A Christmas Day like no other – Part Two – Visiting ‘The Grand’ & my first Christmas meal!

I hope I am not causing trouble to your system sending all my news in one go. I have to make the most of being in Jinja and with two hydro-electric power stations on the Nile nearby I should get enough electricity though Godfrey who I am staying with said they had little over the Christmas period!


Part Two – Visiting ‘The Grand’

Not on our schedule for today was calling in on an elderly lady who has brought up many children orphaned by the death of their parents or abandoned by their parents’ irresponsibility! I first met her in 2002 when John Baptist Zaake and his sister Veronica were taken into Maria’s Care after their father, grandfather and two uncles had died of Aids.

When Veronica turned 14 the government rules stipulate that she had to leave the children’s home so she went to her grandmother’s who already had many grandchildren in her care. I was asked by the charity I was connected to at the time if I could find the money to build a little home for her and Vernon Infant School in Poynton did just that. I helped Veronica and other children to build the mud home from treading the mud to building the walls. An experience never forgotten! Let me know if you would like me to send you my newsletter of that time!

Their ‘Gerry-built’ mud home fell down a few years ago due to termite infestation but only after it had seen Veronica, John and cousin Innocent, through their teenage years. I am in constant contact with John and his cousin Innocent who has been helped by some of you to gain degrees and a chance of a good future.

It was a complete surprise to The Grand when James and I arrived. She was busy cooking their Christmas dinner! John was fetched from the church he was praying, his beautiful smile showing the delight he felt at my visit. I said we were on our way to visit his cousin Innocent so would not stay long. Famous last words…..

While catching up with John’s news The Grand had gone back to her cooking and served a plateful of food for James and me! We know better than to try to refuse so we ended up sat with John in a tiny room decorated with the branch of a tree festooned with homemade decorations, having an early lunch and it was delicious.

The pork she had cooked was the best I have every eaten, it fell off the bone and its flavour was amazing. I joked with James that we should employ The Grand to come and look after me the next time I come to Uganda. He took me seriously and asked her before we left and she agreed! I’m pretty certain she will be more reliable than Fatuma and other ‘maids’ I have had, but we will see what happens. She could certainly do with the money I would pay her and probably be more reliable, not disappearing without saying!

A Christmas Day like no other – Part One – two churches in one day! cont

My mind kept wondering back to the church next door and I whispered to James that maybe we stay a few more minutes and then go there as the services do go on for hours! He agreed and I am so glad he did as I felt at home straight away as we were so warmly welcomed by my friends at Maria’s church.

I had been asked to introduce myself at Noah’s Church but here there was no need, many of them knew me. The style of praising was not quite as noisy and lively as its neighbour but was warm and colourful with the added bonus that they automatically interpreted knowing I was there. Each time I have attended KBC I have always been asked to contribute to the service which I have done by singing songs I know.

Last year it was My God is a Great Big God taught to me by the children at St Pauls School in Poynton. After the first verse everyone tried to join in especially with the actions. I can remember one very elderly lady trying her very best to follow the ups and downs of the movements and she was there again this year and smiled at me as I stood to begin.

This year it just had to be Christmas carols and I had thought in advance and brought the words! I chose Joy to the World, one of my favourites and of James and my friend Innocent. We had been singing it together a few days ago when we got trapped in my room in a thunderstorm along with his mum and stepsister. More about that another day!

I think Joy to the World must have been one of Maria’s favourites too as quite a few of the congregation joined in. They were Maria’s ‘children’, their partners and offspring. I was awarded loud applause and the clan ‘cry’ of celebration then asked to sing another! This time I chose Silent Night as I know it so well though I wondered if my voice would hit the high notes, it did!

A few years ago I would have died of embarrassment if I had been asked to stand up in front of a congregation and talk let alone sing but here in Uganda there is something that gives me such confidence that I love it, even when I go wrong it doesn’t bother me or it seems anyone else! James and Godfrey Adrin who was at Maria’s Care and, James tutored him when he was training to be a teacher. It seems that a lot of my friends here know each other one way or another and they are all wonderful!

