Innocent buys me a Nile beer at his own bar!

Dear Friends and Family,

I have left St James for a few days and come to stay with my friend Godfrey Mwase and his family who live very near Lake Victoria and the Nile. I am hoping that I will be able to catch up with a few newsletters as I have a backlog!

While James was at the hospital Innocent collected me on his motorbike and took me to visit his little business. He recently gained a degree thanks to the generosity of my friends Ruth, Marie, Kath and my family who have sponsored him. For those of you who don’t know Innocent’s story, I will tell you more about him later.

Innocent’s dream is to own a successful pig business. He has taken time to learn a lot about them and in fact I bought him one of his first pigs when I first got to know him. But setting up a piggery is an expensive challenge so to raise money he is renting a bar with rooms behind for people to stay over. It is called Mirembe Bar and Shop with lodgings. Mirembe means Peace which is rather appropriate as Innocent has had quite a rocky childhood but I know he feels more at peace now than ever before.

The bar is 15 minute motorbike ride from St James so Innocent is a regular visitor. In fact James likes him very much and often they seek each others’ advice. As you will see from the photos it is in prime position beside a taxi-bus stop. He has made it attractive with seating, shade and a pool table! Innocent was taught to play pool by my now Son-in-law Owen when he visited Uganda with my daughter Sara in 2011. Now he claims to be quite a champion which brings other players to his establishment.

I was not very sure running a bar was the right thing for Innocent but seeing him ‘in action’ I can see he has everything under control and from the people I met around Mirembe he has made lots of friends. There is a lovely family living next door who came over to greet me. Innocent tells me he sometimes gives work to the father and to others in the community. For instance he employs three barmaids and allows a ‘chicken man’ to sell his BBQ chicken at the bar on Friday and Saturday evenings.

So he is getting a good reputation and with his cool calm personality even deals with those who have had too much of the ‘good stuff’! He showed me around the rest of the building where there are four rooms for rent, one room where the waitresses stay, Innocents private room and lastly a room where he distils the local brew! I was a little surprised when he showed me this but apparently it is legal, and a good money spinner! I have tasted it just the once, but never again!

Innocent offered me a drink, a Nile Beer, but it was the middle of the day, very hot and I was travelling on his motorbike, so not a good idea BUT his expression persuaded me and he brought out an ice cold one! I hadn’t realised that he has electricity at the bar too which enables him not only to serve chilled drinks but also to offer other services such as charging mobile phones. Yet another ‘string to his bow’ good promotion for his business!

I was glad to see Innocent did not join me in a beer but had a cola. While we sat in the shade of the umbrella with a cooling breeze coming off the swamp nearby he proudly showed me an album of his Graduation photos. I was very touched when I saw included in the album photos of my family and his other friends from the UK who have helped him so much. You all mean so much to him as you changed his life!

Innocent’s mum was unmarried and when he was just six years old his father snatched him from his mother insisting he would have a better life living with him. His father married and when his stepmother had her own children Innocent was rejected by her and his dad. Eventually things got so bad he ran away and lived with his grandmother in Kamuli where I first got to know him. This rejection of children from previous relationships is common here and James tells me that this is one of the reasons he never married again after his ‘beloved wife’ Joy died in 2001, step mothers seem to have the upper hand! I hope to meet his birth mum during my stay.

I met Innocent in 2011 when I was visiting his grandmother and another of her grandchildren John Baptist Zaake who I have known since I first came to Uganda in 2002 and stayed at Maria’s Care where John lived at the time. He got on very well with Owen and Sara and became our guide and helper during their stay and looked after me when Alex had to return to school for his A levels.

I got to know him better and learnt that he had gained O & A levels and wanted to go to university to study business specialising in accountancy. He never asked me for money but I felt I should be up front with him and told him that I could be his friend but not his sponsor and that is how it was until one of what I call my ‘miracles’ occurred!

I kept in touch with Innocent when I returned to the UK; in fact he became my postman. I would email him letters for James which he would download and print out at an Internet Cafe in Kamuli then travel to St James deliver the letter, get a reply, go back to Kamuli, type it out and email to me. He proved to be a very honest and hardworking young man who often stopped to help James with one thing or another, especially giving James advice on pigs!

One day I found myself telling all who read my newsletters about Innocent and asking if anyone could help him and within a few days three people came forward to off almost the exact amount he would need for university fees. This was at the beginning of August and the new uni year started less than two weeks later. Do you see what I mean about miracles?

My family helped with his subsistence and my then future son-in-law paid for Innocent to have medical checks and drugs to help with his fits which have haunted him for several years. With Innocent’s determination and hard work, never giving up his ambition to gain his degree we were all thrilled to hear he had succeeded. He is so grateful for this opportunity and sends his thanks to all who played a part, Ruth, Maria, Kathy and my family including his ‘best friend’ Owen!

Innocent had invited me to his graduation but it was in October, too early for me to come out and stay until after Eric’s wedding and Christmas! He was allowed two guest so he invited his mum and dad but his dad bullied his mum to try and make her give up her seat to the step-mum but Innocent stood up to him. As it turned out, on the day they all got seats. Innocent’s dad is a council and church leader but treats his own son very poorly! I think Innocent must take after his mum as he is a kind gentle man.

Babies are crying! I’m writing this very early in the morning, before day break and the twin babies staying in the dormitory next to my room, have just woken up. Aisha their mum is one of the teachers who looked after this place when James visited the UK in May. They came to meet me yesterday and stayed over but will travel back to their village today.

I shall leave this now and go and make myself another cup of tea.

By for now!

Love Gerry

HAPPY CHRISTMAS FROM UGANDA!

Dear Family and Friends

I have managed to get both Internet and a little stored power on this special morning to wish you the happiest of Christmas days. Norman, Nicola and Sara I love you all so much, miss you but Im having a wonderful time BUT its RAINING!

I tried to send a Christmas text to my family at 1am but then discovered I had no credit on my phone – you’ll get it eventually when I buy more airtime in Kamuli!

I’m up early to travel into Kamuli Town to celebrate the day at James’ favourite church where we are expected to participate! Then back for a brief celebration at Mirembe (Peace) Bar with Innocent followed by a quiet Christmas dinner with James, Fatuma, Livee, Grace and two of his friends. I have already thanked and apologised to the chicken that is enjoying his last meal!

This afternoon is the football match postponed from Tuesday – The local team called Poynton against a team from Jinja – we won 3-1 in the last match so I am ready with my banner and chants to cheer them on later – IF IT STOPS RAINING!!

This will be my second Christmas, my first was on Tuesday 23rd, Pork Day, in Uganda except for the Muslin population. ALL James’ family came to St James for a special meal of pork, chapatti, mandazzi, bananas, and pineapple. Livee helped decorate the oldest mango tree and place gifts I had brought from the UK for the children and James, in and around the tree.

After the family left James and I walked into further into Nakakabala to greet many friends and had a wonderful welcome.

My battery is just about to run out so once again thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your love and interest in this amazing, wonderful, loving place that is St James and all the community who benefit.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS!