Friday 28 December 2012

Women's First Cake - By Bethan

For those of you who have been following ‘my’ women’s co-operative who are learning baking and general café skills to open a café in Kasese town some time in the next year, you will be pleased to know the following:  The women got their first contract for cakes!  I spent two full days with a mixture of joy and trepidation as I wondered a)will the women turn up in time to cook it, ice it and deliver it? And b)will the cake turn out okay and look good/taste good/be well received so that the women get more work?

The ladies kept good time (that is, within one hour of when they should have arrived three of the six were here!) and the lemon cake was cooked to perfection.  As it cooked we experimented with making icing roses with the icing bag.  It turned into a bit of a competition as we tried to see who would do most of the icing in the future!  Most of the women were good at it but one (who has many other assets, as well as being the self-proclaimed ‘grandmother’ of the group!) was hopeless so she has not been allowed near the icing nozzles!  To cut a long story short, (that’s unusual for me!) suffice to say that the icing didn’t roll properly so had to be watered down and spread, almost causing me to break down in tears of frustration! but the rest of it went well and the cake was delivered in one piece and rumour was that it was enjoyed in ‘the village’ by four daughters whose birthday it was.

Not much profit was made from this cake, but hopefully word has got out that these women are starting business and that the cakes are yummy!  Please pray that this happens and that business can start for these women even though they have not yet opened their café.  Savings are nearing the target of 1.2million and are due to hit that peak in two months’ time so watch this space as we hope to have opened by Easter to catch the tourist trade and local students coming home for the holiday.

Thanks to everyone for your prayers of support.  Any ideas as to how to roll royal icing without it sticking to the table anyone?  See the picture of our first cake in the gallery.

Friday 21 December 2012

Light into Darkness

This Christmas people all over the world will be re-reading the Old Testament prophecies that foretold the coming of Christ the Messiah, as a baby.  In Isaiah 9.2-7, we read that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;… and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

The theme of light continues throughout Isaiah (esp 49.6 & 58.6-10), and is echoed in the Sermon on the Mount, with Jesus telling us to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your father who is in heaven” (Matthew, 5.16).

It was a real privilege therefore during this Advent to be able to physically bring light to a community that lacked it.  Some of you have heard about Kahokya Baptist Church before, a small building on a steep slope in a remote village in the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains which is only accessible by a narrow and steep dirt track.  Its Pastor, Baluku Mbalizwa is a man of vision and real passion who established the church after he left the DR Congo in 1997 and has also set up, at his own expense, a small health clinic to serve his community.  The people of Kahokya walk for an hour down a steep hill to get water from a tap in the valley, struggling back up with heavy jerry-cans on their heads, and even walk for an hour round-trip to charge their mobile phones at the nearest trading centre.  Their children return from school after sunset and struggle to do their homework with kerosene lamps which are expensive, dim, unhealthy, and dangerous – or don’t do their homework at all for lack of lighting.

Thanks to a generous private donation from the UK; and to some training, advice and equipment from an English NGO (, Bury St Edmonds); I returned to Uganda in October hoping to establish a solar project at Kahokya B.C.  However, as many people know, physics was my worst subject at school and whilst I’m game for most forms of DIY I have a fear of most things electrical, coupled with a low competency!  Thankfully, Alfonse introduced me to Amisi Katalaliko, from our church (KCBC) who is a qualified electrician employed by Kilembe Investments on rural electrification projects.  Amisi generously agreed to offer his time and expertise and we did a planning visit to Kahokya along with my Dad back in October.  Fitting around Amisi’s working hours we spent much of the next 7 weeks purchasing a large folding ladder, U-bolts, a Gel-battery, wiring, switches etc; commissioning a carpenter to make a bespoke lockable wooden equipment cabinet with multiple phone charging sections on the top; and getting a special secure frame welded for the solar panel – which was done by Eric from KCBC, who is a good metal worker, and the best male singer in our church choir!  The plan was that by mid-December the rainy season would have finished, and so the road would be dry.

Meanwhile in Kahokya the church constructed a little guardhouse so someone can sleep there each night to protect the equipment, and made doors for the church’s two rooms.

Last Saturday Amisi and I loaded up the car and drove to Kahokya, excited about the project, relieved that the track was dry, and slightly bemused by the unusually low cloud base we drove through as we climbed our way up to Kahokya, arriving just before 10am.  We then worked hard all day until about 9.30pm.  By getting the lighting working first, we were then able to work on through the evening under the impressively bright glare of 5w/12v LED light-bulbs. The activity of any mzungu  in an African village is usually a spectator sport, so it was no surprise that our every move was being watched by crowds of largely silent children and adults of all ages.  Word had spread that electricity was somehow arriving at the church, so leaders from other churches and local politicians also turned up to greet us, thank us, or see what the fuss was about!  It was only as the sun dropped behind the mountains over neighbouring DR Congo and the sky turned from a brief but beautiful pink to an intense blackness that I started to realise just how significant this light could be.  People who would otherwise have dispersed at sunset stayed in the church chatting, listening to Newcastle play Man City on a battery-powered radio (yes there really is no escaping Premiership football!), or just watching what was happening and enjoying the light. 

By bed time we’d also managed to connect up all the 12v car-socket phone chargers so that six mobile phones can be charged simultaneously, and fitted switches so that the battery load can effectively be controlled from within the lockable box. I say we, Amisi was the star of the electrical work, I mostly drilled holes, drove screws, stripped wire and passed him the right tools when he was balanced on the ladder!  Nonetheless by the time I collapsed into my military-issue popup mosquito net and sheet-sleeping bag I was exhausted and slept quite soundly, despite the inevitable digestive implications of having eaten large amounts of African food.  I woke up shivering cold at about 5.30am to the almighty drumming of an African rainstorm pounding onto the church’s corrugated roof, punctuated only by the raindrops that didn’t bounce off the roof but worked their way through to drip on us below.  We have the luxury of a tiled roof on our house in Kasese, but for millions of Africans the incessant din of rain on a metal roof, and the ensuing drips and dampness is a daily experience.  As it continued to pour for the next few hours it was clear that church was not going to start at 10am so I got on with teaching the Pastor’s son about how to manage the project with regard to saving money for battery replacement, managing daily battery-load, recording income from phone charging etc.

Indeed, after over a year in Uganda I’m slowly realising why time is such an elastic, if not dispensable, concept here.  No-one in their right mind goes out in an African rainstorm, so clearly church would just start after it finished.  As there’s little else to do in a Ugandan village on a Sunday it doesn’t really matter what the clock says.  Sure enough the rain stopped soon after 11 and church started at around 12 and finished around 2.30pm.  As parents of a toddler this often drive us bananas, but as I was on my own this time, it was much easier to go with the flow!  Although much of it was in Lukhongo, of which I am woefully ignorant (we’ve been learning Swahili), the service clearly had a celebratory feel.  I preached using Isaiah 58.6-10 to explain how the church should best use its new light and power, and Amisi translated.  The two main aims of the project are that the church should use its lights to host children doing homework in the evenings, and bible-studies or other community events; and that it should use the income from charging mobile phones (at 10p a time) to support its ministry and save for future projects, such as fitting guttering and building a rainwater collection tank so that those who are least able don’t have to keep trekking the hills with jerry-cans.  In both aspects it should use the extra attention/new visitors as opportunities to expand its Christian outreach.

