Preston shocked by appearance of sun

12 02 2011

Preston residents were left confused this week after the city endured two sunny days in the space of less than a week, with some reporting “holes in the sky”.

Scientists are in serious talks with the Met Office to establish why the city had what other places in the country apparently call: “Nice weather”, which Preston experienced on Thursday 10 and Saturday 12 February, 2011.

Temperatures soared to pleasant, leading to many residents being confused whether to wear their coats or not. One resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “Well, I’ve been wearing me big coat and scarf every day since the beginning of October last year, but on Thursday and Saturday I went out to buy a loaf of Greenhalgh’s wholemeal bread and I were just too hot – it’s ’cause of this global warmin’. So I had to go into a furniture store and sit down for two minutes so I could cool down.”

But the problems were far more serious for some. Prof Madeu Pname, a university academic, said: “People were calling the Preston Weather Emergency Helpline throughout the day, wondering what the holes in the sky were.

“After speaking to our colleagues who don’t live and work in Preston, we have established that the holes actually show ‘the sky’, and that what we formerly perceived as ‘the sky’ is, in fact, something called cloud. On Thursday and Saturday, we experienced a phenomenon known as sunlight.”

The bright light caused havoc on the roads, as drivers were dazzled by the sun. Hundreds had to stop, close their eyes and wait for nightfall before they could continue.

The appearance of the sun in Preston left some drivers dazed, confused and stranded

Some shoppers were delighted with the weather, though. One market stall holder put out extra seating so people could sit down. “I put some in the shade and some in the sun, so people could have a choice of being slightly warm, or a bit nippy,” he said.

Extra seating was provided by market stall holders

One shopper suggested the sunny weather could save locals trillions of pounds: “That Dave Cameron and his sidekick are making everything expensive aren’t they? Well, I’ve got one up on ‘em now. Why? ‘Cause I’ve just cancelled my holiday to Dubai. No taxes from me! Sunny enough ‘ere int it? It’s grand!”

The last time Preston basked in sunshine was before Charles Dickens visited in the 19th century. Following Dickens’ glum portrayal of Coketown in Hard Times, Preston, on which Coketown was partly based, has been predominantly cloudy. Comforting cloud and rain are expected shortly.

The sunny weather was used by some to dry out dog poo, presumably for art

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Why UCLan is right to urge students not to report on Preston EDL march

26 11 2010

It’s caused a minor furore on Twitter and on blogs: “Concerned over safety, UCLan urges journalism students not to cover EDL march”. But why are people getting so wound up about it?

To be clear, I’m not writing this on behalf of UCLan’s journalism school (the school’s position was made clear in Laura Oliver’s article, linked to above), or even trying to represent a different view.

The reason I am writing this is because I think the criticism levelled at the decision is starting to become a bit unreasonable, I get the impression that some people believe the story is somehow an indication that UCLan is denying its journalism students the opportunities to practise journalism. I think this is nonsense.

I understand (as does the UCLan journalism school) that the EDL march will receive regional, and possibly national, coverage. For those that attend, there’s the chance to get a brilliant story.

But is it really so irrational of the school to say: “we cannot allow students to cover these events for any assignment or reporting exercise and we will not allow our equipment to be hired out”? The reasoning is clear and explicit – the department spoke to  practising industry professionals who will be there on Saturday. The school has clearly been warned of the potential dangers that students could encounter.

Telling students not to report on the march for university work passes absolutely the onus of responsibility onto the student. Through refusing to accept work about the march, UCLan is removing the possibility of students taking unnecessary risks in order to look good and get good marks. There is no reason for a student to take risks in order to attain good marks for their portfolio.

As I said in a brief exchange on Twitter to one of my peers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), if a student goes to the protest and gets injured, it was their idea, not the university’s. It was their own decision to go, for their own personal reasons.

While the school has told students not to report on the protest for university work, and have advised students to stay away following warnings, the department has NOT completely banned students from going, as some people seem to be inferring.

Do I plan on going to the EDL march? Yes I do, and I intend to take some pictures.

Of course, it’s a frustrating situation, but the alternative (ie. NOT to tell students not to attend for university work) is open to a lot more scrutiny, and it would be unprofessional of the university to be seriously warned about the dangers, and not to make their position unequivocally clear.





I get lost easily

7 11 2010

In less than one month’s time I’ll be starting a work experience binge. I’m very excited about the forthcoming binge because I’ll be working alongside some of the best writers – and indeed drivers – that the UK motoring press has to offer. But my parents are a bit concerned.

My destinations are, first, Northamptonshire and then Cambridgeshire. The towns, the magazines, even the counties are irrelevant. What is relevant though is that I’ll be borrowing my mum’s car, which means I’ll be driving myself to the destinations.

I’ve borrowed my mum’s 1.2 Clio plenty of times before. So far, touch wood, I’ve had a good history with it. So the car-borrowing isn’t the issue.

When I asked my dad if I could borrow the car, for a journey that would head further south than Preston, the conversation went like this:

“Dad, please can I borrow the car?”

“Yes, but Pete, you haven’t had much experience with longer distances on your own. You’ve got to read signs quickly and make fast decisions.”

“I’ll be fine!”

