Shopping, School and Supper

Mulembe! (That means ‘hello’ in Lugisu, one of the languages they speak here in Mbale.) Another jam-packed day here in Uganda. We woke up at 6:30am, having arranged to meet Joseph and have breakfast prepared for us at 7am. Joseph arrived right on time, singing loudly as he approached our huts. We made our way over to the dining room ready to eat breakfast, but there was no sign of anyone to feed us. We waited around for around half an hour hoping someone would appear, but it soon became apparent that breakfast wasn’t going to arrive at the time we’d arranged. We had planned to set off as early as possible each day to make sure we cram as much as possible in. As he often does when something doesn’t go to plan, Joseph sprang into action and started to hunt for someone to get things sorted! He started calling people on his phone and marching over to the security office to get things moving along. Some time later, a worker arrived and he was clearly in no hurry to feed us. He sat us at a table and then disappeared into the kitchen. Whilst we waited, we pumped up some of the footballs we had brought out with us for the children in Uganda (we deflated them before coming to give us more room in our suitcases). Joseph also took the opportunity to invite Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield over to his home for a meal this evening. They gratefully accepted and he quickly telephoned his wife to tell her to start preparing the home and the meal for later. He told us that his wife would be preparing chicken and as were guests of honour, one of us would get to eat the gizzard of the chicken. We felt the only fair way to decide who that would be was to carry out a twitter poll! Mr Prewett sent out a tweet asking for the public to vote for the person who should get to eat the chicken gizzard.

Eventually the worker emerged from the kitchen with some bread, butter and coffee. Last time we were here, they gave us eggs, toast and an assortment of fruits and cereals each morning for breakfast but today was just bread and butter… we’ll have to see what we’re given tomorrow. Mr Mansfield and Joseph poured a coffee but Mr Prewett requested that they make him an English breakfast tea… which, to be fair, they did. We buttered our bread and started to eat it when all of sudden Mr Mansfield and Mr Prewett stopped with a look of absolute amazement on their faces as Joseph proceeded to pick up his buttered bread and dip it into his coffee… sort of like dunking a Rich Tea biscuit into mug of Tetley, but with a gigantic wedge of bread and butter and a Ugandan black coffee. As Mr Mansfield and Mr Prewett burst out in laughter simultaneously, Joseph quickly realised that we had not experienced the soggy wet coffee bread combo before and became very embarrassed. We insisted that he have a photo, so we could share it with you all back home!

With the power being off all night, we hadn’t managed to charge our phones. We had hoped that we would be able to charge them at breakfast (as that’s what we’re using to take photos and videos) but were told that the generator had been turned off and wasn’t coming back on. The lights in our huts are powered by Solar panels and the sockets are powered by a generator. This caused us some concern as we want to keep taking photos and videos of our trip but may struggle to charge our phones.

After breakfast, it was time to set off. We planned to spend the morning shopping for school supplies using the money that pupils from Mount Pleasant Primary and St. Julian’s Primary had raised. Abdul, our driver, was supposed to be collecting us but he seems to have many businesses and was too busy to take us (he drives taxis, sells mobile phones, plants coffee and goodness knows what else!) He sent his brother, Shorely, to collect us instead.

Shorely drove us into the centre of Mbale where all the shops are. Joseph announced that he would start our shopping trip by visiting the ‘main Mbale garage area’ where there were lots of mechanics working on cars and Boda Bodas and also metal workers hammering and cutting metal.

We nervously wondered why Joseph had arranged to bring us here as we were getting lots of strange looks from the locals. People kept asking Joseph how he knew two Muzungus (Lugisu for white people) and what we were doing with him in town. He took us to sit down in a small shed with incredibly loud music blaring out of some speakers linked up to a car battery.

Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield became slightly concerned for their safety as Joseph and a man in blue overalls disappeared into another shed around the corner. The next thing we know, Joseph was shouting ‘Calay calay’ (Come, in Lugisu) We edged cautiously around the corner to see Joseph and the man stood holding some metal bars which we instantly realised were the goal posts we had bought for Mr Walyaula’s new school. Joseph had already placed the order ahead of us arriving in Uganda, so the goal posts would be ready for us to collect and install whilst we were here. There was one slightly odd thing about the posts in that they were painted bright blue. “Joseph, why are the goal posts painted blue?” enquired Mr Prewett with a perplexed look on his face.

“Do you like them? I chose the colour myself” replied Joseph, looking rather pleased with himself.

