Church, Singing and Boda Bodas

Another amazing day here in Uganda! The time is flying by and we are wishing we were staying here for longer than just a week. We had agreed to wake up at 7am but Mr Mansfield kept hitting the snooze button on his alarm clock. Mr Prewett was up and dressed and banging on Mr Mansfield’s door at 7:30am to wake him up.

We ate breakfast, which again was bread, butter and coffee, and waited for Joseph to arrive to collect us.

Joseph had requested that we go to his church with him as he was playing the drums in the band. Most people attend church on a Sunday morning in Uganda and having enjoyed our last Ugandan church visit so much in 2015, we were delighted to agree to attend. Not only had Joseph invited us to accompany him but he had also arranged for us to take part in the service. He insisted that we should sing, dance or speak to the congregation, as visitors often do. We had already agreed to sing but on the way to the church in the car, it was clear Mr Prewett was becoming nervous as he was going to be the lead singer. Mr Mansfield was going to play the piano and Joseph was going to drum. Joseph had chosen two of his favourite songs for us to sing: ‘Give me Joy in my Heart’ and ‘Amazing Grace’. Joseph arrived with Abdul the driver to collect us and we travelled for around 15 minutes along the bumpy, dusty tracks to get there. The sun was shining brightly and so many people were walking along the roadsides, dressed in their smart Sunday outfits on their way to their churches. Along the way, we discussed the songs that we would be singing with Joseph and Mr Prewett raised a few concerns. He knew the lyrics to ‘Give me Joy in my heart’ as he had chosen that song for his wedding just a month earlier, but he was less sure of the words to Amazing Grace. Joseph just laughed and dismissed his concerns telling him he’d be fine. As the car pulled up at the church, Mr Prewett frantically tried to get internet signal so that he could search Google for the words to Amazing Grace.

In 2015, the church we visited was a small hut and was very traditional with just one Ugandan instrument playing and lots of traditional dancing. As we arrived at the church this morning, it was very different. The building was much larger and we could hear the sound of keyboards and guitars through loud speakers. The service had already started by the time we arrived and the congregation were singing, clapping and dancing with great energy. Despite the service being in full swing, Joseph marched us right down the aisle to sit in the front row, ready for our performance. Luckily, Mr Prewett had managed to find the words to Amazing Grace and took a screen shot of them.

Pastor Moses welcomed everyone to the service and then said that there were some exciting things to look forward to during the service – one of which being Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield’s performance. He then handed over to the ‘Rock Band’ who were to lead the first few songs. The keyboard player struck the first few chords, then Joseph started the rhythm on the drum kit and then the twelve youngsters began singing with such energy! They sounded absolutely brilliant. They were pitch perfect, their harmonies were excellent and they danced and clapped and got everyone moving in the church. It was clear that the congregation loved the Rock Band. They weren’t just good, they were like a professional African choir. As we watched them perform and joined with some of the dance moves, a huge sinking came over us as we realised that we were somehow going to have to follow their performance with our horrendous singing.

After two or three songs, the Rock Band received a gigantic round of applause and some Ugandan shrieks from the crowd. Pastor Moses thanked them and said how wonderful they were and then then invited Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield up to the front. Sheepishly, we took hold of the microphones and introduced ourselves.

We said how pleased we were to be back in Uganda and how much we had enjoyed listening to the Rock band also. We thanked Pastor Apollo and Joseph for all their work in helping to arrange various things for us. It wasn’t possible to stall anymore… we took up our positions ready to start the song. Mr Mansfield sat at the keyboard, Joseph was at the drums and Mr Prewett positioned himself next to a table, on which he placed his phone with the crucial song lyrics for ‘Amazing Grace’ showing.