“You get lost easily though, Pete.”

“[Pause] Yeah I do.”

This is entirely fair, and based on my past with following directions.

Examples of me getting lost

Example 1

One evening in late August 2008 I went to do an interview for my Sir William Lyons Award entry. I was going to head to a farm in the middle of nowhere to do an interview with my mum’s cousin.

On the day I was due to do the interview, my parents asked if I knew where he lived. I didn’t. So they told me the directions. One element of the directions was crucial: “You know how to get to mum’s school don’t you?” “Er yeah! Of course I do!” (From this reference point, the rest of the journey would be a doddle.) I’ve been to my mum’s school many times. It’s a very simple route, and less than four and a half miles.

That evening, I set off, went down the road I knew would lead me to my mum’s school, and drove quite contentedly until I realised that I was lost. I stopped, phoned home, told them I was at a junction on a corner that I’d never seen before, and was told where to go again.

Example 2

Unfortunately, my second example is more recent. At work in the summer, I had to drive to a place near Blackpool to meet a colleague to sort out some equipment for an event.

The day before, he wrote down detailed directions. I could see the route in my mind (it was a similar route to the one we – my family – used to take when visiting my late grandad), so I wasn’t going to get lost!

I agreed to meet my colleague at 9:30am. I set off in good time, and arrived in Blackpool for 9:15am – I was early! However, I was early somewhere else. I was in the right area, but I didn’t have a clue where I or my colleague was. I tried to ask a pedestrian for directions, but he ignored me, so I sped off and phoned home for directions.

My issue with directions is that I sometimes over-analyse them. If a signpost has a different destination to that mentioned in the directions, I think to myself: “I must be at the wrong roundabout, I’ll keep going.” Rather than: “This is probably the right way to go.” Or I’ll panic, and take a turn early because I worry that THIS could be the one I’m supposed to take.

Example 3

Surprisingly, I do actually have a memory, and, sometimes, even a sense of direction. When my memory and sense of direction are present, my third example demonstrates I should listen to them/myself.

Sadly, my third example was less than two months ago. Again, it was work-related. I had to take some food to a leisure village (I don’t know what else to call it, because that’s what it’s known as) because a journalist was visiting that weekend. I looked at the directions on the place’s website, and it fitted in with what my memory was telling me.

Just to be sure, I checked Google Maps.

Seven miles after leaving the motorway, I learnt that Google was wrong. A quick phone call to my parents got me back on the right route (I’d promised them that morning that I knew where I was going… and I did, but Google tricked me).

As a side note, the road I happened to go the wrong way down was a brilliant road. In fact, I was very happy that I’d gone the wrong way. It was the ideal hilly road, with fast and medium speed corners with enough visibility to keep up a good pace.

Conclusion

If I give you directions, they’ll probably be accurate, so you can trust them (note: this does not apply to walking directions for shops, even in Lancaster, which has been my nearest city since I was born).

If you’re in the car with me, I’ll go the right way. When others are in the car with me, my desire to remain dignified (ie. Not asking for directions) ensures I use common sense and stay calm.

BUT

If you give me directions, I will probably go the wrong way anyway.

If I say: “Yeah I know where that is” I probably do, but I’ll doubt myself when I get to a crucial junction and turn the wrong way. It’s best to tell me how to get to even the most obvious places.

If you set a rendezvous time, no matter how long in advance I set off, I WILL go the wrong way. Expect me to arrive anywhere up to 45 minutes late, even if the journey was only supposed to take five.





Uganda diary: The remaining days and final thoughts

3 11 2010

Bye bye.

I’ve decided to bring my Uganda diary blog posts to a close. The events I discuss are getting further and further away in my memory, and my ability to write about the sun and warmth is hindered by living in Preston, where it rains most days, and is normally a bit chilly and depressing.

Therefore, I’ve decided to write very briefly about my remaining time in Uganda. So I’ll limit each of my remaining days to two sentences (max) and a picture.

Monday 23 August

Waterfall in Bwindi Rainforest


I became quietly angry when an obese American lady on the table next to us told her guide all about how she had almost forgotten her razor (“so I wouldn’t be able to shave my legs!”), how she used alcohol-based hand sanitizer in Uganda (it didn’t matter to her that she was talking about her guide’s home country), that she “read the signs” of her guide suggesting he was ready to leave. Later that day, Emma and I went on a guided walk into the rainforest to see a beautiful waterfall, but it rained on our way back, and our clothes – including footwear – got soaked.

Tuesday 24 August

Didn't get any bus journey pictures. So here's a shot from the Rest Camp the night before. Good atmosphere.

Got up at THREE IN THE MORNING to catch the bus. I slept, drank enough water to keep myself hydrated, listened to music, had a mild argument with someone outside a toilet (it cost 200 shillings to go for a pee, so I gave him 1,000 expecting 800 change. He gave me 500. I stood my ground and got my change – it didn’t dawn on me that I stood out like a sore thumb, that I was the only white bloke in the area, that I was stood BEHIND the market and so not many people around to help if things went pear-shaped, and that the bus would be leaving soon), arrived in Kampala, was nearly killed quite a few times by buses, taxis and boda bodas, but most importantly… I didn’t vomit.

