Monday 5 November
I’m writing this on Tuesday 6 November in Schipol Airport while I wait for the final leg of my journey; the flight to Durham Tees Valley Airport when my 2012 visit to Uganda will be complete as will my diary. Yesterday was almost totally devoted to writing my diary apart from a visit from Gerald Okello from Kumi who is desperate to find someone to give him a loan so that he can continue his Masters. In spite of my insistence that I had nothing to offer him, he came convinced that my decision to see him was the promise of a firm loan. Fortunately, my strict criteria for only helping families with children with disabilities helps me out of many a tight corner as I will not waiver from my cause. I spent some time in CoRSU rehab department with Florence who was treating a boy of 19 who had been electrocuted at work. His face, arms and lower limbs were burnt and he had had extensive skin grafting. The company he had been working for was paying the bill and it was good to see that Ugandan firms take responsibility for accidents incurred in the work place. The department buzzed with activity and it was rewarding to see the opportunities for treatment offered to children. Would Kumi Hospital ever be able to provide such facilities? Not in my life time but then the people in the north are as much a world apart as Kampala is from UK.
So, in conclusion, I am more than satisfied with my visit and I have my team to thank for this as well as the hospital management which is succeeding in its extreme efforts to raise the hospital from an abyss of despair to one of hopefulness for a future of giving opportunities for the sick and poverty stricken of this country. I shall endeavour to continue to improve conditions and I give thanks firstly to my patient husband, Chris, who hardly ever complains of everything I try to do, my family and friends and many supporters without whom I could not even begin to achieve what is possible. So here’s to 2013 and what next?
Saturday 3 November and Sunday 4 November
Morning came with the dawn chorus and I emerged from my tent to enjoy a somewhat chilly shower in my private shower tent! In the branches overhead, there was a crimson red bird which I have subsequently found to most likely be the Black-Headed Gonolek. After a brisk walk from my tent to the dining area, I found to my surprise, that last night we had had our supper on the banks of the River Nile. There it was in all its splendour on our door step with the water buffalo grazing on the far bank. Breakfast was delicious with fresh pineapple and water melon, cereal, cooked anything we want and toast eaten whilst watching the debris gently float downriver. Our plans were to go for a game drive until we were told that our vehicle not surprisingly had a puncture! With the tyre needing to be changed, we altered our plans and we decided to take it easy in the morning with the boat cruise to the Murchison Falls in the afternoon. Surely we deserved a rest and so we sat in comfy colonial type seats overlooking the river or snoozed in the hammock. We were to be collected on the river bank by a boatman and taken to the ferry to be joined by other mzungu tourists to the base of the Falls. Being taken in a small boat seemed to make the day special but this was not to be. The boatman failed to arrive and we waited for another perhaps very slightly irritated that they hadn’t kept time. But this was the big dark moment of our stay if not my entire Ugandan visit as the boat had hit an obstruction and the boatman had been thrown out and he had drowned and all because two mzungus wanted a ride. We realised something was amiss but not in detail until the end of the afternoon. So we set off in ignorance with a party of young Swedish Interns and an Austrian with a sophisticated camera set up. This was the Victoria Nile as opposed to the Albert Nile and it had already flowed through Lake Kyoga which is towards Kumi. On the banks, we saw elephants, hundreds of hippos with their eyes bulging upwards through the water, water buffalo, the odd croc and a myriad of birds of all sizes and colours. We finally turned the corner to see the classic view of the Murchison Falls with the waters tumbling down into the spray below. I wanted to go to the very bottom of the falls but I had to be satisfied to see them from a safe distance. We returned at greater speed taking a short break when there was an animal worth photographing like the crocodile with the long teeth and my photo can see right down its throat! Back at the Lodge, we enjoyed a sundowner as we watched the changing skies of the sunset over the Nile until dusk arrived and it was supper time. I was looking forward to a night in my tent again and it wasn’t long before I was tucked up in bed having spent a while sitting alone outside the tent to enjoy the night stars and sounds.
Sunday morning and time to make our way back via the Park for our postponed game drive. We drove down to the ferry where the men were in mourning for their friend who had died the day before. They had failed to find his body. We queued up for the car ferry to take us over the Nile and then we set off in search of the Delta along unsigned tracks leading us into oblivion. If we had had a choice to branch off, we failed to find the right one and time was passing and so plans were changed so that we would now visit the top of the Falls. Fortunately, in good Girl Guide fashion, I had my compass with me which led us in the right direction and it was not long before we encountered a sign saying 20km Murchison Falls. At last, we could identify our position and we drove down a track with hundreds of wild deer (perhaps Ugandan cobs or okapi) leaping through the long grasses like rabbits in the wild. We saw very many giraffes which were happy to pose for photos, elephants, baboons, warthogs which were really most endearing creatures once I accepted their ugliness, and many other creatures. The track came to an abrupt end where we could hear the roar of the Falls. We descended many steps to view the Falls from the top which was dramatic with the force of the water storming over the edge. But why does it always look better from the other side? Would we have had a better view? I was very happy with where we were but maybe next time…! Now, with mission accomplished, we set off to leave the Park and aim for Kampala along a well-maintained road only to reach the city to find the roads congested and quite horrible. How I hate the chaos of Kampala!
Friday 2 November
Today we were off “on safari” (this means taking any sort of journey in Swahili) to Murchison Falls but Matthias had to work in the morning. We left at 2pm to embark on a long journey and it wasn’t too long before we realised that the idea was not all that sensible and should we stay in Masindi overnight having already booked our tents in Murchison? On reaching Masindi, we still had 2 hours daylight left and the weather was favourable so we decided to go for it. They reckoned on 4 hours from here which meant finishing in the dark. The route was well described on our information sheet but the towns mentioned were not so obvious. Our choice of person to ask directions wasn’t always the best as, when someone turned round, we could find them to be terribly drunk and incoherent and wanting a lift. However, the kilometres ticked on and the sun descended a little too fast for our liking. Matthias pointed out that he had Joshua’s small tent in the back with some blankets if the worst came to the worst. Could we pitch the tent in the forest with the baboons leaping about us? It didn’t appeal to me at all. Then I worried about the people who, on finding a vehicle, would realise that the contents were worth more than they would ever see in a lifetime. Cash, cameras, phones, a gold mine for anyone who decided we were better dead than alive. We had half a bottle of warm water each and some chewing gum so we weren’t defeated…yet. “Continue straight until you drop down into the Albertine Rift Valley which offers spectacular views of the Lake.” This was certainly true and I managed to take my eyes off the road to watch the ruby red sun and its reflection in the lake disappear in an instant. Now dusk was rapid and darkness was upon us. There seemed to be many vehicles on the road and we had to make room for them to pass by testing the road edge and my nerves for terra firma beneath our wheels. Cows had chosen the road for their sleeping quarters and many were reluctant to move aside with the horn of one knocking on the window as we passed. One of the “you can’t miss the phone mast” landmarks wasn’t illuminated and the skies were overcast so turning left at this point was not as simple as it sounded. Then we came to a rickety bridge and that was enough for me! I was not prepared to venture over it. We approached it, I doubted its safety, Matthias reversed but we couldn’t keep this up so he phoned the number on our information sheet. We were reassured and we clanked our way gingerly over the apologies for a bridge and somehow reached the other side. Each new instruction seemed to tell us to continue for 10km, 6km, 2km, and we had no way of knowing if we were anywhere near where we should be. Finding Murchison River Lodge was like finding a black cat in a coal hole! The roads got narrower and narrower, the tiny villages were fewer and fewer and the men who we could have asked for directions were getting more and more drunk. Another phone call was necessary but no network! Finally and still enjoying the adventure, we managed the last section which was flooded to the extreme forcing us to take the plunge and hope the bottom of the puddles were not too far from the top. We were there! An askari appeared from nowhere and took our luggage. I could barely stand on my two feet. A track of tiny oil lamps lit our way to Reception and a large thatched area. Could this only be a mirage after all? Supper was ready and we partook of delicious mushroom soup, roast vegetable kebabs and passion fruit cake washed down by a very welcome cold beer. It had all been worthwhile in the end and our mood was suddenly uplifted. After supper, we trekked along an illuminated path to our tents which were situated in the bush and seemingly far from anywhere. An excellent toilet and shower block was a short walk away but each tent had its own shower in a cubicle tent. What a treat to sleep under the stars with the African chorus singing outside.
Thursday 1 November
Departure day and I had to put the finishing touches to my plans. The chickens had their legs tied to await their transfer to their new home, my bags were fastened but I had run out of funds! I needed to make the final trip to town where Harriet had taken some money from the bank for me. It was more good byes and then I had a meeting with Alex (my right-hand man in Kumi) to discuss the state of our “Kumi Kids”. Good bye to Lydia who is in Dr Ekure’s hospital in Kumi Town and back to the Guest House. Every year, Anna and Grace stand at the front porch and wave us off and this was no exception. They see many come and many go and most return!
It was an easy journey down to Entebbe and we managed to take Alex’ mother and step-mother (his father had 2 wives), 4 live chickens which pooed on my case and other sacks of crops. We stopped at Igar Fuel Station for a drink – passion fruit juice- but no tilapia this time! On reaching Kampala, we left the 2 old ladies dressed rather grandly in their gomazes and sitting on the side of the busy main road waiting for a lift. Moses, my driver who is Alex’ younger brother, took me to CoRSU where I joined Matthias in the staff quarters again.
Wednesday 31 October
Field trips are finished and today is a tidying up session prior to departure tomorrow. I had arranged to meet Alex, IT man, to set up my presentation for Morning Assembly but I already had a couple of visitors beforehand. Sam, sports teacher, has promised to have this year’s entry on the trophy etched here but he really did also have a great desire for a new football for the schoolchildren. He brought me the remains of the Michael Owen ball which he had cared for so well but its life had finally come to an end. How proud they have been to play with a Premier League football! Janet had brought me groundnut paste and nuts together with some letters to bring home and the stack was growing steadily. I could now leave for the hospital.
At the hospital, I wanted to tell the staff what I tell the UK people about our work and they were interested to see what exactly fieldwork consists of. I was duly thanked and, as this was my final Morning Assembly, I had to give my thanks. Dr Ruth and Charles Okular presented me with a beautifully wrapped present which I have since opened. It is a banner made from tree bark with the hospital crest and motto: “Whatever you do to the least of My people, that you do unto Me”. It’s always sad to leave but inevitable of course. I now needed to tour the hospital tidying up the loose ends. Two tricycles needed servicing before being given out as well as a wheelchair for Monday’s patients. Equipment repairs and the making of prostheses etc had to be arranged. The fuel saving stoves had to be checked and I had to ensure that they would be installed into the cooking sheds as soon as they were dry enough to move. I had arranged for Sr Margaret from Ojikhan Ward to be given a wheelchair for her CP niece. The physios were busy about their work but we all had time for a brief farewell together. I had to find Margaret Akol, Children’s Village Housemother, to say good bye and so the morning went on until I finally mounted my bike and cycled back for the last time. Packing had to be completed and what was I going to do with all the gifts?
5.30 and Charles Okular collected me to go to the Kumi Rotary Club meeting in Kumi Hotel where I was Chief Honourable Guest Speaker! I was to repeat my talk from this morning but I had managed to tweak a few slides, adding some and removing others to avoid boredom from those who had already seen it. I met Victoria again, a remarkable lady who was 80 last Sunday and obviously a very well educated lady. Ten Kumi Rotarians had attended an Assembly in Nairobi in March and she had flown there whilst the rest had gone by road. Sadly, I will miss her birthday party later this month. I had two Rotary banners to present to the club, one from Barnard Castle and the other from Darlington. Members were disappointed not to be able to reciprocate the gesture. With the meeting over, it was on to my final engagement of the day! The Hospital Management Committee had invited Steffie and me for a meal at North East Villa to thank us for the support we have given the hospital during the difficult years.. This is the first time we have ever had anything like this and I think it demonstrates that the hospital is moving forwards and upwards. Fourteen of us shared the meal after which we were asked to say in a few sentences about what Kumi Hospital had done for us! An interesting exercise!
Tuesday 30 October
An easy day was planned with a late start with Ruth and a short drive to Ongino where we were going to see the post polio man, Peter, who had been given the sewing machine out of the container only about a month ago. We found him already repairing a pair of trousers for a customer and for which he would receive 200/= (5p) not much if you could see the state of the garment before he started. Now I realised how, in the last month, he had earned about 5,000/= (£1.25). He has yet to build up his reputation so that people would bring their repairs to him. His joy was self-evident as he never in his wildest dreams had ever imagined owning a sewing machine which didn’t need a treadle! The quality of these UK machines is thousands of times superior to the only version available here which has a treadle and not a handle. How could we boost his business? We gave him money to buy 2 rolls of cotton material for school uniforms for the local primary school, one pink roll and the other black. He should be able to make many outfits which will give him a working capital.
Next we visited a CP child whose CP chair was in need of repair so we brought the table and cushions back for replacement. Now to Ruth’s, our last visit of the day as they had decided we all deserved a restful day. Last year, Ruth had requested a sum of money to help her build a house and so I had given her enough to buy bricks, cement and sand not knowing what was in store. The Government had an initiative whereby they would fund the building of a permanent house if a widow could raise money for the materials. Her mother had fulfilled the requirements and the very day we visited, the workmen packed their bags and a Government truck came to take them away. The house had been built! This family deserves this break and now they have a simple small 4-roomed permanent house with iron sheets for a roof, a dream I’m sure they would not have ever managed on their own. We passed about 10 further identical houses where the occupants had been very lucky indeed.
