From June into July in Uganda

I think Graham wanted to lull me into a zone where I was to be spoilt with hotel accommodation before settling me in to the place his recent employers had supplied for our immediate home in the North of Uganda, Palaro.

My first two nights were spent in the Protea Hotel, Kololo, Kampala.

After 35km hell ride from Entebbe Airport it was a relief to see that I was to be lodged in the luxury of a 4-star hotel. Entering one of the 11 suites, I welcomed the cool air from the air-conditioner and placed my suitcase down, taking my shoes off and enjoying the feel of the cool marble floor beneath my feet. Walking out to the balcony I found it overlooked one of the restaurants where a few people were seated below at tables enjoying midmorning tea and cakes. “Ever so British,” I thought to myself.

Graham had to go into the city, as he had to meet his boss in the Simba head offices and suggested I settle in and relax, promising to take me into Kampala to see some of the sights the following day.

I was tired from my trip from London, via Nairobi, so had a shower in the suite’s well-proportioned shower and then lay on the bed and fell into a deep sleep, only to awake when I heard the key turning in the door. Graham had returned from his meeting. We sat out on the balcony and ate lunch which we had ordered through room-service. Catching up on what had been happening since he had arrived in the country two months prior to my arrival. It sounded as if all the promises of his contract had not yet been forthcoming. Unperturbed, I listened quietly. This was not the first agricultural assignment he had undertaken in our lives when this had happened. Time eventually ironed things out and the situation either worked out, or we moved on, – Graham is highly experienced in his field and does not have difficulty in finding employment.

Push coming to shove, we always have our back-up option and that is our property at the foot of South Africa in Cape Agulhas that we have run as a bijou Bed and Breakfast operation, and can easily do so again at the drop of a hat.

However, the spirit of adventure is in both of us and we enjoy the challenge of a new project and place to live. The love of land entices us into making the quick decision to sign up, pack up and pick up on a new place, discovering the flora, fauna and people of the country we find ourselves living in.

Ugandans, I have discovered are extremely friendly and always happy to stop and while away the time asking you where you come from and why you are in their country. The majority speak fluent English and often favour communicating with each other in this language over their home tongue. As the country has had massive amounts of Western Aid poured into it, it hosts huge numbers of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) and even in Gulu, Uganda’s second largest town, one finds established ex-patriot hang-outs in the city-centres.

Early the next day we were collected by a company driver and ferried to the Simba office where I met Graham’s immediate boss, a diminutive young Irish American lady who looked as if she was younger than our daughters, but she obviously had earned her place in the company as I realised she was well informed and capable. After being politely dismissed from her office, I retreated to the grounds surrounding the offices, leaving Graham there to talk business.

I walked around the grounds and enjoyed looking at the tropical palms and plants in the gardens. The peace did not last long, a man staggered through the security gates with a bleeding head, making his way into the offices. Curious, I took a seat in the shade of a large gazebo, waiting for Graham to tell me about the injured man. It did not take long, as he soon joined me. Apparently the man had been sent into Kampala on the back of a boda-taxi to collect cash which was to be given to Graham to pay the driver of the pick-up that had been hired for our use. Unfortunately thieves had been alerted about this from an “inside informer” from the office and attacked him on the moving boda-boda. In order to escape he jumped off, landing on his head and hurting himself whilst hanging onto the money.

“Odd,” I remarked to Graham, “Why on earth send a target like that on the back of a motor-bike, surely he should be in a closed company vehicle for such a job?”
Graham nodded, “I agree, but now we still have to wait for money to pay for the pick-up rental.”

I was once again left on my own whilst Graham went to see what could be done, so ambled over to where the driver had parked the beat up old vehicle that was our mode of transport. He had his wife with him in the four-door cab and invited me to meet her, suggesting I sit in the comfort of the vehicle. Next thing I found he had locked the doors. As there were kiddie-locks on the back doors, I could not get out, short of clambering out the window, which I was not going to do, – well not immediately anyway!

With a jovial laugh, he happily told me that he and his wife were holding me hostage until they had their payment. By this time, I had a slight sense of humour failure and did not join in with what I hoped was their joke. My day out looking around Kampala did not appear that it was going to take place and had gone somewhat awry.

