Tuesday 20 December 2011

Partnerships Deliver Projects!

Sorry we've not posted for while.  The last few weeks have been very exciting as our projects got underway.  Here is a "stand-alone" article all about them - apologies for any repetition of previous posts.  Please also see the picture gallery for a selection of project photos.

When we arrived in Uganda in June 2011 the situation in Acholi Quarter, the poorest neighbourhood of Kasese town, seemed desperate.  Uganda’s high inflation has caused difficulties throughout the country this year, but for those who are unemployed or in large single-headed households the hardship is always greatest.  Lively community consultation meetings in July confirmed that the biggest challenges facing the community of Acholi Quarter were: high unemployment, worsened by a chronic lack of skills or education; the daily neglect of pre-school age children while their single parent (or grandparent) looked for work or dug their fields; and a general sense of despair amongst young-men, often leading to involvement in drink, drugs or crime.

Faced by such challenges it is easy to feel helpless but our Pastor Bwambale Alfonse has been working hard in this community for years.  Through his CBO “Alpha Children’s Ministry” Pastor Alfonse is providing an affordable nursery and primary school in the heart of the community, resettlement of orphans with other family members, and assistance with medical expenses, and all with a positive Christian ethos.  Alpha Ministry and the local Baptist Church of Nyakasanga work in partnership through sharing their land and buildings.  Alpha’s school hall becomes the church building on Sundays, and the church’s Sunday-school block provides two classrooms for the school during the week.  Alfonse’s vision was that this site, in the heart of Acholi Quarter, should have a wider impact on the community, serving people of all ages and denominations. 

With the help of BMS World Mission, this dream is now being realised.  On 28th of November three new projects were opened, all funded by BMS World Mission and managed by the new Kasese Baptist Association of Churches – Development Committee (KBAC-DC), which is answerable to the Baptist Union of Uganda (BUU).  These projects are providing training in carpentry for young-men, and tailoring for women.  Both of these courses also include weekly training in business skills, and life-focussed Christian discussion/Bible-study sessions led by local Pastors and clergy of all denominations.  While local women are learning tailoring, or pursuing other employment, their 1-3 year old children are being cared for in a new Day-Care, where they receive maize porridge for breakfast and nutritious local food for lunch every day.  They can play in a safe environment and learn through simple games, songs and bible stories. 

It has been so exciting to see how these projects have progressed in the first three weeks.  The Day-Care children cried solidly for the first three days, but are now beginning to play happily together.  The young men, so often the subject of criticism and blame here, are already proving themselves at carpentry.  Last week two of them made a bed which has been sold locally, followed by orders for another three!  The money raised from selling these will be used to buy more timber for the next furniture they will make, alleviating some of the pressure on our inflation-stretched budget.  They have also fitted a door- and will be making stools- for the Day-Care staff.  The women are producing different items of clothing and will soon be making aprons for the Day-Care staff and uniforms for the toddlers.  In addition to learning valuable skills, the trainees are also developing confidence and building friendships.  The tailoring trainees proudly wear their tape-measures around their necks like mayoral chains and concluded this term with a friendly netball match with the Day-Care staff!

Without the grace of God and several other local and international partnerships, these projects  might have been beset by endless delays and difficulties.  The new building for the Skills-Centre, built by Alpha Children’s Ministry using voluntary labour (including ourselves) and roofed by BMS project funds, is not yet finished.  The locally made bricks ran out and a delivery of bricks that Alpha Children’s Ministries purchased was lost when heavy rain caught the truck in mudslides and most of the bricks got broken.  Fortunately Alpha School’s children broke up for their long Christmas holiday the Friday before the project started, so the skills centre started on time using the school’s hall and outside space.  This gives them until February when the children return to complete the skills centre building.   The school hall (and adjacent Day-Care room) had their floors cemented by the Meadowcroft family, supported by their Anglican church in Croydon, who are long-standing partners of Alpha Children’s Ministry.  The Day-Care also received a free water-filter from “Life-Water” a project run by “Watchman International”, courtesy of local missionaries Roger and Sheryl London.  Critically, the over-stretch on our budget caused by Uganda’s 30% inflation between our budget proposal submission in August and our receipt of project funds in November has been alleviated by partnering with UK-based charity “Tools With A Mission” (TWAM), who have a warehouse and friendly staff in Kampala.  Purchasing good quality Sheffield-made tools and traditional Singer manual sewing machines at low cost from TWAM, rather than buying increasingly expensive and poor-quality Chinese imports has saved us a fortune and freed-up funds to cover shortfalls elsewhere.  Our  Day-Care staff received three days of bespoke training from BMS colleagues Deb and Dug Benn, who work with the Children’s Department of the BUU in Kampala.  The Noah’s Ark mural on the wall of the Day-Care was painted by artist Louise Sunderland, a British friend of Bethan’s, during a brief visit to us.

We are grateful to God for his guidance to us and for sustaining us through the many challenges of the last six months.  We are also very grateful for all those here in Uganda, in the UK and elsewhere whose generosity of time, skills, effort, prayers, money and resources have made it possible to start these projects which serve the people of Acholi Quarter.   We ask for your continued prayers and support as we finish building and then move into the skills training centre, and as we work towards helping our first batch of trainees to establish successful and sustainable businesses when they complete their courses.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Ten things we've seen in the last month!

When you live in a different country for a while it is easy to stop noticing the things which are different are remarkable.  Here are ten things we’ve seen in the last month that we wouldn’t expect to see at home:

People buying and eating live grass-hoppers at the market in town.

A man roller-blading up the hill on the main road through Kasese followed by a roller-blading apprentice.

Two bats flying around in our living room.

An owl perching on the electricity pole in the garden at dusk – probably hoping to catch some bats!

The pick-up  we hired to buy timber and iron sheets which needed a reverse push-start before it could drive forwards.

A small girl at church copying the baby-carrying mamas by strapping an empty Sprite bottle to her back with a shawl.

Four adults on one motor-bike.

A herd of elephants under a massive rainbow viewed from a public main road.

A woman using a parasol under a hot sun in 30c + heat carrying a baby swaddled in numerous blankets and a woolly hat – and sweating profusely!

 A cow  crashing through a school fence and running into a classroom.

Friday 11 November 2011

The Women's Co-operative

Gareth and I had a business idea a month or two ago that we thought would be fabulous for a women’s co-operative to start and run.  It is a very big idea by local standards and as we explained to the women the business plan there was a lot of sucking in of air and sighs of ‘ah!  Mama Samuel!’ as I seemed to explain the impossible.  When I explained that if it all works out then everyone in the co-operative stands to earn a good monthly salary, some become brave and talked about the idea as if it was going to be a reality.

The idea grew on the women and six of the bravest came forwards to start a co-operative.  They committed to save 500 shillings per day (12p) until they had raised enough with the local small business co-operative bank so that they could borrow what is to them a HUGE amount (£800) to start the business.

After a few false starts and two women dropping out and one woman joining (so now they are five) we eventually went to the co-operative savings and credit society to open an account so they could start saving and the temptation to just take the money back and carry on with life would be impossible.  Out of the five, three turned up to open the account and one signed on as chairperson, one as secretary and one as treasurer.  It is now official.  Five women are saving their money to look towards the future and create for themselves a good living as opposed to scraping about for a couple of hundred shillings per day to keep themselves going day to day.

One of the women is the pastor’s wife; another is a primary teacher; another is the daughter of the choir-leader at church and has just had a little baby girl with her husband; one is an artist and one is a woman whose husband recently sold their business to buy a plot of land, but that leaves them with no money coming in with which to build on that land.  They are an inspirational group of strong, determined women.

