I am sorry, I wrote this news a while ago but had forgotten I hadn’t emailed it to my husband to put on the website. Sometimes after I have completed a story there is no signal to send. I shall have to check if there are others waiting to be sent!
Although I don’t have the pleasure of working with the children at St James this visit I see many of them in the village and some pop in here to say hi. I often find then sat quietly outside my door when I come out. They don’t knock, just wait patiently. I also try to visit friends I have made over the years and today it was the turn of relatives of my dear friend Innocent. We caught a ‘suicide’ bus to Kamuli town. One of the front seats with the driver was free but I learnt from a friend that although that is the most comfortable place to sit it is also the most dangerous in an accident. There is a particular seat I now insist on if it is free, to the annoyance of the conductor who likes to be in charge and to the amusement of the other passengers who are all squashed in like sardines but like someone who stands up to these often rude men! I don’t like the seat immediately behind the front seat as there is a thick metal bar going across in front of me which may stop the whole bus caving in on impact but would also be very painful to be thrown on it by the impact. The back seats are so claustrophobic though apparently the safest as there is an ’emergency door’ behind (the boot!) but I prefer the one immediately behind the hunched over conductor who hangs out the window shouting constantly for customers. I just think he would make for a softer landing if I was ever thrown forwards and of course the convenience of the door! Hopefully I will never have the opportunity to find out if I am right or wrong in my opinion!
Once in Kamuli we headed to a market stall run by an Aunt of an Uncle (?), as I wanted to buy some gifts for Innocent’s grandmother who I have known since 2008. She is such a lovely lady looking after so many of her relatives offspring when their parents have either died, abandoned or mistreated them. Innocent found refuge there along with his cousin John who I have known since helping to build a mud home for him and his sister in 2002, which stood beside the crowded home of Grandma but has long since fallen down. One of Innocent’s relatives has a market stall where I bought 2 kilo rice, 2 kilo sugar, 2 kilo maize flour, tea, 6 eggs, large cooking oil, flavourings, 2 kilo g-nuts, giant slabs of washing soap, curry powder, Blue Band margarine (that doesn’t need a fridge!) and bread. The whole lot came to 48,000 UGX (£10). I also treated Innocent to a sleeveless top. He is a Liverpool fan but had to settle for ManU! Then we boarded a motorbike taxi as our load was rather heavy to walk with and I had my usual ‘going out’ equipment too!
The family was waiting for me when we arrived and I was introduced to the newest members, Johns girlfriend and their tiny son Francis. Knowing how poor the family are I had gone around the charity shops in Poynton buying baby clothes. In fact the manager of Headway charity shop in Poynton gave me some surplus clothes free! Thank you!
Grandma’s hugs over the years have got more enthusiastic. She almost lifted me off my feet and that take quite an effort especially as I must be twice her weight! And one is never enough – every time I stood up to move another hug came my way. She kept tapping my hips, putting her head to one side and smiling. I know what she was thinking – ‘You are beautiful, you are fat’! Grandma always says to me that I never forget her family. But why should I, these people have played a big part in my enjoyment of Uganda. They are generous, kind and most of all genuine!
Grandma was preparing a cooked lunch but Innocent had already informed her we would be having one at our next destination. She was disappointed but then insisted I did have some g-nuts which I welcomed as I love them but when I uncovered the dish they were cooked in a sauce. I took s couple of spoonfuls so as not to cause offence but they were very strong in flavour. Good thing I had sent John and Innocent to get cold soda’s for us all!
We sat and chatted, though mainly with John as Grandma always retreats inside her little kitchen area as if she knows her place but she is watching and listening all the time and making sure her grandchildren look after me well!
Then it was was back to the market for the same supplies for Innocent Dada (Grandfather) and family and we headed out into the bush to their home. A bumpy ride but going through beautiful countryside and being greeted by calls of ‘Mzungu Mzungu’ and broad smiles as we passed the small homesteads.
Once again a big welcome awaited us. Mum Judith, Aunty and lots of children were busy in the tidy compound. There was no sign of Dada as he has not wanted to get out of his bed for several months and refusing food too. Innocent went inside to see him and surprised us all a while later when he came out carrying his very frail grandfather fully clothed. Dada had insisted he wanted to come out to welcome me! Judith, Innocent’s mum gave up her little teaching job which was some way from their village, to come home to nurse him. Since I saw him a year ago he has lost so much weight. Judith told me that once he heard I was coming he kept telling them he would stay alive until then! His body may be weak but his mind is still alert. He informed me he was born in 1917 so I think that makes him 90 years old. No wonder he is tired! He is quite an amazing man who keeps asking why God has kept him alive so long when all his friends have passed. He worked alongside the British Royal Air force in Burma during the 2nd World War which means he may well have known my dad!
Dada put his hand out towards me though he is virtually blind. Innocent told me he wanted me to sit beside him which I gladly did. He smelt of freshly used soap – maybe also in honour of me!! Judith came in with a mug of fortified milk but he refused it until I took it from her. He sipped it slowly but you could tell he really was too weary to bother. He also ate the tiniest piece of a slab of Christmas cake I had brought with me, as I had remembered how much he enjoyed it last year. Tiny was enough though but his smile showed he enjoyed it. He held my hand in his cold weak fingers. He kept repeating the name Owen, my son-in-law, the fact that the world was a ‘bad place’ now, thanking me for all I have done for Innocent and then looked at me straight in the eyes and said slowly ‘long live’!
It was enjoyable being with Innocent’s family of several generations. Dada loves his grandchildren and great grandchildren very much and still loves having them around him but I could tell he has a special soft spot for Innocent! Innocent will miss him when the time comes as Dada has been more of a father to him than his own father.
The ladies had cooked a simple meal of Irish potatoes, rice and g-nut sauce which they served up to Innocent and I away from themselves. Judith apologised for such a simple meal for their ‘special visitor’ but it is only what I have been eating virtually every day at St James! It is traditional to give at least some small food to visitors whether they were expected or not but I always come away quite satisfied as the meals are mainly of carbs.
Mum and all the children walked us back through the ‘bush’ to the rough lane where we hoped we would catch two passing bodas. The children all held a small part of my hands smiling, but the eldest boy knew he wouldn’t see me for another year and I could see he felt sad about that. They care for Innocent so much and therefore me too as they know my family and friends have helped their cousin in a way no-one else could and they will be eternally happy for that. I feel it a real honour to be able to help young people out here who work hard, who are trying their very best and would NEVER take advantage of you and one of these is Innocent. I would love to think that he and others like him are the future of this beautiful country though the fight for democracy and against corruption seems an awful long way off yet!
Anyway I had had another lovely few hours with good friends but we had a long wait for a boda and then only one came along so I had to share with Innocent as otherwise would have been there all night. I don’t mind sharing but my insurance policy would be invalid if I had an accident so don’t like to do it more than necessary.