Normal service will resume shortly …

Hi all,

Things are fine & well here …despite the unrest you may have read about here.

Sorry I’ve not been blogging recently but promise to be back soon with something more interesting than a “holding” post. Been busy with well, life i guess, but more specifically getting assignments done & preparing for & taking my last OU exam & now I’m catching up on my next module ! Just when i thought the days of playing catch up were over, turns out my new module started a week before the other one finished …. what can ye do??

Be patient  (a normal requirement of Ugandan life !) & I’ll be back soon.

Love to you all

Yvonne

Shamrocks and shenanigans – St Patrick’s Day (erm week !) in Uganda …

Cinders goes to the ball

Fusion - Irish & Ugandan styleee

Ireland's finest

Answering Ireland's call in Uganda

As the St Paddy’s celebrations approached you couldn’t help but think of home (not that I don’t think of you all at other times), the things that make me Irish & the things that make Ireland home ….but this wasn’t meant to be a sad song lol ! …& indeed it wasn’t …

Despite the northerly glances to my motherland over the last week & glances back at many memorable St Paddy’s days in the past, the week was one of excitement, preparations (preening & pruning), Guinness (imported !!) & lots & lots of craic …just the way St Paddy intended, God bless him!

More details I hear you cry??? Well never one to disappoint my audience so here we go …

One of the most significant events in my whole time in Uganda occurred in the run up to the festivities …. I met an actual hairdresser (as opposed to a butcher of the locks I cherish & dye mad colours). So I managed to get a repair job done which left the locks resembling their old pixie self just in the nick of time – yeah !!

The festivities themselves began with a gentle warm up on Tuesday with the arrival of my fellow VSO & compatriot Tommy in Kampala … though I wasn’t feeling too hot the next morning, that last drink always does it ;0). The main set pieces were the Ambassador’s residence do on Thursday evening & the Ball on Saturday night …I chickened out of the trad night on Friday to save the energy  (& my head) for Saturday night.

Thursday night saw over 450 of us Irish & Irish at heart (or maybe just for the night) descend on the Ambassador’s residence. Nice spot I have to say …. his grounds are somewhat bigger than my own …erm, I think the Guinness tent was bigger than my kitchen ! We’d traditional music, speeches, shamrock presented to us by the Irish Army (out as part of EU troops training Somalian soldiers), lots of drink, a chance to meet old faces and new friends. Then it was off to Bubbles, the Irish bar ..well just because we could ;0)

Friday saw Ireland take on England in a tri-games special – soccer, touch rugby & gaelic football – the Irish team came out victorious, which was great going considering the festivities of the night before.  Well done lads & lady (yip, we had a female player!).

Then came the ball! Off to the Sheraton wearing a long dress & on the back of a boda …true style !! The evening saw a fushion of Irish & Ugandan cultures – a Ugandan lady singing Ireland’s call, supported by local dancers and Irish trad musicians …..and of course O’Driscoll & co did indeed answer Ireland’s call that evening (Ugandan time) to make the celebrations just that bit sweeter too. So a night (& morning) of merriment, dancing & tug of war with the red carpet (I missed that bit!!) were enjoyed by all …helped along with treats from home – black pudding, Kerry gold, jameson, baileys, Guinness, Irish dancers & musicians and of most importantly the Irish ourselves and our friends in Uganda !

Big thanks to the Irish Soc committee who put in a lot of hard work to make it all so good (& of course to their sponsors who sent over all the booze !!)

Go raibh mile maith agat

Ugandan election survival kit …

Requirements:

1. Good company to turn your lock down into a house party

2. Lots of DVDs (genre’s – add to taste)

3. Yummy food (cheese, olives, salami, SALT & VINEGAR SIMBA !!! – thank you Jan

4. Pineapple

5. Lots of warigi (ugandan gin)

6. Mixers (add to taste)

7. Blender

8. Internet/radio access to check whats happening around you while you’re enjoying yourself

9. Phone (can we function without them anymore??)

 

Election special drink:

1. Blend pineapple (which was too big to eat normally & too good to waste) with sprite, add an elbow movement of warigi (a “healthy measure”)

2. Add ice to glasses, pour, put down study books & enjoy !!!!

 

Ahh, great times !!!