If Kahokya B.C. can succeed in these aims, we hope to get funding for similar projects in other rural off-grid Baptist Churches around Kasese District. 

The Pastor gave us a good send-off with a delicious chicken-pulao lunch and the ubiquitous prayer for “journey-mercies”.  In this case, they were much needed as the torrential rains had washed away sections of the track, flooded others and turned parts of it into slippery mud.  When driving in such conditions less is more.  If you fight with the steering wheel you lose.  If you brake you slide, and if you stop you get stuck.  The only solution is to keep a steady, but low speed and a loose-grip on the steering wheel allowing the car to follow the ruts and rivets where it can find the best grip.  The resulting bumps, shakes, and occasional forays into the edges of fields are pretty terrifying, but by the grace of God and the strength of Toyota we made it home.  A return visit for monitoring is planned in February, by which time it really will be dry season!

Prayer Requests:

1.     Give thanks for the private donation, the support of Guguplex and the time and skill of Amisi which made it possible to install this project in Kahokya B.C.

2.     Pray that the solar-equipment will not be stolen, vandalised or damaged, and that it can be used effectively to serve the community and glorify God.

3.     Pray for all those for whom this Christmas may be a time of darkness – in any sense of the word – that they may know the love and light of Christ.

Happy Christmas!


Monday 12 November 2012

The things people say. By Bethan.

I don’t write often so I’m sorry that when I do I can’t stop myself!

I felt cooped up.  Even though I had been out to Rukoki Special Needs school in the morning and arranged some very exciting music therapy work for the coming school year from February onwards and had tested my nerve with the diff-lock through green muddy puddles in which I could see no bottom, Samuel somehow made our house seem very small!

“Right!  We’re going for a walk!”  I ordered.  I got out the factor 50 and chased Sam round the house lathering it on his protesting face.  “Go use the potty.”  I said to my newly-potty-trained toddler.  He has been doing so well with very few wee accidents and it is in fact very comical to see him sitting playing quite happily then all of a sudden grab his bottom and shout “ME NEED POO!  QUICK!” and sprint to the bathroom as though he was being chased by a hippo!  Just as we thought we had cracked the potty-training, two incidents occurred today: Firstly the wiff of guilt as a fresh poo lay on Jonah’s play-mat and secondly Samuel squatting on the floor over another pile.  “What happened Sam, why didn’t you use the potty, it’s only two metres away from you.”  “Me fall over, mummy.” Was the reply followed by “me do poo.”  Oh toddlers, you are so very amusing and frustrating in one cute little package!

I digress.

The boys were creamed, Jonah was packed into his carrier and we set off through the gate with red pick-up and nee-nor car.  Our neighbour’s drive made for a perfect “doof” scenario so we sat for a while in the shade while Samuel played out the previous week’s car fiasco.  “Mummy wheel big hole – doof!  Daddy get out help car back on road.”  He narrated to himself as the red pick-up helped the nee-nor car out of a miniature ravine in the dirt driveway.  Toddlers hide no secrets and I was permanently reminded of my little wheel-stuck-down-a-hole transgression.  I was just going into a dream with Jonah hanging off my front in his sling when a man carrying two small jerry-cans greeted me.  “Good evening.” He said.  (It was only 3.30pm but apparently that makes it evening.)  We exchanged pleasantries (at least I did.  Samuel grunted and squawked as is his embarrassing way currently when a Ugandan greets him).  “I am a mountain dweller,”  said the man, matter-of-factly.  “I wish I had a stallion because small boys like to use those mules but I am a mere mountain dweller.”

“It’s okay, really.”  I replied, not quite sure what to do with this information or what the information actually was in the first place.

“The face is like a map of Africa.  The hands can raise hair above the head and that is why Africa has to be so humble.”  He paused as he saw the look on my face trying to catch his drift.  “It is a metaphor.  Are you getting me?”

“Oh yes,” I lied.  He turned as if to go and wished me a nice day.  After a second thought he turned on his heel and said to me “Do you know Jesus?”

“Yes.” I replied.  “I know him very well.”

“Good.  I was taught in school that you people brought us that religion from Europe.”

“Well that’s not strictly true,” I pondered.   “There was a disciple called Philip who was traveling through Ethiopia and spread the Gospel to an Ethiopian man who was then baptised long before anyone in Europe had heard about Christianity.”  I hoped my details were correct.  People who know me know I’m not one for remembering facts!  This information set him wondering and he went off to collect his water in his two small jerry-cans.

I told Samuel that he should rescue his red pick-up once more and then we could continue on our walk.  We had, after all, in half an hour, only reached the neighbour’s drive!  He dutifully unearthed the nee-nor car from under a pile of rubble (with red pick-up’s help of course) and trotted next to me saying “nee-nor car – doof!  Red pick-up help nee-nor car.  Help help help!”  “Yes Sam.”  I replied on auto.

We walked to the digger-park where there are two decrepit diggers and four other types of diggers (sorry can’t be more exact on what types they are despite reading Sam’s digger book to him several times a day).  This is a day-trip in itself as Samuel gets so excited about it and, let’s be fair, there’s not a lot else to do to entertain him!  At the digger park a man greeted me and asked me if I was married.  “Yes” I replied.  “To a mzungu.”  I added that last bit because he had that look in his eye that people get when they are about to say the following: “You should marry an African so that you can have good coloured babies.”  And yes, that is what he said.  I had read correctly!  “Eh!  I’m sorry, but I only want to marry one man and I already have him.  I cannot marry a Ugandan now.”  I knew what was coming next.  “Do you have sisters?”  he asked, in all seriousness.  “No.  I’m Muhindo and last born.”  This was an intrinsic way of saying I have only brothers since Muhindo means a change from one sex to another in the birth order.  “But what of others.  … Surely your father must have siblings and they have family that may help me?”  “I have cousins but they are married.” I lied.  Well he doesn’t have to know, and my female cousins will thank me for not landing them in being the (probably) third concurrent wife of an aging Ugandan man!  He suddenly lost all interest in the conversation and left without even saying goodbye.  I shook my head to myself at the randomness of today’s conversational offerings.

I finally dragged Sammy away from the diggers and we hauled ourselves up the hill in the heat to our house.  You will never guess who was waiting there sitting outside our drive-way with his jerry-cans now full, ready to continue our conversation!  “I was waiting for you to come back.  I have been thinking of this Ethiopian man and it made me realise that God was revealing something to me to tell you.”  Uh-oh I thought.  “What do you think it was about Mary that made her become the mother of Jesus?  You know that girls should grow their hair beyond their knees then when they breathe out the spirits go into cows and they may bear angels or cherubs.  It is Bibilical!”

