My Diary 2013

 

Kumi Diary 2013

6 November

Packing, seeing my children who still have malaria on the wards, meeting up with Sheilagh Williamson from Darlington, and generally whiling away the time until my flight at 11.30 pm. Sheilagh had a nightmare of a journey yesterday so I’m hoping for better luck. I shall miss my little girl, Akello Rhoda, and her grandmother from distant Amuria and, although I say I will see her on my next visit, I am not so sure. The poor little mite will need a lot of surgery, little by little, and I’m glad I’m not the surgeon having to decide on whether to start with her leg or her arm. She is the four year old who was burnt at a week old and now her leg and hand are contracted severely with hardly the possibility of fingers or a functional leg but these plastic surgeons can perform incredible surgery. I think it better if she could be mobile before having a hand but I am no expert. It just feels good to be able to give her a chance. They have been moved to the ward and so now the grandmother has no one to communicate with due to language differences but she still looks happy. I had a handful of coins so I was able to lighten my load. The clefts remain in the hostel which must be the best accommodation they have ever seen let alone stayed in; matching beds and mattresses instead of a mat on the ground, water from a nearby tap instead of walking far to the nearest borehole, cooking facilities at hand rather than collecting wood before lighting a fire and the whole unit with colourfully painted walls. I think I shall send more children down here for surgery whilst I can.

Time moved on and it was time to leave for the airport with Matthias and Susan. We went to an Indian restaurant very close to the airport for a meal on the way and what an eating place it was! So smart and busy and worthy of anywhere in the west but here it is November and we can sit outside in the warmth. I learnt that Entebbe is now the UN centre for Sudan so there are many personnel living here. Off to the airport where there was a queue of cars with passengers disembarking and being searched. Matthias assured me we would get straight through as we had “CoRSU” printed on the side of the car and officials usually thanked him for the good work they do. The armed soldier asked me to lower the window and Matthias told him he was taking his English mother for her plane. “Not American?” the soldier asked and he allowed us to pass without further ado. Now I was really homeward bound as my cases rolled into the scanner. My large case had to be opened which took a lot of untying of the knots of my goat tethering rope which works as a good safety strap. The young official told me what a good piece of sisal it was and where did I get it. Kumi, I told him and he thought so as he came from the next town and knew the local sisal well! I opened the case and the lady searched for whatever she had seen on the screen. She zoomed in to my African nativity set I bought at Banana Boat, opened the box and took out baby Jesus asking what it was. Baby Jesus, I told her wondering how on earth the tiny bundle of swaddling clothes could in the slightest resemble a terrorist threat. She was satisfied and left me to sort out the mess she left behind. Nothing else of note throughout the journey except something that I have always dreaded about a flight was about to enfold itself. A fat man was sitting in the seat next to me! It could have been worse but he managed to get some disturbed sleep throughout the night while I was left having to tolerate constant intrusions into my space. I noticed that he didn’t have anything to eat but then, as we were in the front row with lots of leg room, the table came from inside the arm of the seat and there was no way that there was room for it because of his portly girth.

So that’s the end of another Kumi visit which, on reflection, has been very successful and now I am left with sorting out all the mail I have to deliver, reports to write, schools to visit, photos to organise and the odd presentation to give until my next intended trip in spring 2014. My aim is to have Kumi Hospital accepted by Motivation for the distribution of wheelchairs but nothing happens fast in Africa!

 

5 November

Gonzagao collected me to take me to St Stephen’s Hospital in Mpererwe and we had a relatively trouble-free journey which takes about 1.5 hours to the other side of Kampala. Usually the traffic is so bad that it can take too long for comfort. The hospital was busy and I was pleased to see that the staff is endeavouring to take note of the Rope Trust’s declaration and to ensure that patient numbers will increase over the next 12 months. My meeting was productive and I left with a positive attitude towards the future. Dr Cathy and Olivia gave me a delightful purse big enough for my phone, pen and money and which has been round my neck since I received it. In the evening, Matthias and Susan and I went to the hospital Admin to watch a Mr Bean DVD on the tv there. The film was so good until it stuck just at the crucial moment. I have no mozzie repellent left and the little beasties tackled my legs as though they hadn’t eaten for weeks. Another day over and tomorrow I prepare to fly.

 

4 November

After a good night’s sleep, I had little to do for the rest of the day but it was surprising how a day can be filled and idly spent. I prepared for my meeting tomorrow at St Stephen’s, went to see Florence, my physio friend from Kumi who now works in CoRSU and spent some time in the physio department. They do some wonderful work with great equipment. The orthopaedic and burns surgery is so much more sophisticated than is possible in Kumi but I am not belittling the work which is done in Kumi at all. My three patients from Kumi and beyond were settled in the hostel and they were so happy to see me but none more than I was especially the grandmother of Akello Rhoda who must still think she is dreaming. The children still have malaria and cannot be operated on until clear. I received an email reply from Motivation regarding the wheelchair training and the head physio here in CoRSU is the Ugandan co-ordinator for Motivation and so we are setting out to train a couple of the Kumi staff to be able to issue the most suitable equipment to patients. Motivation then provides wheelchairs to the hospital which is a much better idea than setting up a workshop. So that was about my day and a good way to relax following the previous weeks of non-stop activities.

 

3 November

Departure day and I still had a couple of visitors, the first, Janet, at 6.30! My bags were packed and my room was empty and I was pleased that Anne and Grace went off to church before I left. No sad farewells as I am driven away! Anita, Miriam and Styn would be able to chatter away in Dutch!

Alex came in a very nice car with Harriet and his (cousin) brother and, with the car packed with my baggage, we set off for Kampala. An uneventful journey, apart from many overturned lorries on the way, which took about eight hours as there are always a few detours for this and that like delivering money to sons and daughters at school and generally being the postman to all and sundry. We did overtake a motorbike with rider and passenger holding a wheelbarrow with his arms extended behind him. I wouldn’t have been surprised if his children had been inside! I managed to take a photo as we passed and it has turned out very clear; not bad with a cheap camera!

I wanted to go to Banana Boat to fill my half empty case and to stock up on Christmas presents. It’s a fascinating shop aimed at the Kampala mzungus and visitors like me and their prices are exceptionably favourable. I was impressed with remembering where my Credit Card was and I handed it over only to be told that it expired at the end of October. Most embarrassing but I did have just enough cash to save the day.

Arriving at CoRSU, we found the solar eclipse was underway, the light was changing with deep shadows forming and the grass an intense green; dusk was falling. We looked through a double x-ray film to view the moon slowly edging its way over the sun until the sun resembled a new moon.  My eyes haven’t been the same since!

 

2 November

Today had been kept clear but things did not work out as planned. Breakfast was huge with mango, passion fruit, banana and the end of my packet of dates. I bought the mangoes from a man with a sack on the back of his bike; four of them at 1.5p each and bigger than any we see in the supermarkets. They have been ripening for a day or two but now they were ready.

Very many visitors called starting before 7 am, all bearing letters and gifts, and it was good that I had, at the last moment arranged to call in to see Modesta before she went to dig in her garden. I knew Robert was bringing his children later so I stopped at Janet Akurut’s hut where she cooks sambosas (samosas) and became her best customer of the week asking for 18 and could she deliver them to the Guest House at 12.30 or when the sun is directly overhead. A samosa is 2.5p and quite delicious. I crossed the road to Modesta’s where I am always happy joining her family in her square room of 14 bricks wide. Twelve of them plus three broody chickens sitting on their eggs in plastic bowls squeeze in for sleeping and living which appears to be an impossibility but it happens. I am always welcome and she always has time to sit while washing the baby, shelling groundnuts, organising the family to cook breakfast and, yes, I was expected to eat breakfast with them. We started with mangoes being peeled and passed round to the many children sitting haphazardly about the room. Peter had climbed a mango tree to collect them. My meal of chapatti with egg from Hellen, the chicken (Helen gave the family this chicken last year), rice, millet porridge and African tea followed by cassava chips all of which are my favourites, well, maybe not the porridge. I was full to busting and sharing my excess with the children was imperative. The purpose of my visit was to photograph the two pigs and goat that she had bought with Diana’s money which was supposed to go towards Cecilia’s school fees. Cecilia had already been chased from school for this year and so the sale of the animals hopefully with a profit will go towards next year’s fees. Photo call completed with the animals not co-operating too well and fond farewells so I cycled back in time to greet Robert and his three children. They enjoyed sodas and the samosas (I had one) and perhaps I should have asked Janet to make 36. I had a few colouring books left so they were well amused with those until it was time for me to get showered and changed to go to Max, the new Catechist, for yet another meal.

I set off on my bike realising that the rear tyre was a fraction soft as it bumped over the stony ground. I only had a vague idea of where Max lived as I had been told it was the house with the big mango tree and near the church; not all that helpful as nearly all the houses have such a tree. I was trying to find his contact details on my phone when I saw his head above the long grasses and was pleased to find him cycling along to meet me. We continued to his house which I had heard wasn’t in a good condition but it turned out to be far worse than I had anticipated. A hovel would describe it reasonably well and I’m not sure how his wife and seven children manage. Some of the young ones sleep in what used to be a store or outhouse. Yet another meal was served and I had forewarned him about my veggie diet which is usually welcomed as killing a chicken or buying meat becomes unnecessary. He certainly knew what I liked as it was rice with ebor and cabbage with mushrooms. I’ve seen a few mushrooms growing but would never have felt well enough informed to cook one to consume. As you can see, I have survived the experience. After the meal, his friend called, settled himself down to the clay pot containing home brew and a tube for the evening. He looked a swarthy fellow, a member of the police force and wearing a uniform the exact shade of his skin making him, in the shadows of the inside of the house, almost invisible. I didn’t take to him much! I wasn’t so surprised when he told me about his twenty eight children and six wives after he had been encouraged by his father who had lived a similar life style. I didn’t have much to say and so, when dusk fell, I took my leave to find that the tyre on my bike was very flat. The children pumped it up for me, I wished them all good night and cycled back to the comparative luxury of the Guest House.

New visitors had arrived from Holland; Anita who I met last year with her friend Miriam so we had a lot to catch up on. I refrained from joining them and Styn for yet another meal!

I was not quite finished with my social life for the day as Francis Okerenyang came with his wife, Grace, who was dressed up in a sparkling skirt to give me a present which I didn’t open till after they left as is the custom. They wanted to see the photos I took at their Silver Wedding Mass and wedding for the worn out bride with twelve children last Saturday so we sat and watched an assortment of movie clips and photos until I just had to say that I had to finalise my packing. Departure was slow and my cases stayed half empty. At last, my day with nothing to do was over, my belongings thrown into the case with gay abandon and to bed for the last night.

 

1 November

My last hospital day before I leave Kumi on Sunday. Sam, Adesso teacher, came with the trophy for me to bring home and have engraved but, also, to show to St Augustine’s schoolchildren. Little does he know but I have asked Leonard Omoding from the Records department and who made the last nets for the goal posts to make a new pair. Leonard also makes fishing nets so we help each other.

Good byes at Morning Assembly and Charles, Hospital Administrator, explained to the staff why they don’t see me around much because I work in the community. Then lots of loose ends still need tying.

I should have been going to Mbale to see the prototype wheelchair I have asked the engineering company to make but a phone call saying the job is not completed yet has saved us the tedious trek and I’m not sorry. Instead, I could take things easy which was a much better plan.

A visit to the Workshop to ask for three tricycles to be prepared for next week and more good byes. Simon Peter was back from Southern Sudan where he has been arranging for thirty amputee patients to have prostheses. He took negative moulds with POP, marking each one carefully with the patient’s details, and brought them back to Kumi to make positive moulds before applying the pipe and foot to make an artificial leg. This is a very simplified description of the procedure. When they are completed in a month, he will return to fit and adjust to each patient. The leg losses were mainly as a result of landmines, bomb blasts or gun shots. Simon Peter flew to Juba and then took a 3 hour flight to Yida in the north of Southern Sudan and then on to the Nuba Mountains, a 12 hour drive in a Land Cruiser when they were stopped by about thirty road blocks. He had been issued with an ID card so he felt perfectly safe as he was looking after some of the Army officers and civilians. I’m not sure if I would have had the same confidence.

Charles was free in his office so I had an opportunity to update him with our community work. We are working well together. I presented him with my Snapfish photo book highlighting the work we do and he was most impressed with it. He will retire next year and it is imperative that he finds an enthusiastic administrator or else things may slide again.

I said good bye to Henry, the dentist, who has impressed me so much with his enthusiasm and Vikki, his “dental nurse.” He appreciated the visit of Dentaid when he received lots of training as well as dental items for the surgery.

The Nutrition Unit has five malnourished children who I have accumulated over the weeks and will be paying their hospital bills on discharge. I would like to have helped more but five is more than enough for me to manage. The mothers are incredibly grateful falling to their knees in gratitude which is all far too embarrassing.   Little William, who Styn is supporting, is still very ill and we must hope that he makes it through his illness.

Farewells with the physios over a very sweet mug of dry tea and I walked back to prepare for a meeting with Harriet to analyse the financial aspect of my visit and to sort out what still needs to be arranged. There is a tremendous amount to keep her going until my return.

I was going to meet Consolate and John at North East Villa so a shower was necessary and, with more visitors calling in, the boda boda was here all too soon and I left in haste forgetting my phone. It’s ridiculous how lost I feel without it but probably good practise. The boda boda man asked me if I remembered him but I had to say not. Evidently, he took me to Mukongora about three years ago and remembered me well which isn’t too difficult to remember having a white woman as a passenger. My last ride of 2013 and I shall miss sitting side saddle passing the fields of crops well watered with the rains, the women hoeing stretching up and waving, the shouts from the children of “Mzungu, how are you?” and me calling back “Fine, how are you?”, the cattle being driven home and the hustle and bustle of home life from the families going about their daily duties. The skies are always fascinating with their ever-changing cloud formations, sunsets. sunrises, stormy clouds. Then we entered into Kumi town where life is a sudden change of scene with motor bikes, stalls selling cassava chips, maize cobs, chapattis. Lorries and fuel tankers cause clouds of dust as they speed along the main road from north to south. African music blasts out from several doors. I reached North East Villa where I settled myself on the veranda to read Mansfield Park on my Kindle out of which scuttled a cockroach. Consolate was late and I wondered if they were trying to phone me to say they were delayed or not coming but it was good to relax with a book. Finally, they arrived and we enjoyed a simple meal of cabbage, rice, Irish and chapatti as it was Friday and they don’t eat meat or chicken. I had asked James, the manager, to provide fish but there was none in the market and, if there was none there, then there would be none anywhere. He had cooked chicken as this is not considered to be meat. Once again, we had a pleasant evening exchanging family news and I had taken photos from home including those of Dominic with the Queen, our visit to Oberammergau and our family gatherings. They drove me home along the hospital road which has become so eroded since I first arrived. Now preparations for departure had to start in earnest.

 

31 October

Outreach clinic in Kobwin today and so Joseph, Vincent and Agatha (who, up till now, I have erroneously called Agnes) could have their radios at last. I bought them from a material shop for £6.50 each. We left the team to start the clinic at Kobwin Health Centre and drove the short distance along a rough track with bushes sweeping against the windows until we reached their home. The radios were well received with wild contorted movements and joy and it is good that we went as Agatha had two letters already written; one for me and the other addressed to Lucia Spain. I told her that the post would need a more comprehensive address but, after much effort making herself understood, she meant Lucia, the Spanish lady who came with the Dentaid team! Problem solved!

Fond farewells and promises to return and back to the clinic where many parents and children gathered waiting to be seen. We laboriously worked our way through them finding, once more, interesting cases. A child whose feet had become infected and had literally dropped off. She could have Symes shoes fitted for her. Another little girl with her intestine lying large and pink on her abdomen. Her mother had never sort help and never thought of covering the offending extrusion. Hydrocephalus, deaf and dumb. gluteal fibrosis, hemiplegics, CP’s, burns, cleft palates; they were all there, around 100 in total.

In spite of the number, we finished in good time and set off for home but, unknown to Styn and me, we stopped at the home of his twin sister to find that lunch (at 5pm) was prepared. Nine of us sat in a room with cement walls and iron sheeting roof to eat again, the usual, rice, atap, cabbage and they had killed a chicken for the occasion. With our hands washed by each other, grace before meals recited and hungry from lack of lunch, we helped ourselves to the food, some of us being more abstemious than others. Ugandans take piles and piles (I cannot exaggerate enough!) but then it was probably the first food for the day. I was thirsty more than hungry and filled my glass of water from a jug but, when I saw its murkiness and then the sediment and then tasted it, I remained thirsty and used the water later to wash my hands. Styn and I were more frugal, not only because we couldn’t in a month of Sundays get through the mound, but because Anne and Grace would be putting our supper in front of us in less than three hours. My meal of cabbage and rice was good but, then, from above a ghekko which must have been of some size had a poo which landed on my plate. Suddenly my appetite had abated. No cutlery of course so, with hands washed yet again, we set off for home. I was getting tired especially when we had to wait for the Reverend to appear. A phone call told us he was outside the Police Station and was on his way but he could well have stopped in the centre and taken a meal for the time he took. Finally, he appeared and sacks of crops were put on board and then we left, thank goodness. The poor chicken which had been lying behind was getting too fed up having its ankles tied together; a typical journey home!

The sun had set when we reached the Guest House and, for sure, supper awaited us and, yes, you can guess what was in my pots; cabbage and rice! I wasn’t particularly dirty today but still a complete scrub down is always necessary and I noted that I am well through my third big tablet of Imperial Leather in five weeks.

Too tired to write my diary, I got straight into bed and entered the land of dreams which continue to be so vivid.

 

30 October

My last day for home visits which is sad but all good things come to an end. Before we set off, Sam from Adesso School came to tell me that the volleyball final had ended with a win for my house and that the overall winning house for the trophy was none other than my house yet again. I shall bring the shield home, not only to have it engraved, but also to show St Augustine’s Primary School pupils the unique alternative to engraving. They will not have seen the likes of it before! Two of the Dutch medics, Ivo and JW, left to take the bus to Kampala and to become the proverbial young back-packers leaving Styn behind for another week. They plan to “do” the National Parks and see the other side ie the west of Uganda. We shall miss them (I have to put that in as they have threatened to read my diary to see if they are mentioned but it is true! (Hi, Ivo and John William!) We were leaving them at the bus stand in Kumi Town and so we gave them a lift in the Land Cruiser which already contained a tricycle (the roof carrier is broken), a CP chair and a corner seat. Three of us needed to sit in the front and so I was almost on Landheer’s knee and changing gear proved to be very difficult for him. I couldn’t have travelled far! We could adjust ourselves better once they had gone and we set off for Mukongora down the main road to Kampala. The road is being resurfaced which is good news but they could have chosen a better time when I was not here!  The dust is unimaginable otherwise the potholes are vast so it’s one or the other and we are covered in dust before we start the day.

First we were to take the tricycle we had repaired back to Jesca, the post-polio 29 year old lady we saw last week who thought she would be given a new tricycle. She was radiant when she clambered onto the tricycle and it warmed the depths of my heart to see her back on her wheels. Home visits are invaluable as you see home conditions and now we could take in the true extent of her poverty. Her parents had provided her with a hut and minute compound and were supporting her but then they died and she had nothing apart from her little boy, Emma. And I mean nothing! Here is another worthy cause for assistance and so we gave her money to buy the ingredients of cow pea samosas which she could sell at the trading centre. She started this once she was given the tricycle and was mobile. Then, with a more long-term vision, we gave her money for a goat and informed her that we would return to see how active she had been. These transactions and arrangements were done inside her mud hut which was meticulously tidy and also done in secret from nosey neighbours and she sat as they do when paralysed with tears in her eyes. She was so happy! We walked to the next home where we found five children and almost held a mini-clinic. Among Alice, a 12 year old CP girl was to be encouraged by her father to feed herself as well as other activities of daily living. Alagai William was an 11 year old CP lying under a young orange tree and shaded by a sheet draped over the branches. He was malnourished and terribly sick and hardly conscious which got to Styn’s heart so he decided that William was to come to the Nutrition Unit and he would foot the hospital bill. I could do with more Styn’s joining us! We will come back to this child. Our mini-clinic was increasing with parents bringing their problematical offspring and so we were joined by Apolot Malisa who had congenitally deformed legs. The knees were sort of doubled and the feet inverted 180 degrees and so we hope the parents will agree to a double amputation when the child is older and then he can have artificial limbs and be able to walk. Perhaps a small wheelchair would be beneficial in a year or two. Odong Vincent had a large tumour/cyst on his ear and we included him in the list for plastic surgery. Opio Lawrance was a 7 year old CP quadriplegia who was also suffering from malnutrition which appears to be more prevalent this year. The droughts and failure of the first crops this year may have been a contributory factor. He had a CP chair and was continuing with his sitting training. Martin would like to start a group of families for an income generating programme.

We left these families to continue on to Acom Juliet, the 9 year old who we say a couple of weeks back. We had brought her a CP chair which didn’t fit her well and I was keen to return it to be adjusted but I took Martin’s advice and experience who thought that she would learn to sit better but slowly, slowly. (Motemot!  which is what we tell the boda boda boys on their bikes.) Odong Moses’ mother brought him to collect his corner seat which fitted him well although he was not too happy with it. This will teach him to weight bear through the lower spine and to sit alone or that is the objective.

We had started our return home when we met up with Odong Sam as planned. He is the cheery young spina bifida boy of 11 years who propels himself along lying on his front in a 3-wheeled wheelchair which we will repair during the school holidays. It is still functional but his little feet can slip through the sides of the back support and, as he has no feeling in his lower limbs, it is possible that he catches his toes in the spokes and this would be serious. He has good parents and I was pleased that she had brought this concern to our attention. He is in Primary Two and so I tried out his reading with the primary books I have bought. He had neither idea of letters nor pictures of African animals although he could identify a snake. He is one of about 80 children in the class and obviously not encouraged and so his primary education will get him nowhere. The mother is bright, speaks English and so I have encouraged her to start teaching the child his letters and to read him stories. She agreed and said she would get her daughter to help. I wonder what the result will be and I told her it was up to her rather than the teachers.

Last year, Helen bought a cow for Obenengo (? spelling of Old Testament character), a CP child who lived with his grandparents. The cow which is like a dappled mare and most attractive is now pregnant and doing well. The grandparents looked no different and we were greeted warmly by them with their toothless smiles. How they manage to look after the boy, I fail to understand but he looks well cared for. Another example of a hard life and not one to be envied.

Now we were on the home stretch and I said good bye to Peter, our mobiliser who is doing such a splendid job identifying these families in the first place and then directing us to their homes which are hidden along the numerous tracks. He is an enormous asset to the team and deserves recognition. Perhaps one day he will become a hospital employee.

Passing through a trading centre, we stopped to see a 14 year old girl whose name escapes me. She was a post-polio paraplegic who was incredibly shy and withdrawn sitting hunched up and almost unable to straighten her back from maintaining this posture. She nodded timidly when asked if she would like a tricycle and it should give her a new life.

In Kumi Town, William’s mother who had come with no food mainly because she had none, needed the basics so Styn bought posho, beans, salt, sugar, onions, tomatoes, cooking oil as well as soap in the market. We also needed to buy some drugs for the children’s ward as there were some that the hospital pharmacy hadn’t got in stock. With the shopping list completed, we returned after what had been a long and emotional day feeling very tired, dirty and hungry. Styn took little William to the hospital to have him admitted. His malaria test proved positive and so he was put on an intravenous drip and let’s hope he improves…until the next time. He will then be admitted to the Nutrition Unit where the mother will be taught the importance of a good diet and the child given nutritious supplements to build him up.

A meal, hair wash and shower, a few phone calls and the evening was over. I tucked myself up under the net and then realised I hadn’t turned off my phone but I couldn’t be bothered to  move so, probably for the first time, the phone rang after midnight. Several attempts made me get up and answer it only to find this infuriating young man, Julius, has found out I am here after a few years of silence. He has in the past made 37 missed calls so now I know how to blacklist his number which I did before switching off the phone and returning to bed.

 

30 October

Michael usually goes to Kasodo in Pallisa for an eye outreach clinic on his motor bike but I wanted to join him today to visit my favourite (one of them as they are all favourites but this one is near the top of my list) family who I see every year. They live in a hidden clearing far from nowhere with father, mother, about seven children, the eldest girls being severely disabled, and, on my first visit, I found them struggling with little but some common sense. Given an opportunity and hope, they have flourished until they are now self-sufficient and, comparatively speaking, prosperous. They almost apologised for their lack of cows and goats but they had been sold to provide school fees for Sam in Senior 5 (first year A level) and this is how it should be. We have put Max through secondary school and university and he graduated earlier this year with a Second Class Upper degree. Now he is in Kampala seeking employment and so far has been unsuccessful as jobs are few and far between. He is returning home as Kampala is so expensive but I know he won’t sit and wait for a job to come to him. With translation, I explained that I am now a friend and not a benefactor and I was so proud of them. Mary, the mother, asked why we never announced our visits prior to coming as she would like to prepare something for us to eat. Instead, she disappeared for a minute and then carried an enormous branch of matoke for us. I told her how well she looked since my first visit over ten years ago and she said it was because now everything is different and she has far less stress and is able to cope. How good it is to hear these words!

I knew there would be many thoughts from the team as to who was going to be given the matoke so, to save any problems, I announced that it was to go to the Nutrition Unit. It caused some consternation as they all wanted a clump but I was adamant. Those children’s needs are greater than the team.

This is at the end of our day and so I must start at the beginning in the morning. The severely burnt girl we saw in Amuria had surprisingly come to the hospital hoping for surgery and, together with a couple of cleft palates and a girl with acid burns, we had arranged to send them to CoRSU to take up the offer of free surgery by public means. Harriet was sending them to Kampala where they would have to get from the bus park (a nightmare) to the taxi park (an even bigger nightmare) to reach CoRSU. I could not imagine how they would manage and so I arranged for Ruth’s brother, Simon Peter, to escort them. At 8 am, they caught the Kampala bus and I was relieved when, in the evening, Simon Peter phoned to report safe delivery of the children with their attendants.

Pallisa has always been a journey of about 1.5 hours from Kumi but now the roads have been washed away making them slow and bumpy. We had arranged a children’s disability clinic as well as eyes and we arrived at the health clinic to find the mothers and babies already congregated on the grass in the shade of a big tree. Eye problems were separated from disabilities and we started our work. Once again, it proved to be a fascinating clinic with varied conditions giving us some challenges; a dear little girl with a TB spine who walked like a crooked old lady with a hump on her back and whose grandmother had not sought treatment which should have started long ago. I gave her a sweet which she held in her hand not knowing what to do with it and needed a demonstration before it went into her mouth. Many club feet on 4 and 5 year olds which means that surgery and plastering were now necessary and expensive. Our mobiliser said he would inform the midwife of the importance of identifying this condition at birth as it can then be corrected in less than a month. A post-polio lady and a congenitally paraplegic lady who had spent their lives crawling on all fours came hoping for tricycles and their visit proved lucky but they must wait until they have raised a 30,000/= contribution (a trivial sum but important so that they have a sense of responsibility). An 80 year old also wanted one since she also crawled but she is too old to fit into the programme and I shall see if I can find her an old wheelchair and have it renovated. There were also burns contractures, hemiplegics, CP’s; the usual conditions but well assorted and definitely worth the journey.

