Off on a journey of love
This was the original date of departure from NY BUT what a storm we had! Temperatures below 0 with wind chill. Flights were getting delayed. Fear mounted, so I called and moved our departure to Jan 22. American Airlines honored our advantage miles and even helped because there was no availability for Sandra to join me with the same mileage usage. BUT (there’s always a BUT) with just 15,000 more miles, she could fly first class from Boston to join my flight(s) to Uganda.
Jan. 22- Tuesday
Still freezing cold, but I left for the airport at 5 a.m. Sandra flew from Boston and met me on cue Together we took the 10 hour flight to Qatar (our stopover). Yes, benedryl and lots of wine- I guess those are my best friends when I fly. Something fortuitous happened. This flight was EMPTY--- so as soon as the doors closed on the plane, everyone ran for the better seats up front and everybody had 3 seats to themselves and we could stretch out. Flight was pretty smooth as flights go, kept reminding myself that turbulence is normal. That worked sometimes. We had a 3 hour stop over but we were still OK, getting tired. So when the next flight boarded, we were ready to sleep it through-well somewhat. That plane was older, noisier and more crowded but we each had an opposing aisle seat and an empty one next to us. So far so good. We waited to land in Kigali before getting to Entebbe but again, we were pleasantly surprised that when we landed, we WERE in Entebbe. (The Kigali stopover is on the way home only)
We landed happily and our host, Denis (a Belgian) picked us up on time. They didn’t even check our bags! (We had a lot of technology with us) We were driven to a lovely, and lovely is a total understatement, to a cottage that is near the lake. Expedia- thank you! We met his wife, Anita, who is Rwandan relocated to Uganda, his 1 ½ year old girl, Kiley and the few people who work at his home. Now here is another unbelievable fact. He is an architect and she is a realtor, both of whom we need to launch our school! We showered (Yes!) and Anita cooked us a wonderful chicken dinner with rice and vegetables. OMG
We were nicely full and tired, so we fell asleep until almost 9 the next morning, which is basically 1 a.m. in New York, but we were OK.
We woke to a great breakfast- Western omelet, sausage, bread, mango juice and brewed coffee! We decided to save the huge bowl of cut fresh fruit for later.
We walked to MST Junior Academy. It was about a mile and a half away, which is why I chose this accommodation. It is so much better when you can walk. The only other choice would be a boda boda (motorcycle) and I am not ready for that yet! Maybe when I get a bit older…..and senile! I think we were a bit late. We were greeted by Washington, Dr. Emma Nayulima’s husband. She had to go to a meeting today.
(A bit of history) Dr. Emma and her husband founded this school, MST Junior Academy because she wanted a good school for her own children. I was recommended to her on my last visit but did not have the time to see her. We have been corresponding though. She did a fabulous TedTalk about her school and her piggery. She is a veterinarian and runs a first rate Math, Science and Technology Primary School. She raises and sells pig and again, that is an understatement.
Washington greeted us with BEET juice and muffins. BEET juice? That’s a story in itself. I have not eaten a beet since I was in nursery school when my teacher, Miss Julia, held my nose and forced it down my throat. I was in a conundrum- drink it graciously or refuse and die of thirst (it is very hot here and we just took a long walk). I drank it! Once and then again! One demon slain…
Chole Richard and Iduuli John, my coordinator and my farmer teacher from Jinja came all the way out to join the meeting. So happy!
Washington talked a bit about the history of the school. So eloquently….I videotaped some of it but of course, some important nuggets were so engaging that I forgot to turn the camera on. He then took us on a tour of the school. From a very young age, students (even nursery school children) are taught how to farm and are given space to grow their own gardens. Each plant has a child’s name on it and they take care of their plants. It belongs to the child. He is allowed to sell his/her products and that money is theirs. They go to the bank each week and SAVE the money, minus a deduction to simulate taxes. They are learning farming, math and business.
This is a recycling marvel. I hope I can explain it all:
The pigs excrete the dung, it is left out in the open for about 3 days to attract flies and deposit maggots. The dung is then taken to another place, where the maggots are removed and cleansed of bacteria. Then earthworms are added to that dung dirt and it becomes soil for the plants. The plants are fed and produce fruit, the byproducts are saved and used to make charcoal for cooking.
Another group of flies are caged and they propagate to produce……my memory fails. There is also a tank with catfish….
All I can say is that the whole operation is recycled. Even the pig urine is saved and flows into another cistern for re-use as fertilizer. Another tank used the green scum that grows as vegetables for chickens, who also ate the maggots.
Then he showed us the secret lake- I guessed it- it was the aquaponics tent. Here tilapia fish (1500) are kept and their excrement is used to grow hydroponic plants and that waste goes back to feed the fish. I have pictures and are worth more than the 1000 words I could write.
We toured the classrooms (no students until next week). We went into the science lab. My heart be still. Last year, we made a simple machine out of cardboard with the students in Jinja. This school also used cardboard but THEY made an excavator, powering it with hydraulic pressure. They squeezed one end of a tube which sent the pressure to the opposite end that lifted the scoop at the opposite end. My kinda guy!!!!
We saw basic electronics. Oh how I wish I had brought my electronic kits for them. There’s time. Now I know they would be used properly.
We walked back to the cottage, thrilled to death, with Chole and John and ate the saved fruit (see we recycled too). We spoke quite a bit about my role and their roles in this new endeavor. We decided that if we buy land, it has to be in the name of the Ventures For Good Foundation, not my name and not any one person’s name. We engaged Anita, our host and realtor, to look for land in our behalf. Washington had suggested a road that would have very reasonably priced land. We need at least 20 acres with access to water. She found a few places and is going to take us by car to see them. Things are moving really fast!
Washington had told me that in order to build their school, they used all their savings and when they ran out of money, they sold off an acre of their land. He sold it for 35,000 US dollars but now it is for sale for 65,000 US dollars. I said too much and way too fast BUT that is land here where I am staying. The place he suggested we come to find out sells an acre for less than 1,400 US dollars. BIG DIFFERENCE so now we know where to go! WOW!
So, after Chole and John left (to return tomorrow), we took a walk to try to find the beach. We went the wrong way but there had been a sign for the beach in the direction we were walking so we went down that dirt road…Gates were closed for the beach. As we made our way back, we were stopped by a young woman who told us she would show us how to get in, that there was a way. I was a little suspicious but there were 2 of us and Sandra really wanted to see the beach. Another God-send. She told us her name was Angel Maggie- huh? She was there working to build a church and brought us to the beach. We walked and talked. Turns out she and her sister and brother were all over the US a lot as part of the African childrens choir while they were young and has since become part of the born again community. She sings and preaches under the pastor who is what? An engineer! Come On! She showed us the church that they were building- still in the framing stage. She and her sister sang for us. I taped it.
Then they walked us back to our cottage and I introduced them to Anita, our host. Turns out they were all Rwandan and fell fast into sisterhood. Anita also sings and is now going to sing with them at the church! She thanked me for the introduction. You can’t make this stuff up!
Again, Anita cooked us a delicious tilapia, vegetables and boiled potatoes. What a cook…this is a vacation!
What a day! What a journey of love! How can you doubt Divine Intervention!
Good night!- Oh it’s still morning for you…
Jan 24 Thursday
First of all, Happy Birthday Dad! You would be 119 today. A bit old but you were always young at heart.
OK, so it is like 3:30 in the morning and I have not been able to fall asleep…..Jet lag, I guess. Not fun! Also I have tried to connect to the Internet over the last 5 hours with no luck. Can’t even send my journal home yet.
So I wrote a poem, my first non-rhyming poem. Sandra writes poetry and we are going to a poetry workshop on Monday, so I guess it’s appropriate.
It is called Uganda- Little Things on My Mind
Sleeping just a little
Money just a little
Worried just a little
Growing just a little
Thriving just a little
Power just a little
Here Love is not so little
Read a little
Write a little
Schools can help a little
Time can help a little
I can help a little
Work a little
Pray a little
God will help a little
Well I finally fell asleep at about 5:30 a.m. and woke to the alarm at 7:30. Actually none the worse for wear. Don’t know why. I have been wired all day, so hopefully tonight I will nod off. Sandra gets these little catnaps in whenever she can.