“Oh?”  Well what else could I say?

… I can’t even go on to describe the direction the conversation took from here but it involved all sorts of fantasies about young virgins giving birth to small cherubim and as I turned into our compound (I had opened the gate to let Sammy in) the teenage boys who were slashing the grass looked at me and burst into laughter.  “Do you know him?”  They taunted.  “Uh, no.  But he is certainly an interesting character!” I responded.  “He is crazy!” they said and almost rolled around on the floor laughing at the conversation I had endured.  Aha.  There indeed is one in every village…

Monday 5 November 2012


It’s been a busy few weeks since our return to Kasese on 15th October.  It was wonderful to have my Dad with us for the first fortnight, and he made himself very useful helping us fix various things around the house and building a tree-house for Sam in our garden.  Thankfully our initial tummy-bugs cleared after the first week or so, and we were able to return to our normal pace.  On his last day in Kasese Dad accompanied me to Kahokya Baptist Church, which we had first visited shortly before we left Uganda.

Getting to Kahokya is quite an adventure, as you drive down towards the equator and then turn and climb up the beautiful road which heads towards the DR Congo.  Long before the border however, we turned off the tarmac road and drove 16km on dirt tracks of ever deteriorating quality and increasing steepness through farms and villages, until we finally reached Kahokya in the foothills of the Rwenzori mountains.  The vision for Kahokya is to install a 65W solar system which will provide the church with light for the evenings, and the capacity to charge multiple mobile-phones during the day, and so earn an income (more details to follow).  During this visit we had good discussions with the Pastor and made all the measurements of the church required to make a detailed wiring plan.  The Pastor then took us back to his home to meet some of his ten children and many grandchildren.  As we left, Dad was presented with a chicken – a great honour for any visitor here!

Uganda is a wonderful place to visit and very hospitable to outsiders.  We’ve had some recent reminders, however, of just how tough life is for so many Ugandans. One of the toddlers who comes to Daycare was badly burned by a cooking fire whilst at home and died after a few days in hospital.  One of the reasons for establishing the daycare was to reduce the prevalence of such tragedies, but of course we only operate during the working week.  The following weekend Daycare was broken into and money stolen from the cashbox, probably as a consequence of Alpha School’s nightguard having recently been killed in town, therefore leaving the school and project site much more vulnerable, until a replacement could be found.

With these sad things in mind, we were particularly keen for our first Graduation of 15 trainees from the tailoring and carpentry courses to be a success on Friday.  Under Bethan’s patient instruction, the women’s co-operative from Central Baptist Church spent two afternoons making and icing a massive graduation cake, while the rest of the committee were busy inviting local leaders, making certificates, buying refreshments and decorating Alpha’s School Hall with beautiful bougainvillea branches (from our garden wall) and “local streamers” (ie rolls of toilet paper!).  Typically, the 2pm ceremony started at gone 3pm and the local politician and his entourage, who was our guest of honour, didn’t turn up until 5.15pm.  However, an extra-long sermon from our Chairman Rev Sitarico, and a couple more songs from Alpha School’s choir padded out this waiting time, and no-one seemed to mind.  Sam mostly entertained himself pushing around some bottle-cap wheels on the end of a long reed-pole, in true African style, and Jonah was passed around for cuddles from almost every woman there, so we were proud and relieved that our two small boys didn’t disrupt the lengthy proceedings.  There were many speeches and presentations in different languages, of varying lengths, but it was pleasing to hear local leaders referring to the skills training project as part of a “new Acholi Quarter”, turning its back on its reputation as a hotbed of crime and despair.  That said, its status as amongst the highest in the country for rates of HIV infection, shows that there is still much to be done here.  One surprising, but very touching event was that the co-operative formed by our first class of tailors and carpenters presented Bethan and I with a matching African dress and shirt that they had made.  We were touched that they wanted to do this for us, and seriously impressed that they fitted us so well without any measurements being taken!  The quality of this shirt and dress are testimony to the skill of our tailoring teacher Zhile Kighoma, and to the hard work of his students.  It was dark by the time the ceremony was complete and the delicious cake had been eaten, but it was a wonderful day, and it was great that Bethan’s Birthday should fall on such a positive occasion!  (We deferred celebrating her Birthday properly until the weekend!).


·         Give thanks that we recovered from our initial illnesses and for my Dad’s successful and safe visit.

·         Give thanks for all the funding, hard-work, skills and prayers which have sustained the Skills-training and Daycare projects through their first year, despite all the challenges in Acholi Quarter.

·         Pray for the trainees who have graduated, for their successful future employment/own businesses, and that the investment that has been made in them will bear fruit for their families and the community as a whole.

·         Pray for the current batch of trainees, and for our staff, that they will be inspired to do even better on this course, and build on the progress already made.

·         Pray for the family of the child from daycare who died from burns, and for all the other families who suffer too often from needless and preventable deaths.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Home Assignment and Return to Kasese.

The rumbling thunder, chirruping of birds outside and the revving of motorbikes climbing the hill to Kilembe signify that we are in our house in Kasese.  The hungry cries of our 3-month old baby Jonah however, remind us that we haven’t been here all year, but just returned this week following 4 months of parental leave and Home Assignment in the UK.

Clearly the most significant event of the summer was the safe arrival of a second healthy boy Jonah in July, and we thank God for blessing us with such a calm baby, who seems to have taken all the changes of his first three months comfortably within his little stride.
It was a busy summer, and we weren’t allowed to let the grass grow under our feet.  In June and September we spoke at 17 church services, 2 youth groups, 1 harvest supper, 1 ladies’ fellowship and 1 scout troop all over England and Wales.  Gareth also completed a research paper for BMS.  Although this schedule was tiring for a young family, we were bowled over by the generous hospitality we received wherever we went, and by the interest and enthusiasm shown for the work in Kasese, often combined with support through prayer and giving.  One of my favourite passages of scripture is 1 Cor 12 where Paul describes the church as the body of Christ, united through the integration of very different component parts.  We were really reminded of this as we travelled around the UK and witnessed the passion and commitment with which so many churches are addressing the challenges of their own communities, as well as supporting work overseas.

It was a good summer to be British and in Britain with the Diamond Jubilee and London Olympics and Paralympics, and thanks to my brother’s knack of seeming to know exactly how to procure tickets we had the pleasure of going to both tournaments and being inspired by everything we saw.
Undoubtedly the highlight of the summer was spending so much time with our families, especially for Sam to play with his grandparents and his many aunts, uncles and cousins.  It was also a real pleasure to stay in our own house and community in Cambridge and re-establish old friendships – often accompanied by eating cheese, bacon, sausages and other delicacies not available in rural Uganda!

