Claire’s Uganda Trip
Claire Garven fills in as organist at Monks a few Sundays every month. But we will not be seeing her for the next 12 months as she has gone to Uganda South Africa as a volunteer teacher. Claire has spent a long time planning for this trip, and has only been in Uganda a few weeks. Claire will keep us up to date with her adventures on this special page created just for her.
September 10th to September 14th, 2013
Well what can I say about this week? On Tuesday I had a day of training and we had a nice enjoyable relaxing meal out with Ian, a VSO volunteer at a restaurant called ‘The Coconut Shack’. My room was beginning to look a bit of a mess and so decided to get up early and tidy up before going to a meeting at nine where I was going to meet a partner from the National Curriculum Development Centre where I will be working. However, things did not all go to plan.
I got up to go the bathroom and bumped into the wall – unusual so I went back to bed. Anyway to cut a long story short I rang one of the other volunteers and said I did not feel well and the next thing I knew I was in the International Hospital Kampala with severe Labyrinthitus and have been in hospital for the last four days. I was allowed to go home today, Saturday, at about 4.00 this afternoon (2.00 UK time). I remember very little of Wednesday and apparently I had a brain scan and the results are ok for I am very relieved as it means the infection did not reach my brain.
The hospital was amazing. The staff were kind, informative and helpful and tried to help you in every way, there were some challenges though. There was a shower but it did not work and so a large bowl of water had to suffice but it did its job. They even helped me have a sitting down wash which was lovely as I could not have had one on my own. They then came and asked me about food and as I had no appetite at all I asked for very small portions, if I had to have food at all. However, the Ugandans do not understand this concept and when you are flat on your back it is really difficult to eat anything let alone rice and bean sauce, and the portions were huge.
I was told by Manjit a doctor friend that I would not be able to leave hospital until I started to eat so I managed to do what I could as I so wanted to get well and be allowed to go back to the Guest House. My other VSO friends have been brilliant they have visited me everyday bringing me water and other things. I have had many visited and phone calls from the staff at the VSO offices and from the London VSO medical team every day. I have been totally amazed by the love, care and support I have received and I think this has aided towards my recovery. Other than being on a lot of medication for the next three weeks and a check up on Wednesday all is well.
I began to feel better on Friday and made a determined effort to sit up and try hold up my head and so I decided to sit out on the balcony which was just outside my room. It was a balcony for the four bedded ward that I was on. The view was lovely. I faced the back of the hospital and overlooked a lovely family. They live in a corrugated tin house of which two-thirds was painted white and the top third painted red. There were three adults, two ladies and who I thought might be a dad (he came home at lunch time) and five children. There was two young teenage girls about 12ish and a small boy and girl about the same age about seven perhaps and a smaller boy about three or four. They were so resourceful. They were trying to clear the area by their house with a spade like tool (I think it might have been an adze but I am not sure) removing weeds and they did a little bit everyday even the small boy. They had many containers of various sizes which severed different purposes and everything was neat a tidy. They seemed to keep their clean clothes in a green bin outside and on one occasion when the smaller boy got very wet he just helped himself to another tee shirt and it didn’t seem to matter that it was three sizes too big. He was happy just to be dry.
They had a dog and a puppy and five hens and five smallish chicks. They all just lived around with the people and neither dog nor hens bothered about each other. They had a bonfire area which both animals and children occasionally scrabbled about in looking for something or not as the case may be. On Friday they spent most of the morning playing football and learning to ride a big blue bike which was much too big for any of the children. The younger women (I think perhaps the mum) was very helpful she took the smaller children with her giving them rides, the others tried to do it on their own occasionally falling off but they did not seem to mind. They were beginning to get the hang of it. They played football for ages and then suddenly it deflated and turned itself in half put they kept on playing with it and eventually by more luck than anything else it which into a round shape again.
In their open garden, as there were no fences it was just open to the road they had a large Jack fruit tree which they climbed even the smallest boy. They all helped each other and they never argued or got cross it was all very harmonious.
