Africa's 2nd best town

Africa’s 2nd best town

I spent the last week in Arua ( Africa’s second best town ) delivering training on Performance Management : how to use Excel; working a management information system; helping Arua Technical Institute start developing their strategic plan.

Elephants Crossing the Road

Elephants Crossing the Road

Our drive there was made more enjoyable by seeing 2 elephants crossing the road in front of us on the main Kampala – Arua road. Where else in the world do you regularly see elephants crossing by the side of the road as you are going past?

The Bongo Traders minibus at 7am on its way to Gulu

The Bongo Traders minibus at 7am on its way to Gulu

The training was all quite intensive especially the session on data management, some of the participants don’t have access to computers, their Excel skills were rusty and everybody had different versions on their computer.

New mechanical engineering block - funded by S Korean Govt

New mechanical engineering block – funded by S Korean Govt

As ever the Principals and instructors in West Nile enjoy detailed discussions and we veered off at one point into a discussion on why there were more student strikes in secondary schools than technical colleges. Strikes are a common feature in Uganda and can be very violent, attacking teachers ‘chasing them away’ and damaging property (usually the student dormitories or administration blocks ). One theory was that, in technical colleges there was a closer connection between staff and students, but we could have gone on all day!

The new crèche at Arua TI a legacy of YDP

The new crèche at Arua TI a legacy of YDP

On our programme there have been, to my knowledge, several strikes about food /lack of and poor quality, there is always the worry that if food is not produced the students will riot.

As ever the feedback from the training was that participants wanted more time, that more people should get the training. This is tricky, our programme is coming to an end, but the wider point is that staff in technical institutes (these are from public schools where it is a requirement to be teacher trained) do need a lot of capacity building and our intervention has only scratched the surface .

Pool at White Castle Hotel

Pool at White Castle Hotel

It wasn’t all work . Winnie and I managed to get to the pool at a local hotel for a couple of hours on our last day and she enjoyed practicing her swimming.

Christopher and me at the pork joint

Christopher and me at the pork joint

We also went out to a pork joint with our colleagues. Arua is noted for its pork and it’s a tradition that when we go there we have to visit at least one.

The swimming hole on the golf course

The swimming hole on the golf course

I enjoyed some early morning walks around the old golf course which is now used as a green space for football games in the evening and a swimming place for the local kids.

Morning rush hour in Arua

Morning rush hour in Arua

Arua is really developing there has been a lot of work on the roads in the two years I have been coming, buildings going up all over the place although a number of older buildings remain, I presume from the colonial era. The hotel we stay at, Desert Breeze, is a large 4 storey building always full during the week with people from NGOs, missionaries and government departments visiting for work . We arrive on a Monday and then depart back to Kampala or Gulu on a Friday.

Desert Breeze hotel - there's no desert

Desert Breeze hotel – there’s no desert

A lizard watches us packing up

A lizard watches us packing up

Some people can travel light, metaphorically and practically, carry on luggage and no more. We have never found this easy, always right up to our luggage limit. We leave here in six weeks, sadly, and are trying to work out what we can fit in our two allowed bags to take home. 2 x 23 kg each, but how heavy are memories? And do they have to be linked to things?

The new two storey house going up

The new two storey house going up

Gulu has changed greatly in the last two and a half years; new building everywhere, especially around us in Kirombe, a sub county headquarters being built behind us, a two storey home (one of very few, but no doubt there will be more) in front. There are even traffic jams.

The Kampala Road, Gulu

The Kampala Road, Gulu

When we arrived nearly all four wheeled vehicles belonged to NGOs, they have gone, mostly, and the place is full of every type of vehicles, new roads are being laid down everywhere too, this is what development looks like.

Musical Chairs?

Musical Chairs?

Mary is planning an afternoon tea party to say goodbye to colleagues and their children. We held one about a year ago, lots of baffled children dutifully playing musical chairs. This time there will be no jelly, met with complete incomprehension last time and we were left with armfuls of sticky deliquescent goo. More cake instead, Mary’s cakes go down very well indeed.

