These youngsters loved to have a task other than fetching water or hoeing and digging and they worked so willingly for most of the day. The boxes were getting less and my feeling of relief was increasing. However, I had to have a break so I mounted my bike and cycled down to see Modeste whose back is no better. She was half sitting on an old mat on the floor with her many children running in and out of the door (no door, just a billowing apology for a net curtain). As ever, the hospitality and welcome was touching and no sooner had a child brought me a chair than Modeste had ordered an omelette and a milky tea for me which was efficiently followed by sharing their one meal of the day (atap and greens). I had identified a few clothes and Peter, the 10 year old, spied a pair of jeans and a white tee shirt. No sooner had he realized that they may fit him than he had pulled the jeans up over his shorts, stripped his ragged top off and donned the new one (all thoughts of cultural decency of exposing the top half of his body forgotten!) No one can start to comprehend the joy on his little face. He was so delighted and his mother beamed saying “for Christmas, for Christmas!” How utterly unfair this world is with the haves and have-nots. A little part of me is envious of the pleasure that one can experience from such miniscule events which would mean absolutely nothing to us at all. How I wish our younger generation could have a spell of experiencing the lives these families lead and the world would be a better place for sure.
Time to tear myself away and, without any hesitation, Peter escorts me back “rolling” my bike for me – so poor but so polite!
The 4 Dutch medics returned from their white water rafting in Jinja and I was soon back to my life of plenty but unable to join them for supper as atap and greens were enough till morning for me.
Saturday 12th November
A day for sleeping in but not for me! I was up at 5.30am to resume the box duty while it was still cool and dark only because I was wide awake. I needed to sort things out systematically and I soon had different piles all over the house. Fortunately the young Dutch medics had gone to Jinja for the weekend to meet up with fellow medics working in Kampala and to try their hand at white water rafting so I had the house to myself. At 11.30 after a good morning’s work, I set off in search of a boda boda to take me to Mary McAleese Secondary School where I was to join Robert, the teacher, and his family to take them out for lunch to Kumi Hotel. For 9 years, Jane has cooked for me which means that I have little time to see her as the cooking process takes many hours and so I thought it high time I reciprocated their hospitality. It’s always nice to talk with Jane and I enjoy her company. This was the first time they had ever eaten out and it was interesting to note their reactions. There were 8 of us; Robert, Jane with their 3 children and 2 orphans and me. Firstly, hands have to be washed and quite rightly so as they are always filthy from the dust and dirt. The children had never seen a basin with taps before and were fascinated by the soap machine; all things we and our families take for granted. When the food finally arrived (never a speedy process), little Susan aged 7 and Shalom aged 2 wanted to sit on the floor as is their norm while Shadrack aged 4 was happy to have the new experience of sitting on a chair at the table. I thought everything may have been too overwhelming but they evidently enjoyed themselves very much especially drinking sodas through straws and the children had plenty to keep them occupied with their new colouring books and soft toys. I gave Robert a Word Search book which he took with confidence but he really was quite clueless and failed to realise that the answers were in the back! After lunch, we walked to their future home which consists of foundations and brick walls and which will not be habitable for many a year to come. The weeds almost reached what will be ceiling height! Robert brought me home on the back of his bike and then I had a quick turnaround to walk to Dina’s home in staff quarters carrying my gum boots as I refuse to walk in the dark (in spite of a full moon) in case of lingering snakes. A vast contrast to Kumi Hotel which is far from superior but Dina’s home consists of one room about 8 feet square and in which there is a mattress, an imported chair for me and their entire worldly belongings and 3 large sacks of food crops. Inside this room 9 people manage to sleep, the very old grandmother, parents, their 4 children and 2 orphans. I had taken some books and crayons and, once I started reading a book to them, I was crowded out by so many children that I could hardly breathe and the sweat poured down me. I went outside to find one of the plastic surgery children, Joseph, with his mother who wanted my advice as he had been discharged. The skin grafts looked alright but, as they live far away, I was worried that they would fail to return for review so it was arranged that they would stay a further 2 weeks in the Children’s Village for rehab. On Monday, I shall make a splint for him so that his fingers will not contract easily again. The rain started so we retreated into the house and I was given an omelette and a Fanta as is the custom for the guest as I have mentioned before. As darkness fell, a single candle was lit and we spent a special evening singing and watching the children dancing. When they sang the Ugandan National Anthem we all had to stand at attention and then they asked me to sing the UK National Anthem and could I remember the words! They came back to me later! Little Elizabeth, named after me, crawled onto the mattress on the floor and fell asleep while Tata, (grandmother) covered her with a sheet. The candle burnt down and a new one was lit and its base melted on the old one. I had a few balloons in my pocket so these were shared out with one for Tata who enjoyed trying to inflate it but failed. I do enjoy sharing these evenings. Supper of rice and beans was served and then the empty plates removed and Dina and I spent a chatty evening whilst the children fell asleep one by one on the mattress on the floor. I donned my gum boots and she escorted me home as is the custom in the full moonlight but me with my torch scanning the ground for those dreaded reptiles. The shadows from the tree roots look surprisingly snake-like but I reached home to a quiet, dark empty house.
Friday 11th November
Morning Assembly and I was welcomed back after my container ordeal. We mentioned the fact that the date was 11.11.11 and I explained the significance of the date in UK. A day at the hospital is never an easy one as there is so much to do. The Hospital Administrator, Charles, came to inspect the contents of the container and was very happy with what he saw. He spied the red bike and become yet another contender for ownership! Everyone would like it! We took my boxes to the Guest House and I wondered how many days it would take for me to sort them out. Agnes and I had a meeting regarding the fuel saving stoves and I found the project had floundered whilst I was away as no one will work without some little money for lunch! I was very happy to see that Betty who has had the removal of a brain tumour and who was unconscious when I first arrived was in the physiotherapy department walking between two staff members. Her comprehension is good but her speech is incoherent but it is good progress indeed and there could be signs now that she will go home.
[I interrupt my diary to mention that a chicken has just been beheaded for supper! A few seconds ago, there was much clucking and now there is silence apart from what must be a very large frog which sounds as though it is belching most inelegantly from inside a crack in the concrete. I was sitting outside cleaning the rice when I first heard it just next to me.]
Back to Friday; the workshop has run out of plaster of Paris for making limb prostheses and there is a shortage of other materials so I have decided to restock the department so that patients can be treated after coming far seeking help. I also want to supply Silas, my post-polio friend who repairs shoes on the roadside in Nyero and so I added a few items to the list and Simon Peter will go to Jinja on Saturday to buy the items. I also asked him to buy a size 8 girl’s black school shoe as one of my students is wearing a pair far too small for her.
The rest of my day in the hospital was spent exercising little Jennifer’s hand which was worked on by Mr Viva. She needed a lot of encouragement and the grandmother was taught how to grease and give exercises. By the time we had finished, her thumb had a flicker of movement which was a big success. A bottle of Fanta and packet of biscuits helped a lot. We made a splint so the hand and wrist maintained a good position and I shall continue with her therapy on Monday.
Now I knew I was so tired after the week’s traumas so I returned to the GH where I was confronted with so many boxes all labeled for my attention. They had to be started on and I ventured to open but a few. How strange to find items packed anything up to 3 years ago! Where should I start? Soon every surface was covered with baby clothes, books, Braille hymn books, football gear and balls, church items, too many to mention. It became addictive to continue and I was managing to categorise everything into piles and I promised Anna that the house would be back to normal before the week was out but inwardly thinking this to be an impossible task. I carried on till quite late but, before I retired, I went outside, first checking that there were no snakes around, to experience the effect of the full moon on the trees. It’s only been a few times when the scene is magical with a strange 3-D effect of silver grey and almost daylight, not dusk nor dawn but reminding me of an eclipse of the sun. This evening was not the best but still worth viewing. Then time to climb under the mosquito net and to tuck it in all the way round the mattress.
Thursday 10th November
Now I have an opportunity to resume my reason for being here and, although I was more than a little tired, I decided to run away from the boxes and to go with the team to Kaberamaido for an Outreach Clinic. The rain continued throughout the night lashing on the iron sheet roof and making a deafening din. We passed the swamps where the water is steadily rising and I saw the fishermen in their dugouts seemingly punting over the swamp grass but in fact passing through the channels. We had bought a basin of green oranges which are so sour and I can’t understand how the local people can eat them yet they have to put so much sugar in their tea.
We discussed a team outing before I leave as I know they would really like to visit Sipi Falls where the mud slides have caused so many deaths in the last few months. I asked if they were happy and the reply came “the wanting is so strong”. Their vocabulary is so descriptive and I find myself also using the Ugandan grammar which will sound strange on my return home. We reached the clinic after a two-hour drive to find many people waiting for us and we worked solidly until we had seen the last adult with his aches and pains. Dr Lydia, as we call her, has a knack at dealing with the elderly and she takes the liberty to prescribe drugs contrary to the country’s medical ethics but I know that she knows far more about these conditions than most of the local doctors. Many children requiring surgery, orthotics or rehabilitation were identified and would be making the hospital staff busy once more. We finished earlier than usual and I casually suggested stopping for a bite to eat as we hadn’t had anything since we left at 8.30 am so we enjoyed a convivial meal in a café in Soroti before returning to Kumi which meant that I didn’t need any supper…again.