“Errr, In the U.K., goal posts are usually white” Mr Prewett stated, looking even more confused.

“I know this but I thought blue might be quite nice, so I ordered blue”, came the reply from Joseph. He was going to instruct the worker to repaint them white, but we didn’t want to seem ungrateful and said we’d accept the blue posts! We left the workers to finish making the ground pipes (which the goal posts will slot into).

As we left the garage area, we saw a group of workers digging near a pylon. All of a sudden, there was a gigantic pop and a huge puff of smoke as the workers had dug through an electric cable. The shouts of angry shop owners who had all lost electricity started to fill the street and so we felt it was best to get out of there sharpish!

Our next stop was the stationary shop to buy pens, pencils, exercise books and other supplies for Busiu Primary School and Namunsi Primary. We had visited this shop on our last visit to Uganda, so knew what to expect. It’s a small shop, more like a kiosk with books and stationary piled high to the ceiling. It’s always very busy in there and everything is incredibly fast paced. Immediately as you arrive, you need to get the manager’s attention and then tell him your order. If at any point you pause whilst giving him your order, he moves onto another customer or takes a phone call and you have to wait for him to return to you. The two schools had already sent us a message telling us what things they were in need of most, so had a rough idea of the items and their prices. Mr Mansfield read out the list of items to the manager and Mr Prewett ticked them off the list as they were ordered, carefully crosschecking the prices we had been sent, to what we were being charged in the store. As Mr Mansfield read out the items, the manager’s fingers rapidly tapped his calculator punching in numbers to show the costs. We finally finished placing the order and had bargained for a good final price. We even managed to get Mr Walyaula a free desk-organiser thrown in, which he had his eye on for the entire time we were in the shop. They had to collect all of the items from their shelves and stock room, so we suggested that we should go to some of the other shops we needed to visit whilst they put the order together. They told us to be back in 5 minutes. Shorely was on hand waiting to help load the vehicle with all the supplies.

During our last visit, we had seen that the teachers used white sacks to make classroom displays. They draw things like maps and diagrams on the bags, using marker pens, and then stick them onto their classroom walls. The sacks are very cheap here, so we agreed to get 60 sacks to share between the two schools. Mr Prewett did a good job of bargaining with the store owner to make sure we didn’t overpay. Joseph keeps warning us to let him make the payments because shop owners often try to increase the price when ‘Muzungus’ are buying things.

Joseph then decided to give us a real authentic feel for Mbale and took us into the Mbale town market. A whole array of smells hit us as we walked through the entrance. There were gigantic bags of rice and beans to our right and boxes of all kinds of vegetables to our left. We loved looking in all directions to see the selection of foods available. As we walked around the market place, Mr Mansfield noticed a stall with a selection of chilli peppers. Mr Mansfield asked the stall owner which was the hottest chilli he had. He smiled with a cheeky grin and pointed to a secret sack he kept away from his main selection. Out came a short, stubby bell pepper, bright red in colour. Thinking it would make great entertainment for the pupils back home, Mr Mansfield urged Mr Prewett to take a bite of the chilli. People started to look over to see whether Mr Prewett would actually do it. He agreed to ‘warm up’ with a red chilli, which clearly had an after kick to it but only took a small nibble out of the extra hot stubby bell pepper. A huge disappointment for all. Perhaps we should have another twitter poll to encourage him to eat it all in one before the end of the week?! Before leaving the market, Joseph wanted to give us a taste of some Ugandan fruits. He took us into the back of the marketplace, past some extremely smelly fish, to the fruit section. There were all kinds of fruits there. Joseph seems to know lots of people around the town, and the stall owners let us try some of the fruits. He gave us a Ugandan orange each, which was incredibly sharp and gave us very sticky fingers! Luckily, Mr Prewett had some trusty hand gel in his pocket, so we were able to wash our hands with that!

From there, we stopped by the shop where Mr Walyula was waiting and helped him carry the sacks we had just bought, along with a couple of flowery brushes, for which Mr Mansfield received a few funny looks along the way. Having dropped our latest purchases into the car, we went on to a hardware shop to buy some paint for the classrooms we were heading on to this afternoon. With a little more bartering, we managed to come away with enough paint to cover 3 classrooms, along with all of the materials needed to carry out the work. Mr Walyaula wanted 25 metres of sandpaper but the sales person’s reaction of raucous laughter told us this was way too much, so we settled on 3m instead!