We left to see Max’ family and then we returned home only stopping to buy rice from a wholesaler for 2,700/= a kg. A sack weighs 100kg and when you imagine that they carry these tied to the back of their push bikes, it is hard to imagine how they manage. No wonder you often see a bike that has fallen over and the rider looking despondently at the result!

By this time it was dark with the skies lit up by lightening and with the rain starting to fall. We were all dirty and tired and glad to be able to wash and rest before the next day starts.

 

28 October

Two visitors before breakfast; Priscilla with her little son, Antony, who had a screwed up package for me which I thought was groundnut paste but, on closer inspection, I discovered that it was a couple of small cakes of strange composition and how kind of her to bring them! She also told me that she had bought three chickens to keep my cockerel company. I had asked her to buy two as I still needed to buy these for a friend at home. Mission accomplished!

Then, Hellen who used to sell fresh produce from a stall outside the Eye Department as well as be their cleaner, called. The hospital management was not happy about this (understandably, I thought) and told her to stop. She brought a delicious pawpaw, some bananas and mandazi (type of doughnut) so I was well set up for the day’s diet.

Fieldwork with Harriet and Rose which should be an interesting day which is how it turned out but not all that I had hoped.

Before leaving Kumi Town, I had a bag of items to give to Leah at Gold Standard School and hopefully a letter from her to Alwyn which will join the rest that I have already been given. She had, indeed, written in her beautiful handwriting an excellent letter which I shall be proud to deliver. Ngora School for the Deaf next where I collected a letter of appreciation from Charles, the Head teacher, to Barbara from Dentaid for the outreach clinic which her team had held in the school. Apulamera had also written a thank you letter to her sponsor.

On the road to Serere over Agu bridge which once collapsed in the floods and I remember well paddling my canoe over the waters to reach the other side. Now, the bridge has been rebuilt and replaced with a sturdy structure. The waters are very beautiful with snake birds swimming with only their long necks visible. The papyrus grasses grow tall along the edges. We were on the way to Hope Orphanage where I had my cow project but I was not happy with it at all. We asked to see the cows and so we had to trundle through the swamps to reach the home where they were kept. I really did think that the project had not progressed as much as I had hoped and so, after much deliberation, I have decided that the cows will be sold and we will start a porridge programme whereby the children will be provided with a mug of porridge each day. (Porridge is posho and sugar, very filling but not particularly nourishing.) Josephine, the teacher, was upset as it was she who helped start the project but I explained that the reason behind the cows was so that the children received sustenance during school hours and this is what we will now do.

She had arranged for the children to write letters to the children in Happy Days Nursery in Dalkeith. The Head teacher has agreed to our plan and it will be put in action with the sale of the cows as a starter and to provide funds for the posho.

Amos who was a CBR worker for the hospital before the management troubles now has employment at the orphanage in accounts and he was the person I wanted to see today. Last week, we visited a home where he was supposed to take a cow to a family with a hydrocephalus and spina bifida boy, Stephen. There was no cow to be seen and so we confronted him this morning and I am very disappointed to say that he has let me down. I won’t go into details but I hope he is feeling ashamed of himself and that the cow will be delivered to Stephen at his earliest convenience. I shall check that it is done. I feel better for having persevered with this matter as I don’t like my children with disabilities let down.

On from there, we went to Kanyum where a malnourished child who had been in the Nutrition Unit lived and Rose wanted to follow up their home situation. It was appalling and very distressing to witness. The father and mother had five children with another on the way. The father had spent the morning digging for a neighbour who paid him money to buy some cassava for the day. This is living hand to mouth in the very extreme. The family had eaten nothing all day and I hate to think what their water is like. They are surrounded by a neighbour’s crop of maize and it must be very tempting to take a cob or two when no one is looking. The crops are being grown on the father’s land but he had had to rent it off in order to pay medical bills when his children were sick. We had to make a plan for this poor family and we decided that, in the long run, they needed their land back and , once the crops have been harvested next year, we shall pay off the tenant and the family can start to grow their own food. But this won’t put food in their bellies so  we had to go into crisis mode and we gave the mother money to buy staple foods such as posho, beans and millet. We took her into their hut so that the transaction could be done in private and there we found where they sleep and cook and store their ragged clothes. They sleep on bamboo mats which Harriet assures me are so uncomfortable and the roof leaks. I cannot imagine much that could be worse except that there is a baby on the way and then there will be eight. I can imagine most of you saying to yourselves that it serves them right but it’s not like that in real life and it’s good for me to be able to be sympathetic towards them. The mother was told that the family had to be determined to improve otherwise no assistance would be forthcoming. Let’s wait and see! When we arrived, they were sitting passively with vacant expressions as we so often witness on TV programmes – no future, only despair. When we left, the mother had a beautiful smile and, when I showed her the photo I had taken, she could hardly believe it was her. Even the father perked up and frisked along the path in front of the vehicle to direct us along the right path. I have an inkling that they won’t let us down.

We weren’t getting far due to the time spent at each place but it is better to complete a few home visits thoroughly than skimp over many. Another new family for me but one which is known to Rose. Ammwali Joyce is a 28 year old girl who became pregnant when she was in Senior 4. (It’s quite normal to be 24 and still at school) She gave birth to Prossy who is now 4 years old and severely disabled with cerebral palsy. The hospital has issued her with a CP chair which the mother uses to sit Prossy in a good position. The father is not around. Rose was pleased to see that Joyce is looking after her daughter well with the little they had and regrets not finishing her education as she would have liked to be a nurse. We showed her how to assist her child in eating so that hopefully she would one day be able to feed herself. We also gave her a solar light which may well save the child from serious burns in the future and which helps to save money on kerosene which they use in their little lethal jack lamps. We left the happy.

Now we could come home but somehow it took time and we didn’t seem to get back until the usual hour. We were incredibly dirty and hungry as well as being tired and so it was bed once I was clean.

 

27 October

Sunday and today’s entry will be brief. Church prayers started the day but I left halfway through as a driver was collecting me to go to Soroti. A very smart car (with a TV on the dashboard which fortunately doesn’t work in Kumi!) arrived at the Guest House and Florence, Pius and I started off the journey to visit her mother who lives on the outskirts of Soroti. This is an annual event ever since Pius became my first student who has passed through Secondary School and University where he graduated about four years ago. He volunteered for a couple of years and then had a successful interview and is now employed by Centenary Bank. It is great success story for me and Chrissy in UK who has supported him.

In Soroti, Florence and I visited the market which is always full of smells and sounds and a hive of activity to buy the ingredients for lunch; rice, egg plants, tomatoes, greens.

Florence’s mother is an ex-leprosy sufferer which means she has been cured and she lives alone in spite of her advancing years in the middle of nowhere. This region was savaged by the rebels and Pius told me many horror stories about his childhood while Florence prepared the food. Her mother, Ester, busied herself with lighting two fires inside the cooking shed using the three stone method and so the huge pile of wood stacked up outside the hut became too depleted as she kept carrying in more and more wood to keep the fires burning; quite unnecessary if she had a fuel-saving stove made of termite hill mud, emuria grass and water.

Her granddaughters, all adults, take responsibility for her in a way which is admirable. Florence had to attend a family conference whilst Pius, the driver and I ate our lunch. They were making arrangements for Ester’s welfare until the next time the family re-assembles which will probably be at Christmas.

No sooner was the meal eaten than the table was cleared by two young girls who dutifully washed the pots and scrubbed the pans and it was time to take our leave. We left Florence in Soroti as she was returning on the overnight bus to Kampala, an experience I do not envy her. We had a luxurious drive home but then the road surfaces are the same for whatever vehicle we are in so it was the usual swerves from one side of the road to the other to avoid the potholes, missing petrol tankers by inches, herds of cows and wobbling cyclists with huge loads of crops on the back. The wind grew strong and, as we crossed the Awoja bridge, I noticed white tops on the waters which are usually as calm as a mirror. I have read on the BBC News that strong winds are expected in UK and I wonder if they will materialise.

So, safely back, I can now prepare for the next and final week of my stay in Kumi.

 

26 October

Can it really be Saturday already? Tomorrow, I will start my last week here before I return to Kampala. Today is the Silver Wedding of Francis and Grace Okerenyang at their home as well as a wedding of a couple and three baptisms. I started my preparations by washing my hair and brush and comb which get unbelievably covered in murram which takes some shifting. My gomaz needed ironing; now this is a garment with meters of material and I was half hoping that power was off so that I would be unable to get rid of the creases. I was given this creation many years ago and have endured it on only two occasions and this is the third. The material is royal blue and has the logo of the Mothers Union printed repeatedly over it. Different indeed!  With it reasonably nicely pressed, I was ready to put it on but needed a dresser as I wouldn’t know where to start. Margaret Omoding from the hospital records Office turned up at 9.30 and we started. I could leave my skirt on to make my hips look more enlarged than they already are but another layer would increase the warmth so I started from the basics. First a kikoi was tied round my waist by the belt from one of my skirts so that it could be folded over into two layers. (I use this multipurpose kikoi for my sheet) Then Margaret took the gomaz and magically pleated it and applied it around my body with great skill tying it with a scarf. The finishing touch is a wide satin sash stiffened with a heavy duty polythene which is tied round the waist and knotted in the front hiding belt number two. Would it stay up? She assured me it would. Did I have a mirror? No mirror! Had I white beads? No! Where are your high heels? I have none and I gave away my sandals yesterday! The final result was not quite what she would have liked but there was no choice. I found I had to push out my tummy to be confident that it wouldn’t fall off. Now it was time for me to leave and I set off walking and hoping to hail a boda boda as the heat of the sun was intense. Rose passed on a bike, stopped and told me how to hold the gomaz whilst walking. A little further on, a lady ran down a track calling “Mamma Elizabeth, Mamma Elizabeth! You look beautiful!” With my confidence boosted, I hailed a boda boda and sat side saddle to take the short trip to Okerenyang’s. How my gomaz didn’t get tangled up in the wheels, I fail to imagine but it was OK. I was one hour late but also the first guest so I sat on a sofa and listened to the choir warming up. Thank goodness I had a soft seat as there I was for the next 7 hours! I really can’t go into detail of the day but, needless to say, the priest arrived and celebrated Mass. Firstly, three tiny babies were baptised then the anything but happy looking couple were married. They didn’t look very young and it turned out that they have about twelve children already and both are HIV +ve. No wonder they didn’t look radiant! They had had the traditional marriage but had been unable to afford a church wedding so Francis had kindly let them join in their happy day. No sooner had they completed the ceremony than they sat down, still not next to each other, and she groped for her boob from out of her wedding dress and breast fed her youngest. Francis and Grace went through a marriage blessing, speeches followed, then the cake was cut and eaten, the meal served, the presentation of gifts and then I managed to take my leave. I am writing this in the evening and I can still hear the boom, boom, boom of the music which travels over the fields for miles and will probably continue into the early hours.

 

25 October

Friday has turned out to be my hospital day so there is no set schedule and I can take things in my own time. I started the day by opening the smart new curtains but I noticed a sleepy bat-shaped shadow fall and start to fly so I went to the kitchen to get my bat-collecting brush of twigs thereby disturbing the chicken and its 12 growing chicks which sleep in the lower kitchen cupboard. Impressed by my increased tolerance of bats, I opened the curtains to find a big, black, bat-shaped moth which I caught in my hand to find its wings to be severely moth-eaten but, on setting it free out of the window, it flew to freedom.

Cycling to the hospital, Sam called me for his volley ball and, as neither of us has brakes on our bikes, we came to a gradual slow halt and he was happy that the volleyball team could now conclude the game started on Wednesday but was abruptly stopped at 1-1 by a burst ball.

Morning Assembly went as usual but with Ouke from Holland saying good-bye. He has many projects on-going in the hospital and Wiggins School and had spent the week checking if they were going according to plan. The eclipse next Sunday is causing a topic for conversation and advice on how to or not to view it is being given freely. I shall be travelling to Kampala so I shall miss its full impact. Charles Achelung stood up to announce in his usual manner of providing information which isn’t always relevant that the planets are going to BURST in 2035 so be ready! Then followed a performance by the attendant’s choir which practises at 6am on two days every week. (Attendants are usually a family member who come to the hospital with a patient and who does all the cook and washing for the patient) The singing was uplifting and would waken anyone not quite alert yet.

The day could then start and I met with Hellen from the Workshop to see how she had managed on her visit to Mulago Hospital and Katalemwa Childrens’ Home in Kampala with a view to setting up our wheelchair manufacturing project in Kumi Hospital. It’s good that I have learnt to be able to cope with disappointments as it has turned out that her original budget is way off course and, if I want to continue, I shall have to seek support. I used the hospital Internet to research the work of Motivation which supports such projects and also provides training which would be perfect so I applied to them and fingers are crossed for a positive response.

My malnourished twins and cleft palate baby have been admitted to the Nutrition Unit and I found them receiving malaria treatment on the children’s ward. We found them during our field work which mainly takes place during my visits as funding is not there and so I shall be responsible for their hospital bills. I sometimes wonder if I should concentrate on this community work rather than start a big project but, in the long term, making wheelchairs and tricycles will be a huge asset to the hospital as it will be the only centre with these facilities within a very large area. At present, wheelchairs can take months to actually reach the child after identifying it in the first place. There were lots of loose ends to tidy up and so, with the morning spent, Ruth, my dear friend, returned to the Guest House and spent a pleasant hour looking at past photos and video clips on my laptop reminiscing on old patients.

Harriet and I were going to Michael’s (eye CBR worker)for tea this afternoon and to be followed by the medics once they had finished their fieldwork so, when she arrived on a boda boda, we both climbed on together and we set off to Zagazaga where we would ask someone to direct us to Michael’s. No satnav needed here just a good sense of direction and Providence. No problem, very straightforward but the tracks were winding and uneven. Our legs were brushed by the bushes and we seemed to go for miles but we were told it was 6km or thereabouts. The rain started which enforced us to shelter in a kind woman’s house. She brought chairs for us to sit and we waited until the rain had stopped. Now there was a problem with the motor bike so it entailed a tweak here and there and then it started like a rocket making the children run for cover. Finally we reached Michael’s modest home where we were warmly welcomed and given a strange-flavoured tea which I failed to finish in spite of my thirst and a chapatti. We met some of his children and grandchildren and I noticed that he had to reflect quite hard on how many children he had – ten in all! And twenty four grandchildren to date…perhaps!

Arrival of the medics meant that our meal could be served. Jesca, Michael’s oldest daughter, knelt at our feet while she washed our hands and then the food was brought in. I knew I wouldn’t want any more to eat for the rest of the day and had cancelled my supper with Anne. The boys, however, had thought they would need further sustenance but one look at the food on their plates made the decision for them to cancel theirs also. With the table cleared and our hands rewashed, our chairs were taken outside and Michael attached the wires from a large music centre to a car battery to start the music for the many children from 18 months upwards to dance. There was more than one future Michael Jackson amongst them and they provided much amusement and entertainment. Michael’s wife had, that morning, been distilling a local liqueur of cassava and yeast which gives her a substantial income from the local stalwart drinkers. The boys had no more than a tiny sip each and decided it was enough. Next came the local brew which is drunk through tubes and, again, Ivo and John William just to say got a taste but Styn was a little more adventurous (but didn’t feel too good the next morning!) As dusk descended, Michael sent for three boda bodas to take us back and, by the time four arrived, it was now dark. Our farewells and thanks said, I set off in the lead with JW behind and then the other three on two bikes. I think the riders had some sort of plan to see who could get back first or maybe they had been watching a football match. I don’t know except they sped along tracks with the width no more than the tread of the tyres. The surfaces were uneven with the murram having been washed away by the recent rains so it was touch and go whether we would make it back. We skimmed the thatch of a mud hut adjacent to the path and I was wishing I was riding side saddle as I’d have jumped off for sure. The fire flies flashed above us but eyes needed to be kept on the track so that we could perform balancing acts by sticking our legs out to counter balance. Reaching the comparatively main road, we were back on terra firma and it was time to relax and enjoy the experience of riding over the culvert humps as though we were riding the waves. We inadvertently passed the end of the road up to the hospital due to my lack of concentration and JW overtook us but then he missed the turn off to the Guest House so we were back first. There was something going on as the bike riders were full of laughter about something. Harriet continued to town but there was no sign of Styn and Ivo riding together on one bike. Could we have been going so fast? Then we heard a bike motor in the distance and they turned up having had another type of experience. The headlight had fallen off, I think, and so they were in pitch darkness which makes the journey impossible. Mobile phones come in handy more often than not in Africa but this time in a different way. They have torches which lit the path enough to get back safely!  It is truly exhilarating and an experience not to miss but should a pensioner be up to these antics?

Now the time was only 7.30 pm so we had a whole evening with no meal so perfect for diary writing!

 

24 October

Thursday already and we are making an early start to get to Amuria, north of Soroti. The team were already in the car when they arrived to pick Ivo and me up from the Guest House. Hellen, Social Worker, Michael CBR eye clinic, George, Esco ower project, Lawrance, Orthopaedic Workshop, Ivo, Dutch medic and I set off for Kumi town to pick up Harriet and to collect Liz, physio, and Ruth, CBR worker, in Soroti. Arriving in Soroti, I needed to collect the books I had ordered and to buy a volley ball so that Adesso could finish off yesterday’s match. We found Liz and Ruth who was with one of her mobilisers who I had decided to supply with a bicycle so that he can go further afield into the bush to identify children with disabilities. These people are proving to be an invaluable part of our team and are to be encouraged. We set off on the road to Lira for Ococa which seemed so far away. The rebels were very active in this region and, although the displaced people have returned to their homes, the land is very bushy and looks almost uninhabited. After another hour’s driving, and in the back of beyond, we arrived at an “oasis in the desert”  in the shape of a splendid Catholic church and then an amazing Health Clinic looking more like a hospital and with every possible department but no doctor.

The patients were already queuing  on concrete benches and we started assessing the children. The cases were so varied and interesting. Club feet, bow legs, obesity in a 7 month old who never stopped eating, horrific burns contractures, arthrogryposis, Quads and Gluteal Fibroses, post injection paralysis, spina bifida, congenital absence of feet  hands,. We almost exhausted the conditions known to us. An older mother brought her malnourished Downe’s Syndrome baby which was her twelfth child! We mentioned stopping there and she told us that she is praying to God. I almost told her that God had sent us to her but then I thought I should not be too facetious. An old man of 65 years asked us about his little toe problem as he thought he should have it amputated. We reassured him that this was unnecessary and that he should learn to abduct his toes to let the fresh air in between them (He was most capable of this with his other foot), soak his feet, dry them carefully and apply smearing cream (Vaseline). He thought it better not to wear shoes but, as he had a small wound between his toes, we advised him to wear shoes and he went away most impressed with his consultation.

The last patient had been seen but our day was not yet over. We had the journey back to contend with and, with the vehicle packed to the extreme with staff, a mother and child and a mother and sick baby all with their belongings inside or on the roof rack, we set off to return home. The baby was screaming and the staff laughing uncontrollably so that the noise was deafening. Entering Soroti, we called in at Light Academy where we found Michael Ekonyu waiting outside as we had contacted him to say that we would call. We had his books and the teacher said he urgently required a ream of paper to start his S3 exams next week. We had brought elbow crutches with us for Michael’s friend, Robert, and so he came and had them fitted. These looked much better than the wooden axillary type he had been issued with. However and better still, I asked Lawrance from the workshop to see if there was anything they could provide to improve his absence of foot since he was very young. Lawrance could make a shoe for him and then he should be able to walk without crutches at which point we would take them back. Next call was at Madera School for the Blind where we found all the blind children sitting on the grass singing and playing musical instruments. It was a lovely sight! We collected letters to bring back to St Mary’s School in Richmond but then, the baby had taken a turn for the worse and the screaming turned to silence. We doubted its chances of survival so we rushed to Soroti Hospital where we took the baby to Out Patients. I hope we discover the outcome of the poor little mite. The little boy had already been sick but this continued until we had run out of black plastic bags for him to vomit into. A space had been made now mother and baby had left but not for long as we had arranged to collect the mother we had identified on a home visit with her tiny malnourished baby with the cleft palate. Less room and more luggage as she had brought, amongst other things, a sack of some sort of crop for food which had to be tied onto the roof rack. We were on the last stretch with only another hour to go but we were all tired by now and everyone was quieter. I don’t know how the drivers cope with these days as they are not easy and it seemed so long since we had set off in the morning. Gradually there was more space as we dropped staff off in Kumi Town and we reached the Guest House utterly shattered and in need of a shower and food.

 

24 October

Thursday already and we are making an early start to get to Amuria, north of Soroti. The team were already in the car when they arrived to pick Ivo and me up from the Guest House. Hellen, Social Worker, Michael CBR eye clinic, George, Esco power project, Lawrance, Orthopaedic Workshop, Ivo, Dutch medic and I set off for Kumi town to pick up Harriet and to collect Liz, physio, and Ruth, CBR worker, in Soroti. Arriving in Soroti, I needed to collect the books I had ordered and to buy a volley ball so that Adesso could finish off yesterday’s match. We found Liz and Ruth who was with one of her mobilisers who I had decided to supply with a bicycle so that he can go further afield into the bush to identify children with disabilities. These people are proving to be an invaluable part of our team and are to be encouraged. We set off on the road to Lira for Ococa which seemed so far away. The rebels were very active in this region and, although the displaced people have returned to their homes, the land is very bushy and looks almost uninhabited. After another hour’s driving, and in the back of beyond, we arrived at an “oasis in the desert”  in the shape of a splendid Catholic church and then an amazing Health Clinic looking more like a hospital and with every possible department but no doctor.

The patients were already queuing  on concrete benches and we started assessing the children. The cases were so varied and interesting. Club feet, bow legs, obesity in a 7 month old who never stopped eating, horrific burns contractures, arthrogryposis, Quads and Gluteal Fibroses, post injection paralysis, spina bifida, congenital absence of feet  hands,. We almost exhausted the conditions known to us. An older mother brought her malnourished Downe’s Syndrome baby which was her twelfth child! We mentioned stopping there and she told us that she is praying to God. I almost told her that God had sent us to her but then I thought I should not be too facetious. An old man of 65 years asked us about his little toe problem as he thought he should have it amputated. We reassured him that this was unnecessary and that he should learn to abduct his toes to let the fresh air in between them (He was most capable of this with his other foot), soak his feet, dry them carefully and apply smearing cream (Vaseline). He thought it better not to wear shoes but, as he had a small wound between his toes, we advised him to wear shoes and he went away most impressed with his consultation.

The last patient had been seen but our day was not yet over. We had the journey back to contend with and, with the vehicle packed to the extreme with staff, a mother and child and a mother and sick baby all with their belongings inside or on the roof rack, we set off to return home. The baby was screaming and the staff laughing uncontrollably so that the noise was deafening. Entering Soroti, we called in at Light Academy where we found Michael Ekonyu waiting outside as we had contacted him to say that we would call. We had his books and the teacher said he urgently required a ream of paper to start his S3 exams next week. We had brought elbow crutches with us for Michael’s friend, Robert, and so he came and had them fitted. These looked much better than the wooden axillary type he had been issued with. However and better still, I asked Lawrance from the workshop to see if there was anything they could provide to improve his absence of foot since he was very young. Lawrance could make a shoe for him and then he should be able to walk without crutches at which point we would take them back. Next call was at Madera School for the Blind where we found all the blind children sitting on the grass singing and playing musical instruments. It was a lovely sight! We collected letters to bring back to St Mary’s School in Richmond but then, the baby had taken a turn for the worse and the screaming turned to silence. We doubted its chances of survival so we rushed to Soroti Hospital where we took the baby to Out Patients. I hope we discover the outcome of the poor little mite. The little boy had already been sick but this continued until we had run out of black plastic bags for him to vomit into. A space had been made now mother and baby had left but not for long as we had arranged to collect the mother we had identified on a home visit with her tiny malnourished baby with the cleft palate. Less room and more luggage as she had brought, amongst other things, a sack of some sort of crop for food which had to be tied onto the roof rack. We were on the last stretch with only another hour to go but we were all tired by now and everyone was quieter. I don’t know how the drivers cope with these days as they are not easy and it seemed so long since we had set off in the morning. Gradually there was more space as we dropped staff off in Kumi Town and we reached the Guest House utterly shattered and in need of a shower and food.

 

23 October

Adesso Sports Day so I was free until 11am with time to clean the bathroom with Vim and sort out all my belongings. There is very little to distribute and my case will be light on my return; two drums and two fishing baskets to be used as food covers otherwise the few clothes I haven’t given away or will leave behind for next time.

Pancakes sprinkled with sugar and lemon for breakfast and I was starting to tuck in when I had my first visitor, Priscilla, the late Margaret Asio’s eldest daughter. She had come with her children, Antony, and Margaret as I had requested bringing with her a letter for Patrick Maskell who has been involved with the family since Margaret was his housekeeper whilst he lived here. She has turned up trumps after getting pregnant whilst in Senior 3 and leaving home. Now she has returned and seems dedicated to be the mother of the household. Yesterday, I had visited her youngest sister, Leah, and now I could give her a few things for Brenda, one of the daughters who is in Senior 4 and taking O-levels. I may not have an opportunity to see her as it is difficult to get into the school when exams are in progress. I remembered the Ecco sandals which Maria had left me to pass on to a needy person and they wouldn’t have fitted Cinderella any better. They will last a long time for Priscilla. I also hadn’t a home for my cockerel which is living here very happily. This was the ideal home and she will come later this evening to catch it to take home. Anne told me that it was no good to trying early morning as the chicken would never be caught but we had to wait until it had used up some of its daily allowance of energy.

Already, before 8am, I have had the opportunity to sort out about three impending issues and everything is falling neatly into place. Stephen Okello, the young man I have known for over 10 years, called to say hello followed by Frances Okerenyang and so it was soon time to get on my bike and cycle across the airfield to Adesso School. On arrival, I cycled down an avenue of branches with bourgonvilliae flowers tied to the tops and was greeted by anything up to 900 children. I was taken to a table under an umbrella tree (the only name they knew and it was a fair description) and given hard wooden chair as though it was a throne whilst everyone else had the proverbial plastic type. The Guests of Honour were seated when the entertainment started. There was dancing with grass skirts made out of banana leaves and drumming by the different classes and the Girl Guides demonstrated their drill. After about a pleasurable hour, children moved our chairs and tables to the netball pitch where we watched senior and junior teams compete. The loose sand generated by their energetic footwork filled my eyes making them so sore. The standard of play was high and there are some very talented young girls on the teams. Our chairs were moved again to the football pitch and we sat in the shade of the trees watching the senior and junior teams. Both games ended 1 – 1 and were finished with penalty shoot outs. The atmosphere was intense and, in both cases, a definitive result was reached. Lunch followed in a classroom with no window frames nor door ansd so I don’t know what happens when the rain blows in horizontally. I can picture the children squeezed into the dry half of the room, all 100 of them! Lunch was delicious and for the teachers and Guests of Honour. The players ate outside from large cauldrons.