Wednesday 25 August

To be satisfied with a product isn't enough, only delight will do.

Didn’t do much. Relaxed.

Thursday 26 August

Biogas digester. There should be far more of these.

Just like Asda. But in Uganda.

Went to see a biogas digester (a brilliant idea), went to a supermarket (it was like a ‘normal’ supermarket… which was a bit odd), went to an Indian restaurant. The restaurant itself and the food it served were fantastic.

That's a waterfall (sort of) INSIDE the restaurant, but still outside.

Indian restaurant ambience (15sec shutter speed, so it was darker than this).

Friday 27 August

Bancafe. Miles better than Costa, Caffe Nero, Starbucks et al.

Went to Bancafe and bought a kilo and a half of freshly ground coffee, went to a meeting with Emma in which I contributed sod all (but one bloke had the deepest voice I’ve ever heard), went to the Banana Boat craft shop and then to the craft market. I learnt that the public toilets in the shopping centre did not provide toilet roll, but I had some tissues in my bag, so it wasn’t an issue – could’ve been though.

Saturday 28 August

Just chillin' in the Ugandan sun.

Ate barbecued goat and drank beer.

Sunday 29 August

My first viewing of Avatar was on this. (The grumpy woman was on my right.)

Got on a plane to the UK and sat next to a large old lady on the plane who was very unsociable, so I watched Avatar, which I assume is better in 3D. Arrived back home in Lancashire.

Final thoughts

Without wanting to regurgitate the generic post-Africa trip drivel, I’m afraid I’ve got to be honest (cue post-Africa ponderings). It was an incredible two weeks filled with memorable experiences, ranging for the amusing to the devastating.

I was utterly charmed by the place. I am not generalising or exaggerating when I say that every conversation started with: “Hello, how are you” – followed by a genuine smile. Sometimes, the conversations would even start with: “Hello, I am fine” which sort of rendered my reply useless: “Hello, how are you? Oh yeah you just said.”

Riding in a blue and white taxi (known as a matata – a Swahili word) was a continual near-death experience. As was crossing the road, and walking beside the road, and generally being anywhere near a road.

Does that matter? No.

I can’t realistically compare Uganda to the ‘west’. Geography dictates that Africa and the western world will always be different, and that’s a good thing – just accept each place for its own merits and its faults.

One thing I did wonder about, though, is that Uganda seems to be a politically and socially stable country – but could that change?

For the generation that lived under Idi Amin’s dictatorship, post-Amin life was a relief. They no longer had to live in fear of a volatile leader (although, fighting, killing and kidnapping still occurs more often than it should in the north of the country) – their ‘normal’ lives left them feeling content. Akin to leaving the dentist after having had a filling, ‘normality’ can feel like the best the thing in the world. Without an underlying widespread relative contentment, acting as a societal safety barrier, could future generations inadvertently let the country once again fall into the hands of someone with misguided and immoral political reasoning? Could people start desiring, more and more, what western adverts tell them they want, becoming prone and vulnerable to advertising and marketing campaigns?

I haven’t got a clue. And the above questions could apply to many countries. However, I think it would be a great and irreversible shame if cultures lost sight of what makes their culture theirs, if they lose the identity and individuality.

Clearly, I’ve digressed. So, would I recommend Uganda to you? Without doubt, yes.

Here’s a model of a retarded cow.

A retarded-looking cow (I'm sure the unfortunate appearance was unintentional, though). I miss this cow, which is in Emma's kitchen.

Without wanting to regurgitate the generic post-Africa trip drivel, I’m afraid I’ve got to be honest (cue post-Africa ponderings). It was an incredible two weeks filled with memorable experiences, ranging for the amusing to the devastating. 

I was utterly charmed by the place. I am not generalising or exaggerating when I say that every conversation started with: “Hello, how are you” – followed by a genuine smile. Sometimes, the conversations would even start with: “Hello, I am fine” which sort of rendered my reply useless: “Hello, how are you? Oh yeah you just said.”

Riding in a blue and white taxi (known as a matata – a Swahili word) was a continual near-death experience. As was crossing the road, and walking beside the road, and generally being anywhere near a road.

Does that matter? No.

I can’t realistically compare Uganda and the ‘west’. Geography dictates that Africa and the western world will always be different, and that’s a good thing – just accept each place for its own merits and its faults.

One thing I did wonder about, though, is that Uganda seems to be a politically and socially stable country – but could that change?

For the generation that lived under Idi Amin’s dictatorship, post-Amin life was a relief. They no longer had to live in fear of a volatile leader (although, fighting, killing and kidnapping still occurs more often than it should in the north of the country) – their ‘normal’ lives left them feeling content. Akin to leaving the dentist after having had a filling, ‘normality’ can feel like the best the thing in the world. Without an underlying widespread relative contentment, acting as a societal safety barrier, could future generations inadvertently let the country once again fall into the hands of someone with misguided and immoral political reasoning? Could people start desiring, more and more, what western adverts tell them they want, becoming prone and vulnerable to advertising and marketing campaigns?

I haven’t got a clue. And the above questions could apply to many countries. However, I think it would be a great and irreversible shame if cultures lost sight of what makes their culture theirs, if they lose the identity and individuality.

