On holiday in Uganda

11 September 2007

On holiday…..

Yes yes finally we are on holiday. Of course it was quite an entourage before putting all the toothbrushes, clothes, shoes, games, medicine and other prulars in our bags but on Sunday we finally left with a loaded car, three children 6 Mazungoes (an Australian couple, Dutch couple another Dutch girl and me), driver and Salongo (my friend the farmer and for this trip afdinger, guide and a confidant for the boys) to see what Uganda has to offer.

After a long, dusty trip and a flat tyre we finally arrived at Lake Mburo where we saw a lot of zebras, cows, monkeys, baboons and other animals I don’t know the name of, I would say different kinds of deer. We had a lovely dinner at the beautiful lake where a few hippos showed up and warned us about their huge teeth. It was very cosy and in the evening we slept in a good, cheap little hotel to drive fresh to the next place the next morning. The boys thought it was all wonderful….sleep together in a big bed and order food when you feel like it, what more could you want. Salongo is great for the boys and tries to put them at ease so they can finally tell their story.

Frank has told his impressive story and it is heartbreaking to know what this boy has been through. I realise that this is only the beginning of course and we are at least one step further so that we can now do more research into Frank’s family. It turns out that Frank still has a sister and he misses her….. his mother died immediately after the birth of twins and the twins also died after that. We are going to look for the sister and if it turns out that she is living in a bad environment I will do everything I can to get her out of there to give her a chance for a good future.
Saige remains silent and does not want to talk about the events. Sometimes he is very far away with his thought and then I wonder what he is thinking about…..

The next morning we left with all our stuffed bags to our next destination…Lake Bunyoni. There we would see many different birds and the surroundings had to look like a little paradise according to the Lonely planet. After a couple of hours driving, pee breaks and supermarket visits we reached the lake. We were hungry and wanted to sleep on one of the islands. That could of course be arranged by one of those local fishermen. After we had put our sandwiches away we were told that it was no problem if we wanted to sleep on an island there was enough room for us. Half an hour later there was still room for 4 people in a bed and the rest had to be in a tent…No problem we are flexible as long as we can sleep. After another half hour of waiting it turned out that there was no room at all for us and so we had to look for a place to sleep for the night on the mainland. Eventually we found our little paradise….. nice little houses with a view on the lake and we were the only ones in the park so it was the realm for us alone. The children loved it and had plenty of space to play and of course to order another bale of food.

The night was a little less pleasant. The two boys were lying in a bed and me and Babirye shared a small, rickety cot with a mattress that was too big. Jo and Mike (australian couple) were also in our room. We found a cozy, fat and very frightening spider in the bathroom. I’m used to it but I wouldn’t like to have it in my bed. Everything had urinated before they went to bed, plastic mats had been dragged out of the bags and put over the mattress so that if there was urination in bed the rest would stay dry. I tried to sleep but was so uncomfortable that I didn’t want to sleep. Two hours later I woke up the kids to do a pie pie…everything went fine. I set the alarm again so I could wake them up two hours later but unfortunately I didn’t wake up. Around six o’clock I was as good as awake and found Saige on the other side of the bed…all wet including the floor. Of course you can’t get angry…little boy has been hung by his daddy because he had urinated in bed, then I can’t go out of my plug and give him an extra trauma. Babirye was also soaking wet and so was I and my mattress, blankets and sheets. It was a party to stand under a shower at seven o’clock in the morning and let everything smell a little clean. It’s so frustrating to have been busy for months training the children and it just doesn’t work out… not yet, we keep going. And at a moment like that you miss everyone even more and you feel very sorry for yourself. So after all the washing and cleaning I thought I could go and wash myself but when I saw the toilet and then Saige’s clothes I knew I still had a wash to do. I have no idea how he did it but the toilet was covered with poop and the back of his clothes was also covered with poop. So I put the child undressed in the shower again, scrubbed him, polished him and dressed him again (with clean clothes of course). Again I did a lovely fragrant laundry and cleaned myself thoroughly before I could finally go for breakfast.