Wonderful breakfast. We then walked to the MST school and met with Dr. Emma for a couple of hours. She is expecting in June. This will be her 4th. She has twins too! What an amazing woman. She recounted how she became the “famous” person she is. Basically, she and her husband built her school because she wanted a good school for her own children. It was building a school or homeschooling. As a vet, she is accomplished and successful. As a farmer she is accomplished and successful. As a teacher she is---you guessed it. She shared her journey of discovery—how she was discovered and asked to be a keynote in the US, her trouble getting a visa, and finally her success which led to her doing a TedTalk. Make no bones about it –she is happy and confident. We are soooo lucky to have found them.
She said we were God-Sent—that they have been struggling with what to do next because their primary school graduates had no school to go to where they could build on their accomplishments. Some have come back for holidays and ask her to build out her school. She wants to…..and here we are!
In late morning we (Sandra, John and I) met up with Washington and our host Anita, the broker and her husband the owner/architect and they drove us to the first of two properties to see if they had potential to build a secondary school. I won’t bore you with the details but at least 2 hours later, we arrived at the property very squished, very hot and very disappointed. Just too far from the MST Junior Academy for them to supervise the school. We then began the long 2 plus hour journey back. We decided that we would let Google Maps help us find a place closer to the academy. Just to let you know, we need about 20 acres and while this land was inexpensive, we could not make it work. Close by land is wayyy too expensive, so we will try again tomorrow.
They dropped John off in Kampala and 3 hours later, he called, still in a Kampala traffic jam---OMG. Sandra and I were dropped off at a local mall so I could exchange my money. I can’t believe it. ForEx won’t accept my newish crisp 100 bills because they are not dates 2009 series. I managed a few but I think I have to try a bank.
Sandra and I ate at a lovely lakeside restaurant with African dancing. It really is a vacation!
Tiring….better catch some snooze time. Good night!
Jan 26 Saturday
LAAAZY Saturday! Woke up to the noise of rain and wind. So cozy in bed while the rains poured and poured for a few hours. We had a decent night’s sleep, had breakfast and waited for Washington to finish his lesson with farmers. I searched for land on the internet, handled some emails. I read how Ugandan land is so fraught with fraudulent transactions. Apparently to purchase land you really have to dig deep into previous land ownership. I guess it’s what our title companies do in the US. Here, however, there are many different kinds of land ownership- government (official), mailo private ownership. There are more but I forget. The important part was that due to corruption in the registration process, landowners have found themselves pushed out of any ownership. Surveyors have actually divided properties, sold off pieces all unbeknownst to the true landowner. It can take a lifetime to try to recover. https://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1472261/history-importance-mailo-land-buganda
There was also another article touting the value of blockchain technology https://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1476564/transform-uganda-land-registries-blockchain-technology
to really insure that records are never altered. (Of course, garbage in garbage out—if the correct owner is not entered into the system, it really is useless)
Washington finally finished but was too exhausted to sit for another long car-ride. So what do we do. We went shopping! Mostly for groceries for the week since we extended our stay in this delightful cottage. Our hosts took us forth and back—so lucky! Of course, they needed to buy some things too….one special thing was the replacement for the electric kettle that I burned. Seriously, it went up in flames- thought I was going to burn the house down. The pot was separated from the hot plate so I thought it was just a regular coffee pot. I had a hard enough time trying to light the confounded stove so I just filled it with water and turned my back to wash some plates from yesterday. Sniff, sniff, I smell smoke----oooooo- flames rising. Luckily I had a wet wash cloth in my hand and while I tried to get Sandra out of bed with a shout for help, I averted the disaster and I didn’t burn myself much….hence the trip to the store to replace the kettle. I am still working on cleaning off the melted plastic L Bought a Ugandan t-shirt too. After getting “home”, we shared some cheese, nuts and wine, then decided to walk in the pitch black night. Of course, we forgot a flashlight, but the occasional boda boda or car brightened and frightened our journey. Can’t believe how many people walk these pitch black roads. Unlike us, they know the way, I guess. So much fun to be on an adventure! So much for grocery shopping….we didn’t feel like cooking….so here I am journaling and looking forward to tomorrow when I will attend a born-again service, the only one close by! Another adventure!
Jan 26 Sunday
Slept better but I didn’t get to the born again service until 11:30. It might have started at 9:30 but according to my hosts they wait until they have several people to begin. My little friend Angel Maggie was singing her heart out with a choir behind her, a keyboard and a pastor. I took pictures, videos. There were about 50 people in a structure with a dirt floor and a roof, with cheap plastic chairs. No power anywhere that morning, finally kicked in at about 12:30 which helped with the microphones. Believe me, you could hear that little 90 pound dynamo just fine without the microphone!
Besides the singing, people get up to give testimony for the God’s gifts in their lives.
What I didn’t expect was to be called up to speak. OMG, there was no turning away. So I spoke—about myself, and the mission. I was lucky because you only have to say one sentence at a time because someone repeats it in the local language for those who do not use English. That gave me breathing time. Very warm reception and I intended to speak with the pastor after church to ask if he knew anyone who had land. However, the service took too long to conclude and I had an appointment with our hosts to visit more land at 2. Little Angel Maggie came running after me to get me to go back but I said I couldn’t. Time is different here.
So (and I don’t know how to say this any other way- except miraculously) our hosts took me to pick up Washington and we spent the day----the VERRY looonnng day, no water, just some nuts, visiting just 2 properties. What would have taken us 2 hours at home, took 8 hours to complete. The roads, the traffic, unbelievable! I just can’t believe I found a realtor, an architect/business person as hosts. How else would I have gotten around? We met two sets of brokers—I say sets – because there were at least 8 people trying to show us the property---by pointing with their hands—like it’s over there from there to there. Finally, one got a plot plan. The second piece has potential. It is about 8.5 acres but Washington wants more (of course). This land had adjacent land for the future but they were still working out getting a clear title. As I mentioned, getting title is tantamount to really owning the property. My host explained that if you try to buy this over time, the title does not transfer to you but unlike the US, if someone else has the physical title, they could sell it to someone else. Lots of corruption…..well that means if I want this property, I have to pay approximately $65,000 US up front. I need my board to consider this. However, as slow as things move here, things were moving too fast trying to get me a lawyer and a contract. Sloowwww down!
I spoke to Washington on the way back, asking him about the land he owned. He had thought it too far, but now he is reconsidering it. I would rather use funds to build than to buy land. This is going to be expensive so we better come up with a fundraising, a big fundraising plan. But seriously----so worthwhile. I had sent Washington my short proposal and he called it a world class school! Set an example. Believe me, his primary school is OUTSTANDING so I know he is right about how he would run a secondary school.
Sandra had not come with us. She is getting ready to host a poetry workshop in Kampala on Monday. I am so grateful that she cooked dinner!!! So when we got home about 9 p.m., a beautiful chicken dinner was waiting, even enough for our hosts who were also starved. A little wine, a little benedryl and I went to sleep. I am writing this on Monday morning. Today is Sandra’s workshop and a visit with Dan, the professor who started me here, and Kenneth, the guy who took care of me for the last few years. Let’s see what they’re up to.
Jan 28 Monday
Uggh this is the second time writing this day’s journal. Apparently, my computer is getting tired and decided not to save so here we go again!
We rose to the sounds of roosters crowing as usual. Up early, aren’t they? Our gracious hosts were going to Kampala so they offered to take us along. We had made our agenda and it coincided with what they were doing.
At 12, I met my dear friend and professor, Daniel Bwanika. He was the first person to take me to Jinja to meet the teachers. We catch up every year and last year, he even came to Jinja to teach the primary students about urban planning. His grand plan is to build an Urban Planning College, so sorely needed here and he says he is closer than ever. He has some Swedish backers. We talked and he told us where we might find cheaper land in Uganda. He walked us to our next destination. We were unsure of the address but he managed to find it. What a guy!
So, at 2, we went to FemRite. This is a (mostly) women’s collaborative for writing. Sandra was leading the workshop. We listened as the women and a few men talked about their writing, lamenting that English did not have the vocabulary and expressiveness that their native language did. The problem is, of course, that everyone does not speak the same native language. Sandra did some readings, opened a discussion about the different sounds of different languages and challenged us to write a poem using a repetitive sound. I chose M. I decided to write about the meeting we were at for lack of any other inspiration. Here is my poem:
Must be careful
More in words
Then we broke for a banana and tea snack. LOTS of bananas here!