In the end Graham arrived and paid the driver in full, he was happy, we were happy and all I wanted to do was return to my nice, clean, cool hotel room and put my feet up. When I suggested this, my husband looked very relieved, “Good idea Babe,” I thought so too and waited until we were well rested. Over a glass of wine at dinner, I mentioned how I had been kidnapped by a friendly Ugandan and his wife earlier on in the day. We both laughed at my first day in Uganda and initiation of Kampala.

With a bit of luck, I shall be able to visit the craft markets and places of interest during my next trip to the capital city.

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From London to Gulu, Uganda

I am heading into being resident in Gulu, Uganda for four weeks and feel like I have signed on to some sort of reality show where the bush survival guru Ray Mears suddenly arrives on my doorstep to tell me that I have qualified as a fully-fledged Girl Scout and to add to that, the winner of the £ Million and a relaxing trip to a fancy spa for a well-earned massage and foot rub!

Boarding Kenya Airways from London Heathrow on 6th June, I flew via Nairobi, Kenya, transferring flights to get to Entebbe. The plane descended and flew low over Lake Victoria which brought thoughts of British Imperial Airways, and the days of the grand voyagers, (the S23-Empire Class Airplanes, giant Sunderland’s) carrying the post and passengers from the United Kingdom to South Africa.

Flying Boats that my grandfather had told me flew on a main route from Southampton in England on to Augusta Italy, stopping and progressing on to Cairo Egypt, then Khartoum, Port Bell Uganda, Victoria falls Rhodesia and then Vaal Dam in South Africa.

Grandpa also told me about other routes via Africa’s Great Rift Valley where the majestic old converted WW2 planes landed on the waters of the Nile, progressing to the massive lakes; Victoria Uganda, Naivasha Kenya, Tanganyika Tanzania, Nyasa Nyasaland, Victoria Falls Rhodesia and on to the Harbour in Durban, where my grandfather was employed as  Imperial’s Port Harbour Master.

As I descended the stairs from my ‘plane to the apron at Entebbe, more memories of the “Entebbe Raid” that took place 4th July, 1976, – a counter terrorist raid carried out by the Israeli commandos came rushing in to my head, here I was standing where an Air France plane with 246 passengers was hijacked by members of the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine and the German Revolutionary Cells and flown to Entebbe.

Clearing customs and immigration took a long time, as twenty Iranian businessmen were in the queue before me and they were obviously important, so had to be hustled through whilst the rest of the passengers waited their turn.

Graham was there to meet me and it was so good to see him after being apart for four months. He had a chauffeur with him, which surprised me as he is a good driver. I sat in the back seat and off we went along the road to Kampala, Uganda’s capital where we were to spend three days in the Protea Hotel before heading to the north and the Gulu Provence.

Oh my word, I have driven in many African countries before, but never experienced such scary driving! There are simply no road rules, everyone to their own! I shut my eyes and opened them and caught Graham looking at me from the front passenger seat with amusement, “You OK Babe?” He asked, “Now you see why I have a Ugandan to drive me in Kampala!”

“That’s for bloody sure!” I retorted, shutting my eyes again whilst I reminisced:
Many years ago, as a teenager living in Malawi, I found myself listening with morbid interest to the tales told to my parents by people who had previously worked in the British Foreign Office in Uganda. These were ex-patriots who had fled the wrath of Idi Amin and the atrocities committed against foreigners living and working in that country. My mother would look my way and see that I was avidly taking in the horror stories of abuse, rape and even murder and slip into murmuring whispers so that I could no longer hear.

I remember a portrait artist telling a florid story about how in the early days of Idi Amin’s rule, she was summoned into his state office and commissioned to do his portrait. At first she said, she thought of him as this delightful “teddy-bear” of a man. But as the weeks went by and time progressed, she saw that he was unpredictable and cruel. She and her husband, (who was a high court judge) had to escape the country or risk death. How they ended up living and working in Malawi did not interest me, but I did wonder if she ever completed the portrait before the teddy-bear turned into a grizzly-bear!

From all the stories I stored in the back-burners of my memory, Uganda always seemed to be a place of tropical jungle, gorillas, heavy thunder-storms, the vast Rift Valley Lake Victoria, unpredictable tribes and the Entebbe Raid. It has always been a place I thought of as “far away and inaccessible “, and likely one of the last places I would ever visit.