The “team” had bought me a present and I recognised it as being from one of the kiosks in Jinja. A banner with special thanks written on it. Most special and moving for me! Ruth had prepared lunch for us after which we left her there with her family for us to return in good time. Ruth has promised to look after my hens, the princess and Clara and she will not eat them! Now we have to find them, tie the legs together and arrange for them to be taken to her village.
Monday 29 October
Countdown to departure on Thursday and still a full ongoing programme. Today we were off to Serere, a district to the west of Kumi and where Amos is the CBR worker. He had bought two cows for me last week and we were hoping to see them both delivered but their progress from market had been slow and we failed in our task. Our first patient was a delightful HIV+ woman in her thirties, I would think, who had been a victim of polio in her early years which had left her to a life of crawling on all fours. She had the most beautiful compound being on a par with our cottage garden and one of much colour. She had had no education but surely a tricycle would transform life for her. This year I had not selected anyone for a new tricycle but only checking the condition of those already supplied so I was happy to be able to offer her one. The second patient was also a post polio paralysis man in his twenties but I couldn’t understand why his trousers were so clean. Could he really spend his life crawling or could he manage to walk? I needed to know and I soon discovered that he had developed an alternative method of locomotion by squatting and, with hands on feet, he lifted his feet forward thereby allowing him to “walk” and keep his knees clean so, yes, here was my second candidate for a tricycle. The third patient was a boy of 16 years who was a spina bifida and hydrocephalus with subsequent issues. He has no sensation below the waist and is incontinent so the resulting pressure sores are deep and many. His ankle bone was exposed by a deep hole and the top of his foot was red raw. The hips and buttocks were even more seriously affected with the lack of sensation being an important contributory factor towards the condition and lack of healing. Flies resided on every surface but the boy, Julius, was non-complaining. What is there to offer such a young man? Was he to sit there year after year until some infection became too severe for survival? I don’t know the answer! His mother was a cheery stereotypical “big fat Mamma” who cared for her boy in every way. Here, surely, was an appropriate home for a cow which my husband wants to be called Augustine (perhaps Augustina would be more appropriate?) as in our parish church, St Augustine. The mother will now be able to provide the family with milk and let’s hope the improved diet will help those ulcers. Although we didn’t manage to give her the cow personally, we did find it tethered as it made its way and, lo and behold, there was a baby calf in tow!
Continuing on our way, we stopped at a trading centre where we found a CP teenager lying all alone in a dark room with conditions worse than any animal would tolerate in UK. We sat her up and asked her mother to bring her outside into the daylight. Again, there was little to offer but a wheelchair would allow the wretched girl to have a better existence. We cannot begin to imagine what it is like to live like this. There is no hope and not even despair, just an acceptance!
In these trading centres, there is usually a pile of litre coke or soda bottles to buy on the roadside. I watched a man filling them with kerosene from a jerrycan. We have even bought these ourselves when fuel stations are scarce and you need an extra litre to reach home. When I first saw these, I didn’t realise they were not for human consumption and I wonder if many kiddies make the same mistake.
Time to leave and when we passed the orphanage where my Happy Days cow lives, it was all locked up with no children nor staff so I had failed this year to visit the nursery. I did, however, see the cow and its baby calf through the metal fence.
We were in no mood to continue late as Amos had malaria and his stomach ulcers were playing up, Harriet has been suffering from brucellosis for about 10 days and I’m still moaning about my ‘flu! We had done well to do what we had managed!
Two new visitors had arrived to stay in the Guest House for a couple of months; two Dutch nurses who will identify needs in the Nutrition Unit. Two Dutch medics have also come as interns but they are staying at one of the doctor’s houses until I leave and then they will move into my room.
Sunday 28 October
A day in once I have been to church where I was obliged to stand up once more and greet the congregation. This time I found myself saying farewell and hoping to return next year, God willing! After prayers, I succumbed to a serious coughing fit when it took me many minutes to regain my composure and I was exhausted! The hand shaking ritual and photos of Rose and her 6 month old triplets over, I cycled back to the Guest House to find Stephen Okello waiting to give me some ground nuts and to say good bye. Then Modesta called and we sat in the shade hut enjoying our light hearted conversation until Faustino came with a report on the incinerator to take to one of the UK volunteers who works for the same company as my youngest son, Peter. I had asked him for some feedback when I first visited the incinerator and, unlike most others, he had remembered. The envelope is sealed and so I cannot read the contents which could be different. It is addressed to NECK EFOD and as I know the person to whom it is directed is called Nick Brookes, I wonder if the report is clear. He did tell me that the chimney is too short and the roof is too high. Faustino is a young lad with no education but fortunate to be employed in his role with the incinerator project and who takes his responsibilities seriously. No sooner had he left than James, the Manager of North East Villa, cycled in for me to settle the plastic surgeon’s team’s accommodation bill. I was expecting him so it was no shock to fork out a few million shillings in payment. I informed him that the team were very satisfied with their stay but I thought they would appreciate a reduction in rates for next year to which he agreed. The day was passing and I hadn’t had a moment to myself but more were yet to call. Paul Ekellot came with his wife and 2 youngsters who settled themselves down and we shared a few bottles of soda. The children blew up balloons and finally they left when the ladies from my HIV group started arriving for the announcement of the competition prize winners. The numbers were few as there was a big celebration in Ngora for President Musseveni’s visit to commemorate the 50 years of Ugandan Independence and many thousands of people were expected to attend. The competition prize winners were announced. First prize of 40,000/= was for a calabash delicately decorated with different coloured tiny seeds. Second prize of 30,000/= was for 2 small calabashes with burnt decoration of African culture and third prize of 20,000/= was for a toy metal cyclist whose legs turned the pedals on pushing the long handle. The standard was high and so I also chose 2 entries for Highly Commended prizes of 10,000/= each. One was for a sisal rope and the other for a small flask and calabash made from gourds. Fortunately, Helen had decided on the winners for 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes before she left with the plastics team. We celebrated with song and prayer and more sodas were drunk before they left. Robert Ecelat had already arrived on his motor bike with his 3 children and they were enjoying the proceedings with more sodas. He had brought a letter and groundnut paste for Marie who he befriended when there was an association between his school and one in UK. Unfortunately, there was a rift when I told the UK school about the inappropriate behaviour of one of the teachers at Sports Day a few years back! How many more visitors could I take and I knew I was expecting more. Dr Jan White who has a hospice in Mbale had been promised a small steriliser and wheelchair from last year’s container but they were as yet uncollected. She called on her way back from the celebrations where the President had not attended but had sent a representative. After a brief meeting and with the items loaded into the vehicle, they left and then God’s Grace Group ladies turned up for surely my last appointment for the day. The group has been floundering and a few of the members had decided on a future plan which involved great change and what seemed to me to be misappropriation of assets. I really could not accept this non-democratic decision and I requested an extraordinary meeting so that all members would be aware of these decisions. This was to be held before I left Kumi.
So that was the day, that was! My plans were thwarted but it is always a pleasure to have visitors.
Saturday 27 October
My last Saturday and I had managed to arrange to visit Florence’ home village in Soroti. Before leaving, I did my routine Saturday morning wash knowing that the next time these clothes would need washing would be on my return home and then a press of the washing machine button would start and finish the process. What a contrast to the rub rub rub we need to do to get rid of the red dust and then the many rinses which never seem to get rid of the muck until, in despair, we hang them out whatever the results.
I haven’t mentioned my chickens lately. Now there are 5 sleeping in the kitchen cupboard, 2 cockerels and 3 hens one of which is my iridescent-feathered little beauty, Clara. The princess has found another partner in a neighbouring compound but I am assured that she is still around. Neither has started laying but it is a relief that they have not been beheaded and eaten. The early morning cacophony in the kitchen does need to be heard to be believed and now I try to let them out before dawn breaks. I wonder if I am getting used to the smell inside the cupboard as it isn’t so strong for me any more.
Florence arrived with Paul, my young driver in whom I now have the utmost confidence in spite of his seemingly lack of years, and her sister, Margaret, who is a Ward Sister and we set off for Soroti collecting her son, Pius, on the way through Kumi. I checked at the Post Office for the 2 letters which Norma tells me she has sent but nothing has arrived yet. I used to get so much mail from home but now email has eliminated this pleasure of finding a letter waiting for me.
We visited Soroti market where we bought everything needed for lunch; do-do, rice, beans, onions, tomatoes, cabbage, and we continued our journey up through the bush to their remote village where their mother was waiting to greet us. The family has managed to build her a permanent house which is nearing completion or, at least, is habitable. Complete completion is rare but so long as there is a roof over your head, then it is habitable.
The women busied themselves with the cooking while I passed the time of day with Pius, catching up with news of his family and his job in the bank. Then lunch was brought starting with dry tea and groundnuts and followed with the hot meal. The mother now came to join us but naturally she sits on the floor and I think she would be much more comfortable to eat away from the visitors as is the custom but it is nice for me to have her company. The meal eaten, hands washed again, farewells given and a promise to return next year, we left as the skies darkened and the thunder rumbled. We drove back through the narrow lanes which caused many scratches on the car’s paintwork much to my horror. There was no choice but to continue the way we had come and I hoped sincerely that Alex would not be too upset at the result.
By the time we were back, my flu was in full flow and I was not feeling my best. Anna had brought in my washing and informed me that she would rewash the next day. The standard of cleanliness was below par but I insisted that it was good enough for me and I was actually rather proud of this weeks’ effort. I didn’t need another meal so I retired early with a couple of Paracetamol.
Friday 26 October
Today is Eid Mubarak, the end of Ramadan so it’s a public holiday. It’s also the team’s outing and they requested a visit to Jinja and the Source of the Nile. We set off 7.30 am, starting with a prayer from Paul that the day would go well which indeed it did. It is a long way to Jinja specially as the Kumi/Mbale road is in a terrible condition these days and we went by a roundabout route on a murram road. Muslims were congregating in large numbers in the trading centres and many others were making their way to join them. Kumi is a traditionally Christian region but further south there seems to be a very strong Muslim contingency.
Going south, one gets the first sighting of Lake Victoria long before Jinja is reached and we needed to pass the industrial areas where heavy industries are situated before reaching the Source itself. Stomachs were rumbling so we stopped at Igar, a fuel station on the main road, where we partook of a welcome meal. It didn’t register with me that this was to be breakfast and I grabbed the opportunity to have a delicious, greasy, cheesy pizza which I knew would do me for the day. It’s a good stopping off place as there are flush toilets even though women go to the “mens” with heads held low.
Florence was coming from Kampala to spend the weekend in Kumi so we had arranged to meet her here and she was to join us for the rest of the day. She was a physio assistant in Kumi for very many years until she left to work in CoRSU where she had job security and wages so who could blame her?
I had not approached Jinja Town from this direction before and I was surprised at the up market houses and hotels situated along the road. We entered the Park where we had to pay 2,000 Ugsh for residents and 10,000 Ugsh for tourists and I was surprised that the team fought for my resident’s entry in spite of my having no ID card. This is true tourism with shacks offering the usual souvenirs at exorbitant prices. Having descended the steep steps to the Lake, we boarded an Indian canoe and went for a tour which included alighting onto a small man-made island with its twin about 100 yards away and with a clear surface of water with no ripples in between. This, they claim, is an underground source of water which Speke claimed to be the Source of the Nile. Many other sources have been discovered since and more recently in 2006 the most distant source has been identified in Rwanda. This, of course, makes the Nile considerably longer than first claimed and presumably more origins will continue to be found. The bird life was varied but no other creatures could be spotted. We continued with the tour and, as we had negotiated a 25% reduction in the cost with the boatman before we set off, it soon dawned upon us that our time had been equally reduced by this amount which somewhat negated our feel-good factor. A walk along the shore brought us to a bar where we took drinks and watched a James Bond film on the tv screen. It was then that I realised that stomachs were empty and lunch was the order of the day. Where should we go? Breakfast at Igar fuel station had been good so it was the first and only choice. I think that everyone knew there was tilapia on the menu and, when the plates arrived, the Nile fish was overhanging the plate by inches accompanied by a generous portion of chips. The men downed the lot but the girls asked for theirs to be packed to take home. Now the trip was nearing its end and everyone was so happy with the day, none more so than I was as I see an appreciation rarely found at home. Perhaps our treats are too frequent?
I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I had flu which was truly bothersome and does make one feel very sorry for oneself but it was a good way to pass the day. I was pleased to return to the Guest House where Steffie, her 2 children and Jan, the photographer had arrived from Germany for a week’s stay. Steffie has been visiting Kumi almost as long as I have and we have both met on several occasions so it was lovely to see her again and to meet her youngest child, Jeos (spelling?)
Thursday 25 October
An outreach clinic today in Apapai in Serere which was a very long drive to get there. Helen and I sit in the front whilst the rest of the team sit behind and today they were particularly noisy speaking in Ateso and continually bursting forth into uncontrollable laughter. Heaven knows what they were saying but we also had to smile.