Feeling replete, it was back outside to watch the volleyball. Again, it was an intense game and points were even when the ball burst bringing the game to a sudden halt. Thus an inopportune end of sports day and two very disgruntled teams and no wonder! I thought it was possible to buy a volleyball in Soroti tomorrow and then they could complete the match on Friday and the points for all three games totted up so that the overall winner of the Inter-House annual competition could be announced. This resulted in rapturous delight and applause! Speeches followed and I was so tired from eight hours sitting. I returned to the Guest House and prepared myself for tomorrow.

 

22 October

Outreach home visits with Rose from the Nutrition Unit today. In the vehicle, we are joined by a grandmother and her 1 year old hydrocephalus girl and a young mother with her CP year old girl. Rose wants to visit the home of the grandmother as she has been in Kumi since May as well as Cure Hospital in Mbale and the costs are rising with no one from home coming to visit. The second needs a home visit to check on the home conditions but first we have some homes to visit in Oseere. The first child’s compound was so small with no shade from the relentless sun apart from a couple of “glue” bushes so called because the sticky sap makes a good substitute for glue. They had nothing, not even a chicken, and the land was uncultivated. The child would benefit from a corner seat and the mother would come for one to be measured and made. We discussed many issues and we all agreed that the ground could be ploughed and planted to provide food for the family if the father made an effort and he agreed and so I offered to buy them a goat which caused them to fall to their knees in gratitude. We shall follow up the family and check that things improve.

Apolot Caroline was a year old cerebral palsy child who lived in a much more pleasant home with plenty of shade provided by large trees but was severely malnourished. She had been in the Nutrition Unit but, following discharge, had regressed to a pitiful state. The father had abandoned the family after Caroline was born and the mother was struggling to keep her three children fed. Rose provided the mother with 33 Plumpy Nut Rutafa sachets of groundnuts, millet, sugar and cooking oil. Three sachets a day would keep the child going until she was admitted to the Unit in a week’s time. We gave her money for two chickens which she would buy on Friday and these could be the start of a little security in the future. You can see why follow ups are so important and this is an area which causes me concern. The hospital had to make drastic cutbacks when there were management problems and the community work is yet to be re-introduced on a satisfactory scale. Anja from Holland who was here in March (we just missed each other by days) helps with the Nutrition Unit and I do what I can for the Rehab department. And, as they say, together we make a difference albeit small in the overall scale of things.

We left Oseere and drove along tracks and through the potholes to Omatagna where we found the malnourished twins which were supposed to have been brought to the Unit last week by the co-wife to the mother of the children. She was sick and obviously things were amiss with this family and we needed to see the father. he delayed in coming after we sent a boy for him and we had to leave. As I sat on a low, wooden chair, I watched the co-wife get two plastic bowls, fill them with water from the jerry can and, while she washed one of the twins until you would think it had no skin left on its sad little body, its 3 year old sister did the same for the second twin. They lifted the shiny brown bodies from the water and carried them at arms’ length into the hut to be dried. The children start young to perform these motherly tasks. However we gave the co-wife transport money to bring the twins to the hospital and she agreed to do so. A cockerel was making a din so I took a movie and then played it back to amuse the children. There was nothing wrong with the cockerel’s hearing as it answered back to its own recorded call!

We were so near to Mary Goretti, mother of Lazaro, that we dropped in to see how they were doing. She had planted her fruit trees and had covered them with branches to provide shade and they all looked healthy and strong. Lazaro had been bathed and was being fed his lunch of greens and sweet potato by a young  girl. Mary Goretti told us proudly that she had taken Lazaro to the Catholic Church on Sunday and he sat in his wheelchair by the altar and was the centre of attention. Now he is included into the community rather than being isolated at home. In March, it was one of my disaster families and I never thought this could be achieved so successfully. I asked her what had changed in her life and she said “Everything! I can now feed my child with the milk and the wheelchair helps me to take Lazaro to church”. We passed the cow whose udder was bulging with milk the surplus of which she sells to provide soap, etc. Let’s hope that some of our other families who, at present, give us concern can follow suit. I had a tangled mass of rosaries in my bag and she was over the moon to be given one and, when I gave her the lot as they would take ages to unravel, she could now hand them around, she was cock-a-hoop.

Leaving Omatagna, we drove to Mukura which is where the two babies in the back of the vehicle live. Now we could take to the tarmac road and speed along in comfort. The family of the grandmother of Naikaya Seinta aged one lived here and Rose wanted to find out if they would accept responsibility for the unpaid bills. The men seemed to take matters seriously and there would be a family gathering to discuss the issues. Grandmother and baby came back with us as she needs to gain more weight before actually going home.

Iyogin Susan, the 10 month old cerebral palsy baby’s home was well kept and we found a young husband happy  to see his wife once more. The baby has potential and, with encouragement, could well be able to sit and stand. We showed the grandmother what to do and said she was in charge of the child’s development. These two came back to the hospital also to continue with their treatment and nutrition education.

Now we could return home so it was back to Kumi town and a visit to Gold Standard School where one of my children, Leah, is doing Primary 7 exams. I had a good luck card for her as well as a letter from a friend back at home who pays her school fees. She is going to write a letter for me to take back with me and she has asked for some soap, toothpaste, maths set etc which I shall take for her. I thought the hospital was the next stop but the belts for the vehicle had arrived and the mechanic set to replace the three of them. It seemed to take ages but, finally, the job was done and we could proceed back to the hospital.

I was too tired after my poor night’s sleep so I lay on the bed and fell into a deep sleep until there was a gentle knock on my door. Supper was ready! Can you imagine? Six weeks of meals brought to me! I appreciate each and every one and last night it was cabbage and rice with avocado which I had bought in the market for about 15 pence, tomato and onion. Delicious!

Bed…even better! Good night!

 

21 October

5 am and time to rise to wash my hair which was like thick straw. Three washes are necessary to take away the dust and then it feels so good.

Yes, we are off to Soroti again and I’m beginning to know each pot hole personally. The squashed snake, which yesterday we flattened even further, was still there. Perhaps the crows found its taste too nasty? I needed to buy some school books as the Darlington Soroptimists gave me a cheque on International Literacy Day so we visited a book shop where the salesman was very helpful. Ambrose, Antony’s Maths teacher. had advised us to buy books of copies of past papers rather than text books as these can be more useful for the students. We bought copies of Uganda National Examination Board Biology, Maths and Physics and we ordered Chemistry which should be in the shop by Thursday. I couldn’t resist buying Upper Primary Series of Read and Write English, Maths and Science and I still have some funds remaining.

We had an excellent day today starting with Achen Milka who we saw last week and we had brought her wheelchair. First, her mother washed her and cleaned her teeth with a stick. I had a toothbrush and paste left over from the Dentaid visit in my bag so I gave them to the mother who proceeded to clean Milka’s teeth until they shone white. Then we lifted her into the wheelchair and you have never seen a grin like it. Such a beautiful smile on a child with cerebral palsy. I can’t describe her pleasure beyond that this was perfect. The mother, Ester, related her own story telling us how, in 1986, a year after Musseveni became President, there was the National Resistance Movement Army fighting against the President but there were also other rebels such as that of Laquena, the sister of Joseph Kony who is still the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Young Ester was in P7 when one of these rebels raped her and told her that men with guns would kill her if she tried to escape. This went on for a week and she knew that, if she had a husband, they would leave her alone so in three weeks she had found herself someone and, in fact, they are still together today. She missed her Primary leaving exams and her ambition to be a nurse was over. This tale still causes her much pain and her eyes were filled with tears. It’s difficult to get the full gist of these stories but this is what I made of what she said. I asked her age and she looked blank but we worked it out that she must now be about 40.

We had a second wheelchair for Juliet and her father had joined us at Milka’s as planned. He’s a lovely little man with poky features and a cheerful disposition – I like him! He came with us to his home where we presented Juliet with her chair. She wasn’t so happy to sit in it and it was then that we realised that we should have given these girls each other’s chairs. Juliet would be able to propel her chair with big wheels and Milka would benefit from foot rests so we had to exchange them to finish the job off properly. Milka was still grinning when we returned and she was very happy to be taken out of one chair and placed in the other. Juliet didn’t notice the difference but, once she has become used to being in a sitting posture, I am sure she would enjoy wheeling herself about. Her father does well in caring for his children, lives in extreme poverty and so we decided to give him one of the solar lights. He put the panel on the roof of his mud hut to charge and slotted the light into a slit in the mud bricks under the thatch of the hut to keep it out of the rain. I entered the hut to find that five children sleep there with him and I asked to see his torch which was his only source of lighting. He brought out an old radio with the battery cover removed, fiddled with the wires and attached them to the disc (which should be inside the head of a torch) with half a dozen LED lights on it. It didn’t work because the batteries were flat but the principle was not the best and not in the least portable. I am sure he will enjoy having a solar light and he can also charge phones, not that he has one, for others thereby providing himself with a small income.

He accompanied us to the next home to show us the way as here was an 18 year old girl who the hospital CBR workers hadn’t visited before. Atieba Ester was a disturbed cerebral palsy hemiplegic girl, very noisy and disruptive who, in the past, had been raped by a man. The mother heard her screaming and went to her aid but she was in great pain and mentally distraught. There was nothing we could offer her as she was able to walk and her learning difficulties were her main hindrance.

Harriet and Ruth next took me to see Abina Hellen, Atim Joyce and Achen Christine aged 11,8 and 5 respectively, all born blind. Their mother was also blind and so they lived in a pitiful state. It had been hoped that my heart would melt and I would take on at least one of these children in my schooling programme but I was firm and gave them money for a goat each which may, one day, provide enough income for school fees.

We returned to see Akiirol Cana who we last saw in March. The cow we gave her last year had produced a calf and was giving up to 5 litres of milk a day. However, the cow had ticks, she had no medicine so I gave her money to buy some. I learn something new every day and today was that ticks are almost always present during the rainy season but surely it must be better to keep them under control all year round. The girl was sitting in a wheelchair which arrived in the Physionet consignment two years ago and was being maintained well.

The last child of the day was 8 month old CP Apolot Lillian Martha who was so sick. She was pale, her hair a straggly brown, her nose and face covered with mucus and crying weakly. The mother was not there but many children who were caring for her. The boy who brought her out of the hut was a moderate hemiplegic but he managed to carry her safely. I gave him a few hints to improve his walking but I doubt he will keep to the advice. Other duties have priority.

That was it for the day so we started our return home in good time. We collected Echun Job who we first saw last week who was standing at the road side with his parents and everything that was needed for him to stay in the hospital whilst he is seen by Dr Apio, the eye surgeon. His father waved them good bye and returned home. Job became blind only a month ago and so we thought it wise for him to be seen by a specialist. By the time we had picked up so many people the vehicle was full to capacity, not only with people but also sacks of food. Two and a half hours later, we reached the Guest House and Landheer continued to take Job, the blind boy, to the hospital where he and his mother would sleep. The Guest House was lively with many visitors including Ouke, the Dutch man who started the Esco programme which sorted out the electricity issues a couple of years ago. Now he, in collaboration with Dr Landheer, has many projects on-going – pit latrines and stoves in Wiggins School which Dr Landheer founded many years ago, the hospital farm, a porridge programme at Adesso School amongst others. It was good to see him again but his wife, hanneke, has stayed in Holland as she expects her first child soon.

I had bought a canister of BOP to kill the mozzies in my room and sprayed rather late. The smell was not nice and I failed to get to sleep because it was irritating till the early hours and then woke not many hours later. I’m writing this feeling tired and I look forward to sleeping well tonight.

 

20 October

Traditionally, Sunday is a day of rest but I have to wait until my programme allows! Three of my students can hopefully be ticked off by this evening. Alex, Harriet and I came today in a borrowed car and I’m sure I wouldn’t lend my car to a soul on these roads. Surely, our journey on these roads will have shortened its life.

Firstly, it’s Antony at St Stephen’s School in Soroti. He’s being given one more chance to make a go of his education before I finally say enough is enough. The guard at the gate wouldn’t allow us in which I thought was fair enough as S4 exams were in progress. After some heated exchanges (even the mildest of requests can sound violent), he brought a teacher who gave us permission to drive through the gates. When Antony arrived, he was his usual nervous self playing with his fingers and twitching his mouth and reporting that he wasn’t performing well in maths and physics. He had taken his S3 exams but hadn’t his results. His young Maths and Physics teacher, Ogwang Ambrose, was summonsed and he kindly gave up some of his Sunday for us. He finalised the results and showed us that Antony was definitely not near the top of the class but thought he should be able to do better. Although Ambrose is fresh from training school, he seemed aware of Antony’s lack of confidence and, when we told him his history about being shot in the foot by raiders and viewing the killing of his parents, he realised that Antony has been seriously psychologically affected. After much discussion, we decided to help Antony by arranging private tuition by Ambrose for both maths and physics. What more can we do and let’s hope and pray that this will be what is necessary. It will bring him to the forefront of Ambrose’ attention in class also and he will want to do his best so fingers are crossed.

Now to Light Secondary School to see Michael, my 16 year old with stunted growth and malformed joints but a charming smile and personality. The arrival of a vehicle is always an unusual event and it wasn’t long before he was standing by the car. I remained seated and then we were talking eye to eye. He was doing well and was in Division 3 in his last exams. I have to admit I thought he would be in Division 2 but I know he will do well. His mother, who suffered a stroke after his father died, was sick and, knowing the most dreadful home conditions, it cannot be easy for her. His two severely disabled siblings were well, he reported. There is no hurry to build his iron sheeting house but it is there in the back of my mind. Michael is so grateful for his education as he knows that, without our chance meeting, he would be at home still picking out the termites with a long stick from their hill to give the family their protein. I asked if he had a friend and he pointed out Robert who was walking with crutches. He had had an infection in his leg and he too had a disability with a severely deformed foot. I shall take him elbow crutches which will be far more comfortable than the wooden axillary type.

Off next to Katakwi, quite a distance from Soroti, but I was pleased to find the road had been resurfaced with murram since my visit last year. We were on our way to see Lawrance’s family. Lawrance is in Kampala at the School for the Disabled and will be taking his P7 exams any day now. I honestly don’t know what I would like for his result. If he passes, I have no idea where he can go as there are no opportunities in Uganda for such a disabled student and, on the other hand, it seems shameful to be so negative. The track to his village was blocked off as crops had been planted over it and so we had to find an alternative path. After asking a local, we approached the home by driving through savannah grass higher than the car. The place was deserted; children started to emerge from nowhere and we were told that the grandmother was in hospital and the husband was with his co-wife. A child ran off and seemingly got the news to the grandmother that we had come to see them. This gave Alex, Harriet and me the opportunity to discuss the arrangements between us which are in place. We had a fruitful exchange, tweaked a few of our procedures and hopefully we were all satisfied with the changes. I want to simplify the money system and to have improved accountability.

Then, out from the long grasses, Ruth, the grandmother appeared having got herself discharged from the hospital where she had been a patient for a month. We both hugged each other and I found her to be nothing much more than a bag of bones but she is upright and dignified in spite of her age. She was smartly dressed in her Sunday gomaz putting me to shame in my skirt and cream top already grimy from the dusty seat belt and open windows which allow all the dust from the passing vehicles to enter. We have agreed to start the house building programme with Alex supervising the purchase of materials, labour and building. We had drawn a plan with a stick in the murram deciding on size, position of doors etc and that is all that is needed. No planning permission, no architect – nothing else!

Unfortunately, the storm clouds gathered and we were well aware that, if we were caught in a storm, we would be stopped in our tracks as a car is unable to cope with the local roads when they turn to a flowing current of murram. The wind got up and it was time for us to leave. We drove towards the cloudless sky and kept well ahead of the following darkness.

Ruth (CBR worker) lives in her two room house in Soroti where we left her. We went in to find it more furnished than a couple of weeks ago. She had a clay pot for her water, her mattress on the floor and bags holding her worldly belongings. The house felt good and I am pleased she has found herself somewhere better than her space on the church floor where she has resided for more than two years. She was pleased to be able to offer us a glass of water from the clay pot and, with glass in hand, Harriet asked if the water was boiled at which point Ruth grabbed the glass from my hand and that was the end of my refreshing drink.

Back on the road to Kumi and all went well until we went head to head with a Teso bus careering along at a fast pace. It veered from side to side as it avoided the potholes while we also tried to miss the holes. This is alright as we usually do a dozy doe and then miss each other but two pigs started strutting across the road and the bus driver decided to avoid them. The angle of the bus was so scary and we clasped our hands to our face so as not to see what happened next. Alex fortunately kept his hands on the wheel and his eyes open. The worst part was when we crossed paths with the bus leaning at surely over 45 degrees as, if it tipped over, we wouldn’t be found until they uprighted it weeks later. The outcome was that all was well and we decided we would have killed the pigs. The joys of Ugandan roads!

Home, bed and sweet dreams! The weekend was over and the week about to start.

 

19 October

Saturday and a rest day for me. Grace did my washing on Thursday and I have a good book to read on my Kindle so I’m all set. The medics set off for Mbale for the weekend, Anne has taken little Genevieve to her village until tomorrow so it will be relatively quiet. I ate my breakfast of squashed banana, passion fruit, dates and ground nuts, washed down with a cup of tea whilst sitting on the porch. The cloud had taken away the intense heat of the sun. I set to to delete some of my hundreds of photos. No lunch to day but I was going out so I tied two bags to my bike’s handlebars and set off precariously down the hospital road, across the roundabout (or more accurately round the roundabout) avoiding the puddles on the way until I reached Joppa school. Vivian was sitting on the doorstep waiting for me with the biggest of smiles which made her nose almost disappear into wrinkles. She had said she would write a letter for me to take to Tony in UK. I also had a maths set and a few exercise books so we were both very happy but I was sad to leave and I was expected at Janet Akurut’s village. I cycled a little further as I wanted to take photos of Chris’ trees and the jatropha hedge. The brakes on my bike don’t work and the road was downhill which made stopping difficult. The only way possible was to swerve to the right and mount the verge until I stopped. It worked a treat and I laid the bike down and went into the trees. I got strange glances from passers-by who must have thought I had fallen off seeing the bike lying there.

Job done, I cycled up Janet’s track to find her cooking on her fuel-saving stoves in a shed. Margaret, her neighbour, and I went into Abram’s mud hut which had been freshly cow-dunged that morning specially for the visitor and not so odorous as you are probably imagining. Janet had made some cow pea samosas which were deliciously crisp and hot but oh so full of fat. I had three expecting this to be our lunch but, no. it was a starter! We decided to have the meeting of the women’s group before our meal and so we joined the ladies. After prayers, songs and introduction, I listened to their update and I was encouraged by their improvements so I decided to re-instate the competition for the best piece of craft using local materials which will be judged in 12 months. Next was a tour of Janet’s crops which she has managed to grow following our visit to Aliasit Farm for training a few years back. Tomatoes, peppers, egg plants and improved oranges. Business matters dealt with, the members dispersed and Janet, Margaret and I returned to the hut for lunch/supper of rice, sweet potatoes, cow peas, beans and greens. It’s no wonder my clothes are feeling tight! Before the sun finally disappeared, we had time to join Priscilla, the daughter of Margaret Asio, my dear friend who died a couple of years ago from AIDS and a cerebral haemorrhage. Priscilla had been a difficult teenager who disappointed Margaret and the family and had gone off with a man and had two babies. It took a while after her mother died to return to the home and now she is a diligent head of the household. It is a relief that the children now have a good guardian and I thanked her very much for accepting her responsibilities at last. She was keeping the compound and garden in good order and her crops were well tended. Margaret was a keen gardener who showed her mzungu friends around with pride. She will now be even more proud that her daughter is following after her.

With dusk rapidly descending upon us, I took my leave, cycled home and enjoyed the rest of the evening. A couple of times, I thought there was a knock at the door but it may have been a very big hard-shelled beetle which bashed into the glass by mistake. I don’t think we have an askari (armed guard), who used to try the door lock in the past. since Anne built her mud hut close by.

I have discovered that my mozzie spray is for cockroaches (same tin, different small print) and I seem to have cured these nasty insects from scurrying round! So much for the nightly spray under my mozzie net!

 

18 October

Friday has become my hospital day. At Morning Assembly, there was a group of UK mzungus from Mission Direct who were involved in community health care training. Their skills range from oncology to engineering.

I had lots of loose ends to tie up and I started with a visit to the hospital administrator, Charles, to catch up on progress with the project to send plastic surgery children to CoRSU. Things had stalled and a list of patients needed to be compiled to see if the visit would be worthwhile. This posed a problem as parents are given a contact number when their children are identified at the outreach clinics and then they contact the physio department around the date that they are told the plastic surgeon will be visiting. As Mr Viva was expected next week, many had been told that the visit had been cancelled and the physios don’t have their number to call. This will change in future as most people have a contact number even if they don’t have a mobile phone (or toilet not to say toilet paper as banana leaves work well or water or everything else we take for granted). We will design a new attendance form with an extra column for this information. Also, patients may well turn up this weekend to be screened and these may agree to go to Kampala which, for them, is another world away.

Hellen in the workshop is doing well with her plans for the wheelchair and tricycle project and I am hoping this will commence before my departure. Doors need to be constructed to enclose the selected area before anything can be started. She is arranging the repair of the tricycle we brought back on Thursday and the preparation for the new one for Joseph, the double amputee.

Henry was in his dental clinic and he had started to write up the inventory as requested. The UK engineer had repaired a couple of his machines and he was very happy with the de-scaler which I brought out for him.

I looked for the malnourished twins in the Nutrition Unit but the co-wife had failed to bring them which doesn’t surprise me. The other mothers wanted to greet me and to pat their children on their heads so I dutifully obliged before returning to the physio department where many patients were being attended to. Cerebral palsy babies and toddlers, adults with bad backs, patients needing plaster of Paris applied and there was Isaac, my difficult boy, who was in a much better frame of mind than at our last encounter. This helped enormously but that doesn’t mean to say that he is making progress. I doubt he will benefit from his surgery due to his lack of co-operation.15 years old and he had never been to school, what hope is there for his future?

2 o’clock and I was ridiculously tired so I walked back to the Guest House deciding to rest a while. I met Margaret Akol, retired MS secretary, on the way and she had been to see the UK oncologist. Margaret has undergone surgery and treatment for breast cancer for a couple of years now and has had to sell her assets to pay the bills. That’s the way it is here, sad to say!

I knew nothing for an hour after I put my feet up on my bed and woke with a start during a vivid dream. These occur every night and are sometimes so disturbing that I can still remember them clearly.

4 o’clock and Berna called. She stayed with us for Christmas two years ago when she was doing a Masters in London. In retrospect, the UK experience has dulled in her mind as she was not happy with the cold, food, London, everything and found it so difficult to adjust to our way of life. One thing is for sure; she won’t want to return! Her Masters has brought her an excellent job with Kumi District Council and a new car the quality of which is excellent by anybody’s standards.

6 o’clock and we were still chatting away and I was due out for supper at 6! The storm was brewing, the wind getting up and the thunder rumbled away so, after Berna had driven away, I donned my walking shoes (in case of snakes in the dark), splashed myself with insect repellent, grabbed my torch and dashed across the airfield before the rain started. Dina was cooking outside and her 81 year old mother was seated on the floor inside looking every day of 81. I had taken Bingo and so 8 year old Elizabeth (named after me) and Simeon aged 11 started to play but it did not prove to be too successful. They couldn’t fathom out the numbers nor the aim of the game so we only played once. The best part was putting the numbered counters on the correct squares of the caller’s and this kept them busy. The rain started to fall and the lightening lit up the house. Chris phoned from home in UK and I couldn’t hear a word because of the rain pelting down on the iron sheeting roof. Supper was posho, beans and cabbage. This was a special meal for the visitor and definitely not one of their usual diets. They ate frugally whilst I seemed to have far more on my plate. Leftovers may have to last all week. After supper and with a solar light which the hospital has provided in staff houses providing light, I realised that they were all tired. Elizabeth had fallen asleep hanging on to the back of my chair and Simeon’s eyes were dropping. The grandmother was wanting to go to bed so at 8 pm I took my leave. Dina escorted me over the airfield which by now had transformed into a quagmire and I was only too pleased I had my walking shoes on.

 

17 October

Outreach clinic today at Kanyum which, for once, isn’t too far from Kumi. The multidisciplinary team piled into the vehicle together with John William, the third Dutch medic, while Harriet and I sat next to Landheer, our driver. On reaching the health clinic, we set ourselves up under iron sheeting supported by brick pillars and the patients queued waiting for their turn to be attended to. After a while, a young post polio paralysis 30 year old came requesting a new tricycle as hers needed repair. She was disappointed when we told her that we would take it to the hospital for repair rather than provide a new one so it was tied to the roof rack, we would repair it and then return it when we were having a day of nearby home visits.

Martin wanted to leave the clinic to visit a cerebral palsy girl who Peter, the mobiliser, had identified so we set off hoping we would not run short of fuel. Again the route was plagued with potholes and bushes but we fought our way through until we reached the home. There we found a 9 year old girl lying with her twisted arms and legs in contorted positions. The mother lived alone since the girl, Acom Juliet, was born disabled. Often, when the mother needed to leave the compound, she had no choice but to lock Juliet inside until her return. The father as so often abandons mother and baby on realising that she had given birth to a disabled child and this was the case here. The father had found a new wife and had built her an iron sheeting house within sight of this poor woman. She was industrious with a well-kept compound and weeded crops. Her banana trees were heaving with fruit almost ready for picking and with the stems having to be propped up with branches. Some of our team who had come with us bought some banana shoots for 1000/= (30p) each to grow in their villages and so the mother was happy to have made some money. We will provide Juliet with a CP chair made in the workshop to enable the girl to sit and, if possible but unlikely, to enable herself to sit independently.

Another mother had heard of our arrival and brought her floppy CP 11 month old, Odong Moses. He will be given a corner seat to help him to sit also.

On leaving, a third patient, Tino Margaret, appeared. She is a post polio paralysis of 30 years who had bought her tricycle from a family where its owner had died.

These three families are to be included in Martin and Peter’s list and they hope to start an income generating project with them as a group. Similar to yesterday’s families, they will be given a cow which should multiply until they each have a cow. Then they can think about the next stage for the group.

We returned to the clinic to find them winding up and we managed to come home the earliest we have ever done before – 4.30 pm.

