Sunday 3rd January I was so pleased to arrive at my Ugandan home today after staying in Kampala and Jinja. I love visiting the good friends I have made over the years but nothing beats coming to the peaceful atmosphere of Nakakabala and of course St James. Of course I had already spent New Years Eve with James but the welcome I got would give you the impression that we hadn’t seeing each other for a year! I think James enjoys me staying her as much as I do!
It is only just over an hour from Jinja now that the new Jinja to Kamuli road has been completed and I was happy to see they had now put speed limit signs up, painted road markings and put in the necessary ‘sleeping policemen’ through the trading centres. Last year many vehicle especially the notorious taxi buses were hurtling along at breathtaking speeds!
I was still happy to get here though as it is so hot now. The dry season has begun! My initial impression as I opened the big gates to allow Godfrey to bring his car into the school compound to offload my mountains of luggage, was how wonderfully beautiful the grounds are. I smiled to think of the pleasure James must be getting as a result of his love of trees and flowers. Flowers in particular as his late wife Joy loved them.
James soon appeared from is room with open arms closely followed by Grace who had become his right-hand man and a new comer Graces sister Ruth who is to look after my every need while I am living here. I remember when I first came to Uganda and didnt like the idea of someone looking after me, washing my clothes, making my bed, cleaning and cooking. But I now accept it gratefully as in this heat these are chores I ma quite willing to hand over plus the fact that I am giving employment to someone locally. Ruth has two children, four and two years of age, so earning a living will make all the difference to her family. Both she and her younger brother Grace were two of St James’ first pupils and Grace has been doing jobs for James since he left to earn money to pay his secondary school fees. He’s helped me many a time too, in one instant rescuing me from killer bees in my room! He go me out and them went in armed with dried banana fronds set alight! Bit of burning leaves were dropping everywhere and I wondered if I would ever see any of my belongings again! By now I should have more trust in the skills of local people, they know what they are dealing with and within a few minutes Grace reappeared telling me all was safe but to wait until the smoke had died down! Today he set to to make me to latrine covers shopping an old stump and branch to come up with a shape that would stop the smell and the flies escaping into my ‘bathroom’! A very handy and hardworking young man! His sister Ruth soon got to work on my bag of washing as I had done very little since arriving in Uganda a week ago and very soon every bush and tree adorned my clothes including underwear which I had forgotten was in the bag, I usually do my own!
I set to to unpack all the donations of clothes, books, pencils and the wonderful dictionaries given to me by Stockport Lamplighters Rotary Club. My personal items consist mostly of food stuffs – cuppasoups to use as gravy, snack bars to keep me going the long hours between meals and some treats to share such as slaps of Aldi Christmas cake and sweets for children who are sure to call. I leave most of my clothes here as they are items that I would only wear here.
James made me a cup of tea to have with some roasted maize picked straight from the garden. Much tougher than sweetcorn so your jaw gets a work out while eating it! We also had a lovely piece of chocolate cake that had been given to me in Jinja by Hannah the fiancé of Alex one of the young men my family and friends have been supporting for many years. It had turned gooey in the heat but was very yummy and of course we had to share it with Grace and Ruth who were working hard nearby us and had never had anything like it before.
A young man called Emma turned up as we were relaxing under the Owen Tree, a mango tree named after my son-in-law! Emma wanted to get married and had asked James to be head of the committee to organise his Introduction (traditional wedding) and his church wedding. James is looked up to be many in the local community and for miles around and is always willing to help where he can. The worst part of the Introductions is the dowry the groom has to give the family of his wife-to-be, a few cows, sacks of grain, solar panels etc etc and as in the western world so many marriages end in divorce but Emma says he is determined to make sure his is successful. My husband Norman happened to phone when Emma was still with us and as we are still very much in love and exchange loving expressions on the phone I felt I had to tell Emma we had been married for 44 years and give him a penny worth of my own advice!!
Emma would like the Introduction to be held at St James using Hambridge Hall and the beautiful surrounds. It will be our first wedding here. Hope it happens during one of my visits. For those of you who are new supporters of St James, Hambridge Hall (named after my long suffering family!) is a block of four classrooms which opens up into a hall so that we can hire it our for functions such as wedding and graduations. In fact tomorrow an MP is hiring it for an hour and with the Ugandan National Election coming up in February I hope we get a few more bookings, all raising money to help run the school.