After breakfast we had planned a boat trip. Hoisted everyone into their lifejackets and there we went. The boys loved it and got a different biology lesson than in class. Babirye didn’t find it all that interesting and soon fell asleep. It was a beautiful environment and it was a nice trip. Again all the mess stuffed in the bags and into the bus to the next destination. On the way I went into the supermarket looking for chocolate (to eat away all the frustration) and other tasty things you can’t get in my little village. Hop in the bus on our way to Queen Elisabeth National Parc, where we hope to finally see lions and elephants. We just didn’t make it before dark so we got stranded in a cute little hotel (with a cold shower of course). We thought we were going to eat somewhere but after an hour and a half of waiting for the food to arrive it was finished and when we didn’t get what we ordered it wasn’t cosy at all anymore. In the end we paid the bill and thought everything was ok… until we were chased after leaving the restaurant with the message that we hadn’t paid the whole bill. We explained that we were not satisfied and that the waiter had agreed to our price…. In the end we were the Mazungoes of course and as they say here a “bad character” …….

Now I’m sitting here on my bed…. The boys had a nice cold shower and Babi was splashing around in the tub. Everything is clean and they are asleep. Saige is half out of bed and I have had to put him in bed three times already because he slips every time and otherwise his head is hard on the stone floor. My little princess is lying at my feet and looks very happy. All three of them are lovely in dreamland not knowing that in a few minutes they will be cruelly disturbed for a visit to the toilet bowl. I am quite tired but satisfied. Frank and Saige enjoy themselves to the fullest and finally open themselves up. Frank picks up the english language well and I have the feeling that he feels at ease and can finally relax a bit. Saige is a bit more difficult to gauge but I know he is enjoying himself. The children laugh a lot and because they get all the attention and love they feel important… which is how it should be. Babirye enjoys all the attention and speaks the highest words. Waving her finger all day long and telling everyone in her own children’s language what is and what isn’t allowed, wonderful. Yes, stop knitting and go to bed… maybe just read a few pages before my eyes close and I am in the land of dreams. In two hours time the wake-up call for a pee session…… everyone good night and a big kiss from beautiful Uganda!

We are a couple of days further and today we arrived in Kampala. The grit is asleep again. After a nice (cold) bath with the three of us and a big water ballet in the bathroom it’s all roaring again. Tired of driving and all the impressions they get these days. Today I share my bed with Frank and Babirye so there is not much room for myself in our bed. Saige regularly falls out of his bed every night and has been peeing on the floor for the last three nights. I do set my alarm clock every 2 hours but sometimes I am too tired to go out and yes then in the morning it is a lot of laundry and cleaning work but one day I will manage to wake him up at night as well…patience…patience.

We went to the Queen Elisabeth National Parc to see wild animals. It was great! Wild elephants, deer, warthogs and buffalo. Unfortunately we didn’t see any lions and chimpanzees but we were very happy to just drive through the beautiful nature and to see what a great country Uganda is. It is so green and fertile, the people are so friendly and of course you will find matoke (smashed banana) and rice and beans everywhere of course.
Luckily everything is negotiable and turns out to be as currupt as the plague. Even the rangers in the national park are corrupt and so we could make a good deal (we are so happy with our farmer Salongo who gets everything done) and get a guided tour instead of paying 200 dollars and actually see nothing in the end. Even the hotel rooms are negotiable. As long as Salongo is around we get the best discounts and are treated like a king.

I have to admit that I have been wrecked by those few days of travelling with the children. We had to sit in the car for many hours, crammed together in that heat surrounded by our mega bags and other frills we bought on the way (yes, we can’t resist). A visit to the doctor…I have an inflamed hand, Babirye is coughing and Frank has an inflammation in his arm. Babirye had already put a delicious poop in her trousers before I could tell my story to the doctor and regularly we find a surprise of this girl in a restaurant because she doesn’t really indicate yet that it is time to go to the toilet. Got a bag full of medicines and all of them on antibiotics…
We slept in a lovely quiet little hotel and watched a movie on the computer in the evening. We have a pleasant company and I learn new things every day.

The children love it and the boys get along very well with Salongo. Frank has improved his English by the day and I can see that he is enjoying himself. Saige is blossoming. He plays a lot, talks a lot and loves the little girl. Madame gets very stubborn and speaks the highest, is singing all day and is very cheerful.

