Monday, May 28, 2012

10 Days in Uganda

I must say, Uganda us a really nice country, lots of greenery, great roads (compared to the majority of South Sudan) affordable accommodation, great wildlife, awesome people and a hugely inflated currency which means you can be a millionaire for the small price of around 410 US Dollars. Also before I get started, on the subject of the arrest I mentioned in the last blog it is true. I know I did kind of cry wolf on April fool's day but I assure you this time it is true. Without further ado, the round up of our time in Uganda....

On Thursday the 17th of May we arrived in Entebbe, Uganda after a 2-3 hr flight from the tiny Yei airstrip via MAF, A missions-based flight agency. The plane was a little 12- seater and fortunately there nwas very little turbulence. On the way we stopped off in Nimule in South Sudan to drop off another passenger and got a view of a couple of Anti-Air guns and a machine gun, setup next to the runway. Immigration was super smooth and we found our driver who was to take us to the Kingfisher Resort in Jinja after only a few minutes wait. The drive was about 3 and a half hours, quite a bit longer than expected but short enough to be bearable. We arrived at the Kingfisher resort at about 6:30 pm and had an hour long wait for our food. The place was amazing. A large-sized simming pool, awesomely designed rooms with 6-8 layers of thatching for the roofs and great location on the shores of Lake Victoria (you don't swim in lakes in Africa unless you want bilhazia or to be a Hippo/Croc's dinner). The NZ director of Pioneers was there already with some lollies, etc. that people from our church in NZ sent us (Thanks guys!) mmmm pineapple lumps. The next day was super chill with only a few of us plus the enormous Perry family who have 10 kids (some of which are adopted, including their recently adopted twin boys from South Sudan). The kids practically attacked me in the pool and didn't stop asking me to throw them into the pool and the like for about an hour. 

Lunch Break, ugali and meat for lunch today. Seems there's been an explosion in Nairobi City with injuries and possibly dead. Hope our friends are ok there.

Anyway, on Saturday the rest of the kiwi contingent arrived from Nairobi. Not long after they arrived mum and I went with Lisa and Greg Bowman (who also work for Across, but in Nairobi) to a backpackers called Nile River Camp, we were expecting something pretty scungy but found that the place was beautiful, with awesome views, great pricing for both accommodation and food and also had flush toilets :). The reason we left the resort to go here was to cut costs for the white water rafting we did on the following day. That evening there was a large group of people watching the champions league final at the camp bar/restaurant, an epic game I might add. The day started fairly early with about a 7 o clock rise, with a short trip to the main base and rolex for breakfast, short for rolled eggs, you can buy it in South Sudan also. Its basically an omelette wrapped inside a chapati and is very good. We left to go out onto the water around 8:30am and after an hour so drive we arrived at the launch point where we learnt the calls, etc. necessary for the day. We started down the first rapid around 10 am which was a rather large one. Had we paddled harder we could have gone over a waterfall but our group was too weak. One thing that was awesome was that we had a kiwi instructor with us so we could have some good chats with him about all sorts to do with NZ. There were ten of us in the raft and effectively half of us were kiwi (Lisa is an American turned Kiwi because she married Greg haha). Before lunch we did 4 rapids and afterwards we did 3, finishing with a raft flip. Lunch was good and we all downed it pretty fast. The first rapid after lunch was basically the tail end of a grade 6, which means you basically dont raft it unless you are a legend. We finished the day around 3-4ish with an epic flip of the raft on the last rapid called the nile special (I will put some photos up later) and floated down stream sucking in a bit of the nile before climbing back in the rafting and making it to the end. Followed by some cold drinks and a long trip back to the main base in the pouring rain. We all played some cards in the evening along with a young instructor from England who is in Uganda working for a year, he made us a pretty cool video of the rafting, which he had filmed, and included for us a ton of photos.

On Monday we arrived back at the resort to a warm welcome from the kids, I met quite a few cool other missionaries and it was good to talk to a few that were close to my age and hear what they are doing in different countries in East Africa such as South Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and even from South Africa (not really East Africa). One girl (who was probably closest in age to me) is from Oz and is working in a pretty remote part of Uganda with veterinary stuff. For those who are interested her blog is here It's worth a look. Actually before I say more, the reason we were in Uganda in the first place was for this conference. It was a meet up that happens every 2 years for all the Pioneers workers in East Africa. Fortunately I timed it right to come this year and be a part of it. Throughout the weekend there was a bit of banter between the Kiwis, Australians, Americans and Brits which was actually refreshing. Every day started with worship and we had training on every day in the slot before lunch, often with free time in the afternoon. On Wednesday we had pizza for dinner which was so great we all probably ate too much. On Thursday we took a boat ride on Lake Victoria and down the source of the nile looking at wildlife, etc. which was super mellow. The last 3 nights (Wed. Thur, Fri) were full of games of mafia with some of the others which was great, despite a lack of success. On Friday we went into Jinja town and did a bit of touristy shopping, I was told by some shop owners I was very stubborn, that amused me.I bought a couple of shirts and some souvenirs for those of you funding me back home and for some mates.