The untouched jelly

The untouched jelly

What to take back? When we were packing up our house to come out to Uganda we had the problem of the stones: pebbles and so on that we had collected over the years, touchstones you might say. I remember back in the UK, a friend with small children saying that the problem with family walks was the pockets full of stones his children gave him to collect; it is an age old habit.

Touchstones

Touchstones

We have collected many more here, including obsidian from Kenya, rounded quartz from Lake Victoria, innumerable interesting seed pods, a bent two handled silver plated mug with a Uganda crest found on the shores of the Victoria Nile in Murchison Falls National Park, an ugly object but redolent of…something anyway. So, a good couple of kilograms of stuff that will only gather dust on a mantelpiece, as we do the same in cold wet England.

Our compound two years ago

Our compound two years ago

Maybe carting this collection back will halt our decline, or maybe in a few years time I will look at a lump of forgotten rock and think: why? Difficult decisions ahead. But we have to leave anyway, down to our last pot of Marmite, some forms of memory are impossible to shift, as will I hope, be our memories of time spent here.

Our Compound now

Our compound now

 

 

The Big Trip: towards Kilimanjaro

The Big Trip: towards Kilimanjaro

We’re back from an international trip. We drove from Uganda through Kenya to Tanzania.

The Big Trip: Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania

The Big Trip: Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania

That meant:

2 x new front springs

1 x front shock absorber mountings

5 x rear shock absorbers (2 Japanese replacements fitted in Gulu some months ago/ 1 x hybrid bodged up by the mechanic to a medical advisory NGO in the centre of the Serengeti (some frightening welding action).

The Big Trip: Welding Action in the Serenegeti

The Big Trip: Welding Action in the Serengeti

He joined our own shock absorber onto one he happened to have lying around somewhere, sadly neither worked and led to an alarming 130 kilometre crawl across the Serengeti plain/ 2 x Chinese shock absorbers fitted in a camp just outside the Serengeti.

The Big Trip: Replacing the Replacement outside the Serengeti

The Big Trip: Replacing the Replacement outside the Serengeti

Plus the 2 new Japanese ones and two new front wheel bearings and various new oil seals fitted on our return to Kampala.

Plus sundry other visits to roadside mechanics to stop the vehicle misfiring/ leaking/ dying.

The Big Trip: oil seals in Kericho

The Big Trip: oil seals in Kericho

Really, the Cherangani Hills (North Western Kenya), The Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti (Tanzania) are not suitable for little cars. You need the Landcruisers and Safari vehicles we saw everywhere once past Arusha. A big tourist industry, so unlike the smaller, quieter Uganda that we are used to. Uganda is small, on this trip we just began to get a glimpse of the size of this continent.

The Big Trip: the Ngorongoro Crater

The Big Trip: the Ngorongoro Crater

Plus the opportunity to meet many, many policemen:

“Good morning Madame, you have committed an offence. You are overloaded”

Pause for laughter as we all watched a matatu stagger past weighed down by a three piece suite, bags of maize, goats etc.

“But Madame, it is because we love you that we do not want you to become injured. You have committed an offence and you must pay me”

Plus many opportunities whilst camping to include the mandatory photographs of cooking tomato sauce in front of extraordinary views.

The Big Trip: tomato sauce at Lake Naivasha

The Big Trip: tomato sauce at Lake Naivasha

Elephants in camp,

The Big Trip: Elephant in the camp above Ngorongoro Crater

The Big Trip: Elephant in the camp above Ngorongoro Crater

Hornbills attacking their reflections in the car mirrors at Lake Baringo etc.

The Big Trip: Hornbills at Lake Boringo

The Big Trip: Hornbills at Lake Baringo

Plus game drives of course. Flamingos and hot springs at Lake Bogoria,

The Big Trip: Flamingos at Lake Bogoria

The Big Trip: Flamingos at Lake Bogoria

one of many lakes that has risen noticeably in the last couple of years

The Big Trip: Flamingos at Lake Bogoria 2

The Big Trip: Flamingos at Lake Bogoria 2

dead trees in the water became familiar.

The Big Trip: drowned shore at Lake Boringo

The Big Trip: drowned shore at Lake Baringo

The most spectacular game setting was the Ngorongoro Crater,

The Big Trip: above the Ngorongoro Crater

The Big Trip: above the Ngorongoro Crater

ostriches for the first time, a pride of lions resting – do they do anything else?

