Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Four month up-date...!

Did I mention before that I wasn't very good at keeping a diary, on-line or otherwise....... hhmmm! Well the lack of blog up-dates of late probably confirms that I think....

Life continues to go well here in Uganda and there are still lots of things that surprise, dumbfound, shock me and of course make me smile..... I'm just not very good at recording them here!

I'm feeling very settled in Uganda now, I've been here 16 months and whereas the first 12 months seemed to go by quite slowly, the last 4 months have flown by and naturally thoughts and conversations are tending to focus on 'what I do next'. It feels way to early to be thinking about it at the moment, but I know I need to start thinking about it in the months to come, but I don't want to start 'count down' just yet. There are many things about life in Uganda that can frustrate me beyond belief (traffic congestions, lack of order, the more or less non-existence of customer care, time keeping, a language that is totally incomprehensible to me...to name a few) but there are also many, many things that I love, most especially the people, the friends I've made, the simplicity of life, the weather (wet season being the exception), the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables, not having to worry about council tax, raod tax, car insurance etc.... 

My work here is best described as 'so-so' - I, like most volunteers at various points in their placements doubt the effectiveness of what they are doing and if they are achieving anything. My work in community development/nutrition training is interesting and yes, I've had some successes and I know I've helped to improve some peoples lives, but unfortunately it just doesn't feel like it's my 'thing'. By that I mean that it's not an area of work that I have a great deal of, if any experience of doing, and at times that feels very frustrating. I enjoy working with the local communities, but unfortunately I've been mainly office-based for the last 6 months, in an office that doesn't really promote 'social interaction', where the management style is that once you're at work, you're there to work and it's no place for chit chat.....and I haven't been out in the 'field' much. At times I wish I was involved more in work that within my professional area, where I feel I could be more effective.......

But overall it's ok, and life outside of work is good and enjoyable. I keep reminding myself that I'm basically on an 'extended adult gap year' and to just enjoy the experience, as I'm sure I'll have to return to 'real' life at some point!

If you scroll down after this reading this up-date you'll see a mainly pictorial overview of what I've been doing since December......

Ber's visit....travels around Uganda

To say I was excited about Ber coming to visit, would be putting it mildly.... I'd been counting down the days since it was day 146 (no joke)! She was my first visitor in Uganda so I was really looking forward to showing her the sights.....and I'd missed her so much! Back in the UK we'd see each other regularly and chat on the phone for hours, so a good catch up session was well overdue!

We had a fantastic 3 weeks, which basically went like this..... lots of chat.....safaris.....good food....nice lodges.... swimming in crater lakes......visits to the market.....visits to the tailor... boat trips.... some more chat.... tasting local food..... meeting Lucy and Kato and Kakuru....sun bathing and well it wouldn't have been a holiday without a few G&T's, Pimms and the odd bottle of red wine thrown in for good measure!

We visited Lake Mburo, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Lake Bunyoni, and Fort Portal. The trip was made even better by having a great driver, my friend Alex, who seemed to make all the journeys on some of the worst roads seem effortless. Ber left saying it was the best holiday she'd ever had, which was fantastic!

Showing off the banner I'd made to welcome Ber at Entebbe airport - I waved it furiously, so she had no chance to miss me when she walked into the arrivals lounge.....!

The obligatory 'tourist' photo at the Equator on the way from Kampala to Mbarara... Ber's first taste of Ugandan roads
A very angry looking Ankole cow at Lake Mburo National Park - he had a terrific scar on his forehead so had obviously been in a bit of a tussle.
Mihingo Lodge at Lake Mburo - we stayed there for 2 nights and it was fantastic, lovely food and wine, great scenery. I had a 1-hour full body massage in the open air....I was so 'chilled' afterwards I could hardly speak...
Some of the many zebras we saw on an early morning game walk at Lake Mburo

A riverside market on the shores of Lake Bunyoni - a crater lake in southern Uganda. We had to take a dug out wooden canoe to cross the lake to get to the island where we were staying.
A view of Lake Bunyonyi  - the area is often referred to as the Switzerland of Uganda, because of the beautiful freshwater lake and surrounding mountains. It's much cooler in this part of Uganda, but the weather was lovely while we were there. 
This is the Deluxe Geo Dome that we stayed in at the Byoona Amagara resort at Lake Bunyonyi - the dome is made from papyrus reeds and bamboo and is completely open to the elements. At first I was a bit worried that we only had mosquito nets for protection, as I have a huge fear of bats, but fortunately it was fine!
The spectacular early morning view over Lake Bunyonyi from the verandah of the
geo dome. The lake is free of hippos, crocodiles and bilharzia, so is perfectly safe to swim in.