With ‘Give Me Joy in my heart’ being the more lively and familiar song, Mr Mansfield played a short introduction to it and then together, both Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield began to sing. The faces on the congregation said it all. You know the faces from the audience on the X-Factor when someone really terrible starts singing… or perhaps the wincing face you see when someone scrapes their nails down a blackboard… they were the faces we were seeing from the congregation! “Give my joy in my heart keep me praising, give me joy in my heart I pray, hallelujah, give me joy in my heart keep me praising, keep me praising till the break of day” we sang together, wishing a big hole would just appear in the ground to swallow us up! It seemed like such a good idea when we were discussing it with Joseph, but we were certainly regretting agreeing to sing… and I think the pastors were regretting letting us sing too!

Noticing that there were another four verses to go and feeling that something drastic had to happen to rescue the situation, Mr Mansfield shouted ‘sing with us for the chorus!’ into the microphone. With that, the congregation sprang to life and suddenly, our singing sounded slightly more bearable when drowned out by the wonderful voices of the African people. I think they took pity on us and sang extra loudly. They did, however seem to enjoy Mr Mansfield playing the keyboard and started filming his hands moving quickly up and the keyboard on their phones.

Next up was ‘Amazing Grace’. We had been told that this was a particular favourite song of the church and we were keen not to murder it like we had just done with the previous song. Mr Mansfield played a short introduction and Mr Prewett reached down to pick up his phone to follow the lyrics. As he looked down at the table, he noticed that his phone had gone. Frantically looking around for it, wondering how on earth he was going to get through the song without the lyrics, he looked up to notice one of the Ugandan’s give him a cheesy grin, holding his phone in one hand and giving him a thumbs up with the other, ready to take some photos and videos of us performing. A nice gesture, but the colour drained from Mr Prewett’s face as he realised he was about to sing a song he didn’t know any of the lyrics to… and also, we didn’t really want any souvenirs to remind us of the moment we humiliated ourselves in front of an entire church of Ugandan people. The introduction finished and Mr Mansfield give Mr Prewett the cue to begin. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me… hummmm hummmmm mmmm mmmmmm dum dummm deee dum…” came out of Mr Prewett’s mouth as he realised he only actually knew the first two lines of the song. Mr Mansfield took the lead and once again, the congregation took pity on us and joined in singing extra loudly. They seemed to enjoy this song more than the last and it was almost as though they forgot about the two Muzungu (Lugisu for white people) looking silly at the front of the church and concentrated more on the words they were singing.

Thankfully, noticing that Mr Prewett was struggling, someone found an acetate sheet with the words and projected them onto the screen behind us. As the song progressed through the four verses, Mr Prewett thought that he would do something more productive and decided to take a few selfies with the band and the congregation. The song finally ended and the congregation began to clap and cheer… not quite as much as they did for the rock band, but still… this was more than we deserved or were expecting!

We both sat down and looked for a way to make a quick getaway at the end of the service to avoid further embarrassment. Pastor Apollo spoke about making sure we look after others and support and love one another. He ended with some notices about the various groups that were taking place during the week and also gave some news from the community. He also mentioned the outbreak of hepatitis in a nearby village and offered to take other members of the church to be vaccinated if they had not already been. People clearly had great love and respect for the pastor and he for them also.

Before he closed the meeting, he asked everyone to gather at the front of the church to sing the last few songs. Some members from the Rock Band called over to get Mr Mansfield’s attention and were beckoning him over the keyboard again. Having been so impressed with his playing earlier in the service, they wanted him to play for the final couple of songs. Although he wasn’t too sure of them, he listened to the tune and was able to pick it up and play along. At the end of the service, the leader of the rock band approached him and asked how long he was in Uganda and if he would be willing to join the Rock Band and attend a rehearsal on Wednesday. Mr Prewett stood nearby listening in, wondering whether he would also receive the same invitation… sadly… his invitation never came.