On firday I also had a talk with some of the senior Pioneers staff and Across staff about the situation with funding and its consequences. The problem is that if we don't get funding then Fly Sports will be shut down which will actually mean that Manny has to return to England with his wife, Grace and daughter Naomi. for what will probably be year beginning around August. This will mean I will be without my one mentor for the last 3 or so months of my tenure. We discussed what I will do and it looks like I will get involved with teaching guitar at YTTC. I also might get involved with scripture union, but Im not the most excited about doing so. Finally I will probably get involved with helping the Perry family run the hospital up the road from Across and be involved with the business side of things which I would love to do and am really looking forward to discussing with Jeff. All in all it is going to mean a lot of self-motivation and imagination to decide for myself what will occupy my days (as I coach in the evenings). This topic is actually something I would appreciate prayer for as it is weighing on me a bit at the moment.

(Back to Uganda)
On Saturday there were many goodbyes as usual and was probably the least enjoyable day because we all have to go back to reality. Not only that but we travelled for 10 hours in the car from Jinja to the border town of Arua in the north. Here we stayed the night at the YWAM base and then left for Yei the following morning after a brief stop at the Arua supermarket where I bought the most enormous block of Gouda cheese to take back to Yei, seeing as you can't get cheese in Yei. After about 4-5 hours of driving we arrived back in Yei for a birthday barbecue dinner for one of the young kids on the compound, a nice way to end a day of travelling. Now we reach today. I've been meaning to go into town to buy a few essentials but have been bogged down so far by the need to blog out my life from the past month and the inability to have use of a car until only the last hour or so. Blog done, finally. I hope this makes for good reading and sorry if the grammar, etc. doesn't make sense, I'm too lazy to proofread and speaking African English kind of harms your English skills a bit.

Until the next time I can be bothered to put in the effort needed for blog.
Stay well and God Bless.

Snakes, Warheads and Secret Service

I have so much to write that Im gonna first off start by saying Im going to split it into two entries, I know the last entry was scary big so this time I promise to make it shorter by splitting it into two :).

Dates: April 26th - May 16th
So as I wrote in my last blog about this boy Peter I thought I would give an update. Nothing happened. I tried to call him and got some answer in Arabic then when Manny and \I tried to call again it said the phone  number didnt exist or something like that, we tried several times to no avail and have not heard from him or seen him. However since this boy is from Manny's tribe he is going to try to find out for me in the next week or so.

Manny left the following day (27th of April) to pick up his wife and daughter from Juba and on Saturday mum left for Midigo (if that's how you spell it) with the principal of the Yei Teacher Training College shes working for. As it is his home town and he wanted to show it to mum. That left me pretty much alone for the weekend including for the preaching I did in Manny's church which I thought went quite well despite some inadequate translation skills at times and required help from the congregation and visitors to get it right. They both arrived back safely that evening.

The following day (Monday) is also noteworthy as I splashed out and bought a blender. The mangoes here were so plentiful at the time and a lot of fruit so cheap that it made sense to me at least to use them for juice (I was sick of eating them by then). The instruction booklet was clearly confused as it told me to not use the machine for more than 4 minutes, but then on the next line down said, if you need to use it for more than 4 minutes then do so please. And yes it did even say please.

On wednesday that week we had a power outage which lasted about 48 hours after a tree fell onto the single power cable that brings power from the power pole into the Across compound. This meant most of the contents in my fridge were beyond saving by the time it came back on.

The next day was the beginning of training a new bunch of kids. You see since there are so many football teams in Yei, and so few grounds to train on, it's impossible to be exclusive and train only your team (especially when the Across field is out of action for almost the rest of the year while it's being graded). So unfortunately I am no longer able to train my team only. Since I came to Africa to use sport to help the kids, etc. It was definitely time to start coaching again. The first day drew 70 kids, mostly internally displaced kids from the area of Bentiu which has been attacked by the North (as it's on the border between Sudan and South Sudan). Training them was pretty difficult but Ruman and I managed, along with the help of a local guy. We did our second training on the following Monday with fewer participants fortunately, this time with more like 40 or so. I ran them hard and made them do a ton of pushups, etc. because they quite frankly suck at them. Another thing that surprised me was how poor their juggling skills were, many of them would be outshined even by my mum at the skill. Scary stuff.
Before I explain the title of this blog there is about one more thing worth mentioning and that is our umpteenth application for funding. However this time I feel more hopeful about its success as we did one jointly with YTTC to a donor called Comic Relief who give away a TON of money each year to organisations like us. South Sudan is high on their priority list as well and seeing as Across has been in South Sudan for 40 years and employs mainly South Sudanese, we feel we have a great chance of at least making the short list (which is drawn in about one or 2 weeks). YTTC have some massive development plans for the community and a lot of the goals, etc. fit perfectly with Fly Sport's.