The Big Trip: a pride at Ngorongoro Crater

The Big Trip: a pride at Ngorongoro Crater

Wildebeest being menaced by Hyenas.

The Big Trip: Wildebeest, Hyena and Ostrich in the Ngorongoro Crater

The Big Trip: Wildebeest, Hyena and Ostrich in the Ngorongoro Crater

In the Serengeti the Wildebeest were massing for the Great Migration, huge herds hanging around, tapping their hooves, wanting to know how much longer they had to wait “But I want to go now”.

The Big Trip: Wildebeest

The Big Trip: Wildebeest

Plus, as we travelled up the Great Rift Valley, a chance to visit Oldupai, where mankind began.

The Big Trip: Oldupai Gorge 1

The Big Trip: Oldupai Gorge 1

The Gorge where Mary Leakey found the first evidence of early hominids.

The Big Trip: Oldupai Gorge 2 Archaeologists at work

The Big Trip: Oldupai Gorge 2 Archaeologists at work

Plus a chance to see some genuine approaches to climate change in Kenya, from an innovative use of plastic bottles as fencing,

The Big Trip: bottle fence in Kenya

The Big Trip: bottle fence in Kenya

through to a Bio Mass power station that is using invasive foreign trees (Prosopsis), or the by products of the huge polytunnels that you’re your cut flowers, through to Geo Thermal power stations in Hells Gate National Park that use hot springs and natural pressure.

The Big Trip: Geo Thermal plant in Hells Gate National Park

The Big Trip: Geo Thermal plant in Hells Gate National Park

Not surprisingly, partly because of terrorism threats (the Al Shabab effect has decimated the Kenyan tourist industry) you cannot photograph these innovative means to generate power.

The Big Trip: a Pair of Kori Bustards in the Ngorongoro Crater

The Big Trip: a Pair of Kori Bustards in the Ngorongoro Crater

Plus a chance to do some walking ourselves, in the Cherangani Hills,

The Big Trip: Walking in the Cherangani Hills

The Big Trip: Walking in the Cherangani Hills

across the hot and flat plain at Lake Baringo with a real bird twitcher who summoned birds through an app on his phone.

The Big Trip: summoning the birds at Lake Boringo

The Big Trip: summoning the birds at Lake Baringo

Then down the Gorge in Hells Gate National Park (the scene apparently of films like ‘Tomb Raider’.

The Big Trip: the Gorge at Hells Gate National Park

The Big Trip: the Gorge at Hells Gate National Park

We all nodded knowledgeably, but were none the wiser.) And to discover how unfit we have become, Gulu is very flat with few opportunities for walking much, Kenya is mountainous,

The Big Trip: walking in the Cherangani Hills

The Big Trip: walking in the Cherangani Hills

fantastic walking country for the properly fit; maybe another time.

The Big Trip: new springs in Nakuru

The Big Trip: new springs in Nakuru

 

The instruction part of our vocational training programme, here in Gulu Northern Uganda, begins to wind down. We have started to follow up those who have been trained, those who have started their own businesses, become independent, earning their own living for the first time.

I have been filming those interviews an excerpt from them is here (Warning it is 16 minutes long)

Expect the Unexpected 2: Saturday Morning in Kirombe

Kirombe Garden

Kirombe Garden

The Youth Development Programme on which we work is coming to a series of conclusions. Vocational skills training will finish in the next few months, Post Training Support and helping students into employment, lasts until the end of the year. Yes that means lots of ceremonials, many, many hours on a plastic chair in front of speeches dances and songs, some very good, some less so; all very long.

Acholi Students Dancing

Acholi Students Dancing

Up here in Northern Uganda, the rains have come in the early afternoon for the past couple of weeks, the mangoes are thriving, especially the small fibrous ones whose bits stick in your teeth.

Kirombe Garden

Kirombe Garden

Mary’s flowers, planted from seeds she has found, are beautiful, the grass has been slashed for the first time this year; everything in the garden is lovely.