Monday 6th November, Tuesday 7th November and Wednesday 8th November
Never in what’s left of my life do I ever want to hear the word container! On Monday I had cleared my mind of any thoughts of Thursday and Friday last week and woke feeling fresh and able to cope with any challenge. But….Peter, the driver, and I set off for the Uganda Revenue Authority office in Jinja expecting a few formalities and then release of the container. After last week’s episode, I packed an overnight bag thinking it wouldn’t be necessary if I had it and we set off past the sugar cane and tea plantations expecting to meet up with Sheilagh. It was good to see her again and we shared our concerns which became more intense with every hour that passed. The nasty revenue woman nit-picked every possible aspect of our papers until Henry, our nice revenue man from Kampala, did everything he could to speed the matter along. Only another half hour and you will be on your way! How many times did we hear those words? The packing lists did not tally with the forms they received from Mombassa, had we a broken-down proof of payment for every leg of the journey, Proof of Gift form was not acceptable. Everything was wrong and it slowly dawned upon us that this could go on for months which is so often the case here.
But then, things started moving and we were to go down to the container yard, a vast compound with containers piled to the sky and ours was on the top which was probably preferable to being on the bottom. It was soon downloaded with a crane and positioned on the periphery of the compound. Behind the wall was the abattoir so you can imagine the stench which wafted over. Could we possibly tolerate this odour? We got accustomed to it or the wind changed direction but still, being around midday, the sun beat down on us relentlessly until gradually a shadow formed beside a neighbouring container and we stood erect against it taking advantage of the few inches of shade. Then, hey presto, a burly man snipped the container seal and we could see the wheelchairs inside. We were winning at last! Some of Sheilagh’s chairs were unstacked and now we could sit comfortably in the ever-increasing shadow and watch the proceedings or so we thought as they went for lunch until 2.00 pm. We asked for the lorries to be brought so that we could swiftly unload and reload and be off and away and this was, in hindsight, an error on our part because, after their lunch, the men returned to put everything back into the container, a padlock appeared and we were totally crestfallen. Back to the URA office and we waited and waited for information and action but none came. We learnt from experience from last week that at 2.30 it was time to realise that we would not be through today and plans for the evening were necessary. The nasty, obnoxious woman told us at 5pm that the office was closed, she could do no more and that she would return at 8am, the tax would be sorted and we would be away soon after. Sheila returned to Entebbe and I decided to stay in a hotel and, being very tired and fed up, I walked into the first guest house I saw and took a room. I followed a man up many flights of stairs which ascended round a central courtyard and came to room 307. I held my breath as he put the key in the door and was pleasantly surprised to find sheets on the bed. The walls were not clean and neither was the mosquito net but for £7.00 a night what more could I expect? There was a table, a broken fan and a bed which almost blocked the door to the toilet with no seat and something resembling a shower. I could wash my hands but then it was necessary to use the elbows to touch doors as everywhere gave you the impression that harmful bacteria were rife on every surface. I only had to endure 12 hours here and for most of those I would hopefully be asleep. Supper was not included so I ventured out into Jinja Main Street where I found a man making chapattis with omelette inside so I watched him smooth the mixture over the fire remembering the crepe I had had made similarly in Paris only a few weeks previously. He rolled it up in a page of grubby old newspaper and I went in search of a bottle of water in the “supermarket”. To brighten up my mood, I also bought a bottle of Bell’s beer and a carton of coffee-flavoured milk. Back in the room, I settled down to my meal but realized that my eyes were bigger than my stomach and I wasn’t in the least hungry in spite of having had nothing to eat since leaving Kumi early in the morning. I disposed of the chapatti and ate the omelette with onion, tomato and green pepper which cost 30p! I had no bottle opener for the Bell’s beer and I wasn’t prepared to remove the top with my teeth which is as it is done here so there was no alternative but to add a few more indentations to the edge of the table and, with a few whacks, the top came off. Still only 7.30 pm and the light was too poor for me to read my book. I was relating well to Alice in Wonderland as my days were as absurd as hers I crawled into bed under the disgusting mosquito net and reflected on the day’s proceedings until I fell asleep. At least, this would hasten my return to the tax office and we would be on our way with the goods. This worked well apart from the regular wailing from the many Muslim temples where each one started at slightly different times leading to a strange impression of harmonies. Then I thought of the posh people in their expensive hotels having their nights disturbed exactly as I was.
Day 2 Tuesday
Morning came and the rain lashed down noisily. I packed my toothbrush and went for breakfast of omelette and milk tea (made with all milk and known as African tea), phoned for Peter to collect me and then we were off for Day 2 in the tax office. First, though, Peter and I needed gum boots to cope with the mud in the container yard (Sheilagh came prepared) as it’s easy to get jiggers under the skin and we had enough problems already. The nasty tax woman was working on some papers but were they ours? Probably not as, by now, our dislike for each other was mutual. The hours passed and then a Jinja Rotary member appeared and we thought our prayers were answered. He couldn’t understand the delay and took us to the Rotary President’s office which deals in shipping. Why couldn’t the President have replied to our emails before the container left Boroughbridge and he become the receiver? Then I am sure all would have gone smoothly but he appeared disinterested and we returned feeling somewhat deflated.
The following events were somewhat tedious and you would get bored. I shall recount a few. On the packing list, the mattresses were named “foam mattresses” which all are here so therefore household items and taxable. We carried two up to the tax office to prove they were otherwise and I think every office worker had a feel to give opinions. She also asked for 3 boxes by number, one of which was said to contain kitchen items but, no, the numbering had gone astray and would this mean that we would have to open each and every box? Fortunately, Henry, our friendly tax man and totally working for us allowed us to do some swapping of items so that the contents tallied with the packing list. And then, we had the release papers duly stamped so we could go! Back at the container yard, lorries were called and items loaded onto the lorries and all we needed was another paper stamped. But… we needed to pay the tax before they could leave the yard. The woman was totally unco-operative and so we asked to see her boss sitting at another desk. Seated in front of this portly man, we weren’t sure what angle we should take but we had decided earlier to proceed with dignity although this was getting harder by the hour. “Are you born again?” was the first question he threw at me so I said “Yes!” with the reply “Praise the Lord” and I gave a resounding “AMEN.” Then he started on the church that he was building and how he needed 5,000 more bricks. Was this the time to suggest a bribe but we resisted the temptation? He informed us that his work had to be done according to the rule book and we would have to pay the due amount. Once again we were completely deflated and tired and we were to return the following morning. They assured us that the lorries would be guarded overnight. What were we to do as we had to find 5.5 million UGX or else we would be there indefinitely. If lateral thinking isn’t your strong point, don’t ever consider coming to Uganda! I had some euros in Matthias’ safe in Kampala so I begged him for a bed for the night yet again. Sounds easy but 3.5 hours to get from Jinja to Kampala is ridiculous as the traffic hardly moves and if it does it is too slow. Traffic lights mean nothing and it’s everyone for himself.
Wednesday 9th November
Anyway, it was nice to be with Matthias and the children and I left in the morning with 3,000 euros. Peter drove through the industrial side of the city and was stopped for having a seriously cracked windscreen which is the norm here. By 10am, we had reached Jinja and Sheilagh was already there. Her journey home was worse than ours as the van broke down until the engine cooled. Now we were back in the tax office and the woman was more concerned about which scarf to wear than getting down to her work. Henry scurried here and there carrying papers and, when we had started to discuss where we would stay for the night yet again, our papers were stamped and all we had to do was to gain clearance from the container depot which meant paying for loading, unloading, storage etc and getting more papers stamped. By this time the lorry drivers had had enough waiting and we were given a new crew. At last, it was time to bid Sheilagh a fond farewell and we set off for our separate destinations. Peter was to go ahead following the fast lorry (my load was in two lorries) and I was to follow in the slow one supposedly with the delicate items but this excuse soon turned out to be untrue as the lorry was so old that anything over a snails’s pace was unachievable. I climbed into the middle seat with the driver and co-drive either side, no seatbelt, no clutch and I prayed that the brakes would work but then, it could only go slow so that was a bonus. We passed nothing but stationary taxis, bicycles and cows. We must have stopped more than a couple of dozen times on the way, frequently to readjust the tarpaulin which was billowing like a ship in full sail and I suggested long ropes to go over the top but we conveniently had a language problem, sometimes it couldn’t make it up the hill, the police checked us about four times and told us to reduce our width (caused by wind under the tarpaulin) (a bribe of 2,000/- sufficed each time!), lunch and I decided to eat alone in a local café, several times to put water in the radiator which was probably due to the fact that there was no radiator cap and then they decided to follow a murram track saying it was a short cut so I told them to stop and phoned Peter who told them to return to the main road. By this time, I was feeling very vulnerable as I imagined them killing me and taking off with the goods. Who knows! Maybe that is what they had in mind! Then, after Mbale, things got worse when they stopped to buy waragi, the local spirit distilled from bananas and potatoes. Three times they stopped until they couldn’t speak, laughed uncannily when they went through all the potholes and had me terrified but I was there to protect the goods so I had no choice but to remain. After an 8 hour drive which Peter did in 3 hours, we reached the hospital in pouring rain and the driver fell out of the cab. I wasn’t sorry that the ground was very wet and I was so relieved to have arrived that I shouted at him to get out of my sight much to the surprise of the 7 hospital staff who were waiting to offload the goods. Some items were damaged and the rain had collected in pools on the top of the lorry and leaked through the tarpaulin spoiling some of the boxes and contents. The driver was too drunk to take heed of his responsibilities and in the end I really did lose my cool. What with him and the snake, the last 7 days have been somewhat fraught, not forgetting to add the dragon of a woman in the tax office. I had the same clothes I had left in on Monday morning which were stinking and I was too tired to do anything else but have a quick shower and fall in to bed but sleep evaded me probably through fear and what might have been.