Such a long period in the UK therefore, made it hard to uproot ourselves all over again, but it did also give us plenty of time to think, read and reflect about the work we’ve returned to and to make plans.  We got on the plane on 11 October, mentally and emotionally refreshed and excited to be returning to Kasese for another two years.  The journeys went smoothly, greatly aided by my Dad who has joined us for two weeks and helped us to shepherd our two children and mountains of baggage through the airports.  After a weekend in Kampala we made it back to Kasese safely in our heavily loaded car followed by an even more heavily loaded pick-up truck full of tools and sewing machines from the excellent charity “Tools With A Mission”, despite torrential rain which flooded parts of the road.
It was wonderful to return to beautiful Kasese and to catch up with all our friends and colleagues here who greeted us with genuine warmth.  Unfortunately our bodies have not yet caught up with our minds and seem to have gone on strike in response to this move.  With the merciful exception of Jonah, all of us have been ill with combinations of high temperatures, vomiting and severe diarhorrea, which, when combined with incessant heavy rain and long power-cuts, have really sapped our strength and dented our enthusiasm for being here!

If you wish to write to us our address remains:
Gareth and Bethan Shrubsole, PO Box 91, Kasese, UGANDA,  - and post normally takes 2 weeks.

Prayer Requests:

·         Give thanks that we’ve been able to return to Kasese for another two years’ work and for all those whose support to BMS make this possible.

·         Give thanks for baby Jonah, and for his health and his little charm.

·         Pray that we all recover so that we are strong enough to get on with the work we’re here for.

·         Pray for Sam (now 2yrs & 4mnths) who is far more aware of the changes to his life than he was on previous moves, but doesn’t always understand them.

Monday 13 August 2012


The real mark of successful mission practice is not so much what can be achieved with your involvement, but what can be achieved after your involvement.  Over two months since we left Uganda it was a delight to hear by email from Pastor Alfonse that the Skills Centre re-opened today for the start of the second 8-month courses in carpentry & business skills and tailoring & business skills, and that there was a good turnout (the first courses finished at the end of July).

It's also been great to hear that the vegetables we planted in our garden before we left have been harvested to feed the children at Daycare, and that there was such a bumper crop from the banana and paw-paw trees planted by Graeme and Jenny Riddell (BMS missionaries who lived in our house before us), that they fed the children in Daycare and at Alpha School, and Alfonse's family!

The building of a row of shops for rent at Kasese Central Baptist Church (KCBC), which began in April with members of St Andrew's Street Baptist Church and KCBC breaking sweat alongside each digging foundation trenches has also progressed.  The walls are now standing up to ringbeam level.

Prayer Requests:
  • Give thanks for the hard work of Pastor Alfonse, Pastor Alex, Isaiah and other members of KBAC-DC for managing the skills centre and Daycare, and doing all the procurement, recruiting, accounting, and other tasks required to finish the first courses and start the second courses.
  • That the new students will work with enthusiasm and that the staff will inspire them to transform their lives in every sense.
  • For protection of project assets, staff and students from theft, violence, fire, flooding or ill-health - all of which are prevalent in Acholi Quarter.
  • For the shop-building project at KCBC, which, when completed, will give the church much-needed income.
  • Give thanks that baby Jonah (4 weeks) and Bethan are both doing very well, and that we are on track to return to Uganda on 11 October.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

the fourth mzungu...

arrived last night at 11pm!

We are delighted to have been blessed with another boy, Jonah Benjamin Shrubsole.  Birthweight 7 lb 10oz (which is exactly the same as Sam was).

Bethan went into labour naturally on Sunday night at 1 week overdue and continued in early stages of labour both at home and in hospital for 48hours.  She was induced and put on an epidural to speed things up as there were a number of signs of possible distress to baby.  Then late last night the hospital decided to go for a c-section to get baby out, and prevent further risk to baby.  Although this sounds similar to Sam's birth it was all much calmer and we are very grateful to the excellent staff at the Rosie hospital in Cambridge who did everything they could for us with calm professionalism and real care.  Both Bethan and Jonah are doing well, and we thank everyone for their prayers and good wishes.  I'm off to hospital now to see them.  Please see picture gallery for photos.

Monday 11 June 2012

Home Assignment

It’s still rainy season, but the temperatures have dropped steeply – which may be because we’re now in South Wales and not south-west Uganda!

We arrived back in the UK on 30 May after a busy final week of finishing off various bits of work, re-packing all our belongings for travel/secure storage, and preaching at our church on the final Sunday.   The week was made more challenging by a 36 hour power-cut and all three of us suffering from a D&V bug at three day intervals – with Bethan the last to be afflicted on the day that we got an hour-late and hair-raisingly fast taxi ride to Entebbe and then flew back to London Heathrow.  We were quite relieved when we got back to my Dad’s house in Buckinghamshire!

Our first week back in the UK was also pretty busy with medicals in London, speaking at our home church in Cambridge, briefings at BMS HQ in Didcot and visiting both sets of parents in Bucks and Herts.  It was lovely to be back in time for the Jubilee, to enjoy the festivities – especially all the fine food – and to see Britain at its best!

We will be back in the UK for four months, based at our home in Cambridge, and should return to Kasese in early October.  Our second child is due in the first half of July, so most of July and August will be holiday/parental leave.  June and September will be spent visiting some of the many churches who support BMS, without whom it would be impossible for us to live and work in Uganda.   We’ve just completed our first link visits to two different churches in Caerphilly in South Wales – not far from where I was born in Llanishen, Cardiff.   Despite the rain and cold we’ve enjoyed a very warm welcome here from our Welsh churches and it was a privilege to be able to share some of our experiences with them, to worship together in English, and to put friendly faces to the names of people who’ve corresponded with us in Uganda.  The community fruit and vegetable garden at Bethel Baptist Church, Penyrheol, which was supported by a BMS Eco-fund grant, is a reminder that although there are obvious differences between the needs of communities in Uganda and the UK, and the ways in which churches can Minister to them, there is also much that they have in common.

For those who are interested the remainder of our Link church programme is as follows:

16th/17th June – Pantygwdr and Mumbles Baptist Churches, Swansea.
23/24th June – Llanelli Baptist Churches.
1st July – Earl’s Hall Baptist Church, Southend.

1st/2nd September – Markyate Baptist Church, St Albans.
8th/9th September – Nottingham Baptist Churches.

15th/16th September - Haddenham & Little Kimble Baptist Churches.

30 September – St Andrew’s St Baptist Church, Cambridge (our home church).

Obviously we are thrilled to have the opportunity to be able to spend quality time with family and friends, and particularly for Sam – and the new arrival – to spend time with grandparents, aunts/uncles and cousins.  We love Uganda, it is now our home and there are close friends there who we will miss, but here is an A-Z of things we will really appreciate about this time in the UK:

Anonymity in public.
BBC Television.
Direct-debits instead of spending hours in a bank.
Electricity 24/7.
Family & friends.
Going to a pub.
Hot & cold clean water on tap.
Immunity/Isolation from tropical diseases or infections.
Jealousy will not be aimed at us.
Kelloggs cereals.
Living in our own house.
Meat! – especially sausages & bacon.
No mosquitos, bednets or DEET spray.
Orderly queues in shops & traffic jams.
Punctuality (well, up to a point...)
Quiet nights.
Roads without large potholes or excessive speed-bumps.
Sea, especially the beaches of South Wales (if the rain stops...)
The National Health Service.
Understanding conversations without translation.
Visiting different places.
Worship in English.
Xtra help with childcare/babysitting.
Yes meaning yes and no meaning no, without ambiguity.
Zebra crossings where drivers actually stop.