Clearly, I’ve digressed. So, would I recommend Uganda to you? Without doubt, yes.





Uganda diary: Motorbikes, mountains, and starving orphans

24 10 2010

Life’s most memorable moments are often those that abruptly and impolitely arrive in our lives without invitation or expectation. They sometimes invoke a sensation of the event occurring externally to your life – an out-of-body, surreal experience.

Such experiences range from the trivial, like when I was five and I rode my brand new BMX (first bike without stabilisers) straight into a barbed wire fence, to the more heart-crushing moments, such as family bereavement.

When writing a blog about somewhere like Uganda (or any other African country), it’s hard to avoid the clichés and chunks of information which the reader has already heard and already been told.

I’m telling you that now, because this blog post will probably sound like the generic Africa experience. Not the one where people bounce along bumpy tracks in a zebra-pattern Land Rover Defender on an epically amazingly incredibly culturally phenomenal search for the rare Grey Mountain Charging African Bazooka Rhino. No, my experience was akin to the sombre and heart-wrenching appeals on Children in Need and Comic Relief.

Early morning walk…

Before I explain what the above paragraphs are about, I’ll provide some context. We got up quite early (6:30am) on Sunday 22 August. An hour and some breakfast later, Vianney, Emma and I were on the back of a couple of bodas. We drove to the boda stage in Buhoma, and stopped. Some fuel-filling and boda swapping happened, and, for the first time in Uganda, I had a boda to myself.

Up until that point, I’d only ever shared a boda with Emma. So, the experience of not sandwiching my hand between my back and the rear bar of the bike was a welcome treat. Another luxury with only having two people, rather than three, on a motorbike is that my male bits had some room.

Eventually, we left the boda stage and a few minutes later turned up a wide path (it wasn’t a road). Our convoy of bodas went down steep hills, and up steeper ones. We did unintentional wheelies, lots of wheelspinning, and lots of bouncing over bumps. It was brilliant fun!

…up a mountain

Sadly, the amusing boda journey came to an end when we reached the bottom of a certain path. The purpose of the day was to walk up to a village up in the mountains, and discuss plans to construct a rainwater-retention water tank (the reasons will become clear shortly). We were joined by Milton and a couple of other blokes called Sam and Soul (think that was his name). One was the village chairman, and the other was someone else who did something important.

Milton had warned me and Emma that the walk would be tough. Emma’s dad used to do hill-running, so storming up hills is in Emma’s blood. I ran six miles for charity in March – I hoped this would stand me in good stead.

Just 100 metres into the walk and my aching leg muscles suggested I hadn’t done as much exercise as my rose-tinted glasses had led me to believe. But, thanks to a hefty breathing pattern – consuming most of Bwindi’s oxygen supply – and taking on lots of Uganda’s finest bottled water, I kept pace, and my legs were kind enough not to get any worse.

After 45 minutes of walking, and me doing my best to appear as a hardy – albeit pale – Brit, we stopped for a break in the soft (yet fairly warm) morning sun.

The view was like a child’s drawing, with all the mountains following a uniform triangular shape; like a series of overlapping pyramids, each covered in trees.

It was also at this point that I understood why the village needed a water tank. Their source of water (outside of rainy season) is the river which flows between the mountains, which is where we had walked from. Every day, villagers have to walk down the mountain before each lugging a jerry can back up.

Eventually we got going again. A small girl, probably about four or five, spotted us, and walked with us, then in front of us, then ran off. Here I was, at the age of twenty, sweating every drop of water I was consuming, my leg muscles a-burnin’, with a four year old comfortably whooping my arse up a mountain.

Mobiles on mountains

We made it to the village and were greeted by the locals, with each cheerfully grasping and shaking our hands. Apparently, we were right next to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). So we went for a walk to the border. When we got there, it turned out we weren’t at the border, but we could see it! Somebody pointed somewhere to where it was, and I nodded and said: “oh right” and smiled. But if I’m honest, I didn’t have a clue where it was. I could see trees and mountains, and that was it.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is over there. Dunno where, but it's somewhere over yonder.

Interestingly, and a sign that there is still an unfortunate residue from the two countries’ history together, only the women from the village go to the market across the border. Women shop, men fight – that’s why only women are allowed.

There was a rather bizarre moment as we looked out to the DRC. All those with a mobile phone got them out, and looked at them intently. I didn’t have a clue why, until Vianney pointed at ‘CELTEL DRC’ on his phone – the mobile network from the Congo. Yes, we’d walked up a mountain and here we were looking at network providers.

We were then taken through the village to a meeting area.

Along the way, we passed mud huts, and the children we dressed in mostly worn-out clothes, and too many had small abnormalities, such as growths on their faces, presumably a result of waterborne infections. We were also shown where, during the rainy season, the water is taken from. The picture is below.

Business

Everyone soon got down to business. There were two public meetings, with Milton translating, split up by having a look at the proposed water tank site. I also took on my new job of taking pictures of people, and then showing them their picture (it’s a lovely feeling being able to communicate with people without words).

After the second and final meeting, we said our goodbyes, shook lots of hands, eventually left, and started our journey back. Five minutes later, it came to a sudden heart-wrenching stop.