The paint was so heavy that we could barely carry one ‘Jerry can’ of it, so the shop helped us by putting it in a wheel barrow and taking it over to the car, which was still sat outside the stationary shop. One look in the boot told us that they had still not managed to gather all of the resources we had purchased. Their estimate of 5 minutes had now become an hour! Rather than wait and, by now a little tired of shopping, we decided to go on ahead to our final stop, the sports shop.

With the group split, Mr Mansfield and Mr Prewett had no choice but to take the latest mode of transport which had pulled up for us – an open-top truck! Whilst we were at the hardware store, Joseph had quickly thought to go and collect the goalposts (which were too big to fit in our car) and had also arranged for a truck to help us deliver them to the school. With Mr Walyaula making a beeline to the front seat, Mr Mansfield and Mr Prewett hopped into the back of the truck. This was obviously a very strange sight for the locals, as we received a lot of ‘beeps’ and waves as we made our way through the streets of Mbale. Luckily the trip did not last too long, as the sports shop was just around the corner.

Upon entering the sports shop, we arranged for the owner to get some girls and boys PE kit for our schools and he even through in a free rugby ball for us (as he would not budge on his price at all and, by now, we were desperate to not come away paying full price for anything!). We joked that we had even become better at ‘bargaining’, as he calls it, than Joseph himself.

Leaving the sports shop, we were unsurprised to see that the car had still not arrived, with the materials from the stationary shop – they definitely had a strange idea of what 5 minutes was as over an hour and a half had now passed since we were told it would ‘not be long’! Not wanting to take up any more time, and eager to get to Mr Walyaula’s school, we decided it was best to jump in the back of the lorry again and make our way there. This was an amazing experience, with Mr Mansfield and Mr Prewett sitting in the back of the truck for the duration of the 15 minute journey. This got especially exciting as we neared the school, which is out of town, and the roads became more bumpy; Mr Mansfield and Mr Prewett could feel each and every bump in the road, by the end!

Glad to arrive at Mr Walyaula’s school, our excitement again took over. Entering the school grounds, we could see that children were already playing on the field, making the most of their Saturday and some families were using the school grounds to tether their goats, cows and other animals. Immediately, a group of children came running over, seeing us in the distance, on the back of the truck. We were greeted with some huge smiles and shouts of ‘hello’, as we leapt off the truck and began finding out the names of the children gathered around us. Something we found on our last trip that, whatever the language barriers (with many of the younger children only learning English from the age of 7), it is always best to get a ball out and start having a kick around! We grabbed the rugby ball we had purchased at the sports shop and started throwing it between the children. They clearly enjoyed this and we loved having our first interaction with the children from Mr Walyaula’s school so much that we had almost forgotten that he would want to give us a tour of the school itself!

Remembering our manners, we found Mr Walyaula and asked him to show us around. It was clear immediately that his request for some paint for the classrooms was a valid one. His school had lots of damage to it and the walls within the classrooms had not been painted for over a decade. One of the buildings even had damage to the roof, from where a worker had chopped down a tree incorrectly, allowing it to fall onto the roof of one of the school buildings. Mr Walyaula then invited us into his office to tell us a little more about the school and get us to sign his visitors book. It was clearly a proud moment for him and he enjoyed telling us all about some of the systems in place, including how all of the papers on his office walls helped him keep track of things within school. There was everything from class timetables to duty rotas – much like the staff rooms in our own schools! Mr Mansfield and Mr Prewett did enjoy some of the quotes which had been written on the walls, particularly the one which said “Some people are like wheelbarrows, they are useless until they are pushed!” and “Some people are like a kite, they need to be pulled back, or they will fly away!”. We thought these were very funny sayings to have in a school!

Hearing a little more about the school and how much Mr Walyaula cared for it helped spring us into action. We unloaded the goalposts from the truck and began putting them into place on the school’s rather large but rather bare playing field. In a flash, a few of the older children had found a couple of hoes and had begun to dig. Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield were both keen to help and so lent a hand with the digging. We were not sure if the giggling was because we were so awesome at the digging, or whether perhaps our techniques were not quite as good as those of the children who were two decades younger than us both! Taking pity on us, they offered to take over again and in no time, the holes had been dug.

