…..Derrick

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Late Saturday evening, January 5, is when I first heard about Derrick. A sponsor from Canada, Brad and his family had come to Kibaale to visit with the students who they are sponsoring. It was on one of those home visits that they were introduced to Derrick. He looked sick, had a swollen left leg and was using very old homemade wooden crutches to walk with. Brad told Derrick’s family to bring him to the clinic on Monday and he would pay for his care.

So, on Monday I meet Derrick for the first time. He looked like he was maybe 6 years old and no taller than 3 feet. It was difficult to see his face since he looked down… but what I saw was great sadness and pain. There were no smiles, no greetings, no voice…. just complete silence.

The Clinic Officer saw Derrick immediately and requested that he be sent out for an X-ray. The clinic would pay for transportation to Kyotera and for the X-ray but the problem was no family member was willing to take him. Late, Monday afternoon an aunt offered to go with him. They arrived back just about dark and presented me with the X-ray films. Anyone looking at the films would see that he had a broken leg… his left femur was broken in at least two places.

That evening, I contact Brad and explained the situation. He was willing to pay all costs including transportation to anyplace in the world for good care. Unfortunately, the next morning, when the family gathered including two aunts and a grandmother to hear about his condition, no one was willing to take him anywhere.

In Ugandan culture, a patient who is in a clinic or in a hospital needs someone, a family member to take care of him or her… to cook their food, bathe him or her and clean up any messes.

After a day of discussions, one aunt was willing to go with him as far as Masaka. The Clinic Officer and comprehensive nurse knew about an excellent bone specialist at Masaka Regional Hospital called Dr. Masitwa.

A call was made to this well known specialist and he strongly suggested that the boy be admitted to his private clinic. At his private clinic Dr. Masitwa would be able to care for him daily; whereas, in Masaka Regional Hospital he is only allowed be on service, come and see his patients two times per week.

The family transported Derrick to Dr. Musitwa’s clinic. The next day I arrived at the clinic to provided the finances for his stay and to speak with the doctor about his plan of treatment. I was informed that the left femur had been broken in two place and the accident had occurred more than 7 months prior. The bones were completely infected. If Derrick had not been admitted to hospital; he would have probably died of an overwhelming infection within a month.

The plan was to operate immediately and clean out the inside of all the infected bones pieces. Derrick would be on intravenous antibiotics and given protein enriched foods for healing and improved health. Since Dr. Musitwa was absolutely sure Derrick had been completely neglected in the village. He was not willing for the family to be given any money to purchase protein foods, or any other items which Derrick would need. Therefore, all of Derrick’s needs would be supplied by Dr. Musitwa’s clinic staff. They would buy the protein foods such as eggs, fish, beans, chicken, and milk and anything else necessary.

I went up to Masaka every week to do clinic business and to see Derrick. The family stayed and supported Derrick for the first week of his stay at the private clinic but by the second week they had excuses as to why they could not continue. “I have to go to school”…. “I have children to get ready for school”….. “I have a garden to plant.”…….. I need to get back to Kibaale and look after grandma.”…..

So, after discussions with the folks in Kibaale…. we hired a Post S-6 student; a student who is waiting to start university in August. Catherine did not have a job and needed money for school. What a perfect opportunity. Accommodation and all meals were provided…. all Catherine had to do was help look after Derrick…. cook his meals, wash his clothes, bath him since he had a very large dressing on his left upper leg and ensure he took his medications.

Each week I was excited to go and see what was happening with Derrick. He was changing before my eyes. He was no longer the invisible child in pain and full of sadness but was growing into a tall 12 year old youth. The picture included is a few weeks old and look at how tall and happy he has been come.

On March 7, two months after I first meet Derrick, he was discharge from Dr. Musitwa’s clinic… but where were we going to put him. No member of the family had come to visit him at the clinic after that first week. No one had come to the clinic in Kibaale to ask about where he was or how he was…. It looked like no one cared.

Once again…. there were discussions with the staff of Kibaale Community Centre especially the sponsorship office as well as the clinic staff….. Derrick needed to be sponsored for us to continue to look after him. He was suppose to be medically O.K. and therefore could go back to the village. BUT NO ONE WANTED HIM TO GO BACK TO THE VILLAGE.