In the morning, Ivo had remained in bed as he had a dose of the runs and it was not he who ate the chicken in Paradise View but Styn and I could have understood it if he had fallen very sick. Understandably, being medical students, they had gone through those conditions which occur with such symptoms such as typhoid, cholera, ebole but decided to wait awhile to decide which it could be. Fortunately, by the time we returned; he was feeling much improved and there was no need to consult the tropical medicine text book. His day had not been uneventful and he had seen through the doorway a cobra slide past. He called to Anne who came out with a stick but she failed to strike it dead.  It raised its head and hid in a bush which she set alight with paraffin but it speedily slid away. She says it could have its home here or it could have been passing through. Let’s hope it is the latter.

I had time before the sun set to read outside and I was into my Kindle when Obwongo came with another drum. He was asking such a low price and my case is usually almost empty on my return that I bought this one so now I have two. Then Joseph, the double amputee who is in charge of fuel saving stoves came on a borrowed tricycle to give me the 30,000/- contribution as requested for a tricycle of his own. It is so hard for me to accept this contribution from patients but important to do so. Now I need to have one prepared to give him. He has only recently had his second leg removed, poor man.

Then the storm started and we all sat in the porch watching the lightening. It wasn’t long before a chicken and its nine chicks joined us wanting refuge in the house but we closed the door because mother and nine chicks jumping on our beds in their drenched state was not to be recommended. The noise they made drowned out the sound of the incessant thunder and it was only later that Anne told us that they were wanting to roost for the night in the kitchen cupboard which is their home. They had more than the brains of a bird as the mother guided them through the rain round the house and straight to the back door and to their beds.

The rain was fallen heavily and a pair of flip flops left on the path sailed past us. I hope the owner had as much sense as the chicken to realise where her shoes had gone.

Not such a long diary today but it has been an enjoyable day. Good night!

 

PS Chris has been given the above diary but I don’t want him to know that the US have put Uganda on high alert as intelligence has told them that a Westgate style terrorist attack is planned for Kampala. Kumi is perfectly safe but I do want to go to a shopping mall on my way home to go to Banana Boat and stock up on lots of things which are really good value. More likely to be bitten by a snake or struck by lightning than bump into a terrorist.

 

16 October

There have been two difficult days and so could the third keep up the trend or would the day prove more positive? I’m delighted to report that everything went so well and I am home with so lots to write about. I’ll try to be brief.

Ivo and Styn, two of the Dutch medics, joined Martin and me for the day with a visit to Kumi Orthopaedic Clinic being the starting point. As we reached Kumi Town, we were early due to my insistence on being punctual and so I called in to see Chris and Sharon Atkins who were staying in Kumi Hotel and I found them eating toast for breakfast. The smell was so good and how I wish we could have such treats in the GH! Ivo and Styn were impressed with Dr Ekure’s hospital which is quite something in this part of the world. He has done so well in only two years and the expansion is going according to plan. The Xray unit is still a building site but he is confident that it will be functional in three weeks. The Ugandans must work hard and fast or seeing will be believing.

Off to Nyero where we picked up James, Martin’s mobiliser (someone who knows the area, the people and how to get to homes), who was to show us the route to our families. We travelled along murram roads, pathways and then tracks hardly visible and with one wheel either side and almost squashing the crops – sorghum, maize, millet, greens.

Their homes are remote with a few mud huts in different states of condition. A good hut has a completely waterproof thatched roof with baked mud bricks for walls, a neat verandah around the outer edge and with cow dung spread on the floor of the hut and verandah. The door is iron sheeting crudely hinged to the wooden frame. The compound is swept clean and surrounded by the garden with crops growing out towards the horizon. Chickens with their chicks in differing stages of development run around the compound and goats with a rear leg tied to the tethering rope pull for the furthest blade of grass they can reach. Cows may be seen in the distance and the occasional pig or turkey (not so many this year). Cassava or rice or millet are laid out on the ground to dry in preparation for storage for the food when crops are few. There are always family members and neighbours sitting on the verandah maybe shelling groundnuts or peeling cassava. Children are in abundance and wearing their everyday clothes which are often barely recognisable as garments with shreds of material hanging from their shoulders. Their decent clothes are reserved for high days and holidays.

The poorer homes are very different with thatched roofs slipping down with gaps to let in the torrential rain. The crude unbaked bricks suffer from the rain: the door if there is one is propped up by the wall and inside there is a pile of rags; three stones for cooking the fire, ash and charred sticks with wisps of smoke, a couple of blackened pans. Perhaps there is a half empty sack of maize or the odd cassava tuber.  A reed mat serves for a mattress and a torn mosquito net may be hanging from the ceiling. There is a sense of despondency as well as despair. The people don’t seem to have much to say to each other and they look sad. Their clothes are much the same for all and past their best for everyone. Animals are few.

We reached the home of Isaac Okiring who was a 13 year old CP boy who needed a wheelchair so the sooner the Workshop starts churning them out, the better.

This would get him upright and be so much easier for the mother. Maybe in time, he would benefit from KAFO’s (knee ankle foot orthoses) but we would start slowly with our programme. Next was Agnes Aboot, a bright girl of 10 years with a severe scoliosis. She would also benefit from a wheelchair and then she could be registered with the nearby school. We gave her a pencil and paper and she could easily write the numbers from 1 to 10 and copy her name and that is without a day at school ever. She had picked it up from the school children. Her village had a very comfortable feel to it and she lived with her mother and grandparents. The old man certainly looked old and he announced he was born in 1905 and he married his wife in 1940. Who knows the true facts but he did look very old. He made baskets from banana leaves and sisal string so I bought one for 25p and very useful it’s proving to be already.

Apolot Agnes was a 14 year old girl with lanky limbs, epilepsy and cerebral palsy. Yet another wheelchair for her and Styn paid for her to go to Kumi Hospital for assessment in the epilepsy clinic and treatment for 12 months. Olupot John Steven was a spina bifida who had been treated early in life at CURE Hospital, Mbale. He needed monitoring as it appeared that he may benefit from KAFO’s in the future. This would maintain his ankles at a right angle in the event that walking may one day be possible.

Atim Jennifer was a sad looking 6 year old cerebral palsy girl who in August had suffered a fractured femur and dislocated hip by a box falling on her. Her treatment at Atutur and Kumi Hospitals seemed inadequate and we encouraged the mother to keep her next booked follow up appointment. Akiring Mary was a 6 year old epileptic and, once again, we encouraged the mother to take her to Kumi Hospital for assessment.

Akurut Beatrice turned out to be almost an actress and fooled me completely regarding her balance and sitting posture. The mother knew how to deal with her by taking her away from us and putting a bowl of food under her nose. She sat without difficulty but reverted to her old posture once she knew we were looking. She appeared to be very shy. Perhaps we are rather a daunting intrusion into her space.

These were our 7 patients and, over a modest lunch in Paradise View in Ngora, we recapped on the patients and our plans. We were to divide these families into two groups and supply them each with a cow. In three years, there should be calves with each of the six families having a cow each. It’s a good system and leads to greater independence for families and their children.

We weren’t finished yet and I wasn’t looking forward to visiting Moses Okenyekure’s village as I had been disappointed in the progress of his house being built when I went a couple of weeks ago. I had given his relative enough money to build a ramp for his chair to go up or so I thought but I was delighted to find that the roof had also been finished and the house was habitable. Moses was sitting outside the front on rough ground and mending a bicycle. So what had we achieved? An iron sheeted house and a bicycle repair business. This is what we had set out to do and I was happy. Yes, there was more to do; the front area needed concreting and the walls could be plastered; a slap of paint wouldn’t go amiss but he now had a roof which would last many years over his head and the rest could wait. If we had arrived an hour earlier, we would have witnessed the death of a cobra which they had found where Moses was sitting! We left him and his grandmother very happy after all our years of input.

Nearly done with one more visit! We called at Ngora School for the Deaf where one of my students, Alupamera, is attending. She is a lovely girl and about to take her Primary 7 exams in the hope of transferring to Mbale Secondary School for the Deaf. I had taken an M&S good luck card for her. Anne, the deputy head teacher, translated for us and I heard that she and her family were well. Many children peered through the barred window so silently due to their deafness. I didn’t realise that one of them was signing to Apulamera and I wondered why she was so amused. Deafness has some useful qualities, I learnt!

We were almost back but took Martin home as he wanted to show me his orange trees. He has 200 and some starting to bear fruit. They are of the improved variety and will provide him with a substantial income in the future. His children will be well educated through university all being well. He rushed ahead saying he wanted to give me something to thank me from the bottom of his heart! I didn’t understand but he returned bearing an armful of oranges saying that, if he hadn’t been trained in tree grafting, this wouldn’t have been possible. We attended Aliasit farm many years ago for training in sustainable agriculture and now we are reaping the benefits. He passes on his knowledge to others and Peter, our volunteer mobiliser, now has an orchard and an income.

I couldn’t pass Joppa School without calling in to see Vivian, another of my children. In my bag, I fortunately had a letter from Tony, her sponsor in UK, and a book from Darlington AIC members as well as a notebook I had had printed with a photo of Vivian on the cover. She was over the moon to receive these gifts and thoroughly enjoyed reading Tony’s letter to the other children who crowded around her wheelchair. She has the most infectious giggle and, despite her severe disabilities, is so bright and gives cheer to everyone around her. She keeps a steady second position in class and has nothing but ticks in her maths book and the neatest of writing. I have great hopes of her.

Now we really could go home, not too late but I had missed going to the weekly Rotary meeting in Kumi town.

 

15 October

Today is Eid, yet another Public Holiday and so the schools are on holiday but most people’s work continues as normal.

An early visitor was waiting for me on the porch; Janet Akurut who I am always pleased to see but I had only a few spare minutes which we shared together. I am invited to join her group on Sunday afternoon.

Once in Kumi town, we called in to Kumi Prison to see Sam, the Officer in Charge who lives in a humble staff house no different from the other officers. In a way, I expected something more grand. I had brought him a newspaper for prisoners from UK which I thought he may find interesting. I don’t suppose Uganda has a paper for prisoners where they can air their feelings.

In Soroti, we picked up Ruth and started our day’s work in earnest. I wanted to see how Emma’s (the burnt boy) mother was faring as she was so sick last week. There was no sign of her; she was still ill and had gone to stay with her mother leaving the four children behind with Emma in charge. It was a most distressing situation with those children having no one to care for them and only rummaging for what they could find to eat. So difficult to imagine that families can live like this!

Second was Asio Rebecca, an epileptic 25 year old, who had fallen into the fire, burnt her leg which became infected and had had her leg amputated in 2011. We could help this girl by providing a prosthesis which she had been unable to afford and, once she has discarded her crutches, we could perhaps set her up with a small business. We shall see.

Then Achen Milka, an 18 year old cerebral palsy teenager who was sitting in the shade of her house whilst the family including her father were threshing the rice. Rarely do I see the men joining in the family activities. We could provide a wheelchair for Milka and, although her mother was happy, the father looked uncertain. I asked him if he had any concerns and he told us that he didn’t want a chair for the girl but he wanted her to walk. We had to counsel him and explain that she would never walk and that he had to be thankful for her limited abilities such as sitting and weight bearing through her hands. He seemed satisfied with our explanation and I am sure he will find life easier when Milka can be transported by chair rather than being carried.

Akwenya Juliet, another CP of about 5 years was next and she too would benefit from a wheelchair which will get her off the ground and a little more transportable.

Ingadu Elias was a 5 month old baby with a cleft palate and lip who could not suckle and was badly malnourished and looking like a baby of a couple of weeks. He needed care in the Nutrition Unit before any kind of surgery would be considered. The family situations in these homes never seem to be straightforward and plans for the mother to bring the baby must be a nightmare but she will hopefully do so on Monday.

Aliabo Ester, a 9 year old with osteomyelitis had already had surgery at the hospital but this can be a recurring condition and the disease had sadly returned. This isn’t surprising when you see the unhygienic conditions these peasants live in. The father was angry that she had not been cured the first time and refused to consider further intervention. We hopefully appeased him and explained the possible course of progression with a sense of urgency for the girl to have an Xray to see if surgery was necessary. Otherwise the future could look far more bleak.

Perhaps the most harrowing visit of the day was to the home of Elwell John Silas who I first met last year and provided the family with a sheep as an income generator. Sadly, the sheep had died the day before and there it was being roasted on a grill to be eaten for, probably, days to come. It had given birth to twins one of which had died. A small boy came bearing the lamb, all fluffy and soft, in his arms and looking like an image from a nativity play. What to do? Not a lot except to start again with a goat, continue monitoring the child to check on its CP chair and to support he family with some input and pray that their life could be made just a little bit easier.

A mother had heard the vehicle coming and had brought her son, 6 year old Echun Job, to see us. He had had a high fever last year after which he lost his sight. His eyes looked sore and we suggested that the mother come to the hospital for assessment by Dr Apio, the eye surgeon.

So, on Monday, we will be taking two wheelchairs for Milka and Juliet and hopefully collecting little Elias and Job to bring them to the hospital.

I had found the day distressing and the thought of hopelessness passed through my mind. Was our input making any difference to these families? I can only hope that this is not the case. Usually, I return after a day’s work exhilarated and satisfied that we have achieved a lot but not today. Let’s hope tomorrow is better!

We called in at Marisa Café in Soroti to de-brief and take a light refreshment. I had a passion fruit juice which helped raise my spirits. Then finally a visit to the market where I bought a large water melon and some passion fruit. I had been to the “supermarket” in the morning to top up the medics supply of Nutella for them and I indulged in a large bag of dates which will compliment my morning banana at breakfast.

A hair wash was essential with three attempts with the shampoo to get anything like clean water. How good to feel clean once more before supper of beans and Irish.

 

14 October

It’s Monday evening as I write this and with not a grey hair on my head! But more of that later and I shall start at the day’s beginning and we’ll see how the day went. Gerard, the young blind man, was waiting for me as I rose from my slumbers and I wondered why he had turned up on a Monday. He must have set off about 5 am but, being blind, it doesn’t really matter if it’s dark for him,. I gave him a ripe banana while he told me about the impending birth of his first child but then had to leave him once the vehicle had arrived for me. Landheer and I set off into town with Jacinta and her sick child seated behind as she wanted a lift to Serere. I called in to the Post Office as I had written three letters to my six grandchildren. What a time it took for the man behind the counter to juggle with the correct denominations of stamps! The Postbus heaving with passengers came and went having left a few almost empty bags of mail He fumbled with his calculator and, hopefully, I left the office with the correct compliment of stamps stuck haphazardly over each envelope.

En route, we encountered a crowd of people and a police car piled high with policemen. Harriet asked a bystander what had happened and a corpse had been discovered lying in the swampy bush having been slashed with a panga on the back of the head and side of the neck. This is the second murder I have heard of this week (and it’s only Monday) as well as a women who walked to the hospital having had her forehead slashed by her husband.

Our first stop was at Happy Days nursery where I found there was a new head teacher who knew little about the cow project. The visit proved to be somewhat disappointing but how fortuitous to have gone so that they can pull their socks up and sell the cows and replace them with a better one by the time I return in 2 weeks. This is why follow-up visits are so important.

Back on the road, a monitor lizard slowly ambled across until it waggled its tail and sped off into the road verge once it realised there was an oncoming vehicle. These are about 7 feet long and almost resembling a dragon rather more than a croc. We were on our way to see Nora, one of my favourite post-polio ladies, who was sitting on the ground peeling cassava with a panga, a difficult task as the outer layer is very fibrous. She blended in with her surroundings  as everything seemed brown apart from her tricycle we gave her last year which she was keeping in good condition.  Her compound was beautiful; swept clean with cana lilies as well as other assorted flowers  scattered around the perimeter.; so colourful! She was so happy and grateful to be able to fetch water and go to the trading centre now that she was mobile. I gave her some money to buy a couple of chickens which, once they have mulyiplied, could well be exchanged for a goat. This cheered me up after the disappointment of the first visit.

The home of Julius, also a post-polio who was given a tricycle last year, was our next call and, once again, we realised we were going to be disappointed. He was not in our tricycle but in another which looked rather dilapidated. What had he done with ours? He told us it was at his mother’s home far away. Was this true? After continuing with our questioning, the wife who had been drinking admitted that it was behind the hut. He had removed the three wheels and chain for the other trike while this one lay abandoned. We were so angry that he had lied to us and surely there was someone else who would like a tricycle so we decided to take the frame with us. I asked a man to take it to the vehicle ( a short distance) and he wanted paying so Harriet, Landheer and I did the task ourselves. Yet another disappointment and we are not familiar with such indifference fortunately.

Next Stephen, a hydrocephalus and spina bifida teenager, who was given a wheelchair last year as well as two goats which have increased to six and which can now be converted into a cow hopefully with a goat left behind to start again. The boy’s infected pressure sores had improved greatly with getting him off the ground and here, once again, we had a success story. We cannot expect to have plain sailing all the time and the odd disappointment is inevitable or the days would not be true to life.

Driving back, a second monitor lizard crossed our path and I wondered if the saying for magpies could also apply to lizards; one for sorrow, two for joy? I hope so!

The quality of charcoal in Serere is high and so, when we saw a couple of bags propped up on the road side, I bought one for the Guest House. These bags are incredibly heavy and it was with difficulty that it was dragged into the back of the vehicle together with the tricycle frame.

Now we were ready for home, extremely tired, and my hair changing colour with the dust. My eyes were like sand pits, I was covered in sweat and hence the murram dust hiding my grey hair. Easier than going to the hairdresser but not permanent. Hair washing is not on today’s agenda so I shall continue to have a mass of straw-like substance to tolerate.

So, back home, I had to shower before supper and have an early night as Janet Akurut is calling at 7 am. I am writing this before she arrives. It is dark outside with a carpet of stars still shining. Even my cockerel in the kitchen cupboard hasn’t realised it’s time he woke up the world. I can see the light from under the mud hut door where Andrew will be getting ready to be collected for school by the school lorry which clanks along every morning before 6 am. Anne goes to bed after midnight and then never stops caring for her family and us.

So, I wonder what is in store for today. It’s off to Soroti with Ruth where I shall buy yet another jar of Nutella for the medical students. More later!

 

13 October

Sunday morning and time for prayers. There is to be a mini fund raiser to pay for the church maintenance and Anne asked me to take three turkey eggs and a bag of passion fruit on my bike. I took along three prayer books to help raise funds also. I went deliberately 90 minutes late and arrived perhaps a little too late but it was still all double Dutch to me. The gospel of the day was the cleansing of the ten lepers which is appropriate as there are many leprosy sufferers who attend prayers.

There isn’t so much of a church service as I can make out and so the mini fund raiser was started with bidding for a bag of tomatoes followed by Anne’s bag of passion fruit. I found I had outbid the others for both these. Then there were Anne’s eggs, a sack of cassava and improved oranges and I decided to let others pay for them. Next, a cockerel and, if you are a regular reader of my diary, you will know that I am rather partial to chickens so the bidding was keen. I got my bird for just over £4 which was more of a bargain than I had realised as it was heavy and healthy. It would have been at least £5 in the market. As I have been asked to buy some chickens, this one will achieve one of my goals. I noticed my prayer books remained on the altar and, on asking why, they said that they could get anything up to 100,000/= (£25.00) for these but not with the local community. With the chicken tied upside down on my handle bars and youngsters carrying the rest of the produce, I walked home with Modesta’s family and played Bingo in the cool shade of the open sided mud hut. Peter, her eldest boy, walked back to the hospital with me to take sugar to the leprosy sufferers who greeted me warmly with singing and dancing. I needed photos of the tricycles, checked on the fuel saving stoves and met Joseph who has had his second leg amputated and requested a tricycle. I think he may have one if he contributes 30,000/= but I must first ascertain if he will be provided with a second prosthesis. At the hospital gate, I met Sam (sports teacher at Adesso) who gave me a lift on his motorbike to the school so that I could see the bull they are to sell. Luckily, I was riding side saddle as we skidded in the mud and I was able to jump off smartly and save landing in the mud. The bull looks fine but the cow, its mother, is a puny specimen. The calf had a rough, curly grey hide and looked healthy enough. Sam brought me home over the airfield and I manage a short rest before Paul from the workshop arrived to see if I had any work for him. He has done a lot of woodwork and wheelchairs in the past but is on leave at present. It wasn’t my place to tell him our plans to develop a workshop for making wheelchairs and tricycles and I know there will be the opportunity to keep him occupied in the next few weeks.

I managed a tomato sandwich for my lunch and spiced up its flavour with some Chilly Willy Mango Pickle which I had bought in Soroti. Spiced up it was indeed as chilli was the predominant flavour and this helped me to be distracted from the many insect bites for the rest of the day.

Dina arrived as expected to take me to her new staff quarters, an old disused nursery class where the termites have eaten entirely through the rafters. The wind could blow the roof off at any time. It was her daughter’s, (Elizabeth named after me) 8th birthday and I remember her being born. I passed Dina that day carrying a 20 litre jerry can on her head a few hours before she delivered! I had a note from Mary Lowes in Barnard Castle who never forgets the day and, apart from a few goodies I had taken along, the birthday went uncelebrated. I took toothbrushes and paste and we had a practise demonstration. Normally she uses just a twig from a special bush. There were also a few balloons, fairy stickers and some crayons and a colouring book in my bag. Dina had asked me for tea so it never entered my mind that she would be cooking beans and posho for supper. I was embarrassed to say I had to leave at 6 so I have agreed to go for supper on Friday.

At 6 and after a quick shower, I set off on a boda boda to town to have supper with Consolata. Power was off so we drank tea on her verandah and chattered incessantly until supper at 9 pm. The moon is quite full at present so it was reasonably light but the stars were dimmed by the moon light. Maybe there were lots of shooting stars but I find it difficult to distinguish between them and fire flies.

John and Consolata kindly drove me home only for me to find I was locked out! Fortunately, the light was on in Anne’s mud hut so I gently knocked on her door and she let me in.

Bed was a welcome sight and, having showered early, I could tuck myself up under the net and fall asleep.

 

12 October

Saturday morning and nothing planned! Hurrah!

I lay in bed till 7 am and then slowly got myself up and dressed. I made my bed by gathering the mozzie net into a coil and throwing the end over the top, tidying the bottom sheet and folding the top sheet. That’s all I have! What should I do? I hadn’t sorted out my tin trunk since I arrived so that needed doing and it was surprising  what I found. Every year, I Bluetak a card which Towi sent me many years ago onto my cupboard door. Now I don’t even check at the post office for mail as emails have taken over writing letters which is a pity in a way.

I enjoyed my breakfast of banana, passion fruit and hard boiled egg which I ate on the porch in the shade. The three students left to go with Grace to the lake and I was left to my own devices. Old Joseph called wanting new tyres for his bike as the others had melted in the heat. I told him to return if they collapsed completely. I read my Kindle and wrote up my diary up to date and the hours seemed to pass swiftly until Anne called me for lunch. I don’t usually have lunch if I’m at home on Saturdays but I’m changing my ways this year. It was delicious; coleslaw with Ugandan mayonnaise (different), tomato, onion and avocado salad followed by more cabbage and mashed potatoes. Too nice and I ate too much. Continuing with sorting out my hundreds of photos on the computer, the day went until Robert called wanting me to lend him some money for three months only so that his wife could take her final exams. I have to be firm and keep my strict criteria so he left disappointed. Obwongo stopped by to tell me that his wife (poor soul) had had a tooth extracted and he needed sugar as she couldn’t eat anything. I couldn’t be bothered to say that more teeth would have to be removed if she continued eating sugar and I had bought some at a good price in Soroti so he was lucky.

The sun descended and I needed to come in the house if I wanted to continue reading my book which I am enjoying. It had also been cool today so I was able to sit out in the shade of the tree and not bake.

 

11 October

Friday and I slept very well, about 8 hours! Today, I stayed in the hospital to catch up with odds and ends. Unfortunately, I forgot that, each month, there is a lengthy staff meeting after a Friday Morning Assembly and so it was something to be endured for the best part of three hours sitting on a hard bench. I suppose it’s good for the staff but it is so tedious listening to so many issues with that of the staff keeping pigs and cows in hospital being probably the lightest to cope with.

Finally, it was over and we poured out of the Hall of Hope to start our day at around 11am. I had to see Charles, Hospital Administrator, to inform him of progress with my Workshop plan before we could proceed and so Hellen and I explained what we had in mind and he was happy. Coming out of the office, I bumped into Chris and Sharon Atkins who live in Sheffield and we have been acquainted for a few years. Good to see them again and to hear that they plan to start off an initiative in Kumi Hospital. Great news and I hope to meet up during their visit here. Hellen showed me the area she had in mind for the new workshop and we made further arrangements.

Mary Goretti, who was to be given the orange trees which we bought yesterday, was waiting for us in the physio department but without Lazaro and we also managed to find a small wheelchair for him as promised. The tyres need replacing so she will collect it when ready. She left very happy and carrying the box of trees on her head. Also waiting there, was Odongo Sam with his mother as, last year, I had asked to see him again. He is a bright boy with spina bifida aged 11 but looking half his years. He would do well at private school, but he is doubly incontinent, a problem which would be difficult to cope with away from home. He can only lie on his tummy but can propel himself in all directions with his arms. He has a wheelchair which is broken and so it is planned that a home visit takes place so that we can evaluate the situation.

One of my priorities of the day was to visit Henry, the dentist, who was working well but needed contact numbers for the repair of a couple of pieces of equipment. I had details of a dental engineer in Mbale who he can now contact. He was so happy with the Dentaid visit which will have promoted his business well.

Back to the department at around 3pm and the staff had kept me some lunch which, although cold, was welcome and filled my stomach. Agnes. the young physio, had a couple of patients, the first being a lady with a shoulder capsulitis. The Clinical Officer had sent her to the department for an arm sling and she was about to apply one when I suggested that we should examine the shoulder together and reconsider the doctor’s request. Following an assessment, I explained the condition to the patient, showed her some exercises and gave her advice and she went home very happy and minus sling. We went to Ojican Ward to see Isaac, the gluteal and quads fibrosis boy who had had tendon releases and was proving to be a very difficult 15 year old. Agnes did her best but he screamed and screamed for all the world to hear! I then tried to move his legs ignoring the noise but hoping he wasn’t casting a curse on me which is how his words sounded. The mother returned and so I asked if she minded what we were doing. I explained that, without the exercises, the surgery would be a complete waste of time and her money. I hope she understood. I also recommended that Agnes record the range of movement we had achieved so that she could note any improvement. I doubt the boy will make progress as co-operation is essential.

The work day was over and I had not completed my plans but what we had managed was productive. Margaret Rose, Children’s Village Housemother, came as I was leaving and we walked back to the Guest House together. She seemed to be walking badly and then I realised that she was wearing men’s shoes which were far too large for her so no wonder she was struggling! If she had my size feet, I would have given her my sandals. We talked till the sun started reaching the horizon and she continued walking home.

Chris tried to Skype me but the Orange network is being temperamental and emails are slow when possible so that I shall wait until normal service is resumed.