Thursday 6 October 2011

Lost in Translation.

Gareth and I sat at the table in the tiny closet that passed for a classroom to do our monthly Swahili exam.  Reading comprehension.  We came across a sentence upon which everything else clearly hinged: "Sufuria kubwa ilizaa".  Okay, here goes a translation:  "sufuria" = "saucepan".  "kubwa" = "big".  Okay, so far so good.  "ilizaa" = it gave birth.  Huh?!  Gareth and I looked quizzically at each other, unable to talk because it was under the best test conditions possible when we were sat on top of each other and the teacher had left the room.  "Does it mean that someone gave birth in a saucepan?" we wondered to each other.  "Or that someone gave birth TO a saucepan?"  We thought about all the possibilities and concluded that we had misunderstood.  The teacher came back and we asked him what on earth the sentence meant.  "Ha ha!" Laughed our teacher in a way that only jolly African men know how.  "It means that the saucepan gave birth!"  Of course.

The moral of this story is that you can understand as many words as you want but the actual meaning will usually evade you until you think like an African and put aside our European realist mindset.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

The Wild West!

On Friday afternoon we made our first family trip to Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP), using our new annual National Park entry passes that we recently purchased since officially becoming East African Residents (much cheaper than "foreign tourists").  At the park gate we picked up a local technician who needed a lift into the park headquarters and who helpfully spotted an elephant for us in the thick bush just a few minutes later!  Having dropped him off we got to the campsite where there was a neat horsehoe of green tents and a massive truck belonging to one of those across-Africa safari companies.  We spent some time choosing where to pitch our tent, eventually choosing a spot on fairly high ground, quite close to the toilet block, with the back close to a hedge, one side blocked off by our car and the front facing a fire-place - (the reasons for such caution will become clear).  Sam had never camped before so he took great delight in charging in and out of the tent before it was properly up, helpfully collecting up tent-pegs from where we'd just put them in the ground, and developing his own unique style of Maypole-dancing with the guyropes!  As we finished pitching camp we saw a group of elephants in the bush on the far side of the campsite, and by sitting on top of our car were able to get a good view of them.  There were also warthogs around the campsite and beautiful yellow weaver-birds.  Although staying on the cheap in our tent, we treated ourselves to a slap-up dinner at the adjacent luxury game lodge before turning in for the night, with a large fire burning outside the tent, lit by the campsite ranger (who, having lit the fires then disappears until morning).

Eventually Sam realised that tents aren't just for playing in, and that this was where he had to sleep and settled down inside his mosquito-proof travel-cot inside the tent.  We read for a while, and then faced that inevitable dilemna of being in a tent after a big meal and contemplating the trip to the toilet block; but in this case the short route to the toilet block, was also part of the larger route from the bush where the hippos eat at night, to the lake (Lake Edward) where they live.  Luckily no large eyes were reflected back in my maglite beam and no animals charged me from behind and I made it safely to and from the toilet block in the otherwise pitch dark, taking just enough time to notice the fantastic panalopy of stars above me - stars such as I haven't seen since my time at sea.

We didn't get much sleep on our thin foam roll-mats with the swishing and munching sounds of hippos grazing outside.  I know that sound travels far in the dark making distance perception very difficult, but at one point, at about 4 or 5 am (by which time the once blazing fire was now a far less scary mound of glowing embers), I was convinced that there was a hippo right outside the tent.  On getting up an hour later at 6am the presence of a pile of fresh hippo poo 1 foot behind the back of the car confirmed my suspicions! 

We started our morning game-drive a little after 6.30 with the pink/orange glow of sunrise shining over the Kazinga channel which links Lakes Edward and George, passing some waterbuck as we left the campsite on a route suggested by a ranger.  A little over an hour later we saw the tell-tale signs of two other vehicles stopped on the side of the track with cameras and eager faces protruding from windows/sunroofs.  Sure enough, there in a clearing to the right, about 25m away was a single adolescent male lion!  In order to understand the significance of this sighting to us, I have to explain that Bethan has been coming to Uganda regularly since 2004, had been to QENP once before and to Murchison Falls NP a few times and NEVER previously seen lions!  As this fine specimen of God's creation stood up and walked away from us we followed it and came upon a group of three lions, including a fully adult mane with a resplendent mane that immediately reminded us both of Aslan in that BBC classic "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe"  - which I'm sure was the staple Christmas viewing of most British children born in the early '80s!  We stayed long enough to watch this male have a bit of a tussle with its younger companions and emit an impressive roar.

We drove around for another hour or so, enjoying the fantastic scenery of QENP which is on the floor of a rift valley and so looks very different from the hilly/mountainous farms, villages and towns (including Kasese) which surround it.  Heeding the excellent advice from the ranger that between 9 and 10am the growing heat would drive elephants down to the water to drink we turned back along the track which parralels the channel, passed the same lions again, although at more of a distance, and then rounded a corner to see a group of elephants crossing the road to go and drink, flapping their ears and swinging their trunks as they went.  They really are magnificent creatures and one even treated us to a loud trumpet before lumbering off through the bush.  Sam got very excited at seing the elephants and pointed and squealed appreciatively, which was a relief, because when we were awe-struck by the lions he had seemed just as interested in playing with a mango-juice carton!

Having struck our tent and left the park we returned along the scenic route past the "Katwe explosion craters", which are enormous relics of some meteorites or volcanoes of past millenia.  The driving here was extremely challenging even in the dry, and it took almost 2 hours to cover 24km so we're unlikely to take that route again, but the scenery was truly awe-inspiring.

We feel very blessed to live so close to such natural beauty and returned to Kasese exhausted, but very inspired, in time to get some sleep before I preached my first sermon in our church on Sunday morning (which went well).

NB. If any of you come to visit us don't necessarily expect to see lions on a first visit, it can take years before you see them!

For those who pray:

This week (Thurs 29th) there is a big meeting to determine which BMS development projects are given funding, and ours are up for consideration, along with others from all over the world.  Please pray that we get funding so that we can proceed straight away with the much needed skills training centre and daycare projects for the people of Acholi Quarter, Kasese.

Pray/Give thanks for our continued health, safety and well-being.  Bethan had her cornea scratched by Sam whilst up in Gulu, which was very painful, but has now healed; Sam has cut some painful new bigger teeth, and I seem to be incapable of putting any weight back on, despite having taken precautionary de-worming tablets, but otherwise we are all well!

Monday 19 September 2011

The Wanawake Save the Day. By Bethan. September 19th.