At 5:30, Sandra was being honored as the Author of the Month! She was interviewed by another group of (mostly) women. Some of the participants were the same ones from the afternoon. Chole, my coordinator joined us. He was the one who first introduced Sandra to this group last year. She read from her chat book, admonishing the members not to wait until they were 75 like her to publish her first book of poems. Many of the poems spoke of her life, nature, growing up, children.. so there were stories that accompanied them. These “women” are SMART! There were artists, teachers, scientists,and even a lawyer who was most impressive. There was a student with a tentative voice who was encouraged by her and another a very young feminist who was determined. I received a whole new appreciation of my talented colleague, Sandra. I was very proud of her!!!
Then at 7:30, after a snack of ginger tea and ciabbata bread, we met up with Kenneth for a quiet dinner. He’s the guy who usually books my stay and takes me around. He is doing better. He is now in business doing safaris and he is quickly gathering clients. I even brought his brochures around in NY. So nice to see him again. He led us back to our hosts by Uber and we got our ride home. We arrived about midnight, tired. But I must say I have a lot more energy here, with far less sleep and pretty hot (unair-conditioned, coldish water sponge baths) environment. I would imagine it is still cold at home.
Jan 29 Tuesday
Rise and Shine. Decent night’s sleep. Hot here. Shower water coldish. But we actually started laundry before we left to meet Washington at MST school. Our hosts, Anita and Denis, are off to Kampala again. So we walked – I swear it’s uphill both ways—carrying heavy old computers doesn’t help.
The meeting went well. Perhaps I derailed it a bit. The topic to be discussed was the property – what we saw, what we need, what we spend. If we buy one of the properties we saw, that would set us back at least $65000 US and both of us agreed that that kind of money would be better put toward building, rather than purchasing land. Washington and Emma own land but it is further away -- I might have mentioned how bad commuting is around here….
When I said I might have derailed it, I meant that I mentioned where my friend wants to build his Urban Planning College, which he claims is closer and cheaper. I had him talk to Washington but Washington and our host/broker Anita are both skeptical about land being that cheap. So we will revisit it when I return next week from Jinja. At that time, we will try to locate that “cheaper” land (cheaper because it is very rural with no power and may be able to be purchased directly from the owner). We’ll talk again. Then we will visit a lawyer to see how to structure a “partnership” between MST people and the Ventures Foundation. Should the structure be establishing a CBO (non-profit arm) here or should a new organization be formed. Everything always sounds so friendly until pen is about to be committed to paper so I am treading lightly.
I really like the idea of using their land because already the brokers are exerting some pressure to sign. They say that unless land is purchased in full, the holder of the title can re-sell it. That being said, I am not going to rush!
The rest of the day was spent quietly at our cottage. I had requested a drawing from Farzana Ghandi, my grand daughter, Alex’s architectural professor. I had been introduced to her by Alex’s boyfriend, Matt because she leads her class to design various projects---coincidentally? One was in Senegal Africa last year. I had visited her this year to talk about taking on our school project. She was warm and receptive. I spoke about her to Washington and our host. Washington asked if she could send a copy of the school that she and the students researched and designed. It arrived and I quickly passed it on to Washington. He was so impressed. “Waaw”, he said, “so simple and so beautiful”. It is –
“The site for this technology education center is within the grounds of an existing public primary school (students aged 5 – 13) where it will function as extra classroom and office space for the school during the week and open up as multi-purpose lecture hall and support spaces for technology workshops for the community during the weekends. The existing school serves 1000 students in only 13 classrooms; averaging about 80 students per class. The new facility offers 3 new classrooms within a modular design and with folding partitions that allow the spaces to be combined for multiple uses and scales.
The design is specific to local materials, community needs, environmental conditions, and culture after extensive on-the-ground field research in Senegal. Two North-South bar buildings frame a central courtyard with seating integrated within the facades. Expressive concrete gutters collect water in cisterns for greywater use and solar panels offer renewable energy. Facades feature screens and openings to allow for natural ventilation across to complement the breathable, natural drop ceiling made of local vegetation that lets hot air escape above.”
Don’t you agree with Washington? I am going to show it to Denis, our host, and see if we can establish a collaboration.
Later, we cooked a nice chicken dinner- too much for us so we invited our hosts. We waited for them to come back from Kampala. They said they would come back at 8, so we walked down the road to a beautiful hotel on the lake. We had a drink and took in the landscape. Such a city of contrasts. Here a beautiful hotel built by a Russian, and Ugandans living in huts along the same road. Children, I call them free-range children, pop in and out, wave to us, even follow us. Bumpy (a TOTAL understatement) roads, lovely grounds, goats and cows passing us on the road. A little frightening at first but you adapt. Little food stands, tiny storefronts, clothing being washed and hung, big and small schools, even a religious college all along the same bumpy road. They say there’s a beach down at the end- a public beach, even a pool somewhere, but we haven’t seen it.
Well, we were starved, called our hosts. They were stuck in a traffic jam and would be at least another hour and a half. Such is the state of traffic- it tops NY on its worst day by tenfold. They say it’s too many cars, I say it’s the bodas- it’s probably both but mostly it’s the lack of rules of the road, traffic signals, congestion, pollution from the older cars that get dumped here……and yet, the people, the wonderfully warm, smart, hospitable people… we need to share.
January 30 Wednesday
Today I woke to the buzzing, pesky mosquito in my ear, itchy from the hot, sweaty night. I hate that! It is only 3:49 and we ran out of internet minutes. I know it’s cold and snowy in NY –which is worse? IDK Later this morning, we’ll leave for Jinja. Lots to pack. I will be back in a week for a few days before I leave. Sandra will not. She’ll move on to Kenya to visit her school center and her friends and colleagues.
I am very nervous about visiting Jinja, my original site. The teachers need more supervision with the projects we started. I know John wants me to continue to build the children’s park but I don’t know if I can do both that and start the school. We need to raise funds. My coordinator, Chole, has taken a new position in Kampala and won’t be in Jinja regularly. I am not holding a training session this year because I think it would be better to visit the teachers in their environment and see if we can help. I want to check the state of the technology, see if they are using it, get an update on their small funded projects. Based on the lack of communication, my gut feeling is that “things fell apart”. So let’s see….as I said, I am a bit nervous. This has been a grass-roots effort. That is why it is time to establish something more permanent like the Secondary Academy for Science and Technology.OK!
Ha! I got that mosquito. Let’s see if I can fall back to sleep for a couple of hours….zzzzzz. Rooster, shut up!
Yay! It worked. I went back to sleep, woke at 9 am, much better! And we start a new day. Today marks a week we have been here. We did A LOT!
The rest of the day was spent in traffic getting to the Jinja site where I have done most of my work. When we got here, we called Julius, our Kabagezi (knowledge) Center coordinator and had a grand reunion. He was so kind as to call many of the teachers in our projects and put their numbers in my phone. We are tired, having some dinner at 10 p.m., settling into our new location at Space Café, Jinja, Uganda. It is right in the thick of things, congested things, but at least we are on the 3rd floor.
Good night all!
Jan 31 Thursday
Well we woke up a bit late in our new space in Jinja. We had frequented this Space Café often in our previous visits, and just by luck on my last visit, I asked if they rented rooms and yes they did. We liked this place because of its courtyard where you can eat international food and the internet is FAST. Plus on Fridays they had movies in the courtyard. A really decent place in the thick of Jinja but that’s not so good. Noisy, congested, all sorts of stores and supermarkets but having the internet is important and being within walking distance was a big deal (because transportation is expensive unless I want to ride a boda) Sandra is willing but I am not, besides we are always carrying stuff.