As the cement for the goalposts was yet to arrive, we decided to make a start on the classroom we were painting. Lots of the much younger children were very keen to help with this, with Mr Prewett dishing out the 3 metres of sandpaper amongst 10 or 15 children and other helpers. The classroom turned into a hive of activity, with children climbing up the walls and hanging from the bars to help prepare the walls for painting. One of the things that struck us was the cacophony of sound which arose within the classroom, with the many pieces of sandpaper making quite a racket! We were also taken aback by the way in which the children were getting to the higher parts of the room. Not only were they climbing on the bars on the windows, they were also stacking their tables in twos or threes to reach the highest points. We were pretty sure that Newport City Council’s Health and Safety Department would not have approved this at our own schools, but Mr Walyaula seemed more than happy that the job was progressing so well! We figured, ‘who were we to argue’!

Having taken some time to prepare the walls, it came to the time for painting. Still sanding a far wall, Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield wondered why suddenly this hive of activity had come to a stop. We were told that the honour of brushing the first paint should go to us so, not wishing to hold things up, we grabbed a couple of rollers and began to paint. Little did we know that, in Uganda, they traditionally mix the paint with water. The thinking is that this helps it to stretch much further but, in reality, it just meat that Mr Mansfield and Mr Prewett were painting with a slightly beige runny water! Mr Mansfield in particular was not impressed by this strategy and spent a long time trying to convince them to stop mixing the paint with water, before Joseph helped convince the others by saying Mr Mansfield was going to ‘go on strike’ if they kept it up! To be fair, this then helped the job progress much quicker, as the paint was now actually sticking to the walls and covering up the years of untouched paintwork with a shiny new coat. All the same, those helping could not help but keep ‘economising’ and there were a number of times Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield still caught them sneaking a few glugs of water into the paint, here and there. Although this did seem to make the job harder, we could completely understand why they wanted the paint to go further, as they were thinking of how many classrooms they wanted to paint.

With the new system working well, the room seemed to improve greatly. Asking the children there how they felt, many of them said they wished they were in this class! This uplifted our very tired arms and we kept up the momentum, even ensuring we painted the blackboard a the front of the class and the skirting boards of the classroom with their traditional black border.

We were delighted to have finished the room but had no time to pose for a photo, as we were called out to see how the goalposts were getting on. Whilst we had been painting, there had been torrential downpours which seemed a blessing as it brought with it some much needed cool air. Out on the field however, this situation was much less ideal. The playing field had turned into a bog and, although the holes for the goalposts had now been dug at both ends of the pitch, we could barely lift them into place without our flipflops sliding all over the place. So much so, that the strap on Mr Mansfield’s flip flop slipped out and he was left trudging through the mud barefoot. Mr Prewett enjoyed reminding him that there had been lots of animals tethered in this particular field and that it may not just have been mud that he was walking in!

Finally managing to wiggle the goalposts into place, Mr Prewett helped to mix some cement and pour it into the holes which had been dug. One of the other teachers then arrived with a special weight which allowed him to work out whether the goalposts were level and not leaning at an angle. With a few adjustments, the first set were in. As great as it would have been to stay for an additional kick around, Mr Mansfield and Mr Prewett were not sure that they would retain their footing and they were also now pushed for time. There were just a few moments to grab a quick bite to eat before we had to get on the road, to ensure we got to Joseph’s house on time for dinner. We were only slowed down a little by the need to wash both our hands and feet before dinner, as we were now caked in both paint and mud!

Hitting the road again, we felt very satisfied by all that had been achieved this afternoon. We were really grateful for all the help we had received from people within the community and had been sure to thank each of them as we left. Now we could look forward to a little bit of relaxation, with our trip to Joseph’s for tea now the only activity left for today. We had been excited about this part of our trip for a while, with Joseph often telling us stories about his wife, Jacinta, and his two children, Jeremiah (4) and Joanna (1). Although we knew lots about them, we had never met, so this would be a fantastic opportunity to do so. Quickly returning to Salem Guest House, we both had a quick shower and gathered a few gifts we had brought along with us for Joseph’s family, before heading off again. Joseph kindly offered us to bring our phones along, as there was still no electricity in our rooms and he knew we were running very low on battery on all of our devices – something which he felt may get in the way of sharing our daily activities, an idea which he believes is ‘very important’ as it helps people back in the UK to understand more about Uganda. Off we went, eagerly awaiting meeting Joseph’s family.

The journey to his house went very quickly and we were welcomed straight away by Joanna stood on the porch of his house. She took a little while to come around to Mr Mansfield and Mr Prewett, being very unsure of both! Jeremiah however, heard we had arrived and charged around the corner, buzzing around with excitement. Joseph introduced us to him and he began shouting our names loudly (something that Joseph had warned us that he had been doing for weeks in the build up to our visit!). Jacinta emerged from their house and gave us both a warm embrace, as if we were old friends. By now, we were slightly late so we apologised but were told by Jacinta that this was not a problem and that she was just delighted to see us. Straight away, she wanted to put us to work and, as promised before we set out for Uganda, she was keen to teach us how to make a local staple food, chipatti.