We arrived to see a mass of eager people waiting to be seen and we soon started, well, reasonably soon as George talked at length about the solar lights and biogas until we had to ask him to stop so that we could see the patients. It was a smooth clinic with a variety of conditions from knock knees, bow legs and windswept knees to leprosy, TB and the usual club feet and osteomyelitis. The plastics team leaves tonight and we had 2 patients to go top of the list for next year. The last adult was seen and we were ready to leave for the long trek home. The adults are not so easy to deal with as the children because they routinely describe their condition as starting in the abdomen with their symptoms continuing to the neck, back, upper and lower limbs which would drive our GP’s spare. They hand over their tatty exercise books to show us that the local Health Clinics have prescribed a plethora of drugs many of which are totally inappropriate but this seems to keep the patient satisfied.
An equally long drive back and Helen prepared to leave with Mr Viva and his team. I shall miss her a lot as we work well together. I hope she thinks so as well!
Wednesday 24 October
Another day of home visits but in Soroti so it was up north again, over the waters of Awoja, and along the road. We collected Ruth who was waiting for us to take us to her first home. She had visited it only once before and she had forgotten which track to take resulting in asking guidance from many passers-by where this poor family lived. Well, the family was indeed very poor and consisted of a grandmother, mother and CP child. The mother had been thrown out by her husband when he realised the child had a disability. She returned to her mother and lived in a single mud hut with nothing to her name. The child was hungry so Ruth gave her some millet porridge which appeased the crying. Helen and I were moved at her plight and decided to help by providing a cow. Martin had accompanied us today and, as I do like his choice of beast when at the market, I asked him to purchase this one on Monday.
Back to Soroti to collect Michael from Light Academy for his home visit. I imagine there are not many students who have the opportunity to get out for day and he was all smiles as we set off for his home. It was 2 years since my last visit where I found a pitiful sight of a mother who had suffered a stroke and 2 siblings for Michael who had the same syndrome as he had but much more severely affected both physically and mentally. Their father had died the previous year. There was no one to take care of the family which is why I selected Michael as one of my students as he is the head of the household, a burden for such a young person also suffering from a disability but as bright as a button and doing well at school. It was very clear that this family needed a permanent house and we have the resources so we continue with our house building programme. Martin will oversee it and it should be finished in a year or two…or three. Michael was returned to school, a happy and grateful young man. Then 2 more visits to CP children before we returned home having picked up a mother and her child who was 3 years 9 months but looked months old. She was on her way to the Nutrition Unit in the hospital and grateful for the lift.
We were back early, had our meal and then Grace who looks after us asked if we could take photos of the cutting of the birthday cake for her husband and son who shared their birthdays. We ventured to their hut where we found a mass of guests all enjoying the celebrations. We had already heard the loud music which was to go until the early hours but they were all happy. Helen and I joined in the dancing somewhat reluctantly and stayed long enough to be polite. Speeches, present giving and local brew supped through the tubes was the order of the evening and I’m sure there were some sore heads by morning.
Tuesday 23 October
With bicycle tied to the roof rack, we set off for a round tour of villages with Martin at the helm. Harriet insisted that she was well enough so we took her word for it.
First stop; Celestine and Silver, 2 CP children we had helped 2 years ago by forming a group and giving them a bull and plough. A plan which was working well and without too many hitches. The families were able to plough their lands and so their situation had improved but the children had little hope of improving their disability. Celestine looked so smart in one of my “Inner Wheel” dresses which they will keep for Christmas Day, always a day for a new outfit if possible.
Peter, Moses’ father who is our new Mobiliser, was waiting for us to pick him up and he directed us to villages with children with disabilities.
Then on to Justine where we found a girl of around 10 cradling her brain damaged brother with great tenderness and love. Her mother needed to go to the trading centre and so she had to miss school and to remain at home to care for the boy. She was not going to lose her concentration for a moment all day. Then on to Joseph, a hydrocephalus boy, who was walking up and down his parallel bars which the mobiliser had fabricated, a skill he had learnt from Martin for Moses, his own child. The boy whose eyes sparkled with fun could now have a walking frame and we offered him a goat. I’m not sure what he said in Teso but a rough translation written all over his face was “You bet I would!”
A few more visits to children later, we reached Peter’s home and took the bicycle down from the roof of the vehicle and gave it to him. Little Moses and his younger but bigger sibling were soon ensconced on the back grinning broadly with excitement. Not only will Peter be able to transport his children on the metal carrier, but he can also travel round the villages in his role as mobiliser without having to hire a lift. His delight was self-evident and the hugs I received were sincere. I found that there is not one ounce of fat over his ribs. He’s a small man with humble and gentle character and I look forward to our next rendezvous next year.
Our final home visit of the day was to the home of Abednigo, a pathetic CP child, being looked after by his aging grandparents having been abandoned by the parents. Another heart breaking situation where help was needed. Helen didn’t take long to decide that here was a home where a cow would provide milk and security and which will be bought next Monday in Buccedea market. The boy slept in a dilapidated mud hut on Mother earth between the grandparents who had scrappy bits of foam to lie on and so it was decided to buy a mattress and replace the grandfather’s mattress for Abednigo and buy him a new one as the foam would soon become saturated with urine as the boy is incontinent.
We too were saturated with experiences and so decided that was enough for the day and we made our way home but with time to stop off at Paradise Restaurant for a bite to eat. The ambience here is, to say the least, very local and don market but I feel at home in the primitive surroundings and the food is not bad at all. Helen and I enjoyed an omelette chapatti whilst Martin and Peter tucked into a plate of rice and scraggy chicken.
Monday 22 October
An opportunity to attend Morning Assembly where all members of the plastics team were welcomed which is always a light-hearted occasion. Our 9 am meeting with Global Care from Soroti was delayed as David’s motor bike had broken down and he arrived nearer noon. I helped with the Gluteal Fibrosis class in physio and showed the staff a new exercise. The plastic surgery children needed stretching exercises for their little hands which had been skin grafted. How they complained although I tried my best to be as gentle as possible. I cycled back to the GH briefly to wash my soaking clothes only to find Moses, the blind boy, had been waiting for me since 9 am! He was writing his Braille letter for me to take home to Sheila, and once completed, I had to cycle back as our meeting was about to start. This was a successful meeting which will hopefully develop into a link between Global Care and Kumi Hospital. Mr Viva has operated on Emmanuel, the boy with severe facial burns, who is part of the Global Care programme. It was this connection through Mr Viva which initiated this relationship.
The Adesso School Sports Day was due to commence so it was a quick cycle back, change into my African attire and a couple of minutes rest before I left to cycle across the airfield to the school. There, the children were waiting to greet me with handfuls of flowers- bourgonvillia, hibiscus, and frangipani, those of the flame tree. What an incredible greeting! Usually a few minutes late shortens the time to wait for anything to start but not today. The hundreds of children were sitting in an orderly manner, all invited guests had arrived and the teachers hovering and ready for the start. What had happened to Adesso School? There is a new Head Teacher, Florence Annet, who seems to be pulling everyone together and, with what I’ve seen so far, she is succeeding. I laid my bouquet on the table and sat in the seat for the Chief Most Honoured Guest and the singing and dancing commenced with the Ugandan National Anthem. Each class sang recited poetry with drama or danced with grass skirts, garlands of flowers adorning the girls’ heads and the boys brandishing small twigs. The children have great rhythm and are experts at wiggling their little bottoms. There was much banging on the drums and, with dust rising from all this activity; I was highly impressed and entertained with everything. The newly formed Girl Guide group demonstrated their marching skills led by a Sergeant major of a girl giving the orders to turn right, left, stand at ease on entry and exit. I have never witnessed the children watching from the school benches or up the trees sitting so quietly before. The class prefects seemed to be non-existent as their duties of keeping order by giving unruly children a quick rap with a branch was not necessary. Short speeches followed by the Chairmen of this committee and that and, at last, we could commence the games starting with netball. These youngsters were agile and athletic as, bare-footed, they leapt from one end of the dusty pitch to the other with the increasing scores raising the anticipation of the final score.With invited guests; chairs and table moved over to the football field, we settled down to the junior and senior football matches to witness again great bare-footed talent. The goalies were quite superb but goals were scored and at the final whistle, we moved again to the volleyball pitch. This is the school’s speciality sport and they didn’t disappoint today. Many of these Primary School students are big, adolescent youths who probably don’t excel in academics but they can certainly keep up with the best in sport which is my reason for supporting and encouraging this subject. Time was moving on and already the sun was sinking fast. I just had to address the youngsters briefly and I told them how the 2012 London Olympics had highlighted the importance of participation as opposed to winning. I told them how proud I had been to witness the last Gold Medallist, the Ugandan marathon runner who lives in Kapachorwa, relatively near to Kumi, stand on the podium in the Olympic Stadium to receive his medal whilst the Ugandan National Anthem was played. Maybe, I told them, that there was a potential Olympic Gold Medal winner sitting before me.
Now darkness was falling quickly and we hadn’t had our supper, speeches and presentation of gifts. I had whispered to Florence that I was to be picked up to be taken into Kumi Town for my next engagement in 30 minutes so, with a banquet of food before us, we combined the eating with the speeches and gifts of groundnut paste, a locally made bag and a reed broom were bestowed upon me and I was obliged to give the briefest of speeches and thank yous. Helen was also presented with a broom after which she gave a few short words of thanks. I was relieved not to have written my speech as, by this time, darkness was complete and then I couldn’t see who I was saying good bye to as the waiting Land Cruiser revved its engine to let me know its presence. Not having the opportunity for the necessary shower and to change from my African dress, Helen and I had to go as we were. We were joining Mr Viva and the team for supper at their Guest House. The afternoon had been a very special and unexpected event as I thought I was going to witness the sports games with perhaps a brief session of singing and speeches but not this. Our Queen could not have had a more entertaining occasion throughout her Jubilee tour of her land.
Our evening was a complete change of cultures as we sat outside drinking a beer or soda with the muzungus. This is the third year Mr Viva has come and each time the camaraderie between the visiting and local staff gets stronger. Mr Viva had invited the key hospital staff members who had been invaluable to the smooth running of the programme and the meal was followed by singing in French, Spanish (Rodrigues, the young second surgeon, is from Nicaragua), English and Teso until it was time to take our leave.
Harriet is suffering from brucellosis and I think she ought to be in bed but she is old enough to do as she pleases. She looked so tired that, although Helen and I could have continued until the early hours, it was time for her to rest.
Sunday 21 October
It’s time for Mr Viva and his team to have a day off with most going to Sipi Falls and Mr Viva and Marjorie joining us for a day’s home visits in Soroti. En route, we collected the thank you letter from Antony at Jerresar School and continued up the hill and into the town. It was their first visit to the town and they had heard much about the place and had requested a tour. What is there to point out in Soroti? Not a lot! We drove down the main street past the old colonial style shops looking somewhat shabby, past the cinema which can’t have shown films since the British ruled Uganda, the hospital and the council offices. We entered the market, always a place of interest and absorbed the atmosphere of the sights and smells. A visit to the supermarket with trolleys gave them a chance to see what was available and they bought the Sunday Monitor to read the latest news in English.
Ruth was waiting for us at the church hall where she lives and we put the sewing machine bought yesterday into the back to take to Robina’s home later in the day. Our first home was to William where we found him walking up and down the parallel bars we had made last year. He had been sick so his little legs were weak once again but he could manage quite well. Helen bought a cow (Mrs McNay) for him last year and this too had been sick resulting in rather a skinny beast but we were happy to see that it had had a calf during the year. On examination, I thought the child would benefit from plaster of Paris splints for the legs to prevent contractures of the hips and knees and followed by KAFO’s (knee/ankle/foot orthoses) which he may not tolerate but it is worth a try. He will come to Kumi Hospital for this. Marjorie had an inflatable football which she blew up tripping as she did so and ending up with thorns stuck in her back. The children were delighted to have a ball so much better than their homemade type of plastic bags tied together with banana leaves.
Joseph who was given a cow last year by Helen is a hydrocephalus child who had learnt how to walk and stand alone having practised in the parallel pars we made last year. His cow, Mrs Surestart, had also produced a calf and both mother and baby looked well.
The next port of call was to Robina’s village where we assembled the sewing machine with difficulty. This was the first Ugandan machine “made in China” that I have bought and I was disappointed with its quality. The framework was flimsy and they evidently come without a belt. Fortunately, Robina was well used to this and immediately improvised with a long piece of narrow cloth which she twirled until it served its purpose. She knew how to thread the needle and we left her practising on the length of material we had given her. I would have preferred to have given her a super duper UK model but this is what all the local tailors use so I presume they manage.
Susan, a post polio paralysis girl, was luckier as she had been given one of the hand sewing machines which had arrived from UK in the container. She had established her small business and was sewing on our arrival. I swapped one of her kiddie’s dresses for one I had been given by Darlington Inner Wheel and now she had another style to add to her repertoire. Her ancient tricycle needed repairs so we managed to give her some financial assistance to deal with this.
We decided to call it a day and lunch at 4.30 pm was next on the menu at a pleasant restaurant which Ruth had pre-booked so that the food came out immediately we arrived. After dropping Mr Viva and Marjorie off at their Guest House in town, we returned to the hospital, showered and fell into bed healthily tired after a most enjoyable day.
