Boxing Day and more celebrations!

Alex picked up James and I and we headed for his village of Kasozi (pronounced Cassoss) where we were going to have another Christmas with Alex’s family. Also in the van was one of his brothers Mike, who had not been working away and had not been home for some time.

I had contacted him and he jumped at the idea of giving his mum a surprise of turning up for Christmas so he had travelled to Jinja on Christmas Day to join us. I must let those of you who are new to my newsletters have my story about Alex and his family as they have become a big part of my Uganda life over the years!

The traffic was very light until we turned off onto the rough track that leads to Kasozi. There were people and animals everywhere and with the uneven surface Alex had a hard job steering between all the ‘obstacles’! Everyone seemed happy though and my hand ached from waving to each shout of Mzungu! Alex’s mum Monica was waiting outside her compound when we arrived and started laughing and running down towards her home leading the way, clapping her hands.

Alex had to be careful not to run her over! She gave Mike a gentle handshake and hug but her expression showed how happy she was to see him. Such a very different lady to the one I first met and was trying to persuade to come back home and look after her family after she had been abused and chased away by her late husband’s brothers following his death. Now she is a proud, happy and hard working mum to her seven sons and I love going to see her.

The story of this family is another one that I will pass on to my new Uganda E-mailers soon!

On arrival I am always taken into their small living room which is always neat and tidy, I think waiting for its next visitor. But that ends as soon as I arrive with my multitude of luggage! Mum scurries around to bring in mats and move tables nearer to where I sit so that all my belongings can be off the dusty floor. She does this in complete silence her body partially bent in respect for her guest but with a broad smile on her face! Once I am settled she then gives me the formal greeting, down on her knees, both hands holding one of mine and clearly saying her few words of English “You are most welcome Mum Gerry”.

Then formalities over and still kneeling she puts her arms around me for one of the many hugs she will give me during the day, her head turning from one side to the other on my lap muttering in her own language and showing her obvious delight at my being there. James, who had been chatting to the boys, then came in and she gave him the formal greeting too but with a more serious expression and many more words with lots of ‘Hums’ to and fro between them. This ‘humming’ is difficult to explain until you witness it.

Part Five – A VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS EVENING!

Livee heard us come through the big metal gates and ran to greet us. I offered him a big Christmas hug which he took full advantage of, hanging on to me for quite a while. He was dressed in the Manchester United football shirt one of you had donated as James had told him that tonight we would all eat together, something that doesn’t happen usually as traditionally the men eat first then the children and ladies. As a special guest I have the honour of eating with the men!

I bathed in the dim light of my head torch hanging from a tree branch overhead. The water was rather chilly to say the least as there had been little sun during the day to warm it in the jerry-can. I wasn’t visited by any chickens or the goat that had a habit of coming to join me when I am sitting on the loo or taking my ‘shower’. They were all settled for the night.

Before I went to bathe I gave Livee some tinsel and a few other decorations to put up in James’ office where we were to have our little Christmas party. His broad smile showed the excitement he was feeling! Fatuma had prepared our meal a few hours earlier but had gone to visit her mother.

The meal was exactly the same food as we have every day with the added ingredient of the chicken I said goodbye to earlier in the day! I was a little worried that the chicken was warm and asked James if he had warmed it up, knowing the perils of partially warmed poultry! He said he hadn’t warmed it, it was still warm because it had been wrapped in banana leaves since being cooked and would be very fine, and it was. It was very tender and delicious!

My lovely daughter Sara had given me a Christmas box to be opened with my friends so Livee and I together did the honour with minutes of excitement and anticipation! In the box was a selection of lovely gifts for me and others to share like the home made gingerbread men and Christmas tree biscuits she had made and had travelled reasonable well considering what they had been through!

Livee was fascinated by the bracelets that light up when you snap them and when he was asked to go outside to do some chore for James we heard a whoop of joy at the brightness of the bangles! When James opened one of the gifts his face showed an astonished look as he took out a £50 note. I too was rather taken aback that Sara should send him such a Christmas present but when he pulled it right out of the envelope we both burst into laughter. It was a napkin of £50 notes! Sara’s husband Owen had tricked many of his friends with this and it had worked with us too!

I also had a few simple gifts for Livee that I had put together from donations from the children in Poynton, a pencil case with crayons and notepad; a ball; a yoyo and some toys from last year’s crackers. I also gave him a card with 10,000 shillings inside it and when he opened it he threw himself on me. I was close to tears with the emotion I felt for this young boy.

When Fatuma returned Livee couldn’t wait to show her his gifts, she laughed at his extreme excitement! When Fatuma had finished her meal I also gave her a card with a little money gift, and a scarf which she really appreciated. Though we cannot communicate in words we have become friends and enjoy some funny misunderstandings!

The four of us sat together laughing and joking and even singing until quite late. I didn’t want the day to end! What a wonderful Christmas Day it had been and as I fell into my bed exhausted I knew I would never forget it! To put the ‘icing on the Christmas cake’ my family called me as I lay under my mosquito net. Though I am not with them they are always in my heart and never far away from my thoughts. I love you Norman, Nicola and Sara!

I hope you have all had a lovely Christmas too, a time to share with your family and loved ones and have enjoyed reading about my ‘alternative’ Christmas with many friends in Uganda and I still have a few celebrations to come!

Love from Gerry

Christmas Day Part Four – A Nile Beer at Mirembe Bar to celebrate Christmas and the wonderful day I have had!

It was getting on to dusk by the time we reached Innocents bar, Mirembe means peace by the way! My Nile was ice cold as I like it; James enjoyed a Mountain Dew soda and Innocent a small Guinness! I got out of my rucksack a well travelled box of mince pies and a box of snacks to have with our Christmas drinks.

They both disappeared swiftly! I gave Innocent a few Christmas gifts, one a tray with a message of friendship printed on it. Innocent enjoys poetry and we have a good friendship so this was an ideal gift for him, and his business! I’ve actually written a newsletter about Innocent which I have yet to send you so you will learn more about him when I do!

James and I spent a ‘happy hour’, quite literally, with the beer very cheap at 3000 Ugx a pint 75p, chatting to Innocent and watching the world go by. Long horned cows passed very close to our table along with herd of goats pulling a young boy along.

They knew their way home! Many people passed us in colourful clothes returning from their Christmas day some getting off and one the taxi buses loaded with produce including live chickens, probably a gift from their relatives. I treated Innocent to a small Guinness, his favourite though he doesn’t normally drink on duty. He was often jumping up to serve customers or see to those who were wanting to play pool.

As dusk stared to fall across the swamp it was time to head home for our last Christmas celebration. Young Livee had spent Christmas alone at St James, looking after the animals. He would not have found this strange as many people here in Uganda don’t know the material side of Christmas, it is just another day. I did feel guilty though but was determined to make it up to him when we had our Christmas meal together.

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…..