Brad, once he heard about Derrick’s need immediately offered to sponsor him. So, we brought Derrick back to Kibaale and found a place for him to stay and put him in school. His village is a long way out and he still requires crutches to walk. Margaret, the mother of the family who were willing to take him in and care for him is a teacher. She recognized Derrick’s educational level very quickly. At his age, he should have been in Primary 4. We all thought that he was maybe a year of two behind in his schooling but that was not the case. Derick does not know how to write his own name, nor the letters of the alphabet, nor his numbers. He should be put into a Kindergarten class. No one agreed to that suggestion.

Last Friday, March 15, Derrick was placed in a very special boarding school 20 kilometers outside of Kibaale in a village called Ssanje. Everyone in Kibaale has been helping to solve the various problems regarding Derrick. Another member of the sponsorship office, Christine suggested we try a boarding school called Sabina Boarding Primary School. This school has been used in the past for two children who were found in the village never having an opportunity to attend school. These two children have done very well. Our hopes are that they will be successful with Derrick.

Today, March 19, I was told that the grandmother arrived a few hours after Derrick was taken to Ssanje. She was not willing to believe that he had gone to a boarding school… “Who is paying for his school fees?”

Sunday March 17, there was an open house at Sabina Boarding School…. grandmother was not willing to go for a visit but she gave Christine a few things for Derrick… a piece of sugar cane, a few ground nuts and a small amount of Matoke.

I have been told that Derrick’s story is not new….. there are many children abandoned or neglected all over Uganda. Families have too many children who they cannot provide the basics for forget about school.

Derrick may have been abandoned and neglected once a upon a time … but not now. He has been found, cared for and loved. He has a future and hope. All this because someone cared…to Brad and his family thanks.

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Joyce

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They say that a picture is worth a thousand words…….. but for me this picture is worth more than a thousand words for it represents Joyce’s life.

In November of 2011, Joyce had just completed two years of nurse’s training and that was a miracle. Her family were only able to find the finances to put her through all but the last semester of her second year. She applied for a scholarship from Kibaale Community Centre which was granted. This enabled her to finish her two years.

It was in January 2012, that I meet Joyce. She was giving back to Kibaale Community Centre for providing those required funds. She had been working in the clinic without a salary for the months of November, December and January. She was extremely thankful and so appreciative of the financial support…. and the only way she could say “thanks” was to work in the clinic.

It took me sometime to truly understand that Joyce was working in the clinic for free. She was not receiving a single shillings. She always had a smile on her face and work exactly as if she had been hired…….. with this dedication she had my heart. I was so dumbfounded and amazed the work she was doing as “thanks”. So, of course, I hired her. How can I not!!!! I did need another nurse and she was already doing the job like a professional.

It has been a year since I hired Joyce. It has been a good year… she has made mistakes and I have misunderstood many things but we have always worked it out….. So on Jan 29, 2013 I was totally surprised by her resignation. She would be leaving Kibaale Community Clinic in three days to start a new job at Rakai Hospital, on February 1, 2013. Yes, she only gave me a couple of days notice but I was told that this was an acceptable procedure. I am sad at her leaving but like a mother, I am excited that she was feeling confident in nursing skills to move on. All I could say is Well Done!!!!!!!!

So what has the picture to do with Joyce. Well, like almost everything that happens at the clinic I learn something new. I learned that since Joyce left the position on good terms, in other words she was not fired, it is our responsibility to provide her with transportation to her new job. What I understood was that I was to move her. So late in the afternoon of January 31, I pulled the land cruiser up to the back of the building Joyce was living in and watched as everything she owned was easily put into the vehicle. The only thing that did not fit was her bed which was tied to the roof. In one trip all of Joyce was moved. I was so humbled.

The picture is her new accommodation. Yes, it is a ten foot by ten foot room, a box with no sink, no bathroom…. it is just one room with a door and a window but it is acceptable accommodation provided by her new employer, Rakai Hospital. Joyce was so excited to show me her new place….. but all I could think about was “how could I possibly live there”.

