A Coldstream couple have committed themselves to seeing N— M—- through her nursing studies. This is a fantastic blessing to her. She lives with many brothers and sisters and a sickly 55-year-old mother, who works digging occasionally. A bread-winner in the family would be a terrific boon. N— M—- is doing an internship at a medical clinic beside the Arlington School after completing her first semester of nursing. The internship lasts one year and is followed by six more months of studies and another one-year internship. So she will graduate after a total of three years.
Arlington is a school started by a Ugandan couple from this area who had lived in the USA for many years. It is a model school in many ways and Barbara has frequently sought advice there. Unlike the BLC, it is run entirely by Ugandans. The teachers are all Ugandans, as they are at the BLC. The Americans present are volunteers and play a support role. These volunteers pay $2000 for the privilege of working for free at Arlington! (At the BLC, volunteers are asked to pay $800.) I noted the many posters exhorting people to use condoms along the road to the neighbouring village and wondered if they were the work of the school.
I explained my business to the lady who came out to greet me from the clinic and N— M—- then appeared, looking very neat in her nurse’s uniform. After I had apologized for the interruption, she led me to a shelter in the grounds with wooden benches, where I completed the visitation form. She seemed happy and healthy and her eye problem has been resolved. She is living at home during her internship and the home situation seems to be unchanged. She was away when the project distributed nets and blankets so I can ensure that she gets these. The family might qualify for supplementary food but, since she has to work on Saturdays, she would be unable to come to Saturday school to pick them up.
What a Mzungu can expect when out walking in Bududa District
N— M—- saw me off part way down the road to Choholo village and explained where I could get a pickipicki. A man strolling down the road tagged along with me and we chatted. The conversation was typical so I will describe it. After I had greatly astonished him by explaining the discomfort of snow and ice, the bother of having to pile on winter clothes and the dangers of driving in icy conditions, the conversation moved on to his children. One is apparently being interviewed for Arlington. Another is at a government school in a class of 60, although the students seem to be divided into three groups. Then he told me that he had 14 orphans living with him in addition to his own children. Typically the word “suffering” would then come up in such a conversation and I would be left to conclude that assistance from me would welcome. Sometimes people ask outright but this fellow was content to make his point without actually asking. Luckily when the conversation had reached this stage, we arrived at the pickipicki station and he helped me find a driver.
Change of Scenery
If possible the landscape around Arlington is even more stunningly beautiful than it is around the BLC. The school is part way up the mountain up an extremely rutted track. The motorcycle had to weave in and out and circumvent large muddy puddles. It is surrounded by peaks even more pointed than those around Konokoyi where the BLC is located. To get to Arlington from Konokoyi we travelled past the small mosque, the Bushika police post and market, the large mosque and the mountain Sabia and I had climbed. The long three-humped ridge Sabia and I had negotiated on Sunday looked mighty impressive from the road. The market place was empty. The ditches on either side of the market were strewn with trash and banana leaves from the matoke (plantain) brought to market, but the stands in the market place no longer displayed goods for sale. Everywhere along the road, coffee beans were spread out to dry on tarpaulins and bunches of beans hung drying from most roofs.
Visit to K— I—
After lunch of sweet potatoes and groundnut sauce left over from Hellen’s cooking lesson the previous evening, I met with teacher Jane to visit K— I— . This family consisted solely of 12-year-old K— I— and his 16-year-old sister. At my previous visit in February, the roof of the house was leaking and I was surrounded by a huge crowd of the most ragged and dirtiest looking children while I completed the visitation form. There was no latrine. As I had brought funds specifically for latrines from a London Ontario sponsor, Robert arranged for one to be built. (The families of K—- C—- and M—- A—- also received new latrines.) K— I— was also taking home food at that time but the project is no longer giving out food because, at this time of year, food is more plentiful and prices, although still high, not quite as high as in February. However, I am recommending food for a number of the children I visited.)
The Art of Waiting
The afternoon was another lesson in patience and it also illustrates why cell phones are so popular here. After lunch in the guesthouse on the remains of the sweet potatoes and groundnut sauce, I waited for Jane until 2 p.m. Sabia eventually got through on the phone to her. She wasn’t coming to accompany me to K— I— ’s. No reason was given. We will have to go after Saturday school when Jane is here anyway.