Anyway, upon waking, I discovered that only one outlet worked, the toilet leaked, and no mirror anywhere (my little one broke but I used it briefly). No hot water (actually that’s been the case since we got to Uganda). I put on my NY hat and decided to speak to the management while Sandra was asleep. Oh, the management is sleeping too. What’s the matter, it is 7 a.m. Wake up world I need coffee! I found a houseboy sweeping and asked him where I could find a coffee shop. He directed me. Everything closed? Oh, except for the hardware store…..ok, I’ll buy a kettle for hot water. I have coffee grinds back at the hotel. After some back and forth explanation, he actually understood what I was looking for and I bought a kettle. He tested the plug, seemed ok and off I went back to the hotel. I had told the houseboy and now the security guard who just showed up, about the room being not so good. After all, we were paying a big $25 a night! I went to make hot water but could not get the kettle to work. Sandra still sleeping, I trudged back to the hardware store. Yeah, you had to turn it on…..my bad J
Back to the hotel but this time, the manager was there. I explained that the room was inadequate. He said he would give us another on the 2nd floor. I was skeptical to say the least and willing to go to the place on the other side of town again. But, no need. He shows me an apartment, a suite, 2 bedrooms, lovely kitchen with everything in it…stove, refrigerator, microwave, multiple electrical outlets, living room with couch and 2 chairs, television, shower and separate toilet, OMG! Heaven, even a big mirror!!!!!! Uh oh, I asked what would this cost. “It’s our problem”, he said, “it would be the same price” Does God deliver?
Now, Sandra was up and the house boys moved all our stuff, dusted around until we were all set. Yay!
Anyway, now we had to head to Main St. School, where my Kabagezi Center is located. It was a walk through a lot of congestion and I had to fend off boys looking for money. I pulled my NY attitude on them.
Some teachers had been called and they began to come in to report on the year past and the year forward. Better than I thought because as I may have mentioned, they never write to me, so I never know what’s going on. They apologized saying they would improve.
Francis raved about how he benefited from our presence and because he became skilled in tech, he has been asked to train teachers of students with disabilities. We did not teach him that but because of his knowledge of tech, they trained him and sent him all over. His project was planting ( it is project based learning) and guitar lessons. Two strings broke and now he cannot. We can fix that.
Joseph also planted but wants to do bee keeping this year
Atim Rose was very successful with the weather station kit I brought last year and even had children design and make their own devices.
Milton, a gem, also did planting but wants to raise poultry this year.
These things are in the curriculum, but instead of just classroom learning, our project based learning that is funded by Ventures for Good allows the kids to have hands on learning. Much better!
Nathan was transferred but he was able to plant trees in the island school (no power) and in his new school. I admonished him for not writing. He used to message me every week before he was transferred and as soon as he got a job on the main land (which I pushed a bit for) he “forgot” to write.
They all promised to write this year.
The biggest problem I face here is what to do about the children’s park. Last year, we had kids learn a bit about urban planning and they all designed a version of a children’s park. John Iduuli took up the cause; we presented to the planning board and everyone seemed to be on board. We would have fields, paths, a stage for performance, toilets and jungle gyms. But somehow, over the year, even with all John’s visits to the town, the higher level committees would not move forward without an in- person visit from me. They would not even accept a skype conference. So now that I am deeply involved in building a school, I don’t think I can raise enough money to do both… it is really a dilemma for me. John is so disappointed….still wrestling with this.
I spoke a bit to the headmaster, Florence, of Main St. School. She is new this year. She expressed gratitude for all I have done there and I showed her a little diagram of group based learning, a strategy that was taught last year for breaking up big classes in to groups to study a topic in many different ways. For example if the topic were flowers, one group does research, one group draws, one group writes…maybe a story or a poem, one group uses the technology, one group prepares a presentation. They collaborate and learn from each other too. They are also more active and involved instead of just listening to the teacher lecture and memorize. She was very receptive.
So Sandra and I and our new friend Derek ( a senior 4 student who just happened to find us and I know is looking for money to continue his studies) went through the technology at the Kabagezi Center to see what works and what does not. I am upset because a lot of the better zedupad machines were not working, those screens are not strong enough…The XO tablets seemed to hold up better but of course, these have been discontinued in the states so I could not get more. Another problem to solve. What kind of tech is going to hold up. They stopped asking me for money for the internet because my coordinator Julius (away taking his mom to the doctor today) said it was not justified by the amount of teachers coming to use it.
So now it was approaching 5 and we had an appointment with the master curriculum writer for Agriculture, Mathias Mulumba. I had been corresponding with him by email all year. He was one of the people suggesting I visit the MST school in Entebbe. After my friends here negotiated a taxi price to half of what they want to charge muzungus (whites), we were off to the meeting.
It was a GREAT meeting. Mathias is 100% on board to build a secondary school based on the MST primary school. He is very smart. What was totally impressive is that Uganda (in secret) had hired a programmer who was working in the states ( a native Ugandan, Ivan) to come back to design and build a TABLET for the secondary schools. OMG! They used the Kenyan machine and one of my zedupads for inspiration to create the secondary curriculum lessons and activities. It is about to be rolled out next month. Mathias is now circulating and informing schools of it. The schools will have to pay for the tables—this might be a problem for most but they will start with the better schools. It is a real start and I am so happy that it is moving along. (My cold reception from the Ministry of Education last year was based on another NGO coming in and not allowing them to see the materials on the technology they brought so they thought I was like that.)
Next they will work on primary school tablets. Now instead of me trying to re-invent the wheel, I can help my schools pay for the tablets designed specifically for Ugandan curriculum. Much better. So we will continue with our project based learning activities and with our limping tablets until something better comes along. My teachers will then have the experience necessary to lead.
Mathias got down to business, asking me how I will go about building this school. What is my plan? I spoke about architectural support from the states and locally, showed him the picture and description of Farzhana’s design for Senegal but he lit up when I said I was going to see a lawyer to set up the structure. I guess he was afraid that I was just going to hope it would work. He recommended I see a school which was done in partnership with a British NGO…..and guess what, the headmaster of Main St. School, Florence, is married to the headmaster of THAT school. Divine intervention ….again!!!!
So much yet to do, but we have only been here a week.
We limped back to our hotel, Space Café, had a nice dinner and went to bed. Writing this Friday morning.. We have a full day planned but I must get over to that Brit based school to talk to the headmaster and solidify that appointment with the lawyer!
Feb 1 Friday
We went to the Kabagezi Center, spoke briefly to the headmaster. Oh well, her husband did not work with the Lord Meade school any longer but she would contact him for a new contact. In the meantime, Francis, our budding replacement coordinator, found the contact. Sooo, we hired a taxi to take us to meet Josephine Okello, the NGO director established by the Brit, John Kokaut. I wanted to find out how an agreement between a foreign NGO (non profit) and a local school is worked out. Sandra said I was too intense, grilling her like I was a lawyer interrogating her. OOPS! I just really need to know the legal arrangement.
Apparently, John Kakaut, the Brit, who started it all inherited money when his parents passed. He had already been working in Uganda. So he created an arrangement between a British trust and the Ugandan NGO, also a trust called Tosta. The Ugandan side (NGO) oversees the school which has a board of governors. I think John represents the British NGO(trust). He bought the property and built the buildings. It is managed by the Ugandan NGO. I asked a million times, who owns the property. If the school fails, who gets the land and buildings. Josephine at first said the trust Ugandan side would figure out what to do, but then she asked someone else, I said ultimately, the Brit side would own it. It wasn’t that clear.
There are other buildings on the property all of which were donated by various organizations, so I am not sure who is the owner, my feeling is that it is the NGO because they are sitting on the Brit land. There must be some agreement on what happens in the event of a closing written into the founding contract. These are things that I have to work out. Very scary –I hope the lawyer has some experience with these things.
Then we came back—Francis, Sandra and I to Kabagezi Center. I pulled out the sewing machine that I purchased last year to see if I could make it work. Rose, who was doing the girls’ menstrual pad project, had sick parents this year and was not able to do much with the machine. She and Esther who was on maternity leave did manage to secure an old sewing machine too. I tried to set it up but it was not really like the ones at home. It has a foot pedal (not electric). Even though new, a few parts were missing, so we called in a female tailor ( a friend of Rose) to help. She worked on it for a couple of hours and then she called in an expert. He was able to set it up beautifully and is now fixing the second one. !45,000 UGX including missing part- so about $110. I gave the first tailor, Florence, about $12 and she was very happy. She is going to give Rose lessons. That will be Rose’s funded project for this year.
Then we called Martin, our super intelligent tech guy, that we used last year. We presented him with so many broken machines at the center. He is amazing…a high school Math teacher by day, and a computer expert by night. It won’t be cheap but he is going to fix most of them! He is so pleasant and competent. BUT it will cost close to $450. So many repairs but it beats taking them home to repair or discard. It’s the best I could do.