….. baking in Kibaale

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In Kibaale, I have a propane stove with an oven. It is like a gas stove in that you must lite each burner as well as the oven. There is a difference, however, in that this oven is either on or off…. There is no way to regulate the temperature. In fact, there is no way to know what the temperature is. If I want to bake something I use the top rack and hope that it does not burn; or use the lowest rack to brown foods like making crispy potato wedges. Baking, roasting or cooking in this oven is a BIG challenge and always an adventure.

When I think something will be easy to make; it frequently becomes more complicated. I have had to adapt every recipe after numerous burned offerings. One of my favourite recipes is banana bread. Bananas are very inexpensive, readily available, and frequently given to me as a gift. It seems that I always have over ripe bananas. In “Jungle Camp Cook book” by Wycliffe Bible Translators, there is a great recipe for banana bread. I have attempted to make this loaf many times only to discover that the top and bottom are burnt while the inside remains raw. I now made banana bread muffins and they turn out perfect if I bake them for exactly 22 minutes. At 25 minutes they are burnt.

I tell you this because one of the Kibaale teachers is interested in purchasing an oven… Patricia wants to learn how to bake fancy decorative cakes. To help me understand exactly what type of cakes she is looking to bake, she showed me a 200 page cookbook with the most beautiful and elaborate cakes I have ever seen. This could easily be a cookbook created by “Martha Stewart”. I told Patricia that she had the wrong person if she wanted to learn how to bake such cakes. BUT then again, I am the only one in Kibaale with an oven.

Patricia and I have had many discussions about the stove, how it works, and the recipes in her cookbook. Much of our conversations have been around the ingredients; Patricia did not know what raisins, almonds, dates, icing sugar, candied cherries and mixed peel were nor had she ever tasted any of them. She did not know about measuring cups, teaspoons and tablespoons. Nor did she understand that there is a process when baking a cake… like when they say cream sugar and butter together. All this was new to her.

So, before she and her husband make a final decision to purchase a stove with an oven, I thought it would be a good idea for her to do some baking. She wanted to bake a fruit cake like those we enjoy over the Christmas Holidays. I have made a few in the past but quickly realized the store bought ones are almost as good. Unfortunately, that is not the answer. This teacher, Patricia, wants to learn how to bake.

Our first cooking lesson was a banana bread which of course turned out acceptable. Her family liked it. Then a few weeks later, she arrived with all the ingredients for a fruit cake. I have to say that our first attempt was a complete failure. I put the cake at the top of the oven and after less than half the baking time, it was black on top, sides and bottom. I carefully removed as much burnt cake as possible before sending the rest home. As she left….. I started to cry. I had just cost her a significant amount of shillings. It does not matter how much it cost in Canadian dollars; I found the price of the necessary items expensive. Here is a teacher on a limited income spending her shillings on costly ingredients which I just burnt. I felt terrible! It was a disaster! So, for the next few weeks, I thought about what I might do to make the next cake a success….

The day after our burnt disaster, Patricia came and told me her family loved the fruit cake much better than the banana bread and they wanted her to try again.

On our second attempt at a fruit cake, we did many things differently. First of all, we added extra liquids, then we put the cake on the every top rack of the oven just after I lite the oven… and finally I put a two inch stick at the top of the oven door like a wedge to keep the door open and lower the temperature. We also checked to see whether the cake was done every 10 minutes. After 45 minutes we had a magnificent cake…. SUCCESS at last.

Now my story about the “princess cake” begins. Over the Christmas holidays, there were a number of family members visiting from Canada including Carina’s mother and father better know as Mormor and Morfar (Swedish for mother’s mother and mother’s father). Mormor pack one of her suitcase with all the ingredients to make a Swedish princess cake for the Christmas festivities but this suitcase got lost in transit and did not turn up until a few days before their departure back to Canada. I have never heard nor tasted a princess cake but have heard many stories of how it is made and how over the years bakeries are making a simpler version since it takes a long of time and ingredients. Of course, this only added to the mystery of this very special cake.