At the end of the service we were asked to share a Christmas cake made by one of the members. I had purposely brought a bag of ‘fizzy’ sweets which just made it around all the children. Pastor Herbert who has been preaching there since Maria’s time and Godfrey who was one of Maria’s ‘naughty boys’ asked if I would go back again before I leave so we have kept my last Sunday, 4th January, free. I have a feeling they want to gather up as many of Maria’s children as they can for that service! I will look forward to it and go prepared, maybe not too late for another carol or two!

A Christmas Day like no other

Christmas morning in Uganda during the hot dry season, guaranteed to be dry with clear blue skies, or not! It was raining again! I’m not really moaning though as it has been a relief to me to have the temperature slightly lower than it would normally be. I was just imagining waking up to wall to wall sunshine but instead the rain was hammering on the metal roof and I remembered I had lent Innocent my raincoat when he had to leave here in a storm a few days ago! Oh well its only water and it is guaranteed to be followed by red hot sun anytime soon!

I had prepared for the day last night packing for a day that has been carefully organised but would certainly not go to plan so had to prepare for every eventuality including needing the loo so my camping toilet was the first thing in my rucksack along with a good supply of water!

James and I went to catch a taxi bus to Kamuli Town but the usual stream of fast moving overcrowded vehicles were nowhere to be seen. It must be one of the only days of the year when this happens. We waited and waited and James was just about to phone for two piki-piki when over the brow of the hill came our transport.

James put out his hand but I thought the taxi must be full as it wasn’t slowing down until it was almost on top of us! I always stand well back from the road as many of these drivers are maniacs! The taxi only had a few passengers so we sat in relative luxury!

I persuaded James to walk from the town to the church instead of getting a piki for the sake of both our backs and it was a good decision as many people greeted James and he was obviously pleased to see them. The church we were going to was near the school where he had been head master for some years and the one he resigned from when he decided to help the children of Nakakabala. For those at Vernon and other schools in the UK, it is where the traditional dancing was recorded that I use when teaching African dance.

Many of the locals who stopped were past pupils of James and he enjoyed hearing how they were getting on.

We eventually reached the Noah’s Church James had chosen it for the liveliness of the worship. The church was very new grand and felt very unlike a Ugandan church, it was empty and quiet! The few that were there welcomed us and we were led to seats on the stage next to the pulpit kept for ‘special guests’. James looked a little embarrassed that it was not what he had hoped for.

Members of the congregations were coming forward to give testimonials which of course I couldn’t understand but I was quite happy to sit a while beside a window with a cool breeze blowing. When I had first spotted the church I realised that it was right beside the Kamuli Baptist Church which I always refer to as Maria’s Church as this is where the late Maria Maw, the wonderful lady who is my inspiration for all I do in Uganda, used to take the orphaned and destitute children in her care.

I felt a little guilty as I passed it by and hoped no one had spotted me! I was wishing we had gone there instead but then the church exploded into life!

The three drums that were right beside us were being hit so loudly they could have ‘woken the dead’! Ladies in beautiful Gomez leapt from the choir and started doing the fasted dance I have ever encountered with the men and children following. It was incredible. I don’t know where they got their energy from but they put the smile of relief back on James’ face! The photos probably won’t do it justice but I did manage to video some so will put it on You Tube when I am back in the UK! The whole service was a mix of sermon and prayer intermingled with the lively dance performed only feet away from us. cont….

sorry about the blurred photos but I hope you get the idea. I will put some video on YouTube as soon as I am able which I hope will give you the real atmosphere of the church service!