Yet, here I am in Gulu, Northern Uganda, about two hundred miles north of the capital, Kampala. In the old days as a British Protectorate, there was a metre gauge railway between the nearby villages of Tororo and Pakwach, but sadly it no longer operates and the only way to get here is by road or by air into the local airport.

There are two main tribes in the area, the Acholi, (who make up about eighty percent of the population) and the Luo. Since the rule of Idi Amin, through to Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army, these tribes have been targeted and attacked.

Later entered Alice Lakwena, heading yet another rebel group, which became the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army, – who, along with the government’s army, Uganda’s People’s Defence Force, carried out brutal genocide against these poor people. In the late 1990’s, government forced them into “Internally Displaced Person” camps. Thinly veiled, they were nothing other than concentration camps, where it was reported held in the region of two million people.

International campaigns known as “Stop the Genocide in Northern Uganda,” became prominent and in 2007 these camps were shut down and the survivors released. International pressure on the Ugandan government induced closure of these awful places, and there has been relative peace between the government and the rebel leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Joseph Kony.

The other day I spoke to a man who had been working with the International Red Cross at that time. He told me how approximately 15,000 orphan children, known as “Night Commuters” fled into Gulu’s town vicinities for safety under the cover of darkness every night, fearing abduction and conscription as child soldiers.

Since the peace talks between the government and the rebel LRA, the violence has greatly reduced and seen to economic revitalisation in the district of Gulu. There is a university, district administration centre, a stadium, three hospitals, a management institute, teachers training and agriculture colleges, the airport is second largest in the country, (after Entebbe) thirteen banks, several radio stations, three main hotels, an army base, churches, eating and coffee houses, Rotary Round Table and many, many Voluntary Overseas Organisations from around the world. In fact, I believe at one time there were more than 180 Aid Donor Organisations, some of which had operations closed by government, due to the fact that the young volunteers sent to work here were having too good a time relaxing near the hotel swimming pools, soaking up the Ugandan sunshine and not doing much in the field!

Regardless, there are always foreigners to be seen in the Internet cafés, shopping in Gulu’s markets and driving along in vehicles with various logos emblazoned on the doors advertising a vast variety of Aid Donor organisations. The most interesting of these, in my opinion, is “Invisible Children.” A film has been made on what they are doing to help the crisis in Uganda and it can be watched on the Internet.

After living in the OLAM compound in Morrembala, Mozambique, I find this new place (where Graham is contracted by Patrick Bitature, Simba Group to develop 3000 hectares of virgin land in an area called Palaro into farmland for maize production) more agreeable. At least here I can safely go for a walk, the locals friendly and the village a hive of activity, colour and interest.

It is a far cry from London, but it appears to me that the people here are the same as anywhere, – all working, running errands, shopping and doing what they can to improve their lives.

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The "Boda" Taxi

Asking the Cost for a Ride.

Local Transport in Gulu, Uganda

In Mozambique they have taxi bicycles and here in Uganda there is a slight upgrade, – the motorbike.
The “Boda” taxi, as it is called, will carry up to four people, including all their luggage, even the family goat.
Sometimes they are hired by one individual with supplies, such as a window frame, a bed or even a wheel-barrow!
How they manage to balance is a mystery, but they do.
The owners of the boda’s are often found  in groups at street corners, chatting and waiting for a customer to approach and hitch a ride.

The Sunny Sky is Aqua Blue

Nagar’s in Quelimane is supposedly a four star bed and breakfast establishment.
Perhaps I am prejudiced because Graham and I ran our home, Beachcombers, in Cape Agulhas as a very successful bed and breakfast for a couple of years. It was awarded three stars by the South African Tourism Bureau of Standards and their criteria for star status was very strict.
At times the last people one wishes to have staying in your hotel establishment are other people who understand and have worked in hospitality. But in all fairness to Graham and me, we make a point of not making an issue of any accommodation unless it is justified.