Kirombe Garden

Kirombe Garden

The bug salesman is somewhere near, he cycles the area with a bucket of fried insects and plays battery door chimes as self-advertisement. The tune is infuriatingly difficult to pick out or to forget. Today I think it is probably “we want some figgy pudding/ we want some figgy pudding” ad infinitum if not nauseam.

Kirombe Garden

Kirombe Garden

There is a 500 guest wedding starting up at Comboni Samaritans, a local clinic/ hospital. So far we have had an hour of Country and Western: ‘Coward of the County’, ‘Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town’; ‘Harper Valley PTA’; that era. It is not just the American evangelist influence, Country and Western is popular but I expect it will be back to ubiquitous rap soon.

Kirombe Garden

Kirombe Garden

Meanwhile the music stops and it’s time for” Testing, Testing, One Two/ One Two” which takes me back a bit, not what I expected to hear this morning. Much like the sound men from the 1970’s and 80’s that I remember, these ones love booming bass too. Kevin Harvey, sound engineer for the Gang of Four for example, had a particular fondness for about 120HZ. The levels booming round this morning have that nostalgic frequency, aah those sticky floored, black painted clubs of our youth, perhaps that is why I am so deaf now.

Kirombe Garden

Kirombe Garden

Living abroad brings up these curious contradictions: I am reading the Saturday Guardian on my Kindle (who but a member of the 1% would vote Tory? Who would willingly destroy their own society through choosing to vote for the lying, divisive, ideologically driven and economically inept?) listening to American songs about family dysfunction whilst watching swallows dive through the garden (shouldn’t they be half way to Europe by now?). A long howl of feedback (more nostalgia) starts the lunchtime call to prayer from the local mosque.

Kirombe Garden

Kirombe Garden

I have just come back from a quick trip to Kampala to collect my renewed passport, an astonishingly efficient process. Several sights reinforced that sense of oddity and enjoyment of the unlikely that you get from ‘elsewhere’:

  1. I came out of the house early to get my lift south and saw a chicken chasing a large dog along the road

    Across Kampala from Tank Hill, Muyenga

    Across Kampala from Tank Hill, Muyenga

  2. In a cafe in the Lugogo Mall, an upmarket Kampala shopping centre, I watched a white man: late thirties at a guess; long evidently dyed black hair under a black beret; white singlet vest; white combat camouflage trousers; big military belt and shiny high boots; black leather fingerless gloves; dark glasses; the proverbial brown condom full of walnuts figure; the total Hollywood mercenary look. He was a cross between Citizen Smith, from the Tooting Popular Front, (a 70’s/80’s TV programme I am old enough to remember) and those elderly American actors that run around shooting black extras in exotic destinations during films I have never watched. Like voting Tory, the obvious question is why? (Why the dressed up dude and the self-defeating democratic decision, not the film choice, obviously) Surrounded and ignored by elegant wealthyKampalans, what did this man think he was doing?

    Across Kampala from Tank Hill, Muyenga

    Across Kampala from Tank Hill, Muyenga

  3. In a cafe inMuyenga waiting for my lift north, I watched a big BMW sports car drive carefully in, polished black with vivid pink trim and wing mirrors, the car vibrates with bass (again the 55-110 HZ range I’d reckon). The owner: Ugandan; dark glasses; closely shaved head; quarter beard, is also wearing jewellery which is unusual and draws the attention: a huge amber necklace, big silver earrings. He is also modelling what looks like badly cut and sagging pyjamas, tie dyed pale brown on stained white and creased cotton, particularly baggy around the crutch and drooping well below the bottom.

    Across Kampala from Tank Hill, Muyenga

    Across Kampala from Tank Hill, Muyenga

 

PS this afternoon in Kirombe, rather than the usual heavy rain we get a violent hailstorm, not had one of those before, and the power only went off for ten minutes; really unexpected.

The Narus Valley from the Nagusokopire camp site, Kidepo Valley National Park

The Narus Valley from the Nagusokopire camp site, Kidepo Valley National Park

I have cooked pasta with tomato sauce so many times – as have we all – a variant on ‘alla putanesca’ since you ask. But never have I cooked and watched elephants walking down to their watering hole.

From the Nagusokopire camp site looking North East

From the Nagusokopire camp site looking North East

We were back to Kidepo National Park in the North East of Uganda, to camp this time on a group of rocks looking down towards buffalo and many, many elephants.