Prayer Requests:

·         For a safe delivery of a healthy baby in July.

·         That our link-church visits will be successful and bring glory to God.

·         For our Ugandan colleagues, especially the project staff and the members of Kasese Baptist Association of Churches – Development Committee (KBAC-DC) as they manage the skills training and daycare projects independently.

Tuesday 22 May 2012


When you spend time living in another very different culture there will inevitably be things that you admire, things that you dislike, and some things that you just don’t really understand.  In the last month we have been confronting the traditions and practices surrounding marriage in Uganda, and particularly, Bride-price.  The payment of dowries is found throughout the world: in India the practice of the bride’s family paying a dowry to the groom is widely believed to be responsible for tens-of-thousands of abortions of female foetuses each year, and a marked preference for having sons.  Paying dowries was also common in Europe until relatively recently, in Jane Austen’s “Pride & Prejudice” Mr Bennett quips that he wished he’d saved more of a fortune with which to “bribe worthless young men to marry my daughters”. 
The East-African system is the other way around.  The groom pays the parents of the bride a dowry – or Bride-price – in order to marry their daughter.  This at least has the advantage that families want both daughters and sons, and there is a financial incentive to educate daughters as it increases their likely bride-price.  This African system is widespread and ancient, indeed it is Biblical.  In 1 Samuel 18, the young and poor David has to pay bride-price to King Saul in order to marry his daughter Michal.  However, just because it is widespread and ancient doesn’t necessarily mean that it is right.
In Uganda the customs surrounding marriage are complicated by the over-lap – and sometimes mismatch – between the laws in the very recent constitution, the teachings and practices of Christianity and Islam, and the traditional practices of each tribal group - which are enshrined in customary law.  Here in mountainous south-west Uganda a Bakhongo groom will usually pay his in-laws a hoe, a blanket, twelve goats, some sugar to sweeten the mother-in-law, and some other gifts which the in-laws may demand.  For cattle-herding people such as the northern Acholi, the price may be measured in cows rather than goats.  The Bride-price is negotiated by various Uncles and Aunts on behalf of the two families at a ceremony known as “Introductions”, which is legally recognised as a customary marriage.  Following payment the bride is “given away” which may happen at the same time or on another occasion.  The significant cost of hosting these celebrations, in addition to finding the hefty bride-price, means that a long period of time may then pass before a religious church/mosque wedding can take place, in order that the groom can find the money required – and there is no such thing as a small wedding in Uganda because every relative and member of the community must be invited, seated, fed, and entertained.  It is common that the bride and groom will start living together following introductions while they save for the church/mosque wedding, although this is sometimes frowned upon. 
Why I am I telling you all this? – Because it’s stuff that we had to learn about very quickly when my closest local friend and colleague welcomed me into his new house that he’d finally finished building for himself, his wife and their 2 year-old daughter, and then burst into tears as he explained that his wife had gone to visit her father – a Police Inspector – who had then detained her at home, and was refusing to release her, or even to let her see him or their daughter, until he had received full payment of the outstanding bride-price.  Having spent every last shilling that he had putting windows and doors on the house he had built them, Isaiah was distraught and ended up in hospital one night after some kind of break-down caused by stress.  Even a doctor’s note requesting that the couple be allowed to see each other for the sake of his health would not move the father-in-law.  Being a European, my first reaction was that this problem was essentially about money, so we mobilised some funds to make a significant contribution towards the twelve goats (some of which are often paid in equivalent cash value).  Being a Christian, my other reaction was that we should start praying about this issue, encourage him and others to pray about it, and counsel him that God probably had no intention of allowing their little girl to be permanently separated from both her parents and that he should not lose hope.  It soon became apparent however, that this situation was more complex.  The father-in-law is a Muslim and was apparently complaining that he didn’t want his daughter marrying a Christian.  It also transpired that Rose was legally a Minor (under 18) when she and Isaiah had their daughter Trust and had not completed secondary school - neither of which is unusual in rural Uganda.  The father-in-law was now therefore trying to send her off to a boarding school in another District.  At this point we sought advice – we got legal advice from the Ugandan Christian Lawyers Fraternity, whose office is in our compound, and Pastor Alfonse spent a whole day with the Imam and Elders of the father-in-law’s mosque learning about the Muslim perspective on issues of marriage, bride-price, parenthood etc.  While all this was going on we were seeing Isaiah daily trying to encourage him, and to dispel unhelpful rumours that another groom had been found who would pay more, or unhelpful suggestions that he should “just find another wife”.  Even once the bride-price had been assembled, the father-in-law was refusing to meet with Isaiah to discuss payment.  Meanwhile other family members were being spoken to and it became apparent that the actions of the father-in-law were unpopular with his own family, unacceptable to the Elders of his mosque, and had no legal justification.  Matters came to a head on the day when Rose was due to go off to boarding school and she refused.  To Europeans it might seem obvious that a twenty-year old should make their own decisions, but defying your father in this culture is a big deal. At this point further family negotiations yielded a result that the Bride price would be paid and accepted, Rose would return to Isaiah and their daughter, and they would make their own plans to complete her education.
Nothing in Uganda is quite that simple however, so once five actual goats and the cash value of the remainder had been raised Isaiah then needed to find three crates of sodas, ten litres of paraffin, a carton of matchboxes, a box of soap and a sack of packets of salt, to take as gifts.  The family managed to get the money for these, and I drove him around town collecting them.  He also needed a suit, which allowed me to find a good-use for the linen suit I had bought in Oxfam before coming here which is slightly too small for me, but fits Isaiah perfectly!  On Saturday morning we headed off to the family village with six people and all the other strange gifts in our car and a battered old hire car following behind with another two people and five goats in it.  Inevitably the tarmac road gave way to a murram road, which gave way to a dirt track, then a narrower dirt-track and finally some kind of bumpy muddy and insanely narrow footpath.  Finally we pulled into a clearing, stopped and unloaded the vehicles.  I was confused as we stood around under some trees, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  The family members and pastors were gathered having a hushed conversation, mostly in Lukhongo, that seemed like some kind of pre-battle briefing.  I caught the local word for goats and then “sodas” and a dramatic “cash-down” with a flourish.  If someone approached they would immediately fall silent – not wishing their plans to be overheard.  Finally someone from Rose’s family arrived and formally invited us to proceed onto their land and into their home.  The discussion had been planning how to present the bride-price and gifts in the right way to ensure acceptance.  We were then herded into the father-in-law’s house, ushered into seats – and then left on our own while furtive conversation and sounds of food preparation could be heard on the other side of a curtain.  Finally the father-in-law came in and everyone greeted everyone with lots of smiles and salutation and no mention of the disturbing events of the last month.  At this point I had to leave as I had other engagements and the day was already a few hours behind schedule.  I brought Isaiah back with me as although it is the groom who has to bankrupt himself finding the brideprice and all the other gifts, he is not actually directly involved in the bizarre ceremony of payment.  Suffice to say that Rose was allowed to come home the following day and Isaiah, Rose and Trust are now back together, living happily in their own home – and planning and saving for the inevitably expensive extravaganza of a church wedding in October or November.
At this point you might be asking why did the father-in-law formally accept Isaiah as his son at Introductions three years ago if he had always wanted Rose to marry a Muslim, or to first finish school? – We don’t know.  You might be asking why had Isaiah taken three years to find twelve goats when Uganda seems to be full of goats? – He is a committed Christian who works hard for two charities with no regular salary (now partially rectified), and had prioritised the few resources that he had on putting a roof over their heads rather than paying off his father-in-law.  You might also ask, why did anyone care what the father-in-law thought when the Constitution of Uganda permits anyone over 18 to marry whom they choose, live where they choose and practice whatever religion they chose? – Firstly, the law only permits a church marriage with written consent of the bride’s father, and custom dictates that the Bride’s father won’t give this permission unless he has received full bride-price.  Secondly, Ugandan Police Inspectors are powerful men and not to be crossed.
I apologise for this article being so long, but some issues are so complicated they need a lot of words.  What have we learnt from this, apart from a lot of strange facts about marriage practices here?  A little money goes a long way here, but money alone is not enough.  Influence was required, and that had to be sought patiently by involving as many parties as possible and gaining as full an understanding as possible of the different issues and perspectives involved.  Hope and consistent encouragement were also essential for getting a young man through a very distressing situation.  We Europeans love to find practical solutions to every problem we come across, but there’s also a lot to be said for faith and for persistent prayer, when addressing seemingly intractable problems.