Nagar’s was rough, ready and very expensive. One thing positive I’ll say for the place is the bedding was clean and the buffet style breakfast was edible, except for some very strange cocoon-like items that lay in wait for unsuspecting gourmets next to the bread rolls. I took a bite of one of those and had to discreetly deposit the contents of my mouthful into the paper serviette provided. It was old, rancid rice that had been moulded into glutinous ovals and left a bitter taste in my mouth. There were other items there of unrecognisable substance that I steered clear of after my adventurous attempt at the “cocoon thingies.” The cold pizza take-away from the night before became a more attractive alternative!

As Graham had purchases he needed to make for before leaving Quelimane, we left my luggage at the local offices. The O.L.A.M company vehicle he drives is an open pick-up truck, and anything in the back that is not tied down is quickly stolen. People literally clamber in and make off with things as big as generators, fridges and motor-bikes. So a couple of suit-cases would be an easy target and I could not see myself dressed in Graham’s clothes for the three months I planned on staying with him in Mozambique before returning to England for another stint of Care Giving.

My first impression of Quelimane was the smell of sewage. Open drains were piled high with discarded refuse, where scrawny dogs and cats rummaged for a possible tasty morsel. Children splashed and played in stagnant pools of murky water on the sides of the roads.

Driving from place to place in the sprawling town, I was so glad that I had my camera handy. Quelimane’s main mode of transport is the bicycle, there are thousands of them everywhere and they do not follow any form of traffic rules. They stop, turn and go where ever and whenever they wish. I saw one with a family of four people concertinaed between the handlebars and the carrier, shopping balanced on their heads and a baby one their backs, another transporting three fat goats, all winding and wheeling between huge pot-holes in the roads. Hooting vehicles travelled at high speed, miraculously avoiding the bicycles. All the time there was a loud beat of music blasting from loud speakers strategically placed outside shop doorways, enticing passers-by in to buy.

Once magnificent buildings erected by the Portuguese settlers crumbled with neglect along avenues of ancient flame trees that seemed to be trying to cheer the old dwellings up with their bright flowers that had dropped on the pavements, creating red carpets of swirling colour.

Women wore scarves magnificently knotted in fancy styles on their heads, or had their hair braided with a rainbow array of plastic beads. Sashaying in their bright congas, with baskets of goods balanced on their heads as they went about their business.
Men sat in groups on corners going nowhere slowly. Shouting out greetings to people they knew or saying something suggestive to the passing women.

At lunch we drove to the Quelimane delta and ate Portuguese piri-piri chicken at a restaurant situated on the river banks. Many early missionaries’ journeys and great white game hunters are associated starting or ending at this port. One of them David Livingston with his quest to spread the word of God to African tribes inland along the river, ended his famous west-to-east crossing of south-central Africa in 1856.

At last my piri-piri chicken arrived and I watched the fishermen in their dugouts and reflected on the story I have heard about how Quelimane was named.
Apparently when the great explorer Vasco da Gama, arrived on these shores in 1498, he asked some natives who were digging in the fields outside their village what the place was called. They thought he was asking what they were doing, so they said “kuliamani” which meant in their language, “we are cultivating”. And so that was the name recorded in his ships log. Quelimane was originally a Swahili trade centre, and then later grew as a slave market. It was founded by the Muslim Kiwa Sultante and was one of the oldest towns in the region.

In the 16th century, the Portuguese founded a trading station at Quelimane. Sisal plantations were organized by German planters in the beginning of the 20th century. The town started to grow and attracted several communities from different backgrounds, including Muslims and Indians, and new infrastructure was built by the Portuguese authorities. The busy port handled tea as its major export grown and processed in the district of Zambézia then coconut plantations were also grown, transforming the town into an important bustling city.

The chicken was polished off my plate and Graham informed me it was time to leave, so we set off on our journey back to Morrumbala. I was grateful there was air-conditioning in the truck as it was 40° and I was used to a more temperate Cape Agulhas climate. 
We stopped at a fuel station on our way out of town and stocked up with cool drinks, water and biscuits. I made sure the pizza was easily accessible too!

Huge areas that used to be rice paddies edged the main road for miles, the soil rich and black. Neglected palm plantations stretched to far horizons. Thatched huts nestled in groups under the trees and along the edge of the road. 
Peasant farmers cultivated their small vegetable gardens of manioc and maize.
Groups of children clutched chickens for sale by their feet and waved them at us as we passed by, in the hope that we would stop and buy. 
Every half mile or so I saw sacks of charcoal under make-shift shelters, the owners hoping someone would stop and make a purchase of a bag to cook a daily meal.