Emerging from the church, there was still a hive of activity going on. Children were playing, teenagers were having chats and families were spending some time together. We noticed  a busy area underneath some shelter and went over to investigate. A few of the church-goers were selling snacks for the rest of the congregation to buy. In amongst them, there was a familiar face. Jacinta, Joseph’s wife, had stayed up last night, after our visit to her home, and baked some doughnut like food. We were delighted to see this as, with all of the singing, we had worked up quite a hunger! We bought one each and also got some g-nuts (peanut-like snacks), to keep us going. We had a quick play with Jeremiah, who was full of his usual energy and then said a few goodbyes.

After church, we set off into town. Joseph explained how this was only a short walk and that it would not be worth using ‘transport’. Enquiring as to how long it would take, Joseph responded with 10 minutes. Already having worked up a sweat in the hot sun and dressed in trousers and a shirt, Mr Mansfield asked “10 minutes Ugandan time, or 10 minutes UK time?”. “UK”, Joseph said. Both Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield were glad to hear this, as they were not dressed for a hike and did not fancy walking too far in their Sunday best!

As we got towards the town centre, Joseph gestured across the road to a face we recognised; the music teacher who was making the instruments for our schools! He guided us into a darkened shop, off the main street and we talked some more about the instruments and arranged payment. Sitting in the shop, we noted that half was filled with fizzy drinks, and the other cement. Thinking this was a strange combination, we asked the music teacher why the owner of the shop was selling this range of products. He explained how the owner had decided that he might be able to make more money from cement, so had decided to phase out his selling of drinks, in favour of that. Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield discussed how unusual it would be for someone back in Wales to completely change the nature of their shop, especially from two such different products!

As we stepped back out onto the road, we were asked to greet the two men who were lending us their Boda-Bodas for the day. We shook hands and assured them that we would get their bikes back safely! Setting off, it was decided that Mr Prewett and Joseph would share a Boda, whilst Mr Mansfield (an experienced motorcyclist), flew solo. Quickly it became apparent that all was not quite right with Joseph and Mr Prewett’s Boda-Boda, as Joseph stopped in the middle of a busy roundabout, complaining about the brakes! Restarting the engine, and leaving Mr Mansfield stranded in amongst lots of traffic, disappearing in our mirrors, Joseph headed onto a nearby petrol station. Having eventually rejoined the flowing traffic, Mr Mansfield caught up and pulled in behind. Joseph tightened the break and tested it some more, whilst both Boda-Bodas were topped up with fuel for the journey ahead. A little more tinkering took place, before some more testing, tinkering and then some final testing! It seemed Joseph was very keen to triple check everything!

Finally, it seemed, we hit the road to Sippi falls. After negotiating a little more traffic on the outskirts of Mbale, we soon came to the more open road. We were surrounded by incredible scenery, with the lush landscape whizzing by and the mountains surrounding us on all sides. It was fascinating to see the changes, as we travelled along. We would suddenly find ourselves in seemingly remote places before stumbling along vibrant towns, just as quickly. As we rode, we wondered what each person was up to, with lots carrying different materials on their heads, pushing goods along the roadside or just walking between towns. We were particularly fascinated by the many children we saw along the way. With it being a Sunday, the afternoon was more free for them, so we noted many groups enjoying each other’s company; some were climbing goalposts, others play-fighting and even some playing in a local park, on swings and slides. The children would often spot us as we rode by and wave at us, with enormous grins on their faces. The further we went, the more remote it became, with dusty roads turning into roads lined with lush trees and families working on their farms.

It was also interesting to note the different businesses, as we travelled along the road. It seemed as if each village had their own trade, with some beating crops, some sorting and drying beans and others even making coffins! The journey flew by, with both Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield spending much of the time gazing at the incredible scenery around. We knew we were getting close to Sippi, as the roads began to wind uphill, getting steeper and steeper. This was not just something we could see, but also feel, as both Boda-Boda started making some very funny noises! Mr Prewett’s seemed to be gurgling its way up the steep inclines, whilst Mr Mansfield’s was squeaking and squealing as it struggled to get higher and higher up the mountainside. As they neared the waterfall, the roads became increasingly bumpy and, off the final turn, they were confronted by what can only be described as a mud track. Having had sudden downpours of rain over the last few days, this became like riding along a motorcross track, with mud flying up from the wheels as they skidded their way along towards the entrance to the viewing point.