The Wanawake save the day.
Gareth and I didn’t go to church this week.  We had had three sleepless nights with Samuel’s teething and had woken up with headaches and a severe sense of humour failure that meant we just couldn’t face the three-hour Swahili marathon that is church; especially not with a grumpy Sam.  So we stayed home.  We went about our daily routine: first job was to get the goats out of the pen and tether them under a tree.  Uh oh, Maziwa’s rope was fraying badly.  As Gareth tried to pull her close to put another rope around her neck, it snapped and she ran loose!  Oh no we will have to spend all day trying to catch her!  Samuel was tired and getting grumpy so as Gareth kept an eye on Maziwa so she wouldn’t eat the fruit trees, I went to put Sam to bed.  “Gareth!”  I called from the other side of the house.  “Yes?” answered Gareth suspiciously.  “I’m afraid we have a lizard situation!”  I yelled.  Gareth came, nervously leaving an actually very well-behaved Maziwa untethered in the garden.  There was a slimy black lizard in Samuel’s mosquito net.  As Gareth set about getting rid of it, I took Samuel on the ‘walk of doom’ that means wandering aimlessly around the house with Sam on my back until he falls asleep.  At home I would use a push-chair for this job and walk around the town but this is my local way!  As I was wandering around I heard various shouts and yelps from Sam’s room.  Sam fell asleep so I lay him on our bed and went to help Gareth.  Sam woke up as soon as I put him down so I went back to him and decided that he could have his nap later!  I was told by Gareth that although the lizard was still around, it had no tail anymore and was probably so annoyed that it wouldn’t come back.
“I want to go home.”  I said quietly to Gareth.  “I’m fed up of lizards and stubborn goats.”
“You mean you would rather have a pesky rabbit and some runaway guinea pigs?” Gareth enquired, remembering our rather cheeky pet rabbit, Moses (now living with my brother and his wife!)
“Fair point.”  I admitted.  “But, if we were in Cambridge and it was a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon there, I bet Richard and Joy would come round with Miranda, or your sister and her boys would pop round.  I really wish we had some friends who would just pop by and say hello.”  I dreamed.
The phone rang.
“Hello Bethan?  It’s Alice [pastor’s wife and good friend].  You weren’t at church this morning so Mama Esther, Eliza and I are coming round.”
“It’s okay.  See you soon.”  I said, as if I had a choice in the matter.
The women came round half an hour later and I brought out some of my home-made brownies.  We drank cold water and the women mused as to the make-up of the brownies and we just sat and chatted in a mixture of Swahili and English (sometimes it wasn’t clear which was which!)  We shared stories and I showed them photos of my family and friends back home.  I told them that I had just wished that we would have visitors and then there they were and what an answer to an un-uttered prayer they were!  Mama Esther told me a little about the fact that she had come from Congo 13 years ago and hadn’t been able to go back and visit her family so she understood how I felt.  Of course this humbled me because she had fled a war-zone and hadn’t gone back since, whereas I could come and go as I pleased.
The women then helped us catch Maziwa, who was calmly munching her way around our garden, which made Samuel laugh so much he got the hiccups!  Three Ugandan women in their Sunday-best and Gareth in shorts and scruffy t-shirt chasing a galloping goat around the compound was fairly amusing, it has to be said!  I put Sam down to help and he followed closely behind me, laughing all the while as we all darted this way and that!  The pastor’s wife eventually rugby-tackled the goat by the front legs and we got her rope on again.  The Wanawake left, with my grateful thanks for visiting, and Gareth and I were both in much better spirits.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Close Encounters. By Bethan. September 2011.

“Uh oh, Gareth, I don’t know what to do now.”  I said as I sat in a precarious position on a very large and busy junction in Kampala.
“Just sit tight and when there’s a space, go!”  recommended Gareth, seeing the impossibility of the situation.  Cars were streaming past, making our car shudder with each near-miss, boda-bodas were darting in and out of not-quite-stationary cars, dicing death by a hair’s breadth.
We were on our way back to Kasese via the BUU office, after a long and tiring week in Gulu and Kampala.   I approached the HUGE junction and looked at the array of traffic lights on display.  I picked one that seemed most relevant to my current position and desired route and saw that a green arrow was pointing right, in the direction that I wanted to go.  I crept forwards, believing to have the right of way but not quite trusting the system.  I was forced by the streams of traffic still flowing in front of me to stop about three feet shy of the junction (or what we would call the ‘yellow box’) and this is when I confessed to Gareth that I didn’t know what to do.
“I can’t even see the traffic lights now, at least I don’t think I can see the one that is supposed to tell me what to do: who are those traffic lights over there supposed to be directing?”  I asked as the lane with a red light to the left of us produced a stream of 4x4s and heavily-laden wonky trucks.  “I bet I get stopped by the police for doing something wrong even though it is not clear what is even supposed to be happening.”
“Don’t worry, just wait for a space and go.”  Advised Gareth.
“Hello madam.  I need to see your driving licence then I can tell you what you are doing wrong.”  Announced a rather robust Ugandan traffic-police woman in a gleaming white uniform (how do they get them so so white with all this orange dust!?) who had just appeared at my window.  Oh poop.  I produced my driving licence and started to explain that the light had been green and I was just following the traffic instructions and trying to go about my own little business without causing any trouble to anyone.
“You were driving recklessly.”  She announced as if I had been a 17 year old boy-racer.
I appealed to her better nature.  “Madam, I saw a green arrow pointing my way and I was just trying to get through the traffic to go over there (gesturing right) to get to Kasese.  I got stuck because the other traffic appears not to be obeying these traffic lights.”
To be honest I was stressed by now because Kampala driving does this to you.  Imagine driving in rush-hour London and times it by 20 or so.  Add crazy drivers in huge 4x4s (I know, if you live in Chelsea this is the case too!), street-hawkers and the odd stray animal and no road markings to speak of and you get the picture.  We also had a 7 hour journey ahead of us and we were wasting valuable ‘Sam-asleep-time’ by being stopped by this police lady.
Tears welled up in my eyes because, since I was a child, I have always cried when I am angry or indignant.  It's not the most useful response and something I fight each time it happens, but I never win.  I began to shout in order that my words would come out, but they arrived weak and wobbly:  “Madam, I assure you, the light was green and I was just trying to get through the traffic!”
Gareth began to fight my cause as he saw that my wobbly voice wouldn’t achieve anything.  “Madam, trust me, the light was green.”
“If you are going to shout at me I am going to go away and come back later.”  The police woman said and with that she walked off with my driving licence and left us bewildered sitting in the middle of a fast-flowing and turbulent stream of traffic.  Gareth boldly got out and followed her, otherwise believing that we could be there all day.  I sat in the car and sobbed pathetically, wishing that I could just drive off as the lights turned green again (while the police officer was talking to Gareth I witnessed at least 20 other more serious driving offences than the one I was being accused of!)  However, Gareth was now out of the car and my licence was with the police officer so I just sat with a sleeping Samuel and prayed that the whole ordeal would be over.
A lot of hand-flapping and gesticulating went on between Gareth and the police woman and I could occasionally hear wafts of the conversation: “Eh!  You people!  The light was…  You should have...”  “But madam, the light was… we did…”  and so on.  Eventually Gareth flew across the lanes of not-quite-stationary traffic and jumped in the car.  “Drive over there, NOW!” he shouted.  In a moment of get-away-car-ness I put my foot down and shot ten metres across the junction to park at the side of a very busy road full of shops and took my luck at sitting here without being booked for illegal parking.  The police officer eventually came to meet Gareth, who once again had had to go out of the car to hurry her a little.  (Don’t forget the 7 hours we still had to drive to get home!)
After a short while the police lady opened the passenger door and said “good morning.”
“It’s not a good morning actually,” I started, wobbly but indignant “I am just trying to get home and follow all the right rules but in our country green means go!”  I sobbed.
“Madam, if you cannot control yourself you will have to come to the police station so I can explain it to you there.”  I fell silent but the stream of indignation continued in my head, held back only through gritted teeth.  I did not want to elongate this encounter through the bureaucracy and likely expense that a police-station visit would involve.
The police officer began to draw me a diagram of traffic lights upon traffic lights on an odd-shaped junction, explaining to me that those vehicles that were “sloping down” heading to Makarere (wherever that was) should go when the top light is green and the bottom light is red but that those “pushing up” towards Kawempe should go when the top light is red and the bottom light is green, but that those vehicles wishing to “pass” up to the right (me) should wait on (yes, on!) the zebra crossing until I have seen that those “sloping down” and those “pushing up” (by the way we were not on a hill!) have passed, then I wait until the traffic lights on the far side were a random mixture of red and green, four cars and a goat had passed on my left and a cow had pooped on my right, then, and only then could I take my turn on the junction!
“Oh, I see now.”  I lied.  There is occasionally a time for lying, and this was it.  I was clearly never going to understand this junction and, although I was livid and still believed I was in the right, I thought about the long journey we had ahead of us and the prospect of being sat in a police cell having this explained to me again was more than I could take.
“Good.” Said the police woman.  “I have decided to forgive you and let you off with a warning.”
“Thank you madam.”  I forced myself to say through gritted teeth. “I can promise you, I will never come on this junction again.”  This time it wasn’t a lie.
The woman retreated carefully backwards out of the passenger door, Gareth hopped back in and, with Samuel stirring and about to complain at having been in the car an hour and not even being out of Kampala, we drove off towards home.  “Not long now sweetie.” I lied to Sam. 
A few hours later, in the lush-green of western Uganda, having passed several more police along the road, we were stopped by a policeman with a radar-gun in his hand.  Gareth was driving this time, (within the speed-limit, I hasten to add).  “Good afternoon Officer” he greeted the policeman.  Having inspected our licences and asked where we were going, it became clear that the policeman had had an idea that we didn’t like the thought of.  Noticing the policeman’s name “Baluku” embroidered on his shirt pocket, I introduced him to our Baluku (in Lukhongo all first-born sons have this name) sitting happily in the back, who dutifully waved and smiled at the policeman.  On seeing Samuel waving the policeman smiled, greeted him and then said “you tell your Daddy to buy me a car.”  We laughed, knowing not to bother going down the route of explaining that we were in no position to buy cars for people left, right and centre.  He changed tack:  “What can you give me to make me happy?”  We laughed again, and once we had ascertained that we were not in breach of any law, bid him a good day, and drove off before his hankering for a bribe could become any more blatant.
Needless to say we were very relieved to arrive back at our home in Kasese and find that the goats were still alive, the water was plentiful and the electricity was on.  We both said a prayer of thanks for a safe and happy end to a Very Long Day.