Sunday 6th November
Today was so good. I cycled to prayers and I managed to stay till the last hymn but I should confess that I was over an hour late! Returning home, I ate a leisurely breakfast consisting of tea and omelette, explained to a young nursing auxiliary who called that I couldn’t pay for her to take a nursing course and then my friend, Modeste arrived. Her face was drawn with pain as she was suffering from a severe acute back pain. The rest of the morning was giving some back care advice, treatment and pain killers. I explained that it wouldn’t disappear and she should be patient. She also opened up about how worried she is about her family. Life here can be so hard for so many that it is hard to comprehend how they get from one day to the next. I managed to write a day or two of my diary before I settled outside in the porch to start reading Alice in Wonderland on my Kindle. It’s either that or A Portrait of Dorian Gray and I decided on the former for some light reading!
Once settled, young Peter, Dan, Ben and Emma (Emma, I think I mention every year is a boy’s name for Emmanuel) came and I felt bad telling them I was reading but I felt like a peaceful afternoon. I called them back and asked them what they wanted to hear them say that they wanted to play snakes and ladders and they played that and another game I brought, Shut the Box, all afternoon while I read. No sooner had they gone when Francis Okerenyang made a social visit until dark, the medics returned from their break in Mbale and the day was over.
But the next three days will keep you reading, I think. Heaven knows when I’ll have a moment to write it up though.
Saturday 5th November
I managed to lie in this morning and take a leisurely breakfast and sort out my room. I did some washing, scrubbed my sandals with loads of soap and my nailbrush and managed to get more up to date with my diary.
This afternoon I walked with the 4 medics to my AIDS/HIV Women’s Group. We entered the Chairperson’s compound and were greeted with much singing, dancing and ululating. The mud hut’s thatched roof was decorated with bourgonvillia flowers as was the canopy erected for the day. The event commenced with the cutting of the ribbon to enter the area under the canopy. Plastic chairs had been borrowed from the church. The ribbon was in fact toilet paper which was also used for garlands to hang the balloons which Dr Grace had sent out with me. I’m sure she didn’t intend them to be used for such as this when she thought of sending balloons but I had taken some for the children so all was well. Prayer and introductions over, the day started with lunch for the guests in the mud hut. I had asked the medics if they would be vegetarians for the day so that the members didn’t have to kill a chicken and I have to say that the food was ample and varied. The girls managed eating with their fingers like true natives even though cutlery and plates were there having been borrowed also. Drama (part one) followed where the members acted out a propaganda play about a schoolgirl dropping out of school and going off with a boy, getting impregnated as they say here and then walking back on “stage” with a large bundle stuffed under her blouse and then being tested for HIV only to find she was positive. And so it went on with members being most demonstrative and noisy especially Immaculata who was convincing in trousers and hat to take the part of the girl’s father. This was followed by a tour of their gardens to see their crops which are not the best but then there has been too much rain or too little at the wrong times to stimulate growth. We also visited the grave of Margaret Asio, my dear friend who died of AID’s 18 months ago, as well as that of her old mother who died this year. Part two of the drama followed during which some dancing took place. The medics couldn’t remain seated so they joined in and amazed the locals with their rhythms. A tiny tot stole the show though with her gyrating to the beat of the music! So much was the dancing that the drama never continued and it was time for the girls to leave on boda bodas to spend the rest of the weekend at Mbale Resort Hotel where they can relax muzungu style and take a swim in the pool.
I remained for a cup of tea and discussion on the group’s future plans. Darlington Soroptimists had given me a donation and the decision was taken that they would make a budget for the building of a small unit in Obule trading centre to house the groundnut grinder which I had given them previously. This would provide them with an income from grinding nuts to make g nut sauce used in cooking and selling them to the locals who could also use the machine to grind their own nuts. If the money was insufficient, then it was agreed that the group would sell a goat to complete the project. There was also to be a compost-making competition with judging taking place in 3 weeks. Janet then explained to others how to make compost and I left with them all eager to win first prize.
I was to attend Visitation Day at Go Standard School where Leah, one of my children, goes but I couldn’t fit everything in and so I decided to remain with the group.
A welcome quiet evening followed with time to charge my zapper, camera batteries and catch up on emails as the network is better at weekends and I ended up going to bed quite late.
Thursday 3rd November and Friday 4th November
I’d prefer not to write about the next two days but my diary wouldn’t be complete without. Peter, today’s driver for me, and I set out for Jinja at 7.00 am so as to be there by 11.00 am in order to clear the container and have them sent here. A message from Sheilagh told me that the plan had changed and, to cut a long story short, I was to go to the solicitor’s office in Kampala and not Jinja. We had come down with Hanneke and Ouke who were going to the Queen Elizabeth National Park for a few days and they wanted to change money at a shopping centre in Kampala so I went into my favourite shop, Banana Boat, and was immediately transformed into a UK shopper for a short while. I purchased a few Christmas presents but I could well keep one or two for myself as I like them! I also managed to buy a mosquito zapper like the one we have at home from a boy selling many items on the central reservation. He started his price at 25,000/=, a muzungu price indeed, but I managed to get it for 15,000/= as we waited for the traffic to move. There’s always plenty of time to negotiate. Then Peter and I were off to the lawyer’s office, 4 storeys up in a large complex and it was great to see Sheilagh. “Half an hour and then we will be going to Jinja” was what we were told for about 36 hours. Gradually it dawned on me that I would not be going home let alone to Jinja today so I stayed with Matthias and his 3 children which is always a treat for me especially as he has a good stock of beer! After a good night’s sleep, we took the children to school, I had an update on CoRSU hospital which is being extended, Peter and I collected Sheilagh from Elizabeth’s house where we took tea and warm popcorn and we returned to the lawyer’s office. “Only half an hour” was still the phrase of the day until Sheilagh and I were past ourselves as we could see that no way would we get to Jinja today. Then we set off to go to the Ugandan Inland Revenue which seemed to be slight progress. Those who do not know the streets and traffic in Kampala could never comprehend the horror of a car ride, quite unbelievable but few accidents are witnessed. These office workers proved to be worse than the last as we had to explain what many medical items were and so it went on and on with no resolution in sight until we finally said we were going. I to Kumi and Sheilagh to Elizabeth’s home in Entebbe and we would return on Monday on the firm condition that this would see the end of the matter and the goods delivered to their rightful destinations. Time will tell and then we should know how much tax is to be paid. Let’s hope we find an opportunity to bribe someone with a ridiculously low sum.
(I break in to tell you that a foot-long lizard with a shiny blue tail has just entered the room and, after the snake episode, I find myself jumping!)
So, finally, Peter and I set off through the traffic jams again, picked up Alex who jumped off a boda boda and into the vehicle, and we continued toward Jinja and then Kumi. We were all very hungry not having eaten anything all day but a few groundnuts and so we stopped at a fuel station which had a café and I ate a large plate of chips and beans which went down a treat with a glass of fresh passion fruit juice. Back on the road, it was still raining and the cracked windscreen was steamed up. By now it was dark and I was once more on the edge of my seat unable to take my eyes off the road. Cars with no lights, cyclists, cows and even a car coming down the wrong side of the short length of dual carriageway did not help my nerves. Lorries were overturned or broken down and only once did we witness an accident which looked bad. How Peter managed to miss the wreckage, I fail to understand but he drove tirelessly circumnavigating the large potholes until we reached home after midnight. It had been a long two days and by now I realised that we needed to return perhaps on Monday. We have 7 days free storage before we start paying a fee and we have just a few days left and Sheilagh leaves for UK on Friday.
Wednesday 2 November
Fuel-saving stoves were the order of the day and I spent most of the day with Agnes who managed the project last year most successfully but, like most projects, monitoring is very important. Firstly, we checked all the stoves which are sited in the hospital grounds where patients’ attendants are obliged to cook since we banned the use of the 3-stone method which uses lots of fuel, is slow and is a hazard for burns and eye and chest problems. There are over 70 stoves for wood and charcoal but more are needed, some need replacing and others are cracked and thus in need of repair. Agnes planned to start a training programme tomorrow for attendants who would be shown how to make the stoves out of grass, termite hill mud and water all of which are free. Then, hopefully, they would be convinced of the advantages and take home their newly learned knowledge and cascade it down to others. On questioning, each and everyone who uses them likes them very much.