A sad reality

We approached a mud house with five children sat outside. Milton turned to me and said: “These children have malnutrition.” An impromptu mini-humanitarian aid effort followed.

I gave a bruised and squidgy banana from my bag and gave it to a small girl, who ate it immediately. In my bag were mine, Vianney’s and Emma’s lunches. We took no time in distributing them among the six or seven children (the food comprised bananas, some pineapple, some biscuits, hard-boiled eggs, sandwiches and small cartons of ‘Splash’ juice), and left a large bottle of mineral water with the grandmother.

While we were there, we discovered that the children were from the same family, and were orphans. They were living with their ageing grandmother. It is an unpleasant thing to think, but, with the grandmother looking so old and frail, how much longer will she be around for, and what will happen to those children? A possible answer is that the oldest child will become the head of the family.

No number of hours of charity appeals, be it by the Disasters Emergency Committee or the BBC’s Comic Relief, can have anywhere near the same effect as knowing what it is like to feed a starving orphaned boy a hard-boiled egg.

As unpleasant as it was, I hope I never forget it. Somehow, I don’t think I will.





Uganda diary: An offer for a tea plantation

4 10 2010

In the UK, sometimes someone will offer to buy the next round at the pub, or maybe treat you to a cake from Greggs at lunchtime. Spontaneous mild forms of generosity are common in the UK – when we’re with friends, family or colleagues, us Brits are good at giving each other little treats. In Uganda, I was offered two hectares of a tea plantation.

Whether this was a genuine offer, I doubt I’ll ever know, but it was nice all the same.

A lazy day

Friday 20 August passed by without any real event. Emma and Vianney jumped on the back of a couple of bodas for the day, visiting friends’ families, but I opted to give my brain some time to adapt to the new surroundings and so I just stuck around my new neighbourhood.

Because of this absence of anything of real interest happening, I’ll bullet point my day:

  • Awoke and ate breakfast
  • Emma and Vianney left
  • Did some laundry
  • Went for a walk to find the internet cafe
  • Reached a sign which pointed right, and said “Internet cafe 200m”, so I turned right
  • Got lost
  • Six-year-old Ugandan boy gave me directions
  • Found internet ‘tent’
  • Did some emailing. Realised this was the first time I’d ever been on the internet while surrounded by mountains and rainforest
  • Returned to rest camp
  • Befriended some English people
  • Read Alain de Botton’s Status Anxiety
  • Chatted to Herbie and Rebecca again (Cool Swiss Couple), and Ryan, a South African also driving around Africa. Then sat with English friends until Emma and Vianney arrived back
  • Had spaghetti with Buhoma’s tomato/mixed herb sauce
  • Played ‘Peruvian’ card game and drank beer
  • Slept

Brew and biscuits, Uganda style

After a three-quarter-hour journey along winding, steep and bumpy dirt roads through some of Bwindi’s gentler mountains, at about 10:30am on Saturday 21 August, we arrived at a pleasant little bungalow overlooking a vast area of tea plantation.

The two boda bodas. Three up on one bike - extremely dangerous, but likewise very funny

We were here to meet Sam, the director of Kishegyeri Community HIV/AIDS Awareness School – an incredibly hospitable man, but with a quiet and thoughtful demeanour – who welcomed Emma, Vianney and I into his home.

We were welcomed with some biscuits and some real Ugandan tea. The biscuits were similar to shortbread. They were crumbly, so I did an excellent job in making more of a mess than Sam’s three or four-year-old nephew, Elvis.

The tea was like no other tea I’ve ever had before. It tasted like strong Ugandan water. To me, Ugandan water tastes a bit earthy, a bit like drinking water filtered through soil. Regardless, there’s never a bad time for a brew and some biscuits (NOTE: in Uganda, ‘biscuit’ is pronounced ‘bisskwit’).

‘When you come to Uganda next time, I will give you two hectares

Sam, Sam’s brother, Sam’s brother’s son Elvis, one of Sam’s children, and a nameless man (he had a name, but I didn’t find out what it was) who carried a machete took us for a wander through Sam’s tea plantation.

As we wandered through the tea plants, Sam turned to me and said: “When you come to Uganda next time, I will give you two hectares.” So, if I ever decide to make Adams Tea, I have potential land (I would suggest ‘Adams Family Tea‘ but I donn’t want people to automatically click their fingers when they read or hear about it). I’d want to grow some trees though. And also have some tourist lodges (but not taking up much room – tea takes priority). This would be because whenever I am in Uganda (I’d probably run the business from home for most of the year, because England is, after all, still my home), I would want there to be some fellow travellers around, just to make it a bit more homely. I’d also buy a Land Cruiser.

Eventually, Machete Man led us to Kishegyeri Community HIV/AIDS Awareness School (for reference, it’s in the Kanungu district, very close to the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park).

Since opening in 2007, the school has grown from 50 to 210 pupils, with the aim to raise this number to 400 by 2012. Many of the pupils are orphans who have lost both their parents to AIDS. These children either live with their parents, or the family is headed by the eldest child. Some of the children are HIV positive, and others are from pygmy families. The native pygmies lost their homes after they were evicted from the rainforest when it was designated a national park in 1991.