Saturday 3 September 2011

Youth Retreat at Kibuara Bible College, 26-28 August.

“What time are we due to start our talk?” I asked  Monday, the youth pastor.
“2pm.”  He replied confidently.
“What time is it now?”
“It is around 3pm.”  He replied, ignoring my implied point.
I looked in the classroom: three youths were flicking nonchalantly through notebooks looking a bit bored.  A few more were hanging around outside leaning on trees.  A Toyota Saloon pulled up next to a parked boda-boda.  The driver got out.  One youth fell out of the right-hand door followed by another and another and another.  More youths got out of the left-hand door.  It reminded us of the joke “how many people can you fit into a mini”.  As we watched, the youths stretched, looked around them and dispersed, leaving their luggage in typical teenage fashion in a pile behind the car for someone else to deal with.  After the driver unloaded the copious luggage, including half-a-dozen mattresses, a diesel generator and a loud speaker, the car drove off.  Our little son Samuel and his local band of merry men saw the opportunity of a soft-play centre and began jumping around on the mattresses.
At 3.30pm about 12 youths had arrived for the conference that was to last from now (Friday afternoon) until Sunday evening and was for youth from across Kasese district.
“I think you can start now,”  suggested Monday.
“But lunch has not yet been served.”  I replied, seeing from the timetable that lunch was supposed to take place before talks.
“It is not ready.  The Cassava is still raw.”  Ah.  If the Cassava is still raw then it will indeed be a long time before lunch is ready.  Best to get on with the talks first.
Gareth was up first.  We had been asked to talk about the roles that the youth can play in their churches.  Now, even in the UK this is a hot topic.  Do we fire the youth up to believe that they can change things that have not changed for centuries?  Do we tell them that they should listen to and obey their elders at all costs?  Do we ask them what they think their roles are and then put them right?!  With some welcome advice from our BMS colleague in Peru, youth worker Amanda Roper, we decided to base our talk on 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 (about being part of the body of Christ) and Revelation 21 (a new Jerusalem).
Gareth stood up and introduced himself to a very placid, sincere-looking group of young people.  He began by discussing what uses the different parts of our bodies have.  He then produced a pile of “post-its” with words on which he distributed amongst the bemused-looking youths.  To any Brit worth his salt in youth-activities you could see where this was going but when told to stick the post-its to their fore-heads and ask each other questions with yes/no answers as to the name of the part of the body on their post-it, the youths looked stumped.  Silence.  To an outsider coming in now the scene of 15 (for some had come in late) young people sitting silently looking at each other with brightly coloured post-its on their foreheads would have been rather an odd sight!  After a little more explanation, sighs of “ahhh!” were breathed as the pennies dropped.  The group began to liven up and a gentle hubbub of noise was created as amusing questions as to what part of the body they were thrown about.  Fits of giggles began to crack through the air as someone found out he was an intestine, and wry little smiles appeared as someone else figured out that he was indeed the brain!
With the point proven, the game came to a close and Gareth continued with his talk.  He gave some Biblical background to the principle of the church making up the body of Christ and offered food for thought concerning what role the youth should play in their churches.  He encouraged them that they were of equal value to all other age-groups in the church and that they were the ones responsible both for setting a good example to the younger children and for leading the church into a brighter future,  but warned them that they should do so without dis-respecting their elders and traditions.
Now, with about 20 young people in the room, it was my turn to deliver what I had to offer.  Revelation 21 talks about a new Jerusalem.  The bad old things have passed away and the city is made new in the presence of God.  I began by talking a little about the Kingdom of God (thanks Mat Wilson for your deeply informative lectures on this matter at IMC!); where is it, when is it and how do we know when we see it?  The conclusion I drew (although the discussion on the matter will go on for eternity) was that the Kingdom of God is here now and glimpses of it can be seen in nature and good deeds that people do for each other.  It is also going to come in a much fuller way when Jesus returns.  I reminded the young people that when we pray we say “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”.  I hoped that by talking a bit about the Kingdom of God it would help the youth to really think about what they are asking for when they say “your Kingdom come on earth”.  With this in mind, I moved to Revelation 21 and we did an activity in their church groups (they were from five different churches) whereby they had to identify the things in their communities/villages/towns that need to change.  They then went verse-by-verse through Revelation 21: 1-6 re-writing it for their own communities.  The following is a summary of what all the different groups came up with:
“I saw a new Bwera/Kasese/Kiburara.  The old one passed away.  I saw a new Kasese coming down from Heaven, dressed in peacefulness and truth.  A loud voice said “Now God is living amongst us and all local people will accept him as their Lord.  God will wipe away the tears caused by poverty and family breakdowns.  There will be no more AIDS or government corruption, there will be no more sick people or children dying.  These old things have passed away.”  God said “I am making everything new!  There will be no more lying or fornication!  I am the beginning and the end.  Anyone who even asks me for peace in their towns or an honest local government I will give it to him.  There will be no more suffering.”
The young people then went back into their groups with the task of finding practical ways that they could implement this new community; could they feed the hungry?  Could they stop corruption?  Many wanted to be pastors and preach the Good News and most put prayer as an important factor in changing their communities.  It was quite difficult to help the youth to think about practical things that they could also do to change their communities, and show them the Good News.
By the time I came to the end of my talk at about 5pm, I could hear a few stomachs rumbling and could smell the beans and Cassava waiting outside so I asked someone to lead us in a song to finish.  As with young people the world over, when it comes to music they really come alive!  The harmonies and energy brought about through the few songs were astounding, especially as they were singing on empty stomachs!  Even Samuel hung very still on my back and listened intently.  I closed in prayer, asking that God will enable these young people to identify their roles in their churches and be able to make those changes that need to happen in their communities in order that God’s Kingdom might come in those places.
Recent events in the UK have highlighted the importance of inspiring young people and giving them a secure grounding in their faith.  The work that is done with the youth here in the district of Kasese is of vital importance for raising up the next generation of Christian leaders.  It is a privilege to have been asked to play a small part in the Baptist Union of Uganda’s youth program, which will feature a much larger youth conference in January 2012 on the Uganda/DRC border.

