Data depleted! But we are back on!

1st December 2016
Yesterday the African sun really rolled up its sleeves and got to work. It was extremely hot in the morning and our usual half an hour walk to the orphanage was out of the question. That meant that I had to put on trousers (a lady in a skirt cannot sit on boda boda motorbike taxi astride and my bottom is not big enough to balance on it sideways) and we waved down two motorbikes.

The unmade maram roads have been scarred during the recent rains and there are deep ruts and potholes that the boda boda must avoid. It’s not unusual (have you burst into a song here?) to see a boda boda, the driver and the passenger on their sides, covered in the orange dust. I am glad to report that we both made it to Family Spirit in one piece.

It was a farm visit day. From earlier on Isaac, Susan’s husband and director of the orphanage, talked about taking us to see their farm. We first visited it in 2011 and since then, thanks to several ‘good samaritans’, it has developed. There are new plantations; a building that houses a maze grinding machine; new cow shed and also a running tap that we installed with the help of a water charity. It’s great to see that they are on their way to self sufficiency. I also believe that that is the reason most of their supporters are still helping them. If the orphanage was still in the same state as we found it in 2011, I would be hesitant to pour money into it.

img_0860We surveyed the banana trees, the little orange plants, baby mango trees and also all the poultry. The men who were unloading a truck full of fencing posts found my fascination with chickens rather amusing. Those of my readers who know my pre-uganda blogs will not be surprised by this.

It’s World AIDS Day today and as I mentioned previously, the children should have gone to the celebration and awareness event. However, recent oil exploration about twenty miles away has brought new workers and also sex workers into that area and the government has decided that the screening and awareness event would take place there instead. I understand why that is the case but it also means that ‘our’ children cannot attend because the logistics are near impossible for them.

On Sunday I will deliver a short session on First Aid, so I will include some HIV facts and advice (I used to work as HIV Lead for Uganda with Cricket Without Boundaries, a charity that first brought us to Africa). Previously I said that there were about 15 children HIV+, today I stand corrected – there are 36 (Susan read my last blog and corrected me). A session on plasters and hygiene will be useful.

We should also celebrate the day with the arrival of a cricket coach! The Ugandan Cricket Association is sending over a young man called Emmanuel who is incidentally the Ugandan ambassador for Cricket Without Boundaries. He will be coaching in local schools and we hope that he will spare some time for the kids at Family Spirit. The children love cricket and ask for a game on daily basis. The boys and girls have great throwing arms and some of them might become useful bowlers.

I am on my second pot of tea now, Mike has long left the hotel in search of an ATM, plasters and crepe bandages and soon it will be time to brave the sunshine. If you are reading this in England or any other winter engulfed country, I hope that some of that sunshine will seep out of this blog to you.

2nd December 2016
The data allowance in the hotel where we are staying has been ‘depleted’ according to the sign that comes up when I try to get online (no surprise there, most of the tourists heading to or from Murchinson Falls stop here for lunch and use the wifi to post their travel pictures.

So I will make this blog REALLY long in order to catch up.

Since all the children stayed in the orphanage yesterday instead of going to World AIDS Day, they were fidgety and wanted attention. Mainly from Mike, so he finally decided to play cricket with them. Twenty one were chosen (why not twenty or twenty two, who knows) and off we walked to a nearby school to use their playing field. I lasted about ten minutes before the spanking new flip flops rubbed my feet raw. I took a few photos and hurried to find a boda boda to take me ‘home’.

Unlike my sporty and active husband, I spent the afternoon in the luxury of New Court View, its lush gardens and with Victoria Hislop’s latest book. Have you read Cartes Postales from Greece? I thoroughly enjoyed every page of it. But then, I love her books.

2nd -3rd December 2016
D-day arrived. We had promised that we would take four children to Murchison Falls national park. Susan chose four that she thought were most deserving (they were four HIV+ kids who are often not well enough to join in with other stuff. They all come with baggage of experiences that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Family Spirit is a noisy place full of chatting, singing, laughter and the occasional argument. I expected the journey to be the same. Oh how wrong I was! Take two girls and two boys who are described as ‘two are shy and two are chatty’, remove them from their usual environment and watch the difference. For the first three hours they hardly said a word. We were both falling over ourselves with the effort to make little Singoma smile but until he spotted an elephant, no luck. The others were smiling from time to time but would not speak. I anticipated a very quiet twenty four hours.

The journey from Masindi to the nearest gate of the National Park takes about two hours when the maram road is good. It is another hour or so to the Red Chillies camp where we stayed. You need to get to the gate at the latest possible moment in order to fit in a boat ride, an overnight stay and a morning game drive – and leave the park within 24 hours. The one day pass costs $40 per person and they will make you pay for another day if you return to the gate late.

The baboons were a saving grace for us. The otherwise quite children came to life as we made our way through the park past families of them, blocking the road, sitting on the verges and strolling through the undergrowth.
Very soon we realised that we would just have to let the kids settle and relax with us. After all, we had taken them out of the only home that some of them might ever know. And so we tried to relax too. Within reason though because we were in a rush!

Clearing the gate by ten past midday we had to make it on time for the boat ride that starts at two. Preferably after we’d checked in at Chillies. Time was on our side and at two we were comfortably sitting on a small boat that would take us up and down the river Nile.

Hippos, crocodiles, elephants, warthogs, giraffes and more hippos – they were all there as if arranged for us to admire and photograph. Even our four wards were starting to warm up to the trip. Singoma giggled when I told him that the elephant was saying hello to him. We all enjoyed the three (very sunny and hot) hours on the boat.img_0865

The camp’s dinner menu isn’t huge but all that was available was freshly made and tasty. We had to opt for the simplest meals for the children (their stomachs wouldn’t be able to digest anything too spicy or foreign as they are used to their daily diet of beans and posho) and they ate their food with real focus and dedication. In fact it put them into such a good mood this we spent the last few minutes before bedtime looking up at the stars and pointing out those of our relatives who ‘have passed and have become stars’.

The highlight of the evening was when Latif, carrying the torch, stopped dead still and we realised that we almost walked into a hippo feeding on the camp’s lawn. We met him twice that evening.

After the flashiest and the most thundery storm in my living history we woke up to a beautifully clear darkness. It was early and we had to get ready for the game drive. The dawn turned into a sunny day and again the animals obliged. I have visited Murchison Falls twice before but I have never seen so many giraffes! There were tens of them – a tower of giraffes, if you wish to know the collective word – they were crossing the road left right and centre, feeding on trees while almost smacking our car with their tails. Time and time again we were gazing into their beautiful eyes framed by those long eyelashes.

At one point we had a male Uganda Cob (an antelope) racing the car and that made our car sound with laughter. After the timid smiles, Mike and I felt as if we’d won a lottery.

I should point out that the game drive involves a ferry (on which we met a lady whose parents live in our village back in the UK – small world) that crosses the river from south to north side (unless you are staying at the posh Paraa, which is on the north side), where you find most of the animals. This crossing amusingly adds a bit of an edge to your timing because there is a schedule. And it is designed in such a way that making it back to the park gate is almost impossible.

I only added the word ‘almost’ today because I can report that we made it! With exactly ONE MINUTE to spare!

‘I don’t actually know if they enjoyed it, Susan,’ I said when we brought the kids back to Family Spirit.
‘Of course they did,’ she replied, ‘they came to see me with those big grins on their faces!’

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