Visit to N— S—
So I switched plans and took a chance of going up the hill to see N— S— . She lives in a hovel right next to teacher Grace, who would have to interpret for me. I reached teacher Grace’s half way up the “cell tower” hill but nobody was home except a girl who wouldn’t or couldn’t speak English so I walked round the madukas (small shops) and waded into a runny mixture of mud and manure up the steep bank to N— S— ’s hut. I was of course immediately surrounded by ragged children with bright curious faces. After a very short while a lady arrived from the madukas and said she was willing to interpret. N— S— arrived from school shortly afterwards in her pink check school uniform, clutching three dirty exercises books on which I couldn’t make out the name at all. As I’d been planning to visit K— I— , I did not have her form but I remembered the details from my last visit: 10 children, father died when mother was pregnant with the last; cow shed right next to the kitchen; mother unemployed except for work at the project as a cook on Saturdays; etc… On inquiry, nothing much had changed except that the cow now apparently belonged to the family (?) Which didn’t surprise me as it is always hard to obtain information on such details. When I asked to go inside, I found the floor almost as muddy as outside as it had not been smeared. The child showed me her bed, a dirty foam mattress, and her clothes were a pile of rags on the floor. I poked about them and with the end of my pen looking for the mosquito net she had been given by the project. Outside again, I asked the neighbor to find out where the net had gone. The answer was simple: “The rat ate it.” This produced gales of laughter all round. Later I broke the news to Sabia and we just stared at each other in helplessness. That was a brand new net obtained a few months ago from USAID. They were distributed to all the Children of Peace by Sabia. I hastened to assure her that I had indeed seen nets that were being used properly over the children’s beds. I felt equally helpless filling out the form. How to help such a family when everything needed redoing, starting with the house and cowshed?
Comings and goings
Anna is back from Kampala after a break. I’m delighted that she brought me brown bread, which can only be obtained in the capital. Julie is returning tomorrow after writing her management report and Barbara comes back from her holiday on Thursday. I can’t wait to see her. Tomorrow Sabia takes R—-, a boy with two club feet, one of which has been operated on, to Entebbe – beyond Kampala – for further surgery. Peace Corps workers are not allowed to go to Kampala because it is considered a terrorism threat, but Sabia obtained permission – or thought she had obtained permission. After she had made all the arrangements, her Peace Corps supervisor banned the trip.
Wednesday, November 09, 2011
Sabia left at 5 a.m. this morning for Entebbe. I had promised to make her tea before she went as I often lie awake and read at night – head lamp permitting – but I never heard her stir.
I can’t email today as the modem is out of time. I have to take it to Mbale tomorrow, and also take the empty bottle of cooking gas to be refilled at the service station. I have two mosquito nets to deliver to one of the Children of Peace who is at secondary school in Mbale, one for her and one for her brother. Hopefully, “the rat” won’t eat them! I told Robert the rat story and he thought that the net had probably been diverted to another family member, a suspicion I have also entertained from time to time in the cases of other children.
New Bududa Learning Centre Construction Site
I travelled to the new site next to the trading centre on the back of Deputy Principal Robert’s motorbike, which has been provided by the school to enable him to scoot back and forth between his duties at the school and his duties supervising the construction. “Scooting” is relative; he was the most careful driver I have been with, slowing so much for one particularly treacherous pothole that he stalled the engine. He certainly wouldn’t make ends meet if he ever had to work as a pickipicki driver!
Robert showed me round the site. Construction started in April. One further grant may be forthcoming in December.
Main Classroom block: The main building is an impressive 100 feet by 25 feet, and it will be one story high. Instead of being built out of local bricks the workers are using interlocking blocks made with a rented machine. However, local bricks will be used at the top because otherwise there would be too much weight on the foundation. There is no drainage problem as there was on the old site. This building will contain three large classrooms and two small offices next to each other. It is now about half built.
