“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” –Mark Jenkins

Monday, 23 July 2012

Itojo Hospital

Given my historically not-so-great luck with travel health, I have been doing some research on the local medical facilities near the project. It turns out we get off the bus at Itojo hospital which was built in the 60's and is walking distance (4kms) from the school we will be working in. It's a rural facility serving Ntungamo District as well as some parts of neighboring Northern Tanzania and Northeastern Rwanda.   It has 120 beds in total, although sometimes patients are found sleeping on the floor due to over-admissions which is a little worrying.  Over the years the hospital has deteriorated somewhat, but in 2007 the Egyptian Government donated US$280,000 to rehabilitate the hospital, including the construction of three new staff houses. Then this time last year, Egypt made further donations of pharmaceuticals, an electricity generator and other hospital supplies – so with any luck it will have everything we need. (I also checked the Rabies antidote is in stock, - although they say they haven't needed to use it for 6 years, so I'm guessing it will also be out of date by now - must stay away from rats and bats!)

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Just got back from a short break in Crete (surely that counts as preparing my skin for the intensity of the African sun?!) and realised we have exactly 3 weeks left until we set off!! still so much to do and still space in the second suitcase for donations - glittery sticking things, shapes and sparkly craft items are the latest request if anyone has anything suitable.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Mud Pies or Mud Bricks?

Just reading the latest e-newsletter from the charity and getting excited about the options I didn’t realise I had… This is a relatively new project for Original Volunteers, which the manager is proud to tell me means it’s an area where the locals have not yet become expectant of money or hand-outs from Westerners but instead they appreciate the generosity of the volunteers and are more than happy to exchange time and knowledge with those who are willing to do the same. The organisers want it to stay that way and so there are strict rules in place about what is acceptable and what is not; excessive tips or direct gifts to individual villagers for example is discouraged, mainly because in other areas of the world this has led to jealously amongst locals. That said, the project manager has recently started to build a register of local families who are happy to accept volunteers into their homes and teach them the traditional methods in use for everyday activities, such as farming or cooking, which of course volunteers would practise by helping out during their stay, giving them a true understanding of rural life in Uganda. In return they ask only for volunteers to make a £1 donation to the family when they leave.
This process is also working well with some of the local builders, who are happy for volunteers to try their hand at local techniques for brick-making or roofing….  but since they would generally be a hindrance rather than a help, a £1 contribution is required to pay for the delays their mucking about is likely to have cost the builder.
I personally think it’s a fantastic idea and intend to shadow a builder the minute I lose patience with the children… which of course is probably going to be shortly after attempting to teach my first class.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

A brief geography lesson

Uganda is almost identical in physical size to the UK and has English as its official language, but this where the similarity ends. It is found next door to Kenya, on the Eastern side of Africa, right on the equator, which I understand we drive over on our bus journey from the capital to the project (although I’m not yet sure which side of the road they are supposed to drive on).
It is a fairly flat country, with some enormous lakes, Lake Victoria being the biggest, and is home to slightly fewer than 25 million people (60% of them Christians).
The people share the land with all sorts of wildlife, the most exciting of which live high up in the hills of the “Bwindi Impenetrable Park” towards the South West of the country – the severely endangered Mountain Gorillas. I have wanted to see them since the first time I watched Dian Fossey’s story told in the film “Gorillas in the mist”, but sadly due to the schedule, and the cost of the permits (£600 to spend one hour with them once you have machete-hacked your way through thick forest all day to find them), the jungle trekking will have to wait until another time.
Like many African countries, Uganda has no shoreline and lots of neighbours (Kenya, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania).  Some of them are fairly stable nowadays like Rwanda and Kenya, but some of them not so – Sudan and DR Congo for example are considered by the UK foreign office as dangerous places to go and should be avoided at all costs. Uganda itself has had some turbulent times as most nations have, but apart from some on-going issues still playing out in its Northern regions, the land is relatively calm and attracting more and more eco-tourists each year.
We will be working in an area near to the Rwandan border in the south, halfway between Kabale and Lake Mburo, the nearest town being a place called Ntungamo – although to get there by bus from Entebbe airport will take us most of the first day.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Top Ten Essentials

So after some careful investigation it would seem that my friend was not far from the truth when he suggested that smearing myself in Marmite would keep the mossies away - turns out that the smell of vitamin B1 (Brewers yeast) permeating through human skin has been proven to be offensive to many mosquitos and is therefore going to be my first weapon of choice (although obviously not in the sticky edible form, but rather 2x500mg tablets taken twice a day).   Another thing to cram into my impossibly small rucksack, along with these other essential items;

 1. Long lightweight skirt for "short stops" on the journey
 2. US dollars for VISA payment, passport & Yellow Fever certificate for entry into Uganda
 3. Hideously expensive "Malarone" anti-malaria tablets (23 of)
 4. Old unlocked mobile phone and charger  (will buy SIM at Entebbe airport)
 5. Padlocks of various sizes (and possibly my bike lock to attached rucksack to room)
 6. Binoculars, camera, charger and spare SD cards
 7. Volunteer T shirt, hat, shorts, flip-flops and sunscreen for daytime
 8. Warm clothes, boots, waterproof and DEET for evenings
 9. Soap, deodorant, toothbrush & paste, nailbrush and tick remover (vaseline)
 10. And finally of course… head torch and She-wee!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Well its that time again - the travel bug has bitten and there are 37 days to go until I don the backpack, load up with DEET and head off to Heathrow for the next African adventure.This time it's a little different… 
Firstly I will be working (although many of my previous trips were as exhausting as work), this time I will be working in a primary school and living on site in the remote mountains of South Western Uganda, five hours bus ride from the capital Kampala.
You might be wondering why I have chosen to volunteer in a primary school when it is a well known fact among friends and family that I bypassed the maternal instinct queue in favour of extra helpings of sarcasm, control and anal retention... Well it's quite simple, my elder sister is turning 40 this summer and since we are in the habit of taking each other away on holiday to celebrate big birthdays, I offered her a villa for a week in a hot, European country by the sea. To my surprise, joy and now slightly nervous excitement, she turned it down requesting instead "something different …. something cultural, something similar to your previous trips".
So I googled and googled and eventually found a long-running UK-based charity called "Original Volunteers" who run all sorts of projects all over the world. Everything from sports assistance for the disabled in Peru, to teaching  English to 400 Ugandan 3-9 year olds  in a tiny community called Ruhanga. Caroline is in love with children and I am in love with Africa, so it seemed the perfect choice… I put the idea to her and was thrilled at how excited and keen she was.   I wonder whether she will say the same when we have spent  24 hours a day together, without hot running water, swollen with mossie bites and tired from failing to sleep in the heat and sounds of the African jungle for two weeks!