This morning James needed to visit the secretary of another of the VSLA groups he belongs to as he won’t be attending tomorrow. He is taking me out, and does not want to risk a fine of not informing them! He was surprised when I asked if I could accompany him as it was already after ten and the sun was high but I needed the exercise and love meeting the locals. I covered myself with sun cream, placed my water and camera in a bag which I was sure James would offer to carry and put on my late mums sun hat which has a wide rim. It was the first time James had seen this hat and he couldn’t believe how old it is – probably over forty years old! He is fascinated how old many of my belongs are – my big rucksack and walking sandals are over 15 years old, have been used and used but will probably outlive me, many of my clothes I use out here were second hand to begin with and I have been using them over and over again since I first came to Uganda in 2002! I don’t believe in waste, my mum had a saying look after the pennies and the pounds look after themselves! Its true! I do remember a few years back when one flowery dress just wore out from over wear and the harsh washing the clothes get here. I put it with the rubbish only to find one of the orphans proudly wearing it a few days later tied around her waist with a belt made from dried banana fibre! Most things in Uganda are so cheaply made, but realistically they cost more as they have to be replaced constantly.
On our walk we were greeted by many people who recognise me but I have to admit not to remember all of them. All the children ran to greet us going down on their knees not in a subservient way but as a traditional sign of respect. They were soon up again and joking and laughing with us. As usual the only ones not keen on me were those toddlers who had never seen a Mzungu before. We visited particular families who have special needs, support the school or have a connection with it such as baby Norman who is almost walking now. His mum named him after my husband when I was here last year! I was happy to see a healthy toddler as so many die before reaching school age. His mum, grandma and great grandma were delighted to see me though little Norman feared my white face! Norman also has an uncle who is severely disabled but is lucky to have a loving family to look after him although no outside help is available to him. One of the many aspect I like about Uganda is the fact that within the poorest communities the old and the disabled are generally looked after well. Great grandma remembered the gift I gave her last year, a shawl I was given by Ann a friend at the choir I belong too. She had been so cold at the time with nothing but a very thin piece of material around her shoulders.
We also stopped at Graces home, built with money earned from doing jobs for James, and for me! He has built a little traditional mud home for one and is so proud of it! Grace was one of our first pupils at St James in 2008, has completed three years at secondary school also paid for by small amounts he gets from work he does for us. James is encouraging him to start vocational training in motor mechanics at the beginning of the new school year in February, skills that will provide him with employment locally.
We hoped to find Charles, one of the builders we use, at home but his neighbours told us he was at the swamp with his three children harvesting rice as so many families are at the moment. They rush to harvest and dry before the next rainy season and then replant, having two seasons for rice.
Just before we got back to St James ones of the neighbours was selling a few small aubergine at 200 shillings for four, 4p! I took both little pyramids as they will be delicious with our regular meal and maybe I will fry them up for the next omelette I make James.
Actually I don’t think I told you about the saga of the eggs for the omelette! Read on ……….. The food here is rather monotonous, in fact the same every day with the occasions splatter of beef so I offered to make omelette for a change using the local vegetables and of course eggs. James was going up the trading centre so I asked him to buy six eggs which he did. That evening after bathing I set to cutting up the tiny sweet onions and green peppers then went to add the eggs. They tend to have harder shells here so I use a knife to crack them but these were extra hard! I gradually increased the strength of my strike and then look closer realised the egg was hard boiled and rather old! So I tried another, and another. Every egg was the same. I called James but he didn’t believe me until I showed him. He was so embarrassed and called for a boda man (motorbike taxi) to bring him some more. It was by now dark so he stood at the gate waiting. After an hour he decided to go and ask a neighbour for some eggs and succeeded but them the other eggs turned up!
In the meantime I had the opportunity of chilling out as a cold Nile Beer had magically appeared earlier in the evening, a gift I knew was from Innocent, a young man who runs a local bar as he saves money to builds himself a small house and piggery business. My family and friends helped Innocent through university where he studied business and accountancy. He suffers from occasional but sometimes devastating epileptic-like fits so no employer would take him on. But he is otherwise strong and ambitious but realistic. Developing a professional piggery business where he can be his own boss is his dream.
Back to the omelette. Supper was a little late that evening but was more delicious because of the wait. Mind you it was more like vegetable scrambled egg rather than an omelette! It took James a while to stop apologising and then we had a good laugh and in fact spent an hour or so after eating sitting chatting even though it was late. He usually rushes off but this time he sat and he told me a little more about his younger life which was very interesting and that I will share with you at a later date. He has given his permission!
We were spotted even before we arrived at the home of the secretary of the VSLA group and a bench was bought out of her little home and covered with a piece of bright material, in my honour. They do look after me! Her children and neighbours joined us and as soon as the formal addition was made to the Minutes for tomorrows meeting, everyone relaxed and there was a lot of laughter. They find it amusing that I sit with them. Maybe amusing isn’t the right word, maybe surprised would be better. I think they expect white people to be a little stand-offish and often ask James why ‘I love people like them so much’. They still feel we are better than them. No way is that true! I admire these people for the way they work so hard for their famiies yet also really enjoy their lives, most of the time. My ony problem with sitting on their low benches is getting up again – more laughter!!!
Just had to move everything away from the windows, the windows that don’t fit! We are in the middle of a big storm, first one since I arrived at St James and what a relief!!! I was outside typing my news when it started spitting and I had to rush to get me, my computer and my clothes that were drying on the bushes inside. I made it! So glad I bring plenty of old towels out to mop up, as the floor here is so slippery as soon as it gets wet – I have had the bruises to show it! I remember in 2011, yes the incident was so painful I remember the date! James and I were having supper in my room (the school library) and it started pouring so he rushed one side of the room to shut the windows and I the other. I slipped and went down on my back which in fact was already bruised from falling off a three legged chair at my surprise 50th birthday party a few days earlier! James shouted ‘Oh my dear’ or something similar, rushed over to help me up and slipped himself dropping me down hard again and he also! Now I am extra, extra careful where water is concerned in this room! Every now and then I am going around the room checking behind the thick plastic curtains that is all that holds the rain back where the windows don’t fit. I have moved some of my belongings into the centre of the room and will now just sit out the storm which could be over soon or last for hours. Glad I have my ‘on suite’ facilities!!! I’ve unplugged my laptop as a precaution though I insisted we had lightening conductors two years ago after I learnt of the devastating burns suffered and also many deaths of many children who attend schools without them. The metal roofs are the problem and practically every building in the country has one!
James was outside showing a visitor around the school and compound when the storm broke and is now held up in his room (school office) across the yard from where I am. He has the company of one of his pupils from a previous school where I first saw him teaching! Becky is youngest of seven whose mum used to be Matron at the school but unfortunately she is now out of work with no husband and unable to support her daughter. Becky has gone through education right up to university but after one year doing Business and Accountancy had to withdraw as her mum is out of work. It’s amazing how many ‘old boys and girls’ come to visit James as he has made such an impression on so many lives. Becky told me that James was like a father to her as her own father abandoned her and her brothers and sisters. Just like he is to so many here at St James, a head teacher but so much more!
What was a sad story Becky not being able to complete her course, may well turn out an advantage for St James as I was able to follow some of the conversation she was having with James. He was talking to her about coming here to teach P7 students. So I may well meet her again next time I am in Uganda which will be during the school term. I do miss having the children here but James and I are busy with sorting out the rather laborious but essential business side of running the school and also protecting its future. I will look forward to later this year or next year when I will arrive here to the hustle and bustle of a busy happy school!