Saturday 27 August 2011

Our first Ugandan wedding.

Today we went to our first wedding.  A young lady from our church got married to an Anglican man from the Uganda/DR Congo border.  It wasn't until yesterday that it was confirmed that it would take place - there had been some issues over the dowry:  12 goats, a blanket and a hoe is the standard bride-price that the Groom's family pays to the Bride's family (the opposite way round from Indian dowries).  This morning we headed off with the maximum of 8 people in our car (we have 8 seat-belts)- all dressed in our finest.  The wedding was supposed to start at 11am, but some confusion over who was actually going, and which of them was going in our car meant that we didn't arrive until 1130, which was fine because the wedding started at 12.  The service was concise at a mere hour and a half and featured some great singing with the wedding party dancing down the aisle, rather than processing. For some reason, the clapping in between each section of the vows was accompanied by random sound-effects from the keyboard - amplified through a massive sound-system. The bridal party didn't smile though, as apparently if the bride smiles it will offend her family who she is now leaving to go and live with her new husband's family.

While we were in the service someone decorated all the cars all over with white and orange ribbons and we were instructed that we were to be the penultimate vehicle in a wedding convoy of four vehicles to drive to the reception in the Groom's village.  We ended up with a different 8 people from the ones we'd started with, and the other cars seemed to be carrying even more.  We then proceeded to the reception venue at a snail's pace with hazard lights flashing, horns blaring and following a weave along the road like warships in a zig-zag pattern to dodge torpedoes (sorry, old metaphors die hard!).  Our procession was joined by some motorbikes who decided to weave amongst the cars, so it was all starting to get a bit silly as we approached a barrier with police/soldiers blocking the road - which turned out to be the first stage of crossing from peaceful western Uganda into the chaotic DR Congo.  Fortunately we swung right onto a dirt-track just before the barrier and stayed in Uganda, but then stopped soon after as the front car carrying the bridesmaids (all 7 of them I think) ran out of petrol.  They were two trucks full of bricks and builders coming the other way so this caused a bit of roadblock - and not a subtle one with all the ribbons, lights and horns! - Eventually the bridesmaids were pushed up the road and we arrived at a primary school bedecked in tarpaulin and more white and orange fabrics and kitted out with a stupendous sound-system,  the ubiqituous plastic chairs, and hoards of raggedly-dressed local children who the "event oragnisers" kept trying to shoo out of the photographs.

The wedding party danced their way in and there were several speeches before we all tucked into a feast of carbohydrates: - a mountain of rice, a hillock of steamed matoke (plantain), boiled potatoes, dry-roast potatoes, beans and some chewy meat, slopped with "soup" (meat-gravy) all eaten with fingers (which saves a lot of expense and washing up when hundreds of people are being fed!) At an African wedding everyone gets fed, there's no guest list or seating plan, just a massive communal feast.

After this the bride and groom fed each other wedding cake and and then we were invited to present our gifts to the happy couple.  By this point young Sam was exhausted, so we headed home (somehow with a different car-load again?!).

Every culture celebrates weddings in different ways, and we enjoyed celebrating one in Ugandan style. 

Thursday 4 August 2011

Wanawake wa Habari Njema (Women of the Good News) (By Bethan)

The Wanawake, as we now call them, are a phenomenal group of women within our church.  One woman in particular, Mama Esther (so called because she has a daughter called Esther, as I am Mama Samuel thank goodness because Bethan is too difficult!), is very wise and formidable.  When I arrived only six weeks ago and was told about the women’s prayers on Wednesday mornings, I didn’t know what to expect.
I turned up on time at 8am to find one woman sitting on the back bench of the empty concrete church building.  I said my greetings in KiSwahili and then we sat in silence, reading our Bibles.  Gradually a couple of other people arrived and when there were four of us, Mama Esther began to speak.  To be perfectly honest I don’t know what she said because our pastor’s wife (my personal translator!) Alice, was not there.  But the meeting went something like this: a lot of speaking and gesticulating followed by singing.  More speaking then suddenly everyone bowed their heads and I remembered that I did actually know the word ‘tuombe’ (we pray) and got my head down quickly too.  Hearing the word ‘Amina’ I realise that praying has finished.  More singing, more talking, some mentioning of my name (well, Sam’s name!) then the women began picking up their Bibles, so I assumed we had finished.
I have really come to appreciate these times of fellowship together, especially as I understand more of the language and the culture.  The women are so friendly and welcoming.  Mama Esther doesn’t speak any English at all so she is the main reason why I am fervently beavering away at learning the language: she is my impetus because I want to know what goes on in her life.  I was sitting in the women’s prayer one morning and was lucky enough to have a sentence translated for me.  It was a good job because I heard that it had my name in it so I was curious!  The translation came across like this: “Mama Esther says that it is important that you do not deny your husband in the bedroom.”  I had not even considered that this piece of advice would come from a morning prayer session!  It reminds me how much I am missing by not being able to speak KiSwahili.
August 1st was a special day.  The Wanawake had decided that on the 1st and the 15th of each month they will get together and spend a day praying and fasting, with a break in the middle to do crafts together and teach each other their respective talents.  I was apprehensive about a whole day fasting and praying, and especially a whole day sitting on a wooden bench!  Luckily, I am a crafty-type of girl so I had plenty to take with me (I decided on starting a hand-sewn patchwork bag with local material) but the issue of leaving Samuel with Gareth all day was a tough one because he has not been without me that long at least since being in Uganda.
This particular morning I had a very heavy black cloud hanging over my head.  Maybe you know that type of mood?  I couldn’t bring myself to even clear up the breakfast things so there were ants everywhere!  Luckily Samuel wanted his morning nap early so I could dwell in my black cloud.  I sat on the chair inside Sam’s mosquito net with him while he slept and I just stared at the net.  When Gareth got home from Swahili at 10am I had to think about going to the Wanawake’s prayer meeting.  This prayer meeting was the last thing I wanted to do!  But I got on my bike and free-wheeled down the road, stewing inside at the people pointing at me and gawping at this mzungu on a push-bike with an empty baby-seat on the back.  I was not in the mood to be a freak show this morning!
I arrived at the church to find some eight women seated on mats on the floor or on the benches deep in silent prayer, except for a gentle worship song coming from the lips of Mama Esther, also the choir mistress.  I sat down on the floor in silence and prayed that God would enable me to focus on him, not on my current state of mind.  I shed a few tears because it is these moments of closeness with God and other Christians that make me feel that I don’t need to pretend anything: God already knows it.  After a few minutes the women began to sing together and someone said ‘amen’.  We came together and Alice spoke in both KiSwahili and English so that I could take part in the proceedings.  They were taking 30 minute blocks of prayer for each specific thing that had been mentioned at the beginning of the day and a song marked the beginning and end of each 30 minutes.  (Incidentally, Alice asked to use my phone as a clock because she was using hers which couldn’t be put on silent and had the Venga Boys ‘boom boom boom’ song as a ring-tone that would ring at the most inappropriate times!) 
At 2pm we stopped praying and got out our crafts.  We sat on the reed mats each doing our own craft, but showing interest in the one next to us.  As we sat, words, laughter and more gesticulations were thrown back and forth between the women and Alice threw me tit-bits of translation that kept me in the loop.  It seemed that Love (said ‘Luvay’), a Congolese young woman, is going to get married in August and Mama Esther was giving her the advice that typically the paternal aunt is supposed to give such as how a husband should be treated and what a woman should do in the bedroom.  Suddenly, I heard my name mentioned and everyone was looking at me!  I looked hopefully at Alice.  What were they asking me about this subject? Apparently it was my turn to offer marital advice to Love.  Everyone else had already said their piece and now I had to add a nugget of wisdom.  I didn’t know what area of marriage I could talk about (from her gesticulations, I noticed that Mama Esther had already covered the bedroom!) so I told her that she should never go to sleep at night without resolving a conflict with her husband.  The women seemed pleased with this advice and Mama Esther was off again on a wise lecture involving more acting out of bedroom scenarios as I carried on with my patchworking, pleased to have been a part of this momentous occasion.
After an hour of doing handiwork, Mrs Baluku, wife of an elder (mzee) at church and also the other member of the choir (with Mama Esther) asked- no, told- me to teach the women a song.  Well now I was on my home ground!  I taught the women ‘Freedom’ and ‘Ihparadisi’, and they loved them, immediately breaking off into the harmony parts that would have taken me an evening to teach to the On Board choir.  (No offence to On Board; Ugandan ears are trained from birth!)  After teaching the songs and having the pleasure of hearing someone burst into ‘Oh Freedom!’ after every few minutes of silence, we went back to praying in 30 minute slots.
I felt so much love from these women and feel so privileged to be a part of their ministry.  They are so active in church: they have clubbed together to buy a portion of land next to the church and plough it to grow cotton and start a co-operative so that each woman can start her own business.  They look out for each other, they visit each other when there are concerns, they pray as though their lives depend on the answers, and they accept newcomers like myself.
Needless to say, my black cloud had lifted by the time Gareth called me at 4pm to say that Samuel had grown tired of their ‘boy-time’ and wanted his mum home.