Supper was good and Ivo, Styn, JW understandably declined a game of Bingo after last night’s game and we talked about issues such as the comparison of euthanasia in Netherlands and UK. I am getting used to joining them in a bottle of beer with our meal.

 

10 October

Last night was a bad night for me with only a couple of hours snatched between long bouts of sleeplessness so I was tired from the moment I got out of bed.

Thursday’s are outreach clinic days and so today we were off to Katina north of Soroti. The three Dutch medical students, Ivo, Styn and John William wanted to come and so we piled in the Land Cruiser and set off. In Soroti, we stopped to buy the orange trees for Mary Goretti and added a pawpaw and a mango tree deciding to collect them on our way back. I also bought a pawpaw tree for myself to plant at the Guest House for 30p! We arrived at the Health Clinic to find many people already gathered and waiting to be seen. Michael (eyes) went inside where he needed a dark room to start his clinic, Hellen, Social Worker, started hers adjacent to ours and we set to in the shade of a tree with many guardians and children seated on the ground and forming a queue on the benches. We could see immediately that there was an abundance of gluteal fibrosis children all squatting with hips abducted to 180 degrees. We handed out numbers so that we could keep some semblance of order and soon we were calling them one by one until we had almost a conveyer belt going with Ruth asking their details, passing them on to one of the students who examined them, confirmed the diagnosis and so on. Forty six gluteals, some post-injection paralysis, burns, osteomyelitis; a well organised clinic and smoothly run. Half way through, we had to shift our spot as the sun had moved round and we set to again until the last patient had been seen, well over 100 in total.

Back in the vehicle, we compared notes and agreed that this had been a very successful outreach day. We collected the fruit trees and returned to Kumi Town. Today, 10 October, is Elizabeth’s birthday and so I decided that our team would go out for a meal instead of our usual staff outing this year. I had booked a table for 15 at North East Villa and was hoping we could eat outside but, no way, as the heavens opened and we were drenched going from the vehicle and reaching inside, a matter of a few yards. As we waited for the meal, we played Bingo (I had brought the game from UK) and we played with beans as counters and with Mzungus v Ugandans. JW, Ivo and Styn were the mzungos and were outnumbered by the rest and so there was a distinct imbalance of numbers. Soon, the rules became clear and the competitiveness increased until the Ugandans won hands down and we decided to have our meal. It was a very pleasant evening and we returned to our respective homes having had a long day.

 

9 October

A splendid day today and so I will start at the beginning. It is Independence Day and officially a public holiday but we have chosen to keep up with our work. People celebrate by drinking far too much local brew and eat meat (the only other day in the year for eating meat for the peasants is Christmas Day).

Firstly, I am going back to yesterday when we were passing through Butiru and picked up someone we knew. They were off to a school where they had heard that a wild animal had been captured and had been taken there and cut up for the celebrations. A giraffe or zebra; we never found out as the police had taken it away. I think it would be something very ordinary somehow. Generations ago, there were hyenas, foxes, wild boar but none of the Big Five, so I told.

Back to today. We set off to Omatanga where a mother lived with her brain damaged child. She had been in and out of the Nutrition Unit last year and so last September we started a programme for her by buying a cow from the hospital farm.  It was only on loan as this mother seemed lazy and not trying hard enough and so I said I would take it away if she didn’t develop her compound by digging it over and growing crops. Well, I was expecting to be disappointed but, instead, there they were with the child chubby from the milk and the mother beaming from ear to ear showing me her bean crop and where she had sown tomatoes and greens. The cow had a bull calf and was pregnant again and so this was a real success story. The cow was giving 5 litres of milk a day and the mother was selling the surplus so she had money for food etc. I promised I would buy her five orange trees in Soroti and gave her money for two chickens and more de-ticking medicine for the cow. We will return to see how she is doing and to provide a small wheelchair. We were all so happy when we left and then a man came to tell us of a malnourished baby which we went to see. The family was a disaster with 2 co-wives having 9 children under 8! The 10 month old twins were very sick and there was one younger still! Rose who is in charge of the Nutrition Unit had joined us for the day and so she counselled the mothers carefully. I’m not sure what she said but the elder mother (aged about 26) agreed to bring the twins who belonged to the younger one (aged about 22) to the hospital while the younger one stayed behind to suckle the baby. Yes, I know it’s very confusing but I think I have the facts right and families here can be complicated. The elder one was much more caring and I think she was the dominant mother whilst the younger one seemed surly and defiant. There were heated exchanges with the good mother crying and this caused her 5 children to start sobbing and the tears flowed abundantly. It’s difficult to cope with situations such as these but we can only try to do our best. The Nutrition Unit has wonderful results with its children.

Passing through Kumi Town on our way to Ngora, we decided we were hungry so we stopped at Arise Restaurant and sat by the road side while rhythmical music blasted out of several shops. Harriet, Landheer and Rose enjoyed some ghastly looking smoked dried tilapia with posho and matoke and I tucked into delicious ebor and sweet potatoes. Replete, we continued to Ngora where Rose passed the home of one of her malnourished children of years gone by. We were given a rapturous welcome by the grandmother who escorted us through their general store to the rear where they lived in a little Ugandan style house – a living room with no window so it was cool, a bathing area with no toilet and two bedrooms which I didn’t see. Cooking was done on charcoal stoves outside in a throughway to a common area for the neighbouring houses where there was a very acceptable latrine block which I visited for a “short call.” We were welcomed profusely by the mother and Susan, her daughter who was a strong, healthy 10 year old. When she was a baby, the family were peasants growing crops for survival but with barely enough to eat. The father did well and now runs a very thriving general store, sends his daughter to private Primary School and has bought his house which is very uncommon as houses are usually rented. So it just goes to show that people can lift themselves out of poverty with lots of effort and common sense. We bought provisions from the father to take to our next family and bade our farewells. Rose was so happy to see the end result of her input rom years ago.

Next call was to Janet, the severely brain damaged daughter of mother Janet. I have been to her for several years and hers is a long convoluted story which is evolving into making her life improve quite a lot. We parked the vehicle once the road became impassable although I’m not sure how our drivers manage to get through as far as they do. We close the windows as we brush past prickly bushes for fear of being lashed in the eyes and hang on tightly as we lean to what must be over 45 degrees. However, I have full confidence in Landheer and know that if he couldn’t manage, he wouldn’t try. Today, Janet, now a teenager, was being cradled by a neighbour as her mother had gone to buy some food. A young man went into the fields to bring back our cow and its bull offspring which turned out to be a huge, extremely strong animal which commenced devouring everything in sight and even tried to raise the thatched roof off the mud hut walls and swiftly felled a banana tree with one mouthful.

Sadly, Janet suffers from Osteogenesis (brittle bones) and in August had suffered a fracture of the femur which had not been set and so she had a severe deformity of the thigh to add to her other problems. The cow had also had a second bull calf which the mother had sold to pay for medical bills and so the provision of a cow a few years ago was proving its worth and giving her security. She was waiting for the big bull to grow even bigger and then she was going to sell it to start to build an iron sheeting house which will be far more sustainable than a mud hut. Also, grass for thatch is becoming rare and therefore expensive. Last year, we provided a plough for her to plough her land but the bull is so enormous that there is no way she could harness it to the yoke in safety. Now, she shares the plough with a neighbour who has two smaller bulls and they share the bulls and plough and manage their land much easier than with digging. This means that she doesn’t earn income as I had hoped but she will have a very profitable bull to sell.

We will provide the family with a wheelchair. Janet is growing and heavy to be carried and so this will make life much easier for the mother. The father left when Janet was born as she is and Harriet told her it was time to forget about him and get on with life.

(Another chicken has entered and has flown up on to sack of maize which it is pecking in the hope of reaching the maize. The others have passed out through the opposite door.)

Only four children seen today but I think it is better to complete a programme for each family rather than try to see too many. On our way home, I bought a multi socket adapter as the on in the Guest House is faulty and only one socket works satisfactorily. That was all and it was back to base for the evening.

 

8 October

I had an early visitor – Sam, the Adesso sports teacher, who wanted to accompany us to Mbale so that he could buy some new sports uniform for the children. We were also taking Hellen from the orthopaedic workshop and so, soon after 8 am, we set off for Kumi Town and then to Mbale. leaving Sam to do his xhopping. We continued to Magale to visit Lazaro, my blind boy sponsored by Newton Aycliffe Inner Wheel. I had no idea how far it was but we ascended lower levels of Mount Elgon for mile after mile after mile. It was so far that I even got a text message welcoming me to Kenya as we had entered Kenyan phone network coverage! Finally, after about 4 hours since we left Kumi, we arrived at the school where we were warmly welcomed by the Bursar and staff. What a lovely atmosphere the school had! It is run by the Sisters of Mary of Kakamega in Kenya. Lazaro was at his desk writing in Braille and was naturally shy but eager to show us his skills. The teacher, also blind since birth, asked him to write a sentence or two. “What is photosynthesis?” he wrote and then wrote down the answer correctly. I was most impressed. Then we visited his dormitory where he sleeps in the top bunk and the dining room where the children were lining up to be given a plate of posho and beans.

Last year, we found him living with his aunt in the poorest of conditions but obviously intelligent and so the reason for selecting him for education.

Lazaro is happy and well-nourished and Harriet makes sure he has uniform, shoes etc. He is one of two children who has a mosquito net above his bed. His teacher printed a letter using a Braille typewriter for me to bring home. I really didn’t want to leave and the staff asked me to stay for a month! I hope I manage to return in spite of the distance and state of roads. Betty who takes care of him wanted us to visit her home and then to stay for lunch but we had too much to do so she gave me three eggs and we went on our way.

Back in Mbale, we found Sam who had been waiting about 3 hours for us but we had more to do. Hellen had come today to join us in our visit to Kamlish who makes the tricycles for us and we had a tour of his engineering works which she found interesting. Finally, with us all assembled, we set off for home after stopping at a market. Landheer parked next to a rubbish heap which was sky high and almost made me sick. The vehicle filled with flies and the stench. How the women sat next to it each and every day, I cannot imagine! I bought, a distance away from the dump, 3 large pineapples for a total of £1.25, a kg of passion fruit for 50p and a huge water melon for 75p. I also had 5kg of beans, a large bunch of bugoya (bananas) and my 3 eggs nestled inside the sack of beans.

Not too many activities today but what we did was great.

Good night! I’m tired!

 

7 October

A long day lay ahead and it started with an 8 o’clock appointment with Florence, the Adesso head teacher. Having driven over the airfield, Landheer, the driver, and I reached the school and the head teacher was waiting. It seems the bull calf born to the cow I bought for the school has grown into a rather disruptive beast for a school and it is mine to do with it whatever I wish. Florence has agreed I sell it, bank the money and use it when the school sports teams need funds to attend an interschool sporting occasion. There remains a cow and a she calf and so the cow project can continue.

(I’m writing this early in the morning and the mozzies are having a feast day on my blood! My sting relief ointment, instead of exuding a splodge of cream, is too warm and 6 inches or so flows out freely.)

The day now starts with a ride to town picking up those who hail us along the road and cadge a lift. With Harriet and Ruth collected and the fuel tank filled, we set off to Soroti for me to find that the road is so much better than in March when I was here last. There are stretches of potholes but the majority is smooth and the bridge over the swamps is without gigantic machinery for the first time in years.

Our first port of call was to Big Mama opposite Kakise bus depot, not easy to find but, after several phone calls, we saw her in the middle of the road waving to us and, indeed, opposite the bus depot. We couldn’t miss her; she was certainly big! I was to collect the 20 solar panels I have bought via a contact in Germany. Anne, a German AIC member who I met at the European Assembly in Madrid a couple of years ago, had given me a couple and they are so good. I decided to use some of my funds to buy these to provide families with children with disabilities to help prevent the horrific burns we see such as those of Emma who we saw later today.

We visited the supermarket where we bought items for Betty, my blind girl at St Francis School for the Blind, called in to Global Care to see how they have been doing since March and then went to the school of Emma, the boy with extensive scarring following the collapse of the burning thatch roof on top of him a few years back. He spied the vehicle immediately and soon stood beside us with his hat pulled down over his face to hide his hideous scars. We visited the head teacher who gave him a good report, then Ruth drew round his feet on paper so we could buy him some flip flops (he seemed to be one of the few children without footwear and he had wounds on his toes). The solar lamp we had given him wasn’t working so he directed us to his home where we found his mother very, very sick. Last week she had miscarried and had lost much blood. She was pale, shaking, very weak and hadn’t eaten nor drunk for a long time. It was a truly pitiful sight and could we help? We had some drinks in the car which we gave her and then we went into town after taking Emma back to school. She had no money to buy the drugs she had been prescribed so we went to the market, bought provisions including some ghastly looking dried fish, greens and oranges and then to a pharmacy for some drugs. Yes, we remembered Emma’s flip flops!

Whilst in the “shop”, I heard a radio announcement; an 18 year old girl from St Frances School for the Blind had escaped and we were asked to keep a look out for a chocolate brown girl with short hair and report the sighting to the school! To be honest, apart from a white grandmother wandering the streets of Soroti ie me, everyone else is chocolate brown and nearly all have short hair!

We took our shopping back to Emma’s home and the mother managed a weak smile in gratitude. Perhaps the most useful aspect of our visit was that we approached the matter of family planning and I hope she listened. The poverty of these families is beyond our imagination and, compared with our facilities in UK, they must be among the most neglected people on earth.

But it’s back to reality and a visit to Betty’s school where we find her classroom empty. The afternoon is devoted to "other duties” eg washing clothes. A few children returned to the classroom and they were given the letters and cards from St Mary’s School in Richmond (N Yorks) where the children had made cards with straws in the shapes of flowers, trees, etc. The children’s sensitive fingers spent the rest of our visit feeling the shapes or peering at the cards inches from their eyes. What an excellent idea they were! We will return to the school to collect letters for St Mary’s and the children are to practise a song for us. I shall look forward to it.

Now we could either leave and arrive back at a reasonable hour or visit two more homes. The visits were our choice and I will have plenty of time to rest when I return to UK. We went to see Joseph, a hydrocephalus boy who we made parallel bars for last year. He is walking freely now and the cow which Helen bought has a calf. A happy family indeed! Next to William, a CP boy who hasn’t been so successful although the cow has calved. His KAFO’s (knee ankle orthoses) have caused blisters and so he screams at the sight of them. His mental capacity is low and so I doubt this will end up a success story.

Homeward bound at last and we set off into the dusk with a blazing sunset to the right and the blackest of black skies to the left. The lightening flashed as the sun dropped down and then the large drops of rain hit the windscreen until visibility was zero. Water flowed down the side of the road in torrents and the potholes overflowed until we did not know their depth. The vehicle plunged into them with full force jolting the vehicle (and us) too much. The newly tarmacked roads were the best and much appreciated. Petrol tankers with no lights approached us and lorries piled high with sacks of grain and topped by tightly packed people (and, one with hundreds of live chickens lashed to the sides,) heeled precariously off centre.

Thank God we reached safely and had just enough will power left to call in to North East Villa to arrange Liz’ birthday supper on Thursday.

Tired, dirty, hungry but satisfied that a good day’s work had been achieved, I ate, bathed in my basin, found my first cockroach of this visit and slept well.

 

6 OCTOBER

A peaceful night it was not as, at 1.36am, the rain lashed down, the thunder crashed and the lightening flashed directly overhead. The local people were talking about the storm today so it must have been impressive.

The lack of sleep allowed me to lie in until 7 am and then it was time to prepare for church. I cycled there and I found I was too late to find a seat so I squeezed into a bench next to Margaret, my old leprosy friend. The music was so rhythmical that I found myself to be the only one clapping! Some children could not make this white woman out at all and never stopped staring; a baby in the next row kept poking my face to see if I was real and I now know what it must be like to be a zoo animal! Of course the visitor had to be introduced and welcomed and then say a few words and so I dutifully went to the front of the church and told the mass of black faces what my husband, Chris, was doing; picking apples as they do mangoes for our town churches. There were blank looks when I mentioned apples so I quietly told Simon Peter standing next to me that that is what Eve gave Adam! It’s not nice being treated like a celebrity so I waited before everyone had gone before I left the church to cycle home.

I was hoping for a quiet morning but Francis Okerenyang came and joined me in a cup of tea and a banana. No sooner had he left than Paul and his wife and three children called and all I had to offer was mugs of water. Paul is the young man with CP who is the receptionist in the physio department and does a grand job. I enjoyed their visit but I was go to Modesta’s so I had to prepare firstly by catching Charlie, my cockerel, and tying its legs together. I was in two minds to keep him as he has found a lady friend, a rather skinny black chicken but then I thought he could go to pastures new and join all my other chickens at Modesta’s. So, with chicken under one arm and bag of goodies in the other, I set off to Modesta’s humble home which has been described many times before. Now there is a new grandson to make room for in the sleeping arrangement of her one and only room. The number fluctuates around the twelve mark and I cannot see how they all manage to lie down on two mattresses and one mat. There are also many chickens with one in the process of hatching her brood and now Charlie. I do hope he doesn’t wake them all up at 3 am!

We all ate lunch whilst we sat on the floor and children came and went and all ended up satisfied with bulging tummies filled with atap and posho whilst I ate omelette, greens, beans  and sweet potato. My water was cloudy and straight from the black water bin and, with fingers crossed, I hoped my stomach could cope; so far so good! You couldn’t imagine a situation like this in UK. Such families would be living on benefits with TV’s and the rest but here there is nothing and the number one priority is educating the children and do without everything else. The sweat was dripping off me with being in such a confined space so I suggested to Modesta that we took a walk – past her falling down latrine, her fallen down “shower” to a school where one of my children “boards”. It was lovely to see Vivian sitting with a friend on the ground and looking so happy. Her wheelchair looked fine and next I must contact her mother to see how she is progressing. Walking back, we called in at Susan Atebo who was sitting with her daughter by her mud hut and the four of us played Bingo which I had had in  my bag. Somehow it was nicer to sit outside and call the numbers, a novel experience for the others. Modesta won a line and Susan’s daughter shouted Bingo!

Modesta escorted me back home and no sooner had we reached the house than the rains started and then the thunder. A day of rest, being Sunday, it was not!

 

5 October

Saturday and for the last 12 years it has been washing day for me with rub-rub-rub to move the muck and, for me, not too successfully so I’ve decided to ask Anne and Grace to wash my clothes for me.

I woke at 6.30 hoping it was nearer 8am but this was good. I washed my hair and let it dry naturally and so it looks a bit weird. Everything in my cupboard needed a good sort out so the contents were emptied out and bagged into items for Maternity, Nutrition Unit, Children’s Village and Outreach until there seemed to be a semblance of order. I’ve very few clothes but enough so long as I keep up with the washing. It’s no wonder my cases were bulging as there is so much stuff to distribute. I finished with only my tin trunk to do now. I even found the only item I haven’t been unable to lay my hands on - my nail scissors so now I needn’t use the children’s paper scissors I brought or my teeth or, as they use here. a razor blade.

At 10am, I was expecting Sam and Stella, teachers from Adesso, to call and they arrived at 10.15 which was relatively on time. We planned the next sports day, discussed the need for sports equipment and then they told me that my school cow had first produced a bull which has grown and is proving to be a bit of a handful so what was I to do with it? That was a surprise as I thought I had given the cow to the school. This is good news as I am going to ask the head teacher if the PTA will approve its sale and then I shall use the funds to allow the volley ball team to attend tournaments as they are getting quite a name for themselves throughout Uganda. They compete against independent schools which provide smart shoes, kit etc but Adesso continues to play in bare feet. I honestly don’t know how one provides football boots which fit for a fluctuating team. We are considering opening a deposit account so that Sam and Stella can use the money after my approval but this could prove to be a nightmare and a comprehensive agreement will have to be drawn up first. We went to the school to ask Tom, Stella’s husband, his opinion as he is a little more level-headed than Sam although Stella is wise and I have known her for a long time. Tom thought it was OK so I shall continue with the plan. I walked back over the hospital runway for MAF and AMREF planes and found my tummy was rumbling. No lunch today so I made a jam sandwich which I ate with a cup of tea.

This was to be a restful day and so I put my feet up, fell asleep for 30 minutes and then read my Kindle for most of the afternoon. The children were a great distraction as little Genevieve is a lively 2 year old and whose antics are most entertaining. Sam Obwongo came soon to be followed by Joseph, the old leprosy man. It became a competition who would get the most attention. Sam sat near me and asked for iron sheeting but got no satisfaction from me. Joseph sat down patiently awaited his opportunity. Sam didn’t budge so finally Joseph left and was hardly out of sight when Sam got up to go. Quite a battle of wits!

I was never happier when I saw Grace was back from her weeding and was to prepare supper for me. Whilst she cooked egg plant, posho and Irish, I did my ironing as the power has returned at last. I was so hungry that I cleaned out the three bowls and would have eaten more given the chance. Now I shall have an early night. Although the thunder has been rumbling in the far distance for most of the afternoon, the rains have not appeared and I expect a peaceful night.

 

4 OCTOBER

I can’t believe I’m on the 7th diary entry and my 10th day since I left home. That means I’m nearly 25% of my visit through and I’ve hardly started my programme.

Today is my first hospital day which means a welcome at Morning Assembly is inevitable. Great! After singing What a Friend we have in Jesus, a bible reading and staff notices, I am given the briefest of welcomes from the back of the hall and, at last, the message has got through that I’m no longer a visitor!

I bumped into Simon Peter who was keen to show me the library he set up with the books from the container especially from Darlington Lions Club. The shelves are stacked neatly and there are also several medical books in a separate section. Even two “comfy” chairs mean staff can enjoy browsing through a book whenever they wish. A computer is available although not for going on line.

Charles Okular, Hospital Administrator, and I had a long meeting regarding our mutual projects which was most fruitful and that took up most of the morning. I visited the Orthopaedic Workshop and had a discussion with Hellen, the new young Manager, about a prone trolley for our little hydrocephalus boy. She has great plans to develop a workshop which can make the tricycles and wheelchairs but this is beyond my funding capabilities and I am going to endeavour to come up with a solution.

Lunch of beans and rice in the physio department, some idle chatter and then I returned to my room to write some important emails. I am hoping to be able to send the plastic surgery patients to CoRSU Hospital in Entebbe as Mr Viva has been unable to come to Kumi this year. The patients are phoning to see when he is arriving and I don’t want to disappoint them.

But…as so often happens here, I had visitors one after the other until it was dark. There is so much to sort out and we have drawn up the month’s programme leaving two free days before I leave! Obwongo came offering me lemons and he had a rather nice drum he had made out of goat and wood and he only wanted 25,000/= for it. I got him down to 20,000/= which I thought was more than fair and he also gave me a drum stick! (20,000/= equals £5 approx). It would be at least five times that at the airport duty free. It’s even strange to think that airports exist when sitting here typing.

Michael came to collect the items which Eileen Singh had given me which had belonged to her husband, the eye surgeon. How Michael would have liked everything but he was so grateful for what he was given. Harriet, Ruth and Liz also called by and were very happy with everything that I had brought from UK. My cupboard is looking a little less full.

I Skyped Chris at home and we had so much to talk about. He has been gardening and reports that the cold weather has not arrived yet and he has been picking apples and distributing them around the town. Lots of golf and with little time to miss me!

The medical students have left for Sipi Falls this weekend and so I am alone and very happy. Last piece of news is that I have won £100 on Ernie this month. Our electricity poles may have fallen down during the storms with no estimate of when power will be resumed, oxen may still plough the fields and sticks rubbed together for fire but I can get on the Internet with my dongle! Not sure where progress starts and ends, a conundrum indeed!

 

3 OCTOBER

The thunder is so loud and the rain so heavy on the iron sheeting roof that it wouldn’t surprise me if you could hear the cacophony!

It’s my bed time but it’s far too noisy to drop off into peaceful slumbers. Tonight my cheeks are rosy red and so it’s either a fever or I’ve caught the sun through the clouds. It is the latter for sure and definitely not malaria as I haven’t been here long enough to succumb to its nasty effects.

Last night was cold and so was this morning. It is without doubt the rainy season with the clouds reducing the glare from the sun.

So what did the day bring? Thursday is outreach day and so we set off down the pot-holed roads and drove for about two hours to reach Kakora Health Clinic where we found many patients sitting on the grass waiting for us. There were also a Marie Stopes and a Family Planning clinics in progress and so we wondered if we would have many patients. There were plenty especially as Liz, the Kumi physio, was attending a burial leaving me as the only qualified one to tackle the queue with Martin, a CBR (Community Based Rehabilitation) worker to translate. The patients presented with difficult diagnoses for me to make and I missed Liz so much. However, we bungled our way through and I probably referred a few too many children to the hospital but I thought it better to err on the side of caution. There were no obvious club feet, burns, cleft palates but plenty of unusual hips/ backs/ lumps and bumps to wonder what to do with. One 20 year old girl, an epileptic, had fallen into the fire and had dreadful facial burns but that was something for her to live with and she had come with a different problem.  I love it when all the children are seen and we get the elderly women who have waited, not always patiently, only to announce that they have aches and pains in totally random areas defying all anatomical possibilities. Somehow, I try to offer them something and they go away very happy. The old men are different as their symptoms are more genuine and difficult to manage. I have a soft spot for most of them and then regret that I cannot offer them much hope. One old man (probably younger than I am) had a rag wrapped round his ankle to cover a weeping wound which he had had for about 2 years. They look at the white woman pleadingly but she has no magic powers.

The bench was finally empty and we could leave to return along these horrendous roads. The children wave and shout “Mzungu”, the cattle being driven home get in our way and the chickens seem to escape what seems like an inevitable flattening every time.

We are all tired on reaching Kumi town and then we only have the final ride to the hospital situated 9km from the town having been established as a leprosy colony in the 1920’s.

On reaching the Guest House, I called in at Anne’s mud hut to see her new grandson probably to be called Gabriel as he was born on the feast of the Archangels. He was 2 days old and will be kept in the hut until he is a month old.

It’s incredible how tired you can feel after a day like this but it’s a treat to have a cold shower and feel clean once more. Then the thunder starts and I count how long the rumble is continuous until I finally fall asleep. Much better than counting sheep!

 

2 OCTOBER

It isn’t 3 October yet and here I am writing up today’s entry today. I am showered and in my pyjamas and I’m pleasantly cool. My thermometer tells me that it is 80 degrees F and so a good night’s sleep seems likely. I’ve really enjoyed my supper of Irish and dodo followed by two slices of a delicious avocado and washed down with a bottle of beer! I eat with three Dutch medical students hence keeping them company with the beer. I hasten to add that they have far more ticks in the beer column of our ledger and, in fact, this is my first this year. Forgive me if I ramble!

Well, it’s been a good day apart from being woken early by my cockerel bursting forth in song at some unearthly hour from its present home in the bottom of the kitchen cupboard. It had a fight with the white cockerel which has been resident far longer but, I’m pleased to report, mine won the battle. It needs a name and, as I’ve had so many cockerels in the past, any suggestions will be welcome. There are lots of mothers and baby chicks running around the house and so I’m keeping my bedroom door shut.

