First full day in Bududa

I had a lovely long sleep in the peace and calm of the guesthouse and felt much better. Evelyn, my former hostess, arrived to cook breakfast, baby now very visible. Our conversation illustrates the problem of eliciting reliable information in Uganda, and it is not just a language barrier.

News of my former hosts

Me: “So, how is Simon?” (Simon is Evelyn’s husband, my former host and mountain hiking companion.)
Evelyn: “He’s fine.” (Everyone is always fine!)
Me: “So he no longer has a hernia problem?”
Evelyn: “Yes”.
Long pause while I reflected. Mary had told me that “yes” to a negative question meant the opposite of what mzungus understand it to mean. In other words it does NOT mean “Yes, I agreed with what you said.”

Long pause while I reflected. Mary had told me that “yes” to a negative question meant the opposite of what mzungus understand it to mean. In other words it does NOT mean “Yes, I agreed with what you said.”

By way of confirmation, me: “So, is he in pain?”
She nods.
Conclusion: Simon is not fine after all.

It was a bit chilly sitting on the terrace drinking tea and contemplating the mist-shrouded valley this morning. No longer the milk tea of Kampala, alas, but a few tea leaves topped up with boiling water from a thermos and a few drops of long-life milk, that is until we run out since milk has to be bought in Mbale. By 11 a.m. it was sunny and then, at noon, we had a terrific downpour with fabulous thunder and lightning, which lasted a good two hours, delaying my plan to go visiting.

A typical morning of frustration

The morning was somewhat typical so I will describe it. After breakfast we went down to the main BLCschool building alongside the road. Greetings and handshakes all round with the staff.

“You are welcome!” “Welcome back!”
Me: “Thank you.”
They: “How is there?”
Me: “There is cold. Here is nicer.”
The wording seems standard. A variation is: “How is up?” (Up is the guesthouse.)

For three hours I struggled with the internet and finally managed to read a dozen or so messages and briefly answer three. I was constantly disconnected. The laptops are boosted with the generator in the school office but reception is best outside so they are constantly being carried about. The speed is dismal. One could read a chapter in a novel while one message is loading. Sabia was good enough to interrupt her work with intern Martha to initiate me into the intricacies of modems and Macs. Fearful of becoming disconnected again, I skipped the mid-morning tea break – tea and groundnuts (peanuts) – with the teachers. As I sat outside on a stool waiting for a response from the Internet, I watched as the infected foot of a boy sitting beside me was treated. His “good” foot was completely twisted inwards and the cast had to be trimmed back on his other leg because an area was becoming increasingly infected and swollen. The tailoring teacher chipped away at the cast for ages with a sharp knife and scissors. The boy had crutches but they were apparently too short for him.

I was also naughty and skipped lunch. I will have to be sure to eat with the staff tomorrow. The food is the same rice, cabbage and beans, every day but it looks stand-offish if the mzungus eat up in the guesthouse. It’s bad enough trying to desegregate the male and female teachers. The men always used to sit at the table, leaving the female teachers to sit on the side benches with their food on their laps.

First visit to one of the Children of Peace with Teacher Hellen

Once the rain finally let up, I walked the 35 minutes into Bududa. When I banged on the door to teacher Hellen’s compound, her small niece, Becky, opened up for me. Housing relatives’ children is common here. After the rain, the tiny compound was awash with red mud. Everything gets caked with it. There was already an inch of mud protruding from under the soles of my boots. It clings to everything.

Hellen, who teaches at the Saturday school program for the Children of Peace orphans in addition to her full-time job in an elementary school, looked in good shape. She had lost weight. She ushered me into her best room, which was spick and span as always, with doilies on all the furniture and new light coloured linoleum on the floor. The same religious posters still decorated the walls, reminding readers that God moves in invisible ways. There are so many public displays of religion here. I prayed with an Evangelical Friend and our Catholic guide when we reached the 4000 metre summit of Mount Elgon. Prayers sent me off on my way every time I left the village. The local people must find us Westerners very strange. Their faith is touching. My friend Kevin – a woman incidentally – does not take medicine for her malaria – or perhaps she simply cannot afford it – she leaves it up to God. When I deeply commiserated with her for the death of her daughter – also a malaria case – her immediate response was complete acceptance of the loss – it was God’s will.