Saturday 20 October
Poor Helen had eaten something which did not agree with her so she felt unable to come out to Katakwi. Today we had a plan to visit Antony and Lawrance’s family and this took us far. Harriet and Peter, the driver, are keeping busy during my stay here and they never complain about working the extra days. We set off with Alex (he used to be the driver here but now works for Dr Ekure) to Jeressar High School in Soroti where one of my students, Antony, is about to take his O-levels. The Deputy Head Master kindly agreed to us taking him outside for a short time so we drove up into town where we spent the money which I was given by the couple in UK who assist him. We went to a dingy store with narrow aisles and stacks of wares piled high and tumbling down were available. Cardboard boxes littered the floors and it was a struggle to make progress without tripping. I left Antony to choose his own trousers, shirt, pants, shoes and socks, a thing he’d never done before and he found his way to the counter with arms overflowing with his choice. Things cost so little here that I told him to go back and choose a pair of trainers as well as the brown leather shoes so you can imagine how happy he was to leave the store and return to daylight being the proud owner of so much! At the supermarket, we bought soap, toothpaste, school items etc. and returned him to the school with a request that he writes a thank you letter and would collect it when passing next.
On to Katakwi where we entered a village to find a meeting in progress with about 10 men sitting round a large green plastic bucket and sucking the local potent brew, ajono, through the tubes. What a welcome we received from Lawrance’s grandparents who almost knocked me over as they greeted me affectionately! We sat down to African tea and were proudly presented with a pumpkin each and another chicken. Lawrance’s future after Primary School needs to be secure as his grandparents are old and we plan to build him an iron sheet roofed house which will allow them to grow even older in the reassurance that Lawrance has a roof over his head. (Mud huts have a limited life span and definitely not permanent). A site was chosen higher than the other huts so that it will not be affected by future flooding and Alex will oversee the project slowly slowly.
I wanted to see Michael Edonu, a boy with leg prosthesis who I have known for years. He grows in sudden bursts and only when he has new legs made for him! We found him cycling towards his home as he had heard we were around. His legs were once again in need of replacing as they get a lot of wear from the teenager. His mud hut was minute and the state of it reminded me of a certain grandchild’s bedroom but with only rags and tatters. He will come for attention once the school holidays start. These children are the poorest of the poor and with little hope for a future. Let’s do the best we can for them.
On our return to Kumi Town, we called into North East Villa where the plastics team were sitting out enjoying a drink. Then back at the GH, we found Helen to be much better and brighter, thank goodness! After I retired to my bed, there was a kafuffle from her room and it wasn’t until morning that she told me that she had dealt with a bat in her bedroom!
Friday 19 October
I had soaked my extremely dirty clothes overnight and they needed rinsing and hanging out. One realises how we depend on machines to get the dirt out and to rinse them clean but the spinning is no issue as, if hung out dripping wet, the clothes will be bone dry in a couple of hours especially now when there is a steady wind to speed up the process. Sam, Adesso sports teacher found me pegging them out as he wanted to finalise the plans for Monday’s Sports Day. Bang on time, Moses joined him as we had arranged to meet at 7.30 am to discuss the education of the late Margaret Asio’s children. Two of her children, Gabriel and Brenda, have been supported by a UK man who once worked in Kumi for VSO and who helped Margaret for many years but now he is not in a financial position to continue. I had to explain to Moses, the uncle, that he could expect no further assistance. It’s not as bad as it sounds as Gabriel will finish his A-levels and, for this, I know he is grateful as he would not have had the opportunity to have got anywhere near this far without the help.
It’s a day in the hospital with little in my diary and about time too! Helen and I had plans to visit the bakery and bio-gas project but we ran out of time. We visited the theatre to find the staff working steadily through their list. Two mothers sat in the reception area cradling their cleft palated babies all prepared for their surgery and looking anxious at what lay ahead. Nurses dealt with those coming out of theatre in the recovery room and there was the usual activity. We continued to the ward where we found Marjorie and Ivy. Marjorie is the key stone to the organisation of everything from arranging the trip in UK to the theatre lists but she has the important role in her spare minutes of keeping the children occupied. Her bags contain a soft toy for each baby and young child and resource packs of activities for the older children. No sooner does the programme start than the ward walls are adorned with the children’s drawings as they proudly exhibit their art work. Their hospital stay becomes one of fun for youngsters who never have crayons and paper at hand. Their smiling faces and camaraderie slip way when the team leaves and how lovely it would be to keep Marjorie here. Their dressings are changed and what a difference between the smart type brought with the team to the local gauze folded manually and taped with Zinc Oxide tape. Ivy, between patients, asked me if I could arrange for her to have 2 hoe handles to take back to UK, a strange request but nothing is impossible here. Stephen Obwango is my man for this. She would also like a harp or adugo. We visited the workshop where we arranged for the preparation of items for Dr Jan White to collect next Monday. She has a hospice in Mbale and I had promised to save her a couple of things for her from our container load so, one year later, I shall see that she gets them. Harriet had informed Jan but she hadn’t been able to come north to collect them.
Berna who came to stay with me at Christmas was due to arrive this morning to pick up her acne pills which she had ordered on line to our address at home. It was good to see her with Fr Charles, her cousin brother who started an orphanage in Atutur many years ago. I know she was relieved to have left our “dark and dangerous land” We returned to the GH and talked briefly about her experience in London as a student before we parted.
Margaret Rose, Children’s Village housemother, has returned from her annual leave to look after the plastics children so I was delighted to have a moment to catch up with her news. Helen, Margaret and I took a chapatti and soda with Margaret’s little granddaughter in Sr Rebecca’s place where a girl sells a few items to patients and prepares basic food.
Our day had slipped away and it was time to prepare to go to Modesta’s house for our afternoon tea. What could we take her as a gift other than balloons, colours, sweets and colouring books for the children? We had just the thing with one of our 2 chickens but this had to be caught first. You don’t have to actually do much as you ask some children and they delight in chasing the poor bird until they finally catch it by the tail. Grace tied the legs together and then popped it inside a cavera (plastic bag) with head out of the top as the rain was threatening. It was too noisy so it was necessary to nip its beak together to shut it up. With it tucked under my arm, we walked down the hospital road to the trading centre at the end and found her house consisting of a brick walled room no bigger than 10’X10’ where 8 sleep. (2 less than last year, I noticed) but now with about 30 chickens which sleep under the father’s bed. I have to confess that most of these chickens are the result of my hens which I give Modesta over the years (the gifts I receive when out in the field) and she knows the family tree of each one going back through the generations! We were immediately given a grand welcome with almost a banquet of food laid before us. We tried to be polite and do it justice but with some difficulty. Helen failed to manage the atap, the rice was mingled, the greens and beans were cooked to perfection if not a little smoky and to top the lot was an omelette chapatti. All washed down with a mug of milky African tea! We enjoyed an evening with the children and the chickens and hearing Modesta’s news of her hard life until dusk fell and we needed to walk the road home whilst we could still see the frogs for Helen and snakes for me. At the trading centre, we stopped to buy the most ungly dried fish and some egg plants for Modesta. Her children would have some protein tomorrow in their diet.
Thursday 18 October
The princess chicken with the crown had had enough of sleeping in the kitchen cupboard the night before and insisted on a sleep-over in Anna’s mud hut over the way. I let out the grateful cockerel and his 2 girl friends who willingly hopped out of the metal door and immediately pecked the insects in the murram for their breakfast. I quickly closed the cupboard door as the smell was rich.
We hoped the day’s experiences would not be so profound and that we could get back on an even emotional keel today but we have talked of little else but Vincent, Joseph, Agnes, Lawrance and Samuel. It’s good to share with Helen and I’m grateful to have her
An Outreach clinic in Kidongole today which is not too great a distance from here and so a relatively easy day ahead could be before us. Not so as it turned out. We encountered a throng of people waiting for the team to arrive with more turning up throughout the day. We made no delay in starting and we steadily dealt with over 130 patients whilst Michael saw 80 which made it a very productive clinic. 57 gluteal fibrosis, an unbelievable number and a high percentage of the total. All due to mismanagement of malarial cases in the Health Clinics and, even though the Government issues fresh guidelines, the incidence is increasing.
I’ll be brief today and record one patient only. An uncle brought a little girl of 7 years who stood by the desk with fingers resting on the edge complaining of back and shoulder pain. Elizabeth, a physiotherapist who has replaced Lydia and who was here when I arrived in 2002, soon identified a case of child abuse. The uncle was asked to move away and the girl’s younger brother came out with the full story telling us in almost a whisper of the torture the child endures at home. What could be done? We could not leave this situation and so it was decided to follow it up with a home visit and bring in the LC1 (Local Councillor) and involve the Child Protection Agency. We were thankful that the uncle had brought the child but we were sure that he would not have expected such an outcome and I am grateful for Elizabeth’s perception and expertise in identifying the problem.
Rain caused us to have to go inside to continue with the tail-enders until the very last patient had left, we had packed our bag and, thankfully, left for home. Back at the GH, Martin and I had a short meeting in the Shade Hut to plan the purchase of the cow which he would buy in Bukedea Market on Monday and then, with all loose ends tied, we could relax for the remainder of the evening.
Wednesday 17 October
Our 2 chickens had enjoyed their first night in the kitchen cupboard with Mr and Mrs Chicken in conditions worse than our battery hens. They thoughtfully slept in but were then let out of the metal door to enter their new environment and enjoy their day.
Another day in the field with an 8 o’clock start to town and a visit to the bank again. Firstly, we called at Dr Ekure’s new Orthopaedic Centre which he has constructed since he left Kumi Hospital. This is an impressive single storey structure on the outskirts of Kumi. On entering, you see an impressive hospital with modern facilities and furnishings. The beds are uniform, the wards are bright and the whole place has an ambience of good design and quality. It will certainly put Kumi on the map of Uganda. The patients were many and the staff looked crisp and clean in their distinctive uniforms. Wow! I was impressed. This is right into the 21st century! Dr Ekure greeted me warmly as did Lydia as they did their ward round.
But the bank beckoned and I was disappointed to get frosty-face again. No, I hadn’t understood the forms she had given me as I didn’t know how to fill in the blanks such as my address. Should I write Kumi or UK? She was of little help. Surprisingly, the papers were officially stamped and we were through. This was a big achievement and we could start our day knowing this onerous task was behind us.
We drove west, through Pallisa and on to Kasoda where the family of Max lives in a luscious haven of greenery and somehow each year I am reminded of Heidi in the Alps with her grandfather, a favourite story book of mine when I was a child. I think it’s the little house the father has built and this year the door is edged with a beautiful pink hibiscus. A great welcome awaited us and I was so happy to see how this family has progressed over the years I have known them. The eldest boy, Max, has gone through secondary school and will finish university next spring thanks to a kind benefactor in UK. I asked the father how this had helped the family and he pointed out that, without Max’ education, they would not have moved forward. Now, they have improved their agriculture and managed to educate the next boy, Sam, who is in S4 and about to take the equivalent of o-levels. Their daughters, Mary and Rose, both severely brain damaged look healthier and benefit from the milk from their cows. Now is the right time to back off the assistance they have received and for them to become independent. It would be difficult for people at home to realise how rewarding this is for me after many years of input and to know that these people who were so poor are now self-sufficient. Seeing is believing!
Julius followed and we found him sitting in the wheelchair we had provided last year through Physionet. Julius is a big boy with CP and who must be a handful for his mother who is expecting her 11th child any day now. We suggested a snip snip but she said she wanted 12 babies and then she would stop. The mind boggles when you think of getting from home to the Health Clinic which is her chosen venue for giving birth but then it was always thus here.
Today was a day to follow up families which we already had identified. It’s always important to check how they are, if the equipment we supplied is in good working order and to offer encouragement if deserved.
Last year we gave a tricycle to Marita, a post polio lady with 3 children living in a tiny room the size of a cupboard. It was dirty and smelly but she was not aware of its inadequacies until Harriet told her to make it clean and tidy. There was a reed mat for a mattress for all four of them and a few rags for clothes scattered around the floor, evidence of a fire for cooking but no food. Marita looked sick as she sat on her paralised legs and with sunken cheeks and little flesh but she smiled a toothy smile when she heard us arrive. She was sitting in her compound peeling cassava which presumably was their meal of the day. (My mind has wandered to the choice we have on our supermarket shelves.) Her tricycle was in good order and I asked her how this had helped. Funerals, church and the trading centre, she told us. It had opened up a whole new horizon for her, if, for us, somewhat limited.
We met James, a post-polio paralysis family man, last year in the market and he accepted our offer of a tricycle without hesitation. When we arrived in his village, the wife told us he was out in the fields and a small boy raced off to find him for us. After a short while, we could see above the crops, his head and shoulders and an entourage of children. They were moving at speed with the children having to run fast to keep up with his pace. How happy he was to be so mobile and independent now and he was hardly ever in his compound as there was much to do on his land.
Here, there are the steep emotional ups and downs for us and now we experienced another down as we walked along the bushy track to the home of Samuel and Lawrance.