So, last Friday morning as I was preparing to leave Masaka for Kibaale, I remember that I needed to say “Goodbye” to Mormor and Morfar since they were leave in a few days. Just as I was getting ready to walk up and say goodbye, I received a phone call inviting me to coffee…. I thought that it was nice to say goodbye over a cup of coffee…. but little did I know that Mormor had made the princess cake.

Out from the fridge came a cake almost exactly like the one in this picture but more beautiful. The mint green marzipan icing had three pink marzipan flowers on top…. It was truly a work of art. How could anyone cut into a cake that majestic!!!!! BUT Mormor cut the cake and gave me the first piece of princess cake. I am challenged to find words to describe the delicate taste of the layers of mouth watering sponge cake with fresh raspberries, custard and whipping cream. You have to research this cake to appreciate that this cake would be impressive by Canadian standards but to think that it was made in Uganda with an oven like mine……. what words can I use…. Well done, Mormor.

…. what have I learned in my first year of living in Uganda.

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QE park june 2012 070>>>>>>> what have I learned in my first year living in Uganda……………..

I have learned that even though I live south of the equator, the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west. But what I have discovered is the night sky is something very different…. I love to stand in the middle of the soccer field with no lights for miles around, and stare at the night sky full of brilliant diamonds which appear to be so close that I could reach out and grab one. The sky is covered with a new set of constellations to explore; comets and satellites to watch out for.

I have learned that I took many things for granted in Canada which do not exist in Kibaale. If I am going to do more than just survive…… I need to remember to pump water when the generator is on; remember there are no lights in my bathroom except when the generator comes on; and that sometimes the generator does not come on because there is no fuel. Therefore, I need to ensure that my solar panel flashlights, and lamps are always ready and charged.

I have learned that not everything in Canada is available in Uganda…….. like mushrooms, feta cheese, red wine vinegar, sour cream, cottage cheese, apple sauce for example… Some of these may be found in one of the grocery stores in Kampala, but then maybe not, or maybe not on the day you are there. I am still learning to live on what is available…. all recipes have to be adapted. Here is an example, I wanted to make some cookies. I went onto the internet in search of a recipe where I had most of the ingredients. I found a cookie recipe with a glace. The glace required one tablespoon of lemon juice. Well, I cannot buy a lemon in Kibaale; a might be able to buy one in Masaka and definitely I could purchase one in Kampala. What was I going to use?… I looked around my house and found one lonely passion fruit and decided to try it in this recipe. To my surprise the cookies taste great.

I have learned that even though the clinic is suppose to be open at 8 am … it may be after 9 before the clinic staff arrive and this is especially true when it rains during the night or in the early morning hours. If at 8 am, it is still raining then I am unlikely to see anyone clinic staff or patients until after the rains have stopped. Why you may ask…. it is because everyone has to walk to the clinic; no one owns a car, very few own a raincoat or jacket and only a few own an umbrella….. this is the way it is in Africa.

I have learned that sometimes you can barter over the price of bananas, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, and anything else which is sold in the market place. I am fairly certain there is a mzungu (white man’s) price and an Ugandan price. The staff at the clinic get very upset and even angry when I am over charged. Therefore, to keep the peace and the staff happy I frequently ask them to purchase certain items for me….. It is not that I am lazy but it helps build relationships.

I have learned the folks in Kibaale town and on the compound frequently greet me with “good morning my mzungu.” The first time I heard it I was shocked, confused and even upset. I was not someone’s property. But I quickly learned from the staff that it is a term of endearment. They are giving me respect and acknowledgment for living and being part of Kibaale and Kibaale Community Centre. You need to understand that I am the only white person for at least 20 to 30 kilometers in any direction.

I have learned that Kibaale is an extremely beautiful place…. One of my favourite places to sit is on the porch at the entrance to the clinic where I can see for miles, the rolling hills, many types of trees and watch the various birds fly down the valley at eye level…. like the national bird of Uganda, the grey crested crane.

I have learned there is a big difference between how time is used and understood in Uganda…… Time has a different meaning for each person and in each new situation…. the Ugandan frequently use the word “now now” which we might translate as immediately. It can mean anytime within the next few hours to anytime in the next few days. They are not trying to be disrespectful but the exact opposite… they want to please and do the right thing and it may take some time.

I have learned even when I say what I mean and mean what I say…. it is almost always misunderstood… it seems that it has a different meaning for each person. I have worked hard to teach those who wish to travel with me that when I say I am leaving the gate at 12 o’clock I mean that I will be leaving at 12 o’clock. On Dec 22, I was going to be traveling to Masaka… and I told everyone that I would be leaving from the front gate at 8:30 am…. …… Six people asked for a ride…. I spoke to each of them, repeating the information and ensuring that each one of them understood the departure time………. And still on that day, I arrived at the front gate at 8:30 and no one was present. At 9:15 three people arrived and told me they were on time…. then 10 minutes later two more arrived and finally at 9:30 the last one called to say I could pick her up on route out of Kibaale. I would have normally left at 8:30 but this was a special day since everyone was trying to get ready and travel to his or her village for Christmas. I waited patiently.

I have learned the people of central southern Uganda are from the Baganda tribe….. Now, here is a story. It is the week before Christmas, I asked one of the nurses to check and let me know if there are vaccines available for our outreach the next day. He came back and stood in my office, I asked him if he needed anything but he said “No!”… nevertheless, he remain standing in my office. Finally, after a number of minutes, I asked him if he need some airtime to make the calls; he took a few minutes to respond with the answer “Yes!” I could not help myself, I had to ask him why he did not tell me immediately that he need airtime. He gave me this response….

“A friend will come to your house and he will sit down and talk with you. You will ask him if he is hungry and he will say “No.” He will continue to sit and wait. You will make some food and you will offer him some but he will say “No, thanks.” But you will ask him again and again if he would like some food. Finally, very reluctantly he will take some of your food and you will be very surprised at the amount of food he has eaten.”

This nurse leaves and I am totally confused…. It just so happens another nurse has been sitting in my office and she had heard the whole story.. I ask her for an translation or an interpretation………………… After a few minutes, she starts “The Baganda people like to play the game of pretense….. Of course, the person was hungry but he was not going to tell you the truth. It is part of how we are brought up… We have learned our lessons well from our mothers, and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandmother and grandfathers. No one tells you the truth. It is especially worse with the cell phone (as she points to mine). I heard a person talking, telling the person on the phone that he was just about to arrive in Nairobi and was not sure if his phone would continue to function and then he rang off…He was not in Kenya but in Masaka, Uganda only a few minutes from his friends village.”

I would say I still have lots to learn but I think it has been a good beginning. I have spend the year working to build relationship with each member of the clinic staff and many in the school and in Kibaale town. I know that even a few months ago, neither one of the nurses would have helped me to understand their culture in such as interesting way. At least we are talking and I hope this helps us work together to move the clinic forward in the coming year……..as well as help me become the person I need to be to help support these changes.

….Queen Elizabeth Park, Uganda

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It is New Year’s Day and I am still trying to write this blog…. I have had one challenge after another. I wanted to write and post this blog from Queen Elizabeth National Park which is in the western section of Uganda about 4 to 5 hours drive from Kibaale but the network stopped working. Then it was time to travel back to Masaka; once again the network was not cooperating. Each time I start working on this blog…. I would get company. Now company is not bad; in fact it is good… but I truly wanted to complete this blog before the end of the year. Well, it has been a busy week, I have traveled to Lake Mburo and stayed a night in what you would think is a typical safari lodge… Each room was an independent thatched hut with a four poster bed and windows overlooking the savannah grasslands. It was an exciting adventure traveling across the wet grassland following an imaginary road to get to the lodge. Then there was the trip over good paved road to get to Kasese and visit Queen Elizabeth Park. Now, my vacation is over and I am back in Kibaale only to figure out that I had run out of airtime for my internet to work…. So off to downtown Kibaale I went to buy airtime. Of course, all this takes time….

So, what was so special that I had to blog….. I had this amazing trip to see the animals of Queen Elizabeth Park. The park is almost 2,000 square kilometers in size boasting 95 species of mammals and 612 species of birds. It is an awesome place…. you are right in the middle of a real life game reserve…. this is where the animals live; cape buffalo, elephants, leopards, lions, Ugandan Kobe, baboons and hippopotamuses to name of few.

On December 27 just before 6 pm we had arrived at one of the gates to the park….. after paying the entrance fee we asked the park rangers if they had heard any news about lion sightings…. Yes, four lions had killed an antelope that morning and the kill was close to the road. They explained exactly where to go.

The park opens at dawn and closes at dusk which is around 7 pm so we did not have a lot time to travel the dirt roads of the park to the exact location with great hope that one or more of the four lions were still in the area. An antelope is a good size kill and it is unlikely that the lions would be able to eat the whole animal in one “sitting”….

We were about half way to the location when we came upon an Ugandan riding on a motorcycle with a back flat tire. He was riding on the rim when he stopped. It was clear that he was not going to be able to ride it any further. When the park was established in 1954 there were 11 village within the newly created park boundaries. These villages continue. The village where this young man lives is about 10 to 15 minutes past the location of the kill…..So, what were we going to do? Could we leave him to fend for himself and push or walk through the park to his village? It was decided that we would lift his motorcycle into the back of the Toyota pick up and those who had seen a lion before would travel in the Toyota to the village whereas the visitors from Canada would squeeze into the Noah and try and see lions.

It did not take as long as expected to arrive at the young man’s village… even though the motorcycle almost slipped out of the back of the Toyota a couple of times… Once in the village, the young man had friends to help him unload his motorcycle. We waved goodbye and turned around and headed for the location of the lions. We had high hopes to see something before the sunset.

We arrived back at the last sighting of lions to be told nothing was happening… a lion was about 200 feet from the side of the road hidden by the tall grass. As we came parallel with the other vehicles, she became restless… she would stand up for a few seconds then lay down …. she was hardly up long enough for a photo….We stayed and watched her for at least 20 to 30 minutes and we were about to leave when we heard from some other folks that there were two or maybe three more lions hidden by the tall grasses less than 300 feet to the right of the first one…. We moved our vehicle passed the bushes and watched…. Sure enough I could see a head pop up at two different locations and the swishing of a long black tipped tail. It was exciting to see heads and tails of three lions in one location….

It was getting dark; too dark for photos… I was putting my camera away when suddenly the second lion stood up and with an amazing grace moved quickly towards a large thick clump of trees. I guessed that she was heading into the trees to get away from our prying eyes….. but that was not the case. The third lion was on the move… he or she was moving so gracefully that within seconds he or she was beside the second one. They were now active…. racing across the savannah, jumping and bounding with powerful ease….and out from behind the bushes came the first lion. It was time to play…. or that is what it looked like… the game was on…. and who was going to win the race as they vanished into the darkness….

It was dark and it was going to be at least 30 to 40 minutes before we were back at the lodge……..the safari for the day was over but what majestic beauty, what amazing power ….. my mind was memorized by these three lions…I did not want to leave. I wanted to somehow be able to stay and observe their activities even though I knew that it was not possible.

The road to the lodge is paved if you can call it that… there are potholes every few feet and some of them are so deep that a vehicle could be swallowed up…. We were still within the park when we came upon a very large snake on the road… It had to be somewhere between 6 and 8 feet long and at least the width of my upper arm in the middle…. It was moving fast and we had only seconds to see it. No one has been able to discover what kind of snake we saw…

I cannot help but think that the sighting of the snake reinforced the fact that we were in a park… and not at the zoo. Queen Elizabeth National Park of Uganda is a real life habitat for hundreds of wild animals, birds and reptiles. It is their home and we are the visitors…..

Now, you know why I had to write this blog…. what an amazing and exciting adventure!!!!!

…and now this is Christmas

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It is Christmas and I am in Masaka…..

Everything is different here. The sun was shining brightly, the birds are singing, it is a warm day with temperatures in the high 20… it is T-shirt weather. How can that be Christmas? Christmas is suppose to be cold and rainy with snow occasionally.