After tea – unfortunately without milk – slices of white bread and very tough roasted corn on the cob, Hellen and I exchanged news and planned visits to the Children of Peace orphans sponsored by Coldstream Friends and people around London, Ontario. Hellen has closed her private school because it was in deficit. Her current money-making scheme is to sell Western clothes, which are better quality than local ones. I am not sure where she thinks she will get her supply. Her benefactor in Toronto did not manage to ship any to her. Mark, her eldest is now in his first year of a three-year university course thanks to the partial sponsorship of Barbara Wybar. He went to private boarding school near Tororo. Barbara visited him there. Each child had a bed and one metal trunk, which contained their only possessions. Their diet was not much more than posho (maize (corn) meal porridge) for every meal. To go to Mackerere, the best university in Uganda, is a real achievement for a Bududa boy. But it is costing a fortune – over one million shillings just for tuition per semester. The Children of Peace program only covers elementary school fees. Beyond that the child has to somehow raise money. Mark spent all summer industriously making necklaces for Barbara to sell. The tiny bedroom he shared with his brother was like a regular factory when I visited.

One of the younger Children of Peace, Bisikwa Doreen, daughter of the program’s teacher James, lived nearby so we paid a call on the family. She was still on her way home from a small private school. Private schools charge a small fee and offer a better education because the classes are smaller than the 100 odd pupils per class found at government schools. Living conditions were not too bad. Bunches of beans hung from the roof, drying. A cow was tethered nearby, but well away from the cooking hut. So by Bududa standards, with crops and livestock, this was a middle class family or even upper middle class since teacher James has a salary. Problems raised were the lack of shoes – compulsory to go to school although the children are not sent home if the teachers are aware that they don’t own shoes – and the need for a new latrine since the existing one is dilapidated and shared by several families and the hole is nearly full. Latrines are of course not covered by the program.

Construction of the new Bududa Learning Centre Building

Following this I visited the site of the new Bududa Learning Centre next to the trading centre. Robert, the deputy head and supervisor of the construction was not to be seen although I was assured that he was “around”. About two dozen workers were hard at work on the girls’ hostel. The main classroom block, which seemed much larger and more elaborate than the existing school in Konokoyi, was partly built. Robert reckons that construction will be completed in January. The land is on a 50-year lease from the local authority. The new plot is fenced in and stops well short of the swamp and river so there should be no drainage problem as there was on the old site. The next building planned is the bricklaying and carpentry shop, with a second story to house more classrooms. A boys’ hostel is not on the books at the moment.

Family Planning Problems

Simon, my former host, descended from the wooden scaffolding, caked in cement, to greet me as I entered the site. He looked so old, tired and worn out. Thoroughly exhausted, he could not even muster his usual bewitching smile to greet me. Apparently, the workers were offered a choice of schedule and settled on 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Simon is in his seventies! However, two months of work is a regular blessing; perhaps he will even be able to pay some of the school fees for his eight children. When I had asked the due date for her baby (a complete surprise and unplanned) Evelyn had merely smiled demurely. Simon was more forthright. I could not quite understand whether he was saying that the family planning “medicine” she was given was fake. Ugandans often complain that the medicine they receive is just powder. The story I had heard was that the nurse had not been at the clinic when she had gone for her three-monthly injection. He now talked about having “the cut”, as they say here.

He can’t feed his existing children let alone pay their school fees. Two or three of them are sponsored as Children of Peace and are at secondary school.

I scurried back up the winding red road to Konokoyi, fearful of being overtaken by the dark. I can’t get used to the hours here – light at 6 a.m. and dark about 12 hours later. I am used to it getting light at 7 a.m. here. I felt really at home, being greeted by friends and acquaintances along the way, Perez, who accepted my offer of free prescription glasses, Peter Kutosi, a neighbor of Simon, etc.

Candles were already lit (the electricity from the generator does not reach the guest house) and dahl was almost on the table when I arrived but there was just time to pour a bucket of cold water from the water barrel over myself in the banana leaf shower first, a much easier method of performing one’s ablutions than splashing oneself with water out of a basin in the nook off the guesthouse bedroom.

Submitted by: Sheila Havard
International Coordinator
Children of Bududa