Then Agnes and I hired a boda boda and first went to Adesso School to ask if they would like a fuel saving oven. We asked them last year but the children weren’t getting food whereas now they are being given lunch and, as there are also boarders, an evening meal. The head master agreed and was told by Agnes that he would need a suitable shed. He immediately looked at me as though to ask if I would provide it but we stressed that, if the school would like an oven, then they had to provide its accommodation. The shed is to be built and the oven installed within a week! Mary MacAleese Secondary School had also requested one so it was back on the bike and off again to find the staff most co-operative. This school will have one installed also by the end of next week. There is plenty of student-power to do the physical work. Next we went round all the schools where we had installed ovens last year to find all but one cooking on them with great enthusiasm. As one teacher put it: “We now have lunch at 1.00 pm instead of sometimes 3 or 4.00 pm.” Testimony indeed that the food is cooked so much quicker. They also saved on buying vast quantities of wood and transporting it to the school. The one criticism we had was that they were putting too large branches on the fire and they needed cutting to be more efficient and also to use less. The one school which was burning copious branches of wood was run by a head teacher who just wouldn’t listen to the advice Agnes had to offer so we shall see next time if she took heed.
During the morning, I had received a text message from Sheilagh Williamson saying that a representative from Kumi Hospital was needed on Thursday morning to help clear the container in Jinja. I saw Charles, the Hospital Administrator, and asked him to arrange for someone to go. Later, I felt as though I was shirking my responsibilities and said I would go as I felt Sheilagh needed some support so transport had to be arranged and my plans for the next day reorganized.
D uring the evening, there was a big storm with much rain and thunder and lightening. Some of you may know that I’m rather partial to a storm so I went out onto the porch to watch the lightening but, on turning round to come back in, I saw a large snake barring my entry. I screamed as I have never screamed before and I ran out into the rain but no one heard me for what seemed an age. Then one of the medics followed me out, saw the snake and dashed back in. Anna came from round the back with a long stick, saw the snake, said it was a big one (I could see that!) gave the stick to me and left me! She came back with 3 men and 3 boys each carrying a large stick and who started thrashing at the creature until it was dead but still moving. I have a photo to prove it was no small snake. But was I shaky and in need of a gin and tonic but we only have water! I thought I would have a nightmare but the night was peaceful.
Tuesday 1st November
If the morning starts at 1second after midnight, then today’s date is 01.01.01.11.11 Sounds like computer lingo to me!
It rained last night and that is very much an understatement. The noise of rain on the iron sheeting roof and the thunder was deafening and tightly shut eyes did not hide the lightening. Outside my window in the morning, a river flowed and the rain had turned to drizzle.
I had an appointment at Adesso School at 8am to take photos of Primary 7 before they started their exams. I thought it would be easier by bike than foot as the ground was slippery and I safely made it across the airstrip to the school where it resembled the beach when the tide is going out. I felt so sorry for the children who had had to walk far and possibly be soaked from leaking mud hut roofs. Of course a 10 minute photo call was too much to expect and children were assembled and speeches made which meant that George, our driver, was waiting for me to start my day’s fieldwork when I returned to the GH. We picked up Harriet, Ruth and Lydia and set off for what proved to be a special day. Our first call was to Light School where Michael Ekoyu is a pupil in Senior 1. He is a lovely boy, very short in stature and with crooked arms and legs due to some sort of syndrome but he has a winning smile. His class teacher says he is settling well but, because he comes from a very rural area, it is taking him time to catch up with the other students. Then we went to Bethany Girls School to see Mary Hope Awoma, a cerebral palsy 18 year old girl in a wheelchair. What a girl; she’s writing a book on disabilities (Disability is not Inability)and wants to be a lawyer. Just hearing her made me think she would make an excellent politician and she will certainly get on in life with her exuberant personality. We are returning next week to assess her mobility and physical potential. Perhaps she will be able to stand and, if not, we will have tried.
Madera School for the Blind was next where little 9 years old Betty Adongo is finishing her first year of primary school. She is very withdrawn still after her short life in her village where she had no social contact with anyone and is finding learning Braille hard. The teachers reassured me that it is common for children to repeat P1 as it takes time to learn these new skills. I gave her a teddy bear which actually made her smile a little and I think it will become her very best pal. Then we drove to Princess Diana Health Centre where Ruth knew of a sad family with the mother and 5 year old son badly mentally retarded. They lived in staff accommodation as the mother’s sister worked at the centre and so the house was better than many I see. There was nothing to be done but perhaps in a strange way we may have comforted the mother knowing that at least someone cares.
Three home visits followed to see Joseph Oyeko, Joseph Ijot and Inan Catharine. The first two had been seen previously by Ruth who had made a set of parallel bars for each of them for their parents to train them to stand and walk. They were both doing so well and the mothers cared for their families so much that we decided to buy them a cow each to fulfill Helen’s request of the purchase of two cows called Mrs Surefoot and Mrs McNay (I hope I have got that right!) I had taken some balloons but the many children who gathered round didn’t know what they were and were very frightened for quite a while. It was agreed that the first born calf would be given to another family with a child with a disability thereby continuing to help these people. What I write is such a small part of what we do as each day is packed solid with much more interesting points but I am only making a précis. Like getting stuck in the mud in the Land Cruiser when traversing a track only inches wide today. I always thought these vehicles could pass anywhere but over the past years I have learnt otherwise. Even driving home is so descriptive with the cloud formation so beautiful and with lightening to the left, to the right and all around shooting up into the sky. The bull frogs always make an incredible noise and particularly today after the rains.
I forgot to include God’s Grace women’s group meeting last night when 12 of us met to discuss matters. We are to have a competition amongst the ladies which will be judged in 3 weeks’ time. They are to make an object which I think would be most saleable in UK and they came up with quite a few suggestions. Points will be awarded for quality with a few thrown in for ingenuity.
Monday 31st October
I opened my computer today to find a squashed caterpillar on the screen joining the dead mosquito which I splattered after it had had its fill of human blood!
A day of this and that starting early with Sam from Adesso School calling around 6.45. I know I am up but it’s still rather on the early side. After Morning Assembly, I had an opportunity to talk with Charles, Hospital Administrator, regarding buying stock for the Orthopaedic Workshop which led onto other topics. Paul Ekellot was full of his Graduation Day on Saturday with photos and newspapers already printed by the university. I checked on the plastic surgery children and found that the Dutch medical students were managing well. Then James, the Manager from the hotel where Mr Viva and his team stayed, called as we had agreed that I would pay and Mr Viva would send Chris a cheque. So it was back to my Guest House to count out a few million shillings! My money is so well hidden in my room that it takes me a while to extract it from its secret cubby hole. James wanted to see the huts which are being built at the GH to increase the accommodation. It will be so good but my favourite tree had to be axed so that it does not overhang the thatched roof of the hut which will have a flush toilet and shower. What luxury! At present it is difficult to sit out as there are piles of bricks and the felled tree. My modem expired which meant I had been here exactly a month and how time flies. So this was probably my least active day! I have no idea what is going on in the world at all except Chris has told me that Greece has a big problem but I do know that Besigye, President Musseveni’s opposition leader is under house arrest for “walking to work”.
Sunday 30th October
Quote of the Week
Discussion with George, the driver:
There will be trouble with Libya when Uganda starts extracting its oil (vast quantities have been discovered). Georges’ reasoning is that, as Libya is north of Uganda, their oil will run from Libya to Uganda as Uganda is further south!
I returned last night to an empty house and I settled well into a sound sleep only to be woken at 1.00 am by a knocking at the window which became louder and more persistent. I had no choice but to get up, dress and peep out of the door. The driver on duty thought that the doctor on call was here and that was all!
As dawn arrived, I saw a bike outside my window and I could not believe that Julius had returned to pester me for heaven knows what this time. I thought I had sent him away for the final time a couple of weeks ago but he must have poor memory retention. “But, Mammy!” “NO!NO!NO!” I scream! I have found “Add number to blacklist” on my phone so he is the sole entry who I do not want to hear from!
No church again! At 8.00, Lydia and I set off to Jerassar School in Soroti for our children’s Visitation Day. I have 2 children at this school, Janet and Anthony so we set off laden with cooked fish and rice which Lydia had prepared very early in the morning. On arrival, we were among the few early parents and thank goodness as the throng arrived later and we would never have had an opportunity to speak to the class teachers. The girls’ section is very pleasant apart from the fact that they get up at 3am to start lessons at 4am and they continue until evening. The boys’ side is very different and worse probably than being in prison. This school is no different from any other in Uganda but it is truly Dickensian and downright cruel. I felt I had to talk to the Deputy Head and give him a piece of my mind but little good will it do. Anthony was traumatised when young when his parents were killed by the LRA rebels and he needs gentle, loving care but I doubt it’s possible in Uganda. It’s so upsetting but he definitely wants to continue with his education. Before my fracas with the Deputy, I had been given permission to take Anthony out so we went up to town, had a very pleasant lunch and then went shopping for soap, sugar, toothpaste, books etc. Janet was not given permission.
Time to leave and Lydia and I boarded a public taxi. She and I were squeezed into the back seat where one has to forget such conditions as claustrophobia as more and more people are pushed into every available square inch. We prayed together that we would arrive home safely and I was thankful for the many speed bumps along the road as it certainly makes the drivers go slow. We stopped at trading centres to be bombarded with women selling oranges, groundnuts, pumpkins, greengrams…and finally reached Kumi Town where we only had to take a boda boda home. A lovely day but it gave me many mixed feelings.