Prayer Request:
Please give thanks that Isaiah and Rose and Trust are now re-united, and in a way that has repaired good relations with both families.

This long case-study is not uncommon.  Throughout this region there are young men struggling to afford to marry the women they love, and young women frustrated that they are being literally traded for cattle – which can also create problems if they don’t produce a return on that investment in the form of children.  Please pray for all those affected by this practice and for the church as it struggles to reconcile Christian principles of marriage with ancient cultural traditions.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Many hands make light work!

Have you ever created multiple tropical-fruit gardens with goat-proof fences?  Have you ever dug the foundations for a row of shops?  Have you ever run a sports day for a hundred African children?  Have you ever bought, killed, prepared and cooked a cockerel for important guests?  Have you ever stood on a hilltop public roadside and watched over forty elephants lumbering through the bush all around you?

Only two weeks ago most members of St Andrew’s St Baptist Church Cambridge would have answered “no” to these questions.  Yet in the last fortnight an intrepid team of six from our home church have done all these things – and more, whilst visiting us here in Kasese.
The team of six included our Minister Rev Dave Morris, his wife Judy (a retired PE-teacher) and their daughter Helen (a Master’s graduate of Theology); Andrew Thomason (a Cambridge Mathematician), his wife Chris (a physiotherapist), and Lynette Ongeri (a pharmacologist).   More important than their diverse ages and professional backgrounds, however, were the things they had in common:  all committed Christians with a genuine love for their Ugandan brothers and sisters in Christ, all prepared to work hard in a difficult climate and to learn new skills from others, and always (well, mostly!) prepared to see the funny side of different situations and to suspend English conceptions of timing, hygiene, or health & safety, and go with the flow of life in Kasese.

The visit started with a quick Swahili lesson from our teacher, leading to the creation of an amusing new dialect – Yorkshire Swahili!  Following some familiarisation around town the team got stuck into work and re-planted the fruit garden at Alpha School – which worked well as the delayed rains have meant that April is planting season here.  The first weekend provided the opportunity to take our visitors to Queen Elizabeth National Park where they particularly enjoyed seeing hippos from the car, on a boat-trip and even right outside our hostel.  The highlight however, was on our drive home, when, puzzled that we’d seen no elephants inside the park, we pulled off the main road to a small viewing pavilion to get a good view over Lake George and spotted five different groups of elephants lumbering through the bush and converging for what looked like a grand elephant conference!  With the light gently fading over the mountains and the evening peace only disturbed by the chatter of birds and the odd trumpeting elephant it was a serene half-hour that we will all treasure.

Sunday saw us all worshipping together at Kasese Central Baptist Church (KCBC).  Although heavy rain delayed the service by 1.5hrs it did not dampen the warmth of the welcome our visitors received, or the liveliness of the singing.  Our Cambridge church had hand-crafted a wooden cross from their old pews and a banner with the 2012 church text (Ephesians 6:14-15), which Rev Dave Morris presented at the start of his sermon.  We often struggle with church here, juggling supervising Sam with trying to discern meaning from a stream of Swahili, but on this Sunday, so soon after Easter, we were reminded of the power of the worldwide fellowship of Christ’s church, and that his enduring love knows no boundaries of race or culture. 

Anyone who has heard any of Dave Morris’ excellent sermons will know that golf is often alluded to, so we were glad that some friends offered him and Judy the opportunity to have a game on Kilembe Mines Golf course – with the Rwenzori mountains towering above them and pigs and goats grazing around them it must have been an unusual game!

The real hard work started on Monday with the team and members of the church creating six small fruit gardens from scratch at KCBC, which will be given to six families from the church to look after.  Each small garden is 5-foot square and comprises a banana stem and a papaya seedling, complete with compost and mulch, all taken from our own garden.  Most of the labour was then in fencing the six plots with pole, reed and string fencing to keep out goats.  With so many people working together as a team – digging holes, chopping reeds, treating poles with used-oil, gathering stones and tying hundreds of knots, it was finished by Tuesday afternoon.  By now the team were adjusting to the climate, bonding well with the local church and also managing to produce excellent evening meals from produce they bought each day in the market.  Therefore on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning (after an early start for Women’s prayer-meeting) we stepped up a gear and helped the church dig out the foundation trenches for a row of five small shops-to-rent which should provide much needed income for the church.  It soon became obvious that the best way to work was in pairs with one breaking soil with a hoe and the other shovelling it out with a spade, which enabled some great conversations and lively banter between locals and visitors!  Nonetheless, trench-digging under an African sun is exhausting work so we were quite relieved that torrential rain prevented further work on Wednesday afternoon.