The children raise money for the school by making jewellery, and carving wooden gorillas, zebras and masks – Sam is the orchestrator of this, and sells it at a shop near to the Buhoma Rest Camp.

Carving a gorilla

Making beads

Paper bead jewellery

A lesson on reality

We were shown how the jewellery is made, and how the gorillas are carved, and then the inevitable singing and dancing followed. Emma and Vianney fully deserved the thanks. I did not. It’s a strange sensation to be sat watching about 20 children – each of them directly affected by HIV/AIDS – dancing for you, seeing in you hope and salvation (you’re white, you’re from Europe, you have money) from the cruel legacy that AIDS leaves behind once it has annihilated families. I was just there as a tourist and to take some jewellery home to sell on their behalf.

Nevertheless, putting the more sombre perspective aside, it was great fun to see so many of the children dancing, singing and clearly enjoying themselves. For one of the final songs, Sam made Emma get up and dance too. I declined. The reason I gave was that I was getting a video of it (which I was), but the real reason was that I’d have looked like an utter pillock. So I left the dancing and singing to those who knew what they were doing.

Three speeches followed. Two by a couple of older lasses (about 17/18), and one by the headboy. Each speech, or ‘message’, was about HIV/AIDS. It soon sunk in how lucky we are to live in a country, in a part of the world, where one of our biggest concerns is the cleanliness of the hospitals on our free national health service.

Saturday was a fun, but likewise humbling day; a day where I encountered, on a personal level, the reality that so many people in Uganda face. Sunday would be far worse.

Uganda diary: An offer for a tea plantation

In the UK, sometimes someone will offer to buy the next round at the pub, or maybe treat you to a cake from Greggs at lunchtime. Spontaneous mild forms of generosity are common in the UK – when we’re with friends, family or colleagues, us Brits are good at giving each other little treats. In Uganda, I was offered two hectares of a tea plantation.

Whether this was a genuine offer, I doubt I’ll ever know, but it was nice all the same.

A lazy day

Friday 20 August passed by without any real event. Emma and Vianney jumped on the back of a couple of bodas for the day, visiting friends’ families, but I opted to give my brain some time to adapt to the new surroundings and so I just stuck around my new neighbourhood.

Because of this absence of anything of real interest happening, I’ll bullet point my day:

Awoke and ate breakfast

Emma and Vianney left

Did some laundry

Went for a walk to find the internet cafe

Reached a sign which pointed right, and said “Internet cafe 200m”, so I turned right

Got lost

Six-year-old Ugandan boy gave me directions

Found internet ‘tent’

Did some emailing. Realised this was the first time I’d ever been on the internet while surrounded by mountains and rainforest

Returned to rest camp

Befriended some English people

Read Alain de Botton’s Status Anxiety

Chatted to Herbie and Rebecca again (Cool Swiss Couple), and Ryan, a South African also driving around Africa. Then sat with English friends until Emma and Vianney arrived back

Had spaghetti with Buhoma’s tomato/mixed herb sauce

Played ‘Peruvian’ card game and drank beer

Slept

Brew and biscuits, Uganda style

After a three-quarter-hour journey along winding, steep and bumpy dirt roads through some of Bwindi’s gentler mountains, at about 10:30am on Saturday 21 August, we arrived at a pleasant little bungalow overlooking a vast area of tea plantation.

We were here to meet Sam, the director of Kishegyeri Community HIV/AIDS Awareness School – an incredibly hospitable man, but with a quiet and thoughtful demeanour – who welcomed Emma, Vianney and I into his home.

We were welcomed with some biscuits and some real Ugandan tea. The biscuits were similar to shortbread. They were crumbly, so I did an excellent job in making more of a mess than Sam’s three or four-year-old nephew, Elvis.

The tea was like no other tea I’ve ever had before. It tasted like strong Ugandan water. To me, Ugandan water tastes a bit earthy, a bit like drinking water filtered through soil. Regardless, there’s never a bad time for a brew and some biscuits (NOTE: in Uganda, ‘biscuit’ is pronounced ‘bisskwit’).

‘If you come to Uganda, I’ll give you two hectares’

Sam, Sam’s brother, Sam’s brother’s son Elvis, one of Sam’s children, and a nameless man (he had a name, but I didn’t find out what it was) who carried a machete took us for a wander through Sam’s tea plantation.

As we wandered through the tea plants, Sam turned to me and said: “When you come to Uganda next time, I will give you two hectares.” So, if I ever decide to make Adams Tea, I have potential land. I’d want to grow some trees though. And also have some tourist lodges (but not taking up much room – tea takes priority). This would be because whenever I am in Uganda (I’d probably run the business from home for most of the year, because England is, after all, still my home), I would want there to be some fellow travellers around, just to make it a bit more homely. I’d also buy a Land Cruiser.

Eventually, Machete Man led us to Kishegyeri Community HIV/AIDS Awareness School (for reference, it’s in the Kanungu district, very close to the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park).

Since opening in 2007, the school has grown from 50 to 210 pupils, with the aim to raise this number to 400 by 2012. Many of the pupils are orphans who have lost both their parents to AIDS. These children either live with their parents, or the family is headed by the eldest child. Some of the children are HIV positive, and others are from pygmy families. The native pygmies lost their homes after they were evicted from the rainforest when it was designated a national park in 1991.