Saturday 29th October
A late rising, change of bedding and, once we heard the hospital bus pass, Helen and I set off to the hospital to join the team in theatre. Mr Viva had one more minor op and the nurses changed plasters once again sedating the little ones. I doubted I would be able to manage the dressings but the exercises would be fine. We completed the ward round, the surgical team waved good bye to the patients before packing the now famous yellow bags, giving gifts to the staff and having a final lunch in the theatre rest room. They have been well fed and I’ve had my fill when I’ve been around. The hospital staff have enjoyed the 2 weeks of visitors who will be missed by all.
By now, Helen’s feet were infuriatingly itchy so she sat in the compound with her feet in a bowl of cold water until a boda boda came for us to take us to town. A wonderful system; we ask Anna or Grace who look after us in the GH and one of their numerous relatives comes usually at the appointed time to whisk us off on his motorbike (no girl riders yet). By now, Helen seems happy to travel this way and we set off under the darkest of dark clouds expecting to be soaked before we arrived at the Hotel cum Guest House. Ivy was having her hair braided African style, a process which took at least 4 hours and could well have been anything up to 6 as she was still in the process when I left. I stayed for their final meal after which the staff sang many songs and then left them to await hospital bus to take them to the airport for the morning flight to Heathrow. I departed alone on the bike now and I wished the ride was further as the stars were shining in profusion, the bull frogs were enjoying their Saturday evening and the general African night sounds resounded somehow in the silence.
Friday 28th October
Time for a day in the hospital and time for the plastics team to bid their farewells at Morning Assembly. I shall miss them so much and also Helen who has stayed with me in the Guest House and we have shared the bathroom. Only rarely have we locked each other out but now she is to leave. I do, however, have an inkling that she may return as she has left her pillow which I shall store in my trunk when I leave. There were also hints that the plastics team will return next October…God willing. We have already identified a cleft palate and burn contracture from yesterday’s clinic!
My task today was to shadow the UK ward nurses who were dressing and splinting the tiny arms and legs and we are delegating the task to the medical students for next week. The UK team sedates the babies before removing the first dressings which is a far cry from normal practice here. Agonising screams and yells fill the ward and tear the muzungus’ hearts apart.
Helen went to see Francis Okerenyang’s bees as her husband, John, is a keen bee keeper and she wanted to compare notes. On her return, we hired a boda boda which took us to the farm which was a disappointing sight. Perhaps the cows were all out grazing but the place looked totally deserted apart from half a dozen cows nearby. Helen could now tick this off her list of places to see and we returned to the Guest House for her to start her packing.
PS I forget to mention that, earlier in the week, Ouke (of the power project) gave an excellent presentation at morning assembly giving an update on the power project. He explained how the hospital and the staff quarters were to be metered separately and how to buy “power time” as we do air-time from the newly-constructed shop which will have a manager who will oversee the running of the programme. The statistics for comparisons of the cost of running the generator and using electricity were revealing and the hospital has had no choice but to use diesel for a couple of years. He also talked about solar power and the devices which will be available from solar torches which power a mobile phone to solar fridges and tv’s all of which are expensive but to be considered perhaps in the future. I was very interested to hear his advice on saving power and I learnt some good tips to continue at home. The staff houses have had no power now for a few years and they have come to rely on paraffin lamps and candles so this will be a great step forward. The Guest House has solar power for lighting and charging phones and laptops and this is the first year I have not used a candle for my light source. How different from the days of old when we groped round in the dark or by candles which burnt away so quickly.
Thursday 27th October
Another outreach and today we were in Serere where I would meet Amos, one of my team, for the first time this year. Whilst passing through Kumi town, I bought 3 tricycle tyres and inner tubes for the tricycle for the lady in Kasodo, 2 chains for Alfred’s tricycle and an inner tube and pedal for my bike. Then we set off through the savanna and across 2 bridges over the waters which are quite high and passed the long-horned cattle straddling the road. A kind-hearted man was carrying a tired calf, we were told, tied on the back of his bike! I asked George if he had ever knocked a cow and the answer was surprisingly no. We found Amos at the orphanage where we had given the cow, Happy Days, that the nursery which my grand daughters, Laura and Isabel, attend had raised money for last year. We had a lovely welcome and we enjoyed listening to the songs from the tiny tots but we had little time to spare and I promised to return another day.
Charcoal in this region is good and slightly cheaper so I was on the hunt for a couple of bags. Last year the price was 12,000/= and this year we had to haggle to manage bags for 23,000/= each. We continued to the clinic and then George, our driver, returned to buy the charcoal and tie them onto the roof of the vehicle. The disabilities which we saw were very different in this area; no gluteal fibrosis and only 1 post injection paralysis but two Down’s Syndrome, a brittle bones baby, a dramatic bow legs, deaf, dumb etc. On our return, a young calf dashed out into the road and George’s good record was shattered as the vehicle and the calf collided and there was a nasty sensation of squashing the poor creature. George jumped out to see if the vehicle was damaged but all was well and even the calf staggered to join its family revealing a badly grazed backside but nothing else.
We were joining the plastics team for supper so we stopped off at the NE Villa where some of the hospital staff joined us for the evening meal. It was a lively affair with much singing and dancing by the hotel staff, hospital staff and Janeene, the Belgian girl on the plastics team and John, the anaesthetist who gave an impressive impersonation of Elvis. I’ve rarely seen the local people enjoy themselves so much. It had been good to spend leisure time together after so much hard work for them all.
Wednesday 26th October
Adesso School Sports Day starting at 11.30 prompt? I needed to go to the hospital first to arrange for a tricycle for the lady we saw yesterday and, whilst there, to tidy up many loose ends. The plastic team is working well and the hospital staff are very happy to have them here. It seems as though the whole hospital is involved and the place is buzzing with activity. More visiting doctors are needed to maintain this level and let’s hope we can encourage teams to come out whilst in this interim period. In July 2012, Dr Oware should be working here in orthopaedics having finished his studies and then surely things will improve. Good news at Morning Assembly though as Charles Okular announced the payments of August and September salaries.
The Siamese twins were moved to Kampala where the Minister of Health has become involved with the situation. An article in the local Teso newspaper, Etop, has been written but not in English. A photo showed the babies to be not so cuddly as in the photo in my camera and a little more wrinkled but, as it was only two days since I saw them, I think it was the photo and not loss of weight.
Time for the sports loomed and I needed to change into my local dress. Grace in the Guest House pinned me in with safety pins and, with the new trophies in my bag, I walked across the airfield now overgrown since the AMREF flying doctor planes have not landed here recently. The children had lined the avenue with bourgonvilliae on wooden poles and they, too, lined the path singing a traditional welcome song. I soon entered the spirit of the day and was seated as Guest of Honour in the shade of a tree. Very hot today and it wasn’t until later that I realized that my neck was burnt. Time-keeping was moderate and I was impressed, just 30 minutes behind schedule. The National Anthem, school song, prayers and speeches over, I enjoyed the netball, football and volleyball matches as I have done for the past 10 years! Helen arrived late having spent most of the day in theatre. She had wanted to see the operation of a little girl with a burn contracture who we had found in the field and she was eager to see if there was a thumb hidden away in the tiny disfigured hand; happily, there was and Mr Viva managed to reconstruct the hand so that it will be functional.
End of games, presentation of trophies, announcement of another Sports Day to compete for the annual House trophy (today turned out to be an informal occasion and the big day will follow in my visit!) and not good news for me as I thought I had fulfilled my obligation. My days are very limited. Invited guests were fed well and we cancelled our supper at the Guest House once more. Helen and I had a tour of the school. Things are definitely improving and the school now takes boarders ie at the end of the day, desks are pushed aside and mattresses laid side by side for 4 children per mattress! Food is posho and beans 7 days a week as in all boarding schools and the prison! The education standards seem higher in spite of up to 166 children per class. Let’s hope the improvement continues for the children’s sake. Numbers had dropped mainly because parents are eager to try to send their children to the local private schools which are popping up like mushrooms and do not cost a fortune. Education is number one priority for these families as it’s the only way forward that they can see and they are prepared to invest everything they have.
Soon we said our good byes and Helen and I were picked up to go to Kumi Hotel for the weekly Kumi Rotary meeting. Numbers were well down compared to last year and it appears that the reason is that it is so expensive to be a member. $100 annual subscription which is way beyond the vast majority of local people. I was happy to meet Victoria, a patient from the week before who had been educated in Edinburgh!
Tuesday 25th October
Outreach mornings are more relaxed these days as we wait to be collected rather than go to the hospital first. My team have got their act together well and we leave a good hour earlier than in previous years. This means an extra half hour to enjoy our breakfast and clean our teeth. Today we are off to Kasodo and Sarah, one of the medics joins us to have a new experience of fieldwork. As we drove through Kumi Town, we stopped to buy provisions for my family who live in Kasoda; cooking oil, sugar, meat, salt etc etc and all piled into a plastic basin. Arriving in Kasoda, we were soon greeting my family, of Max who is in Mbale Islamic University. His two disabled teenage sisters are there on all-fours just as I had left them each time I have visited. Nothing seemed to have changed one iota except the crops were different. Rows upon rows of tomato plants were thriving well and we had a tour of their compound finding coffee trees which are not normally grown in this region. Max’s brother, Sam, had grown and was doing well in Senior Two so the family was managing to educate the boy from the proceeds from their crops and the digging the father did to earn some money and all because he had never had the opportunity to advance his education in spite of being bright. Let’s hope that life will be different for this generation! Max will graduate in a year’s time and how I would like to share the gratitude which I receive from his mum and dad! We had to go as we had a clinic to attend so I promised I would return next year and we waved our fond farewells. On with the clinic and, although there was not the mass of patients, we certainly had quality rather than quantity. Sarah went with Michael to help at his eye clinic and, by the end of the day they were working well together and Sarah was competent with the basic examinations and note-taking. We finished first so we took home a post-polio paraplegic lady who, we reckoned, would have been crawling well into darkness if we hadn’t taken her. She was overjoyed to sit in the front seat but, never having seen the route home from this angle, she failed to recognize the paths to take! We finally reached her home where she lived in a miserable house whilst her brother had built himself what is regarded here as a smart home. Another sad case but not one to become to emotionally involved. A tricycle will soon be delivered to her and she will then be mobile and able to travel far in style. She had 3 children fathered by a man who called every now and then; a life we cannot ever imagine!
