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!

Sunday 19 June 2011

Subscribing - Technical Update.

Apparently people have been having difficulty subscribing due to a spelling error (an extra U in Mzungu) in the html code on the" Subscribe" page.  Dave Mewes please let me know if it now works or if there is still a problem!

Kasese Central Baptist Church (KCBC)

On Saturday evening we had Pastor Alphonse and his wife Alice round for dinner.  Not knowing what to cook them we opted for African food and made them rice, beans and a chicken stew – it seemed a good choice for them as they ate well, but unfortunately I’ve been suffering from one of those mysterious traveller’s sickness bugs and have been mostly living off glucose biscuits and porridge oats for the last few days, so couldn’t eat any.  It was lovely to spend time with them, to learn more of their family history, the history of the local area, the hard times they’ve come through and the priorities of their ministry in Kasese (although Alphonse is the Pastor, Alice studied at Bible College with him and they work as a team).
On Sunday morning after a night of torrential rain and thunderstorms Alice turned up with three of her five children to “take us” to church (ie they all squeezed into the back of our fortunately large car and told me where to drive to). Kasese Central Baptist Church is one of four Baptist Churches in Kasese (or five depending on who you ask, but that’s a whole other story), and at 10am there were very few people there, the service therefore didn’t start until 1025, but by 11 the building was full with maybe 70 adults and about 20 children.  The men sat on the left on plastic garden chairs and the women and children on the right on hard wooden benches – as is common throughout much of Africa – which allowed Samuel to shuttle between us, play with other small children, or dance in the aisle as he saw fit! 
Having hymn books in Lukhongo, Swahili and English was a bit confusing, and there weren’t enough Swahili ones, but as many of the Swahili hymns are direct translations from English to the same tune you can sing along in either language!  It sounds cliché to go on about how great African singing is (and to be honest it isn’t always), but the choir is amazing and only twelve singers (11 female and 1 male) managed to lift the roof off with their joyful singing and dancing in their purple robes, skilfully accompanied by a boy producing most of the sounds of a whole drum kit from one African drum, and by another boy on a keyboard who would have sounded great if he’d always been in the same key as the singers!  The Pastor also invited Bethan to sing a song which she did with her usual confidence and skill.  Luckily I was only asked to say a closing prayer, which is considerably less scary than singing in front of so many people!  Our BUU colleague Chris preached.  As he is Acholi and doesn’t speak Swahili or Lukhongo he preached in English with the Pastor translating into Swahili, which made it a lot easier for us.  We finished by 1pm which was good by African standards.
This week we will start our Swahili training in earnest and attempt to move on from the greetings and numbers we have mastered so far.  As the population of Kasese includes Bakhongo, Congolese, some Acholi, a few Bugandans and some Ruchiga and Rotoro, each of whom have their own language, learning Swahili will be the way ahead if we are to avoid getting lost in a bewildering concoction of tribal languages!
For those who are interested yesterday it reached 31c and over 60% humidity - which is a tiring combination.  Today following the rain it felt pleasantly cool at only 25c!

For those who pray:
·         We give thanks that we have been made so welcome in a church that is clearly striving to serve God and its community.
·         Please ask God that he continues to deliver me from this weakening sickness and gets me back on proper food soon.
·         That we have a skilled and gentle nurse to give Samuel a jab tomorrow (we have the vaccine and needle in our fridge but need a nurse to administer it).

Friday 17 June 2011

My first Birthday - by Samuel D Shrubsole.

Today I’m feeling very important because it’s my first Birthday.  I want to tell you about all the exciting things I’ve seen in the last few days.

The last few days in the big city were very hectic, and I seemed to spend a lot of time in the back of a car while Mummy and Daddy rushed around meeting people, buying things for us and sorting out all my injections.  I had fun playing with some new friends, but I was also sad to see other children not much older than me begging on the streets.