When I left Canada, the plan was for me to be gone one year so thoughts of bringing Christmas decorations did not cross my mind…. Therefore, I do have any Christmas decorations… I have no tree to put up, no decorations or ugly angels to put on the tree, no snow flakes for the windows, no poinsettias to enjoy. How can it be Christmas? I do have some Christmas Cards given to me my a few of the clinic staff, some teachers, and friends. I have taken these and made a display on my coffee table along with a small wooden African Nativity set. But these are in Kibaale….. I did not bring anything with me to Masaka. But some dear friends of mine came prepared and their house is decorated with a Christmas tree and lights, angels, stockings and presents under the tree. ……………….. But that is not the case for most of Uganda I am familiar with.

The stores in Kibaale have no decorations, no Christmas carols, no displays, no place where parents can have a picture of their child taken with Santa, no last minute sales, no folks running around trying to find the perfect gift for a certain someone, no traffic jams….. It looks like it could be any day of the year.

Some of the stores in Masaka have decorations but not all…. You may see a plastic or metal Christmas tree with a few miss-matched Christmas decorations at the entrance to one of the shops…. The trees look like they just came out of the box as if the person putting it up has never seen a Christmas tree. No one is greeting you with the familiar words “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year”…………. There are no displays to check out…. things like Christmas cards, wrapping paper and ribbons are not out and easy to find. It just does not feel like Christmas.

No one I know owns a TV ……so, there is no count downs to Christmas, no Christmas specials to watch, no school Christmas concerts to attend since school has been out since the beginning of December….. Can it truly be Christmas?

A few days ago, I went to Kampala to do some shopping. I bought a few extra things like lamp chops, liver paste and sausage all of which are not available anywhere else in Uganda…. I bought a few presents for the five kids I will be spending Christmas with. Kampala was into Christmas… the big grocery store was filled with many big displays, people shopping, carols, and cashier greeting you with “Merry Christmas”…… In the mall was a small hut with a Santa sitting in the middle of it…. but there were no lines of small children or parents wanting their child to have a picture with Santa…. no one appeared to be interested. Could it be Christmas?

I have asked everyone from the clinic staff to many of the Kibaale teachers and students as well as the security guards in both Kibaale and in Masaka…….. how do you celebrate Christmas?

Without a question of a doubt, I received the same answer….. It is a time to celebrate. The day starts early in the morning with the preparation of the festival of food. It is the one day in the year when everyone will have meat to eat. After the preparations are completed; everyone goes to church. After the service is over, it is time to feast with family and friends. “It is the best day ever!!!!”….

It seems that if at all possible …. family members travel back to their home village to celebrate with parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings. It maybe the only time in the whole year when everyone gets together.

This morning, I went to church and found this little church full of Ugandans men, women and children all dressed up in what looks like new clothes. The service was very simple but participatory from the youngest child to the oldest father. It was a loud, joyous, exciting, with amazing music ………we were all there for one purpose only and that was to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ…. for his birth is the true reason for this celebratory season..

So….. I came to realize that Christmas in Uganda in many ways is the same as in Canada…..It is not so different after all.

Merry Christmas everyone and a Happy and Prosperous New Year 2013.

…. a comedy of errors

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A few weeks ago, it was Sunday morning and I was still not feeling very well. I was not sick enough to stay in bed; and not sure if I wanted to get out of bed…. I was very tired with a lingering cough from a cold. As I was laying in my bed, I noticed that my daniadown quilt I brought from Canada has a few small holes and a large number of goose feathers had escaped. My little mosquito net tented bed was nicely decorated with small white feathers….. and I wonder if the reason I was not getting better was that I was breathing in some microscopic fibers from the feathers……

So, I made a plan to change the sheets, and air out the bed; repair the small holes then hang the daniadown quilt on the line outback and let the hot sunshine give it new life. As I was putting the quilt on the line, I noticed that the cleaning ladies had done a large load of washing and left the linens on the line. I decided to be kind and take the linens of the line when I took in my quilt…..

With some found energy, I made myself a good lunch of roasted chicken with rosemary and lemons, potatoes, carrots and tomatoes…. this is a real treat for me because it takes too much time and more often than not the various items are not available. Lunch was delicious……and as I was enjoying my meal, I was answering emails.

