Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Easter Weekend and Countdown

Last Thursday Kate and Robyn arrived to the delight of all the children – this is their 3rd or 4th time back in Kamengo and each time they manage to organize running training and heaps of physical activities with the children.

Over Easter weekend we brought the students from Boarding School back for weekend so we got to see them all (as did their parents) for a couple of days. The school headmaster was reluctant to allow them to come home for more than 2 days as they are in middle of exams – but all of us enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with them even if just a couple of days. Easter saw most students and the visitors go along to Sunday Mass - the church heavily decorated and all the locals in their very very best clothes. 

After mass Erin and other teachers had arranged an easter egg hunt - which was an adventure to witness. They met some challenges in explaining to children that they could all join in the hunt, but afterwards the spoils (little plastic eggs with candy inside) were to be shared.

They also had made a Penata full of candy - this was made on a balloon with layers of paper mache. We lined up all the children, smallest first and each got a crack at beating the Penata with a stick in an effort to burst it.  Alicia was on the string moving the Penata up and down as the children struck out - they were blind-folded for the event which was hilariously as they struck widly and with great force only to meet thin air.

Some of the boarding school students played in the basketball tournament and others cheered them on. 

Since we were visitors we got to present the trophies and you see Me in photo presenting the junior trophy to St. Bruno's Junior team coached by Lawrence and the team photo to the right complete with Linda, Robyn and Kate.

The winning senior team included Kate as a player and they were super excited with their day as you can see

Deo, who played in the tournament but was NOT on the winning team – still enjoyed having his photo taken with the trophy! We all think he deserves a trophy just for being DEO.

After a busy Easter weekend with basketball tournaments and mid-day HUGE meal cooked by Jimmy, Ethel, Diana and others it seems we are a bit slow to get back on track this week.

Monday the teachers headed off with Ethel and Diana for a day relaxing in Kampala beside a hotel swimming pool.  They braved public transport which they said was an experience but well worth it to spend a relaxing few hours swimming and having a nice lunch.

Kate and Robyn have begun the track training club (without a track) in the afternoons. Some of the children are amazingly fast runners and that is without proper nutrition, hydration or shoes. We have provided as many as we can with running shoes but even so – they run along a dusty, uneven road and still do remarkable times. We are trying to get advice on how we could get a couple of them into running programs as their speed and stamina in these conditions is remarkable.

Yesterday, today and tomorrow the teachers are back at St. Anne’s for their final lessons. The afternoons are taken up with their activity stations and children super engaged. Erin and Hunter had brought letters from children in schools in Ottawa and Erin has matched them with similar aged children here and they are sending letters back to Canada about Kamengo. The children are super-excited having just received their very first ever letter and they are taking the communication project very seriously.

Monday, April 17, 2017

AZBGC Community Center and Guesthouse

This is Uganda so the heat continues and the rains, preceded by thunder and lightning, offer nature’s own light and sound shows some nights. Those who know me will know that summer is not my favourite time of year – I joke often that when I land in Entebbe I turn bright red as I walk out of the airport, and I stay like that till my departure date. The locals here call white people “Muzungu” but I think they might have to create a new name for me “Muzungu Rouge” perhaps!

Since many reading this blog (if indeed anyone is) have not visited AZBGC Kamengo I thought I would give you some orientation as to what facilities we have here at AZBGC Kamengo. We have two locations for volunteers to stay. First, we have the AZBGC Community Center down in the village which is where most of our activities occur. There we have a computer room for students to come and do homework under supervision of older students and graduates each night, a large partially covered space for gathering, games, meals etc., an outdoor kitchen with charcoal stove and a gas cooktop, a stage for performances (with shiny blue tiles which are deadly when it rains – Alicia is sporting a colorful bruise from slipping on the wet tiles), a basketball court, two bedrooms, toilets and showers.

Food is cooked in an outside kitchen on charcoal stoves and on the new three burner gas cook top. Jimmy (who has a bachelor’s degree) is our head cook assisted by Ethel (who has just been accepted into Carleton University and is coming to Ottawa in August) and Stephen. Jimmy and Joseph took on Merey and Hunter as apprentice cooks this week to teach them how to make “Rolex” for lunch. A Rolex comprises a chapatti, an omelette, another chapatti, tomato & onion all tightly rolled into a large tube much like a shawarma in Ottawa.

Hunter caught onto the technique quickly but continued to burn her fingers on the hot chapatti – the boy’s finger tips are like leather and seemingly unaffected. The food is basic but healthy and largely organic. We have a lot of rice, beans, carrots, lentils, tomatoes, avocado (huge) and peas and every second day will have some fish or chicken. Jimmy is good at mixing flavours and everyone seems pretty happy with the meals.  In addition, we have an abundance of fresh and amazingly sweet pineapple and bananas.

In addition to the center we have a large newly established guest house on the top of the hill overlooking the village. Jimmy built this guesthouse after his mother Agnes died as it was her dream (one of many) that we would have a house to accommodate the volunteers that join our medical and education projects. 

This is where I always stay as although I have to navigate a walk down to the village each morning and then UP the hill, through gardens and bush to get here each evening, it is cool, quiet and beautiful when we arrive. Of course the walk up in the heat is very challenging but it gets a little easier each day and is a great work-out.

The guesthouse is huge – it has three large bedrooms with double bunk beds, two bathrooms, a kitchen and large living areas. Each year we add furnishings and it is looking great. During this visit, for the first 2 weeks we have not had electricity or hot water as the newly installed solar system was struck by lightning the week before we arrived and the electrician took some time to resolve it. 

There are three bedrooms for guests: one is huge with 3 sets of double bunks and a double bed. 

Then there are two with two sets of bunks each. There is also a smaller bedroom where at the moment Paul sleeps as he is caretaker of the guesthouse with Diana.

There are two full bathrooms with toilet and showers - one is off the big bedroom and the other on the other side of the house between the other two bedrooms.

We have solar power which also heats a hot water system – after the punishing walk up the hill, a cold shower is welcomed relief each evening so we are not suffering! The solar had been hit by lightening now long before we came so was out of action for the first two weeks while the electrician struggled to repair.   The day after Hunter left, we arrived back at the guesthouse in evening to find all the lights working – it is amazing that having electricity suddenly felt like a real luxury and we are enjoying it immensely. Sorry Hunter… missed out!

We have a huge lounge and sitting area and a massive kitchen. Paul is seen in the picture of our kitchen doing morning dishes.  

There is a separate sitting area seen below and then the larger lounge and open space which we have not yet fully furnished but are getting there.

When I was last here in 2014 I made curtains for the guest house and year by year we purchase additional furniture and equipment to ensure it is more comfortable.  All beds have mosquito nets and it is a very comfortable space for sure.

Each morning I make a cup of tea and sit out on the Guesthouse terrace to catch up on emails, read or just soak in the sounds of birds, monkeys, and insects and the distant hum of the main highway from Kampala through to Rawanda that runs through the village below. 

Early in the morning, looking out beyond the village, we see layers of mist mixed with smoke from cooking fires rise from the many folds in the hills and disappear into the soft hazy sky. 

As I sit on the terrace children who live beyond our guesthouse walk past on their way down to the village schools – calling out hello. Some walk many miles each day to go to school typically on just one meagre meal of rice, matoki or posha. 

Two of our senior students (Paul and Diana) stay up in the guest house with us and in the morning, they prepare breakfast, clean the house and generally ensure we are well looked after. Both Paul and Diana have won basketball scholarships to Nkosi University beginning September 2017. We are very proud of them and also very pleased they will be with Nkosi University which is just 30mins away. You see Diana below in a basketball tournament we hosted on Easter Sunday and Paul in the yellow shirt.