Monday, 26 January 2009

Soggy Bank Holiday!

Yesterday, January 26th, was a public holiday in Uganda, commemorating the day that the National Resistance Movement came to power and Museveni was sworn in as president. The day started off very soggy and wet, after a torrential early morning downpour of rain. It's good to know that's it's not only the UK that experiences damp bank holiday weather! The sun did shine brightly again a few hours later though.
Last week the army had been practicing marches on a playing field near the hotel in preparation, we were told for a big parade to celebrate the day, but unfortunately there was no sign of it. Some of the staff at the hotel told me that because there have been some recent cases of meningitis in outlying villages, a decision had been made not to go ahead with the event. The hotel was busy at lunchtime, mostly with European tourists on their way to/from the national park. I thought we might of had more Ugandan customers as many had the day off work, but money is tight for many of them at the moment as the new school year starts next week and there are children's fees to pay.
The weather has cooled down quite a lot in the last week. It had been so hot, even the Ugandan were complaining. The rainy season isn't due to start till the end of February but there has been rain most days for the last week. The rain tends to come in really heavy downpours but then dries up pretty quickly. It keeps the dust down and the temperature is far more pleasant and bearable. It's also easier to sleep at night, I've even needed a light blanket the last few nights.
The hotel is relatively quiet at the moment, though it's pretty hard to judge quiet/busy periods as a tour bus of tourists can down up at any time - a full menu of food is served all day. A group of 23 turned up today and ate off the very extensive menu, so the kitchen was a tad rushed for a short while! It's due to pick up in early February as there are a number of UK groups booked in, many of them are teachers - they come to liaise with local schools and to do training workshops.
There have been some issues with staff at the hotel recently, their attendance and time keeping is not the best and they tend to work very much as individuals, it's quite hard work trying to get the chefs in the kitchen to communicate with each other, let alone work together as a team. I've just had a call to tell me that the head chef (I use the term loosely!), who's been on leave for the past 5 days and was due back at work tomorrow, won't now be back till Friday! Apparently it is quite common for workers not to return when they say they will.
I got asked by some of the hotel staff the other day, what was I going to do on my days off,when I replied that I would probably be doing my washing, ironing, cleaning etc. they were completely amazed and couldn't believe that I would be doing all this by myself (I have a lady called Rose who comes twice a week as well, all the washing is done by hand) - the assumption was because I'm a white woman I couldn't possible know how to do such things!! I had a carpenter fit a mosquito screen on my back door for me last week and he was also amazed that I had a screwdriver, let alone knew how to use it to undo the brackets on some curtain poles!

I've had a problem with my 'askari' (guard) this week - he showed up for work on Saturday evening having consumed quite a lot of alcohol and then fell asleep in his hut at the back of my house. Unfortunately, he's not much use in this state, even if he does have a bow and a handle of metal-tipped arrows! He's fallen aslepp once before, so unfortunately he's now on his last warning.

Mother and daughter digging up the field beside my house using only a hoe, they were delighted to have their photo taken.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

More photos....

Maribou Storks - they're quite common in Uganda
Crocodile on the Nile

A family of baboons
Sunrise on the Nile
The Rift Valley with Lake Albert in the background
Elephant on the banks of the Nile

Above are some more photos from my trip to Murchison Falls.
By the way, my fridge arrived safe and sound and is now working fantastically, well, when the power's on, that is!

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

First four weeks

It's exactly 4 weeks now since I left the UK and I'm gradually getting used to life here in Masindi. The heat is incredible at the moment, it's just so dry, which means there is lots of dust. I leave my house in the mornings feeling relatively fresh, showered and cool, but by the time I arrive at the hotel 10 minutes later I'm ready for another shower! I've also been working along side the chefs in the kitchen quite a bit of late and I seem to be constantly dripping in sweat, which is not pleasant! It'll get cooler come February/March time, so I'm told, but the rains come then as well, so instead of the orange dust there'll be lots of orange mud. I'm also getting used to having almost permantly dirty feet, as all of the roads, other than the main ones are dirt tracks, so by the end of the day my feet are very fetching shade of orange!
Not long after I arrived I bought a mobile internet connection, lots of people have them here - you top up the sim card in it with about £30 a month and it gives you unlimited use. It's great having access in my own home and being able to keep in contact with everyone.
Work at the hotel is going well so far and the staff seem pleased that I'm working along side them. They are all really pleasant and very welcoming and so far seem very receptive to new ideas and improvements. I've been mostly in the kitchen, mainly organising the layout of the kitchen and the equipment and also trying very hard to get all the staff to be consistent in their cooking, hygiene etc. The head chef, Vincent, started working at the hotel the same time as me, so that has been useful. There is still a very LONG way to go, but so far so good. Once I've managed to get the kitchen working a bit better, I want to spend some time focusing on the other departments, such as the restaurant - the staff there are all really nice, but would benefit from some training.