For several years now they have been among my regular calls. These 2 young men have severe physical disabilities, speak some English and can only sit on their crumpled legs and shuffle along on their bottoms. They live with their old mother who was attending a funeral for the day. Samuel was sheltering in the shade of his hut while Lawrance was lying on the mud veranda which surrounded another mud hut. He was sheltered by a blanket suspended on 2 poles hooked under the hut roof but his feet were in bright sunlight. His contorted body seemed lifeless and surely he was ebbing from this life. They were waiting for the return of the mother in the evening to provide them with their first meal of the day. Nothing to drink could be seen and that was their existence. A “brother” appeared who said he would bring the mother back from the funeral but this would take time. Instead of the usual happy grins I have seen over the years, Samuel bore almost a grimace and Lawrance lay expressionless like a sleeping dog. Last year we had given them a wheelchair each from the Physionet consignment from UK and I had returned home with a photograph of them both happy together which was reproduced in the Physionet newsletter. What a contrasting picture this portrayed! What immediate aid had we at hand? Helen walked back to the car to bring the remainder of her Strawberry and Apple milk drink and we managed to find a few glucose biscuits and some water in the vehicle. Not much!
A fitting end to the day and we could reflect on the highs and lows as we drove back to Pallisa where we stopped at the Fair Way Inn and ordered a meal and a drink. What a difference in circumstances a few miles can make. We left extreme hardship and in no time we were eating and drinking but with more appreciation than we might have had earlier.
Almost too tired and dirty to make the effort, it was necessary for us to shower and wash our hair before we lay down on our comfortable beds. The events of the day had disturbed us both and neither of us managed to sleep soundly.
Tuesday 16 October
Leaving the hospital, we passed the hospital bus with Mr Viva and his team all set for their first full day of surgery.
First stop of the day was at the bank where Helen and I needed to cash some more money and Harriet wanted to transfer the account to Kumi from Soroti. The queue at the till was long and what would I do without dear Harriet? She dealt with the matter efficiently and it was not long before we were sitting at a desk with a straight-faced bank clerk who baffled me with forms and protocol and made things as complicated as possible. We were ushered from one clerk to another, some of whom were more pleasantly disposed. Armed with a stack of forms to complete and a need to return tomorrow with 2 passport photos, we were ushered into the Bulk Cash kiosk where a very pleasant girl handed us 10 million shillings whilst those in the queue looked on disgruntingly at the queue-jumpers but there are times when needs must. Helen’s transaction was completed effortlessly and it’s thanks to computerisation that a visit to the bank isn’t a full day’s job.
Whilst dealing with this, Peter and Martin went shopping to buy 2 basins and stock them with items for Okello Stephen, Okenyekure Moses and Apulamera, our first 3 visits of the day. Then we were off to see Stephen, brother of the late Gabriel, the boy who died about 3 years ago. Following a long track, we found his small 2-roomed house cum shop-to-be now with doors and windows. It’s been in construction about 3 years now and he has been able to move in with his almost non-existent belongings. The front room (to be a small shop selling very basic items in the future) was swept and, apart from table and 5 stools, the room was bare. The table was laid with mugs, 2 flasks, sugar, loose tea and 2 large bowls of g-nuts. He must have borrowed these from neighbours although no sign of habitation could be seen around. With the food and drink blessed, Stephen left as is the custom but I requested his presence as this was the reason for our visit. As we sat, a man with a gun walked past the open door followed by the chain gang of prisoners from the local prison donned in their canary yellow vest and shorts and bearing hoes to spend a day of their sentence digging trenches. Bringing up the rear was a further armed guard. We bade Stephen our farewells encouraging him to continue for a further year and we set off for the Ngora School for the Deaf where we met Anne, the deputy head teacher who summoned Apulamera, one of my children, to her office. How lovely it was to see her and to hear of her progress over the year. She is in P6 and doing well being 4th in her year out of about 20. The school is so quiet with no idle chatter from the deaf pupils, just sign language allowing them communication. We caught up with her family’s news, gave her a carton of school items and left for the next visit to Moses Okenyekure.
I have known Moses for years and, on arrival, he is always sitting on the ground and he never looks any different. I am sure we are the only visitors from outside whom he sees all year so he grins widely and gives us a warm welcome. His grandmother looked older and more frail but, otherwise, was cheerful. Her hut had collapsed during a heavy wind and rain storm and the framework of a new hut was evident. Moses continues slowly with his bicycle repair business and making fishing baskets.
Now, Moses is building a brick house but slowly, slowly and more funds were required to make further progress. I was prepared to assist with the next instalment and, probably, in a further couple of years, it could reach a state where Moses could move in. This is where Helen intervened. In August, Helen had a big milestone birthday and celebrated with a fund-raising evening for Kumi and Mr Viva. This was an enormous success and resulted in a most generous donation for us both. I could almost hear Helen’s mind ticking as she reckoned that part of one of the donations would allow the house to be completed in one go. Yes, this would be of great advantage to Moses as he could establish his business in the front room and what a boost to his morale! He is a TB spine of little stature with legs bent beneath him and he shuffles along on his backside. There was no hesitation and the decision had been made. The house construction was to be completed and Martin, a CBR worker and one of my team, would oversee the work. Let’s hope Helen returns next year to visit its new occupant.
On our departure, Moses handed me a live chicken for our supper, one of the most valued gifts one can receive. Tucked under my arm and with its legs tied together with string, we waved good bye and left.
William was next; a 9 year old CP boy who we had identified in the outreach clinic last week and decided needed a Home Visit. He was tiny, thin and a pathetic sight. Little we could do except encourage the mother to feed him up and, once again, Helen’s mind was working overtime and it was decided she would fund a cow so that the child could have milk to drink. This is a wonder remedy for these children although he will never be mobile due to his disability. Perhaps if his body weakness could be improved, he may be able to learn to stand.
Number 4 family lives in Kobwin and they have been part of my programme for 3 years. There were 4 young adults whose mother died of a distressing and debilitating progressive disease. Sadly she passed this on to all 4 children and I have watched them deteriorate at a rapid rate. Paul, the eldest, died last year and the last time I saw him, 2 years ago, he was a frightening sight with gross, uncoordinated movements. Last year I left them with Joseph and Vincent struggling to walk with Zimmer frames we had supplied. This year was equally depressing as there was Joseph suffering from malaria and sitting on a home-made bed with a quinine drip, suspended from a stick tied to the corner of his bed, in his arm. He had acquired the grotesque expressions of his elder brother and he knew what lay ahead for him having watched his mother and brother die. His brother, Vincent, had also deteriorated and needs a wheelchair to get around. We met him sitting in his chair under a tree when a young boy came along and kindly pushed him with great difficulty over bumpy ground to their compound. Vincent managed to stagger into the hut to join Joseph. At about 6 foot 4 inches, he wobbles from a height. Finally, Agnes, also very tall, joined us and it was most upsetting to see that she had also followed her brothers in her increasing lack of co-ordination. The last time I saw her, she was upright and elegant but dumb. Now she is a pathetic sight to behold.
The boys’ hut is primitive with 2 beds, a mud floor and a mass of clothes hanging from a string across the hut as is their way. There is no light but I could hear the radio which I had bought Paul.
What would they like, we asked. A quick reply from Joseph was that he would like a bed as his home-made one was uncomfortable. After much discussion, it was decided that Helen’s fund would purchase 3 extra-long beds, mattresses and bed sheets. Vincent would like a radio. This is not an impossible task as beds can be made locally and so it will be. Before we left, we stooped into Agnes’ hut to find that she slept on a reed mat on the floor and we were in awe as to how she can lower herself so far down. Also, we were feeling overwhelmed at what we had seen and that no words can be descriptive enough to give you a true picture of what we witnessed.
By this time, we were saturated with emotion and Helen and I could easily have returned to Kumi but the team had another plan to visit a couple more families “on our route home”. This was an understatement and the en route turned out to be rather circular. However, after what seemed like miles over the bumpy roads, we finally reached the home of Peter and his son, Moses, which was a definite must during my stay here. Last year you may recall we made Moses parallel bars and we left him standing for the first time ever and walking up and down unaided. This year, guess what, he was walking with a locally made walking frame and, better still, he could walk unaided. I never thought I would see this day and it was worth every extra mile we went to see his father’s and his big smiles. The father continues to impress me with his enthusiasm and proudly showed off his 45 orange trees which Martin had shown him how to graft. The ground beneath had been planted with a very healthy crop of cassava, his ox, 2 cows and 2 calves grazed nearby and he proudly showed me his plough which the ox pulls to work the land. And all this from 2 hens and their eggs! For the second time in one day, I was duly presented with a chicken, this one with a little crown of feathers adorning its head and it joined the first on the floor in the back of the vehicle.
Surely, this could be our grand finale for the day and we now returned to Kumi town where I needed 2 passport photos for the bank. I entered a “studio” where 3 youths were having their full length photos taken dressed up a la Michael Jackson. A box of hats was available for wearing but all I wanted was a basic photo. No booth, just a stool and a digital camera which took 3 photos and it bothered me not which one I preferred as I just wanted to get back home. Driving up the road from town, we met Mr Viva’s team returning in the bus after a busy day in theatre.
Monday 15 October
Helen and I set off for the hospital with eyes skinned on the road for frogs, Helen’s phobia’ and it is a wonder she has returned as her fear is intense. Only squashed ones which are not as bad for her! At Assembly, she was given a warm welcome with the nurses standing and, with hands on heart, they sang the Nurses’ Anthem. As we were finishing, the bus arrived and Mr Viva and his, secretary, Marjorie, entered the hall and were duly welcomed also with an anthem for women sung, of course, by the women. The rest of the team had branched off to the theatre and wards in preparation for the day ahead. We approached the rehab department to find a mass of parents with their children sitting outside awaiting the arrival of Mr Viva who screened them one by one until all had been examined and a plan decided. So many babies with cleft lips and palates, some unbelievably small and the parents searching Mr Viva’s face in the hope that there was a hope for their child to be able to continue life without such a disfigurement. It is a privilege and joy to be here and to see that so many can be helped where there was deep disappointment at the birth and first sight of their child malformed in this way. Contractures were to be released on the burns children making the limbs more functional, many keloid scars for operation and injection, lumps and bumps of all descriptions (one baby’s bump looked like a little crown on the top of its head and an adolescent girl had developed an accessory breast). There were two keloid scars on ears which had been pierced and I was surprised that one of the patients was a boy who had done the piercing himself. By the end of the morning, 50 patients had been identified for intervention with few returning home disappointed. Following our lunch of rice, cow and cabbage cooked in the leprosy kitchen for the team, the theatre team left to prepare for the commencing the surgeries and the remainder dealt with the paperwork and a few social issues. The couple from Kampala arrived with no money, food and, in fact, no requirements necessary for admission to hospital. I had managed to settle them in with the basics the night before but now we had to plan for them for the next 2 weeks as they will return to Kampala with the team. They were accommodated in the private ward overnight as they had no bedding and bare necessities and also they don’t speak Ateso and, with their disfigurements, these patients are very self-conscious and keep their face covered. We had to address the question of cost. Mr Viva’s work is always free but there are small hospital overheads which have to be covered and should we transfer them to the public ward? It was decided to let them stay and their young volunteer attendant would be given a budget for food, pans, charcoal etc paid for by Mr Viva’s fund. The matter dealt with, Helen and I had a brief tour of the hospital which is so much busier than last year and returned to the GH where we found Moses, the blind boy who I failed to visit yesterday, was waiting patiently having arrived at 9 am and now it was 4 pm! We shared a cup of tea and I gave him the Braille letter which Sheila from home had written to him. It was lovely to hear him read it using his fingers and hear her news of the Queen’s Jubilee, Olympic Games, her love of swimming when young and our inclement summer weather.
A quick turnaround and we were picked up by a boda boda to be driven to Consolata’s for supper. Helen is beginning to accept this method of transport with three of us riding, Helen in the middle of the driver and me bringing up the rear however she is not all that relaxed and she hangs on to the driver for dear life from the start to the finish. It’s a great way to travel, like booking a taxi at home, a phone call and the bike arrives with the driver revving the engine if you are not ready. It was lovely to share supper and to talk no non-stop catching up on each other’s news. Soon the evening was over and it was time to ride back again in the dark. No stars nor moon as the clouds hid them from view.
Sunday 14 October
At 8 am, I had a visitor who was down in my diary to come at 7 am tomorrow. Helen Apolot who called with rice, G nuts and 2 eggs the other day. She has an incredibly tough existence and I managed to help her out of one of her many crises with a few shillings. By the time she left, I was later than intended for prayers and I sped off on my bike. An old lady, on seeing an old white woman on a bike, raised both arms into the air and doubled up with laughter! I entered the church at the perfect moment having missed the Teso homily and I stayed until the end. Next week is Harvest Festival but we have a programme with Mr Viva that day so I may have to forgo the service which is a shame.
Back in the house, I changed my bedding, cleaned the bathroom in preparation for Helen’s arrival and prepared to go to Kodukol for lunch. Lydia who used to be a member of my team until she went to the orthopaedic centre in Kumi Town to work earlier this year called with her husband, Wilson, and I was so pleased to be able to catch up with their news. Stephen Obwongo made his now regular daily visit with his wife to bring some glue to fill in the crack in my acungo and then Modesta called to tell me about her son, Peter, who had been kicked by a boy and he had retaliated by throwing a stone back hitting the boy in the face to the extent that he is now a hospital patient in need of minor surgery. With these tales I hear of these children, I am never sure what the actual truth is.