Monday 1 August 2011


We're making good progress here after a couple of busy weeks. We've learnt four tenses in Swahili and four of the eight or nine noun classes (each of which uses different prefixes for adjectives, pronouns, demonstratives etc). Now we just need to learn hundreds of words of vocab (and the other noun classes and some more tenses).....
Sundays at church continue to be a headspinning 3-hour immersion in Swahili, but each week we understand a little more than the week before, which is very encouraging!

Last Sunday (24th) was lovely, we had an official welcome at church, so after the service there was a little party with a special "welcome" cake and sodas for everyone. It's a poor church so the generosity of this gesture (by the dedicated women of the church) was very touching. Luckily we knew something was going to happen so we turned up with the biggest of our papayas and were able to share that with the whole congregation after the cake (both the cake and the papaya were cut into very small pieces to ensure that each of the hundred people there got some!) Then I was able to give a quick thank you in my poor Swahili and Bethan led everyone in a joyful rendition of "Wipolo Bot Banga" (an Acholi song which has national popularity) to much ululating, dancing and clapping - from the women, - Ugandan men are generally less lively. Had this happened on our first Sunday we might have been a bit embarrassed and confused by it, but after over a month it felt genuine and was really special.  In fact it felt like communion.

Over the last two weeks we’ve also been getting out and about meeting people, mostly for work and also socially: - 2 or 3 local and international NGOs and a couple of local government officials, and some other Mzungus who live up the hill in Kilembe (where it’s much cooler) for an evening of playing boardgames, speaking English and even wearing jeans, jumpers and socks for the first time in a weeks!  We’ve also found another Mzungu baby for Sam to play with – Jack is a 9-month old Australian who lives in the compound for staff at Kasese Cobalt Mine, which has a swimming pool and a wood-fired pizza oven!

Most important of all, however, was the meeting we held yesterday (Sun 31) in Alpha’s school hall in Acholi Quarter.  Having heavily plugged that there would be a community meeting at 1pm on Sunday and prayed fervently that people would come, I was very pleased when we finally started at about 3pm that people representing 50 households had turned up – and by the end of the meeting at about 5pm there were over 80 people there.  As the average household size there is 6, we were therefore able to hear representations of the concerns and aspirations of approx 300+ people.  We asked questions in English, which Alphonse then translated into Lukhongo and Rotoro (the two local tribal languages), then people raised their hands and we counted and recorded the number of hands raised.  After many of these questions to establish a baseline of numerical data about household size, employment etc then we opened up the meeting to hear the voices and opinions of those present. 

The answers have given us much food for thought and will inform our first project proposals.  In a nutshell they revealed a community that is desperately poor, has very large families but no salaried employment, much illiteracy, no electricity, little (and costly) healthcare, has to walk and pay to get water, is troubled by crime, and leaves toddlers and young children to fend for themselves for most of the day while their parents work at subsistence farming.  There had been three deaths in the community in as many days.  They are especially concerned about their youth – many of whom benefitted from Uganda’s implementation of Universal Primary Education but have become despondent since leaving school with so few opportunities for further training or employment.  Unfortunately these despairing youth didn’t turn up to the meeting to represent their own views, so I will be attempting to meet them on Thursday at the football grounds where the young men practice most evenings. 

What we also gathered from the meeting was that the people of Acholi Quarter are united in their desire to improve their situation and seem willing to contribute what little spare time/resources and skills they have to doing so.  As with so many parts of Africa where government provision is lacking, the work of Alpha Ministry and the local churches seem to be the cornerstones of social provision in this community.

For those who pray:

·         Give thanks that so many turned up to the meeting and participated so actively.
·         Give thanks that we were fit to go ourselves – Sam had a suspiciously high temperature the night before and we mobilised a UK prayer chain by text message – by the morning he was fine again!
·         Please pray that Gareth is able to meet with the youth of Acholi Quarter on Thursday.  Despair, drunkenness and drug use add to the list of their difficulties.  Please pray that we can engage with them and help them find hope for a more constructive future.