Ok, so now to explain the title. Firstly its about the time of the year (the wet season) where you get snakes. South Sudan has many very friendly snakes such as Black Mambas and Cobras who really have that desire to get to know you, up close and personal. One such snake took such a liking to one of the workers here that it visited her twice, in the long drop. You see this lady who lives near me in the Across compound had been visiting the loo in the morning and opened the door to have a snake drop on her head. She wasn't sure whether it was a Mamba but she managed to avoid getting bitten. Only a few days later in the early morning (when there is little light) did she notice the snake yet again this time with his head raised ready to strike. Fortunately again she managed to avoid getting bitten and managed to get away without harm. Thanks be to God. So every time I visit the loo its a 20 second search up, down and around for another friendly fellow. Remember that the next time you visit the loo.

Now warheads. Around Across there has been a lot of construction and maintenance going on, a new classroom block 3 storeys high (the Yei equlivalent of the empire state building), the re-levelling of the football grounds and also the construction of a new dorm for the female students at the college. It was from the latter of these that an explosive present was found. I got a phone call from mum telling me to come have a look at the RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) they had dug up during construction of the dorms. It looked like a large metal corn cob and was live ammunition. Not sure how it was disposed of but the guy who found it just casually picked it up and walked off with it after we were down looking at it and taking photos, some of which I will upload to my blog next time I have use of our laptop.

Lastly..... Between the beginning date mentioned in this blog and now we have had a couple of public holidays meaning days off work. The first of which was great and the second of which was nuts. This is where the secret service comes in. The second holiday, and last day featured in this blog was SPLM day, celebrating the liberation of Yei in the years past from the Khartoum government (Sudan). Everyone goes dressed in their best and the college band perform in Freedom square, where the celebrations are, dressed in their bright regalia. I had gone for a 7 mile run (just to slip that in there :P) in the morning and couldn't be bothered going into town, I was very happy to just sit on the computer for the day. Mum had planned to go into town with a workmate/neighbour/friend to see the festivities but had forgotten she had a planned skype session. So they agreed she would meet up with her there. So after finishing the skype session mum went into town to watch the happenings and goings-on. It was all in Arabic and fortunately a lady was kind and translated for her, a lady who, as it turned out, was the sister of the cook for YTTC whom mum is friendly with. Before long mum receievd a tap on the shoulder, the sort of thing you learn to ignore as its usually someone wanting money. The hand tapped again. Mum turned around and asked what he wanted. He motioned for her to go over to him as he was standing out in the sun. Mum politely replied by asking whether they could just talked in the shade. The man looked irritated and started making a call on his phone. The lady who had been translating for mum and Mr. "X" started having a heated conversation and she started to looked very distressed as she began to hurry away. A few people in the crowd talked to her and she came back looking upset. Mum asked what the matter was and she replied that the man was going to arrest them (turns out he was secret service). Moments later some guys in army/police uniform came and told them to come with them. They were taken to a holding cell at one end of freedom square and were basically interrogated, being asked who they were, what they were doing here, who they were working for, etc. etc. During their arrest mum had managed to call someone from YTTC and tell them they were being arrested. Mum explained that she was working for YTTC at Across, during this point the expression on the guy who accosted mum changed as he realised he'd made a huge screw up. Meanwhile mum's phone had rung 4 times and they wouldn't answer it, despite mum explaining that it would be someone from YTTC calling. They eventually turned it off. Anyway, the reason mum was arrested was that apparently she was suspicious. And get this, they claimed she was calling England with information. As if even communicating PUBLIC information was ever a crime. And to England??? What interest would England have in the celebration of a comparatively miniscule town in South Sudan (and as if it was worth explaining we are from NZ which is literally the other side of the world from Enlgand). They told her she should have been seated in the guests area. Which mum explained she had not be invited to and as if she was going to push through a huge crowd saying, "Make way for the more important white person!", when she arrived late. They even later changed the story to say that she had been inside the guest area and gotten out to take photos, none of which happened as her phone is so basic it doesn't even have a camera. Fortunately the band leader arrived and sorted out the mess, but hilariously they arrested him also and accused him of being a spy despite having just led the YTTC band moments earlier! It truly was ludicrous and mum was shaken a bit by the whole thing. The other lady who had been translating for her was very shaken and if mum had not stuck up for her who knows what would have happened. It's unlikely the poor woman will ever want to help a Westerner again, and I wouldn't blame her. Apparently this sort of thing had been going on all day and people had been arrested for doing nothing really. One lady had urinated in the corner out of fright and another guy was made to go home naked after they took his clothes of him. It really is sick that they will do this to their own people. It just shows how high the tention is from the conflict with the north.
In Juba a week or so earlier a female teacher had been shot dead by a soldier as she got out of her car. The reason being? She had moved while the South Sudanese flag was being raised. It's desperately sad that customs cn take precedence over a human life. Some things have just REALLY got to change.

That's all for this blog entry, the next one which I will enter in a moment will be mainly about our time in Uganda.

Peace be with you and God Bless,