I had a fantastic time at Murchison Falls - I went the weekend after New Year. Unfortunately, we got a puncture on the way there and another one on the way back - this is quite common as the roads are very bad and most of them have no proper surface. We stayed a lovely lodge, The Nile Safari Lodge, which is managed by a guy from Northamptonshire. The resort is made up of small wooden 'bandas' (huts) or tents - I had a tent but it wasn't at all like any tent I've stayed in before! It was really luxorious, it was basically a big tarpaulin on a raised wooden platform, covered with a wooden roof and a veranda overlooking the Nile. The tent was attached to a wooden hut that was the bathroom from which you walked out onto an out-door shower. The restaurant was a big round roofed but virtually wall-less hut, which allowed lots of very unwelcomed (on my part) visitors, such as bats, to fly around while you're having dinner! But the sound of the hippos splashing around in the river below and the monkeys in the tamarind tree made up for it. I did a boat trip up the Victoria Nile to Murchison Falls, and saw lots of animals on the banks and in the water -hippos, wart hogs, elephants, crocodiles, water buffalo and some fantastic birds. I also did an early morning game drive with Suliaman, who's the driver at the hotel, he knows the park really well so was a really good guide. We saw lots more elephants, some in quite big herds, giraffes, lots of oribi (small, very cute antelope-type animals). The park is quite untouched and there are no restrictions about where you can go, so the animals just roam where ever they want.

I have lots more photos but they take an age to upload, so will try to add some more on my next posting.

I went to Kampala last week for 2 nights with Maggie and Sallie - I needed to stock up on household supplies and food (Masindi is quite limited retail-wise), I also wanted to buy a fridge. Sallie had lots of shopping to do for the hotel, most of which is done in supermarkets as there is only one cash & carry in Kampala and it's product range is quite small. The 2 days were very busy, but fortunately I got most of the things I needed to make my house feel more like home, though I spent way over my VSO allow of £145.00 a month! Large electrical goods are quite expensive here and then they have to be transported to Masindi, which means further costs, but I would find it hard living without a fridge especially in these temperatures. I paid for the fridge but as yet have not had it delivered, it's quite a complicated system - I paid Godfrey (the driver Sallie uses in Kampala) to hire a pickup (also paid him for his time) to collect the fridge from the store and bring it to a lorry park somewhere in the city, it is then loaded (more money) onto a lorry bound (fingers crossed) for Masindi, where I'll pay for delivery and unloading!! It was supposed to arrive Tuesday, but there's been no sign of it (wed today) - I have been told that it can take up to a week, though where it actually is during that time is anyone's guess! I'm assured this is all quite normal and perfectly safe.....I'll let you know in my next posting.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone!

Well, it is just over 2 weeks since I arrived in Uganda. I'm slowly getting used to the heat and the dust - it's very hot here at the moment, the temperature is usually between 30C - 33C and it's likely to remain so until about Feb/March time when the rain should come.

After arriving in Entebbe on an overnight flight from Heathrow on Dec 17th, I spent 4 days in Kampala. Unfortunately as soon as I arrived I got a throat and chest infection, which kind of wiped me out for the first week. After meeting Sallie, my employer and owner of the New Court View hotel where I'll be working, in Kampala, we arrived in Masindi, my base for the next 2 years on Sat 20th Dec. To say it was a bit of a culture shock is putting it mildly! The combinaton of heat, dust, crowds of people, very bumpy roads and what at first glance appears to be real poverty, added to the fact I wasn't feeling great, really overwhelmed me. Though I have to say that everyone has been really welcoming and helpful and I'm now starting to settle in.