Girls’ hostel: This consists of the “boys’ quarters” (which have nothing to do with boys!) but involve two rooms for the live-in matron plus a latrine and a kitchen. They are separated from the girls’ bedrooms by an unroofed corridor. There will be 4 bedrooms for the girls, each containing 3 sets of two-tier bunks. In addition, there will be a common room in which the girls can socialize and do their homework. The current charge for a boarding student, which includes food, is 191,000 shillings ($1 = 2,500 shillings) but Robert thinks it will have to go up. Inflation is currently at 30% in Uganda. As well as the matron, there will be a cook.
Latrine block: This has been completed and looks very smart.
Storage/cooking block: This has also been completed. Melikia, wife of a pastor who lives above the BLC and who was one of the cooks at the very first workcamp I attended in 2005, was stirring a dish-washing-sized bowl of posho (white maize meal) on a very smoky fire. This was the workers’ lunch. The workers start at 7 a.m., get a mid-morning break and half an hour at lunch and finish at 6 p.m. Simon, who is 67 years old and used to be my host, did not look quite as tired this time but the last time I had seen him was in the middle of the afternoon, towards the end of his day, when he looked really exhausted.
Workshop block: This has not yet been started. It is planned for the bottom of the site. Eventually, it will have two stories, classrooms on the ground floor and workshops above them. But, to start with, the workshops will be on the ground floor.
Fence: For greater security, Robert would like to replace the barbed wire fence with a wall of interlocking blocks. At the moment the police are paid to watch the site at night. They receive 30,000 shillings a month for this.
Boys’ hostel: There are no immediate plans for such a building. The boys will doubtless be lodged in a rented building nearby, as they are at the current BLC site.
Cost: The cost of some building materials, in particular aggregate, has gone up considerably since Robert estimated the costs. His estimates were ($1 = 2,500 shillings):
– Main classroom block: 50 million
– Girls’ hostel: 20 million
– Latrines: 6 million
– Cookhouse and store: 16 million (but it was completed with 10 million). Robert buys the food and pays the cook 80,000/month
After photographing some Bududa Vocational Institute students using bought murrum (soil) to make the interlocking blocks with the rented machine, I visited the mattress shop in the trading centre to make an appointment for Saturday to buy the mattress for M—- B—- with his sponsor’s money. After being let down by teacher Jane yesterday, I wanted to be quite sure that someone would be at the shop when I came.
Visit to A— K—-
I slithered up the muddy path around patches of maize and groundnuts and past scattered banana trees and cassava to the house at which I spent several happy months. It was locked up but A—- arrived from somewhere as I was leaving. He told me that he was no longer in the project as he was considered too old. He has completed Secondary 4 but failed Secondary 5 last year and is now at home at a loose end. He looked a very pathetic figure and I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. We discussed his plans and he talked about a one- or two-year catering course in either Mbale or Tororo (also in eastern Uganda). All I could do was promise to inform his ex-sponsor.
Visit to K— I—
K— I— is not sponsored by anyone from around Coldstream, but I had visited him last year at the request of Barbara because of his painful jiggers problem. (Jiggers are parasitic worms that live in dirty conditions and enter the victim’s feet. If not promptly treated, they lay many thousands of eggs and are very painful.) He was not at home but I was able to interview his stepmother, with A—- interpreting. This lady’s husband (the boy’s father) has been away in Kenya for over a year – local people often go to Kenya in search of work. The boy was using the net donated by the project but slept on a blanket directly on the floor. The family cares for somebody else’s cow. The latrine was new but not completed. The boy attends Saturday school regularly and was 25th out of 50 in school. He is eating the school lunches provided for by the project. The stepmother’s requests were the usual: supplementary food on Saturdays and help with school fees.
As D— K—- had been home from school helping E— at the guesthouse because she had been thrown out of school for lack of fees, I visited the Wilbra school bursar to ascertain the situation. Sure enough one and a half term’s fees had not been paid; some 100,000 shillings are owing ($1 = 2,500 shillings). The fees went up to 65,000 shillings a term recently. I met her mother going home on the road. She looked worried but assured me that she was just tired. Since both parents are now earning, I asked her to discuss with her husband tonight how much of the fees they can pay to enable Doreen to sit her exams next Monday. If the fees are not paid she will not be allowed to take them. D—- is not one of the Children of Peace. She has two brothers in the program (three before A— had to drop out).