Back to the clinic and we were on our way home, tired and dirty but satisfied with our work. Sarah had had a good initiation experience in outreach fieldwork!
Monday 24th October
An early start with Sam, the teacher, arriving at 6.35am to make final arrangements for the school sports day on Wednesday. The programme seems a complete impossibility but not my problem as I’m only the Guest of Honour. I felt I’d done my day’s work before the 4 Dutch medical students and Helen emerged from their rooms.
As we approached the Hall of Hope, Morning Assembly was under way with the enthusiastic voices of the few members of staff singing Amazing Grace which was followed by Stand up, stand up for Jesus. The medical students were introduced to the staff and Charles Okular was somewhat descriptive regarding the death of Colonel Gadaffi. Helen and I made a short tour of the hospital visiting the Siamse twins and the departments she had yet to visit before she left for Adesso School for an immunization clinic with the hospital volunteer involved in community health.
Then, I found my blind friend, Gerard Moses, waiting outside the physiotherapy department and I was able to give him the Braille letter which my blind friend, Sheila Woodcock, had thoughtfully typed out before I left UK. He usually leaves home at 5am to walk to the hospital and so the darkness doesn’t make any difference to him. We went to Tree Shade where we enjoyed a cup of African tea (tea leaves and hot milk) and biscuits and told each other how our year had been since I was last here. My life had been so very different from his that you would yhink we were on different planets.
I caught up with a few loose ends in the Workshop and the physiotherapy department before seeing Mr Viva’s patients in the ward and theatre. A girl with a dreadful snake bite wound down to the bone on her ankle and thigh smiles and an old lady with a skin condition resulting in extensive skin loss awaits skin grafting. Babies with cleft palate repairs are cradled in their happy mothers’ arms. Children with skin grafting for burn contractures are uncomplaining as they nurse their bandaged limbs. Marjorie, Mr Viva’s secretary brings with her from UK a mass of toys and crafts and she spends the day tirelessly amusing the children much to their delight. Most will never have had the opportunity to actually play with an adult and I can see that both she and the children have a most rewarding time. Crayoned pictures adorn the walls and paper chains are strung from bed to bed.
Helen and I have an invitation to tea at my friend’s house, Modesta. She has moved home as the last severe storm blew her house away leaving her homeless until she managed to rent a tiny brick room into which 10 of the family sleep. She showed us how they sleep laid out on the floor whilst the husband has the bed and mosquito net but that’s how it is here! She is always so happy to receive guests and today was no exception. No sooner had Helen and I sat down than we were given tea and omelette as is the culture here. A full meal followed with all my favourite dishes; beans and rice, eboo and cow peas washed down with Sprite. She had also cooked the local stomach-filling and cheap atap and posho for her children in her small mud hut of a kitchen. It’s embarrassing to have one’s fill as a guest when the children rarely get a decent meal! The meal over, we played snakes and ladders with the children and they sang songs before we thought it time to leave. I gave Modesta some old clothes which were received with genuine pleasure and each one assignated to one of her children when some would have been quite all right for her. She showed us round her compound shared with another 2 families. Her shower was a pile of stones surrounded by vertical sheets of rusty corrugated iron sheets, her pit latrine under construction as the previous one was full and her goats and chickens started from my gift of a chicken a couple of years ago. Her daughter, Cecilia, on interrogation, told us that she leaves home at 5 am to walk to school and then does the return journey in the evening. No wonder they get snake bites so often! Not quite dark yet so the family escort us round the trading centre where we buy ghastly-looking dried fish for their meal and visit a ramshackled chicken house, watch a child being washed in a basin by the roadside and generally soak up the ambience of the local scene. By now, darkness has fallen and we are escorted up the hospital road to our house. Helen unfortunately suffers from frogphobia so she walked had-in-hand with Modesta who reassured her as they passed shadows and leaves. As usual 4 frogs awaited us in the Guest House porch but we were soon safely in with the door locked!
Sunday 23rd October
Off to prayers in the Catholic Church and we arrived to hear the singing loud and clear from far away. A little boy around 3 years walked down the aisle in his broad-shouldered smart suit and the ladies were all dressed in their Sunday best. The hymns and music were a pleasure but the rest was rather tedious so, when my phone rang from UK, I took the opportunity to leave soon followed by Helen who started to walk home on her own whilst I talked. Hanneke and Ouke, the Dutch couple who were at the Church of Uganda service, saw her walking alone past the door and thought she must be ill so also left the service only to find she was fine.
A change of clothes out of our Sunday best (a skirt) and into our working clothes to go off with George and the team to collect the plastic team for a day of fieldwork, the team’s “safari”. Grace from the GH kindly made 16 chapattis for us to take for lunch and then George, Lydia, Helen and I picked up Harriet, bought drinking water and collected the visitors for their day out. We were squeezed in to the limit with 14 of us in a Land Cruiser which probably cushioned the bumps from the potholes. Passing through Nyero, I thought it would be nice to see Silas, the paraplegic shoemaker but, being Sunday, he was not on his usual street corner mending shoes. However, not to be beaten, George found him in his home behind the main street sitting in the tricycle which we had provided. You will be realizing how important it is to follow up all our people as we next met Alfred, an athetoid cerebral palsy boy who was given a tricycle last year. He was being pushed uphill by his friends as the chain had broken and he could no longer propel the tricycle himself. A problem easily solved!
Our first home visit was to see Opolot, a severe cerebral palsy boy who was part of my programme but he had died in March. Perhaps it was a blessing but the mother still grieved for the boy. His grave was close to the mud hut and adjacent to his grandfather’s who had since died. We gave our respects before George put the child’s wheelchair and CP chair onto the roof of the vehicle and, with an air of sadness, we left the home having picked a handful of lemons in from the tree.
The next home to visit was of Ann Margaret, a blind hydrocephalus and spina bifida child of around 8 years who was sitting on the ground in the shade of her hut. The family were very happy to see us although I never really found out who was who as the father had died, the brother had taken the wife but then told her to leave and the story was so convoluted with the mud huts belonging to different family members that I gave up! Ann Margaret could do with a wheel chair from the container (if and when?) just so that she can sit up. Previously I had given her a couple of goats and these had miraculously turned into a cow which had produced 2 calves so that the child was now drinking milk. Then we all piled back into the car only to realise that George was a little bit lost so we had a pleasant ride through the countryside until we were back on track.
George wanted to see all our families but I had to encourage him to keep to our plan as we would still be out. Ngora School for the Deaf was next where we were greeted by Ekadit, the headmaster, who kindly sent for Apulamera, my bright deaf girl. We visited the dining hall where the children were watching a tv. They all turned round on their benches and we greeted each other in sign language; theirs the official use of the hands whilst I bungled my way through a few random gestures. Farewells were made and I promised to return in a week or two. By now, we were ready for a break so we stopped at my favourite down-market restaurant, The Paradise View, in Ngora. They have gone up-market and no longer is it the primitive shack as before but clean and busy. Progress! We took a drink and ate our chapattis and rested in the shade of the bandas (huts).
Back on the road, we went to see an old lady who had had her cleft lip repaired the last time Mr Viva was here and she was reassured that the bleeding from the nose she had when she had flu was not connected to her surgery. It’s rewarding to see the end result of one’s work. By now, we were getting tired so we briefly stopped at Lydia’s home village before taking a vote to visit the lake. The consensus of opinion was that we would go but when we arrived at the water’s edge we found a narrow channel of water with a background of papyrus. Half a dozen of us climbed into a dugout and, with the water lapping the rim of the boat and the bullfrogs croaking loudly, we were paddled out through the papyrus to discover a vast expanse of water before us. Beautiful!
By now, we were tired and it was back to NE Villa where the visitors are staying but not before seeing Silas who gave me an envelope with a proposal requiring a large sum of money but I can help him just a little. A welcome cup of tea and then we parted company and, for me, I was happy with the day.
Saturday 22nd October
The weekend and today was to get through my AIC Newsletter and diary both of which have been seriously neglected because of the lack of computer. I changed my sheet and tidied my room prior to settling into my plan but Dr Martin, the weekend locum, returned for his breakfast looking somewhat weary. I had heard the vehicle come to collect him after midnight to attend to a mother in labour. He started a Caesarian section after 3 legs had emerged and there he found twins. Trying to extract the head and feeling around, he gradually realized that the twins were conjoined and, after making a larger incision, he managed to deliver successfully Siamese twins, two little girls! Helen and I wanted to take a look so we gave up a day at home and went to be nosey. There in a side room were these (this) babies joined at the chest and abdomen but otherwise perfect. We wonder what lies ahead for them; a simple division after finding whether they share organs etc, complicated surgery or a life together. The mother was on the ward and, understandably, concerned and disappointed. Breast feeding was not possible and so many questions needed addressing. The hospital buzzed with the news and a great sense of pride was felt that, under these simple conditions, there is the skill here for such work.