Little Miss Itchy Feet has an election sleep over …

Usually an impending election would mean weeks of traipsing the streets, knocking on doors, labelling election literature and a mammoth election eve/day effort – dawn leaflet drops, postering by polling stations, manning polling stations etc. In other words knackering !!! & the big nerd that I am loves to then just curl up & watch the election results come through, all the analysis, commentary, surprises (’97 Portillo v Twigg, ’10 Robinson v Long) and of course, politics like football, also brings its crushing blows & defeats to parties and their activists. That bit I could do without !

Talk of the Ugandan presidential elections has been quite prominent amongst expats, vols & Ugandans since my arrival – will it be peaceful?, will it be free & fair? etc. The big day was last Friday – would Museveni win another term in office (allowing him to serve 30yrs as President) or would Besigye be successful at the third time of asking? Of course there were other candidates and many issues involved – mainly around the governance process rather than the bread and butter issues per say. But for a political nerd like Little Miss Itchy Feet, it was like apple crumble & custard for my soul (why apple crumble & custard? Because its yummy !!!!). The difference is that this time my participation was limited to that of an interested observer and VSO security requirements meant we had to observe from the safety of our living rooms !

So how did Little Miss Itchy Feet spend the election period? Firstly, let me say that Thursday was declared a public holiday to enable people to return to their village of origin to vote, Friday was the election day and it was expected the results would be out on Monday. Incase of any post-results skirmishes VSO asked us all to remain at home on the Monday as well. One BIGGGG LOOONNNGGGG weekend !!!

My initial plan was to stay at home, catch up on studying and all the other things I’ve put on the long finger & venture out a bit on Sat/Sun if all was quiet to stop cabin fever setting in. So that was the plan …. somehow things didn’t quite work out that way ….

Tuesday evening I was happily making some tea & putting something on the laptop to watch when I got a call from a friend who’d just been broken into. [HEALTH WARNING: For anyone reading this & thinking of coming to Uganda let me stress it was a crime of opportunity rather than a planned break in.] So I quickly phone my Boda guy (Hi Walter) & set off about the house in something of a mild panic (erm, mild??) putting together an overnight bag & my whisky (thanks Tommy & Lin – the b’day pressie came in useful!) …sh*t, sh*t, the elections … will I be back this side of town, should I just stay  that side of town?? … Indecisive Little Miss Itchy Feet hedged her bets & just packed more !  More clothes, passport (precautionary), chargers, study books (yes indeedy !!). Phew, ok am ready now ….

Safely on the other side of town, I get out the whisky & generally try to be of some use/distraction for my friend. Then Wednesday comes & its off to the police (that’s a blog post in itself), cancelling this & that and after all that stuff the only thing that can be done with the rest of the day is treats & lots of em please !!

& so the tone of the election weekend was set – treats time – pedicures, massages, nice lunches, out for dinner, nice food for the lock down & essentials like gin, lemons, sprite – the ugandan’s pre-election shopping did look somewhat different from ours ! Anyhoo, it was off to Jean’s house (another vol) with our goodies for what became a big DVD fest/PJ party !!! I have to say we treated ourselves well !!

I finally made it back home Monday evening …. I did try to get across town on Sunday but the post-election celebrations were going on so it was better to stay put.

The election period, feared by many, turned out to be a LONG weekend of great craic & lots of treats! Oh & yes, I did get a lot of study done too. As for the result itself, well as a guest in Uganda I will (most out of character for me) refrain from commenting on it & leave you to your own thoughts on that one.