From the Nagusokopire camp site looking North East

From the Nagusokopire camp site looking North East

The next evening, (Dal and Cabbage Curry cooked by an Indian volunteer and much better than my pasta) the buffalo moved up that hill. Thousands in a line moving slowly towards us, although the dominant noise that night was not the buffalo but the sound of elephants farting; astonishingly loud, all that muddy water I suppose.

From the Nagusokopire camp site looking North West

From the Nagusokopire camp site looking North West

When you camp at a UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority) site in the parks, you get a ranger with a gun and a small pink tent. He organizes the water, tends the fire to keep the lions away and patiently answers your endless questions. Daniel even coped with eating curry, the Ugandan diet is usually bland and carbohydrate heavy. Most of his answers related to the rains that are supposed to be coming very soon.

From the Nagusokopire camp site looking South East

From the Nagusokopire camp site looking South East

The stars were as close and as bright as you might expect in the middle of a huge and people free landscape, touchable almost. Constellations and naming stars didn’t seem to feature for the Karamajong (Kidepo is in Karamoja) Daniel was more interested in the Milky Way, for example, as a weather forecaster; it was so bright at the moment because the rains were coming. The wind was so strong because….and of course so many animals were visible because the waters were so low, but the buffalo were on the move because…

In the Narus Valley

In the Narus Valley

Back in Gulu a week later and still no rain, clouds build up in the afternoon, but drift away by nightfall. Water is running out in town, the dust is thick over everything blown everywhere by strong hot wind, and the heat is so intense even the locals are complaining.

The clouds build up over Gulu, but no rain

The clouds build up over Gulu, but no rain

By the way, Sunday 22 March is World Water Day as you move to your favourite watering hole, or even as you cook pasta with tomato sauce, think of those who have to make do with muddy water, often carried huge distances on foot. Unlike the elephant, the effect of that water is far worse than theatrically loud trumping noises in the night.

In the Narus Valley

In the Narus Valley

It is so cold

It is so cold

Mr. Mark, You were lost and now you are found again. You have lost your colour too, which is not good. But you are fat and that is good’

It is so cold

It is so cold

Yes we are back in Gulu after a few weeks in the UK. What was it like to return to the West? In a word; cold, in two words: very cold. Snow, rain, biting wind and damp that gets into your bones; all the usual glories of an English winter. But, old friends wanted to know, what is like over there? Representing your experience of one very different country to another is difficult. Cognitive dissonance, the impossibility of holding two contradictory views in the mind at once.

It is so cold

It is so cold

I had forgotten the omnipresence of the past in the west, not just in the age profile either (so different to Uganda where the average age is about 15). Old buildings (once ‘modern’ styles referencing an ancient past) up against the glazed and reflective new.

It is so cold

It is so cold

Wolf Hall on the TV. Or, how to explain to Ugandans the roomful of over life sized naked men and women that we visited? The newly refurbished cast room in The Victoria and Albert Museum, Victorian plaster casts of famous (mostly but not entirely) Italian Renaissance statues; art that reworks an imagined Classical past.

It is so cold

It is so cold

Reworking the past is such a common western habit. In an African land without a surviving tradition of image making and a spoken culture in which conflict has wiped out much of the aural experience of the past, maybe you don’t want to remember what has happened anyway. Or maybe the past is a luxury denied the poor? I have always found it odd that in East Africa, near to the Rift Valley where mankind began, everything still feels so temporary and transient. There is none of the co-existence of recent and deep past with the self consciously present and projected future that characterises the west, or maybe that’s just wealthy London.

It is so cold

It is so cold

What was it really like at home? In three words: very ****ing cold.

It is so cold

It is so cold

Just before we left I tried to explain real cold to a colleague, how being cold hurts, the many heavy clothes you have to wear.

‘So, you have fires in your house?’

How to explain central heating?

‘So, Mr Mark you have a big metal tank screwed to the wall and it keeps the room warm by pumping hot water through it?’

I could see that my colleague didn’t believe a word. The impossibility of holding the concept of cold in forty degree heat.

It is so cold

It is so cold

‘It’s all about edges’

My father said (also an artist and teacher), as we were discussing some of my unsuccessful attempts to draw African landscapes using western art techniques.