Now I managed a rest and fell into a deep sleep only waking to wonder what time of day it could possibly be. By the time the driver called me to say he was near, the heavens had opened and a storm was raging and I was relieved to tell him that I was not prepared to sally forth in such inclement weather. This proved to be a blessing as, not long after, I heard the bus trundle up our path and, sure enough, long before I expected them, Mr Viva with his plastics team had arrived from Teesside looking shattered. I boarded the bus and we continued to the hospital where we left two patients and their attendant who had accompanied them from Kampala. The wife was a victim of acid throwing, blind and with a dreadfully disfigured face and her husband had severe head burns. Mr Viva’s reputation of helping acid survivors had reached them and they had requested his help. With them settled in the Private Ward and with essentials bought from “Tree Shade”, I returned to the GH to greet Helen who will stay for 2 weeks with me. How lovely it was to see her and to have her company once again.
Saturday 13 October
Oh, there is a cockerel living in the kitchen here which makes such a din at the crack of dawn! A neighbouring cock living nearby consistently replies and this conversation continues unceasingly with others joining in from north, south, east and west. The bird is locked in a kitchen cupboard with its wife during the night which doesn’t allow for a particularly pleasant odour in the house. Cooking takes place outside fortunately on charcoal stoves and it is only on rare occasions that a paraffin burner is ignited which alters the smell of hen muck.
Saturday morning chores include washing clothes, tidying my room and sorting out the piles of pieces of paper I accumulate during the week. I was doing well and looking forward to breakfast when at 8 am Andrew, a teacher from Adesso School called. At 9 am, Simon Peter, Ruth’s brother, called as I had a letter from Alan from UK who continues to help SP. He has graduated from University but, as is so often the case, he has failed to find employment. He now helps with Mobile Money, a system whereby money can be sent via the mobile phone so I encouraged him to go out and seek work. He was on his way to visit his old mother who has few possessions and so he left with a long bar of soap which I had in my stock and a small blanket crocheted by my friend, a Poor Clare sister, in Hereford. This year, I came with few things to hand out which has made my life so much simpler.
Dr Chebet, the locum weekend doctor, told me of the night’s call outs, one of which was to a gunshot incident when a policeman had discovered a young man with his wife and he had shot him in the shoulder causing a fracture and much loss of blood. This happened only a few hundred yards from here. I didn’t hear a gunshot but I am always aware of the vehicle coming to pick the doctor up with the engine revving and doors closing outside my window.
I now had some time to myself and it was so peaceful as Anna had taken little Genevieve to her son, Andrew’s Visitation Day at his Primary School (the equivalent of our Parents’ Evenings.) I managed to catch up with my diary and was only interrupted by young men who wanted to collect their mobile phones which can be charged on our solar system for 300/= (8p). This is proving to be good income for Anna and Grace but should I hand phones over to strangers with no proof of ownership?
I changed into my African dress and waited for a boda boda to collect me to take me to Francis Okerenyang’s for lunch which was laid out on the low table and I was soon sitting with Francis and one of his many sons, Joseph, inside his basic iron sheet roofed house. His wife had cooked sweet potatoes, atap, dodo, echomu and greens. The latter three are all green vegetables which they know I like but what effect would this have on me, I wondered! Two hours later, he suggested we went outside which was a relief as these iron sheets make the houses too hot even though the weather continued to be cooler than usual. The children gathered round and I asked them to sing and dance for me. Later one girl whispered to her grandfather and I asked him what she had said. The children thought they would receive money for their efforts, he told me! They were disappointed! I needed to stretch my legs so I asked if I could visit his bee hives. We walked over crops of sorghum, maize, dodo, sweet potatoes, and rice and found five bee hives hidden in bushes. These have produced 15 kilos of honey this year. I picked some rice stems to bring back to UK to show the children at school. Walking back, a young boy was following screaming and in distress so I asked Francis to wait. The boy had been beaten by girls who accused him of some misdeed which he denied. The boy carried on to tell his father and we were later passed by a very angry father storming down the path to deal with the matter. As dusk approached, I stood on the side of the road and hitched a lift back on a motor bike.
We have a visitor staying in the house for 3 nights, an Australian who is involved with an orphanage in Kanyum and whose niece and nephew are establishing a bakery business using the hospital ovens which had been installed a couple of years ago. I am so pleased that these are not being allowed to disintegrate from non-use. He is not new to Uganda this being his 13th visit. His nephew and niece who live in a hospital house are here for a couple of years and are in the process of adopting a 5 year old girl and a 4 year old boy who are so full of life. Peace reigned once they had left for their house!
Friday 12 October
I realise that I have carelessly deleted two entries for the diary, Independence Day, 9 October and Thursday, 11 October. I know I had completed them and I want to record a few happenings in brief.
9 October, Independence Day, is a Public Holiday and this year it is 50 years since the British handed Uganda over to the people. Staff here continue with their duties and I was called to help with Asianut Faith whose prosthetics were ready for fitting. The mother and child were so happy and now Faith is about 3 inches taller and able to walk without the bone end rubbing against prosthesis. They could be discharged and leave for home. Later in the day, I was invited to join the ladies in the AID’s/HIV+ group at Akurut Janet’s home. As a storm developed, we squeezed into the mud hut and held a useful and constructive meeting. The goats are turning steadily into cows and their businesses are allowing them to improve their standard of living. Next month, they will prise open the roughly hewn wooden box to reveal its contents which are the weekly subs and the interest from loans over the year. These will be shared out to all members except I, being a member, will not be present. On 31 October, they are to bring their entries for this year’s competition which is to produce an item made from local materials and costing nothing. The winners from last year’s compost-making competition are still gloating over their victory so this year there is even more rivalry.
Now, 11 October; this was an Outreach Clinic day in Okoboi in Ngora and we arrived to find very many people sitting under 2 large trees for shade. Very many children with all forms of disability sat before Elizabeth and me and we, once more, continued until the last one had been seen. Midway, the wind got up blowing our papers far and wide, the rain started to fall and we needed to move our table under the verandah. So many gluteal fibrosis, burns, CP, epilepsy, mostly unnecessary conditions which is so frustrating with all these young lives being affected. The final adult stood up and left and it was then that we realised we were famished with not a bite to eat all day. Although, I originally wrote a more detailed version of the day, I shall close there and continue.
Back to Friday 12 October. I write my diary mostly very early in the morning but this is no excuse for getting it wrong.
No travelling today which was a relief! I had a 2 hour and very fruitful meeting with Charles, Hospital Administrator, when we addressed many issues which needed airing.
The hospital seems as though it may be able to lift itself out of the very difficult situation of the last 2 years and more. Charles has always said that, if the hospital failed completely, then he would be the last one to lock the door and take the key and I must say he and Dr Ruth have worked tirelessly to keep things going.
Following the meeting, I met up with Amos, one of my team who had come from Serere by picki-picki to see me. We were planning my visit there in 2 weeks when we will be visiting the nursery where Happy Days, the cow funded by my granddaughters’ nursery, attends. Since last year, the cow has produced a calf which is great news. The nursery has been fund raising again and I was presented with one of those yard-long cheques, the money from which I have used to set up the bio gas system (more later on this) and there is enough residue to buy another cow for the nursery. So I was to give Amos the money for that cow and another one for a very poor family with a child with a disability as Saturday was market day and Amos can buy them and I can hand them over in 2 weeks.
With that organised, I went to the hospital Training School hall where the bio gas organisation was to give a lecture to staff and invited guests. Fascinating stuff turning cow dung into gas. www.heifer.org and www.africabiogas.org (I haven’t checked these sites yet). A group of around 30 followed this with a visit to the compound where the project is installed and the system was explained to us. We then went into the kitchen and the gas ring was lit and a kettle (admittedly not full) boiled in 1.25 minutes. Everyone was dumbfounded as, from the desire to have a cup of tea to it being made, normally entails much preparation and time before the end product is achieved. In the living area, a wall gas lamp was ignited and this produced a strong light. So it’s a big thank you to the nursery children and staff of Happy Days Nursery in Dalkeith for their fund raising efforts!
Back at the GH, there was little time to turn around before Robert Ecelat, PS teacher from Mary MacAleese drove round the corner on his motor bike. He was full of the stresses and strains of Ugandan life with burials, sick children, wife away at midwifery school, needing funds to finish building his house, cramped staff quarters. In fact, it seemed that he had the worries of the world on his shoulders. I am hoping that, by unloading his multitude of problems, he left feeling more relaxed even though he was not fortunate to have received a loan from me as requested so that his house could be completed. I was promised that, if I lent him a couple of million shillings ((£500), I would be recompensed on my next visit in 2013 but this does not comply my requirements for assistance. No sooner had he stood up to leave than Stephen Obwongo arrived with my acungo duly sanded down as requested. From my room, I listened to the beautiful music which emanated from this simple instrument from local wood roughly hewn, parts of a bicycle reputed to be flattened spokes and scraps of metal. I joined him on the porch while he continued to play and sing so gently. The money I gave him for it had paid for his wife’s tooth extraction which had eased her pain and they were both happy. Could I give him a shirt or pair of trousers? No! He has armfuls of clothes from suits to ties given to him by guests new to here who think he has nothing to wear!
Christine, Vivian’s mother, followed with receipts for school fees and exercise books to take back to UK for her sponsor. I have had such grateful emails from the family thanking me for finding such a need y girl for them to help. Next visitor was Florence Annet, the new Head Teacher of Adesso PS which is situated on the far side of the air strip which is used for the flying doctors’ MAF or AMREF planes. No planes are due nor have any been lately as can be seen by the grass being so long and cows are grazing on the land. The tale regarding the demise of the last Head Teacher I shall not repeat on paper! Florence seems to be a wise choice and I sincerely hope that she can bring good leadership qualities to the school. By this time, it was dark and Stella, Adesso PS teacher, arrived when I heard all about her family and their activities since last year. By now, it was raining heavily and it had turned cool, in fact I was cold so I checked my thermometer to find it was only 78 degrees. I wished I had my shoes and socks on! As they left, Stella borrowed my umbrella and they reassured me that they would avoid any snakes lurking in the bushy grass of the air strip. A long black snake visited the back of the GH a couple of weeks ago and I’m pleased I had not yet arrived!
Wednesday 10 October
If only I could share these days with you all. They really are so rewarding and maybe one day you may like to come and join me. Helen from Heighington arrives on Sunday for her second visit and so we will enjoy our days together.
You know the game “I went to market and bought a ……”? Well, you may try to finish off my shopping list today once you have read my diary if you wish! So here goes:
Peter and I set off in the Land Cruiser bound for Soroti and with a full programme to complete. Harriet was waiting for us in Kumi Town and we drove for one and a half hours to Soroti where we collected Ruth. Harriet withdrew money from the bank whilst Ruth and I shopped in a supermarket with trolleys! These are very small and low but too wide to pass one another in the narrow aisles which means a lot of lifting or reversing. They also have tiny ones for the little children and, at first, I thought these were all they had. I would have looked most foolish pushing one of these round the store. We bought essential items such as toothpaste and brushes, bread, soap, body cream, a maths set and exercise books, pens and pencils for Michael and knickers for Betty and so we went round filling the trolley. We must have been their best customer of the year! Laden with limitless plastic bags, we staggered to the vehicle and set off to visit Global Care, an organisation which is branching out into care for children with disabilities. This section is not yet established but we are hoping to form a link with them as their staff and volunteers will be untrained and I don’t think they realise the relevance of set milestones in a child’s development in the management of these children. Kumi Hospital has the facilities and knowledge which they will lack and so we are arranging visits and support and hopefully training before a firm link can made. They are awaiting a container load of specialist rehab equipment which will need some expertise to ensure suitable distribution.
A Global Care child with serious scarring following facial burns will come on Sunday to be assessed by Mr Viva who may wish to perform surgery to tweak a small section of Emma’s face. He had been to Mulago Hospital where surgeons had successfully skin grafted an open wound and the staff thought that Emma would return with a perfectly normal complexion. The children and families need so much counselling before and after surgery.
Our next appointment was at Light Academy where one of my special boys, Michael Ekonyu, is a pupil. He has a syndrome similar to dwarfism with a touch of arthrogryposis and has been a pupil there for 3 years. How bright he is! Near the top of the class, a form prefect, choir master in his church and with lots of certificates for his different extra-curricular activities. I liken him to Ellie, our Paralympic Gold medallist in swimming – an absolute star and gem! Next week we are going to visit his family which consists of a sick mother who had had a severe stroke 3 years ago and 2 younger siblings with severe disabilities both physical and mental. So you can see that Michael is the fittest and the head of the family. His warden has kindly granted his permission for Michael to accompany us on this home visit. Michael had not mentioned the condition of his family to the school so this was a surprise to the staff. The home is so dreadfully poor that I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of repairs need to be carried out to the mud hut if not a need to build a more sustainable one. Michael was happy to receive his bags of goodies and necessities especially the exercise books with hard covers and the shoe polish. It was like watching a child open a Christmas stocking and equally if not more so pleasurable. So we will meet next week for the home visit.
Next stop; Madera School for the Blind to visit Betty, another of my children. She is at last making progress having been in P1 for 2 years as she had never socialised with other people and she lived in a little world of her own, also a silent world as she had never talked to anyone. Lunch was underway when we arrived and so we went to the dining hall and we could observe her eating habits without her knowing of our presence. As in all schools, lunch is beans and posho 7 days a week and how they tucked into mounds of the stuff using their fingers as they were before forks, as my mother used to say. They couldn’t possibly be hungry but the food value may be somewhat lacking in nutritional value. After lunch the class returned to their classroom where we made our presence known.