We still are struggling with what to do about the old zedupads that should have gone back to Zambia. They still never sent them and truthfully, I would just like to purchase them, but not if I have to pay full price again. That was the single most expenditure on anything….$5000. I must get in contact with Zambia or the parent company in UK.
Had a conversation with John Iduuli who was trying to get the park project going. The children designed and were going to be totally involved in building their own park. I tried to explain that I could not do everything, especially if I have to try to build the school. He said Musungus (whites) promises are good. I said it wasn’t a promise but a proposal. Wellll…..sort of. I don’t know what to do. He wants me to again present to the Committee who oversees the park. They let me down last year by not moving quickly so I started the school idea….He is so disappointed that it is killing me. I think it would cost $10,000. What to do!
So it was a crazy day. Sandra was checking out all the XO laptops with Derek, our new found high school student who was hanging around to help. It was obvious he was hoping we could pay him something so he could resume his high school studies. He needs approximately $200. Sandra offered $50 and I will pay the rest. He is soooo smart, it is obvious, very helpful and very poor. I don’t think he ate all day. So sad. He said his parents are peasants who sell produce, probably on the streets. There are thousands who do that and he wants to be a doctor. How?
We are so tired from our bustling busy day, falling asleep as I type, waiting for Mike to call back. We made eggs and cheese, with salami for dinner. Trying to conserve, sweating, sticking to my seat here, and trying to get psyched for another busy day tomorrow.
Checked my email---Washington is getting excited about the Ventures School.
Feb 1 Saturday
We woke again to the sounds of THE most congested area in Jinja. Actually, morning is not so bad, but there was loud music until 2 a.m. Fitful sleep.
Derek, our adopted helper, showed up at our door before I even showered. He patiently waited downstairs. He is a brother of one of the teachers and was just hanging out at Main St. School and wormed himself into our good graces and we are actually very grateful for his help. He is smart and anticipates our moves. Now he is getting opinionated, kinda funny! He’s a senior in High School.
Then Francis showed up and got us a taxi to our first destination, but not before I made what I thought would be a quick trip to the bank. I needed to pay Martin for all the computer repairs….and there were many….so far to the tune of $300. I am surprised that he can fix them, even the Zambian zedupads! Beats taking them home! Well, we went to 3 different banks, verrrry long lines. We gave up at the third but Derek asked for help and we were ushered to an empty teller. The exchange rate was the lowest one. 3460 UGX to US$ 1. I complained and was willing to leave. Just then, Kenneth called and told me to tell them 3640 instead. The teller left and came back with 3620. Alright! I didn’t know you could negotiate. I was exchanging $600 so he didn’t want to lose the business, I guess.
OK, so the taxi took us to St. Francis Hospital, one of our “schools”. They were waiting for us with open arms, as guests of honor as we were introduced to all facets of their work, from the Ventures Club within the Young Innovators group (students who come on Saturdays for workshops on technology using our few tablets, a PC and a projector). They are so grateful for so little! We visited the hospital where AIDS moms and babies were cared for. We visited another group of older students who were being mentored. At each stop, I was asked to share a few words. S U R P R I S E!. Each time, I spoke about never giving up, about each one teach one, about the importance of education, even about how my sister forced me into a corner to make me go to college. Thanks Nancy, your influence goes on…
They had started a farming project last year but it didn’t do well. I spoke about learning from failure and that failure is OK- you learn from it. They liked my little impromptu speeches. Sandra also said a few words and then poor Derek was also asked to speak, poor kid…but he prevailed, even emphasized my message. What a doll he is! He wants to stay involved. He, too, is on an adventure of love.
The children made a presentation using our equipment, talked about the bakery project they are starting, how they research recipes, watch you tube cooking shows, and how to start a small bake shop, so they can sell. I brought them colorful cookie molds in all sorts of shapes and they were so grateful. I also gave them another laptop and will send the camera over (still in my suitcase). What I didn’t know that they have no oven or what they called cookery. They encourage a “culture of savings” to buy what they need. Breaks your heart. They save their breakfast money…come on!
They served us lunch: rice and g nut sauce. I could have had a little meat, but no thanks J No drinks, I must say, I am dying of thirst most of the time. Just as an example, we don’t use the rest room allll day. I am usually a camel but it’s hot here.
After that incredible session, we walked over to our other school. These two locations are on the other side of the Nile River, so getting there by taxi gets to be a bit costly, not by our standards I guess but it all adds up. (Just so you know, I don’t use the Ventures money- that is reserved for projects, equipment and such) The school, New Victory, has had some set backs this year. 3 of the teachers whose projects I funded for about $50 each left the school and took 3 tablets with them. Only one of our teachers remains and he is trying hard. We will recruit more. Ernest, the headmaster, gave us WATER! Yay!!! We chatted inside and outside about the school’s recovery from the fire of last year. He is building a new building, actually the staff is….we speculate that perhaps that is why the 3 teachers left. I don’t think it is in their job description to physically build a school.
We tried to fix their computer connection to their projector (still intact) but decided to bring the projector back to the Kabagezi Center to look at it. It was just a matter of pressing the right keys. The projector was a bit different than ours. We need to give him at least 2 more tablets and his teachers more training. I will arrange that.
We taxied back to Main St. School Kabagezi Center to meet with Martin, our adorable and oh so smart, tech guy. He had already fixed 4 tablets and I paid him for all the rest. I am going to recruit him to be our tech teacher when we open the school. He is amazing and so nice. His smile is heartwarming.
Then more teachers came in to chat, Francis to get money for guitar strings I promised. He is gifted and energetic. Now that Chole, my coordinator, has gotten another job traveling Uganda, we need a new coordinator. Francis wants the role. Chole thinks Julius would be better since he takes care of everything at the Kabagezi Center. There was a bit of campaigning going on with Martin and Derek pushing for Francis and Chole pushing for Julius…. IDK. Sandra says let them all do different things, which sounds great but I worry that the buck will be passed when I try to get reports. It happens.
Then we walked back through THE most congested street to our rooms. Picture what you see in Morocco on steroids. Cannot pass through. People selling produce and wares on the sidewalk, well it is more like a half baked stone and dirt walkway, called, of all things, the veranda. If you find an opening (and I was carrying a suitcase in one hand and holding on to my wallet with the other) you lunge for it, but there are several people vying for that very opening and you converge in a not so pleasant way. The cars and bodas are going in both, or maybe several is more accurate, directions, so you are dodging people, cars, bodas, food carts for about 4 intense blocks. The music and chatter is so loud you can’t hear yourself, never mind your companions (Sandra, Derek, Francis and me). We actually bought some produce for dinner: corn (hard as a rock-uneatable), tomatoes, chicken on a stick for 4, a mango and beat it to the room. We started to set up, but we had no dishes, no glasses for the 4 of us so I asked the café downstairs for supplies. They gave us some- did I tell you the kitchen light is out? So in the middle of all the people, noise and food confusion (Mike, my husband called with a very bad connection ) they came to fix the light, then John ( the park project guy) shows up. Now we have 5 people and only 4 skinny little chicken parts on a stick. So while the guy is climbing to fix the light, I am chopping the chicken with an ax knife in the dark, Sandra is running back and forth with dishes, glasses, cutting tomatoes. Finally we all sat down to eat this little food. Francis said it was like Easter dinner. OMG!
Derek and Francis left, Sandra went inside to read and John stayed to campaign for the park project. I don’t want to disappoint him, so I went over our budget hoping it would discourage him, but no, it didn’t. He wants me to meet the council anyway. The budget seems to be under $10,000 and I guess depending on how much money I can raise for the high school, maybe we can do this Children’s Park in stages. IDK
Spent, exhausted, hot, I told John how tired I was. He left and I got ready for bed.
Feb 3 Sunday
It was supposed to be a relaxing day. We walked to church. Nice service, too many announcements. I guess they don’t print a bulletin.
I went back to hotel, worked on the budget for the Children’s Park. I guess I am going to try to do it. I feel bad abandoning the idea. I spent the early afternoon editing the original proposal and will wait to see if John gets an appointment with the council who needs to approve it. I figured that if I break it down into 8 phases, it can be affordable. So I worked on the spreadsheet to make reasonable chunks of productivity AKA money.