It is so cold

It is so cold

‘And edges are the very devil’

I think he is right, trying to represent one place to another means finding your way through the edges, boundaries and cracks that make the task almost impossible.

It is so cold

It is so cold

We returned to a desiccated Gulu deep in the dry season, our house thick with fine dust covering every surface, creeping through every crack.

It is so cold

It is so cold

Wiping away layer after layer, perhaps influenced by the overt Christianity that also permeates everything here (so unlike the West), I thought, perhaps we are all the same underneath: ‘from dust we come and to dust shall we return’.

It is so cold

It is so cold

Or was that just too clever, not edgy enough?

It is so cold

It is so cold

Boda Boda Art

Boda Boda Art

Coming up to our two year mark as VSO volunteers in Uganda (Jan 17th). An anniversary that brings back memories of the advice given before we left: “expect the unexpected” featured heavily I remember.

But, as I found myself writing to an old friend recently, the unexpected was not quite what I was expecting. We have been travelling over the Christmas and New Year break: tales of the unexpected were many.

The Nile at Jinja

The Nile at Jinja

Tale One

Driving down to Lake Albert from Murchison, going from the usual bumpy, rutted, dusty and diesel-fumed murrum tracks full of people, cars, trucks, coaches, goats chickens and cows to suddenly find a beautifully finished tarmac highway with lane markings, cats eyes and everything, completely empty.

The new road from Hoima to Kaiso

The new road from Hoima to Kaiso

It was, we realised later, leading to the new oil terminal at Kaiso so maybe we should have predicted it after all.

The new road from Hoima to Kaiso

The new road from Hoima to Kaiso

Tale Two

An empty campsite, attached to a new safari lodge on a new wildlife reserve – a planning gain from the oil process – just us watching the sun set over the lake, the bats flying, frogs shouting and squeaking: blissful.

Across Lake Albert to the Congo

Across Lake Albert to the Congo

The night before had been New Years Eve, camping on the edge of Murchison Falls National Park had been ‘lively’.

Murchison: Elephants

Murchison: Elephants

In Uganda though, they celebrate two years – the old and the new – so the New Years Day party is the biggest. The new Kaiso Community Centre (another oil gain) is some two miles away from the campsite and the party got going at about ten ‘o’ clock, it was far louder than anything Gulu has to offer. All that oil money seemed to have gone into a Glastonbury sized PA.

Lake Albert: Camping by Moonlight

Lake Albert: Camping by Moonlight

To be above a lake in the middle of a moonlit wilderness, with baboons, monitor lizards and other nocturnal visitors, yet pinned to your camping mats till seven the next morning by thousands of decibels of Congolese dance music; unexpected.

Tale Three

The next day back on the murrum roads, the car broke down (always expected) in a small trading centre. Watching mechanics assisted by all the local drunks (again always expected) trying to diagnose the problems (many: torn timing belt; broken distributor cap and rotor arm; broken steering rod connector; broken exhaust mounting) all the time accompanied by the sound system across the street which, along with the usual rap and ragga, kept playing Abba. Cold Scandinavian harmonies about heartbreak in forty degree heat and eighty percent dust from the passing hazardous waste trucks driving up from the oil terminal.

Tale Four

That evening having limped the car through a photogenic red sunset bathed in dust like a Monet painting of a London smog, eating supper in a posh hotel watching an extremely scary life-sized, animatronic saxophone Santa playing cool jazz in a room lit only by epilepsy inducing, strobing neon lights.

Lake Albert sunset

Lake Albert sunset

It’s where various cultures bump up against each other that you find the unexpected ‘unexpected’ and where you begin to see the unequal influence of the West. Think of our campsite, apparently owned by a German businessman, although you could tell he was away because all the staff where busy watching a Manchester United game. Lake Albert itself, named in a foreign language after the husband of an unknown European queen, in a reserve created by an Irish based oil consortium reached via a road built by a Chinese construction company. In the west of a country whose divisive and ethnically inappropriate boundaries were drawn up by the British in the early Twentieth Century.