Another early start and it’s the last day of the Dentaid visit. My stress levels have been high wondering if our plans would work out and today was no exception. The team were going to Mukongoro and our mobiliser, Peter, was to have arranged a church hall for the five dentists to set up their tables. Would there be any potential patients? I needn’t have worried as the hall was large and there were many patients. The dentists treated 125 people, disappointed a few and, after lunch, left for Mbale very tired from a two week series of clinics in Uganda.

Maria, the physio husband of Simon, joined me again for a couple of home visits. Firstly, Peter took us to a see a boy called Lazaro and, although the mother of 13 children said he was 13 years, we both thought 8 would be more appropriate. He bounced along on his bottom laughing and clapping all the while but we needed to see if we could allow him to progress although normality was far from possible. Parallel bars would help so Peter and Maria went “off into the woods” to cut down suitable wood to make the bars – two long lengths to be suspended on four fork-shaped pieces for the uprights. These were soon made and Lazaro was able to weight bear and walk along them with a little encouragement from his mother. We went into his mud hut and found it spotless and freshly cow dunged that morning. This was, indeed, a good mother.

We had time to visit one more home and so we set off along roads getting narrower and narrower until we were driving over the crops to reach Jacob’s home. By this time, the rain had started and we were driving through puddles not knowing if the pot hole would cause us to become grounded. Reaching the home, there seemed no one there but, due to the rain, they were tucked up inside the hut with the door closed. They emerged on hearing the rare sound of a vehicle and we were given a warm welcome by the father who I recognised. The rain was far too heavy for us to get out so the father and son, a cheerful young lad with hydrocephalus, came in the back of the vehicle while we conducted the “consultation” from the front seats.  Not ideal but all we could manage! They were soon followed by five siblings and a good time if not rather damp was had by all. Last year, we made parallel bars for the boy and I could see they were broken and so we asked the father to repair them. The goat I had bought had had a kid so that was good news.

We really had to get back to the dental team so we bade our farewells, drove through the rain and along the narrow tracks until we reached what could be called with a stretch of the imagination the main road. Lunch was about to be served in the church and Susan had cooked chapatis combined with egg, tomato and onion followed by pawpaw and banana. The team packed everything up for the final leg of their journey, boarded their bus and started off for Mbale. We led them to the main road and then we returned to Kumi along the extremely pot-holed road. Back at the Guest House quite exhausted, I decided not to go to the weekly Rotary meeting but I came up to date with my diary and now it is about complete. I charged the battery during supper but this overloaded the solar power and all the lights went out. Heaven knows when the power will be resumed following the collapse of five electricity poles during Saturday night’s storm. Probably a few weeks!

Time now for sleep so I’ll leave you until another day!

 

1 OCTOBER

The dental clinic today was at Ngora School for the Deaf and I was going for home visits with Maria and Lucia. We started at the home of Moses Okenyakure as we wanted to check on his new house which is improving but the final stages are slow. A little chivvying up is necessary! Maria and Lucia were intrigued by Moses’ way of life by making fishing baskets and we bought most of his stock. I already have been one of his best customers but the style of his latest basket looks ideal to use at home as a food cover – worth a try and small income for Moses. His grandmother was very pleased to see us and was delighted with the box of produce we took for them. Fresh meat which the young girls will cook, beans, posho, rice etc as well as soap and salt.  We entered the mud hut which they both share for sleeping, cooking and storing their few worldly goods. Before we left, Moses presented me with a large cockerel with glorious brown and purple feathers which joined us in the back of the vehicle. Now, Lucia is not at all partial towards squawky feathery birds and was reluctant to even enter the vehicle and finally decided that she would have to sit in the front. The cockerel was well-behaved.

Our second home visit was to the home of my good friends, Joseph, Vincent and Agnes (three siblings in their twenties and early thirties) who all have a progressive neurological condition. The mother and eldest son, Paul, have died from the disease and these are awaiting their fate one by one. I noticed a marked deterioration in them all since my last visit in March and I think you would have to experience their way of life for yourselves before you could begin to realise how hard it can be here for those with disabilities. Their speech is almost incomprehensible and their mobility becomes more and more limiting. I spotted their toothbrushes which had flattened bristles due to overuse and so we shall provide them with new ones and some toothpaste. I really like this family. Agnes wanted to take us inside her hut where she was proud to show us the small blankets which she weaves on a frame. I asked where she got the wool and, after a while, I managed to decipher that her father brought it for her from Kampala. I will have mentioned in a previous diary that they are not living in poverty, are educated up to A level standard and have a good father who works in Kampala and still cares for his offspring. Their mud huts are well-maintained but you would consider them to be living in abject squalor. If they were not inflicted with this condition, they could well be earning good money in the city. Life can be unfair at times.

Having heard our arrival, three patients arrived– a 4 year old with knock knees, a 3 year old with an enlarged testicle and a 31 year old with toothache. They were referred to the appropriate departments at the hospital. Then Landheer’s mobile phone rang and the Hospital Administrator needed our driver back to take hospital staff to a burial and so he left us at the school for the deaf just in time for lunch with the dental team. Susan had cooked chappati and we ate this with banana and pineapple. Delicious. The clinic was going well with all the children and the teachers being assessed and those requiring fillings or extraction attended. With the clinic packed up for the day, I returned to the Guest House for a shower and short rest before returning to town to join the dental team for supper once more. We took two boda bodas as there were three of us – Henry, the dentist, Vicki, the dental nurse and myself. We arrived before the rains started and thank God we did as it poured down all evening. After supper, the dentists had their usual evaluation of the day and a Q&A session for the three Ugandan dentists. How lucky Henry has been to have had this opportunity to learn so much and surely his practise will grow as more people are made aware of the facilities in Kumi Hospital.

The latest on my cockerel was that he was living in the kitchen cupboard for the moment but had had a run outside before returning to roost.

Another good day followed by a well-earned sleep.

 

30 SEPTEMBER

The night was cool and so a sheet was needed to be comfortable. Heat did not keep me awake but an active mind wondering if the plans for tomorrow would all fall into place. Was the prison dormitory large enough for the dental clinic, would Susan Atebo manage to get all the lunch cooked at home and delivered to the prison for the dental team, the list was endless? Insomnia was purposeless.

Monday morning and I managed to evade the warm hospital welcome at Morning Assembly which is given to all visitors on arrival. Last night, three Dutch medical students arrived at the Guest House and so they had the honour of the greeting for today. I stayed behind waiting for Maria, a physiotherapist, and Lucia, a Spanish occupational therapist, both with the dental team to arrive by boda boda . Lucia arrived first but Maria who was unsure about the motor bike ride and had asked the driver not to go too fast, followed. We walked to the hospital and started a tour with a visit to Charles Okular, Hospital Administrator. We visited the children’s ward where most of the mothers and babies were outside and the orthopaedic ward with its patients tied up on traction or swathed in plaster. Maria and Lucia were impressed with the photographs of past malnourished children in the Nutrition Unit and we spent time talking to Rose in charge of NU. Elizabeth and Agnes, the two physios, were in the department where there were a couple of post op gluteal fibrosis children. As with most visitors, they had not heard of this condition and were interested in the causes, the on-going research and treatment.

Lunch was a cold, floury chappati from Sr Rebecca’s canteen situated in an old container – not the best of lunches sadly – but we were joined by Stella, Adesso School teacher, and so it was nice to catch up with each other’s news. A quick visit to the orthopaedic workshop followed as Maria wanted to arrange for a platform on wheels for a tiny spina bifida boy she had seen on the ward. She thought a board which the boy could lie on covered with foam and plastic and with a wheel in each corner would enable him to lie prone and to propel himself along on his hands. We continued our tour by going to the Children’s Village where we saw Isaac, a 14 year old boy who had gluteal fibrosis so severely that he could only lie with his long skinny legs crossed on one side and with his head propped up with one hand. He had some other underlying problems as seen on his hip X rays but, with a little persuasion, he could roll over both ways and lie on his tummy. With a couple of wedges, we thought he could learn to use a pencil and we encouraged Agnes to persevere with intense physio for the boy.

The dental clinic in the prison went well but there was the odd hitch. The hall was not big enough and too dark and so a tarpaulin was erected in the compound and the clinic took place underneath. Then the rains came in full force filling the canopy and causing some leaks and a heavy load above. The sterile equipment was spoilt but it seemed to work alright in the end.

I had to visit the bank at 4 pm so we returned to town in the dental team’s bus and Harriet and I sat in front of the lady Bank Manager waiting for her to release the money I had sent by International Transfer thereby unblocking my account and enabling me to withdraw cash. Fortunately, I had my passport with me and so, with lots of bureaucracy and papers stamped all over, we achieved our goal. It was only then that we realised that the heavens had opened and the rain was torrential. Pius, my most successful student, now works in the Loans Dept so we were able to sit in his department for over an hour until there was respite from the rain.

We paddled our way to North East Villa where the dental team were staying and joined them for supper. I didn’t fancy risking a boda boda on the slippery murram and so I phoned Landheer and he came and collected me in the hospital vehicle and thank God I did as the road had turned into a river with the frogs having a more riotous party than usual.

It had been a long day but surely a taste of what is to come.

 

29 SEPTEMBER 2013

I shall start as I mean to continue and try hard to keep up to date with my diary. The first notable event of this visit was that, as soon as I entered the Guest House door, a mozzie greeted me and had its supper courtesy of my blood. With the rains, they must be expected and avoiding bites will be important.

Sunday morning and, due to a realisation that I am not so young any more, my bed was somewhat appealing and I rested longer than my norm. This meant that I missed prayers in the church but enabled me to tackle some unpacking. Firstly, though, a cold shower was necessary – well, a shower but it only has one temperature ie cold. I delayed breakfast of two passion fruit, a banana and a hard boiled egg but then decided to eat some lunch as well. Packing went reasonably well and I found myself saving all poly bags and even a snapped elastic band! (One never knows when one wants to have some form of fastening and this may well prove to invaluable during my stay. I can hear some of you say that you knew I suffered from OCD!)

Andrew, Anna’s 7 year old son, brought his reading book and we both enjoyed half of the story of Wizard Wazoo, not an easy book for a young lad only in Primary 2. I asked him if he understood words such as Siberia and cauldron so it took some time to get through the pages. I would ask him if he wanted a rest but, no, he wanted to continue. This didn’t get the unpacking done but it was a far better option.

After a delicious lunch of Irish (our potatoes) and cabbage when I cleaned the bowls out completely, I decided to continue in my new geriatric style and I lay down and fell asleep. Refreshed and with the thunder starting to rumble in the distance, I decided to make an early start on my visit to Kumi Town to meet the dental team for supper. If the storm was similar to last night’s, then the road would be totally impassable for a motor bike. Being prepared for all eventualities, I packed my pyjamas and toothbrush just in case the rain prevented me getting back for the night. I knew that, if I had them, I wouldn’t need them and my philosophy proved to be true.

Harriet and I met the team and we enjoyed a supper of cabbage and Irish (rather similar to my lunch). To get home, I needed a boda boda but I couldn’t find any of the regular drivers answering the phone so I had to take pot luck with one who Harriet talked to and I hoped who would not abduct me along the desolate murram road to the hospital.  It is a little nerve-racking avoiding the pot holes with a driver you have been acquainted with but one with no English is not so reassuring. “Motimot”, I say pleased that my command of the Teso language is not absolute zero. And all’s well that ends well and I didn’t get wet!

Glossary

·        boda boda – motor bike taxi

·        motimot    – slowly, slowly

 

25 -29 September 2013

Heavens above, how fast the days pass! Here it is Sunday morning as I write my first entry of this visit’s diary! Wednesday morning, 4.30am, Chris took me with my 59kg of luggage to Durham Tees Valley Airport for the start of uneventful flights to Entebbe. Everything was good, even the food! Matthias met me at the airport and I spent the first three nights in CoRSU Hospital before venturing to Kumi. Thursday morning was spent relaxing and then having lunch with the staff in their thatched dining area. Mingled rice, matoke and mushy peas - quite delicious and a foretaste of what is to be eaten in the next six weeks.

We had been invited to Antonio’s and Anna’s for supper, an Italian orthopaedic surgeon and paediatrician, and so now we indulged in Italian cooking. Anna spends her time working in the Kampala slums and provides health care for the families. We both thought the pasta was our meal but, no, it was our starter and course after course followed a la Italia and we returned definitely not in the slightest hungry. Friday, Gonzaga picked me up and I visited St Stephen’s Hospital in Mpererwe where I met with Professor Sam Luboga. We had a fruitful meeting and I returned to CoRSU to find the Friday afternoon staff volleyball match in progress with CoRSU staff being beaten by St Joseph’s Technical College. Matthias, Susan and I went to Goretti’s Pizzeria, a restaurant right on the beach of Lake Victoria where we enjoyed pizza, beers and entertainment by Bugandan dancers who drummed their hearts out and leapt around the sands until they made us feel exhausted (and deafened) Conversation was not possible so we left the waves lapping the shores and, with our sandals filled with sand, we returned to CoRSU for a good night’s sleep. Saturday morning, I re-packed my cases and, after watching a football league match with Germany v International School Uganda with Matthias in the German goal, (ISU is an independent school with every possible facility one can imagine. I have never seen such sports halls etc in UK), I finally started the last leg of my journey to Kumi. I met up with Alex and Harriet and we drove for hour after hour (8.75 in all) along some dreadful roads if they could be called roads until we reached Kumi. We came through a terrific storm with fork lightening streaking down from every direction and above. The rain was torrential and the wash from the wheels in the flooded road reminded me of sailing a boat with the wind behind. The Guest House was an island and I had to climb over the driver’s seat to avoid walking through the flood. Anna warmly welcomed me and I found my room prepared as always but the curtains are new and fit for a palace – shiny satin material with pelmets and tassels. Very Ugandan! Left alone in the big house, I found my pyjamas, cleaned my teeth and tucked myself inside the mosquito net too tired to consider washing first.

I lay awake wondering what is in store for the next 6 weeks and then fell into a deep slumber.

 

12 July 2013

Time for an update as my last entry was in March after my return from Kumi.

Lots has been happening both here in UK and in Kumi. Increasing awareness and fund raising are important and I have been giving talks from as far apart as Consett and Hereford. Links with schools continue to strengthen with St Mary’s Primary School presenting me with a cheque from their Lenten Alms collection which pays for the school fees for Betty at St Francis School for the Blind in Soroti. Funding from St Augustine’s Primary School enabled the volleyball team from Adesso Primary School to attend a competition in Kampala where they came in a good third. Many of these children will never have the opportunity to visit the country’s capital city (or even the next town) and so, by developing sport within the school, they can broaden both their horizons and develop their sporting abilities.

The Kumi Open Day was, once again, well supported and my thanks go to the Darlington Soroptimists, who washed up, served soup and worked tirelessly behind the scenes. Chris, my husband cooked beef burgers and hot dogs provided by our local butcher, Pat and Barry organised and manned the tombola with professionalism, Vivian and Kathleen wrote out hundreds of raffle tickets, Tom and Dil donated trays of plants taken from their garden, Iris sold recycled and hand-made greetings cards, Rita manned the cake stall with dozens of cakes made by Nancy and, yes, I haven’t mentioned everyone but my thanks go to all who helped raise £2605.06!

This was immediately followed by the AIC Darlington ladies providing refreshments at the two morning Masses at St Augustine’s Parish Church for the 5 Sundays in June. More cakes and raffles and, with coffee being sold for 30p, tea for 25p, cakes at 30p and bacon butties at £1.00  and the raffle, the total made was £1,014,41 and again it’s thanks to all who helped. This sum is going to be used to buy 15 wheelchairs for children with disabilities who would otherwise spend their entire lives lying on the ground either inside or outside their mud huts.  I have asked Harriet to order them from the workshop in Katalemwa Cheshire Home in Kampala.

In Kumi, the team has continued its invaluable input with weekly outreach clinics to identify children with disabilities with a particular interest in gluteal fibrosis cases which are increasing in number.www.bioline.org.br/request?js07026   A Dutch orthopaedic team has just finished a surgical camp where 115 children identified by our team were operated on. Home visits to the families continue with livestock checked and treatment for worms and tics being provided if necessary. Wheelchairs and tricycles are inspected and brought to the hospital or repaired locally if repair is required. Harriet emails me with regular updates and if there are other issues to be addressed.

Lazarus, a blind boy, has been added to our list of children being given the opportunity to be educated and we thank Newton Aycliffe Inner Wheel for its support. Lawrance, an athetoid cerebral palsy boy continues to be helped by Darlington Inner Wheel. Max has completed his University course and will, hopefully, find employment and be able to support his family with Rose and Mary,  his 2 sisters with severe disabilities. Moses’ basic brick house has been completed and work on Lawrance’s and Michael’s is ongoing. Harriet and Alex, tirelessly look after these children, pay their fees, sundries and transport. They are first contact in case of illness and I cannot thank them enough for their commitment. I am kept well informed of any issues which may arise.

A consignment of 48 mattresses reached Kumi Hospital only last week having left UK in March. www.npac.org.uk Anyone who followed my experience in 2011 will realise why I did not want to get too involved but the National Police Aid Convoy organisation offered me mattresses and space which could not be refused. Unfortunately, they suffered similar difficulties, if not worse, but finally with a successful outcome. When I see the mattresses on the beds, then somehow all the headaches caused by the Ugandan Customs people become slightly more tolerable. Very many thanks to Wanda in UK and Leonard and Harriet in Uganda.

There’s too much to mention but a little on future activities…

I will return on 25 September and visit St Stephen’s Hospital in Mperewre to write up a report for the Mrs L D Rope Trust before I travel north to Kumi.

29 September, Barbara and her Dentaid team arrive for clinics in Kumi Prison, a school for the deaf and a local village. Henry, a Ugandan dentist, has started employment in the hospital and so will work with the team who have been to Kumi twice before.

20 October Mr Viva and his Interplast team will arrive for their third visit to operate on children requiring plastic surgery. Harriet and the team have been identifying children with burn contractures, cleft palates etc in the outreach clinics throughout the year and notice of the surgical camp will be announced on the radio so that the parents will be able to bring their children to the hospital for surgery.

Next update will be from Kumi so watch this space!

 

Good Friday 29 March 2013

An email from Harriet reports that little Ariong Robert has died. He is now with the angels in heaven for Easter!

 

Good morning Elspeth,

Hoping your Good Friday went on well as you had the prayers that were so interesting. Mine, l did not go to church.

The previous night to Good Friday, Peter kept calling me the whole night that he was told Robert was not doing well untill when he passed on.

It was such a painful moment for me since his step mother had began to show him a motherly love. I expected that to go on but he had to pass on. Yesterday l had to be up by 5:30am to organise to go to hospital. I reached there by 6:50am she was all in tears. I had to comfort her and told her that we were taking her back home with the dead body. However Peter had already gone to that family to tell them that he had passed on.

The unfortunate bit is when we reached her home, the husband had been taken to prison with other 3 people for taking some lady's phone and a bag. So the father has not paid his last respect to his son. He is to be burried today.

We spent as follows

Facilitation                50,000

Fuel                          69,600

Total                        120,600

I gave Robert's mother 70,000. some for her treatment since she had developed a bad cough too when she was at the hospital and the other for burrial. She appreciated so much for the help we gave her and to Robert when he was a live and sent you regards.

My day ended without me going to church since we came back at 11 am and church was done for us.

That is how my day was yesterday. He actually made me feel like l was sick the whole day.

Otherwise regards to your family. Wishing you all a happy Easter. May Jesus' death renew our hearts in this season. God bless you all.

With love and prayers.

 

Monday 18 March 2013

My final day and one of rest in CoRSU Hospital on the Entebbe Road where Matthias is the Hospital Director. I showered and washed my hair with hot water and then repacked my case with my Banana Boat purchases which will come in useful for birthdays and raffle prizes. Amongst my baggage, I had a maize sack of sorghum flour for Florence, the physio assistant who used to work in Kumi. We spent some time together visiting the wards and departments and catching up with Agnes, the Orthopaedic Officer who used to work also in Kumi, in the plaster room where she had a club foot clinic in progress. The hospital is a prime example of excellence both in its structure and its management of patients. I was introduced to a mzungu who had chosen to have his surgery in CoRSU as well as patients from DRC and Sudan. Their fame spreads far and wide.

Fred, a past Kumi staff member who left a few years ago, met up with me and we took lunch in the staff canteen (a smart thatched structure) with Matthias. It was good to catch up on old times and to hear that Fred is studying to be an orthopaedic surgeon. My afternoon was to be devoted to my diary but I fell asleep and so I am completing these final entries back home in  the UK.

Time to leave for the airport but with a few spare moments to while away the evening in Goretti’s Pizzeria on the beach of Lake Victoria. What a contrast to Kumi and UK! Sitting on the beach under palm trees with the moon and the stars above and listening to the tiny waves lapping on the shore whilst drinking a beer. A fisherman silently slid past through the waters in his dugout and landed on the shore. Should we feel our culture is superior and want to improve their’s? Never! They may have their worries and troubles but they don’t have our commitments with diaries full of engagements, flights to catch, Internet, all of our choice.

So, a final farewell to Matthias, an easy passage through Check In and a night flight to Amsterdam and finally back home where I was greeted by Chris. Good to be home and a time for reflection.

Was a 2 week visit worth it? Yes, there were many occasions which proved to be invaluable. I wouldn’t have met Martin and Elaine who are having an influence on hospital management and their changes should make a considerable difference to its future.

Little Ariong Robert would not have been identified and his life saved. Lazarus would not now be in the Mbale school for the blind and many, many issues which we managed to address have been actioned. Harriet has already informed me about her continued activities and below is the email she sent me the day after I returned home. So that’s my 2013 diary so far and I hope to continue it later in the year….

But the work doesn’t finish there and my team continue in my absence with regular email updates to keep me informed. Below is one written the day after I arrived home:


To: Elspeth Robinson <robinsonelspeth@yahoo.co.uk> 
Sent: Wednesday, 20 March 2013, 4:15
Subject: Re: Home Again!

 

Good morning Elspeth?

Am so happy to read from you that you reached home safely and you are home again with Chris
in the cold weather again. Well l know you will adjust to it first than if it was me. 
It was so good that you came to be with us in our hot season. We are so delighted for that
short stay that you had with us.

Well my Monday started with a busy day. I had to visit the Bank to withdraw money and settle the
issues that we had discussed.
I paid the hospital                                    2,669,000 for the drugs and POP
I paid Martin for Moses's house                 3,255,000

I gave Martin Fuel and allowance                45,000

I paid Agnes for fuel Saving stoves                      550,000

 

Well the construction of the prison fuel saving stoves starts today the last 2 days they have been preparing

the things to be used.

I also shopped for our new boy Lazarus. I will be taking him to school today and l will update

you on how much we have spent.

About Alele Sam, the Urologist said he did not have any problem with passing the urine, he refered

us back to the General and orthopaedic surgeons to help the boy.

………………………………………………………………………………………………

I paid for his x-ray  25,000. I will give you the feed back on what they will have decided.

Ariong Robert the boy in nutrition unit. He is quiet well but was transfused with a unit of blood

and x-ray was request so l paid for his also at 25,000. Yesterday the mother was with me and

told me that syrup was needed for the boy which is not in the hospital. l told her i will get for her.

 

Otherwise that is the little update l can give you so far. I will be traveling to Magle blind school

today. It is my prayer am done early so that l attend rotary.

 

Greetings to Chriss and the rest of the family.

Let me end here for today. With love and prayers.

God bless you.

 

Sunday 17 March 2013

My bags are packed and I’m ready to go! I came with 47kg and I leave with 18! I’ve left some of my clothes for next time and I would have washed them but I know Anna would wash them again as she doesn’t think much of my rubrubrub efforts.

Sam brought his proposal for funding for the volleyball selection match and Modesta came with a tub of groundnut paste which she knows I like so much. Following lots of fond farewells and African hugs, Alex and I set off for Kampala calling briefly to say good bye to his wife, Hellen (yes, always 2 ll’s in Hellen here) and his 3 year old daughter, Isabella, named after my granddaughter, Isabel. They wanted to call the child Elspeth but I thought that was unfair to be burdened with an unusual name and our Isabel had just been born. We took a detour as the Mbale road  is too bad with tarmac barely wide enough for a bicycle in places. A murram surface was preferable but the final section had been washed away so we were relieved to get back on the main road south of Mbale. Driving to Kampala, the scenery changes and becomes much greener and luscious. Many plantain trees are grown and then we pass through the sugar and tea plantations as well as the dense rainforest of Mabira. We stopped in a fuel station near Jinja (the Source of the Nile) where we took lunch and also visited the flush toilet which is better than most before making the final stage of the journey.

Arriving at Garden City, a vast shopping complex in Kampala, we met Matthias where we swapped cars with the luggage and I said good bye to Alex. As my case was not full enough, I had a good excuse to visit Banana Boat which is a craft shop aimed at the mzungus with prices too favourable to miss if luggage space allows. Immediately, the life style here and in Kumi cannot be compared and I miss the simple rural way of life.

Matthias and I went to Ndere Cultural Centre where we spent the evening watching traditional Ugandan dancing and music from nearly every region of the country. We sat outside in the warmth but not the heat of Kumi enjoying the performance in comfort unlike in UK even in the height of summer.

 

Saturday 16 March 2013

Tomorrow I leave for Kampala and today was not to be wasted. We had planned to visit Lawrance’s home in Katakwi to meet his grandparents and to check on the progress of his house construction. (Lawrance is my boy in Kampala School for the Disabled). As it was not officially a working day and I was planning my clothes ready for departure, I donned a skirt rather than trousers for the day. The boda boda boy arrived at 8.30 on the dot to take me into town. I sat behind him side saddle (so much easier than astride and also to jump off in case of necessity!) and he donned my back pack on his front leaving me plenty of space. I had a couple more bags to carry so my hands were full. Holding on to the bike is not necessary and one sits comfortably as though on a stool. I never tire of the scenery where we experience the daily life of the local people; women returning from the borehole with jerry cans full of water weighing 20kg on their heads or bundles of fire wood strategically balanced  and often with a baby cradled on their backs, sometimes toddlers learning the art with tiny containers once used for cooking oil; the men ploughing the land with 1,2 or even 4 oxen yoked together and a plough in tow. Chickens running across the road, goats prancing like lambs and cattle being herded out to graze.  Scantily-dressed children wave madly shouting “How are you” to the passing mzungu and I shout back “Fine!” I wanted to stop at Mary MacAleese P/S to collect some groundnuts from teacher Robert to bring back for his friend in Northallerton. They were yet to be roasted so I waited until these were done and then I added a bag of very hot groundnuts to my load. I dismounted in Kumi Town to find Harriet waiting for me. I had my laptop with me so that I could show her the Gluteal Fibrosis pictures and check that they worked on hers. Everything was OK! Now we were ready to set off for Katakwi with Alex driving in his car which we had hired for the day. We stopped in Soroti to meet Antony as we needed to sort him out as he has failed his O-levels and I don’t know what to do next. We have given him the opportunity to repeat the last 2 years at a day school and, if he fails again, he is out of my programme which will be very disappointing. I know he has psychological issues following his past when he saw his parents being killed by the rebels but we have to draw the line somewhere.