Suddenly and to my great surprise… I heard thunder and lightning and the gentle falling of rain on my tin roof…I ran out to collect the linens. I quickly decided since it appeared to be a gentle rain that I would leave my quilt on the line and it could be lightly rinsed. I got all the linens in when the rains came pouring down…..

For the next 2 hours, I watched from my open front door the thunder and lightning flashing across the sky; rain driving horizontal with such thickness the hedge in front of my house feet away became invisible…. it was truly a show of nature’s power……. and as the storm continued to rage, I watched the water level at my front door slowly raising with great possibility of my kitchen and living room also being flooded… I already had a light covering of water in my bathroom and bedroom….. and in all this I wondered about my quilt.

The storm ended, the rains stopped …..with the water level less than a half inch away from crossing the sill into my house. I waited and watched the water quickly disappearing wondering if my quilt had survived the storm and what was I going to find. I walked to the back of my house to find my quilt on the ground. I went to put it back on the line but did not see the large army of “red” ants or biting ants which had survived the storm under my quilt…. Within seconds they were climbing up my legs, on my arms and moving quickly over my body…

I ran as fast as possible over the wet soggy ground into my house were I stripped out of my floor length caftan…. I watched hundred of ants ran in all directions while I was pulling them off my neck and face and out of my hair and….. oops, they were also in my panties and bra.

I cautiously slogged through the 1/2 inch of water into my bathroom and quickly removed my underwear; turned on the tap to wash any remaining ants away………………but I had NO… NO…. NO water…

The only way I have water is to collect the rain water off my roof into a very large reservoir; then when the generator is on pump water up to a 50 gallon drum on the roof… this gives me running water.

With no running water and in desperation, I used the water off the floor to dislodge, wash away any of the remaining ants….

Now, all I could think about was having a hot shower… I felt dirty..

As I was thinking about the hot shower, I realized that for some reason the generator was on. I could pump water!!!!!!!!!! The switch for pumping is in the adjoining guest house. Very carefully, I stepped around the thick red mud and opened the door…. I may have taken 5 or 6 steps when I slipped and fell hitting my head and back on the tile floor. I slide crashing into the bathroom door with my right foot. As I lay on my back looking up at the ceiling, I realized that my screams would not be heard since school was out, and my next-door-neighbours were in Kampala for the weekend… So, I prayed and prayed. I was not willing to lay of this floor and have someone find me… It was not going to happen!!!!!……. Slowly, I tried to get up and on the third attempt I was successful.

With great care, I walked across the floor and flipped the water switch…. It normally takes 30 to 45 minutes to pump the 50 gallon drum full of water and i know it is full when the water starts to pour out of the pipe at the top of the barrel. I guess I was not counting the minutes because the next thing I know the water is streaming down on top of me… It was only a few seconds before I was out of the way moving cautiously to turn of the water.

A few minutes later, I was back in my house enjoying a hot shower. Normally, I am very careful not to use large amounts of water because I do not want to run out during the dry season BUT that Sunday, I did not care; I just wanted to be clean and warm. As I was enjoying the hot shower, I realized that my back, and toes did not hurt. I was absolutely sure that I had at least two broken toes…..but when I looked down I saw healthy pink toes with no swelling or bruising. The only thing I had was a slight headache.

Then I heard knocking at my door…… and a lovely voice calling out “Margo, are you home?”

Patricia, a teacher who has been talking to me about learning how to bake cakes in an oven had arrived. She was hoping that I had time to teach her how to bake a cake. She saw the mess my house was in due to the water on the floor and hundreds of ants scurrying about and she helped me clean up. After a refreshing cup of hot tea, we baked.

Later that night, I realized, I was not alone…. Father God was watching over me and keeping me safe…… Patricia stayed until dark, about 7 pm baking a cake, then banana muffins and finally caramel icing.

After Patricia left, I had two more visitors each coming to check and see how I had survived the storm…..

PS…. the quilt, my back, toes and head all have survived the comedy of errors….

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