A Christmas Day like no other! Part One -‘Twas the night before Christmas…

Someone was certainly on my side today when I woke up to greet Christmas morning at St James as I thought I would ‘sleep for England’! I was EXTREMELY tired last night as I had not slept the night previously (the night when I sent you a newsletter or two!), I had had a busy day, my lift home from Innocent’s was in the front of a builders truck along with my friends Godfrey, his 13 year old daughter Abi and loads of luggage and Abi was then left with me while her dad went to Kamuli in the truck to collect his car and return to pick Abi up to take her back to her home in Jinja for Christmas.

I was very happy to spend time with Abi, I have known her since she was five BUT her dad’s hour turned into four! Abi was quite happy here and shared our meal, which by the way was cooked again by James, Grace and Livee as Fatuma had failed to return from a short visit to her family!

Godfrey did not contact us at all to say what was going on and neither James nor I had any credit left on our mobiles. Darkness fell, James said I should go to bed and leave Abi with Fatuma who had eventually returned but I didn’t want to do that. Abi said she would like to stay the night as we have shared a bed many times over the years but tomorrow was Christmas and I knew her mum and brother Amasa would be waiting for her.

We passed the time playing dominoes, talking about my daughter Sara’s wedding and laughing together. Abi is still hoping that Sara and Owen will come out to Uganda soon and get ‘married’ again as she so wanted to coming to their wedding this May and so she can be their bridesmaid! What about it Sara and Owen?

2016 is to be a very special year for St James as we are planning to have the official opening of the school and James would love it if more of his friends could make the journey to Uganda!

To all FAMILY AND FRIENDS of ST JAMES, please consider having a very different holiday, making me and James very happy and attending this VERY IMPORTANT OCCASION! But in the mean time back to the present day…..

Earlier Abi had replied to a text from Sara giving her a big surprise. Sara replied asking Abi to give me a big hug. Abi giggled and threw herself on me, smothering me for a minute then relaxing into a gently hug which lasted a long, long time. She was on her knees, arms around my waist and she fell asleep like that.

I was rather uncomfortable but somehow joined her and when we woke it was to the sound of James calling “Ladies wake up, time to go!” Godfrey had decided to go and see his grandmother ‘in the village’ which is way outside Kamuli without informing us! He did apologise but didn’t seem that concerned but that is Ugandans for you.

I love them for their simplicity and their trust that their children would be looked after regardless!

Read on…..

Innocent buys me a Nile beer at his own bar!

Dear Friends and Family,

I have left St James for a few days and come to stay with my friend Godfrey Mwase and his family who live very near Lake Victoria and the Nile. I am hoping that I will be able to catch up with a few newsletters as I have a backlog!

While James was at the hospital Innocent collected me on his motorbike and took me to visit his little business. He recently gained a degree thanks to the generosity of my friends Ruth, Marie, Kath and my family who have sponsored him. For those of you who don’t know Innocent’s story, I will tell you more about him later.

Innocent’s dream is to own a successful pig business. He has taken time to learn a lot about them and in fact I bought him one of his first pigs when I first got to know him. But setting up a piggery is an expensive challenge so to raise money he is renting a bar with rooms behind for people to stay over. It is called Mirembe Bar and Shop with lodgings. Mirembe means Peace which is rather appropriate as Innocent has had quite a rocky childhood but I know he feels more at peace now than ever before.

The bar is 15 minute motorbike ride from St James so Innocent is a regular visitor. In fact James likes him very much and often they seek each others’ advice. As you will see from the photos it is in prime position beside a taxi-bus stop. He has made it attractive with seating, shade and a pool table! Innocent was taught to play pool by my now Son-in-law Owen when he visited Uganda with my daughter Sara in 2011. Now he claims to be quite a champion which brings other players to his establishment.

I was not very sure running a bar was the right thing for Innocent but seeing him ‘in action’ I can see he has everything under control and from the people I met around Mirembe he has made lots of friends. There is a lovely family living next door who came over to greet me. Innocent tells me he sometimes gives work to the father and to others in the community. For instance he employs three barmaids and allows a ‘chicken man’ to sell his BBQ chicken at the bar on Friday and Saturday evenings.