Helen and I left the maternity ward to go to see the post-operative children and then enjoyed an omelette in Sr Rebecca’s small café behind the hospital. We watched the tiny tots washing the pots…no toys here!
Back at the Guest House, the four Dutch medical students had arrived and were settling in to their rooms. The big tree outside was covered with children climbing over the trunk and having a great time. We listened eagerly to Dr Martin to every detail of the twins’ arrival into this world. Such a humble young man but still in a daze as to what he had witnessed. Evening meal is now with 11 of us so it’s almost Christmas lunch every meal and a cacophony of English and Dutch.
Friday 21st October
A hospital-based day and so Helen and I had an opportunity to take life a little easier. We started off in the usual way with breakfast followed by walking to the hospital and attending Morning Assembly with hymns, a bible reading and time for staff to come up with issues that concern them. It’s strange to stand and sing O Little Town of Bethlehem in October and I’m waiting for See Amid the Winter Snow! Helen was to join the immunization team at Adesso School but Francis Okerenyang was sick so it was cancelled. Instead she went into theatre as two of the plastics team had fallen sick while I met Dr Chris and Sharon to show them round the hospital. They wanted to see the Workshop and they were most impressed with what they saw. Simon Peter demonstrated the machinery all of which was working and the products they can produce. Excellent prosthesis, splints, CP (cerebral palsy) chairs for babies and children, leprosy shoes and tiny leather abduction boots for the club foot babies following serial plastering using te Ponsetti technique which works wonders on the newly born. We walked to the leprosy unit where the very old and disfigured sufferers live. Their numbers are decreasing year by year as they pass away and are not replaced with others since the cure prevents these dreadful disfigurements. The usual welcome song of “Eyalama, eyalama Jesu” resounded from their small unit with much enthusiasm. Their dormitory is basic and shabby and once I had thought of renovating it but now I realise how miserable they would feel in anywhere than how it is.
We continued to the Nutrition Unit now hardly used and in utter desolation. It is so sad not to see the malnourished babies and children being cared for by the capable staff. There used to be sacks of food for the children and a plentiful supply of protein and greens but it is all the thing of the past and millet is all they can offer. Dr Chris gave us a hint of hope in that he knows a UK nutritionist who could be interested…let’s pray and, knowing Dr Chris, I feel he may be persuasive enough to produce a result.
We had seen enough to absorb and Sharon and I were ready for a break while Dr Chris went round the wards with Sr Rebecca, the Senior Nursing Officer. Tree Shade was the place and we decided to indulge in a plate of rice and beans and a drink. I had African tea which was decidedly green in colour and very sweet. We were later joined by Dr C who also ate and drank and we discussed the findings of the morning. Charles Okular (Hospital Administrator) and Dr Ruth (Medical Superintendent) had planned a meeting with the couple in the afternoon to have discussions on their future plans and we shared our ideas and views and emerged very optimistic about a possible future link with the Sheffield doctors. They can help the hospital in their weaknesses and the hospital can
give so much local knowledge to students in the UK. There are so many possibilities that the whole concept is very exciting!
They left, a happy Helen emerged from theatre and we returned to the GH to rest and prepare for our dinner date with the plastics team in Kumi Town. We arrived to see my favourite tree crash to the ground having been felled by, thankfully, able men so that it landed away from the house. Sad but all in the name of progress as two of the concrete bases are to be the foundations for bandas to increase the sleeping accommodation for visitors. I think this demonstrates the feeling of optimism here. Three hours lay ahead so we sat on one of the bases drinking tea and we were joined by Robert Ecelat, a teacher from Mary MacAleese Secondary School. He wanted me to go to Katakwi one weekend which entails a long motor bike ride, a ferry ride across the lake in a wooden boat for us and the bike and then another long ride to his home. If you wade through past entries of my diary, you may find my description of the one and only time I agreed to go and I assure you it was a one-off not to be repeated! He is very persuasive and then decided the next option was to visit his wife’s home in Sirinko. Again the last time I did this, I was in a car with square wheels and no brakes going up the mountain with a steep drop on one side. No, h was out of luck and I finally had a brainwave and suggested his wife came to the school for the weekend and I would take the whole family to Kumi Hotel for a meal. This was agreed but then I had forgotten about his “other” children, the orphans of brothers etc. etc. so it will be like a school outing but preferable to anything else he had to offer. Now we were late for our supper date and we had yet to shower so we made our excuses and ourselves presentable and listened for the nursery school bus which we had managed to take on Wednesday. Not so easy today and we walked in hope towards the boda boda park not particularly eager to travel by motor bike. Yes, the bus arrived and we had a comfortable ride to town. The Guest House which the plastics team are staying in is on the outskirts of town and past a few ramshackled homes and a goat house. The little children must thrive on hotel guests and they were soon out parading in new second-hand clothes greeting us with outstretched hands. We joined the team for a friendly buffet meal and a welcome beer (or two) during which we were entertained by a hen which tried and tried and tried to pluck up courage to launch itself up into a tree to roost for the night. Who wants tv when you have a weary chicken to entertain you? Now Helen had no choice but to try the bike. We mounted one bike with her squashed between the driver and me and off we set under the stars and over the bumps. The beer helped a lot, not too much and not too little, and I think she almost enjoyed seeing the huts lit by fires for cooking, cows being herded home, the odd drunk staggering along the road and the general chatter as life went on as usual. We could have fancied stopping at the lively café with African music blasting from within and tables outside almost like Paris; well, maybe next time!
Thursday 20th October
Off to Katine today for an outreach clinic so it was up to Soroti where, on the outskirts, we paused to buy cow peas samosas, cassava chips and mandazi which turned out to be far too much for us to eat. We picked up Ruth and continued to Katine where, disappointingly, few patients were waiting. As we sat under the mango tree, more mothers trickled in bearing their babies on their backs or carrying their children until we had a steady flow with quality rather than quantity and how nice it was not to be bombarded with a throng of black faces all wanting to be at the front of the queue. The day passed smoothly with many interesting cases; a small boy with a TB spine, knock knees and, as usual, far too many gluteal fibrosis and post injection paralysis both of which conditions are unnecessary following mismanagement of treatment for malaria.
As the queue lessened, the clouds gathered, the wind blew and the torrential rains arrived. Soon the children were squashed against the school walls now scared of the lightening as the recent storms have claimed some lives from the flashes. As we were about to leave, Father Charles Osire turned up in his car and we only managed the briefest of words due to the rain and wind. He is the priest from St Charles Borromeo orphanage who I first met long ago and I failed to catch up with last year so I hope we have time for a chinwag in the next few weeks. He was the contact for Berna, a Ugandan who started at University of East London in September and who we hope will stay with us during the Christmas period.
Whilst returning, we had a mission to accomplish as last week the surgeons had booked in a week-old baby with a cleft lip but Ghalib, the pediatric anaesthetist, is returning early and so the team wanted the baby a couple of days sooner. Talk about finding a needle in a haystack but due to someone knowing someone who knew someone else, we found mother and babe sheltering from the storm in a small brick hut in a trading centre. We bundled them into the vehicle feeling a great sense of achievement and then back through the potholes brimming over with rain to find there had been no rain in Kumi!
Then a shower, hairwash, supper and bed. Have I told you that there is now a shower head in the bathroom? What a difference it has made to washing! The water is cool having had the chill removed by the sun but it still gives me a shiver when it first splashes my back. Talking about the sun, these days are none too hot with cloud and no complaints from me.
Wednesday 19th October
Club foot and epilepsy clinics in physiotherapy today and so the benches lined up outside the department were bending from the weight of the many patients waiting to be seen. Helen and I settled ourselves in the store room where I keep all the clothes which have been brought for the children and we sorted them into age-related piles. I don’t want to be known as the muzungu who has lots of clothes to hand out so much better to leave the enjoyable task to Margaret Rose, House Mother, who told us that last Christmas Day each family received some clothes. We then started our tour of the hospital but we soon got side-tracked in the theatre and surgical ward where the plastics team was working. Cleft palate children with steristrips over their lips were cradled by happy mothers and children who came with burn contractures were smartly wrapped up in the upmarket dressings. The parents were only too pleased to be seen by these white people and one mother was overheard to say as she looked down at a group of children “Which one is my child?” unable to believe that she now looked like the others. The team has fitted in well with the hospital staff and they are working side by side with ease. In the afternoon Helen and 3 of the team and I enjoyed a drink in Tree Shade before Helen and I returned home to get ready for our dinner at the Opolot’s. We managed to cadge a lift from the nursery school bus as it returned to Kumi Town having dropped off the tiny tots much to the relief of Helen who has no great desire to try the boda boda motor bikes. We had a lovely evening and meal firstly sitting outside drinking a beer (Helen and I have both decided that when offered a beer we will accept without hesitation!) and then retreating to the table to share a delicious meal and to catch up on each other’s family news. Too soon it was time to return by car.