Back in Alex’ car to continue our mission, we found that the engine wouldn’t start. In UK, we would phone for rescue but not here, it’s a DIY situation and the car needed a new battery. Fortunately, I could pay for this but, as Alex was driving me to Kampala the next day, the money will be deducted from the fuel costs. It was midday and too hot for comfort so Harriet and I waited in Marisa café and enjoyed a fresh passion fruit juice. The car was now fine and we set off for Katakwi.

The roads were bumpy but we managed to reach the home to find the family seated in a circle and having an intense conversation with the staff of the school which Lawrance’s brother, Ben, was a pupil. We were seated on the periphery of this meeting and were told that Ben had had a headache on Thursday and gone to the staff and then had asked to be allowed to go home but his request was refused. His classmate then found him collapsed and he died. His body was returned to his village and yesterday the burial had taken place and he was laid to rest alongside his deceased family members. We silently paid our respects at the grave side, newly dug and next to a long line of concrete slabs, large and small indicating the size or age of the deceased, sometimes very small for a baby. No post mortem, nothing, just a burial and lots of grief. Ben was in Senior 3 and aged 21 years.

The school Director and teachers had been told that, if they visited the family, they would be beaten but there was nothing of the sort. The issue was settled amicably and the staff paid their respects and left. Lawrance had not been told of the death of his brother and they will wait until he returns for the school vacation. The grandmother was so grateful for our visit which we were going to make anyway but the time was very opportune and meaningful. We glanced at the bricks and sand which were piled up to start the house building but this was not the time to divert from sharing the family’s grief.  We left subdued but pleased that we had been.

So it was a long drive home and our day’s work was done. My last evening was taken up with visitors, packing and sharing a delicious evening meal of egg plant and rice washed down with a welcome Senator beer with Martin and Elaine from Wales, David and Florian, the two young German agricultural students, Carolyn and Karen, German medic and nurse, and Dr Chebet, the weekend locum doctor. Great friendships are made around this supper table and the discussion is usually hospital orientated and lively. Catching up with each other’s day’s news is varied and stimulating.

Sam, Adesso sports teacher, called with a proposal and I asked him to give me it in writing for me to return to UK. I have developed a sports programme in the school and the volleyball players are brilliant and have won an international competition a couple of years ago. (They beat Kenya in Kampala and have a large plastic golden trophy to show for it!) The selection process starts in July and they need funding to enter and I would like to support them somehow.

I escorted Sam outside where I absorbed the wonder of the night skies with a carpet of twinkling stars. The half moon was bright and Sam could not comprehend how we, in UK, have the same moon! It’s a sight never to tire of! Back in my room, I tucked myself inside my mosquito net until the next time, not only to exclude the mozzies but also to prevent the super-big shiny cockroaches from entering and creeping over my body! But sleep? Oh no, it’s just too hot!

 

Friday 15 March 2013

I woke to find Gerard Moses waiting for me. He had bought himself a pair of shoes with the £20 I had been given for him and he had enough change to buy a pair for his “wife”. I wanted to take a photo so that Pat in UK could see the fruits of her gift. His “wife”, Goretti, appeared on the scene last year and I failed to meet her but all seems well with the couple. The traditional marriage will occur when Gerard’s family have been able to find enough cows and goats to present to the bride’s family and this may never be! The church marriage can come much later and is not of such culturally great importance. I am very happy for Moses to have found someone as he really thought there was no hope of finding himself a wife due to his blindness.

I cycled to the hospital to attend Morning Assembly and was, once again, embarrassed by Charles Okular thanking me for coming. Harriet and I had a meeting with him and Dr Ruth but, before that, I managed to visit the Children’s Ward to see little Robert who is so much brighter and he was able to sit unsupported and scribble with a crayon. He now has my large tub of E45 and, if ever the company needed a recommendation, I would have no hesitation in giving it full marks to be able to cure a truly desperate skin condition. It’s strange to reflect on the result of one week of a little loving care. Robert was lying outside his hut, close to death and covered with flies. Alongside antibiotics, and with food and water, the very basics of life, he has regained a little strength and responsiveness but, as yet, no smile has emerged. He sits silently with his large head on a skinny neck reminding me of a lollipop. I wonder what his future holds but I know that the outreach team and especially my volunteer, Peter, father of Moses, will keep an eye on him.

I checked on the condition of the 19 mattresses we provided mattresses for the ward in 2011 and, even today, they are as good as new. I never thought that they would be so resilient to the rigours of the Africans. Today, a container containing 50 mattresses for Kumi is leaving UK and I look forward to hearing of their progress and I will only be happy once they are safely on the beds in the wards.

Visiting the Nutrition Unit, I found Lazaro with his mother sitting on the ground and both looking quite perky. Today, I am to go to the farm to select a cow for them but it will only be on loan and removed if the mother does not pull her own weight. She hopefully will and will get a shock if I have to carry out my plan. The Nutrition Unit provides the basic food stuffs for the families but none of the extras so I have arranged for Rose who is in charge of the Nutrition Unit to make sure that there is a continuous supply of plenty of oranges for the children.

Time for our meeting with Dr Ruth and Charles Okular to report on my 2 week stay. There were many issues to address and certain areas I would like to tweak but the management continues to have financial problems. Things are improving slowly and steadily. I resigned myself to continuing with my input for a while longer until they are on a more firm financial status and let’s hope it is soon. I would like to see hospital funding for wheelchairs and tricycles, a maintenance programme for these set up and resumed purchase of epilepsy drugs, plaster of Paris and Orthoband (plaster padding). To stop helping now would delay their way forward. The outcome of the meeting was much as I expected. Harriet and I took a quick break to have a chapatti in Sr Rebecca’s café  before setting out for the physiotherapy department. There we met Ruth and we were soon followed by a group of visitors from Pallisa who were looking round the hospital. No sooner had they gone than another group from Stop Malaria turned up requesting statistics relating to Gluteal Fibrosis and Post Injection Paralysis to present to an organisation from Washington US. This entails a big commitment from Harriet on top of all her other work and the time schedule is only days. Again, my visit is timely as I have photos of post-op children and an excellent movie clip of a father supervising the physiotherapy exercises which I was able to put on a spare memory stick. Now Harriet must produce an impressive presentation as this is a topic close to my heart and how wonderful if a start could be made to ending quinine injections into Gluteus Maximus for malaria children! It is so debilitating and unnecessary.

Phew! The day was busier than I had expected. Next stop to visit the farm with the farm manager, Dennis, who is also in charge of Xray. We drove down in his car to find 69 cows all waiting to be sold so better for me to buy one of these than go to the cattle market. They are a good breed but there is a Dutch farming organisation which is starting from scratch to develop the farm and so they must sell these cattle. Don't ask me what breed they are but they do not have the Ugandan hump on their upper back. Dennis had selected a good cow but the calf was “without” ie it had given birth and I wanted one with the calf “within”. The one “without” would give milk sooner but it’s in my blood to take up two for the price of one offers! We chose a fine black beast which the herdsman will walk to the home of Lazaro, a fair distance away, paid 950,000/= and we left ticking off another of today’s tasks. They are worth every penny although it sounds a lot (£250.00). We also had to buy a tethering rope, worming and de-ticking medicine and a spray for application of the liquid. Martin will oversee the programme and make sure that Lazaro’s mother keeps to her promise to convert part of her compound to vegetable growing and planting improved orange trees. She has had to rent off her land in order to pay the medical bills for her child so this cycle leading to greater poverty needs to be broken. Now it is up to her!

We were now on schedule for our next meeting with the Global Care team from Soroti. Their UK Manager, Paul Rowells, was visiting and we had agreed to meet so that Paul could see the hospital facilities with a view to Kumi and Global Care finalising a firm link which we hope to achieve. They have started a Day Nursery for children with disabilities but none of the staff have the skills required for these children to have rehabilitation. The hospital can also provide orthotics when needed and also surgery. Global Care have sent children all the way to Kampala for these services which involves much more expense so it is very practical for these two centres to join forces but, as ever, the financial side has to be addressed. I leave that to the others! I have done my part and, again, it has been useful to be here at this time to meet Paul.

Now the working day was over and I cycled back to the GH for the last time for this visit. My bike has served me well in spite of its advancing years and the GH who use it in my absence have kept it in good order. I am uncertain of the efficiency of the brakes and this time I had failed to try using them both gently and forcefully so my technique has been modified to run down to a halt slowly and to take junctions with great caution. I have managed without mishap.

 

Thursday 14 March 2013

After only 2 hours sleep, I got up to find there was a new Pope elected. With the vast improvement in the Internet, I can easily open the BBC News page but rarely do. Knowing that Janet Akurut was coming to see me at 7.30 am, I made sure I was ready and, sure enough, she was on time. She is Chairperson of one of my groups which is having difficulties and I have heard vastly differing versions from members. It’s impossible to tell who is telling the truth and I honestly hadn’t the energy to try to solve the issue so it is deferred until I return later in the year. Yes, it was weak indeed on my part!

What a relief not to be driving all the way to Katakwi for an outreach clinic which I knew the team could do just as well without me! I settled down to sort out some emails; one to Mr Viva to get his opinion on the boy with rudimentary  ears, another to Barbara to ask her if the plan with Kumi Prison suited her and then an hour or two catching up with my diary and sorting out a few of the many photos. I scrubbed every inch of my sandals as they get so caked in sand and put them out to dry. My clothes which I had washed earlier were as dry as bones and ready to come in after hanging outside for only 3 hours. At midday, I cycled to the hospital to take the second hand clothes bought in the market to Robert whose skin looks so much better having had E45 applied each day. His stepmother looked happier as I had given her some cash to buy food for the boy. Rose who is in charge of the Nutrition Unit brought me lunch of beans and rice and I found some delicious crispy chips lurking under the rice and all was washed down with boiled water. It’s the first time this visit that I’ve had the opportunity to visit the different departments and high time I did as I leave this weekend. I spent a short while with Margaret Rose Akol, housemother in the Children’s Village, and we were joined by Stephen who had brought groundnuts and several eggs for me. I’ve known Stephen for many years as he was his brother, Gabriel’s attendant until he died. We’ve helped them in the past but it’s time for Stephen to sort himself out and to find something which will earn himself some money. After cycling home, I decided to lie down for a short while and sleep soon enveloped me until the thunder crashed overhead and the rain came down by the buckets-full. I needed a day like this and it will refresh me until I start my journey home on Sunday.

 

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Officially a day off but what a day it turned out to be! It started by cycling over the airstrip to attend the Morning Assembly at Adesso Primary School. Nearly 900 children all with shaven heads and black faces with white teeth stood before me in lines whilst they sang the Ugandan National Anthem and school song. I presented them with photos of the entertainment and sports events I attended last year. The head teacher, Florence, introduced me and then it was my turn to address all these children. Whether or not they understood me is a different matter but my words were translated by the head. I cycled back to jump on a picki-picki to Jopa P/S where I was to meet Vivian, the child sponsored by the Crocker family in memory of Tony’s wife. She is in P£ and taking an exam but the teacher let me enter the classroom to greet the children and make a short movie of them singing. The boda boda boy had waited for me to take me back to the GH and then to the hospital. I wanted to find Robert, the malnourished boy, to give him a blanket I had been given and to give the leprosy ladies bars of soap and bags of sugar. My load was getting lighter but I still had lots of departments to visit. I checked on the second centre of fuel saving stoves and was pleased to find them being well-used by the attendants. At the workshop where they are repairing a wheelchair, I needed to agree to a costing.  And, with all issues addressed, I caught up with Martin and we took another picki into town just missing a car which drove past us with less than an inch between us. We visited Kumi Orthopaedic Centre, a splendid new hospital built by Dr Ekure and Martin was most impressed with what he saw and will take more visitors to see what is possible in north east Uganda. Extensions are being built and the Kumi Prison inmates in their canary yellow outfits were digging the foundations in the full heat of the day. It is of no competition to Kumi Hospital as he caters for those who can afford care and we cater more for the poor.  They are hopefully complementary to each other.

Following on, we called in at Kumi Prison with Harriet where I wanted to discuss the possibility of a dental outreach camp in September with Dentaid. The Officer-in-Charge was enthusiastic and we entered the prisoner’s area to check on suitable areas for the exercise. The prisoners were sitting and standing around, one pair playing chess, another playing an acungo and others playing cards. It’s not a depressing place and I am sure there are far worse in Africa.  Also he has agreed to have a fuel saving oven installed for cooking the prisoners’ one meal of the day. We returned through the locked gates and left with Martin cadging a lift back to the hospital and Harriet and I continuing to town to see Pius, one of my graduates where he is in charge of the Loans section of Centenary Bank. (A success story!) A quick visit to the market where I bought some second hand clothes for little Robert and then another picki back to the GH to get ready for my social visit to Modesta’s home. I had hoped for an hour’s rest but the morning’s programme had lasted longer than anticipated and I managed 10 minutes’ on the bed and a wash and then I went round the back to get my bike only to find someone was using it which meant a long walk in the relentless heat of the day. I was late and Modesta thought I wasn’t coming. She lives in a room (all 13 of them sleeping like sardines in a tin). Her husband has a bed and she sleeps underneath on the floor! A cup of dry tea was poured out for me followed by rice, beans and groundnut sauce with omelette and a glass of water filled from the clay pot in the corner of the room. Children came and went. Her daughter, Rose, should have been at school but had not attended so she played with Modesta’s granddaughter of 5 months whose mother was at school. All very different from UK!

I was tired today due to the heat so I hadn’t got the usual enthusiasm I have when there and I walked back, this time over the airstrip thinking there would be some shade. Suddenly, Modesta took my arm tightly as she had realised that a whirlwind sand storm was approaching and she didn’t want me to do a Mary Poppin’s act. Before we knew it, we were engulfed in swirling sand and debris which rose and circled above us and then, as quickly as it came, it passed  behind us and beyond. Another quick change into my Rotary polo shirt and we waited for the vehicle to collect us to take us to Kumi Hotel for the weekly Rotary meeting. Sixteen of us sat under a tree whilst the meeting took place and, towards the end, I was presented with 2 Kumi Rotary banners for Darlington and Barnard Castle Rotary Clubs as I had taken banners from home to them last year. Back to the house, supper and early to bed only to find I was incapable of dropping off to sleep. It was too hot and I was too tired. When my clock told me it was 4 am, I didn’t know how I would manage a long day in Katakwi and so I decided not to go.

 

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Gerald Moses, the blind boy, was coming at 7.30 and he was right on time to collect his money from Pat to buy a pair of shoes to replace his one and only pair which had been mended with rough oversewing and so were not too serviceable but the best he had. He should come on Friday morning with the new pair and a letter of thanks. He was joined by Obwongo who still pesters me to have him make a musical instrument but, firstly, I would need to buy a whole goat skin but I refuse. His wife had sent a bag of groundnuts for me to take home.

Today Agnes, the new young physiotherapist in Kumi hospital, was joining Ruth, Harriet and me for fieldwork and I was interested to see how she performed. Elaine and Martin took advantage of a lift as they were visiting a Health Centre. Martin had printed off a map of Soroti but, as Landeer, the driver, had never set eyes on a map, it was of little use to him; much easier to ask for directions, be given a complicated verbal instruction and then to arrive with no trouble at all!

Arriving in Soroti, we called in to see the manager at Global Care who is always promising to inform us of Friday’s plans but never does. We were passing otherwise we would not have bothered. We saw 5 children with disabilities who attend the day centre there and we have offered to help them with rehabilitation assessment and training otherwise the children would sit all day, play with toys and then return home. In our opinion, 3 of these children should be attending primary school rather than a day nursery.

Ruth took us to a poor home where a 14 year old girl had given birth to a floppy CP child 5 months ago. The mother was hoping to return to school whilst the grandmother looked after the baby along with her 9 children, the youngest of which was the same age as her grandchild. Agnes counselled the family and I was impressed with her handling, not only the baby, but also the situation. It was planned that the baby would be taken to the hospital to have a corner seat supplied which will enable it to start weight bearing through the spine.

Whilst at this home, a mother brought a 5 year old child with apologies for ears, no ear hole and therefore deaf. I have emailed Mr Viva with photos to see if he has the know-with-all to help this boy when he comes to have his plastic surgery camp in October.

Alele Sam is an 8 year old who I have visited before. He has lots of problems starting with fused hips which prevent him from sitting on the floor as well as a supra-pubic sinus which oozes pus. We suggested he walk with a cane and was given a commode out of our store to help with using the new pit latrine which was being built as the old one was full. He was also asked to attend the urologist’s clinic.

The father of Ejulu Jona, a 9 year old Sickler boy, asked if we could help his son, a post-osteomyelitis boy who could well benefit from an AFO (ankle foot orthosis) and so he is to attend the orthopaedic clink.

On to Akiror Canaan, a 9 year old severe CP girl who had been given a wheelchair and a cow in calf. The family are so lovely and care for the girl in the tenderest of ways. The cow needed de-ticking and worming so we gave the father funding for this.  He is also a volunteer mobiliser which means that he arranges for other children to come to the homes so that we have mini-clinics which is an excellent progression of fieldwork. Olojo Moses had gluteal fibrosis so the mother was counselled and asked to bring Olojo to Kumi for surgery. Acom Gloria, a post-injection-paralysis 2 year old, was also advised to come for an AFO. Before we left, Canaan’s father presented me with a chicken, my third this visit, which I have named Pearl for reasons too vague for anyone to understand!

I couldn’t be in the area and not visit Odongo, a 5 year old brittle bone boy who we have given a wheelchair in the past. For the first time, he did not fear me and he was happy to sing me the alphabet song all the way through to zed. I gave him a colouring book and left him colouring in a page of monsters with envious children watching on.

Returning to Kumi and when driving through a trading centre , the mobiliser had arranged for us to see Amunir Patricia, an 18 month old with severe congenital deformity of both lower limbs. She was too young to formulate a plan but she would be kept on the books for the future. Finally, a bright CP 11 year old, Ewotu John, peered through the window with an enchanting grin and bare feet so he was thrilled to be given a pair of football socks which his mother immediately put on him in spite of having no shoes.

Back to Soroti where we met up with Martin and Elaine in Marisa café where we had our debriefing over a glass of fresh passion fruit juice each and then said our farewells to Ruth.

This was the perfect example of a well-prepared and successful field day. Ruth was to be congratulated and I told Agnes I was impressed with her patient handling and expertise.

Tonight we had invited Charles Okular (Hospital AAdministrator) and Dr Ruth (Medical Superintendent) for supper and 13 of us sat round the table being waited on by Grace and Anna.

 

Monday 11 March 2013

How on earth do I write my diary each year and not repeat myself! It’s useful for me for reference but otherwise I feel I must go over and over the same thing. However, I’m not giving up now.

7am and Sam, the sports teacher at Adesso School, was waiting in the porch as I had asked him to come because I had brought him a stop watch for time keeping for the sports matches. (African time is improving and I put it down to the introduction of the mobile phone which can be used instead of a watch and is more accurate than telling the time by the sun.) Sam twisted my arm to visit the school and I shall go at 7.30am on Wednesday, the only time of the day when I am free. This means that I have to get my washing done even earlier and have everything prepared for the day. A grabbed breakfast gets squeezed in when possible and I hear the driver in the Land Cruiser drive up to start the day. But today, before this, Gabriel came to thank me for the support he is receiving and I was happy to be able to give him a top up of school fees from Patrick in UK. Gabriel’s uncle had failed to complete his fees for the term and so he had been sent home on Friday not to return until he had the money.  All these little events make me realise how fortuitous it is that I came this year in March. Now I could leave for Serere for field work with Amos. I was looking forward to visiting “Happy Days” nursery in Kyere which is where Dalkeith Happy Days’ cows reside. There are now 3 but they are kept with a caretaker as the school compound is not big enough for children and cattle. The school is doing well and now includes primary children up to P4. It was breakfast time when we arrived and we saw the children line up in straight lines with hands on each other’s shoulders and in front of the corrugated iron kitchen where the porridge made with millet flour was bubbling away in a large cauldron. As they reached the front of the queue, a large plastic mug was filled with the boiling liquid and handed to these tiny tots. I saw neither mishaps nor burns that morning! I too joined the line and had a small portion which was sweet and filling. I sat on the floor and listened to them singing many local songs for me but the day beckoned and we had to bid farewell and with a promise from me that we would be back.

We bought lunch to eat on the way; a polythene bag with cassava chips roasted by the side of the road and costing all of 30 pence for 4 of us? They are delicious and had to be eaten whilst still hot. We had our fill and the bag was still not empty by the end of the day. It doesn’t cost much to satisfy the hunger pangs but the nutritional value is little.

I am using this week mainly to review the families already on my list and I really wanted see Marisa with her tricycle. Her compound was deserted but the sound of our vehicle is easily identified as it is a rarity to have such a visit. She pedalled her way towards us with great pride showing us her skills and what joy exuded from her very being!

Leaving her home, we came across a middle-aged man who had had his leg amputated because of cancer and he was determined to also be given a tricycle. He had severe osteo-arthritis in the opposite leg and had had an assessment for a hip replacement, the cost of which was far beyond his reach. I suggested he had a prosthesis fitted and that he then used a stick or crutches to relieve the weight bearing on the hip but there was no way he had anything else in mind other than wheels! I ended up explaining that tricycles are for post-polio paralysis patients and that, if this is what he wanted, he could buy himself one and left it at that.

The next PPP was Julius who had been given a refurbished tricycle which was in need of repair. This is why follow-ups are as important as an unmaintained piece of equipment is of no use at all. We had no roof rack to transport the tricycle to the hospital so we managed to get it in the back of the vehicle with Julius and take it to the trading centre where I have had repairs done in the past. Some welding was needed and also a new part to the hand operated pedals and we decided to have a general service as there were loose spokes and the brakes needed attention. We left him behind and continued with our list of patients by calling in on Julius, a hydrocephalus spina bifida boy of 16 years who was given a cow and calf last year. The mother had taken the cow to be looked after by a caretaker defeating the object of being able to give Julius nutritious milk to help his pressure sores. She was told to have it returned and, if not, then the cow and calf would be removed from her and given to another child. It’s very important to be so strict and also disappointing to find that the objective of the project fails to be achieved.

We returned to the trading centre to find the tricycle still being worked on  so we settled the bill and left Julius to wait till it was done and then he would ride back to his home.

Now we could return to Kumi identifying a couple of children on the way home and having mixed feelings about the outcome of the day.

 

Sunday 10 March 2013

Thankfully, the temperature has dropped a few degrees and there is even a small breeze. I needed a sheet over me in the early hours and so let’s hope this trend continues.

After breakfast, I cycled up to church where a new catechist has taken over from Didymus and I think he will be good. The singing from the choir and accompanied by the acungo and shaker is always worth hearing and the little children are so entertaining in their Sunday outfits. One, no more than a year, was in black trousers and waistcoat with a white shirt looking like an old man but his dancing up and down the aisle with his uncertain gait would make anyone smile. I had hoped to escape having to introduce myself to everyone but I was too slow and, after very few words, I sat down. I left early to avoid shaking hands with everyone and cycled to the hospital to see Ariong on the Nutrition Unit. There were 5 mothers all with their undersized babies including Lazaro whose home we had visited on Friday. The mothers are cheerful all things considered and they were grateful to share the oranges I had taken. The E45 proved to be good for Ariong’s skin so perhaps I’ll give him the whole big tub before I leave.

Back at the GH, I found Moses waiting. He is the uncle and guardian of 3 of my children, Gabriel, Brenda and Leah, and I had asked him to call for an update on their school progress. It was good to hear they are doing well and I’m hoping they will write letters for me to give to Patrick back home who has supported this family for many years. Moses was still here when we were joined by Grace Girwal with whom I had lots to discuss. One cannot imagine the hard lives that so many of these people endure and it always helps to share a problem. Moses went and Paul arrived. He is an important person in the physio department and keeps the systems running smoothly in spite of his disability having been born with cerebral palsy. Then Modesta and Emma arrived and Paul left. Was this going to continue for the rest of the day, I wondered? I always enjoy Modesta’s company and we have so much to talk about. Before I knew it, the morning had gone and I was able to take a rest on my bed. After an hour’s deep sleep,  I needed a shower before jumping side saddle on a boda boda and going into town where I met Lydia and spent a pleasant couple of hours with her and her daughter, Janet in their samm abode in the centre of town. It’s not nearly so nice as Kumi Hospital staff quarters but she lefy here to work with Dr Ekure at Kumi Orthopaedic centre.  Another boda boda but a pedal bike this time to take me the short ride to Consolata’s house where we sat outside talking non-stop until the rains came and then the thunder. We retired inside and continued our exchange of news in the dark as the storm had cut off the power.  When supper was served on our knees,  I felt very much one of the family. We didn’t talk much whilst eating as the TV was on and Man U was playing Chelsea which was heard on the radio. I was completely incapable of following a TV programme in English at the same time as the radio was commentating in Ateso so I was only aware when a goal was scored and after the final score of a draw of 2 goals each were we able to resume our chatter.

The evening passed most pleasantly and I know Consolata and I will continue our friendship for many years to come. They drove me back to the GH to find that no rain had fallen. The ground continues to be so brown with little evidence that grass could suddenly appear once the rains return.

On checking my phone, I found 2 messages wishing me happy Mother’s Day completely out of the blue so it was very special not to be forgotten.

We have more visitors;  four German girls, a medical student and three nurses who eat here and two are staying so I am again sharing my bathroom. The GH is doing very well and Anna and Grace look after us splendidly. Little Genevieve,  Anna’s 2 year old keeps us well entertained but is, at present, on treatment for a prolonged cough which does not deter her energy levels.

So good night and may those of you complaining about the snow and cold be grateful!

 

Saturday 9 March 2013

It’s hard to believe that it is only a week today since I left UK and the cold weather but then my time is passing far too quickly. The days are jam packed with so much to do in such a little time and the heat is draining my energy. We have had some rain however and the temperature dropped down to 95 degrees F and last night it was even in the 80’s.

I have been invited to a Traditional Marriage ceremony today where cows, goats, crops etc are given by the groom’s family to the bride’s. The day is usually long with many speeches and formalities so I decided not to waste my short time here on social activities.

