Monday, January 30, 2012

The Bakiga Window: Revisiting Faith

Grace finally gets Faith to smile for the camera!
It’s been a damp and chilly start to the morning and the students have been particularly resistant to the idea of getting out of bed. I suspect that there may have been some late night silliness, but I have no proof of it - after all, students will be students.

It is Friday 15th April and having roused the last of the sleepy students and marched them zombie-like down towards the town, we arrive at the Wise Parents Day Nursery. Accompanying us is Grace Kamusiime who has been working with us for a few days as an unofficial Rukiga translator.

Our visit is to be a fleeting one. We are heading up to the High School and have many things to do prior to this afternoon’s basketball tournament, but it is just enough time to cause chaos that will take the nursery teachers an hour to put right.

The little boys immediately begin to kick a football around in a form the game that most casual observers would say looks more like rugby union. There seem to be no goal posts. There appear to be no teams. If you don’t like what someone is doing you may push him over or pick the ball up. Perhaps the winner is the sole player left standing at the end without a single tear upon his face. It all makes sense to the players and they respond positively to the encouragement of my students.

Amidst the mêlée, and appearing unsighted, comes a small hand tugging at my bag. I turn and look down to see Faith’s sleepy eyes and smiling mouth. Immediately she holds onto my index finger and reprises her role as my sidekick, beating away any other attention that may come my way. She is even suspicious of Grace when she begins to speak to me, but soon relaxes when it becomes clear that Grace isn't trying to steal me!

Aside from the obvious cuteness of Faith finding the funny looking mzungu in the cowboy hat again, the happiness of the children comes as a timely reminder, at the end of our week in Kabale, that our presence is beginning to make a difference. The work of All Our Children in purchasing a new site for this nursery will ensure that the cripplingly high rents at the current site can be avoided. The knock-on effect of this is that fees won't have to be increased and the likes of Faith will be able to continue her nursery education in a time of great financial strain in Uganda.

Saying our goodbyes to the small children is always difficult. Despite their initial fears of the strange outsiders, they quickly become attached and are reluctant to see us depart. With a final wave we leave and Faith, in an incongruous white hooded cardigan, fades into the gloom of a classroom.

To find out more about All Our Children [UK], a charity working in Kabale district Uganda, visit: http://www.allourchildren.org.uk/.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Bakiga Window: When the Power Goes at the Petrol Pump

Yasin begins to show concern on his face following the power cut.
Yasin, the quiet, unassuming bus driver who so readily helped me make contact with the Islamic school has got a look of concern on his face. In his soft voice he seems to be articulating some point of concern to the petrol pump attendant in Rukiga.

It is Saturday 16th April and we’re filling up the Kigezi High School bus, ready for the journey to Lake Bunyonyi. Following the showers of the morning, the clouds have now parted and are beating a hasty retreat into the distance, allowing for the sun to slowly scorch the earth.

The reason that Yasin is looking nervous is not immediately apparent as I stand at the side of the road, taking a photo of the bus. He starts to walk towards me and in his hushed tones imparts that the electricity has cut out.

In my immediate stupidity I respond that there is nothing to worry about as it’s a petrol station not a power plant, but the problem is a little bigger than that. The issue seems to be that the attendant is unsure about how much money she needs to charge us and how much diesel has actually been put into the school bus already. It seems that Umeme is going to force us all to make use of long forgotten mathematic skills.

Our attendant proceeds to produce a number of receipts from other customers, followed by log book, a reading from the analogue display on the pump and a book of numbers written up at the start of business that day. She then disappears leaving Yasin and I looking at puzzled at each other.

A few minutes later she re-enters the room saying that she can’t find her calculator. Cue the three of us crowded around my old, slightly knackered Nokia 2760 adding up the total amount of litres of petrol sold since the start of the day, subtracting this from the analogue counter and then checking it against the log book readings.

By the end of working this all out, the sheet of paper we've made our notes on looks like a formula belonging to quantum physics. After around twenty minutes of checking, re-checking and then checking again, we came to the conclusion that we had put in around 100 litres of fuel and needed to add a further twenty to be on the safe side.

Having paid for the fuel and re-boarded the bus, a chorus of questions flew forward concerning the nature of our delay. Frankly, after all that arithmetic I wasn’t in the mood for explaining and asked Yasin to pull away, bound for the tranquility of the lake.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Small Slice of Africa in Snowdonia, Wales


A South African Railways class NG G16 in Beddgelert, Wales.

The best way to describe many days in the Welsh summer is 'murky'. Simple as that. So it was, with the rain drizzling slowly down, that I embarked on a walk accompanied by Jeannie, Alison and Liz, from our base at Snowdon View in Plas Gwynant to Beddgelert around five miles away.

Armed with food, flasks of tea and water, an Ordnance Survey Landranger map and a compass, we set off in a direction that took us away from the main road and around to the rear of Llyn Dinas - a lake in the middle of the Snowdonia National Park.

In spite of the aforementioned murk and the slight sensation of feeling like a sponge absorbing the fine rain, the walk was exceptionally pleasant and tranquil. Only the occasional rustling of leaves on the trees disturbed the quiet. From a promontory about half way into the ramble, it felt as if we had left the modern world well and truly behind – there is no doubting that this landscape is typically Welsh.

Upon arrival in Beddgelert, a small town on the junction of two small rivers, the unmistakable sound of an steam engine whistle rang in a hushed manner around the hills. Alison immediately quickened her pace as if a homing device in her brain had suddenly been activated.

The whistle rang out again louder and something told me that this steam engine wasn’t typically British. Alison, who by this point was breaking into a sprint and dragging us along with her, led the way towards the station of the Welsh Highland Railway.


There in front of us, resplendent in deep crimson red, stood a steam locomotive that screamed, “I’m a bit South African.” Not being the train aficionado that I used to be meant that I had to use the Internet to get the facts, but sure enough, nestled in the valleys of Snowdonia, a train that had worked* most of its life in the Eastern Cape and Natal, was waiting to take us away. 

And so, whilst on holiday in Wales, Africa once more had found me. It seems the continent is always calling me back, in ever more inventive ways.

*The locomotive itself, I am reliably informed, was built by a British company for South African Railways. More information on the locomotive can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SAR_NGG_16_Class and more information on the Welsh Highland Railway can be found here: http://www.festrail.co.uk/main.shtml. As an interesting aside, we later found that former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was on board.
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