When they got off the Boda-Boda, they were relieved to be stood on firm ground, suddenly appreciating how saddle sore they were from all the riding along bumpy roads! They were whisked to a viewing point, offered a drink and placed an order for some much-needed food! The scenery was truly stunning; having made their way through a lodge, they were confronted with an incredible view of the waterfall. Alongside this impressive sight, was an amazing view down the valley, where it seemed you could see for an eternity. This was beautiful and eclipsed even the amazing scenery they had just been riding through; Uganda is truly a wondrous country!

 

Settling down to relax after a long ride, Mr Prewett, Mr Mansfield and Joseph were greeted by Job, a local tour guide who wanted to offer us some further options to explore. He began by telling us about a walk down to the bottom of the water falls, also advising us that we could go over the mountain and visit some caves. His sales patter could probably have done with a little improving, however, as he continued by telling us about all of the mud slides which had taken place over the last few days. Job said that yesterday was the worst day he had known at Sippi falls and that the downpours, which lasted four hours, had left the tracks particularly muddy. The mud was a minor concern for Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield; however, they were far less sure about hiking along areas which had experienced so many mud slides! Job finally caught their attention when he began talking about ‘Skippling’. He described how Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield could be lowered from the top of the cliff, alongside the waterfall, down a rope secured at the top and controlled by a local, who was experienced in this. Enjoying a challenge, this tempted Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield greatly. Job set off, to leave us to make a decision. We discussed this in great detail; how secure would it be? How safe would the ropes be? Would we survive?! Edging towards dangling themselves off the edge of the cliff, somewhat fortunately, the decision was taken out of their hands…food was delayed and delayed (they must have been on ‘Ugandan time’), eating into what little time they already had, and then a sudden downpour scuppered the idea completely. Mr Prewett turned to Mr Mansfield and commented that his Mum “Would have been pleased the rain came, as she would probably never have forgiven him, had he gone ahead with the ‘skippling’”.

Fearing the rain would worsen, Mr Mansfield and Mr Prewett jumped back on the Boda-Boda and beginning the descent back down the mountainside. This time, Mr Prewett jumped on with Mr Mansfield, thinking it a good idea to share the journey back together. Soon; however, they realised that the rain was heavier than thought. The roads were becoming a little wet and, although they wanted to push on, Joseph pulled alongside them and beckoned them to pull to the roadside. He suggested they take shelter. “Where do you think we will be able to shelter here?”, Mr Mansfield asked. Looking around, we had stopped along a road with only a couple of ramshackle houses. Not wishing to impose upon those in the village, and noticing the sunshine in the distance, they hopped back on their Boda-Boda and looked to continue on their way. This is when they encountered a slight problem; the Boda would not start! Chugging away, it seemed to be spluttering to a halt each time Mr Mansfield pushed down on the kick-start. Just as they began to think they may be there for longer than planned, the Boda-Boda clicked into life! Phew!

It soon became apparent, having got back on the road, that the rain was worsening. Mr Mansfield described to Mr Prewett how it felt like stones were hitting him in the face, as the rain drops hurtled towards him. This was confirmed further when Joseph rode by, soaked through and with a face of agony. The trio decided to pull over, finding themselves amongst a row of shops. We descended some very slippery ‘steps’ and too shelter underneath an awning of one of the shops. Conscious that they did not want to impose, Mr Prewett suggested to Joseph that we buy something from the shop. There was an interesting array of things on offer, from gum-balls to super glue! Spotting some flip-flops, they decided to pick up a pair, which they could perhaps donate to someone on the way back.