Should Saturday be a day of rest? I think so and so there is no field work today but there is still a plan for the day. Harriet and I cadged a lift to go to Soroti for the third time this week in the hospital bus which George was driving to take the eye patients back home. On arriving, Antony was waiting for us to tell us how he did in his Senior 4 (O Levels) exams and we needed to discuss what to do next. He had poor grades in most subjects but, more importantly, he failed maths and the sciences which limits him in most directions. We asked what he would prefer and he was certain that he wanted to try again by repeating S3 and 4 years at a different school of his choice. We will have to see if he can be accepted at Ngora High School. His family history is so sad and he had been badly damaged psychologically by past events especially the murder of his parents by the LRA. We had a snack and drink before leaving him to take boda boda to Michael’s school where he is a different kettle of fish and is full of confidence and doing very well. Michael has a syndrome with many abnormalities but he is a popular student liked by staff and students alike. It would be difficult not to like him. We had to wait for him as he was out of school with the pastor. Chris phoned during this time and he told me that it is cold, dark and miserable in UK which is very difficult to imagine even thought it was only a week ago that I too was in subzero temperatures. Now we took another boda boda into Soroti town where we had arranged to meet up with Simon Peter who was working in the MTN Money office. He is still finding it difficult to find a decent job following his graduation and I hope he manages before too long. Rose phoned to say that she had admitted Robert Ariong, the malnourished boy, who had been brought by Peter and that the child needed some zinc cream. We could not find any so gave up That was all we had planned to do for today and, as there was a bus waiting but with the engine revving, we jumped on a pedal boda boda to catch it but it set off with us following in haste weaving in and out of the traffic until the bus stopped. We managed to find the money for the bicycle and climb aboard managing to find a seat unfortunately near the rear as they are always so bumpy. These journeys are always uncomfortable and extremely hot but this one could have been worse except for the deafening African music being played at full volume. The old lady (she must have been around 50) sneezed constantly into her handkerchief so heaven knows if I will catch something from her. I managed to take 40 winks or even more which shortened the journey time and soon we had reached Kumi Town. Harriet and I parted company and I bartered a price with a boda boy to take me to the GH where I collected some E45 for the child. The boda boy had waited to take me up to the hospital (I’ve become so lazy in this heat) and I found the stepmother with little Robert on Stone Ward (children’s). She was concerned with the cost of the bills which will be mounting but I reassured her that, if the hospital did not reduce the amount, then she need not worry. The child’s tests revealed malaria but not HIV and, so long as he responds to treatment, he should improve.

The evening was uneventful with a delicious supper of rice and greens and I decided I had earned a beer.

 

Friday 8 March 2013

Today is a Ugandan public holiday for Women’s Day but hospital work continues as normal. Schools are closed and it’s only the hospital administration block which is empty. It seems so much more relevant to have such a day in Uganda than in UK as the local women do come off badly with men expecting them to be subservient and at their constant beck and call.

Yesterday’s entry was rather brief but today’s will probably make up for it. Every moment was filled with the extremes of emotions until I was completely drained and so I shall start.

Rose, the nurse in charge of the Nutrition Unit joined us bringing Ocenyo Lazaro ,a malnourished child of 7, and his mother who were in the Nutrition Unit for the fourth time. But, before we visited their village, we called in to see the family of Amodot Grace, a 5 year old athetoid CP child. We found her sitting in the M position (with legs bent under her in the shape of an M) in the only spot of shade under a plantain tree looking quite content and smiling broadly at the sight of her visitors. She was a happy little girl who needed assessment. What was she capable of in the future? Perhaps if her legs were stronger then she would be able to stand and, in the future, walk. Martin would return on Monday to construct a set of parallel bars out of local materials and encourage the mother to practise with the child. This would give her independence but we may have to resort to a wheelchair if all else fails. Our wheelchair supply is now completely depleted so we will have a waiting list and hopefully build up funds to buy more. I asked to see, firstly, inside Grace’s hut where she slept with 4 other children on one mattress and under a mosquito net and then the cooking area. Everything was well tended but the mother cooked using the 3-stone method which uses a lot of wood and can cause burns accidents. It was agreed that the mother would come to the hospital on Tuesday when she is to go for physiotherapy and that Rose will organise a fuel-saving stove training day. On Monday, Joseph, an amputee who has done much work for me in the past, would collect the termite hill mud and emuria grass needed for the stoves and he will demonstrate how to make these free stoves. Then the plan is that each mother will take her knowledge back to her village and train neighbouring mothers. The family was very poor but the mother was conscientious so she was given funding for a goat which will belong to little Grace.

Now we went to the home of Lazaro with his mother and found a large tidy compound with two mud huts padlocked as the mother and child were staying away from home. Neighbours soon brought chairs for us and we discussed a plan for this family. There were four children with Lazarus being the second born and the only one with a disability of athetoid CP as well as malnourishment. He had been born normal but suffered from meningitis at 20 months which caused the brain damage. His father was a fisherman who worked at the lake in Serere and so was mainly absent from the home. What could be done with this child when it returned home? Would it be back in the hospital or could there be a plan to improve the living conditions and the mother’s ability to care for the child? Martin would counsel the mother and buy a cow to give her some security and also to provide milk for the boy. He would teach her the basics of animal husbandry to ensure the cow is de-ticked and wormed when necessary. She had rented out her land to provide money but her compound was large and she could cultivate part of it for growing vegetables for her family. There was also an area which, although rather rocky, could be converted into a small orange orchard which would provide Vitamin C and an income. Martin would explain to her the importance of compost and monitor the planting and development of the trees. It all sounded good but why did I have a gut feeling that this mother would not fulfil her fair share of the work? How should we make sure she became motivated? She was to be the caretaker of the cow and, if she did not have her compound laid out with vegetables by October, then the cow would be removed from her home. Surely that gave her plenty of incentive as a cow is an enormous asset to a family. We explained that she could keep the first calf but subsequent ones would be passed on to another family with a child with a disability.

Back on the road, we continued our home visits until we reached the home of Imalinyat Lazarus who was born blind. He is an orphan whose parents both died when he was one year old and he was brought up by his aunt who already had 9 of her own children. Lazarus is now 15 and attends the local primary school in P5. His teacher, Oluka Moses, joined us for the meeting and he told us of the boy’s capability. In a class of 130, he was 46th last term so, in spite of his blindness, he is bright. He is the 3rd child I have assessed this week to take advantage of the offer of education from Newton Aycliffe Inner Wheel back home and I knew that this one was the successful candidate. He will attend St Angela’s School for the Blind as a boarder in Mbale where he will most likely have to go down a couple of classes to be able to fit into the system but this is of no matter. Harriet will ensure he has all the requirements and will probably take Lazarus with his aunt at the start of term. He will need an mattress, school uniform, a tin trunk, sugar soap as well as other items. When all this was explained to Lazarus, there was an audible gasp of delight from him and a broad grin and much clapping from the mass of children and adults who had collected to see this strange mzungu. It’s not possible to explain the warm feeling I have inside when able to give a child an opportunity such as this and it makes me feel very privileged and humble. The aunt, Akise Hellen, a typecast African mamma, hugged me tightly and we left with a mass of arms waving high.

I thought this was to be our last home visit but we were to visit perhaps one of my favourite homes and surely my most successful but it was far and I was tired and full of emotion but the thought of seeing Peter and Moses again renewed my energy levels. When Peter saw the vehicle arrive, he rushed towards us and almost knocked me off balance with an enormous hug in spite of his small stature. And who could I see behind him but little Moses who was grinning widely and who walked over with his wide gait until he was up in my arms giving me the warmest of welcomes? This is the first time he has recognised me and the first time I have seen him walking so confidently. He took my finger with one hand and pointed towards his hut with the other. I followed until he reached his wooden walking frame which he no longer needs. I am so proud of this family and it is the perfect example of giving a man security and pride without giving him lots of money (no more than about £5).

Now we could go home but, no, Peter who is now a volunteer on my team, wanted us to visit a child he had identified on his rounds. Returning to the vehicle, Peter with chicken tucked under his arm, joined us and took us for miles until we reached a solitary deserted home. On the veranda, lay a small child covered in a red ragged cloth looking semi-conscious, with flies swarming about its face and showing no response. Its skin was covered in scales, its legs and hands swollen and deep pressure sores attracted even more flies. Now it was our turn to gasp but this time in horror. Where were the parents? Down in the swamps far away searching for some small fry fish to eat and not returning until late. A brother of about 7 years appeared and we asked him what they had eaten that day. Nothing, just some boiled water with tea leaves. What could we do? First instinct is to take the child to the hospital but we would be blamed if the child died and arrested so this was not an option. We could not stay until the parents returned and it was a while before we had decided what to do. Fortunately, we had taken Rose with us and she said the child needed boiled water with sugar. The brother took a handful of thatch from the roof of the mud hut, rubbed the strands together until smoke appeared and then blew carefully to produce flames which ignited some twigs. He emptied some murky water from the jerrycan, added sugar, cooled it and Rose gave some to the child who gulped it down eagerly.  Peter said he would return next morning to accompany the parent and child to hospital if they were willing but it was clear that they had no concern for him and would probably prefer it if it died. We had no food with us apart from a bag of sugar as well as some soap so we left these behind and, as we drove away, a man ran after telling us that, if all else failed, he would accompany the child. We wait to see if they come to the hospital. Rose said that the right antibiotic could well cure the child: let’s hope so! We gave Peter some money which he would need as well as a little extra as he is such a diligent and caring man. Never can we say that all African men are lazy.

Now we could return home after another long but satisfying day. The sky darkened and the heavens opened with torrential rain causing a considerable river down the sides of the road. The thunder roared and the school children ran homeward bound in dripping wet clothes. How cold they must have been! But, as usual, there was little or no rain at the hospital. I have expected the grass to turn green but so far the land continues to look drab and brown.

I was filthy especially my hair which resembled straw. A good wash made me feel so much better and then, when I had eaten my supper of cabbage and potato, I was almost human again. It’s hard work keeping up to date with the diary probably because these days are crammed with too much to do and too little sleep but I will try.

 

Thursday 7 March 2013

The plan was to set off at 7.30 am with 20 chapattis and Martin and Elaine who were to join us for the outreach clinic but then the best made plans sometimes don’t materialise and we were still sitting in the porch waiting for Landeer to arrive at 8 am. Finally we left with a long drive to Katakwi ahead of us. We were a team of 9 and we were to demonstrate how an efficient clinic is run but this was not to be. The Mobiliser had got it wrong and there were only eye patients waiting for us. What were the physio team to do all day? We had set up shop under a tree giving us pleasant shade and a breeze while children with disabilities trickled in for assessment from us. Their conditions were interesting and needing surgery but we should have had anything up to 130 to see. Fortunately, there were so many eyes that the day was not wasted and I was quite happy playing with the children, listening to them singing and generally having fun with them. One little girl was expert at sums by using the sand as her calculator.

Nurse Harriet who was in charge of the Health Clinic had a voice like a fog horn and offered to give us lunch at the end of the day but we really wanted to return home. We left with her cadging a lift from us so we had her company for most of the return journey! The skies darkened and the heavens opened showering hail stones down on us and does this mean the start of the rainy season which should be about now? We were very pleased to have the rain to settle the dust which is most annoying and the cause of our filthy clothes, skin and hair.

Robert Ecelat, a teacher from Mary MacAleese Primary School, called by and we sat outside in the dark listening to the African night noises. I just managed to stay awake and, hopefully, I wasn’t too rude.

Not too much to write for today but I’ll make up for it tomorrow. Another disturbed night interrupted at one point by me waking up frozen and shivering. Surely I must be ill with malaria but, after gaining my senses, I realised the night was cool and a sheet over me was called for and returned to my vivid dreams which I experience here.

 

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Yes, the outcome of my night’s sleep was a full 8 hours out for the count; almost unheard of for me! It was brilliant to wake up feeling refreshed but then it was necessary to repeat the showering process having been so hot but naked all night. On opening my window to let in the morning fresh air, I heard the dulcet tones of Obwongo strumming the acungo to attract my attention. He had brought me lemons as he knows I like them in my tea but, at this time of the year, they are small and scabby. However, I chose two and told him that was all I needed and gave him one of Chris’ ties in exchange.

After breakfast of omelette, I walked to the hospital to meet Harriet as we had arranged to see Okello Francis, a hydrocephalus and spina bifida boy of 6 years who was to have a wheelchair. He fitted it perfectly and his young mother made a contribution of 30,000/= towards its cost. His head was pulsating and no doubt increasing in circumference which meant that a visit to Cure Children’s Hospital in Mbale was advisable.

Also in the Children’s Village were the 10 adult patients plus their interpreter waiting for their new prostheses to be made in the workshop. It was a sad sight seeing them sitting on the verandah all with one leg missing and looking typically Sudanese somehow.

Ikuneyo Miriam was another patient in the village, a CP girl who had had bilateral plasters applied to her legs to help break down the muscle spasm. She could manage to walk with a walking frame which the workshop was making and the decision as to whether she needs a wheelchair will be made later.

We then went to the Nutrition Unit which, last year, was in a state of disrepair and collapse but a couple of German girls have built it up again to be an important hospital department where Rose, the nurse in charge, has changed from a mood of despondency to her usual happy self even though she has 6 month old triplets at home to contend with. There we met Lazaro, an underdeveloped and malnourished child of 5 who has been a patient four times before. This is not a sustainably satisfactory programme and so a home visit is planned for Friday so that we can positively improve the living conditions and hopefully initiate an income generating programme.

On my way back to the vehicle to commence our day’s work, I called by to greet the leprosy patients who gave me a more than warm welcome. The orthopaedic workshop is adjacent and I had to discuss the repair of a CP chair and wheelchair and order a new CP chair for Janet who we saw yesterday. I queried some costings with Simon Peter which upset him somewhat but I do feel I should be given a fair deal so we will bring this matter up when I have my management meeting next week.

Finally, we set off to meet up with Ruth in Soroti for our home visits. The road to Soroti is dreadful and a 40 minute journey takes 1.5 hours. We weaved from one side of the road to the other to avoid the pot holes resulting in driving head to head with dozens of 40 foot UN containers on their way to Sudan and fuel lorries. It surprises me how calm I take all this but I have complete confidence in our driver, Landheer.

Ruth was waiting for us and she directed us to the home of Emmanuel who was operated on by Mr Viva in October 2012. He released Emma’s eye so that he could close it and his upper lip so that he could close his lips. The boy and his mother were incredibly happy and we took many photos to show to Mr Viva. Emma presented me with a live chicken which I have christened Marjorie who is Mr Viva’s secretary. If only I could smuggle it home and give it to her personally!

We had organised a meeting with David from Global Care as  am eager to develop a link between them and Kumi Hospital but they are slow in taking action. They had drawn up a Memorandum of Understanding which has to be scrutinised and next week we hope to have a meeting with the UK boss who is visiting the project.

Next we reviewed Elwen John  Silas, a 3 year old CP child who we assessed last year and provided him with a CP chair and a solar light. He was doing well and the mother was being very proactive with his rehabilitation.

Three patients followed, Erwatu Samuel, Olabor Samuel and his brother Isaac and finally Acen Dematerina who was given a wheelchair. Now our entire stock of Ugandan wheelchairs is exhausted and we must start another waiting list and then consider our available resources.

We ended up at Global Care to meet a more senior manager and we stressed that we must get things moving very soon. Ruth arranged to visit on Monday to see the day care department in action.

Hunger had taken over so a late lunch was eaten at Marissa, a café which serves very nice food. We all had fresh passion fruit juice and a plateful of food which we ate whilst debriefing after the day’s activities.. Driving off, we left Ruth behind to buy a length of material for a dress bought with the money given to her by an ex patient of mine who lives in Barnard Castle. She was so excited to have some pennies to spend on herself.

I haven’t mentioned that there were clouds today and a shower of rain although the temperature was still 95 degrees F which felt relatively cool! The green leaves of the mango trees looked iridescent having had a soaking and it was strange to see puddles on the road.

I needed no supper and managed to catch up on emails before retiring only to wake up an hour later after which sleep was not the order of the night. I unpacked my case, sorted out some papers, made a cuppa and then finally I managed to rest and a short bout of sleep followed.

 

Tuesday 5 March 2013

I can’t begin to explain how tired I was on getting up and I wondered how I would get through the day.  New visitors are expected to attend Morning Assembly where we are given the usual welcome ceremony after which there is much hand shaking and African hugs from the staff. It was great to be back but, after brief talks with Dr Ruth and Charles Okular (Hospital Administrator) it was off to the field to start a 2 week intensive programme.

Harriet, Martin, Landheer, our driver for this year, and I set off for Ngora firstly to visit the school of Alfred who I had great designs of supporting at a boarding school. I was disappointed to find that the standard of his work had not been maintained and my pre-formed plans were dashed. But it was lovely to see him again, a CP boy of about 12 who we supplied with a tricycle but it is not to be that he enters my programme. Then to see Apulamera in Ngora School for the Deaf where we found her fit and healthy and doing well with her studies. We will soon have to think about secondary school if she does well in her Primary 7 exams.

On to Moses Okenyekure, the TB spine boy (or young man) whose house we are building with the money Helen raised last year at Redworth Hall. Good progress has been made, the roof is on and now doors and windows are required as well as the concrete floor and a verandah.  He will be moving in as soon as it is finished and then he can build up his bicycle repair business which we started a few years back.

Almost his neighbour is Okirior Isaac, a very stubborn 15 year old boy who must drive his mother mad. I’ve known him for years and we have tried to mobilise him with little success due to his awkward frame of mind! We gave him a wheelchair to make life easier for his mother and to get him off the ground and I hope he will soon learn to push the wheels around by himself.

William was next on our list and, in October, a large tree had fallen over the track and so we had to “foot” it but this time the trunk had been removed and we could drive along the narrow track. Helen had bought William, a minute brain-damaged and previously malnourished 9 year old, a cow and the mother was delighted to show it off to us. Indeed, a fine specimen and pregnant no less! William was settled into one of the UK wheelchairs which was too large for him but, again, it enabled him to be in a sitting position and see the world as it should be. I look forward to showing Helen the photo of the result of her fund raising birthday party in UK last year.

By this time, the heat was getting to all of us but there were 2 important home visits to complete. Janet was first and here we had to park the car as the track to her home was even more washed away by the torrential rain which had dug deep into the murram making pot holes which would almost swallow the vehicle. Oh, it was hot and when we reached the home I checked my thermometer which recorded 100 degrees F in the shade. (I have since made sure it is accurate and Martin ensures me that it compares equally with his.) Janet’s cow has produced 2 bull calves, the elder one having grown enormously into a fine beast which could be sold for 900,000/=. (the XE Converter web site will give you the exchange rates) The cow is once again pregnant and let’s hope that this time it’s a girl calf for a change. Janet’s child, also called Janet, is a very severe case of CP but she is dearly loved by her mother and was spotlessly clean when we arrived unannounced. Her CP chair was now too small for her so we put that in the vehicle and have since asked the workshop to make a larger version. We discussed with her what to do next. The mother could sell the bull and buy a cow which would provide immediate milk for the girl but we decided on a different tactic which was to buy a plough so that Janet could work the land and improve its condition as well as subcontract for an income. Her life has certainly changed since we first met the family and definitely for the better!

Finally and with little energy left, we called in on Joseph, Vincent and Agnes who are young adults with a progressive neurological condition and their details are well recorded in last year’s diary. They were so happy with their bespoke beds, mattresses and sheets also provided from Helen’s birthday fund. Vincent was listening to the radio we also bought and, although, to me, their life appears to be totally intolerable, they take their condition in their stride and no complaints are heard.

Now we really had done enough for one day and so we stopped at Paradise Vies café, a favourite venue of mine due to its rustic style of corrugated sheets and smoky atmosphere. There is nowhere in UK to compete! We enjoyed a simple but tasty meal with saoda and a Bell’s for me all for the princely sum of 21,000/= (£5.00) for the four of us!

Then I returned to the GH where I showered, washed my hair and fell into bed and the next part will be in tomorrow’s diary….

 

Saturday 2 March 2013

Off to the airport at 4 am to get the Amsterdam plane with 47 kg of luggage + hand luggage. The night skies were clear and the temperature sub zero, something not to be experienced in the next couple of weeks. My luggage was checked in without query apart from an official swabbing my laptop but, with the all clear, I watched a lonely Chris leave the airport but I knew that, after a couple more hours sleep, he would be on the golf course and enjoying a short spell of bachelordom. I had used my Frequent Flyer air miles to convert to Economy Comfort seats on the flights from Amsterdam to Entebbe and what a difference it made to the leg room. Also, the seats are nearer the front so it’s easy to be in the front of the Visa queue where procedures are so much smoother these days and gone are the hours and officialdom one had to go through to have the all important Visa stamp in your passport.

The white face of Matthias amongst a sea of black faces was a pleasant sight in the Arrivals hall and we were soon back in CoRSU Hospital where I spent the next two nights. On Sunday morning we went to the Kampala School for the Disabled in Mengo to visit Lawrance Epidu only to find many children in wheelchairs or on crutches sheltering in the shade of the buildings. One boy with a similar condition to Lawrance had fallen out of his chair, unable to get up and in the full sun so we quickly raised him off the ground and back in bis wheelchair so that he could escape from the powerful sun rays at last. Morris, a cheerful Downe’s Syndrome boy, whose role was to look after Lawrance, brought him to us and we were given an enthusiastic welcome as ever. He was smart in a red baseball cap, blue short sleeved shirt and grey trousers but you should have seen his face when we gave him a suit! Eileen, a friend from Church, had given it to us as, last year, Lawrance had mentioned that he would like one. We put on the jacket and a tie and he looked more of a business man and so proud. But it had to be removed, folded carefully and laid in his tin trunk with all his other worldly possessions on his bunk bed in the dormitory. (I had spoken to Darlington Inner Wheel just 2 days earlier and joined them for lunch where they have an elephant “piggy bank” into which they put some coins each month for Lawrance. Each year, they give me a kind donation towards his school fees). My SIM cards needed registration as well as my modem loading so a visit to MTN and Orange offices was needed followed by lunch of falafel from a Lebanese café in a big shopping mall in the centre of Kampala.

Monday morning and I started my journey to Kumi but not until I had made a brief visit to see Florence in the Physiotherapy Department in CoRSU. My driver, Paul as mentioned in my 2012 diary, and I drove off into the jungle of 100% chaotic roads of Kampala to spend literally hours stopping and starting to make our way out of the city. The MTN office had been closed yesterday so I had to start again to register my SIM card. After queueing for a while and reaching the front, I was told that I not only needed my passport but also a passport size photo so it was off to find a booth only to return with all the requirements and start queueing again.

At noon, we finally set out for Kumi, a journey which took 5.5 hours with a comfort stop and lunch at Igar fuel station in Jinja. Reaching the Guest House, I met the other guests, Martin and Elaine from Wales, two Dutch university students and Greg, a pilot working for MAF (Mission Fellowship Aviation). He had brought in 10 Sudanese patients who had had their legs blown off by landmines and were the second group to be seen in Kumi Hospital to have prostheses provide. He was to fly back to Sudan on Tuesday morning having left his plane parked on the airstrip near the GH.

Immediately, Harriet and Elizabeth arrived, Harriet to work out the 2 week programme and Elizabeth to collect her laptop I had brought with me. Suppertime arrived  and so Harriet left and the guests had a convivial meal with very varied topics of conversation. I was too tire to unpack so I fell into bed but failed to sleep more than an hour, my mind being too active.

 

Friday 15 February 2014

Three months since I returned from Uganda and I’m off to Kumi again but this time only for a couple of weeks. It has caused something of a ripple with everyone that I should change my routine and I shall try not be so predictable in future An email with a special offer of flights popped up on the computer screen, my annual travel insurance is still valid and there is so much going on with Harriet and her team that I feel I should grab this opportunity. It’s a great feeling to be going because everything is progressing well and that I don’t need to go to sort out problems. The dates were determined by a talk to Darlington Inner Wheel Club the day before I leave and then York Inner Wheel the day after I return.

Activities have continued since I left with weekly outreach clinics where the team identifies those children who need advice or hospital intervention such as surgery or rehab. This coming week, the Dutch Orthopaedic team arrives to operate on the patients and so, this weekend, Peter, the driver, will be collecting them with their attendants from far reaching villages.

The wheelchairs we had made in Katalemwa Cheshire Home in Kampala have been delivered to the children along with the tricycles for the post polio paraplegics. One PPP lady commented to Harriet; “Now when I want to go somewhere, I don’t have to be carried!” Okello Michael has had his new prostheses made after we had found him trying to manage with broken ones. He waited for the school Christmas holidays before coming to the hospital and now he will have gone back to his incredibly poor home where he lives with his grandfather and sleeps in a tiny, collapsing mud hut on Mother Earth. He can ride his bicycle which has tyres mended by some sort of stitching. They can melt their caveras (carrier bags) and use them as patches! This works well with jerry cans for collecting water!

I have received the figures for 2012 and I see that nearly 3,000 people were screened in the outreach clinics with nearly 2,000 entering the Community Based Rehabilitation programme. Without the team and some support, these children would not have been identified.

Here is an excerpt from one of Harriet’s weekly reports:

 

We went to Kabermaido on Thursday. The clinic was successful both for disability

and eye. In disability we had 13 patients for surgery 6 gluteal Fibrosis, 2 CTEV , 3 tibia vara

2 Osteos, 3 PIPs & CPs and 1 burn contracture. Eye we had 10 patients

for surgery.

We spent as follows

Facilitation                125,000

Announcement            20,000

Mobilisation                30,000

Air time                       25,000

Total                            200,000

 

We also paid 2 people 10,000 who were translating for us that day. Since patients were so many

that day.

On 04 02 2013 l paid Akurut' Apulmera's fees 607,500 for the whole year.

Next week l will be paying Betty's fees too for the whole year it is much easier

for me. 

Otherwise regards to all and have a blessed night.with love and prayers.

 

We are still awaiting the student’s school results especially Lawrance’s, the boy with athetoid cerebral palsy who has sailed through Primary 1 to 6 but, for P7, the exam is marked externally and I wait with baited breath. If he passes, I really have to think hard but, if not, then he will return home having had 6 very different years from those he would have had if we hadn’t found him all those years ago spending his life lying on a mat outside his mud hut. His father left because of his son’s physical state and then his mother went to live with another man leaving Lawrance with his grandparents who are delightful but getting old. We will construct a house for him,. This will take a few years and so should be ready when his grandparents have died.  The plan is that he could use an area in the 2-roomed house to have a small “shop” and now he is “street-wise” he will not be taken advantage of by others.  But, if he passes P7 exams, he would like to do something with computers. The world would be his oyster if he lived here but… there? I asked him what he would like when I saw him in October and his immediate reply was “A suit!” I mentioned this to one of our parishioners and I was presented with a lightweight Italian suit, the quality I have never seen before! He will be so happy!

So, my 2 weeks will fly by and I hope to cram them with lots of home visits to see how everyone is. I end with a few words from Ruth, a team member who was severely depressed a couple of years ago and now she is involved with our programme she s doing fine.

“My prayer is may almighty God double your years of living more times such that you continue visiting us as you support our clients most especially children with cerebral palsy!”

I hope to continue with my diary for the duration of my visit so it’s back to the packing process trying to squeeze into my cases too many things including a Christmas cake I have made, tiny clothes for the prem babies, pencils and pencil cases donated by ladies in a WI where I gave a talk etc etc etc.