It is striking…now that I am writing this I hear Brigitte Kaandorp in the background telling me why you shouldn’t have a child…funny and recognisable. It takes me half a morning to get everything ready and also to wash myself and feed myself. And yes mothers always have a typical air around them…poop, piss and Chanel 5. But I do it with love and I am so satisfied when I see these children grow and blossom in such a short time.

Salongo has beautiful stories but also a sad background. He was already in the army when he was 14 years old. He fought for Museveni (the current president) and has been through a lot. So he was actually a child soldier. For years he fought and he saw people die and he himself also had a period when he would rather be dead than alive. In the last few days we have been driving through the area where he fought and he is having a very hard time with it. Today the tears were in his eyes when he told us that one of his commanders had died on the spot where we were standing. The army made him very hard and left him with a great trauma. He is a sensitive man and (fortunately) is not ashamed of it. I think it is very strong and I have a lot of respect for this man. He is so determined and has so much knowledge of things. Nothing stops him from doing and getting what he wants. He knows so many people and has earned so much respect. He is a great guide for this journey and always provides a good shelter for us. During the week he had a little too many beers and kept the guests of the hotel awake until quite late because he was chatting so cozy but much too hard……

For the time being I will stay in Kampala. I have to arrange a passport for Babirye and that is a huge hassle. I am also busy getting a work permit and that is not so easy to get. Luckily everything is for sale here and I am confident that it will work out. I have rented a house (close to the school) since a week and hope to be able to move in after our holiday and then I can really start with my organisation. In the evening in my bed, I wonder if I will be able to do it all and especially if I can raise enough funds to keep the organisation running. Salongo reassures me by saying that it will all work out and that I don’t have to worry, but it’s easier said than done.

Now let’s put a stop to this knitting. It’s almost one o’clock now and fortunately I can sleep in tomorrow, at least…. …if the children can sleep in too. I have put all the laundry in the bathtub so the whole hotel room is full of dripping clothes and there are puddles everywhere, water my hands look like a woman of ninety of all that laundry. I gave myself a thorough cleaning as well. It is unbelievable how much dirt is coming off my body and hair. By now I am used to the cold showers and I actually like it. I haven’t met a nice nigger with nice, rounded nigger but who knows what’s in store. I think a lot about my friends and family in the Netherlands and miss everyone. It’s annoying that I can’t make myself heard, but I know that I think of you, I really do.

The days fly by and I get a lot of impressions. I’ve been pretty down the last two days. It’s really exhausting being stuck with three children all day and I can’t go anywhere because I can’t leave the children in the hotel room. Yesterday I quickly went into town with the boys when Babi was asleep. The city here is complete chaos and before you know it you have been run over 3 times and you miss at least 6 limbs. Luckily we survived but the boys absolutely didn’t want to listen and didn’t do what I asked. I get more and more problems with Frank and realize that more than love and attention is needed to keep this boy on the right path. He is a fighter and probably had a really terrible childhood. My heart has been broken several times in the last few days because I see that he is not happy and there is nothing I can do about it. On the other hand I also want some respect from him. I mean I help him as much as I can and try to meet his needs as much as possible…I think he should at least treat me nicely. But in general I get angry faces and I don’t know what to do anymore. It saddens me a lot to be so powerless and to see this child suffer like this.

Today we went with the whole bubs to a shelter for disabled children. The last few days we went to some doctors and they all told us that Frank needed plastic surgery… yes yes I know but I don’t have any money for it. So all of us in the car and I know someone who is a big shot of that home so he was guiding us. We were immediately helped by an Italian woman who has been working there for 10 years and who does a great job. We were sent to the (mazoengoe) plastic surgeon and when we wanted to show Frank his wounds Frank went crazy. Kicking, shouting and absolutely not cooperating. I stood there roaring in that hospital because it was just too much for me and I don’t know what to do anymore. The doctor told me that at the moment plastic surgery doesn’t come first but mainly physiotherapy. I will try to train with Frank every day and hopefully there will be some improvement in his muscles through regular training. In a few months I will go back and then I hope that they will be able to perform plastic surgery….Another time my patience will be put to the test.

With Saige everything was ok….I have to play a lot with him. So I went straight into the supermarket and bought lego and puzzles. At the moment he will learn a lot more by playing than in class and I am not allowed to push him to do anything that will only be counterproductive. He has been playing all evening and I can see that he enjoys it when he has made something and proudly shows it to us.