Our last day at Lake Bunyonyi - we were both really sad to leave, it was such a
lovely place

A crocodile spotted on the banks of the Kazinga Channel between Lake George and Lake Edward at Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP)
Elephant in QENP
Water buffalo and hippos live along side each other on the Kazinga Channel
Outdoor showers at Bush Logde, the tented camp where we stayed at Queen Elizabeth - the water tank is filled with cold water in the morning and by evening it's piping hot. The camp is in a great location outside the park boundary but it attracts lots of wildlife - there's a family of hippos who live in the channel just below the camp and regularly come into the camp; while we were there we saw an elephant, forst hogs and lots of baboons in the swamp just below our tent.
A dried up salt lake in QENP

Lake Ninyabalitwa in Fort Portal  - this area of Western Uganda is well known for its crater lakes that are bilharzia free and so safe to swim in . The lodge where Ber and I stayed was way off the beaten track but had a fantastic location right on the edge of the lake. We were told by the owner that it was safe to swim ..... that is if the lone hippo isn't around! And true to form the lone hippo arrived next morning, though that didn't stop the local children from swimming only a few hundred yards away from it.
This is not the best picture but its of prisoners picking cotton at a prison in Kaese, the most desolate and depressing town I've seen in Uganda, it's extremely hot and dry and has little of any interest there, so it tends to be a place that people just passs through.I couldn't believe that the prisoners were being made to pick cotton in the searing heat, it was like a scene from the Shawshank Redemption.

Enjoying a beer...

Ber with Kato and Kakuru - they were showing off the clothes that some of her friends had given to them.
Ber picking tea at a plantation in Bushenyi

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Catching up with family ......great Christmas in South Africa

I spent the 2 weeks over Christmas and New Year with my sister Fionnuala and her family just outside Durban - my sister Margaret and her family were also there.  It was the first holiday I'd taken since I'd arrived in Uganda just over a year ago. I had a great time.... it was lovely to see familiar faces and my nieces and nephews that I hadn't seen for ages. I was spoiled rotten, had great food and wine (brocoli, asparagus, lettuce, courgettes never tasted so good),  a fantastic pedicure, great shopping, walks on the beach and of course lots of catch-up chat with my sisters!! 

Christmas Eve .....getting ready to watch a soppy Christmas 'chick flick', with my niece Shivy (godchild and namesake!), dressed in matching xmas pj's!
Family photo (brother-in-law Ian missed out on the photo)..... Christmas Eve lunch at a beautiful country resort
Carving up the turkey on Christmas Day...... it was 'yummmy'!
'Super' Shivy showing off her some of her Christmas pressies....
The three 'hatters' - nephews Euan, Aaron and Tom modelling their new Christmas hats!
My niece Kate, looking very 'chilled' after a dip in the pool....

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Mushroom picking at HCU

These photos are of the HCU staff picking mushrooms in the flower beds in the compound. The mushrroms apparently appear annually in early December and last for about 3 days. They seemed quite literally to come from nowhere and grew inches high over night! One day there were small piles of orange coloured sandy soil in the flower beds, which I was assured hadn't been put there, it 'comes naturally' so I was told; the next day the mushrooms could be seen sprouting through; by the third day, the mushrooms were 2-3 inches high and ready for picking. Everyone was out picking at lunch time, basically whatever you picked was yours. They were then left to dry in the afternoon sun to dry. I was told that they are rarely eaten fresh, but dried and ground and then added to the 'sauce' or 'soup' the words used to describe a stew of beans,, meat or ground nuts.

VSO Cluster Project

Back in July, I wrote about the Mbarara/Bushenyi volunteers getting involved with a community youth project, that teaches young children dance, drama, handcrafts and basic agriculture. Through VSO we were able to provide the group with funding to build a chicken shed and to buy chicks - the income from selling eggs would then be used to buy school materials and uniforms for kids who otherwise couldn't go to school.
These photos were taken in December and show the completed chicken house, all of which other than the plastering was constructed by the kids in the youth group. They had also just received delivery of 50 young chicks. 
The latest up-date is that the chickens are now laying eggs, about 30 a day, which are being bought by the local co-operative.