As they stood there, evading the rain, a boy named Ahwella came to say hello. Not speaking much English, Joseph managed to act as an interpreter and tell us that he had been sent out to pick up some things. We asked him if he went to school, to which he replied he was in P4 (Year 4). We asked if he worked hard and he said “Yes, but I do not have many materials”. It turned out, he had been sent to the shops to pick up a pen for going back to school the following day. Charmed by his kindness and feeling sympathetic towards his desire to do well in school, Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield asked the shop keeper what “scholastic materials” (as they say), he had available. He showed us some books and pens, which we swiftly asked him to place in a bag for Ahwella.

By now, the rain had eased and it was fine to set back off on the way to Mbale. As they continued along the journey, Mr Prewett suddenly remembered the flip-flops they had just purchased from the shop. Spotting a boy walking alongside the road barefoot, Mr Mansfield pulled the Boda-Boda over. A quick chat established that his name was Roger and that he was walking back home from church. Mr Prewett pulled the flip-flops out of his bag and gave them to him, with Mr Mansfield saying “I hope this helps you with the walk home”. The boy would not step into the flip flops, looking confused. “Money?”, he asked. “No, for you!” we said, together. His face lit up and he stepped into them, as we waved goodbye.

As we continued, not much further along the road, Joseph beckoned to us to turn in. We did not realise, but we had arrived back at Mr Walyaula’s school, which was along the road out to Sippi. We pulled in to see how they had got on yesterday afternoon, with the second set of goalposts. To our delight, they were up! The field looked fantastic and we were really impressed that they had managed to finish yesterday’s work, despite the weather. As we arrived, some of the children from yesterday raced over, recognising us. They were full of excitement to see us on Boda-Boda and quickly we were chatting to them again. They took us into the classroom we painted yesterday, wanting to show us again, how it looked. They were delighted with the improvement and a boy who we had not met yesterday said it was his class and that he was “so happy”. Re-emerging from the classroom, one of the children asked for a ride on the Boda. This led to so many wanting to jump on that Mr Mansfield had to say “Not too many, or it will tip!”. After checking with their parents, Mr Mansfield allowed two to jump on and gave them a lap of the field on the bike (with one pushing him along from behind, without him knowing!). This was a great sight to see and the children were clearly excited by the experience.

News quickly spread that we were back at the school, as the caretaker raced over to tell us that the local vicar would like to meet us. Not wishing to be rude, we said a quick hello and had a look around his church. There was a practice going on for some of the children learning musical instruments, so we listened for a short while before Mr Mansfield played a quick song for the children. Luckily for all involved, Mr Prewett did not have to accompany him with any vocals, this time! Realising we were now pushed for time, Joseph appeared and beckoned to Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield to continue with the journey.

In a reverse of the journey out to Sippi, the scenery began to become more built up as we neared the town of Mbale. We arrived in town, dropped the Boda-Boda back and then hopped on the back of the truck we used yesterday; something which Joseph had arranged to allow us to move our luggage out of the guest house. Whilst on our travels, a decision had been made to move guest houses, to a place which had electricity. Joseph had spoken to Salem and had been told it would likely be a week until the electricity was back up and running; something which we felt might hamper our ability to communicate with everyone back home! The truck made its way along the bumpy roads to Salem which, when sat on the back of the truck, seemed a lot more severe than they had done in a car!

Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield arrived back at Salem, quickly packed everything into bags and bid farewell to their hosts, who had been most welcoming. We were very apologetic about having to move but the staff understood that we would need to charge some of our equipment in order to help share our adventures (and the stories of the Ugandan children_, with those back home. Off we set, having almost filled the truck, on to our next guest house. When we arrived, we were greeted by a couple of workers who (fortunately for our weary souls), were keen to help unload the vehicle. We were pleased to find out that the new place had both electricity and (somewhat limited!) Wifi. Grabbing a quick bite to eat, we headed back to our rooms to sort things for the morning.

We cannot wait for tomorrow, as it will be our first ‘proper’ day in school, with the children. Heading off to sleep now, we are filled with excitement for what is to come!

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