The room was getting a little stuffy so I moved out to the verander at the front of the house where immediately my chair, table, mat and whatever personal items I wanted were put by my side. I had brought the photo album of Sara and Owen’s wedding as Mike had not seen them yet.
I visited the family during my first week here and was sat on a chair looking over the head of Bosco as he was viewing the photos. He joked with me that he should be on the chair and I on the mat! The women always sit lower than the men and this tradition is still carried out in most homes.
Mum Monica, which is how I refer to her as the boys call me Mum Gerry, spent the whole time cooking. Now and again I went over to speak to her and ask if I could help. One, she doesn’t understand much English, two, she wants to prepare and serve a meal to me and three, I’m sure she doesn’t think Mzungu do cooking and housework! Mind you I wouldn’t have lasted a minute in the heat and smoke of the mud kitchen!
Mike took me behind the home where a pot of matoki was steaming in banana leaves. We walked on to where they grow maize, beans, rice, sweet potatoes, cassava, ground nuts, coffee and of course the massive jack fruit. Unfortunately the maize which is the main ingredient of their diet had not developed properly so they may be short of food in January and February.
I am always reminded of how vulnerable people in countries like Uganda are when their crops fail because of weather or disease. They don’t have the back-up of food banks or handouts! Mike wanted me to go further to see their two cows but the sun was so hot and I had left my hat in the house so we turned back. This village is always hotter than Nakakabala which is much hotter than Jinja and Kampala that have the advantage of the Nile and Lake Victoria and I had my limitations!
Being Christmas I wanted to give them and their close neighbours and friends a bit of a party and as I mentioned earlier I had given Alex money for food. I had given him 80,000 Ugx (£20) to send by Mobile Money to the nearest trading centre where his mum had collected it. This had covered a selection of food including chicken, pork, beef and even a little goat, a real treat for all of them. It also paid for a crate of soda and beers for those who want them, me being one taker!
Chairs and mats were set up under the big jack fruit tree which awarded the deepest shade in the middle of the day and they was a slight breeze blowing from the rice fields at the far end of the family’s land. Nile beer wasn’t available in the village but Eagle was. Eagle is a much stronger lager with a higher percentage alcohol so it went straight to my head! My litre and a half bottles of water were readily available to dilute the beer! Not to actually dilute the beer but to drink alongside it as with the heat of the day the affects would be increased.
One of the girls came and washed the hands of the two tiny tots who then plunged their hands into a shared bowl of rice. We had just settled down to eat when the first clap of thunder was heard. The sky turned a menacing black and the wind was getting up, which I have learnt are sure signs that trouble is ahead. And sure enough big spots of rain which broke the hard packed mud started hammering down getting heavier and heavier! The response was immediate. Even the younger children picked up what they could and rushed to shelter but regardless of our speed all of us got a soaking. It felt really good to me but quite but the others were quite chilled!
Mum Monica and two other ladies went back into the little thatched kitchen where they were cooking a mountain of food! They can usually only afford a very limited diet, basically whatever grows in the garden but I had given Alex money for our Christmas fare and it looked as if she had got a lot for my money, including a crate of soda and a few beers! I am never allowed to help the ladies in the kitchen so I sit around like Lady Muck being waited on hand and foot by the many young family members!
I played with the little ones who were not scared of me and spent time talking to the older brothers finding out what they had been up to since I saw them last year. Mike and Bosco both achieved ‘A’ level and had had a few casual jobs but like many other young people the world over found there was lack of permanent positions. They never give up trying, and between jobs return to the village to help their mum in the fields which she needs asthere is only their young step brother Emma at home now.
Paul, the youngest ‘direct’ brother, is fifteen and will be taking his ‘O’ levels next October. When my friend Godfrey, who I am staying with for a few days over the New Year, found him hungry and alone in his homestead he brought him to his own home in Jinja and contacted us. His eldest brothers had left Paul in the care of neighbours when we had offered to send them back to school but the neighbours couldn’t cope so he was abandoned. My family could not afford to take on more school fees but when I asked my Uganda Email friends, just like you, if anyone could help Paul, one very kind lady Sue offered to sponsor him.
When he started school in 2008 he could not speak English, read or write but was a quick learner and soon was coming near the top of his class. Unfortunately, when I read his latest report card it told a very different story. I do know he has been off for two periods because of eye infections but he is also going through ‘that awkward stage’ as his tutor Benjamin told me when I met up with him recently.
Benjamin is confident that Paul will succeed if he just buckles down, so let’s hope so! Paul is very grateful to his first sponsor Sue and now to Annick, Kim, Angela and my husband who have taken over the sponsorship. He knows we are giving him this chance to get a good education and has promised to work very hard next year.
I will be out in Uganda again in Feb/March 2016 when his results come out so I hope we have something to celebrate!