Then I went to the Kabagezi Center to work with Julius and Marting on the zedupads. Trying to connect to a projector. Zedupads do not accept an HDMI cable so you have to CAST the image. Complicated and I had left the instructions back at the hotel. I was not going to forge a second trip because I had already gone back for another item. The roads are busy, dangerous, congested, dusty, hot and exhausting! Hard to imagine the cold winter back home.
Finally, Derek came for his tuition which we promised him. We walked back to the hotel together, buying food along the way at the gzillion markets. Bananas, chicken on a stick, tomatoes. Dinner!
Getting tired….good night!
Feb 3 2019 Monday
Ahhh Monday. It should be the start of a new week. Why does it feel like another day in a very long week instead. Sleeping OK, but somehow the conditions are so hot and sticky and I see a mountain of work that could use weeks to accomplish being squished into just one week. I am leaving in just 2 days from Jinja, then off to Entebbe to discuss the Secondary School.
Today’s agenda included visiting 3 schools from last year. As you may remember, I work with 7. Because of various visits by the teachers to the Kabagezi Center at the Main St. School, I was able to “catch up” on the year’s activities at Main St. School. We heard from SDA, St. Gonzaga and Army Boarding School at the center but I wanted to visit those schools first hand to see if the equipment we gave them was still working. (We had already visited St. Francis Hospital and New Victory). Julius was able to borrow a friend’s car so instead of paying for taxis, I just gave him 50,000 shillings for the day’s travel….about $13 US
First stop was Army Boarding. We met up with 3 teachers- Essaete, Juliet(now pregnant) and AtimRose. Very pleasantly surprised. The equipment was in good condition, just a few problems and they were used well with the students. The teachers were warm and eager. Well done under difficult conditions! Joseph is going to do a bee-keeping project this year. Essaete did a wonderful Weather project this year with the equipment I brought last year. Juliet should have done the weaving project.
Second stop St. Gonzaga, which has been a bit problematic over the years. Once again, a problem. The main teacher was transferred out. I had given him money to fix an area that was rough with stones and bricks and water erosion. He was supposed to make the bricks with the students and lay them down. Miscommunication, I guess. He bought the bricks, had some students help lay them ( sort of OK) but he ran out of money so it was half-baked. More significantly, he put the new brick walkway horizontally in front of the “computer classroom” where it was not needed. The pathway to the classroom (where I would trip) was still rough, with stones and erosion. Well, he was transferred out. So be it. They also were victim to a robbery where 2 of my items were stolen. Not as bad as it could have been. Nathan (who used to teach at the Island school with no power) was transferred here, so at least I still have him and Lydia as active teachers. They will also train Sister, a nun and maybe Beatrice. Nathan will do a hen keeping project this year.
Third stop SDA. There we find Jannepher returning to work after a year’s absence (broken back) and Esther returning after maternity leave. So their two projects (hydroponics and RUMPS) were put on hold. Thankfully, the very smart Milton was alive and well and teaching with the tablets. His computer would not connect to the projector so we brought it back to the center for repair. I was able to fix two tablets. Milton will do a poultry project this year.
Remember, projects are based on the Ugandan curriculum for that grade, so that they learn a skill as well as academic learning which is very much rote-learning and memorization.
We grabbed a bite to eat. Funny that you are not hungry here. But very thirsty.
Then we went to my favorite place, the Blind Children annex to Spire Road School. Every year, I read them a story and bring some small gifts. This year, both Sandra and I read. I especially liked the two poems I read- one called SKIP, which was a joyful action to be taken at the end of any activity. The other, Butterfly which reminds me of the Children’s Play, my friend Susan and I are writing---the story of a caterpillar who is unhappy because he is different and how he emerges as a beautiful butterfly. I likened it to small children who had limited capacity but if they learned and grew, they too would be beautiful butterflies as adults. I think they got it. There were only about 9 students as the term was just beginning. We gave them 3 keyboards (forgot the batteries, damn) and a set of small cars which they eagerly took. Smiles all around.
We then came back to our hotel, tired only to be visited by John who had visited the Council about his park project- we wanted to build a Children’s park based on the designs the children did last year. He got to the head counselors and was REFUSED. They claimed the neighbors would complain among other things. John was heartbroken. “I failed”, he said. Tug tug at my heartstrings so I said let’s see if there is another plot of land we could renovate. He called the Town Physical Planner who was on our side and on Tuesday, we will meet him at 9 a.m. to discuss.
Then Chole, our “retiring” coordinator who took another position came over to chat. He spoke eloquently about the importance of project based learning and have student exhibitions. Of course, I agree but even though he has taught the teachers a few times, he feels they still don’t get it and asked if he could offer more trainings. I said yes. He has been hard to pin down because he involves himself with many organizations. His new job requires him to have a car because he will be located mostly in Northern Uganda. He wanted to borrow the money from me for it. This is not part of my mission so Sandra, bless her heart, and I encouraged him to take a bank loan, establish credit and pay it slowly. He left thinking his friend, who has money and a car, would give him a car…..I don’t think that is realistic, but who knows. The customs of Ugandans are certainly different.
So I made a decision about replacing him. I split the duties among two: Julius who will monitor all the equipment and the Kabagezi Center. He is doing a good job there, and Francis who will be the education coordinator, giving lessons to teachers monthly. They will coordinate and will receive a stipend after I receive their monthly support. That has been my message this year—COMMUNICATE with me. They do not update me on their progress. Obviously, the teachers are making progress with the students but they don’t tell me about it- so this year, I decided not to offer training but to check up with them instead. They all promise to communicate. Let’s see!
Feb 5- Tuesday
Today is the last full day in Jinja. I rushed to get to the center to meet the Physical Planner because the Park Must Go On. He called saying he would be there in 10 minutes, a half hour later, he said he would be there in 10 minutes and when we called, he said 11 a.m. Francis had come in the meantime with the request that I meet with the DEO (District Education Officer), that since I was going to ask him to give lessons, he needed to inform the DEO. As we walked there, a hot mile or more, he explained how everyone asks for money every time a teacher makes a liitle extra money. They claim it is because they were not informed. So off we went to inform the DEO. Of course, she wasn’t there but we spoke with the Deputy(Moses) and he gave Francis approval to work on Saturdays. No sooner had we finished, we received a call that the people from the other park area were there to meet me. John had found another park and spoke to some officials there. Here they were—eager to greet me. There were at least 3, the councilman Joseph, Ramadhan and what sounds like Eunice, a guy. They are above the Physical Planner and usurped his time with me. They took me to the Walukuba-Masese Division area where there used to be a park when the Europeans were here, not any more. So it looked like about 3 acres to me and their offices are located just next door. We then met the Town Clerk, the Mayor (the only woman mayor in Uganda, it think), a president of the town and some others—too many. I made my case about having the children create a park area and told them of our troubles with the other town park. Well competition set in and now they wanted to prove they could do something that the others could not agree on. They would get more votes! Politics!
The walked me around the park area and it was quite nice, comparatively speaking. They had already drawn lines for the futbal (soccer) field and were looking for an investor to create the park. Things happen that way….
There was indeed room for futbal, a store (it is a storage unit), a canteen, a stage with benches, a netball field and a volley ball field and then a little space for a playground.
They were so excited and I was actually surprised at the warm welcome, so different than the previous encounter. They had actually created a mound of dirt along one side of the football field for “stadium seating”. Thus was born the beginning of the Walukuba-Masese Division Youth Park on Kyabazinga Road. These names!!!! They insisted I learn to speak Lugandan. Yeah right. Thank you is Wabele nyo with the nyo meaning very much. So whenever they asked me if I liked something, I would just say nyo, nyo. Got me out of remembering anything.
The first thing they wanted was grass for the field, with pesticides to get rid of the termites. I explained that things would be done in 8 phases and as each one was complete, the funding would come for the next phase. John and I had made a colored spreadsheet but already we have to add a first phase for grass and stadium seating. John also forgot to include labor in his estimates. Oh Lord, what have I gotten into? It’s OK, we’ll move slowly.
They asked for a projector….already!!!! Ha! I told them Phase 9! We laughed.
So all in all, we all left happy. I went back to the center and wrote a brief concept note, which should be the basis for them writing a Memorandum of Understanding.