Little Miss Itchy Feet is guest of honour …

Yes, you read the title correctly ! Yours truly was indeed the guest of honour at a Primary Leaving Examination (PLE) award ceremony at a small primary school called Royal Pride Academy. Just to make it a little stranger ….I’d never even visited the school until the day of the ceremony so I was feeling a bit unsuitable to be the guest of honour … but give a politician a chance to make a speech & off they go. Darn ! that’s right, wrong country, wrong electorate ! Perhaps that’s were I went wrong lol !!

So how did this honour come to be bestowed on Little Miss Itchy Feet? I was there to represent group of VSO volunteers, past & present, who have truly done some amazing work at this school and indeed within the local community. They were unable to make the event so asked me to stand in.

Alan Cowan and his family (who recently departed Uganda) are spoken of as local legends by those involved in the school. The legacy of their work is being developed, in partnership with the school and community, by Stuart, Elisabeth & Romaine (really hope I haven’t forgotten anyone!!). If that wasn’t enough, I have to add that I haven’t come across a community in Uganda yet who were more in need of the help. Hats off to ye my friends !! Little Miss Itchy Feet is happy to be of service !!

As guest of honour, my duties were pretty much to sit in the front row, deliver the main speech & hand out the certificates to the successful P7 candidates.  Simples, yes?? Sort of !!

How many would I be speaking to? Found out there were 6 students receiving certificates – small crowd then, phew ! Wrong !!! I think half the local community were there ! The speech then, ok a few words of Luganda to open with, words of congratulations to everyone & the importance of education especially for Uganda/the community’s future. No bother – don’t even need notes ! Wrong !! What’s the plural word for good afternoon again?? Ah ! Brain freeze !! Hmm, must also remember to speak slowly with me accent too. So the parent’s rep is up first & his talking at length, speaking a lot of sense, but speaking for some time. He was asked at one point to wrap it up as he wasn’t the main speaker, said the headmaster duly nodding in my direction. Eeks! Hope they don’t expect me to speak longer ….Ahh!!!

The time comes to take the mic, Go Little Miss Itchy Feet Go !

So in nervous anticipation I take the mic & thinks its better not to fluff my first line in Luganda so I duly scrap the niceties of the plural of ‘Good afternoon’ and hit them with “Basebo na Baynabo” (aka Ladies & Gentlemen) ….& the crowd go wild !!!! The rest of the speech was wee buns as we’d say at home , phewee !!! The MC for the day commented that it was the best speech of the year. While they do like their speeches in Uganda & it is election time, it was still only January so I won’t get carried away just yet !

Next came the certificate presentation which I did alongside the pastor. Of the 6 students, 4 were female and 2 were male …of varying ages. Most parents struggle to pay school fees and related costs in Uganda so its not uncommon for people to be even in their teens when they leave primary school. Even knowing this I was surprised when one of the certificates I was handing out went to a lady probably older than myself. Good on ya I say ! My sense, from the little time I’ve been here, is that Ugandan’s place a lot of importance in education, particularly for males, but the daily struggles of life mean that it really is a privilege to go to school.

Despite feeling a bit of an imposter being bestowed with great honour and appreciation (including being knelt in front of) all afternoon, I really enjoyed the experience. I was also very proud to represent such a great group of VSO vols who really have, in their own quiet way, changed the lives of the community connected to the school. Perhaps most importantly of all they’ve given them hope which has really energised them to continue to develop.

Surely, my friends, that is the stuff VSO vols dreams are made of??  Little Miss Itchy Feet slept well that night ;- )

A proud jaja hugs her top performer grandaughter

... for the gift of education and those who supported her along the way

Check out my moves !!

Proof that you're never too old to learn

When is a banana not a banana?

When it represents the difference between the haves (sort of) and the have nots.

Who’d have thought the humble banana (or bunch of small finger bananas in this case) could represent so much !