James couldn’t wait to give me the official guided tour of the compound which changes each time I return depending on the success of my fund raising and the work and diligence of James! He wants me to do a video sometime but for now I have taken some photos. What struck me most was that he has reorganised the area to give maximum room for growing food and everything is flourishing at the moment. He has even planted a ginger crop that if successful will make a big profit for the school.
The animal projects are also doing so much better than last year when disease affected them all. Many of you have sponsored an animal for as Christmas gift and birthdays so I will be taking photos of your ‘adopted’. Your donation will go to feed your cow, goat, pig or chicken and keep it healthy, vet bills etc. One of the adult pigs is due to give birth and James commented that I might be able to help her! Never say never! Thank you so much for the help towards the animal projects, they are invaluable to the school This was what james said in a letter in early December. ‘Our new pigsty is good. One of the pigs might produce when you are here at St James!! It will be exciting as you might be interested in helping it push the piglets one by one ha! ha! I have planted two areas for the ginger crop but it takes a long time to come out so I am still waiting! Ginger is very profitable but it is harvested after two years so we must be patient! I have planted onions behind my house, some yam and Irish potatoes . I have also changed the banana plantation to the front of the pigsty. Plenty of cassava has grown, potatoes and sugar cane too so I hope we shall not starve in future. Thank you so much for the help towards the animal projects, they are invaluable to the school.
He took me across to see the storm damaged latrine block. ‘The children’s toilet collapsed after a very strong storm in the heavy rain. It was good that no one was inside so no causalities. So we shall need a toilet before the new school year starts in February. The corrugated iron sheets were not spoilt even the timber and the Iron bars are still ok. Some of the bricks are still good and can be used again even the doors are o.k. So we shall need labour to dig the pit and construction. We have some of the sand and also concrete stones still left too so we mainly need cement and labour charges. If the big tree had fallen the other way my would have been my bathroom instead and very lucky no one was harmed.
Once the building materials have been moved for reuse at an alternative site, and the latrine filled in James is planning to build a raised goat shed to protect the goats from wild dogs. At the moment at night they stay outside my bathroom but at the moment don’t like my white face. I’m sure we will make friends soon! I can remember before we had proper pig pens I used to have to walk through a narrow path that lead right past the mother pig on my way to the latrine. She would honk at me menacingly and pull on her rope, her snout almost brushing my leg but a few days later we were the best of pals, her talking to me in more gentle tones! I did make work for myself though as one day I tickled her ears and after that I couldn’t pass until I had done my duty. As I would tickle her ears her she became excited and then so relaxed she would collapse at my feel, sometimes on my feet!
Hambridge Hall looks wonderful! The inside of the four classrooms are now all plastered and painted with the new desks standing in line ready for the start of the new school year in February. The outside is just being finished off with a band of sunshine yellow paint to match the new uniform. It looks amazing from a distance, a happy place for children to learn. I am hoping to have some more very good news about the hall in a future newsletter!
The guided tour took much longer than anticipated and it was already turning dark before I went to bathe which makes it very difficult. I have to move very carefully! My bathroom is just a small cubical of rough brick with a concrete floor. A baby bath to stand in, a bucket, a jerry-can and a jug. The water from freezing as it had come straight from the borehole on site. I must remember to ask Ruth to fill the jerry-cans first thing in the morning and leave one in the sun. It gets quite hot so then I mix the two in they bucket. I’ve got it all worked out over the years!
There is so much to tell you and will be doing so in future updates but for now I just want to thank you for your interest and support. I love my work here at St James and I’m so grateful that others like yourself have taken the school into your hearts. We, that is you and I, are making an enormous difference in so many ways to this community
I’m hoping Ruth’s cooking improves – her first effort tonight was so salty I couldn’t eat it. Fortunately there were plenty of tiny sweet bananas, a box of freshly roasted g-nuts and some jack fruit given to me by the Askari, the schools guard who is armed with a bow and arrow! Nice to know I am being looked after! James was giving the Askari the food I couldn’t eat. I hope he likes it salty!
Thanks to all who are commenting on the website, email or Facebook. Its nice to know someone is reading my stories. I enjoy writing them, I hope you in enjoy reading them!
Will be in touch again soon.
From an extremely hot and sweaty Gerry!
My husband is looking after the website for me while I am in Uganda as the signal here is not strong enough. I email him the news and photos and he aads them. So thank you Norman!
I shall get him to put the photos of my ‘tour of the school’ in one blog so you can go on the tour too!