So he is getting a good reputation and with his cool calm personality even deals with those who have had too much of the ‘good stuff’! He showed me around the rest of the building where there are four rooms for rent, one room where the waitresses stay, Innocents private room and lastly a room where he distils the local brew! I was a little surprised when he showed me this but apparently it is legal, and a good money spinner! I have tasted it just the once, but never again!

Innocent offered me a drink, a Nile Beer, but it was the middle of the day, very hot and I was travelling on his motorbike, so not a good idea BUT his expression persuaded me and he brought out an ice cold one! I hadn’t realised that he has electricity at the bar too which enables him not only to serve chilled drinks but also to offer other services such as charging mobile phones. Yet another ‘string to his bow’ good promotion for his business!

I was glad to see Innocent did not join me in a beer but had a cola. While we sat in the shade of the umbrella with a cooling breeze coming off the swamp nearby he proudly showed me an album of his Graduation photos. I was very touched when I saw included in the album photos of my family and his other friends from the UK who have helped him so much. You all mean so much to him as you changed his life!

Innocent’s mum was unmarried and when he was just six years old his father snatched him from his mother insisting he would have a better life living with him. His father married and when his stepmother had her own children Innocent was rejected by her and his dad. Eventually things got so bad he ran away and lived with his grandmother in Kamuli where I first got to know him. This rejection of children from previous relationships is common here and James tells me that this is one of the reasons he never married again after his ‘beloved wife’ Joy died in 2001, step mothers seem to have the upper hand! I hope to meet his birth mum during my stay.

I met Innocent in 2011 when I was visiting his grandmother and another of her grandchildren John Baptist Zaake who I have known since I first came to Uganda in 2002 and stayed at Maria’s Care where John lived at the time. He got on very well with Owen and Sara and became our guide and helper during their stay and looked after me when Alex had to return to school for his A levels.

I got to know him better and learnt that he had gained O & A levels and wanted to go to university to study business specialising in accountancy. He never asked me for money but I felt I should be up front with him and told him that I could be his friend but not his sponsor and that is how it was until one of what I call my ‘miracles’ occurred!

I kept in touch with Innocent when I returned to the UK; in fact he became my postman. I would email him letters for James which he would download and print out at an Internet Cafe in Kamuli then travel to St James deliver the letter, get a reply, go back to Kamuli, type it out and email to me. He proved to be a very honest and hardworking young man who often stopped to help James with one thing or another, especially giving James advice on pigs!

One day I found myself telling all who read my newsletters about Innocent and asking if anyone could help him and within a few days three people came forward to off almost the exact amount he would need for university fees. This was at the beginning of August and the new uni year started less than two weeks later. Do you see what I mean about miracles?

My family helped with his subsistence and my then future son-in-law paid for Innocent to have medical checks and drugs to help with his fits which have haunted him for several years. With Innocent’s determination and hard work, never giving up his ambition to gain his degree we were all thrilled to hear he had succeeded. He is so grateful for this opportunity and sends his thanks to all who played a part, Ruth, Maria, Kathy and my family including his ‘best friend’ Owen!

Innocent had invited me to his graduation but it was in October, too early for me to come out and stay until after Eric’s wedding and Christmas! He was allowed two guest so he invited his mum and dad but his dad bullied his mum to try and make her give up her seat to the step-mum but Innocent stood up to him. As it turned out, on the day they all got seats. Innocent’s dad is a council and church leader but treats his own son very poorly! I think Innocent must take after his mum as he is a kind gentle man.

Babies are crying! I’m writing this very early in the morning, before day break and the twin babies staying in the dormitory next to my room, have just woken up. Aisha their mum is one of the teachers who looked after this place when James visited the UK in May. They came to meet me yesterday and stayed over but will travel back to their village today.

I shall leave this now and go and make myself another cup of tea.

By for now!

Love Gerry