Yesterday I was on my usual walk home & being a Monday the cupboards (I mean shelves) were fairly bare. Not fond of going to supermarkets to lug my food home on mini-bus taxis & by foot up a hill, I picked up a few things from the local stalls on my way – an avocado, some tomatoes (which I placed in my bag) and my bananas, which I carried.

This was my usual walk home through which I know meet many familiar faces, particularly the children, who shout various muzungo greetings at me (‘muzungo, I’m fine, ‘muzungo bye, bye muzungo’, ‘muzungo how are you?’, ‘muzungo give me 100 (shillings)’, muzungo, do you have sweets for me’). Its clear many of those I pass are often hungry, particularly as I’m coming home from work in the early evening. This was the first time I was conscious that I was holding something they wanted. Never mind the laptop on my back !! This humble bunch of bananas represented something I had which they needed and probably could not afford that day (or many others).

Just incase my conscience wasn’t pricked enough … to bring the message a bit further home (quite literally) …I was passed by a young girl (8 or 9 yrs old) who happily smiled and said hello to me. As I’d finally reached the top of my hill and was turning to enter my gate this same girl skipped over towards me. . “Muzungo, muzungo” she called, desperate to get my attention before I had totally disappeared through the gate. She then asks me for 500 shillings (considerably more than the cheeky boys at the corner I pass). To put it into context, 500 shillings was half my bunch of small bananas. I was a little taken aback (I’d expected her to ask for work) and shocked at where she had come from – she had PASSED me earlier, right?? I mumbled how I was sorry etc and closed the gate.  I felt like a right ar*e and still do!!!

Throughout all my time in Africa I have been told, not only by VSO, that you shouldn’t give to beggars. It develops / sustains a cycle of dependency but instead you should seek out worthy causes to support no matter how small or grand, e.g. paying someone locally (a fair price) to do your laundry, sponsoring a childs’ school fees or donating to an NGO you think does a good job. Also, giving to someone who has doorstepped you will probably make leaving / entering your house quite expensive in the weeks and months ahead.

The picture of the beggar lying on the street or standing by the traffic lights (although there aren’t many in Kampala) is a common sight and one you are almost sensitised to and used to ignoring. The young (healthy & well dressed girl) following you home to ask for money is not.

Many of you have asked how I cope with living amongst and seeing so much poverty on a daily basis. The honest answer, until I met that young girl, was that it was ok. While I wasn’t totally unaffected by it, I equally knew I had chosen to come here for two years to help in my own way and could reconcile that easily in my own mind. I guess this young girl was a stark reminder of just why I am here.

Who’d have thought it could all be summed up by a bunch of bananas !

Back to posho and beans …

Last Sunday Alyrene (see earlier blog post) & myself enjoyed the last of the summer wine so to speak … we rounded up a lovely day by the pool with a yummy chinese dinner. Our thoughts inevitably turned to the usually end of holiday topics … back to work sighs (although that is of course the reason we are both here, but hey we’re only human) and the usual, need to cut down / shed the holiday weight and of course the one phrase at home that usually sums this all up more succinctly than my ramblings is the “back to beans on toast” phrase. Thinking of those seemingly innocent words raised a chuckle. For us that is pure luxury, especially if you put some grated cheese on top !! The cheappy tin of baked beans here is well over a £1 … Lidl & Aldi would do a roaring trade here – and the bread here is somehow sweeter than at home. Although sugar and salt are the key seasoning ingredients for any dish it seems, savoury or sweet.

So instead for us poor volunteers (can you hear my violin??) it is back to the delights of local food. Ugandans tend to eat two cooked meals a day here which consist of a variety of starches. After a relatively short period I realised this wasn’t sustainable & us vso’s are nothing if were not about sustainability  ; – ) so I now make my lunch the main meal of the day …it really doesn’t help the afternoon dip at all but it seems a more practical solution.  So what does my lunch usually consist of??