So, at the Kabagezi Center, Martin was busy fixing more broken equipment and Sandra was working with a teacher and 2 students on the XO laptop. I am very grateful she can take that task away from me while I work on the big picture. By the time I finished with the concept note, and we organized all the computer repairs according to school so that they could be picked up, it was evening. Time to go home and pack. I made eggs and tomatoes for dinner, greedily drank water- my new best friend.
Oops, not so fast, Julius came back from a funeral and wanted to talk, so he came over, hungry. We gave him bananas and water. Amazing how little they eat. Actually I have been so less hungry here- maybe it’s the heat. It was worth the chat.
February 6 Wednesday Happy Birthday Mike!
We slept well and started to gather all our stuff from the 3 rooms we shared. Plugs, adapters, clothing, loads of miscellaneous technology I brought. So ridiculous- ¼ of one suitcase is filled with sweaters and jackets- all unnecessary! Sandra scavenged some leftovers for breakfast. Me, not hungry. Took a mouthful of yogurt and couldn’t—not my favorite. Showered and got ready. I called John over because I was trying to figure ou the stadium seating. I made a makeshift model out of an aluminum pan, a toilet paper roll and a piece of cardboard. I hade brought a glue gun but no scissors or tape. So I melted the glue on the stove and stood the toilet paper roll in it, placed the cardboard “circle” on tope to resemble a stool, which could be made out of cement and not stolen. I think they will probably use a bench design instead but it was fun to try.
Sandra was getting ready to go to Kenya for 3 more weeks, God Bless Her, so Julius, John and Rose were going to ride with her—Julius to be dropped off in Iganga, Rose to be dropped off in her village and John to learn about Sandra’s project in Kenya. I gave John my hotspot (I think Francis who had it last year might be unhappy- but Sandra might help him out some) So they left.
Alone, I waited for my driver, Andrew, to bring me back to Entebbe. Everyone at the hotel was wishing us a safe journey even the owner came and thanked me for staying there and offered me and the driver free watermelon drinks!!!!. I thought I should tip the boys who helped with the suitcases, so I gave them each 2000 shillings, even the cook. Well you would think I gave them $50, it amounted to 50 cents each and they were sooooo happy and grateful. So sad but they were happy and wanting me to return. How’s that for sweet?
I am writing this on the long drive back to Entebbe. Traffic jam. They so need a train system. The Chinese built one in Kenya. They need to extend it into Uganda. I hope Mike is enjoying his birthday. I saw the write-up and pictures of Mike, Niki and Marissa featured in the Orthodontic Products Magazine. On the cover! Impressive!
So after 5 hours on the bumpy traffic-jammed road with just a 20 minute break to buy groceries, I am finally back in Entebbe, to our little cottage. This time, I will get the bedroom, although the couch was comfortable last time. I thought I would rest but I knew I should probably call little Angel Maggie, who was at the church and who called to tell me that her pastor did find someone selling land. So I called, waited for my host, Anita, to return so we could walk over and chat with the pastor and Maggie. Only Maggie was there and she had 2 phone numbers- one for a go-between and one for the owner of 30 acres near where we looked last week. Apparently, people do not answer their phones if they do not know who’s calling. So we walked through the woods, the back way, the shortcut? Way for about 1 ½ hours trying to find someone who could call the owner so that he would answer the call. We were diverted from one person to another. No luck but they will keep trying. It is probably too expensive anyway. The price 30 million UGX is probably per acre. Luckily, my host Denys worries about Anita so he drove over to pick us up. Thank God. We had quite a chat with Angel Maggie, worry about her. She must be 60 lbs with a big singing voice. The pastor gives her shelter but does not pay her any more. She said that was better than her last church where they did not give shelter. My NY attitude jumped out of my mouth. She claims that in order to preach and sing, fasting is important. Her energy level is better. Who convinced her of that? Anita also fasted when she prayed—for 5 days with no food and water until she started to bleed so she stopped. Maggie was working in the fields to make money. She showed us all the tomato plants she planted over 2 or 3 weeks. The man promised her 70,000 but when she got too tired, he paid her 50,000 and found someone else for the other 20,000. 70,000 is less than $20 US----for 2 plus weeks! I might have thought she was pulling my leg but I could see her for myself. She has 4 children-grown, the first when she was almost 15. He is 27 now. She was a member of the African Children’s Choir touring the US and has fond memories of that time. You know I had to give her something, just 50,000 ($15) and Anita said she would do her hair. They have become friends.
So I came back to the cottage, called Washington to see if we could meet tomorrow, made myself a nice chicken and vegetable dinner and finished writing this.
Going to shower and fight the mosquitos once again. Good night!
Feb 7 Thursday
I took the first hot shower in 2 weeks last night, washed the dust right out of my hair. Jinja is tough on the body. Now in Entebbe, things feel fresher and cleaner—maybe not completely though. I woke up to a hundred dead mosquitos in the sitting area. Thank God I slept under the net last night, also a first time! I have the bedroom- Sandra left for Kenya yesterday and I am alone but very comfortable.
I heard from Washington. He hurt his leg, on a crutch and cannot meet me until 2 this afternoon. I arose at 7 but my hosts did not wake until after 9:30. I needed them to turn on the WIFI so I can get and write messages- YAY, so here I am. I kept myself busy making breakfast, styling my hair, ironing my dress, cleaning up, washing clothes and hanging them outside. The little ants are really annoying but otherwise, I am a regular little Ugandan country girl!
I called Mulumba because I am anxious to see the Secondary School tablet that will be released this month. He has a sample. I said I would pay his transport to come here, but he later wrote and said I should come to Kampala with Washington. I am still trying to negotiate that as I write. It is a good 2 hour ride by car because of the God-awful traffic. It is far easier for him to travel here than it is for me to hire a car at muzungu prices, but if I have no choice, so be it. I really want to see that tablet! It will be a necessary component to the high school curriculum.
I believe Washington is settling in to using his property for the secondary school instead of buying another. I do see his point but it is not yet settled. He didn’t think Lulongo would work out (but he never checked it out). I have to trust his knowledge of the area. Being a white, I cannot really inquire on my own- I will not get the best deal. I guess they think whites are all rich. (We are….on many levels)
I sent a text via my local Ugandan phone to Pam, who is a friend of a friend of my daughter, Marissa. I don’t know if it went through, but from what I understand, she is very interested in building a school in Africa!!! I sooooo hope so! She lives in Florida but compared to communicating with Uganda, communicating with Florida is a walk in the park! Internet here is on and off constantly—don’t know whether messages are received!
I guess I will hear from Angel Maggie today. As far as I know, I still have the lawyer’s appointment tomorrow at 5. Obviously since I am leaving the next morning, it will be an exploratory meeting. I will have to contact an international lawyer in NY.
Hopefully, today I will get some good video of Washington’s current primary school to use for presentations, some footage of Dr. Emma and Washington and also the dimensions of Washington’s land so we can start a preliminary plan with Farzhana, the professor/architect at NYIT.
I am feeling LIFE IS GOOD. I am relaxed now, reading a good book and thinking about how to fund-raise. I am open to all possibilities. If you are reading this journal, please, please think and pray! Does anyone know the Rotary Clubs, the Ugandan Diaspora in NY (Ugandans who have emigrated to the US), or any other place that might be receptive to grant funding? We have a lot of work to do! That’s right, I said “WE”!
I made myself some eggplant, mixed it with pasta and sauce, wolfed it down so I could go see Washington and Dr. Emma.
I walked over to visit Dr. Emma and Washington for 2:30 and we had a nice visit. I was able to get additional dimensions on the plot of land he owns. I think it is fair to say we are going to use his land. I think it is more reassuring for him that no one can take it away because he owns the title. I told him about the arrangement that the other school had with the UK NGO and acknowledged that our situation is different. A lawyer (tomorrow at 5 p.m.) might be able to shed some light on our arrangement. I want a say in the curriculum, but I don’t really want to own the land. I guess we will learn something from the lawyer about other such arrangements.
Then I videotaped Dr. Emma talking about why she would like a secondary school. Some of it was unclear so I interjected (you know me!) at times and then later as I taped a tour of the school, I had her clarify some of the points that needed clarification. I hope that footage can serve as a basis for fund-raising.
Later, I jotted down the history of how she became known in the states, and even to give a TedTalk. I asked her why with all these contacts, she didn’t monetize it. After all, Jimmy Carter’s wife was here to meet her, along with other dignitaries. She said that at that time, she hadn’t even started the primary school so she didn’t know if it would be successful. They had suggested a secondary school but she was going in the primary direction. She had her own children to educate. Mama first!