Thursday saw Judy take centre-stage and use her years of PE-teaching experience to run a sports-day at Alpha School.  Much fun was had by all with balloons and balls seemingly all over the place and it was great to see the young, underpaid and often under-enthused teachers really getting into it and goading their teams to “be serious” and “run faster”.  In the afternoon the team witnessed some local building as Alfonse demonstrated the principles of brick-laying Kasese-style in the corners of the foundations.  Thursday evening saw the team presented with the instructions for their “team challenge” on Friday – to host Alfonse and Alice for a proper Ugandan feast.

Friday started early with me helping Andrew to purchase, kill, pluck and prepare the biggest cockerel we could find in Kasese market – a challenge which he rose to admirably, having honed his chopping skills on hundreds of reeds.  Bethan then took the team off to Kiburara bible college, where Dave and Helen taught the first and second year trainee pastors.  On their return the kitchen become a flurry of activity with Chris and Lynette doing an excellent job of leading the chopping of many vegetables, and boiling/frying of beans, cabbage, rice and chicken stew, while Bethan taught David how to make steamed matoke.  Somehow as well as these five main dishes the team also produced some amazing chocolate brownie.  We enjoyed a good feast and it was a joy for us to eat in our own home without slaving over the cooking ourselves.  More importantly it was lovely to be able to host Alice and Alfonse and to collectively thank them for being the inspirational leaders and great friends that they always are to whoever they meet.  There was laughter all-round and serious speculation that Andrew and Alfonse might actually be brothers!

The final weekend brought the long journey back to Kampala, but before the team headed for the airport they were able to experience the massive contrasts between city and provincial living.  We enjoyed playing pool, eating pizza, worshipping in English, and witnessing the magnificent display of traditional dancing at the Ndere Cultural centre; but it was also pleasing to hear from the team that those will be the experiences soonest forgotten, while memories of the fellowship, warmth, sincerity and good humour of the people of Kasese, and in particular Alfonse and his family, will stay with them for ever.  

Thank you to St Andrew’s Street Baptist  Church Cambridge for being such a supportive home church; for all your hard-work and fun and laughter – and for playing with Sam, cooking, washing-up and bringing us cheese and chocolate.  We look forward to being with you all again soon back in Cambridge!

Prayer Requests:

Thanks that the church visit was so successful and that everyone got home safely and in good health.

Thanks that as brothers and sisters in Christ we are all part of one body – his church – and for the fellowship and love that can bring to people everywhere.

That the relationship between St A’s and KCBC will continue to be a positive one which provides benefit to both churches and glory to God.

For Pastor Alfonse as he juggles the many demands of his job on a negligible income, for his health and for his family.

Saturday 31 March 2012

Baking Cakes in Kasese - By Bethan

You might remember I had written in a previous blog that the Kasese Central Baptist Church Women’s Co-operative is saving money with a local co-operative savings scheme in the hope that they may open a café in town when they have enough money. I have offered to teach them how to bake and make western-style foods to sell, as there is a potential market with passing tourists and local well-off Kaseseans.  Local people don’t use ovens as we know them (they use charcoal stoves or cook on firewood over three stones).

Last Friday the women were due to turn up at my house at 2pm to learn how to make a lemon cake.  By 5pm with only Alice here (our pastor Alphonse’s wife and also member of the co-operative) we decided to postpone.

The following Friday, with arrangements made to meet at my house at 2pm, it again reached 3.30 and I wondered if anyone was going to come.  But then a phone call “we are at the gate”.  (Alice has told me that sometimes people who have not been to our house before fear to go into a mzungu’s house because they’re not entirely sure what it will be like and what we might offer them or expect from them.)  I went to the gate and found four women and two children.  I invited them in and we sat around the dining table discussing what plan the cookery program will take and if we are all sharing the same vision of what they would offer as a café and how they would work as a co-operative.

Then we moved into the kitchen.  Esther, a new young mum, had her baby Kristobel in a baby-bjorn-type sling the whole afternoon; Andrew, the 20 month son of Josephine played with Samuel and had a fabulous time and Alice and Josephine’s sister did most of the cake preparation while Josephine kept very detailed notes.  The women were very serious, sticking to every detail of baking including Josephine chiding her sister for measuring 178g of flour instead of 175!  There was much excitement putting the cake in the oven while we sat at the table discussing how to price up a piece of cake including all the ingredients, the gas used, the electricity and water and wages involved in day-to-day running of the café ad trying to find hidden costs so as not to get stung.

When the cake was ready Alice ever so carefully prised it out of the tin and they mixed icing to go on top.  We then all sat around the table and prayed for good learning, for delicious food, for good profits in the future and good fellowship.  Then we ate the cake and marvelled at how wonderful it tasted!  Samuel was even gentlemanly enough to feed some directly into Andrew’s mouth (this is how Ugandans feed their children) as he stood, mouth open, next to Sam!  The women were excited about the list of things we were going to learn in the following weeks and months.

So that’s a very long story about a very delicious cake and some very lovely women!

Thursday 22 March 2012

A bit of an update. By Bethan.

Yesterday I drove to the congo border to a town called Nyabagando where I had been asked to speak at a scripture union day for 100 young people at the secondary school about spiritual gifts. It was typically Ugandan in that I was told verbally to go at 10 then an email said 11then a letter said 12! When I phoned up I was told to go at 11.40! Random! When I turned up at 11.30 the children were just sitting down to breakfast (!) so I had to sit and eat with them - luckily only bananas and bread as I had already been snacking on the way. Then the man who should have been before me wasn't there - his was 'on his way coming' so I persuaded them to just let me speak and be done wtih it. Then they showed me the program and it explained a lot. It said "Madam Bethan 11.30 session 1. Madam Bethan 12.15 session 2. Madam Bethan 12.45 questions and answers." Oh my goodness! I only prepared about 45 minutes of talking and I thought that was a lot! So I told them I would do what I had prepared and we could fill the gaps as we found them. But no one passed this message on to the MC so when I finished at 12.15 I said to the youth that I had finished and that I hoped it had been a good session etc. The MC got up, the kids sang some songs then he said "now Madam Bethan is coming back for session 2." I looked at him horrified and beckoned him over, whispering in his ear that I had, indeed, finished and that he shouldn't expect more of me as I had nothing more to offer! He was so good and immediately got his thinking cap on and made an activity that I had done in my talk seem as though it had not been finished so he said we would continue for that activity for longer until lunchtime! Meanwhile, however, people should write their questions down on paper and give them to me so I could answer them afterwards.
Luckily the questions were not too daunting and with the help of the concordance at the back of my Bible I was able to pick out some answers that seemed to help the ones who had asked them. Phew! I was so relieved to have got through it, but I did have an enjoyable morning and it seemed as though the young people had both enjoyed it and got something out of it too.  I certainly enjoyed singing "Amazing Grace" with a lot of energy and vigour, despite the words being nothing like I was used to!