Tuesday 18th October
Let’s see if I can continue with my daily diary. Chris has managed to get me a small laptop, Windows 7, which I have yet to experiment on. I’m not here to spend all day on the computer but what I have managed so far is great. The Internet is appalling and so getting on line is exasperating and this will be limited to infrequent attempts to send. I managed to get my report on St Stephen’s Hospital to the Trust sent off last night so that was a big relief.
So, Tuesday and a busy day lay ahead and it was up and out with George, the driver, at 7am to go into Kumi town to collect Dr Chris and his wife, Sharon, who are to spend the day with us. They are from Sheffield and are developing a community programme in Kumi District and were interested to see the work in Kumi Hospital or, more to the point, I wanted them to see what we do. Driving into town we passed a stream of people walking along the road side; children going to school, nurses returning home after their night duty, women carrying large bundles of wood or jerry cans filled with water on their heads. We gave some a lift so that soon the vehicle was overflowing with people glad to be given a ride. The time table was going according to plan and we had picked up Chris and Sharon and reached Morning Assembly as it started. The usual hospital welcome followed and 14 of us were soon off to Amusak in Amuria to visit an old leprosy unit which was a satellite hospital for the Kumi when it was dedicated to leprosy sufferers. It had lain empty for 20 years and it was therefore quite derelict. It is the hospital’s plan to develop this into an outreach community health clinic which would improve the facilities for the local people. The usual introductions and speeches followed and, after a short tour of the abandoned small houses which held 2 leprosy sufferers per house, we left for Wera health centre where literally hundreds of people were gathered under the mango trees waiting for our clinic. Once the clinic commenced, I left with our visitors to take them on a home visit to my 2010 star youngster but this year things weren’t too encouraging which disappointed me as I was hoping to show them a shining example of our work. Moses, a TB spine, was sitting on his squashed legs as usual and wearing a road workers florescent top (must have been sweating a lot), his compound was bushy because of the heavy rains and also the house he was building was not as forward as I had presumed. However, it demonstrated the difficulties faced by the people, how our plans can be thwarted and also how supervision is imperative in order to help these families. By now, we were tired and decided to call it a day and return home. Chris & Sharon joined us for supper in the Guest House and then returned to Kumi Hotel hopefully happy with what they saw.
Monday 17th October – First Entry of the 2011 Uganda Visit
Well, here we go again; year 10 and heaven knows what lies ahead. I have the usual wobbly fears and, each time, I am a year older and I wonder how many more visits I can manage. It’s been a hectic year starting with a visit to Pakistan with Mr Viva (plastic surgeon) and his Interplast UK team. Fund raising took up a lot of time and many thanks are due to all those who have supported the Kumi Community Fund in a variety of ways.
I’ve left later this year mainly due to a weekend away for a meeting in Glasgow and then the final reunion of St Thomas’ Hospital physiotherapy students to celebrate the centenary celebration of the training school. The day started with meeting “old” fellow students who had said farewell to each other 47 years ago. Needless to say, for most of the past students, we had to study the name badges on our drooping bosoms. This was followed by a service in the hospital chapel, a reminiscent walk over Westminster Bridge and then lunch in The House of Lords.
But I’m supposed to be telling you about my Ugandan visit which is now in its second week as I write. Why so late? Because my computer has failed me and it’s about the only thing for which I don’t carry a spare. However, there is often a solution to a problem and I hope to have a replacement when Mr Viva, the Plastic Surgeon, arrives tomorrow. Chris has put in a lot of effort back home to make sure there is one up and running for me and it sounds as though I am going to have a more up-to-date version and so new skills will be needed to be learnt. You may wonder how then I am writing this and it’s because I gave this netbook one last go and it is working! I think this sort of luck has a name which you may recall! I’m saving every sentence onto the memory stick as I’m sure it’ll be the blue, black or white page any minute.
So to date....
The flight was OK but with fog in Amsterdam, flight congestion over Italy and then what I thought was pilot error as we landed in Kigali in Rwanda. My ticket said nothing of this and I was relieved to discover that we stopped for an hour and then continued to Entebbe. The visa took another 90 minutes to get stamped in my passport and I was looking forward to exiting the arrivals hall and to find Matthias waiting for me. No Matthias and I was almost about to hire a taxi when I saw a black face with a broad grin of shining white teeth and I realized that he had sent Alex to meet me. He took me to Matthias’ house where I enjoyed a good night’s sleep. Monday was a day of rest spent mostly playing UNO with 12 year old Noah who was off school with sickness. He won by a whisker.
Tuesday I was off to St Stephen’s Hospital in Mpererwe to report on their progress. I was given a warm welcome by the staff and I spent a couple of days with them and stayed with Professor Sam and his wife, Christine, as in previous years. The hospital is improving slowly and I shall return on my way home hopefully to find the new dental surgery installed. The Rope Trust has generously funded this project which should provide a well-needed facility for the people.
Thursday, I spent at CoRSU having been driven there by Gonzago, St Stephen’s driver. He was stopped by police and was to receive a registration form which results in a fine and much paperwork so I offered the policeman 10,000/= (£2.50) as a bribe which he accepted and we continued our journey. CoRSU, a children’s hospital near Entebbe, is doing well with expansion taking place in the form of a private wing and a new accommodation block allowing physiotherapy to take over the old admin block. I donned a site hard hat and visited the building works so you can see that Health and Safety issues are sometimes there.
In the evening, Matthias and I ate in an Ethiopian restaurant which was a new experience for me...very good for veggies! Friday morning and I was to continue my nomadic way of life by setting off with Matthias and his 3 children to Queen Elizabeth National Park in the west. We stayed in Kingfisher Lodge, Kishamba, which has a website for those with nothing better to do to visit! The view from my bed stretched far over the Park to the Rwenzori Mountains to the west beyond which lie Rwanda and DRC. I will need to study an atlas to get the precise bearings. Saturday, we entered the Park and saw elephants, hippos, wild boar, antelopes, monkeys, crocodiles and many different varieties of exquisite birds both on land and as we went by boat along the channel between Lakes Edward and George. We visited “explosive “craters which extended as far as the eye could see and finally returned to our Lodge suitably impressed. Sunday we left Kishamba to return to Kampala via Kasese and Fort Portal and we also stopped at a rather magnificent Lodge by a volcanic lake filled with crystal clear aquamarine water. This was too good to resist and, surprisingly, I had my swim suit with me so it was a treat to take a dip in the cool waters. Now I can tick off parts of Uganda which I have wanted to visit but I have never found the opportunity to take time off so the “enforced” trip was most welcome.
Monday and time to set off for Kumi at last.
Monday 17th October
Today I have received my new computer so I can now resume my diary.
Matthias who took me to Q E Park was staying in Mbale and came up to visit the hospital and brought me a further supply of money for me, about half a kilo of notes! We enjoyed a soda in Tree Shade, the small thatched café within the hospital grounds until the arrival of the hospital bus. The “plastics team” had arrived from Entebbe looking so weary after their epic journey from Newcastle Airport. Mr Viva, in usual fashion, took a deep breath, strode up to the physio department with Ghalib, the anaesthetist, and drew up his theatre list for tomorrow. Where does he find his energy? The large yellow bags filled with dressings, drugs etc were deposited in the theatre and it was time to clamber back into the bus to North East Villa Guest House which was to be their home for the next two weeks. Soon, a large table was laid out with African and dry tea and coffee.
I returned to the hospital with Helen who had come with the team and is now staying with me. She is a retired midwife and health visitor who was interested in seeing what life is like here. She quickly settled in to her room and the table for the evening meal now seated 8 people. The regular diners in the GH are as follows: Helen and me, Ouke and Hanneke, a young Dutch couple working here for a year to develop a power programme for the project and who have become involved in the \Management and 3 young Ugandan doctors so the conversation is lively and varied. Only Helen, me and one doctor stay here but I have heard that 4 Dutch medical students are arriving on Sunday and will stay until Christmas so there will be even more of us to feed. Anna and Grace look after us and feed us so well and, what with the clamour of the cooking and Anna’s 8 month old baby, there is never a dull moment!
Last week was mainly spent arranging for Mr Viva’s visit with one day in an outreach clinic at Ataboi where we saw over 100 children and Michael saw well over 100 eye patients. It was good to be out with the team once more and to come back in the dark, tired, dirty but knowing a good day’s work had been accomplished. We also had a productive meeting of our small team which has been working since I left last December to keep the outreach work going and to bring patients to the hospital for surgery and rehabilitation. I started this off as a 10 week programme but due to the continuing hospital difficulties, I have managed to continue with the funding due to the excellent management of Harriet, our team leader. I am hoping that a more sustainable fund holder will be found very soon and that the outreach work can continue in full force as this scheme is minimal but productive.
My other projects from last year; well, the fuel-saving stoves are working well and there is no cooking by the attendants in the hospital compound so that is successful but the bakery is not functioning as there is a crack in the oven so perhaps a 50% success rate is the best I could expect. My “school children”, I hear, are fine and I have already met with one, Max, who we called in to see as we passed through Mbale on my way here. After this year, he only has one more before he graduates and then, God willing, he will find a job and start to send money home to help his parents with his 2 very disabled sisters, Rose and Mary.