Saturday 16 July 2011

My Friends and Other Stories - by Sammy-Chops D. Shrubsole

I have a new friend!  Her name is Trust Anna!  To her friends she is just ‘Trust’.  That makes me feel good because I think she sounds like a good, wholesome girl.  Her dad and my dad are friends because daddy went and planted trees in his school ground.  He is the head teacher of that fruit tree school mentioned on a previous blog.  My mum and Trust’s mum are becoming friends now too.  I met Trust last week in school when there were hundreds of children trying to squeeze my legs and touch my hair.  I didn’t like it so I refused to leave mummy’s arms.  But then I went to Trust’s house and even though she was sick that day, (I think they said she had ‘somearea’ or something), she was still nice.  I thought I would like to see her again so I asked mum if she could come round to play.  I invited her at 2 but it was gone 3.30 by the time she arrived.  I would have been offended but then she was wearing the cutest woolly hat (she thinks it’s cold!) and the biggest grin so I instantly forgave her.  She is not scared of me or mum.  For some reason many small children cry when they see us.  I don’t know why, maybe because dad is quite tall?  But Trust isn’t afraid of me and she tries to ruffle my hair.  I don’t mind when she does it because she does it in a friendly way, not shouting at me or pinching me like the other children.  Trust’s mummy and my mummy sat on the veranda with us while we played with my truck that Grandpa made me.  It’s called the ‘Samitruck’ and makes me seem really cool – imagine: every girl wants a boy with his own wheels!  I sat in it and she wheeled me up and down the veranda!  Daddy had asked someone to come in a slash the grass and they were using a strimmer.  We have a huge garden – it would take them a while but not as long as it would take with a knife like the government workers do.  Anyway, the strimmer kept on breaking and the man had to keep mending it and each time he did the machine started with a loud noise and both Trust and I would jump out of our skin and run to our mummies!  It didn’t matter how many times mummy explained to me what was happening, I still jumped and cried!  I tried to get over it, though, and got my hammer and nails out (that Uncle Duncle Aunty Beccy and little cousin Isla bought me) and Trust enjoyed hammering but only after I showed her how to do it.  She doesn’t have toys at home, I think she must get quite bored.  I sometimes see the local children playing with polystyrene or plastic bags that they see on the street and although I like rustling a bag as much as the next person, it can get quite boring.  Trust stayed for two hours and it got to tea time.  Mummy seemed a bit unsure about social etty-cat or something because she kept whispering to daddy ‘I’m not sure if she is waiting for us to tell her to leave or if she is staying all night!’  They invited her to stay for beans and rice that mum was cooking but Trust’s mummy suddenly looked very relieved and said ‘no thanks, I have to go home to prepare our own food.’  Trust left then, but not before I made sure that we had waved goodbye for as long as we could, as she disappeared through the gate.
I went with Mum to her Swahili lesson on Friday.  Dad was just finishing his lesson and was supposed to take me home but he remembered he had to do some shopping for our visitors so he left me with mum and went by himself.  I sat in the courtyard of the secondary school in the dust with my other friend, Tony Bray.  He is not as nice-mannered as Trust and I don’t really like him that much because he keeps trying to push me over, but there were only big people around who kept on taking me into their classrooms so I watched Tony Bray from a distance as I scrabbled around in the dust making dust-piles.  I was trying to sweep the courtyard with my hands and bottom but mummy just kept on saying that I was getting ‘so dusty’ and tutting.  She could see me from her classroom while she was learning and I heard her say some sentences about me but I didn’t understand them.

Today I was in Kibara Bible college while mum and dad’s colleagues were running a Sunday School Training workshop.  I had such a fun time because there were two children (not a hundred like there normally are surrounding me!) who were 5 and 3 years old and they had a bike tire!  They knew how to make it roll with a stick and it was so fun to chase although I haven’t learned to do it myself yet.  I will have to learn so I can join in.  The 5 year old kept on hauling me around when I went in the wrong room or the wrong direction but I don’t mind anymore like I used to.  The children here know how to handle babies so I feel safe.  I played for three hours with these two boys (except for a short nap on mummy’s back) then ate rice.   Mummy had to put it in my mouth with her hands because they don’t use cutlery!
I hope you have enjoyed my stories about my friends.  It is an answer to prayer because mummy prayed that I would have friends and now they are appearing.  I like playing.  I am going to invite Trust round again now that daddy has built me a swing made from our old car tire!  We will have so much fun!  Until next time, blog-mates!

Thursday 14 July 2011


Just wanted to let you know that Bethan's sermon on Sunday went very well and was well received.  We made it to Kampala safely on Sunday, and then had a very busy and productive day there on Monday - including Sam's 13 month and Rabies jabs. We then had a safe and smooth journey back again on Tuesday.

We had an encouraging phone conversation with our UK boss today and have been given the greenlight to start researching the projects we have been thinking about and discussing with our local partners, which is great news!

Thanks for all your continued prayers and best wishes.

Saturday 9 July 2011

Fruitful labour.

Yesterday was an exciting day.  The previous Monday we had visited “Alpha Chilrden’s Ministry nursery and primary school”, which serves the poorest communities of Kasese in Aholi Quarter and is largely run and funded by Kasese’s Baptist Churches.  We had observed the children being fed cups of maize porridge – filling but of scant nutritional value, and Alphonse had mentioned that they wanted to establish a fruit garden in the school grounds.  Following some thinking, some advice from BMS’ Agricultural expert Alex Vickers (based in Kampala), and discussion with Alpha school’s principal, Isaiah Thembo, it was decided that we would use our own garden to create a fruit garden in the school.  Thanks to the foresight of Graeme and Jenny Riddell who lived here and planted dozens of fruit trees a few years ago, our garden now has a well-stocked orchard of papaya trees and banana plants.  The plan was to take out the two youngest papaya trees, and one of the “baby” banana plants from each group of bananas. (Banana plants grow in families, a fruit-bearing grandmother, a mother, a daughter and one or more tiny babies – the latter can be removed and re-planted elsewhere).  I also bought a mango sapling from a local hotel which sells plants, for less than £2.
On Friday morning after my Swahili lesson Isaiah got his staff digging big holes outside Alpha school and collecting tall reeds while he came round to our garden and helped us dig out a fairly substantial papaya tree and five banana babies.  It was tough work with a hoe and a machete and we worked up a good sweat as the morning got hotter.  The bananas, mango sapling and papaya sapling fitted easily into our cavernous Lancruiser, but the young papaya tree had to be lashed onto the roof (see picture gallery).  Very few vehicles ever go into Acholi Quarter and there are few Mzungus round here so the spectacle of a Mzungu and a Ugandan in a 4x4 with a whole papaya tree lashed to the roof caused much amusement as we drove carefully into the narrow dirt lanes!
On arrival at the school everyone got involved in what became a whole community project.  Teachers were digging holes, some pupils were dispatched backwards and forwards with cans to fetch water, others were fetching dead grass and bricks to put over/around the base of the trees to help them retain water.  The mango tree was planted on its own and the papayas and bananas were planted together in a plot of about 10m by 8m.  As many Ugandans keep goats however, planting and watering the trees was not enough.  They needed goat-proofing.  The mango was given its own tippee of reeds (which feel almost as strong as bamboo cane) covered in thorny branches.  For the plot of bananas and papayas we made a complete fence on all four sides, about 5 feet high and with a simple sheet iron gate.  The sheet iron was provided by Alphonse’s father, the reeds had been cut from the riverbank by the whole community in the preceding days, and I bought two balls of string for just over £1.  The rest of the day was spent hacking a few branches off other trees to make fence posts, slotting the ends of the reeds into each other and tying hundreds and hundreds of knots to hold it all together.  As a former sailor I’m perfectly happy to spend an afternoon tying knots and worked at a quick pace, but I was less skilled at the machete work and blistered my soft English hands!   We finished at about 5.30, all exhausted but with a great sense of satisfaction at a job well done – especially because everyone got involved, and because it only cost about £3 in cash. 
The final stage of the project will be to produce posters for the school in English and Lukhongo explaining the nutritional benefits of eating fruit for young children.  Vitamins and minerals are not familiar concepts for many rural Ugandans and malnutrition is still far too common for a place with such fertile soil and good rainfall.
After 12 months studying for my MA and then 9 months studying at the International Mission Centre it was very satisfying to get my hands dirty and to do something of real practical benefit to others!
For those who pray:
·         Pray that the plants will take to their new home and bear fruit for the local community.
·         For Bethan as she preaches in the women-led service on Sunday.
·         For safe travels to and from Kampala (Sunday & Tuesday) and for Sam’s final vaccinations in Kampala on Monday.
·         For those affected by famine in north-east Uganda and the Horn of Africa.
·         For Uganda’s new neighbour – the Republic of South Sudan which achieved independence today!