Masindi is a fairly lively and busy town, with a population of about 15,000, though it seems so much more. It's the final town before reaching Murchison Falls, a national park and the Budongo Forest, so it has a trading post feel about it. The town centre has lots of shops most of which are quite small and it's often quite difficult to work out what they sell until you're actually in them. It has a daily market selling locally produced fruit, vegetable, fish, meat etc. and fabrics and second-hand clothes. I found the experience quite claustrophic and overwhelming when I first went as it's in quite a confined space, is very dusty and there seemed to be huge numbers of people milling around.

I moved into my new house on Christmas Eve - it's about 10 minutes walk from the hotel. It's got 2 bedrooms, living room, dining area, kitchen and bathroom with hot water and shower! I have a 2 ring small gas stove, which VSO gave me, but I'm hoping to buy a proper gas cooker and a fridge in Kampala in the next few weeks. It seemed very isolated at first as it's on quite a big plot and behind a secure fence and gate. I''ve attached some photos. It needs quite a bit of TLC but I'm sure in time it will start to feel like home. I'm gradually furnishing it with lots of hand-me-downs from previous VSO volunteers, just waiting to have a wardrobe and wooden framed sofa set made - it's very cheap to get furniture made here, it's not great quality, but if it lasts 2 years it'll be fine. I have an 'askari' or night gurad who works from 6pm to 7am, he's sits in a little hut and guards the compound and the house. Some of the askaris here are armed with rifles, though I've been told that a lot of the time they have no bullets, but my guard has a bow and a bundle of arrows!!! Apparently they are quite effective, though hopefully there won't be any need to try them out. Security takes a bit of getting used to here, I have to have padlocks on my front and back doors and the compound gate - it's quite safe but there's always some opportunist about ready to see what the latest 'muzungu' (white person) in town has that's worth taking. I'll probably get a day guard as well, as I'll be out most days at work. There's the belief that because you're white you must have money, but generally people are very friendly and most say hello and ask how you are, especially the children who shout out 'hello muzungu, how are you?' everytime you see them!

I spent Christmas Day at the hotel and along with Maggie cooked turkey, ham and all the trimmings for some of the local 'muzungus' living in Masindi and some friends of Sallie's. The smoked salmon and Christmas pudding I'd brought from the UK went down very well. We also had traditional Ugandan musicians and dancers on the night - I've attached some photos, but unfortunately they're not great.

Last night I went to a New Year's Eve party at the house of a German and English couple who work as chimp researchers at Nyabyeya Foresty College in the Budongo forest, which is about 45 mins drive from Masindi. We stayed over at a small guest house there as it's not safe to travel here in the dark. There were lots of local research and field asisstants there with their wives and children, the Ugandans like very loud music and love to dance and it was amazing to see women dancing around with small toddlers strapped to their backs!

I started work at the hotel this week, and am slowly getting my head around how things work. I've had some good meetings with Sallie (she's an ex-VSOer, who's been living in Uganda for the past 12 years), the staff and Maggie, who is the wife of Chris, a VSO doctor here in Masindi and she works at the hotel. The staff have been very welcoming and so far seem genuinely pleased that I'm here. I explained that my role is to train them and to professionalise their existing skills and to provide them with new ones. There's a lot of work to be done, as the working practices are quite basic, especially in the kitchen. As of next week I'm going to work along side the kitchen staff for the forseeable future to try and improve how they work and also implement some new systems and procedures. The kitchen is a good size, the equipment is 'so-so', the knives are shocking (!) and the overall lay-out needs a bit of redesigning, but the staff seem willing to try new things so time will tell how it works this space!
I'm going to Murchison Falls National Park, which is one of Uganda's largest protected areas, tomorrow with Chris, Maggie, Sallie and her friend Thelma. It's about 3 hours from Masindi and we're going to stay at the Nile Safari Lodge, which is on the banks of the Nile for 2 nights. It's supposed to be a really nice place, so I'm looking forward to it. It's possible to do an early morning game drive and a boat trip right up to the falls, so hopefully, I'll have lots of photos to put on my next posting.