St Mary’s RC Primary School in Richmond has always supported Betty and this year was no exception. The children collected their Lenten Alms and presented me with a most generous cheque. There was far too much for Betty’s school fees and so we presented the form teacher with 2 large cartons of Braille paper. The children ended our visit with songs and Betty even sang on her own. It is the very first time I have seen her smile or even speak. We are winning and next year she will go into P2.
Three home visits followed which entailed leaving Soroti and travelling deep into the countryside and into the bush, along mere tracks and squashing elephant grass as we went in the Land Cruiser. These homes are the poorest ever. The mother was cradling her 12 year old cerebral palsy boy, Isaac Epitu, who appeared to be half that age. Where do you start to help these children and families? A neighbour was with them cradling Fiona, a 2 year old cerebral palsy girl, and they made a pitiful sight. We stayed a while to get the feel of the families and then discussed a plan. CP chairs would enable the mothers to leave the children seated whilst they could do other things rather than leave them lying on the ground with little chance of viewing their surroundings. Isaac could well benefit from a wheelchair but, at present, we have exhausted our supplies. We decided that a goat each as an income generating project would start them off with a little security and, as there was a market nearby the next day, we gave them both some money. Ruth will follow the family up regularly as she always does.
The second family was more inaccessible and we could only foot it through the bush and neighbour’s villages to reach the child who was being beautifully cared for by the grandmother. He was well-dressed and clean and she obviously loved this child with cerebral palsy so much. The family histories are often very sad. The fathers may abandon their wives after such a child is born to find another wife and so the wife is returned to her parental home but then sometimes she leaves and leaves the child with the aging grandparent. This child could sit so we gave the grandmother some basic exercises and positional sitting advice along with some money for a goat. She was adamant that she wanted a sheep and that is what she will get. I’m not sure what the advantages and disadvantages are between sheep and goats except in a bible setting.
At the third home, we found Achiam Robina who was a 23 year old post-polio paralysis girl who had lower limb paresis (weakness) rather than paralysis. She had managed the second year of secondary school but then dropped out due to lack of money. She spoke English well and was obviously educated but she had no opportunity to start a business. After some discussion, she thought she could manage a treadle sewing machine with her better leg and so we will provide her with one as well as necessary items such as scissors, thread and material to get her started.
It was now time to return home as we were all feeling very tired, extremely dirty but well satisfied with the day’s results. It had been full and unbelievably rewarding. In Soroti, we left Ruth in the town centre and I asked Harriet why we hadn’t taken her to her home which is in a church hall where she sleeps with many others on mattresses on the floor as our people do in times of disaster. I had given Ruth a card from an English friend who has tirelessly prayed for Ruth during her years of severe depression. Having joined our team, Ruth has blossomed and fully recovered into her old bubbly, smiling, happy self. This friend repeatedly sends me throughout the year a cheque for my fund and I decided to put the equivalent of £10.00 in with Ruth’s card. Well, the joy she demonstrated was so worthwhile and we had left her to buy herself a set of bed sheets. She said that every night when she pulls the sheets under her chin she will think and pray for her loyal English friend.
I leave you today with the text message I received from Ruth before I fell asleep:
Dear Elspeth thks very 4 our day! It has been like a mother living (leaving) her children for some time then comes back home! That’s the happiness I have for you together with my clients, 4 the gifts I have got from you and M… “ooh” God bless the work of your hands! With lots of happiness. Ruth
Monday 8 October
No sooner had I arrived at the hospital this morning than I heard a 10 year old girl with 2 artificial legs had arrived for replacements. I have known her for a few years now and I agreed to fund the new legs managing to bring down the estimate considerably to a sum I accepted. Her right stump was growing with excess bone protruding a good 2 inches below the end of the stump. She will have this trimmed next year but, at present, she is doing exams at school which are so important to the family even at primary level. Simon Peter in the workshop will allow for this adjustment. Hopefully the legs will be ready tomorrow and, although it is a Bank Holiday, we will prepare her for home and I shall take photos of the finished result.
I visited the Maternity Ward with the tiny knitwear which Nancy who lives in our road had knitted in abundance. There were 3 new babies two of whom had gone for immunisation and their mothers were delighted to be given these gifts. I asked one mother what she had named her baby boy and she asked me to choose a name. I said I had 3 boys, told her their names and she chose Nicholas. How much easier than spending days wondering what to call your baby! I took photos to bring home for Nancy and I will have to return tomorrow as one of the ladies’ babies was “still within” and I said she had to wait till it was “out”!
Then over a mug of tea with excessive sugar in the physio department, I asked the staff if they thought Uganda really was “independent” and it was an interesting conversation enlightening them on Europe’s financial situation and the debts of EU countries. They were not at all convinced that what I told them was true. “Europe is rich” they said. These staff were too young to remember the British in charge and obviously hadn’t covered the subject in history.
As I left the department, an old man with crutches was sitting on the bench outside waiting for me. He was an old leprosy patient whose tricycle needed a new inner tube and a new bell. He had left the leprosy unit after being there for many years and now lived near the hospital. Without a tricycle, he could not carry a jerry can for water to and from the borehole and so, without it, meant he lost his independence. How sad and degrading it is to have someone have to beg for assistance like this! If I hadn’t been here, then Harriet who handles my finances would have sorted out the problem but he came because he knew the muzungu was here. Hopefully, the tricycle will be ready for Wednesday and he will be mobile once more.
I went to see the fuel saving stoves in the sheds which the attendants have to use since no cooking on stones is allowed in the hospital compound. It’s disappointing to see some of my projects neglected as about 10 stoves had collapsed which is to be expected as they don’t last forever but there should be a system to replace them as necessary. It needs sorting out. The attendants were also using about 5 metal charcoal stoves which burn too much fuel. I found Joseph, an amputee who made the others, and he has promised to make 15 more (for an agreed sum, of course). As the materials are free, this will cost him no money but lots of energy and sweat.
I passed Lawrence, the blind leprosy sufferer, sweeping the path whilst shuffling along on his bottom and holding a sort of brush with his arms with no hands. As tomorrow is a special day, I bought sugar and soap for him and his wife, Margaret, and 2 leprosy ladies for them to celebrate Independence. The joy they showed on receiving such a pittance was immense with singing and dancing in appreciation. I can see, though, that sugar which is almost an essential commodity for them here is a treat as it is the same price as in UK and soap is 3,000/= a kilo (75p} I’ve done well with the exchange rate this year as it is 20% better than last year!
Back at the Guest Hose, I took a rest and fell asleep for an hour. It is so hot. The rest of the day has been writing this interrupted by children wanting toys, balls, pens on their way from school. One group of about 6 sat around and then said they had come to sing and dance for me so they did their bit and I waved them off. So now I’m up to date with my diary – a lovely feeling!
Sunday 7 October
Prayers start at 8 am now and so I cycled to church at 9 am to find the benches full and the Gospel finishing. An hour later, the catechist finished his homily in Teso, a hymn was sung and I left as it was too hot for me.
Sitting in the shade hut and, after the service had finished, Modesta and her 6 year old boy, Emma, joined me for a soda. She is the one who made millet porridge for Chris when he contracted malaria here and we have been the best of friends for years. Her hard life is full of struggles with many obstacles but she comes through them with little complaint.
Stephen Obwango came again but this time with his wife, daughter and granddaughter. He had brought a bag of groundnuts which need frying by Anna before eating. Her children were pretending to cook cakes. This is similar to making sandcastles with mounds of sand decorated with red hibiscus, yellow glue tree and pink bourgonvillia flower heads. 4 year old Andrew found an empty tea bag carton so the cake was carefully transferred into it and then he found a hoe (large digging tool) and cut it into slices. They must have played without distraction and in full harmony for 2 hours whilst I read my book and was enjoying their company.
Suddenly, I could hear the wind getting stronger and then the rain drops fell so that I needed to get under the porch. A storm followed with much lightning and thunder but not enough rain to benefit this parched earth.
The unpacking was completed and photos from last year sorted into categories for handing round to the staff. Why can an easy day be so tiring? Not long after supper, I had my “shower” went to bed to read and soon fell asleep.
Saturday 6 October 2012
A day ahead with nothing to do! Can you imagine it? Perhaps my unpacking will be completed by evening!
I lingered in my pyjamas until I saw, at 7.30 am, that my first visitor had arrived and so my solitude didn’t last long. Just as I came out of my room to greet her, Grace announced she had made me an omelette with chopped onions, tomatoes and peppers, a favourite of mine and so I asked my visitor to wait while I ate. I know her well and she has a UK friend who gives her some money each year. She had already received a loan and so the gift could be deducted from her debt. She had a further request to borrow some money until the end of the month and, as she has always paid me back on time, I was willing to help her again. We sat in the shade hut and sorted out the world between us, talking about the risks of mixed cultural marriages amongst other topics. Three hours later, she left as Christine came carrying Vivian, a 10 year old child with arthrogryposis who was my first patient here when she was only a month old in 2002. I had never heard of the condition before and this was the start of my steep learning curve in Africa. She’s a lovely girl who is doing well in main stream school in primary 2 but her joints and spine are very deformed from the condition and, although she can write, she can’t walk and is carried at home but has a wheelchair which remains in school. She’s 4th in her class and, as I wanted a student for a new sponsor, she fitted my requirements perfectly. Her mother had failed to pay half the term’s fees and so this was settled and Vivian is part of my programme and she can now return to school. Outstanding fees mean the child is refused entry! One of my school friends died last year and their family wanted to start a Foundation within an organisation (International Association of Charities) I belong to educate a disadvantaged child. This need not necessarily be a Ugandan child and who knows what may happen in the future.
So now well into the afternoon, children appeared and played around whilst I managed to read my Kindle book. Who should come round the corner “rolling” his bike but Stephen Obwango wearing giraffe patterned trousers and a quite ridiculous red and white satin hat braided in gold. It is always a pleasure to see him and he admits to being mad but, since he was born again, the absence of drink has made him more than acceptable. He carried a bag made from banana leaves containing oranges and lemons for me from his garden. There’s nothing like one of Stephen’s green lemons to brighten up my cup of tea! He had tied to the back of the bike, a milking stool and bucket which he had carved from wood but I have so many I declined his offer of a gift. However, his wife had toothache and needed 10,000/= (£2.50) to have it extracted. As I don’t give him money, he is going to make a thumb piano (acungo) for me Yes, I have some of these at home on top of the wardrobe as well but they are easier to pass on than a milking bucket! He left and, with only a page of my book read, Janet, Chairperson of the AIDs/HIV women’s group) arrived bearing her gifts of groundnuts and 2 eggs. I am to visit the group on Tuesday, Independence Day, which is a Bank Holiday and was going to be a free day for me.
The evening wore on and, as Anna now sells cold drinks from the fridge, a group of young men sat in the shade hut drinking beers and sodas until after I was asleep. So my day at home was overflowing with visitors.
Friday 5 October
A free day in the hospital which should be a change and a rest. Firstly, my soaking clothes needed rinsing in a bucket and hanging out on the line. My coloureds then had their turn at soaking in the same water! As I pulled the bolt on the heavy metal door leading to the compound and opened it, I came face to face with a cow! It sauntered on and I slung the washing over a wire where it would dry in next to no time.
At the hospital, I decided to go to the Nutrition Unit which has been re-started following a visit from Dr Chris and Sharon Atkins from Sheffield last year. There were only three malnourished babies who were improving after being given the food programme and nutrition education for the mothers.
I continued on to see the newly installed incinerator which burns all the hospital waste although they say that the body parts, placentas etc go into the pit. It is an impressive set up constructed by volunteers, one of whom works for the same company as my youngest son, Peter, and somehow they discovered that I was about to come to Kumi.
Friday morning is for ward rounds but, as there was a Head of Departments meeting which went on all morning, this was cancelled. The wards were full of patients sitting on their beds patiently waiting. They are usually outside all day unless very ill.
Gerald Moses, my blind friend, had come to the hospital to tell me that he has at last found himself a wife – good news, indeed, as each year he tells me how he longs to be wedded. He has invited me to his village once again and I shall go next Sunday. I usually go on the back of a push bike along an old railway track for mile upon uncomfortable mile but I have asked him to send a motor bike instead this year. I am the only white person who has visited the family and it is here that I learnt how to light a fire by rotating thin sticks, adding dry grass and blowing until it smoulders and ignites. I shall give him the Braille letter written by my friend, Sheila, and he usually sends me back with a letter for her. We went to Tree Shade for a cuppa where the service was dreadful and I almost gave up.
(As I write, a bat has entered the room and the children are having a great time trying to beat it down with branches. When toys are non-existent, a bat is a good substitute!)
Then Harriet and I sat down and sorted out a programme for the next month. How much more preferable it is to spread the load over a ten week period but we have managed to cover the most important areas.
Before I left for the Guest House, I called in to the Workshop and had an interesting discussion with Helen, the new Workshop Manager, about taking one of her team on Outreaches which should save patients having to be admitted to be given appliances.
Then I collected my solar lamp from George and charged it up for the evening. My washing was bone dry and soon ironed and put away. My cases are gradually being emptied so, at least, there is some organisation in my room.