Tuesday 28 June 2011

The Long Sunday By Bethan

Church was hard work today.  The reason?  Our little Sammy Chops hadn’t had his morning nap so he was feeling crotchety.  He had finally fallen asleep on my back on the 1 mile walk to church but the noise of the singing inside greeted him loudly and woke him up after just two minutes sleep.  He went nuts for a while running between Gareth and myself (remember we sit on opposite sides of the church) and the other children egged him on from the sidelines and then although he sat and had a biscuit on my lap during the worship leader’s sermon (in KiSwahili and yes the worship leader at least felt like he delivered a sermon!) and enjoyed the singing by the children’s and youth choirs, he couldn’t bear it any longer and I took him outside.  It doesn’t seem to matter too much whether I am coming or going because people – children and adults alike – seem to wander in and out of church as is their wont.  I went out of the church as the sermon-proper started in a confusing mix of KiSwahili and odd bits of English thrown in for our benefit.  We could just about get bits of meaning out of these precious bits of English, but the thread of the sermon was a bit lost on me, especially because of coming and going with Samuel!   My hope was to go out with Sam and have him fall asleep in the sling but alas the children had other ideas.  “Samwell!  Samwell!”  they cheered as they grabbed at him and hauled him around (4 year olds here know how to handle babies so I wasn’t too worried!) and tried to get him to laugh.  There was no way I was going to get him to sleep here!  I got out his toy truck (from Kampala so it fits in locally) and the children played with it for him to watch and grab.  The children are so considerate of him but he can’t help but be different and therefore an attraction for them so they all want to interact with him.  I went back into the service with Sam hoping that the singing that had just started would lull him to sleep.  Alas the cocophony that was the choir singing Les Dawson style with the keyboard was not sleep-inducing!  Gareth had a turn taking him out while I sat and tried to focus on why I was at church: concentrating on God and prayer has been a bit difficult ever since Samuel came into existence!  A few moments later just as the 20 minutes of singing ended (it was a special extended time of singing as someone’s husband had died and she finds singing comforting so the church was helping her by singing a lot) I heard a little squeal coming from outside.  Oh great, he has found a second – or even third – wind!  The wind did not last for long so with a sigh of commitment to the cause, I took Samuel out again with the sling and walked up the road, biscuit in Sam’s hand.  As I walked, I saw cows.  I saw goats.  I saw children.  I saw dust.  I heard the familiar cry of ‘mzungu baby!’ and the pitter patter of feet running to touch the baby.  I thought about how lucky I was to be living here where people come and talk to us and thank me for having a baby (seriously)!   Fortunately for my sanity, the children on the road left Samuel alone and he eventually drifted off with one last half-hearted point at a goat.  I went back into the service just as the sermon was finishing and the worship leader was again going up the front.  “Oh no,” I thought, “I’ve just got him to sleep and he’s going to wake up again and nugget around!” but the worship leader made a comment and then the pastor said something serious in KiSwahili.  He then said in English “So, it is now 1pm and we are going to go up till 2 today.”  Oh no!  “But” (yes? Yes?!!) “you can go now because you have a little boy to sort out.  We are going to stay together for this man’s wife to comfort her and stay with her.”  It took a little while to realise that he meant for us to leave with Sam (still sleeping in my arms) so that they could stay together longer and they wouldn’t have to do the service in English too.  They wanted to be together for the woman whose husband had died.  I then had a mixture of emotions of ‘thank goodness we can go and get Samuel some food as he will be mad when he wakes up hungry’, and ‘but we are here to offer our comfort too’.   However, the pastor was adamant that we should leave and it seemed actually as though the church wanted to mourn together and comfort each other without having to translate their emotions or have strangers in their midst.  If it was this time in a few months I would have stayed, but since we are still strangers we felt it right to leave.
So we went to find lunch.  It was late now so we stopped off at a restaurant and ordered a tomato and cheese sandwich for Samuel since he had woken up now.  It came in record time, but not before he had got overexcited and grabbed a metal chair that had then collapsed on his face as he plummeted backwards.  Luckily he seems to bounce and be quite well ‘ard so he resumed play before long.   He is too curious and excitable to stay down for long.  He ate his sandwich and we went to the market to buy bananas to the reoccurring theme tune of “Mzungu baby!  Thank you for having a baby!”  The sky was rumbling by now so we hurried back home on a boda – Sam’s first ride.  As we rounded the corner to our house we heard the sound of excited ululating!  What was happening?!  I thought.  I looked around and saw that the source of the women’s excitement was indeed a mzungu baby on a boda!  Samuel waved at them regally and we arrived at our house.  I put Samuel to bed and started to bake bread, as I do every two days.  I also made a papaya cake since it works similarly to apple when baking.  I popped them both in the oven and helped Gareth move beds around as we would be having eight guests the next day.  In this humidity just moving breaks a sweat so it was tough work moving the beds from the house to the out buildings but it was done soon.  Samuel woke up prematurely from his nap and came to play in the living room while I ironed my husband’s pants, my son’s nappies and my bras!  Considering I never ironed a single thing at home this is certainly a turn-up for the books!  (Ironing is necessary to get rid of mango fly eggs that may have been laid whilst drying).  Samuel seems to want full attention so I then helped him do some colouring for pictures to send home.  He has just learned to put crayon to paper and paint to finger so we are getting some ‘nice’ pictures and a lot of body art!
Then disaster struck!  I went to check the bread and pawpaw cake after almost an hour (it is a very slow oven!) and the gas was off!  The canister had run out!  But the bread!  The cake!  It will be ruined!  Gareth was sent off to get a new canister as I gave Samuel left-over sandwich from the restaurant for his tea (we were going to eat the bread and cake!)  When Gareth got to the place where he thought he could get a new canister he was told that they don’t have it, he would have to go to a drugstore.  Hmm.  Thought Gareth.  Interesting.  He followed instructions and went to the mysterious drug store where there were, indeed, canisters inside a metal cage.  “Can I have a new gas canister please?” he asked politely.  “The man with the key has gone.”  Ha ha ha ha ha!  The age-old African phrase!  The man with the key is always gone!  Thinking of my half-baked cake and bread in the oven and with belly rumbling, Gareth ploughed on: “Please can I phone the man with the key and ask him to come here?”  Yes was the reply and in a shockingly short space of time the man with the key arrived and the gas canister transaction took place.  Gareth hot-footed it back to the house and plugged in the gas as I put Sammy Chops to bed.  Alas, an hour later the bread was fine but the cake could not be saved.  I slopped it out into a tub and we picked at it as it was still delicious, but rather sloppy!  The guests arriving tomorrow would have no cake after all.
After tea of bread and banana, I got on with the house work.  Sweeping up Sam’s crumbs is essential because of the ants, and the night before I had ‘doomed’ the house (bug spray called doom) so I went around sweeping up the dead bugs left in its wake.  I had a cockroach, several beetles, gazillions of ants, two centipedes and a couple of moths in my dustpan by the end.  Ugh.  Oh well, at least Samuel wouldn’t eat them.  So now, just the kitchen to clear up.   Boil the kettle, fill the washing up bowl, wipe the surface eight times to prevent ants, put everything in air-tight containers, sweep and mop the kitchen floor, go around the house locking doors and shutting windows ready for the storm that was coming and put out the lights.  Bed time at last.  A moment’s peace, then …the familiar sound of a P.A. system being booted up.  The Pentecostal church started its all night prayer.  D’oh!