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Have we been busy singing “Ain’t got a home” like Clarence Frogman Henry?
Have we been cast out into the world committed to wander the face of the earth?
“cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken”
(Genesis Chapter 3, verses 17 – 19)
We have spent a week in a classic thatched cottage in West Dorset, searching for our final resting place; our promised land? Views and walks across Hardy country from the Iron Age fort at Eggardon Hill. Low grey clouds, so different to the huge skies we have been living under; bright sun and open savannahs.
Coffee and cakes in small country towns, what is the optimum number of mobility scooter shops for our future Eden?
Visits to the coast, nice to be by the sea after three years in a land locked country. A growing wish to write and make art about an ingrained sense of place
(cf Robert Macfarlane of course, who wrote about the hollow ways of Chideock in West Dorset amongst other places; somewhere we have visited often.) Interesting by the way that the curious and savage late thirties thriller, Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household, is cited by Macfarlane
and has also been claimed as part of the Neo-Romantic movement, the art that best illustrates this area. For example in a recent article in Yarn magazine about Rena Gardiner.
Liz Somerville, also mentioned in that article, is still carrying on that tradition of “Ravilious, Bawden, Nash and all that lot’” as she puts it.
Small country lanes? The hospital years are coming; age and infirmity. Do we want to advance in age and decrease in confidence behind the wheel, marooned in the tiny lanes of a rural paradise as our personal sun begins to set?
“Behold, Thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth, and from Thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth.”
(Genesis Chapter 4, verse 14)
Where should we vagabond to next?
 “Ooh ooh
Ain’t got no home
no place to roam
Ain’t got no home
no place to roam
I’m a lonely boy
I ain’t got a home
I got a voice
I love to sing
I sing like a girl
And I sing like a frog
I’m a lonely boy
I ain’t got a home”
A round up of our Christmas in Uganda after last weeks guest blog. My own top three best bits:
1: The weavers birds at Ishasha
We were staying in a rest camp just outside Queen Elizabeth National Park. Our tent was pitched alongside the Ntungwe river, next to a weaver bird colony, well more of a weaver bird slum really. We were there just at the start of the breeding season, The noise was tremendous. The male weaver bird makes a nest and entices a potential mate to inspect it.
If she likes it she will move in, if he has not got it right, he has to completely rebuild it before she will accept him.
There was a feeling of empathy as I watched the nests being inspected and rejected.
2: Seeing the lioness(of course) so asleep and un-bothered.
There were many other possibilities, so many could make my top three: Elephants
The Nile of course
Watching a bird of prey
tear apart it’s breakfast in Queen Elizabeth Park.
3: But really I think it was just being with partner and daughter:
We have been off on our travels again. This time, via meetings with colleagues in Lira and Soroti, to Sipi Falls at the foot of Mount Elgon, South East of Uganda. Near the city of Mbale that looked, architecturally anyway, worth visiting properly.
We stayed in one of a collection of wooden cabins crawling up a hill opposite the largest of Sipi’s three waterfalls. If another much travelled volunteer describes the accommodation as basic, I think you get the idea. The view made up for it.
“Is anyone else staying here at the moment?
“Ah yes, many, there are many of them”
“The American students”
Not quite what you want to hear as you check into a mountain top retreat. That you will be sharing it with 27 students, oh and they are good Christians too. Visions of Kumbaya at dawn after a night of noisy antics in the dorm. In fact they did their dawn singing further up the mountain and, unlike their British counterparts I suspect, there was no drunken rowdiness at all; early beds all round.
This is walking country, all walks are guided, some of the payment going to the community. It is also the big coffee growing area of Uganda: beans drying by the side of the road; beans drying on paths; beans in front of houses; beans everywhere. People sitting in the drying beans or walking across them to pick out bad beans, or maybe ready beans. It was the sitting and walking about on them in flip flops or muddy bare feet that caught my attention, all organic of course.
Our guide took us along tiny steep muddy paths up through banana plantations, interspersed with coffee plants that grow surprisingly high, also climbing runner type beans on tall sticks, higher up the mountain rows and rows of onions and maize. Large scale organised agriculture compared to the haphazard subsistence farming of the north.
There was some evidence of terracing but not much, which gave us one of the talking points of the weekend. In for example Italy, India, South America, China wherever there has been long term farming in mountainous areas, the land is organised into terraces; not here. It would have made travel up and down the slippy hillsides easier. Is organised agriculture a relatively recent arrival? Or are Sipi farmers unaware of the practice? Surely not, it is a logical outcome of moving earth about and stops soil erosion. Maybe people enjoy sliding down mud chutes? It would give us something to talk about as the rain poured down that night and we went to bed very early in our cold little cabin with the creaking bed far too big for the sheets.
Our guide Simon, a competent young man and not too pushy although we bought the world’s most expensive local coffee from him later, took us to the top waterfall first.
The spray filling the eucalyptus trees with photogenic mist, wild bananas and bright wild flowers along the path.
Down to the second fall, hidden from our view across the valley where the river suddenly disappears
at the corner of this natural infinity pool. Frighteningly close to the cliff edge women wash clothes, their babies crawling around them.
Further upriver we had seen a narrow log bridge crossed by a toddler still learning to walk; alarming.
Coming down to the last and biggest fall (one hundred metres apparently) the rain really started.
We sheltered at the Sipi Falls Lodge, a very upmarket place indeed, perfectly slashed lawns, beautifully dressed Japanese tourists waiting for lunch, lunch prices started at 40,000 shillings (more than we were paying for a nights accommodation).