The children raise money for the school by making jewellery, and carving wooden gorillas, zebras and masks – Sam is the orchestrator of this, and sells it at a shop near to the Buhoma Rest Camp.

We were shown how the jewellery is made, and how the gorillas are carved, and then the inevitable singing and dancing followed. Emma and Vianney fully deserved the thanks. I did not. It’s a strange sensation to be sat watching about 20 children – each of them directly affected by HIV/AIDS – dancing for you, seeing in you hope and salvation (you’re white, you’re from Europe, you have money) from the cruel legacy that AIDS leaves behind once it has annihilated families. I was just there as a tourist and to take some jewellery home to sell on their behalf.

Nevertheless, putting the more sombre perspective aside, it was great fun to see so many of the children dancing, singing and clearly enjoying themselves. For one of the fi

Uganda diary: An offer for a tea plantation

In the UK, sometimes someone will offer to buy the next round at the pub, or maybe treat you to a cake from Greggs at lunchtime. Spontaneous mild forms of generosity are common in the UK – when we’re with friends, family or colleagues, us Brits are good at giving each other little treats. In Uganda, I was offered two hectares of a tea plantation.

Whether this was a genuine offer, I doubt I’ll ever know, but it was nice all the same.

A lazy day

Friday 20 August passed by without any real event. Emma and Vianney jumped on the back of a couple of bodas for the day, visiting friends’ families, but I opted to give my brain some time to adapt to the new surroundings and so I just stuck around my new neighbourhood.

Because of this absence of anything of real interest happening, I’ll bullet point my day:

Awoke and ate breakfast

Emma and Vianney left

Did some laundry

Went for a walk to find the internet cafe

Reached a sign which pointed right, and said “Internet cafe 200m”, so I turned right

Got lost

Six-year-old Ugandan boy gave me directions

Found internet ‘tent’

Did some emailing. Realised this was the first time I’d ever been on the internet while surrounded by mountains and rainforest

Returned to rest camp

Befriended some English people

Read Alain de Botton’s Status Anxiety

Chatted to Herbie and Rebecca again (Cool Swiss Couple), and Ryan, a South African also driving around Africa. Then sat with English friends until Emma and Vianney arrived back

Had spaghetti with Buhoma’s tomato/mixed herb sauce

Played ‘Peruvian’ card game and drank beer

Slept

Brew and biscuits, Uganda style

After a three-quarter-hour journey along winding, steep and bumpy dirt roads through some of Bwindi’s gentler mountains, at about 10:30am on Saturday 21 August, we arrived at a pleasant little bungalow overlooking a vast area of tea plantation.

We were here to meet Sam, the director of Kishegyeri Community HIV/AIDS Awareness School – an incredibly hospitable man, but with a quiet and thoughtful demeanour – who welcomed Emma, Vianney and I into his home.

We were welcomed with some biscuits and some real Ugandan tea. The biscuits were similar to shortbread. They were crumbly, so I did an excellent job in making more of a mess than Sam’s three or four-year-old nephew, Elvis.

The tea was like no other tea I’ve ever had before. It tasted like strong Ugandan water. To me, Ugandan water tastes a bit earthy, a bit like drinking water filtered through soil. Regardless, there’s never a bad time for a brew and some biscuits (NOTE: in Uganda, ‘biscuit’ is pronounced ‘bisskwit’).

‘If you come to Uganda, I’ll give you two hectares’

Sam, Sam’s brother, Sam’s brother’s son Elvis, one of Sam’s children, and a nameless man (he had a name, but I didn’t find out what it was) who carried a machete took us for a wander through Sam’s tea plantation.

As we wandered through the tea plants, Sam turned to me and said: “When you come to Uganda next time, I will give you two hectares.” So, if I ever decide to make Adams Tea, I have potential land. I’d want to grow some trees though. And also have some tourist lodges (but not taking up much room – tea takes priority). This would be because whenever I am in Uganda (I’d probably run the business from home for most of the year, because England is, after all, still my home), I would want there to be some fellow travellers around, just to make it a bit more homely. I’d also buy a Land Cruiser.

Eventually, Machete Man led us to Kishegyeri Community HIV/AIDS Awareness School (for reference, it’s in the Kanungu district, very close to the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park).

Since opening in 2007, the school has grown from 50 to 210 pupils, with the aim to raise this number to 400 by 2012. Many of the pupils are orphans who have lost both their parents to AIDS. These children either live with their parents, or the family is headed by the eldest child. Some of the children are HIV positive, and others are from pygmy families. The native pygmies lost their homes after they were evicted from the rainforest when it was designated a national park in 1991.

The children raise money for the school by making jewellery, and carving wooden gorillas, zebras and masks – Sam is the orchestrator of this, and sells it at a shop near to the Buhoma Rest Camp.

We were shown how the jewellery is made, and how the gorillas are carved, and then the inevitable singing and dancing followed. Emma and Vianney fully deserved the thanks. I did not. It’s a strange sensation to be sat watching about 20 children – each of them directly affected by HIV/AIDS – dancing for you, seeing in you hope and salvation (you’re white, you’re from Europe, you have money) from the cruel legacy that AIDS leaves behind once it has annihilated families. I was just there as a tourist and to take some jewellery home to sell on their behalf.