Mr Mansfield struggled to listen to the lesson on chipatti, as he was enjoying Jeremiah’s company too much, bouncing him around and delighting him by showing him various Instagram filters!

This meant that Mr Prewett stepped up first, carefully following Jacinta’s instructions and making what he considered to be a pretty fine chipatti! The pressure was on for Mr Mansfield and, having caught little of the instructions beforehand, he felt the need to ‘wing it’ a little. This did not escape the attention of Jacinta who was in fits of giggles watching him muddle his way through making his chipatti, laughing particularly raucously at the unusual shape of his food, commenting that it looked ‘more like Uganda’ than the circular shape that it should. Although both chipatti tasted delicious, Mr Prewett’s was definitely the finest looking of the two!

All of this had really bought us all together and both Mr Mansfield and Mr Prewett were completely overwhelmed with happiness at the scene they had found themselves in. With not many resources to their names, the Nataka family had really put on an incredible evening for us. As we sat down to eat, there was only one minor thing that got in the way…suddenly we were reminded about the ‘honoured’ guest eating the chicken gizzard (this is part of the chicken’s intestines; something which neither Mr Prewett nor Mr Mansfield felt was hugely appealing!). This reminded Mr Prewett of his Twitter poll. He quickly explained that we had decided to have a vote to decide and grabbed his phone to check the results. Fortunately (as it turned out for Mr Mansfield), Mr Prewett had enough internet connection to discover that he was the ‘winner’ – 57% to 43%. A close call but, all the same, Mr Prewett had to step up to the challenge. Braving it somewhat, he was presented with a very unusual looking piece of meat (which is best described as looking like a cow’s nose!), which he quickly wolfed down, avoiding thinking about what it was he was eating. This task was made no easier by having Mr Mansfield film the whole event, with a huge grin on his face from behind the camera!

Despite the gizzard, the food that Jacinta then presented us with was delicious and, with no exaggeration, Mr Prewett thanked her for the finest meal he had ever had in Uganda; chicken stew, rice, chipatti and peas. Following dinner, Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield presented the family with some of the gifts they had brought with them, bringing tears to both Jacinta and Joseph’s eyes with a framed family photo, printed off in the UK before setting out to Uganda. This really was a joyous scene and Mr Mansfield and Mr Prewett both had to fight back their emotions as we were told by Joseph that it was time to go, as he wanted us to meet his music teacher, who was making the musical instruments for our schools. We all said a fond goodbye and Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield thanked the family for a truly wonderful evening. The Nataka family had been amazing and Joanna and Joseph were a delight to meet.

It was not far to the music teacher’s house and, getting out to walk the final part, through some pitch black lanes, we arrived at his house where he seemed to have his whole family working away busily on the instruments. Immediately it was apparent that this was a real craft and we were all impressed by the instruments he had made. We agreed on a day to collect them in the week and set off for home.

On the journey back, Mr Mansfield and Mr Prewett enjoyed discussing some of the highlights of the day. Mr Prewett commented on how close the Twitter poll had been. A look descended over Mr Mansfield’s face, with it becoming quite clear he wanted to get something off his chest. “I think the result might have been slightly different, if I hadn’t used all three of my Twitter accounts to vote for you”, he confessed. Mr Prewett was less than impressed by this underhand behaviour, although could definitely see the funny side and deep down admired the tactic, wishing he had done the same himself! This was only compounded further when Joseph reminded Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield that they had been asked to sing in church in the morning. Deciding it a good idea to sing ‘Amazing Grace’, Joseph also then told Mr Prewett and Mr Mansfield that he would probably not sing, but could play the drum. He also added that Mr Mansfield could play the piano, leaving Mr Prewett with the microphone to sing. The trio had suddenly become a soloist with backing musicians; from the look on Mr Prewett’s face, he was quite clearly not ready to be the front man of this event! Nor, it must be said, would the congregation at First Baptist Church probably be ready for his singing efforts! Chuckling about these things for most of the rest of the way home, the car pulled in at Salem Guest House in what seemed like no time at all and it was time to have a sit down to write our blog before bed.

Tomorrow will be another busy day, with church in the morning followed by some exploring in the afternoon!

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