Anyway the time is right to start a secondary school. Parents of children at her school are asking for it. I will try to contact those people who brought her to the US for keynotes and other speeches to see if they can get behind the building of a secondary school.
We called Mathias Mulumba and told him we could not come to Kampala a t 5 to see the secondary tablet—the expense and the traffic jams at that time make it impossible. But again, there is more divine intervention…..Emma has a meeting at 11 in Kampala, so she offered to take me to meet Mathias ( I need to be at the school at 8:30) to see the tablet and then have the driver wait for me, then pick her up to come back in time for the lawyer’s meeting at 5. (the next day I leave) Talk about fortunate!
She gave me a bottle of water! Amazing how scarce it becomes when you use bottled water for coffee, cooking, drinking, brushing, etc.
On the way home, Mike called. I was juggling my bag, my computer, my iphone and the local phone that he called on. Bodas and cars were kicking up dust in my face, the goats were coming up behind me, children were bathing in little buckets. Then a whole bunch of kids started calling me. I had to stop and take their pictures, the phone disconnected, I took the picture, and more free range children came running over, the phone rang again…. The children are giggling looking at their picture….OMG
Mike’s worrying and I am in my element. Funny?
The long dusty walk to the school and back measured 2.7 miles on my iphone. Good exercise but lung capacity is diminishing due to black lung. I live in Rockland County; this is Rockland country!
I just spoke with Pam, the friend of the friend of my daughter Marissa. I believe that her son and Ken are friends. She is interested in helping!!!! I am so grateful for the contact. She has been helping some students in Kenya that she met while in Kenya on safari and on her visit to the Masei tribe. So exciting. We plan to meet, possibly in NY. She had wanted to start a school but without a foundation, she decided to help children directly and help other organizations along. I will send this journal. I hope she can get through my ramblings. Pam, if you get this far, THANK YOU!!!!
The internet is on and off so if I manage to send this off, I think that is all for today. I’m going back to my book….
Feb 8 Friday
Well my last full day! Sleep was a bit difficult last night. Starting worrying about whether I can trust people. My hosts were recounting tales of woe, warning me to be careful in my dealings. I always say, “you trust until someone gives you a reason not to trust”. So far, things have really worked out. I feel blessed so I am going with that! I also seemed to have had an allergic reaction to the eggplant. That has happened before. I get itchy, so I took a benedryl, a shot of vodka (no, I am not an alcoholic), set my alarm for 7 am and soon fell asleep. Good thing for that alarm- I would have overslept.
I had to meet Dr. Emma at 8:30 to videotape the kids in the farm and then accompany her to Kampala. She had a meeting and the driver took me to visit Mathias to see the computer tablet they have designed to the secondary schools. It is an android tablet but it is just basic so far. They’ve got a ways to go to match the one I have from Zambia for the primary schools. BUT I am thrilled that they have finally gotten on board with the technology. He took me through some of the lessons. They are depending on NGOs or others to supply schools with them. One for 5 children. We’ll see…..
Then I came back to the cottage. It was already 3, so I cooked some dinner and waited for the lawyer to arrive for our appointment at 5.
Washington had to take a boda so he was a bit late. I had already spoken with the lawyer, Eliab, about possible arrangements/partnerships. He indicated that muzungus (whites) and Ugandan relationships fall apart after two years so things have to be nailed down concretely from the start. He said if we use Washington’s land, I would need a 99 year lease arrangement. If we bought new land, we would be co-owners. I questioned the differences and we finally came up with the idea of forming a new company in the name of the school, Ventures Secondary School. He, as a Ugandan would have 51 % interest and Ventures For Good would have 49% interest according to Ugandan law. That prevents him from selling it out from under us. If we use his land, we would have to purchase half and have a new title. That would protect us, rather than we just build on Washington’s land, with him having all the control over it. I also explained that my interest was in the children. We are not trying to make any of them rich. We would charge tuition but our half of money raised after expenses would go to provide scholarships to bright, deserving but poorer students. We’ll see..
So we decided to form a WhatsApp group to discuss further. He is going to check that Ventures Secondary School name has not been taken. Anita is going to check out a couple of other properties with Washington and we set a deadline of 3 months to have the company and land choice settled We’ll see …again…
Lawyer’s charge was just under $100. Anita got us a discount, I think.
Washington and the lawyer left.
I decided to call Maggie and invite her over for dinner. She’s coming. Kenneth wanted to see me tomorrow before I leave (he is the one who usually takes care of me). Anita is going to drive me to see another high school tomorrow at 11 before they drop me at the airport. Whew, it’s been real!
Epilogue Tuesday Feb 11
I am sitting in my familiar kitchen chair and it’s 3:20 in the morning. I have spent the last hour lying awake in bed, trying to fall back asleep, and trying to recall all the good movies I saw on the endless journey home. As almost everyone knows, I am petrified to fly and this was going to be a looonng ride. Starting out with the ride to the airport after visiting the very good, very beautiful, very well run Kisubi High School for inspiration, it was about 11:30 a.m. Kenneth, my dear friend, was picked up and we stood chatting, saying our good-byes before I checked in about 12:30. The little lady who insisted on helping me had to take my card- her daughter needing funds to attend high school. With so many with the same story, you tend to gather them into one big request, re-enforcing my mission to provide educational opportunities to children in a bigger, sustainable way.
The plane was boarded on time- departed at 3:20 on time but there is always this short stop in Rwanda (Kigali) to pick up and release passengers. I braced for yet another landing and take-off, having taken my benedryl and white wine (bought at the Entebbe airport). We were almost landed when the pilot accelerated and lifted. I thought why are we up again? He did it again…and again. Finally, he said the tail winds were preventing him from landing….oh my! But you know what? I was OK. I know this sounds strange but if you had been there with me and watched everything fall into place, the people I met, their talents and skills to help me, the speed and efficiency with which it all happened, you would see that my faith in God and His intervention was restored. So I said, God did not take me this far to drop me in the sea somewhere. I knew it would be alright and it was. I am so grateful. Amen.
I cannot express enough gratitude in words to all that contributed to this very successful journey of love. While I can easily say, I love the African people, the LOVE really refers to all the love that went into this slightly overweight body and slightly deranged mind over the years. My parents, with so little but so much love; my sisters who carried me through all the rough spots in my life; my husband, the densest rock on earth who stood beside me and encouraged me; my children, my children, my children for being the best kids and accomplished adults who mirror my best intentions with their lives as parents, supporters and generosity to others. It is said that we chose our parents before we are born. Thank you for choosing me.
I am also so totally grateful to all my relatives and friends, some of whom have stuck with me through the thick and thin of growing up, adulthood, happy times and sad times, some of whom are new to my life but are essential to keeping me alive and well. Thank you for believing in me when I had trouble believing in myself. It’s been a blast.
I am also deeply indebted to my little granddaughter, Harper, who in her short life, showed me ultimate love and compassion.
This is starting to sound sad but believe me, it is not! It is, after all, almost 4 in the morning! Jet lag lives! The movies on the plane were really good and distracting. I just barely made the second flight but my suitcases did not…I can wait. In the last two days, I have slept 16 hours at all the wrong times. Jet lag lives, but also the work of building the Ventures Secondary School begins! On your mark, get ready, GO!
Come along….I promise it will be an adventure.
Time to get a lion’s share of work done efficiently
New friends to help the project along
Battery power in my electric toothbrush
Water to rinse my mouth
Coffee grounds to get me up and going
Rest to keep me alert
Time in Jinja to develop the park project
Not nearly enough
Not nearly enough
Food to keep their bodies healthy
Not nearly enough
Education for millions of deserving children
Not nearly enough
Respite from the heat and dust
Not nearly enough
Knowledge of the world outside
Not nearly enough
Safety from crime and corruption
Not nearly enough
Funds to build the secondary school
Not nearly enough
Love around the world.
Way Too Much
Way Too much
Wasted effort in conflict
Way too much
Apathy for the plight of others
Way too much
Power in the wrong hands
Way too much
Luxury while others have little
Way too much
Food, waste, hate in our country
Way too much
Time and Love wasted
Way too much
And so ends this journey, a journey of love in 2019