Then in the afternoon I went to teach some people from church how to play the keyboard by ear. It is hard because I have never taught the keyboard by ear - I am after all a typical classical player - and I have to keep slowing the pace down as I rush off expecting them to know things like triads, keys and major/minor.  It's hard for a musician to believe that someone doesn't know the difference between major and minor but I suppose that's the same as a history teacher not believing that I don't know exactly when Henry VIII was King! But I enjoy meeting wtih the learners (I know most of them, and the women have a wicked sense of humour, usually involving winding me up and then saying "Oh Mama Samwell!" when I fall for their jokes!)

All in all a good and busy day and then of course back to my Sam who had a huge grin on his face when he saw me.  It's nice to be missed!

Please see photos and video clips in the picture gallery on this blog.

Sunday 4 March 2012

Gratitude and Generosity

“We have run out of sugar for the children’s maize porridge, they are hungry and crying”.

“The timber we bought for this job is not enough.”
“The tailors are asking for more stools”.

“We need money for more firewood”.

There are some days working here when it is easy to feel taken for granted.  However much you do or give it’s not enough, and more is demanded.  However much you plan ahead, things still go wrong and immediate solutions are expected. I had one of those days in late January just before our trip home.  Following a barrage of such requests and demands by phone, by text and in person, I was handed a letter.  It began with customary greetings, blessings and praises to God.  In my weary mind I was anticipating the inevitable request for money that was likely to follow such effusive greetings and blessings.  So I was pleasantly surprised (and then guilty about my cynicism) that the second paragraph said:

“I am okay because the way your handling my child x.  He is in good condition, thank you very much, and I am informing you to come at my home and I see you for the work you have done for that child x, God bless you too much.   Thank you for helping my child, God will re-ward you.”

The letter was from someone we had never met or spoken to before, whose son is training in carpentry.  I was bowled over as this was the first occasion on which anyone had directly expressed gratitude to us concerning the projects in Acholi Quarter, and a definite invitation with a fixed date (as opposed to “when are you coming to my place?”) is a big deal.

The day came last Thursday so we met with Isaiah and the trainee, assuming that we would walk together to his father’s place.  Isaiah looked puzzled and suggested that we should go in the car.  I wasn’t sure which Kasese neighbourhood we were headed for so we got in and started driving.  Then Isaiah asked me if I had enough petrol and it dawned on us that the unknown neighbourhood in Kasese town to which we were headed was in fact an unknown village somewhere within Kasese District.  Some 40km later and well along the Kasese-Bwera main road we turned off onto the dirt road to Kagando hospital, our trainee in the back assuring us that we were now very near.  Passing the hospital after another 6km we continued into Kisinga town.  Was it here?  “Yes we are coming now now.”  We then turned off onto a narrow and bumpy dirt track and drove another few kilometres, (which takes a while on such tracks), before finally reaching the village of Kajwenge where we were much relieved to hear that this was indeed the village we were after.  I slowed right down assuming that one of the houses we were approaching would be our destination, but after a while as we seemed to be leaving the village and heading back into the countryside we were directed off our track onto what in England would be called a footpath, or maybe a bridleway.  I was getting nervous as we drove through banana plantations with branches brushing the car, occasionally slamming on the brakes to avoid killing a chicken, duck, goat, or child in my path. I was also praying that it wouldn’t rain today, which could have quickly turned this no-nonsense dirt-path into a slippery quagmire.   Somehow our indefatigable Toyota Landcruiser made it through the farms and the footpaths and we ended up on a steep slope in the middle of a farm on a hill in the middle of beautiful Ugandan countryside.  “Tumefika” (we have arrived) stated our trainee, to our great relief.

We were greeted warmly by his father Nelson who proudly showed us around his beautiful farmstead of bananas/matoke, cassava, sweet-potatoes, pineapples, avocado trees, coffee, cocoa, vanilla and various African “greens”.  Inevitably there were also lots of chickens and children running around.  Sam has the Lee gene which loves to put things away and soon busied himself collecting coffee beans which were drying in the sun and putting them all into a big cup, to the bemusement of one of Nelson’s young children.  We also walked to the crest of the hill from where we could see over the valley to another hill where there is a Baptist Church and primary school to which the children undertake a marathon daily walk, leaving before dawn and returning after dark each day. 

On returning from this walk lunch was ready and one of the household poured water for us to wash our hands and blessed the food before leaving the three of us and Isaiah to enjoy an African feast of chicken, spaghetti, doda (a bitter spinach-type dish), avocado and bananas.  I have got used to African hospitality where the women and children eat separately while the man/men entertain guests, but this was new to be left to eat entirely by ourselves.  After we’d enjoyed a good feed someone appeared to question why we  “had eaten so little” and then left again, so Isaiah and I duly set to our duty of polishing off as much of the rest of the chicken and spaghetti as we could – including the gizzards and the neck which are a “delicacy” reserved for visitors.  We excused Bethan from eating third helpings on account of being pregnant and having a compressed stomach!

After we’d eaten most of a chicken and what must have been an entire packet of spaghetti, Nelson and the whole family came back in and we had some formal introductions, prayers, and conversation, in which we learnt that one of the men of the family is a special-needs teacher shortly taking a post in Kasese town, and that Nelson is the “cousin-brother” to Dorothy who Bethan has started some other special-needs work with.  It really is a small world!  During these conversations it was good to learn more about our trainee, who lives alone in Acholi Quarter (hence being in the project there) and whose wife and expected baby will hopefully join him there when he completes his course and starts making a living.  As this trainee actually has the worst attendance record of our carpenters, it was very useful to learn more about his situation and understand the pressures he is under, including time taken off for the sickness, death and burial of close family members.

I never go anywhere empty-handed and had presented Nelson with one of our finest papayas on arrival (fortunately one thing that he didn’t grow himself).  Nelson expressed gratitude for this and said he would give us something in return.  But we were surprised when, following hushed conversation outside, people came in bearing a sack of five pineapples, a bag of four avocados, some vanilla seedlings for our garden, some “Greens” seeds for Isaiah’s garden, and a mature hen with its legs bound.  We were bowled over by such generosity.  Having just eaten one of their chickens we certainly hadn’t expected to leave with another one!  Whatever our guilt about accepting such gifts from people who struggle to provide for their own children, it is highly-offensive to refuse, so we accepted them with profuse thanks.   The pineapples and avocados have been shared out here, and the hen is now laying eggs with our other two hens in our garden. 

More importantly, we have grown in our understanding of why the projects we are involved in are so needed, but also why we must be patient with those who they serve.  To our English minds, persistent absence from free-training smacks of ingratitude, yet our visit to Nelson’s farm showed us that gratitude and generosity are here in abundance, but that the challenges of life for people here place multiple conflicting demands upon their time and loyalties.

Prayer Requests:

Give thanks that the projects in Acholi Quarter have been running for three months and are starting to make a visible impact on peoples’ lives, and on their wider families.

For guidance as we have a big committee meeting this Thursday to evaluate the projects’ first three months.  We especially seek wisdom in addressing budgetary pressures, and in responding to the patterns of student attendance – and absenteeism -  we have recorded.

For the generosity of those who have relatively little and give so much,  which we can all learn from.