We dragged ourselves away. Us in waterproofs and fancy boots, Simon in T shirt and canvas shoes.
A good walk and there are longer ones we hope to take in the future. The American students had walked one and returned limping and muddy from top to toe, keep them tired was my technique for school trips too.
It is possible to stay in campsites in the national park higher up the mountain. We had brought our tent but the rain was too heavy, maybe next time. A beautiful place, clearly used to tourism as the efficient way local youth ‘helping’ us with a problem with our car relieved us of money proved, but a place to return to nonetheless.
We have moved, out into what I suppose you could call the suburbs. We now live in a place called Kirombe. It is much greener, fresher and less crowded than Pece and the dusty Labour Line in the centre of Gulu, our former home.
The noises are different, well there is the ever present sound of children – people will tell you that African babies don’t cry, their close bond with mothers etc – this is untrue. The non-crying Ugandan baby bawling it’s woes to the world is a familiar accompaniment to our lives everywhere.
Our new house (and it is brand new, we are the first occupants) is near a small mosque, an audible presence during Ramadan and the muezzin duets striking up in the early evening are a new and rather special addition.
- In fact Kirombe seems to be surrounded by places of worship which vary from Baptist style singing to Acholi drumming through to Evangelical fervour (mostly a man shouting for hours).
Some of the music is beautiful, some very strange to western ears. Some of the singing is glorious, some so flat that us old punk rockers could not have aspired to such confident tunelessness even in our glory days. ALL OF IT IS LOUD.
Church services are marathon affairs, many go on all night. But if you mix them together, add in birdsong, distant thunder, children of course and the, almost, audible effect of vegetation growing in the rain, and it makes for an intriguing place to live.
We have made seven bean strings so far, Mary is working on a place/ glade for the bees
“I will arise and go now,
And go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there,
Of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there,
A hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade”
W B Yeats: The Lake Isle of Innisfree
It’s just a rainy night in Gulu. Eating pasta and tomato sauce might not be a new experience, but eating it on a veranda as lightning crashes around you, rain lashes down and thunder rattles across the town certainly is. Especially as the sauce contained dried Aubergine, we had to buy it from the student of a college we were visiting. As part of their training in ‘Agric’, students had been given seeds to grow and then encouraged to sell the results in the market. It’s OK, tastes as you might expect dried Aubergine to taste.
The weather is changing, the rainy season is coming. Towards the end each day the clouds start to mass. There have been spots of rain a few times, and a couple of tremendous storms. One hit when we were out at Opit, the small market town about 25 kilometres away we visited with the college principal. First a huge wind blew up the dust so that we couldn’t see anything, a pause whilst we drew our breath, the sky went black and the ferocity of the following rain was frightening.
Another big storm last night, rain poured into the compound. Standing in the doorway a perfectly perpendicular single bolt of lightning appeared to bisect the opening; the subsequent thunder was almost instantaneous; we jumped and screamed.
More heavy rain and thunder this evening, the rain brings the frogs out, their croaks get louder each night. It’s just a rainy night in Gulu, sometimes I feel like it must be raining all over the world.
We leave to go north to Gulu, Uganda’s second city, about half a million people. Once you get out of Kampala the road is dead straight.
It starts out as a two lane highway, some six hours later it has become single track with occasional tarmac.
The famous red dust of Africa blows in clouds around the huge trucks going further north with materials to reconstruct South Sudan. There are no street lights in Gulu, cars loom out of the dusty darkness, some of the Bodas have lights the bicycles do not and none of hundreds of pedestrians use any form of lighting. What light there is coming out of the small shops is made soft by the dust (there are no road surfaces or pavements) walking about is strangely silent as the dust soaks up the sound.
That does not last. It is later and we are sitting on the balcony of one of the houses in our compound in the centre of town, it is a bit (not much) cooler than the 40 something it got to today. Somewhere across town is a huge dance festival with a series of local rap acts, it is to include Chameleon, the biggest pop star in Uganda. Each successive turn is louder and more dependent on the distorted bellow end of the discipline than the last, their sets are punctuated by occasional shouts of “Gulu are you ready”. Two blocks away Sammiz night club is pumping out Ragga, small children run up and down outside shouting “Muno, Muno” (whiteman, whiteman). The men working in the metal shop on the corner seem to be putting in some overtime. There is so much aural attack from so many different sources it swirls around like white noise, much like the dust really; this is not the Home Counties it is far more interesting.
I suppose it is inevitable that one makes connections between new places and others visited before. Kampala is different to anywhere we have been, but I can’t help seeing those earlier destinations here; the Caribbean for the hills, the vegetation the bland starchy food and the Middle East for the chaotic driving and the souk like markets.
It is twelve ‘o’ clock, I am writing this in the garden of the Hotel Kenrock as we wait to go to a ‘Cultural Event’, I can hear the very fierce, very amplified church service next door, it has been going on since at least eight this morning. Seeds are falling from a tree and clattering onto the corrugated roof of the breakfast area, great storks and cranes fly overhead,
the hotel guard with the gun is asleep in his plastic chair by the entrance, trucks drive past the road outside, boda bodas (the motorbike taxis) rush past continuously. There is a gentle breeze that brings the smell of charcoal fires, diesel fumes and heat from the rest of the city, although the temperature here is very pleasant, about 26 degrees I should think. The sky varies from overcast cloud to pale blue; it is all rather nice. Rather different to the world described in our VSO training sessions, that world we will meet later.