Today, Saturday, they seemed to be much quieter doing household chores like washing and taking out their flooring to clean. They hung their washing on a spiky type of bush to dry and then the children went off and climbed the black fruit tree instead. Football was the game of the day again but not so frequently. There was a bit of excitement thougha man came along the road and obviously wanted one of the hens and so the smaller boy tried to chase it but could not catch it so his older sister joined in and in no time the hen was caught by the tail and was given to the man in exchange for money and he carried it away alive by its wing. Something nice for someones dinner!! The children have seen me watching then over the last two days and have started to wave at me and I have waved back, they seem so happy and yet they appear to have nothing – but what is more precious than family and love? so this week I hope to be able to go and say hello to them properly and introduce myself to them.
Anyway, I am not sure there is much more news to tell you as I have not been around much so will perhaps be able to write more next week.
I hope I have not made too many mistakes but still feeling a bit groggy. Thank you for you continued support and I’ll be in touch soon.
15th September to 22nd September, 2013
So what is everyday life in Uganda really like… other than beautiful and much greener than I imagined, a place of peace and gentle harmony.
The days begin to get light at about six and the first sounds I am aware of is the crowing of cockerels to welcome the new day. This is shortly followed by the distant call to prayer from a Mosque; perhaps the one in Kampala but it may be from a nearer one. I was surprised to feel that it was quite a reassuring sound and like listening to it. It has lilting beauty in the early morning dawn.
Sometimes this relaxing start to the day is broken by the growling and snarling of dogs. You very rarely see dogs, I have only seen one dog and a puppy since I have been here which belonged to the family who were living at the back of the hospital, and so this sound is one which really disturbs the atmosphere and wrenches you into total consciousness whether you want to be dragged there or not. This raucous does not last for long, perhaps twenty minutes or so but longer than is necessary as the moment has gone and the day has now started.
The first images of the day are quite misty as I am surrounded by a mosquito net making me feel like a Princess sleeping in a four poster bed. I climb out through my mosquito net which is suspended over the double bed by four hooks. At night this makes me feel as if I am part princess and part miner as I go to bed with a head torch. When I first arrived I bought a lovely handmade fine woven pot which has a pointed lid and in there I put various items e.g. another torch cum radio, an ipod and some ear phones, my mobile phone and a pack of cards. It is like going to bed with a toy box. Really fun!!! It saves having to get out through the mosquito net again if you take everything to bed with you. I also take a book and a Bible into my cave like haven with me.
Now what about the mosquito situation… When I first arrived I was bitten a lot but now I think they have got used to my ‘Mzongu’ taste and smell have decided I am of inferior quality as I am not so troubled now. Is it better to have one mosquito which you are trying to splat or a biblical plague where at least you have a chance of splatting something? I thought a biblical plague would be the order of the day but thankfully it is not like that at all just the annoying one or two and so the challenge is to be able enter the safe haven of your net without enticing them in with you.
The fly situation at breakfast time is a different problem they are really quite troublesome; crawling languidly over and around the sugar bowl or buzzing lazily from the jam to the juice and back to the jam via anything else they can find to crawl on including eyelids and arms. Umm lovely…
The first experience of my day starts with a shower which is effective and efficient and wonderful as the nights can be quite sticky especially if it has rained or the atmosphere heavy with thunder and the threat of a down pour. The water you think is water coloured, if water is indeed colured! until you catch it in a bucket and then you realise it has a vague browny hue to it, but there is water and its fine. It does however, explain why all my clothes are getting little orangey brown marks on them but so has everyone else so we match!
International phenomenon: I have only washed clothes in my room and so my socks have not met with other people’s socks but they still disappear and so I have come to the conclusion that ’Borrowers’ are international and that they use them for sleeping bags or other such useful items. Where do socks go?!!
There was great excitement later this morning as after the lovely cleaners had cleaned my room I found I had a plug and I think it fits the sink. I know it is only a little thing but having a plug is wonderful as it means it easier to wash clothes instead of having to find something, like a sock, (that’s where they go down the plug hole!) to jam into the plug hole so the water stays in the sink long enough for you wash all the items.