We were a bit afraid that Babirye would have the ricket sickness. This disease is caused by a lack of vitamin D, too little or no breastfeeding and too little light. All the symptoms we found on the internet were right. She is cranky, she goes crazy when I leave the room, restless, her legs are crooked and the vertebra is a bit curvy. Fortunately the doctor was able to tell us that she did not have the disease and that she is now in the phase of a child who is 8 months old. So she is behind schedule.

The shelter made a big impression on me. Children with polio, water heads and other diseases. In spite of that, you can see lovely, cute little shit, with their legs screwed in, laughing and adapting to their situation in order to get back on their feet after surgery. Fortunately a lot can be done for the children in the home and there are many doctors with knowledge and experience. These people work so hard and it is very hard work especially mentally I think. If I would work there I would walk with red crying eyes for whole days because you see cleansing cases that can’t be helped. On the other hand, many children can be helped and then it is nice to know that these children eventually have a chance for a future through free medical care. You have no idea how many children are handicapped because you don’t see them on the streets but when you come to such a home you are confronted with the facts and realise again that people here are still dying of the simplest diseases such as flu…..

Tomorrow I plan to exchange my hotel room for a slightly quieter place. Of course I can’t resist to take a look at the 2nd hand market and who knows I might find a 2nd hand man there who wants to marry me. That was it out of busy and dirty Kampala…I will keep you informed and for now a big kiss.

While brushing your teeth, you will get an update on all the things that have happened. Moved to another place. All the bags, boxes and more junk are now in a cozy room just outside the city. For 5 eurie a night we sleep with the whole family in two beds again. The staff here is super friendly and helpful. Every morning we stand at the side of the road and then get into a fully loaded Volkswagen van where I of course regularly get comments as a single mother with three dark children. I constantly get slogans like “Give me my baby” and “Mazoengoe is that your baby”? thrown at my head. I feel uncomfortable but I can’t tell everyone the background of the children. Usually we go to Salongo’s office/playroom/bedroom. All the staff know me by now and the children are at home there. Everything is possible and everything is allowed. They make a huge mess and sleep wonderfully on the couch at lunchtime.
Everyone is helpful and I am always brought home in the evening by an overprotective staff member. They are all like fathers to me and to the children.

I am mainly waiting, waiting and waiting but tomorrow I will finally go shopping for the organisation and they are going to install solar panels in my house so I will have electricity when I come back. I am completely exhausted….Frank is in a terrible mood and I’m afraid I might have to let him go. He shows no respect at all and has anger attacks. I just can’t stand it and I am very happy that Salongo and his staff are helping me with the upbringing and telling him what he can and can’t do. It hurts a lot to hear him say that he wants to die and that we don’t care about him but there is nothing I can do about it at the moment. I give everything but that is not enough. He needs professional help and I hope he stays on the right path. Sometimes he has a look in his eyes that frightens me. I can hardly blame him, it is mainly due to his upbringing so he doesn’t know any better. For the time being he doesn’t come into my house. I leave him at school and then he has to find out for himself if he misses me and wants to come and live with us if he can behave normally. He teases Saige and Babirye very much and they get very upset.

Saige is a sweetheart and enjoys the things we do with him. He is gentle and a bit clumsy. This week I had sent Saige and Frank to the cinema together….The men weren’t really impressed by the film but I was happy that Saige had stayed in the theatre for a long time. We also went to some kind of big playground. They loved the caterpillar, floating mill, bumper cars and other nauseating octopuses and so on. In the evening they were tired very quickly so quiet for me.

Babirye has a terrible cough and I walk away from all the doctors but I keep getting new antibiotics or more of that junk. Every time it looks like she stinks and it breaks her up completely. She is very tired and she is not the happy girl I know. Go to a good children’s specialist this week because it is really sad and my sleep is violently disturbed by coughing or a fight between Frank and Saige sharing a bed.

Despite the fact that I sometimes get very tired from the whole day “No don’t, no don’t touch, fingers out of your mouth, you have to pee, do you want to eat, don’t fight, listen to me” I feel happy. Unfortunately I can’t catch a man on the second hand market but there is a little romance going on… more details will follow. So much for the travelogue. I will keep you informed about all (exciting) adventures.

For now I trusted, as we say, sulabelungi and a big kiss from my bed.