Thursday 4 October
Thursday is Outreach day and, at 8am prompt, the Land Cruiser arrived to collect me. Whatever has happened to African time? I used to wait up to three hours! Harriet, Michael, George, Elizabeth, Ruth and I with driver, Peter, set off north to Acowa in Amuria. If you look at a map, you will find Acowa is far from Kumi and now the roads are so bad which meant a bumpy ride and a long day ahead. The road to Soroti has deteriorated so much in the last year although some highway work is being undertaken. Where this is ongoing, the dust created from lorries in front of us reduced the visibility to almost nil and it seeped through every crack in the vehicle until we all end up the same colour…red! There seems less traffic going up to Southern Sudan and could I be imagining there are less overturned lorries than in previous years? Awoja swamps are once more severely flooded with torrents of water gushing through the culverts which were constructed during the last flooding when the UN provided dugouts for paddling along the road. Heavy construction equipment which was in situ last year still lines the road and bridge as they improve the depth of the culverts and repair the bridge.
We passed through Soroti town, cut across towards Amuria District and finally bumped our way to Acowa health centre where a throng of people awaited our attention. Toothless Johnson, our mobiliser, who we had picked up on the way, was happily grinning at the sight of such a crowd as it proved his preparation to be successful. A table and chairs were soon provided for us under a shade-giving mango tree and the patients formed a queue as Elizabeth and I started screening the children and adults totalling just under 100. The first four were clefts, either with lips or palates and were booked for surgery when Mr Viva comes on 14 October. Some needed orthopaedic surgery (we saw knock-knees, gangrene, osteomyelitis etc) and 11 will be collected next Sunday for Mr Viva. Burn contractures, tumours, extra digits…I hope Mr Viva will accept them all but one tiny cleft baby was so malnourished that it may have to be admitted to the Nutrition Unit instead. His and the anaesthetist’s decision, not ours. As the day progressed, the queue became less structured with everyone wanting to be seen in spite of reassurances that all patients would have their turn. I ended up handing out numbers to keep some order which was semi-successful. Elizabeth and I continued without a pause or any thought of refreshment until the bench was empty and the final old soul had hobbled away (children are first and then adults). It is heart-breaking to witness the lack of mobility in the elderly and one imagines that their lives have been so hard which has led to completely worn out limbs and spines. We have little to offer them except our attention and concern. Michael had had a good day in the eye clinic and will collect a dozen patients on Sunday for surgery next week. George had demonstrated the solar lights hoping there would be someone who could afford one. They are an investment as people spend much money on kerosene for lighting their dangerous jack-lamps.
A tired team but somehow past thoughts of hunger drove home as the sun dropped down. At times, it dazzled us so much that I know not how Peter could possibly see oncoming traffic, cows or children on the road ahead. It was a relief when dusk arrived and then darkness. Coming over the swamps as the road wound through the reeds, I could hear the frogs croaking incredibly loudly to each other. Lightening from far away lit the skies and the trillions of stars twinkled above. I’m always relieved when I see the distinctive red lights from three phone masts in Kumi Town as it means home is close, just the last 9 km up the Ongino road to the hospital gates.
We were dirty. I resembled Worzall Gummidge with my dust filled hair more like straw and every inch of my body embedded with sweat and dust. But, almost falling into the house, the first priority was a short call (my first since early morning), hand and face wash, supper which was waiting for me and then a thorough hair wash and shower and, before going to bed, I put my light coloured clothes into soak. It is such an energising experience, no thoughts of tiredness, just a job to be done and then reflecting that we had done well.
Wednesday 3 October
My first morning and I woke under my mosquito net after a far from deep sleep as it was too hot all night. So it’s the old routine…clamber out from under the net, wash, cover exposed areas with sun block, eat breakfast, and walk the well-trodden path lined with flame trees to the hospital. The squashed frogs were still evident and the women were still pumping water from the borehole. Little changes over the years! Through the hospital gates and across the compound towards the Hall of Hope where Amazing Grace could already be heard being sung in full force. I had forgotten that the Hall clock is often fast and the Morning Assembly start is not synchronised to the time on my phone. Staff entered whilst the Assembly continued followed by general discussion. That’s when visitors have to go to the front for their welcome. Surely I don’t still have to go forward and give a few words? It was lovely to meet the staff again but they had work to do. The compound seemed so quiet and then I realised that attendants are no longer allowed to cook on wood outside and they now remain in their shelter with all their jerry cans, sacks of food etc. I visited various wards and departments ending up in rehab where the staff was preparing for the weekly epilepsy and club foot clinics. As I was taking things easier, I walked back to the Guest House to rest but, on the way, stopped at the ESCo premises where my bio gas project is being constructed. I wanted to meet George Emesu who I had never met although we have communicated by email for some time. Of course, I was fascinated to actually see the construction and so the afternoon slipped by and my rest was forfeited. Next Friday, the UDBP (Ugandan Domestic Biogas programme) people are coming to light the flame and so I am hoping that it is so impressive that people will want to spread the news around the community. George has invited about 50 guests and I have suggested that he asks the Rotarians as they may take on the project…fingers are crossed!
So the day had passed and I could relax in the shade hut. Not for long as Harriet, my Team leader, arrived and we talked until dark (7pm) about our work. She has done a magnificent job over the year and I cannot thank her enough for her input. We have much to do in the following month and so we must not waste a day!
Life here has changed with Anna living on site. In some ways it is lovely to be living amongst the local people with children darting about the place and the general atmosphere being one of family life but gone has the complete solitude if desired by shutting the doors and being alone! I don’t usually have supper but now 2 of the doctors come to the GH for their meal and so there is activity in the back until late evening. Dr Robert is standing in for the resident Orthopaedic doctor who is on a 3 month course in Japan and Dr Douglas is a Medical Officer. Genevieve (18 months old) and Andrew (5 years old) tend to go to bed quite late but, if Genevieve gets tired, Anna ties her onto her back and continues with her chores. There’s little opportunity to get on with my paperwork which will still be pending in 4 weeks’ time, for sure.
I’m writing this in the shade hut on Saturday and I had decided to forgo lunch but Grace has cut up an avocado the size of a grapefruit, some pawpaw and I have added a banana with a smattering of groundnut paste for protein. Delicious and filling!
Tuesday 2 October
Up early to await being picked up for the long drive to Kumi. It was dark outside which heralded heavy rain and loud thunder. Once this subsided, I ventured to the Physiotherapy Department to see Florence who used to work in Kumi as the physio assistant.
Then Paul, the driver, arrived looking far too young to have a driving license but he proved to be a very reliable young man who drove with great care. We stopped once more for a modem and what a rigmarole it was to go through all the procedure. My passport and I were photographed, forms galore completed and the registration would be activated in 12 hours’ time (it ended up more like 24 hours). However, I had achieved my objective and we were off for Kumi. Traffic in Kampala really has to be seen to be believed. I have seen in the last few days more near misses than in my whole life at home. I think I have got the idea of traffic lights mixed up as red means go and green means stop so everyone just misses each other by millimetres. We stopped for a bite to eat at a market where hoards of sellers filled the vehicle with arms bearing chicken legs on sticks, cold sodas, cow kebabs and roast plantains which are always my choice, three plantains wrapped in a sheet of exercise book paper.
Five hours later, we reached Kumi having taken a detour to avoid the Mbale/Kumi road which was bad enough last year so it must be even worse now. We travelled along a well-maintained murram road making the last few miles trouble-free. It’s almost like returning home as Kumi Town looked so familiar and then I was delighted to see that the road up to the hospital had been re-surfaced with murram. Apart from one small section which had been washed away, the rest was fine. A new hospital sign has been erected at the entrance roundabout but the first set of gates remains untouched since time immemorial with the dilapidated sign hanging down at right angles. Let’s hope that, before I make my last visit, I can be pleasantly surprised by a smart entrance!
I had the usual warm welcome from Anna who runs the Guest House and I found my room already prepared as I like it. She now lives in a mud hut which she has erected in the compound outside my room. There is also a shade hut which is open at the sides and door openings and it is wonderfully cool. This is where I will mostly be found when “at home” as it is so hot outside.
I was too tired to unpack and so I had my “shower” (standing in a plastic bowl and scooping water in a plastic cup over my body.) and tried to fall asleep without much success. The night was warm and it wasn’t until the early hours that sleep finally took over.
I am hoping that the following days provide a more interesting diary now that I am here and so we wait for the next instalment….
Monday 1 October
Off to St Stephen’s Hospital in Mpererwe to report back to Mrs L D Rope Trust in UK on the progress made there since my last visit in December 2011. Gonzaga, their driver, collected me in their hospital ambulance and drove me to St Stephen’s through the busy Kampala streets and past the markets buzzing with activity, piles of wrecked vehicles stacked high and rubbish lining the streets with their familiar odour of rotting everything. The entrance road to the hospital was much improved since last year as it had been resurfaced by the Council with murram and I hope that they have put in drainage while they were about it.
Dr Cathy, the Medical Superintendent, and Olivia, the Hospital Administrator, welcomed me and I heard about the last year’s activities. The Rope Trust kindly funded the installation of a dental surgery from Dentaid and so I was delighted to find that Javeera, the dental officer, was busy and most enthusiastic about his newly found potential to perform root canal treatments and fillings instead of being restricted to extractions and cleaning. Now teeth don’t need to be removed so freely.
The theatre continues to be underused which is of some concern to me as it is a good facility. Provided by the Rope Trust quite a few years ago. The maternity ward was busy and malaria patients filled the small general wards.
After lunch of matoke, beans and greens, Dr Cathy and I visited 2 patients in their homes. Both suffered from bad backs which were not responding well to medication. I did not think it my place to tell them the Western method of coping with back pain because, never in a month of Sundays, could patients accept the seemingly radical view to keep moving and stop medication.
The ambulance sustained a problem causing us to hire a car for the visits and my return to CoRSU. I was grateful it had not occurred en route in the morning! Gonzaga left me and I spent the last evening before my drive to Kumi.
Sunday 30 September
It was the perfect opportunity whilst in Kampala to visit Lawrance Epidu, an athetoid cerebral palsy boy who I found lying outside his hut a few years ago now. We managed to have him admitted to Kampala School for the Disabled where he has progressed through the years and is now in Primary Six in spite of being 22 years old. This is quite amazing but we will have to see how he manages with Primary Seven exams as this will be his first externally examined paper. The standards required to pass are different from those of children without disabilities. Last year, I found him to be still a child but now I encountered a very pleasant and smart young man oozing with personality. His speech has improved making his contorted words a little easier to understand and his erratic movements seemed more under control. I asked what he would like to do in the future and he would like to pursue a career with computers. Maybe this would be possible with modern technology. He will have to wait and see. I had taken him a bag of goodies; a loaf of bread, Blue Band, biscuits, sugar, juice etc and his face lit up with delight. I asked if there was anything else he would like and he immediately came out with “A suit for Christmas!”
There are 120 children in the school, all with varying degrees of disabilities and they all looked happy. Lawrance attends hydrotherapy in the University pool when it must be wonderful for him to experience such a degree of mobility and weightlessness.
Then we went to Mulago Hospital to visit Margaret Akol who was the Medical Superintendent’s Secretary until last year when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and has been undergoing treatment since I left. I had never visited Mulago Hospital but I had heard many stories none of which were very complimentary so I was relieved to find it not as bad as I had expected. Margaret was staying in the Cancer Hostel with her daughter, Frances, as attendant, but she hopes to return to her village in a few weeks when I may have the opportunity to see her again. Treatment is so expensive here especially the medication to the extent that she has had to sell off most of her assets and has only one cow remaining.
To get on to the Internet, I needed my modem activating and I also had no airtime for my phone so we went to a big shopping mall where my mission was thwarted because I didn’t have my passport with me. As I was leaving for Kumi in the morning, my cases had to be repacked which proved almost more difficult than when I left home.
Saturday 29 September
The night started with a nearby wild party breaking the silence. The music throbbed and its end could have well been after dawn but things quietened and I slept well. I was awoken with the sounds of the children and parents busying themselves with their daily activities and, after breakfast, we toured the hospital which is coming on in leaps and bounds with the new Private Ward well established. The grounds are well-kept with the shrubs and trees growing fast. Most impressive.
Lunch was a delicious pizza and my first passion fruit juice of 2012 in a nearby restaurant followed by a welcome siesta. In the evening, Matthias and I joined a couple who were off the following morning to visit the gorillas in western Uganda. We sat outside in the warmth (a rare occurrence for me this summer with our English weather) and shared some Indian dishes. I inadvertently took the tiniest touch of a chilli sauce which was the strongest I’ve ever tasted.
Friday 28 September 2012 - Departure Date
The alarm went off at 3.30 am but I was already up and ready to leave for the airport by 4.30. Unfortunately, Chris had hurt his back whilst weighing my case so, at one point, I thought he may need a carer to look after him but we managed.
I was once again singled out going through Customs (do I have a sinister air about me these days?) for my liquids to be tested but I was allowed through as they were clear. A final wave good bye to Chris who may well return to his bed for a couple more hours of rest. The flights went well and the plane arrived at Entebbe ahead of schedule. I was first off the plane, first in the Visa queue and my baggage came through quickly so I was first out of the arrival gates. This was definitely a first for me! Matthias was waiting and we returned to the Guest House in CoRSU Hospital which has an interesting web site if you have the opportunity to open it.