Spi: section though a banana plant

Spi: section though a banana plant

The Final Tale

All these ideas came together in the crème caramel we were served, proudly, in a lodge at Sipi Falls.

Sipi: towards the lower falls (Lodge at the top)

Sipi: towards the lower falls (Lodge at the top)

The lodge was on a very steep hill above a huge waterfall, all the ingredients had to be carried from the road a hundred and fifty metres or more down to the kitchen by the water. Cooked there on a charcoal stove and then carried halfway back up the hill to the dining room.

The falls at Sipi, from the Lodge

The falls at Sipi, from the Lodge

And the eggs of course, like all eggs in Uganda it would seem, had come all the way from Kampala. There are no local egg industries, although chickens are ubiquitous their meat is worth far more than their eggs.

Supper at Sipi

Supper at Sipi

The ‘creme caramel’ was hard to describe, essentially an unseasoned, beaten, hard-boiled, tepid coddled egg with some sugar on top. It looked like the Hyena ‘spoor’ we would be shown in Kidepo National Park a few days later.

Kidepo Valley National Park

Kidepo Valley National Park

Hyena droppings are white because they are apparently one of the few animals that can digest raw bones, other animals can then extract their own calcium by eating the hyena droppings. Equally appealing, our egg dish had the resistant texture of an old flip-flop, the taste of battered aluminum and the smell of … well, defeated hope really. An unexpected blending of a western recipe with African technology and a Ugandan setting.

Sipi: the view from the lodge

Sipi: the view from the lodge

GPDU Electronics Class

GPDU Electronics Class

Today is International Volunteer Day. I have written a piece for VSO Uganda, but thought it might be worth repeating here. It also gives me another excuse to show yet another bit of film.

A Volunteer Experience:

As a vocational specialist volunteer in Northern Uganda who visits many training colleges, I have been offered small gifts before. Live chickens (once even a pregnant goat) are a standard African present of course. Proposals by trainees to service my motorbike, shave my hair or do my nails are frequent and recently I was given a large pink iced cake. I had to balance it on the handlebars as I drove home in a rain storm.

GPDU Sweater Weavers. Madame on the right holds up my gift

GPDU Sweater Weavers. Madame on the right holds up my gift

But the sleeveless jumper I was given today meant the most to me. It was made by sweater weavers at Gulu Persons Disabled Union (GPDU), an institution we have just started working with.

GPDU Motorcycle Maintenance

GPDU Motorcycle Maintenance

Their disabilities can be profound, both physical and mental and their exclusion from society, education and the economy equally debilitating. This jumper was one of the first to be completed by the trainees, turning down gifts can be misinterpreted and there was absolutely no question of doing that today.

GPDU Sweater Weavers

GPDU Sweater Weavers

The young women (and two young men) who had made this garment – lots of room to grow into it too – were justifiably proud of their first steps to economic independence.

GPDU welding students making a seat to fit over a slit latrine, for disabled students

GPDU welding students making a seat to fit over a slit latrine, for disabled students

Receiving such an important statement is an experience I will never forget. We might just be coming into the dry season with temperatures up to forty degrees, but I will be wearing my jumper often.”

PS

This is another brief video that rounds up our student graduation season

Uganda

Uganda

I rejoice in the title of ‘ Monitoring and evaluation and programme support facilitator’. This means in reality that I do a bit of everything all over Northern Uganda which is just how I like it .

The last few weeks have been particularly busy and varied. Here is the timetable:

 

Training can be Fun

Training can be Fun

Week 1 in Soroti ( south east of Gulu ) with Russ, another volunteer , to deliver training to the Principals and Boards of four Vocational Training Institutes that we are working with. We try to make the training as interactive as possible – the case studies we use provoke a lot of really heated discussion. We could have spent at least 3 hours on :-

The board chairs sister has a furniture business; he recommends that you buy the new office furniture from there. Is this a good idea? Agree /Disagree /Not Sure

Russ's Village Vehicle

Russ’s Village Vehicle

Returned to Gulu with Russ in his double cabin pickup which unusually didn’t break down, stopping off to buy 10 kg each of oranges and tangerines for £1 equivalent and then to Lira for an interview with consultant doing an evaluation of VSO in Uganda for DFID.

