Everything takes twice as long here, not just the Internet. Today illustrates how what would be a simple couple of hours of shopping in the West turns into a day-long excursion. My main purpose in going to Mbale was three-fold, to visit Mbale Secondary School to see K— H—, who is sponsored by a Coldstream Monthly Meeting attender, to get the bottle of cooking gas filled and to put more time on the modem.
Before getting transport to Hellen’s, I struggled down the hill from the guesthouse with the empty gas bottle, just avoiding falling in the mud. Julie, who disapproved and thought I should not be trying to carry such a load phoned down to the office, and I was met half-way by the grinning cook, who slung it up on his head and took it the rest of the way. I like to demonstrate that mzungus too are capable of manual labour but perhaps I could have found an easier way of doing so.
Betty, the hard-working school secretary hailed a pickipicki and the driver produced a long rubber cord and secured the bottle to the back of the motorbike. I squeezed in behind the driver and was sandwiched in between him and the bottle, hitching my backpack up onto the top of the bottle as there was no room otherwise. This produced quite a spectacle for the many pedestrians along the way, especially the kids, who chant non-stop “How are yous” to see the reaction of a white person. But although not immune to it, I am becoming used to being a source of local entertainment.
I alighted, as they say here, at the mosque opposite Hellen’s and somehow lugged the bottle up the slippery mud to her house, skidding sideways and breaking a maize stem in the process. Hellen was already dressed up in her finest suit and, after a few finishing touches to her hairdo, we set off. It was an hour to Mbale and then the bottle had to again be tied onto a pickipicki before we could drop it off at the filling station.
When Bududa was chosen as the district headquarters a few years ago, hopes soared. A new road was built parallel to the existing one in town with the idea that it would be lined with shops. There was feverish land speculation. My former host Simon bought a plot near the new road. People were convinced that the road to Mbale would finally be tarmacked. However, after a few years, little has changed. The new road is barely used. Instead of a row of shops, there are just a few stalls like those found in markets and a few empty-looking modest buildings. As for the road, there has been no perceptible progress since I started coming to Bududa in 2005. The only change is the loss, one by one, of the magnificent soaring trees that line the road in places – I wish I knew the name of the tree. Some are disfigured by having limbs lopped off; others are completely felled, leaving nothing but mutilated red stumps.
My first errand was to change two $100 US bills. The first bank rejected one, even though these were uncrumpled bills of the year 2000 and up, because there was a red mark in one corner. Barclays Bank was more accommodating. Fixing the modem was easier. The yellow MTN building was recognizable from afar. Finding a bottle of wine – a request of Julie’s to celebrate Barbara’s return – was a bit of a problem. Evangelical Friends do not drink so Hellen could not help and I did not have a clue where to find wine. There was no sign of it in one of the supermarkets. Hellen suggested a bar. I was a bit dubious but, having made her traipse all over town with me, I didn’t want to argue. In the end we were directed to the “wine and spirits” shop where, sure enough, there was one single bottle of wine, which turned out to be very sweet and bubbly but put a nice touch to Barbara’s home coming.
Meeting with the Uganda Yearly Meeting Clerk
At noon we met with Apollo Wopicho, the clerk of Uganda Yearly Meeting. I had promised to put in a word for Justine and Pastor Michael about the need to finish Elgon Church to thwart unwanted intruders. Apollo was more interested in obtaining help to organize the church. There are churches (Meetings) in Kampala, Busoga and Lira, as well as one in the west. Some, like the Lira one, have no building and meet under trees. Apart from funding, which I stressed was unlikely to be forthcoming from Canadian Friends’ sources, Apollo seemed to want advice on organizing and centralizing such widely scattered groups of Friends. He is attending the Friends World Committee on Consultation so I pointed out that this would be an excellent networking opportunity. It seems Uganda Yearly Meeting has given up on the project of using legal remedies to retrieve the property in Kampala that was fraudulently sold. The legal costs were skyrocketing. Apollo graciously gave us a ride and even bought me a delicious milk tea and Hellen lunch.
Visit to K— H— at Mbale Secondary School
We tracked K— H— down in the girls’ hostel, where she boards. She looked delighted at our visit and I handed over her mosquito net but forgot the letter from her sponsor, which she will be given by Hellen at Saturday school when she comes home for the holidays. Her home situation, although poor, seems to be stable. She is classified as “needy” and is not an orphan as both her parents are alive. In fact they have been able to pay the hostel fees, while the project has paid the tuition. After we had chatted for a while, I noted the cost of her next year’s tuition, board and registration and then Hellen turned to me and asked me if I had brought the sugar for K— H—. As I was completely at a loss, Hellen suggested a small donation of money to enable the girl to buy sugar. It was explained to me afterwards that the hostel provides hot water. It is up to the students to buy the tea and sugar. And Ugandans load their tea with sugar.
Mbale Market Burns Down
This morning the bursar reported that Mbale market had burnt down and a lot of “property” had been destroyed. Today’s “Daily Monitor” reports that the entire market has been lost and the police fire trucks took several hours to reach the scene, by which time it was too late to save anything. Apparently, a police officer had accidentally (?) had gone off with the key(s) to the fire truck(s). He is being charged. The government is supposed to compensate the vendors for their loss but it’s past record of paying compensation is far from encouraging. I have never seen Mbale market but if the stalls are simple stick structures as they are here in Bududa, I can see how inflammable they would be.
Erosion on Mount Elgon
Encroachment on Mount Elgon National Park due to population pressure seems to be continuing unabated, with resulting impacts in terms of erosion and drainage. The latest worry is a large crack developing on Mount Elgon, which may produce further landslides. The 2009 landslides around the mountain from Bududa are still fresh in people’s minds, but I have not noticed any increased digging of ditches along the contour lines to slow landslides and collect the descending soil and rocks.
It is great to have Barbara back. She returned bubbling with enthusiasm about both her holiday in Prague and Vienna and about the tasks before her: the 2012 budget, the annual fund raising letter, etc.
Another Year at Wilbra for Doreen
What is more Barbara and I worked out a way to pay D—–’s overdue fees and next year’s fees so that she will be allowed to sit her exams next Monday. It is so heartening to enable these kids to continue their studies. Most parents and many children are fully aware that education is the only route to enable them to avoid a life of living on the brink.
Julie and Anna had turned the guesthouse upside down tidying and cleaning and Barbara exclaimed in delight on seeing how neat they had made it. We had a special meal to celebrate her return. In addition to the bottle of sweet white wine, there was some meat for the first time since I’ve been here, followed, incongruously enough, by banana custard. (How it took me so long to realize that we had custard powder in the kitchen is beyond me.)
We discussed the cases of various Children of Peace. It is the Children of Peace side of the project rather than the vocational school that needs more organization. The children are by no means being visited every six months – to do this would require a full-time staff member. The task is too much for volunteers, who come and go and fail to provide any continuity. Follow-up also fails to be performed sometimes because there is no system in place to ensure verification of particular problems. This is why the idea of computerizing the Children of Peace visits and follow-ups is excellent.
The moon is fabulous tonight, a great luminescent globe surrounded by slightly pinkish clouds. Really awe inspiring. One of the most rewarding things of being here is brushing my teeth on the terrace while gazing over the valley with its sparse scattered lights – probably homes illegally and dangerously hooked up to the electricity supply – and with the moonlight flooding the whole valley.