The washing of the bathroom floor is interesting: a big bucket of soapy water is used to throw over the tiled floor and then this is swept with a brush through a hole in the wall, the water running through a pipe onto the garden below. Very quick and efficient and does the job. Must try it when I return!
When washing has been done and it has been duly dried on the line the ironing process then needs to start. Jacinta bought me a travel iron which has been totally invaluable, but how to iron? The iron flex did not reach to the table and so I decided to fold up a towel and do the ironing on the towel on the floor. This was a great solution until you have Labyrinthitus. I then asked if I could borrow an ironing board but they said to iron on the bed. This I found to be trickier as beds are soft and so the floor is obviously the best solution to ironing matters.
Shopping is next I think. About five minutes’ walk up the road is an Italian Supermarket which sells absolutely everything even conditioner which I was told was as rare as hens teeth. They sell nuts and marmite and so everything is well with the world. There seems to be many misconceptions regarding availability of things in Uganda. The only item which I had trouble getting was a nail brush and a friend managed to pick of these up in Kampala for me so even that has not stumped us yet. We all seem to on a mission to find the things we were told by VSO and other reliable sources were not available. Anyway the fruit and vegetables and other foods are so readily available that you could quite easily live off them. The food is amazing as I think I have said before.
I have had all manner of foods from Italian, Ethiopian, Indonesian, Ugandan, and more. The Ethiopian food was interesting. I had a chick pea dish and a small bowl of about 5 inch diameter arrived on a tray about two feet across. Under the small dish was what looked like a white cloth but what was in fact ‘injera’. It is made of rice and tastes like ‘J cloth’ and feels like a flannel. You do not have cutlery but use this ‘cloth’ to scoop up your food from the small dish. I could not eat all my ‘injera’ so asked for a spoon – obviously not proper etiquette!
The evenings are the most tranquil time: sitting in thatched round houses, ‘ bandas’, or out in the open, or lazing under palm trees, but wherever you are you are serenaded by the crickets and cicadas. Fruit bats come out to play and gracefully fly across the sky in the dimming evening light making a bee-line for their favourite trees. It is a natural orchestra the sound of which will stay with me forever. I am much more aware of the balance between people and nature here and how by working in harmony gives a very peaceful atmosphere. Fire pits and twinkling lights also adorn the eating areas and as the sun sets so the mosquito spray comes out. Torches are a must at night even if you are close to home because of the big ditches alongside the roads which can intrude right across your path.
After the rains these are regularly cleaned out and the earth which is removed is put in big heaps along the side of the road and dries in the daily heat and haze of the day. The soil which results is fine and looks as if it has been dug by a mole. This is then either put back on the verge and gets washed back in again when it rains, or is left in heaps or is, I assume taken away because it disappears but I am not sure. Recycling at its best, I think!
On Thursday I had a review at the hospital which was an interesting experience. I won’t go into details but there were two incidences. I was told that it was good the infection had turned into a cold as ‘my nose was acting as a good drain’. A nice phrase I thought. However, more importantly though in the ENT department there was a Mother and a small child of about 2 or perhaps 3 who was obviously in a lot of pain. I entertain him she was pointing things out on the painted tiled picture on the wall while singing a song to the tune of ‘Frere Jacques’ over and over again. It went like this:
‘Baby Jesus, Baby Jesus, I love you, You are my Saviour, You are my Saviour, I love you, A-men.
It calmed the child and all was well. People are very child centred and faith is not shrouded in secrecy. In contrast to this at the other end of the waiting area was a silent TV screen showing the most awfully violent film, the contrast could not have been more different.
Anyway I must stop now, but just to say that life is good and I am really enjoying everything. I am feeling much better now and really appreciate your love, continued support and prayers.
I will try and send pictures next week for a change. Take care and talk to you again next week.
Lots of love from Claire xxxxxx