When the NGO has sufficient funds a cooked lunch is provided at work for the staff. This appears to be quite a common occurrence in Uganda. I think partly in recognition of low salaries and significant delays in salary payments, so to help staff to be productive it is important to provide lunch. However in my four weeks of actual work at the NGO we were only able to provide food for the first week. Anyhoo, I digress … so when food is provided it usually consists of posho (maize meal cooked into quite a stiff texture/consistency and a food staple across Africa – though usually called by a different name in each country – e.g. in South Africa its called pap – Again, I digress, but hey isn’t this normally what I’m like anyway??? ) … as I was saying the lunch is usually posho, rice and beans … though not our yummy heinz/supermarket own brand stuff …more a reddy purply colour than our bright orange !! Perhaps similar to a hair colour of mine once upon a hair do !

For the most time when we go out for lunch we head to our landlady’s place …. She has a small shack just off the main Kyebando crossroads. There are two sections to it – the dinning area with one table and 3 or 4 seating benches placed around it (its not a lot bigger than the size of my bathroom here) and the cooking section to the side. Jaja (Luganda for Granny) is a really friendly lady and greats us warmly every day she often has two younger girls working with her and they serve an impressive variety of carbs from such a small cooking area. So what culinary delights are there??

The carbs include; posho & rice (of course), matoke (steamed sweet banana), cassava (a hard tuber type starch – much harder than potatoe and more similar in shape to a cucumber), sweet potato (more a light yellow than the orange were are familiar with at home) … yes a total of five starches. The veggie options include … beans, greens (not too dissimilar to spinach) and occasionally there is pumpkin. The meat/fish options include; cow meat (it is important to distinguish …goat meat is quite popular here), fresh fish (portion of fish cooked in oil, veg & seasoning) or G.nut fish (portion of fish cooked in a groundnut sauce which is a nice purple colour). So what does an actual meal consist of???

Many local (& non local people) will go for probably 4 out of 5 of the starches  …I try to limit myself to two (matoke & something but not cassava), the veggie options usually differ – locals tend to be less in favour of the greens & pumpkin but some will often have the beans as their main non-starch. I tend to take all the veggies on offer – greens, pumkin and always a few beans (just not a bowlful). That all comes on one plate, the portion sizes tend to vary local males get heaps, in some cases nearly twice my plateful – which I, with quite a “healthy” (erm, big!) appetite normally struggle to finish. Then in a separate bowl you get your main non-starch …usually the meat/ fish option but some of the locals will opt for beans. Fresh fish is usually my first option.

So we sit companionably around the one table with other colleagues from the office (if they can afford lunch, usually its just the volunteers) and the local diners. Jaja does quite a brisk trade and so there is often a high turnover/rotation of diners. There’s no linger over a coffee or beer afterwards! Having been going there regularly now when at work (and also popping in a couple of times during the holiday) I’m starting to recognise some of the more regular local customers who will usually have a friendly greeting and some chat for me. Many of the local customers are often shocked to see a muzungo eating there in the first place (I only know of about 5 muzungos who live in that area), their levels of conversational English are usually very good but it can vary, as does their confidence to talk to a muzungo. Most however usually comment – to Jaja or one of the girls – that they are surprised to see a muzungo eating (& enjoying) the local food but they are looking less shocked to see us there as time goes on.

And the cost of this culinary and cultural experience?? A grand total of 2,000 Ugandan shillings …or just under 60p ! So just the kind of meal that agrees with my budget as well.

While its enjoyable it can also be somewhat monotonous after a while …and after the first couple of weeks when I’d rarely ventured off my hill I was absolutely dying for some chips or pizza or even a plate of good aul beans & toast !! Any taste from home would have satisfied to be honest.

While I’ve enjoyed my local experiences to date I’ve definitely developed a new found appreciation for the small things I usually took for granted at home. Speaking of which, I’m now on day 5 of my latest water cut, although thankfully my emergency tanks seems to at least let me flush the toilet twice a day & on that cheery note I’ll bid you adieu.

Til the next time …take care peeps & Happy New Year to you all

xxx

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