Nevertheless, putting the more sombre perspective aside, it was great fun to see so many of the children dancing, singing and clearly enjoying themselves. For one of the final songs, Sam made Emma get up and dance too. I declined. The reason I gave was that I was getting a video of it (which I was), but the real reason was that I’d have looked like an utter pillock. So I left the dancing and singing to those who knew what they were doing.

Three speeches followed. Two by a couple of older lasses (about 17/18), and one by the headboy. Each speech, or ‘message’, was about HIV/AIDS. It soon sunk in how lucky we are to live in a country, in a part of the world, where one of our biggest concerns is the cleanliness of the hospitals on our free national health service.

Saturday was a fun, but likewise humbling day; a day where I encountered, on a personal level, the reality that so many people in Uganda face. Sunday would be far worse.

nal songs, Sam made Emma get up and dance too. I declined. The reason I gave was that I was getting a video of it (which I was), but the real reason was that I’d have looked like an utter pillock. So I left the dancing and singing to those who knew what they were doing.

Three speeches followed. Two by a couple of older lasses (about 17/18), and one by the headboy. Each speech, or ‘message’, was about HIV/AIDS. It soon sunk in how lucky we are to live in a country, in a part of the world, where one of our biggest concerns is the cleanliness of the hospitals on our free national health service.

Saturday was a fun, but likewise humbling day; a day where I encountered, on a personal level, the reality that so many people in Uganda face. Sunday would be far worse.





Uganda diary: Back to school

28 09 2010

On Thursday 19 August, I saw Buhoma Community Rest Camp for the first time without  being beneath the veil of darkness, dust and vomit from the night before. It was morning, the sun was rising from behind the mountains and, bloody hell, it was magnificently beautiful.

The ‘Bar & Restaurant’ was… hard to describe, so just look at the pictures below. Breakfast comprised toast, fruit, an omelette and tea. My first immediate observation was that the pineapple was very tasty and juicy.

After breakfast Moses arrived with his motorbike-pick-up-thingymajig. Thankfully, this time I was hydrated, it was daytime, and I felt well.

About 15 minutes later, we arrived at the Buhoma Vulnerable Children’s School (I wasn’t sick). The school has 82 pupils (mostly primary school age I think), about 15 of which were orphans because they’d lost their parents to AIDS.

How to make a stove using ash and cow poo

The main reason for our visit (well, Emma and Vianney’s – my only role was to be a tourist and to take pictures) was to get the ball rolling for building a water tank, and to see a new stove being built.

The stove started life as mud, cow faeces, ash and, I think, some wood shavings. From these materials cement was made and, using handmade bricks, by the end of the day the school had a new stove (the new stove will save the school quite a lot of money when buying wood).

The resourcefulness and ability which were shown throughout the build reminded me how little I know about what’s around me. I feel proud when I manage to hang a picture frame on the wall. Could I even have thought about building a stove from materials within an acre of where I was stood? No chance.

Water bottle bricks, stoves, and posha

The other reason for our presence (well, again, Emma and Vianney’s presence – I just happened to be there) was to get water tank preparation on its way. The special thing about this water tank, though, is that it will be built with water bottles, rather than bricks.

By firmly packing them with dry soil, empty bottles become a suitable alternative to expensive bricks. As there is no recycling in the area (or indeed Uganda), but bottled-water-drinking tourists aplenty, the idea makes financial and ecological sense. (Water bottle brick fact: When full, a 500ml bottle weighs about a kilo.)

At about 2 o’ clock – about half an hour after we’d eaten our packed lunches – some ladies appeared from a room carrying bowls of food. Seems we were in for a second round of lunch.

I opted for a plantain, chicken, posha, beef, rice, avocado, and a couple of sauces. Despite looking slightly odd on the picture, it was a surprisingly nice meal. Also, if anyone says they don’t like posha (the stuff that looks deceivingly like mashed potato), they’re lying – it tastes of nothing, so it’s impossible to either like or dislike.

A cool Swiss couple

After getting back to the Rest Camp, and while the other two showered and did some reading, I decided to sit down at the bar, and found myself befriending a Swiss couple.

Herbie (cool name) and Rebecca were touring around Africa in a second-hand Land Cruiser (four litre diesel V8 – I asked). They’d arrived in South Africa (I think in Cape Town) at the beginning of April. By the end of April, they’d bought their car, fitted it with all the right gear, and then set off. They were cool, don’t argue.

In April 2011, they’ll return home.

The Sauce

After my long natter with the cool Swiss couple, it was tea time. Chicken, rice and two sauces found their way onto my plate. One was a brown nut sauce (was very nice ), the other was The Sauce…

With this particular meal it was called ‘mixed herb sauce’ – but, strangely, we were sure we’d had it the previous night with the spaghetti, but then it was called ‘tomato sauce’. This sauce would continue to haunt our meals for the rest of our stay under the pseudonyms tomato sauce, mixed herb sauce, and just sauce.

The Sauce