Yesterday we left the big city.  Our big car was full of bags and boxes and there was another big car with Alex and Chris full of more bags and boxes – it looked like lifting them all in and out was hard work so I kept out of the way!  The journey was long – 370 kilometres and it took five and a half hours of driving.  Mummy and Daddy shared the driving and seemed pleased that so many of the roads had new proper tarmac on them.  I got bored after a while and annoyed with all the big speedhumps so we took a long stop for lunch in a lovely looking place called Fort Portal and I was able to crawl around and chase a cat on the terrace of a restaurant.

The view was beautiful as we drove towards the mountains which mark the edge of Uganda.  I saw lots of cows and thousands of big trees – even Christmas trees which you don’t expect in Africa.  Some people walking to fetch water or out of school waved at me, so I waved back because I’m a friendly boy.

When we got to our new house in Kasese none of us could believe how big it is – and the garden is even bigger.  It’s got banana trees, papaya trees, a young mango tree and a whole separate building where some Christian lawyers work – all with a massive wall around it with pretty flowers growing over the top and some metal gates.  I was very pleased to sleep in my proper cot for the first time in ages and to have my very own bedroom.

When I got up this morning all the boxes and bags had been packed away and there were nice pictures up to remind me of all my family and friends in England.  Mummy and Daddy had a meeting with a Pastor who their going to work with – apparently a Pastor is the African word for a Vicar or Minister - I don’t really know, I took a morning nap.  I had lots of lovely cards and presents to open today.  Thank you very much to everyone who sent me something, they made me smile.  This house has a really long corridor and a concrete floor so I’ve had great fun pushing my “Samitruck” that Grandpa made me, or getting rides on it.

I like having our own home again, but it seems we aren’t the only ones living here.  There was a big heron in the garden today and a few small lizards on the walls. There was also a cockroach in Mummy and Daddy’s room which Mummy didn’t like.  Every time I spill some food or make a mess hundreds of ants come and try and eat it up, so Mummy and Daddy are constantly cleaning up after me – but they had good training at Grandpop’s house.
This afternoon we walked into town and went to the market to get food.  It was very hot and lots of people wanted to say hello to me, and to pinch my white skin.  At first I thought they were wishing me a happy birthday, but it turns out they just aren’t used to seeing white babies here.  It’s been an exciting week, I wonder what my next birthday will be like?

Sunday 12 June 2011

Freight, Vehicles and life in Kampala.

We are glad to be able to say that we now have all our belongings here in Kampala.  This followed one trip down to Entebbe to meet Henry, a freight agent, at 3pm – which turned out to be 5pm, to sign some customs forms and handover my passport.  The following day (Friday), I had to meet the same official at 9am outside Kampala central police station to give him the keys to the trunks (which he hadn’t asked for the day before), and he turned up at 9.30.  We then had a meeting with all the staff at the Baptist Union of Uganda (BUU) office in Kampala – but not the President and General Secretary because their clutch blew up.  We did enjoy meeting the other staff however, who were all very friendly.  Alex and I then started heading towards Entebbe to meet Henry at 2pm.  Having discovered that the freight wouldn’t be ready by then we detoured to a tyre dealer to replace the front tyres on the Landcruiser.  We got to Entebbe at 3.30 and then spent another two hours in the airport waiting for various other customs forms and checks to be completed before finally collecting all our freight at 6pm and then driving back to get back into Kampala before dark.  Of course we didn’t make it before dark and had the joy of fighting our way back through night-time traffic across the city – jostling through heavily laden bicycles, kamikaze motor-bike taxis, swarming mini-bus taxis (Matatus), police trucks, beeping cars and wandering pedestrians.  We even followed a guy on roller-blades who was hanging off the wheel-arch of a Toyota as it pulled him around roundabouts and over potholes!  Driving in Africa is an art which we are rapidly re-acquiring.

On Saturday we had a day to ourselves and the opportunity to meet up with old friends in Kampala, so we strapped Samuel into his car-seat and turned the key to a deafening silence – a flat battery in the Landcruiser!  Luckily we were able to borrow our colleagues RAV4 and made it into town where we enjoyed meeting two old friends and doing some shopping in “Garden City” – where you can buy just about anything.  That afternoon I had a lesson in how to use jump-leads as we jump-started the Landcruiser off the RAV4 – which we had to do again on Sunday.  We will be getting new batteries before the long journey to Kasese next week.