Everyone in Mozambique appeared to spend their time looking to make a living. Most of the people are poor, but they seem to always be smiling, bustling about like ants, greeting each other, selling, buying, talking and networking.
As we drove along, I said to Graham, “It’s one great big endless market; the sides of the road are one endless place of small innovative businesses. These people amaze me!”

He did not answer me as he was avoiding pot-holes in the road and keeping an eye on a man riding a bicycle in front of us transporting a goat, a chair and a woman.

Dear Diary – A Care Giver in England

18th June, 2011
One thing that has been a God-send to me is modern day communication.
What with mobile/cell phones, iPhones, the Blackberry, PC’s and so on, there is such a choice of ways to communicate with loved ones back home.
Without this life-line, I do not think I would be able to get though a three week Care Giving assignment with a designated Client, (even if the Client was the sweetest and easiest going little Golden-Oldie on the planet) one needs to touch base and sometimes have reassurance from afar.
Last night I was feeling terribly low and thought I may end up high tailing it down the lengthy drive away from this large, rambling home and Molly, but I was able to chat to Graham half a world away in Mozambique where he has just started his farming stint for a large International Agricultural company.
Life there is infested with malaria mosquitoes, basic living quarters and a daily 200 kilometre drive on a road that has deteriorated into a pot-holed bush-track to and from the derelict rice plantation he has been employed to resuscitate.
To top it all, the locals all speak Portuguese and he does not, which is a challenge in itself.
By the time we had both offloaded our woes on each others shoulders, we both saw the amusing side of our present situations and ended up inventing unspeakable scenarios to keep Molly quiet and out of my hair.
Also how he could tell the cook where he is staying that he required him to cook a meal without thinking the food he had given to the cook was for him to take home to his family to eat, leaving my poor husband starving after a day out in the field.
As so many people I know are travelling and working abroad, I’d like to share a tip on a very good company I found on the Internet when calling Africa and other places that you may use called Rebtel , which is a VOIP company, providing cheap international calling from mobile and landline phones. Rebtel’s customers can use any phone in more than 50 countries to call anywhere in the world for just pennies per minute.
You can make direct phone calls; collect calls, PC to Phone calls, international SMS.
There are no monthly fees, or hidden costs to use Rebel, which is great as I have been caught out by some services and found myself paying hidden costs.
Here is the link to their website where you can learn how to dial Africa internationally and how easy and cheap it is to call to Africa from the US or UK.
Talking about communications, I forgot to write about how terribly lost I got the day I arrived here.
Brenda, (the Carer before me) met me at Basingstoke railway station and drove me back to the farm, where I was duly introduced to Molly and shown to the room where I’d be spending the next 21 days. We then had lunch and I drove Brenda back to catch her train.
She was full of the joys of spring and I was feeling somewhat envious knowing she was about to have a break and I was just starting out on my shift with Molly.
I was also slightly suspicious of Brenda’s extremely good mood and incessant chatting as I knew I was like that when I left my last post.
Although Brenda assured me Molly was OK, she sure was in a hurry to escape.
In fact, whilst I drove back on the highway and through a string of round-a-bouts I found myself wishing she’d stop waffling for a while so that I could concentrate on where I was going.
Getting to the station, Brenda already had her luggage ready and fast footed it out of the car, leaving me to find my way home.
Wishing I had remembered to bring the Sat-Nav that I had borrowed from my daughter, I drove out of the station and pointed myself in the vague direction of the route I had gone along before.
Heck, I found myself driving around a round-a-bout four times before I thought to look at the sign post which clearly indicated the A339 to Newbury. I did very well for about 15 miles, and then took an off-ramp that looked familiar and ended up in a quaint little village with Tudor buildings and narrow roads.
I felt as if I was in a time warp or deja-vue until I realised I had been in this village six years ago when Graham and I lived in the same area on a lovely country Estate belonging to a delightful South African family where Graham was employed as a manager.
Absolutely relieved, I headed home only to be reprimanded by Molly for being late for her tea and biscuit.
Now I understood why Brenda was in such a happy mood when I dropped her off!