NB: In Uganda if you go in the field you are expected to buy local produce to take home to your family /staff/ work colleagues.

Richard and Russ on a hill above the Nile

Richard and Russ on a hill above the Nile

Week 2 – A tour of West Nile with a big group

I was doing gender toolkit dissemination , market relevance survey and interview analysis with Arua Tech, and Governance and Strategic Planning with Board members and Principals from the 5 vocational training institutes we work with in that region .

Mark came along to do Curriculum Support, Mentoring and 2 days training at a college that has just joined the programme

Russ was there to do Governance and Strategic Planning training with me and work with the students on market analysis. Yet again the Board Chair’s sisters furniture business provoked lively debate!

Rose was doing Monitoring and Gender Toolkit dissemination

Elizabeth who had only been in Uganda for a week was assessing the quality of information in the databases

Richard drove the big black Prado down some very windy bumpy roads to get to the colleges and took us across the Congo border at one point.

Looking into Congo

Looking into Congo

Our route took us from Gulu to Pakwach, Nebbi then up along the Congo border to Arua and then to Moyo crossing the river at Laropi , through Adjumani and back to Gulu . A big loop. Unfortunately there was no local produce to bring back .

The researchers at GPDU looking at their interviews on video

The researchers at GPDU looking at their interviews on video

Week 3 in Gulu

A quieter week – planning and developing two days training on the projects monitoring and evaluation framework and a new reporting template for the 11 Gulu based Vocational Institutes and visiting Gulu Persons Disabled Unit to introduce a participatory research project to the students and form a research team with them .

Training on reporting can be fun !

Training on reporting can be fun !

Week 4   Training in Gulu

Delivering the training on Reporting and Documentation to 55 vocational training staff in a very small room with Samantha and Elizabeth (fellow volunteers). Oh and spending a whole day updating the access management information system to deliver the new reports .

Assessing their first interviews

Assessing their first interviews

Two half day sessions with the Student Researchers at Gulu Persons Disability Unit, developing the research parameters and questions and agreeing the research plan . They are now going off to carry out the research by conducting surveys( about 60 surveys ) with other students ,staff , their families and communities , local politicians , local business people with disability. The research is looking at how Vocational Training Institutes can improve access and facilities for Persons with Disability (PWD) and support PWD into sustainable livelihoods. The interviews are being conducted in Luo (the local language) so I will have plenty of opportunity to improve my skills.

The Soroti Rock

The Soroti Rock

Week 5 Soroti

Off to Soroti for the Reporting and Documentation Training and to carry out Market Relevance consolidation with the students at Uganda Martyrs Vocational Institute.

Week 6 On leave

To Kampala, Fort Portal and Murchison Falls Park for a rest   !!!!!!

Students at Arua Tech consolidating and analysing their surveys

Students at Arua Tech consolidating and analysing their surveys

The best bits:

o   Facilitating the Disability Participatory Project with the students at Gulu Persons Disability Unit

o   Working with the students on consolidating the market relevance surveys in Arua and Soroti

o   The lively discussion in the governance training on the chairman’s sisters furniture shop and other contentious issues

o   Travelling around Uganda

o   Working with VSO staff and volunteers

The team in Soroti

The team in Soroti

The worst bits:

o   Having to sort out the travelling and subsistence expenses for the delegates at the training sessions

o   Noisy hotels

Some Background

We were in Gulu, Northern Uganda for two years nine months, working with a huge DFID funded vocational training programme.

Gulu is on the road to South Sudan, it was the centre of the conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan Government. Many of the Internally Displaced Peoples camps were here. The northern region has been peaceful since about 2007-8 and the context has moved from emergency humanitarian aid to development work.

The Vocational Training Institutes provide opportunities for the youth(male and female aged 14-35). Most of them lived in the camps or were abducted by the LRA. They have had very little education, leaving them with few skills. Our purpose was to help these Vocational Training Institutes build up their capacity to equip the youth with what they need to earn a living and live as decent a life as possible.

By the Way
Mark's old art/ history of art website is still active should you want to read more by him or look at his work

Whitemarkarts

From There to Here

Our Old Life, Packed Away in one Twenty Foot Container

Here

A Vocational Training Institute, Assembly under the Mango Tree

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