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.