We went to a local Baptist Church on Sunday which had services in English which “only” last 2 hours.  After 1.5 hours Sam was fed up so I took him outside where he enjoyed meeting two young Ugandan babies sitting with their mothers outside the church.  This afternoon we enjoyed a fantastic BBQ with the couple and two other families who are the BMS team in Uganda, and Sam enjoyed playing with their children.  We’ve really enjoyed getting to know them this week – as well as being very friendly and good fun, they are all older than us and have valuable experiences of parenthood in Uganda with older children which we can learn from.
Thanks again for all your prayers and best wishes - especially that everything turned up in one piece!

The Kampala City Orchestra

At dusk Kampala’s conductor tunes up his orchestra.  Cockerels: slightly out of tune but in good voice.  Stray dogs: perfectly in pitch although not always together.  The neighbour’s radio: overwhelming the entire orchestra and also not quite in tune.  The music begins in earnest at about 8pm. It is not a concert I would pay money for – for starters they don’t seem to be on the same page let alone playing from the same symphony.  The dogs hardly seem aware of the cockerels and the radio can’t decide which piece he is playing.  The climax comes at about 10pm when the conductor begins the second movement. The composer seems to have chosen the strategy of involving many choirs in his masterpiece as the first Pentecostal church begins with a repetitive chord sequence on his Casio keyboard and a little wailing down a distorted microphone.  The church round the corner joins in at full volume at 12 midnight but may have missed their cue, since the others all started an hour ago.  However they do seem to have the same keyboard and overly-loud distorted sound system, so they fit in nicely.  The conductor pulls and drags the orchestra in such an accomplished way that we are pulled into his ups and downs, at times believing the symphony will end and at other times believing it would go on forever.  I must admit I dozed off at around 1am, so I missed the third movement, but if the fourth movement at 6am was anything to go by, it was all pretty much the same except the dogs had finally sung their piece and gone to bed and the radio had been retired.  The final few bars were captivating, with wailing and fervent praying over the super-sonic sound system.  Finally, 12 hours after it started, the conductor drew his weary orchestra to a close with a Muslim call to prayer from a local Mosque and the symphony faded out into peace.  At 7am the city was calm and still.  Little Samuel stirred and began chattering, having slept peacefully through the entire performance.  Unlike his mum and dad!

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Arrival in Uganda!

We arrived in Entebbe this morning at about 8am and were met by one of the BMS team in what will become our Toyota Landcruiser (a big 4x4).  The flight itself went smoothly, Sam didn't like all the check in and taxi-ing much, but once the plane was airborne he slept well and with minimum fuss, and we were well looked after by the cabin crew.

It took some effort to compress our 5 bags, 2 massive parcels, guitar, handluggage and 4 people into the Landcruiser but we did it and enjoyed the short journey on the beautiful road from Entebbe up to Kampala, passing along the shores of Lake Victoria.  Uganda is as beautiful and colourful as we remember it.  Temperatures are in the high 20s and fairly humid but we'll soon get used to that.

We are staying with Deb and Dug a lovely BMS couple in their flat in the north of Kampala.  Today they took us to "Garden City" where we bought a fantastic internet "Dongle" (with which I am writing this, courtesy of Orange Broadband), and went to register at "The Surgery", where we have already arranged Sam's next injections and purchased Malaria testing and treatment kits and various anti-biotics for common traveller's ailments - so we are well prepared.

Saying goodbye to all our loved ones was really tough, but we're glad to be here and looking forward to getting to know lots of key people here in Kampala before we head west to Kasese next Wednesday.

Thanks for all your prayers and best wishes - especially those who prayed that Sam would sleep on the plane!

For those who prefer paper letters to all this IT stuff, our postal address will be:

Bethan and Gareth Shrubsole
P.O. Box 91