Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Times Gone By

As I settle back into Sydney life I begin to realise how much I miss Uganda, the babies, the staff and most of all, the amazing people I met and the lifelong friends I made.

Each day brings its own battles and you never know what you are going to be faced with. It's only with a laugh, a few occasional tears and lots of local beer after a hard day that you are able to get through. And all of this is best done with some great mates. There are so many people that contributed to such a memorable 3 months and each and every one of them brings a smile to my face for different reasons.

Lucy Buck aka LB aka The Hurricane. Also known as the reason we are all here. I had never met Lucy before arriving in Uganda despite working on the same TV show in Fiji. But with numerous emails it felt like we had and I knew such a friend would have plenty planned for me. I was not wrong!! As with every volunteer that arrives at Malaika, she greets them with the enthusiasm and excitement of a puppy and as soon as you are in her presence that enthusiasm is catching.

I think she often forgets just what she has accomplished in a short time and how complete strangers will read her story for the first time and want to help. Also what an inspiration she is to other volunteers and the community and what a beacon of hope she is to so many families in Kampala. I felt so included in the Child's i family right from the start and am proud to count Lucy as one of my friends. Which meant that we were able to affectionately coin the phrase "I've been bucked" which would often be heard being said after a management meeting on a Tuesday when the 'To Do' list would be discussed! Love you LB!

Jen aka Superwoman. One of the first times I met Jen was when she was lying in a hospital bed in Kampala about to face an operation. Looking back on that night, her calmness and level headed outlook on the situation sums up Jen. We were lucky enough to be flat mates for the last part of my stay including the infamous water shortage of 2010 i.e. no water for 2 weeks and she gallantly lifted numerous jerry cans of water. I think I may have been busy each time. Hmmm, how convenient! Jen is the kind of person who just gets on with it, no matter the obstacle. She would do anything for you, no matter the inconvenience. And she knows how to work a fascinator at a goat race!

Mary could possibly be the funniest person I have ever met. But she doesn't try to be funny, she just is. For a lot of situations she has a odd / slightly disturbing story to tell that may or may not be related to the original story. I was concerned when I left as Mary is not the most technical savvy person i.e. not at all. Laminators nearly perished in her possession. I'm not going to lie, it wasn't pretty. But my time in Kampala would not have been the same without Mary. Above being a sweet, thoughtful and genuine person, she is a brilliant social worker. I am indebted to her for being so generous with her time and letting me experience another side of the charity. That is something I can never repay. Not even with 24 hour IT support.

Megan is awesome to begin with just by being Aussie. She understands the superiority of Vegemite over Marmite and why doing the Neighbours tour is a bit sad, even if you do get to see Karl Kennedy. She did disappoint me once though when she gave a musk stick to someone who would clearly not like it. Rookie error but she learnt her lesson. I was in awe of Megan at work, so calm and knowing exactly what to do with a sick baby or an upset mother. The children are and will always be her priority as well as having them be with their families. It was a privilege to have been able to witness her dedication.

Kay-tee aka Katie but I would always say her name with my convincing Irish / Alabama accent. With Mary we had become the 3 musketeers until she left us and we had to disband the group. Sad times. Katie and I mistakenly became known as reporters from CNN as we visited the Ugandan Space Program where we made an informative / highly amusing video of their plight of launching a spacecraft in the near future. She also shared my love for country music and Dolly Parton would grace the office when we knew we were alone and wouldn't be judged for our music taste. As well as making some brilliant videos she made me laugh on a daily basis.

Ian was the token male of the group. And even when he had the chance to hang out with other guys and talk about sport, he would still be wondering what we were doing. It's because we are awesome. Ian has many great qualities (they escape me at this minute) but he had some flaws. He thought that the cheese gouda was pronounced gow-da. Wrong. And because he was wrong he would question any new person he met about it. His music tastes were very varied as long as they were from the UK. Kylie and Bon Jovi are popular but their heritage means they will sadly never grace a CD belonging to Ian. But he had a car so that's why we liked him.

** The cake above was for our birthday as well as a farewell to the place we were staying. Of all the cake tins I thought you could buy in Uganda, Mario would not have been my guess.

Jo was another fellow Aussie (see reference to Oz above) so again by default, awesome. My respect for her was cemented when little Joey, one of our adopted babies, became sick and Jo provided much needed support to his family during that difficult time. Not only being a nurse but being able to be strong for them was so admirable. There are not enough people in the world who will go above and beyond for someone else. Jo is one of them. And she made me pasta one night with real cheese from Oz!

Dorthe set up and managed Malaika House, the crisis centre and residential facility for vulnerable mothers. I know I speak for everyone when I say how much respect and admiration I have for her as a person. Her daily battles were varied and often difficult and she handled each of them with warmth, kindness and compassion.

Kirsty was one of the media volunteers during my stay and I got to feature in a couple of videos, she clearly saw my potential for the small screen. She provided much needed laughter in the office, even though the camera was permanently attached to her hand! And she had a fascination for maps for some unknown reason.

Laura was the first volunteer who arrived in Kampala who I could claim as my own! And couldn't have asked for anyone better. She was such a breath of fresh (and young!) air and the staff and babies just adored her, as did the other volunteers. She worked hard and gained so much respect from everyone at Child's i. She was sadly missed when she left, a little hole left where she used to be with her jewelery, shoes and handbags!

As my time to leave grew closer, the amazing Becks flew in! I had my little routine in the office and the fact that Becks understood my silly quirks about formatting and spelling was so exciting! We definitely didn't get to spend enough time together but luckily Skype exists and I can still keep up with the baby gossip!

The only way to sum up my new friends - truly great friends are hard to find, difficult to leave and impossible to forget. Thanks to all of you for the memories! xx

AMENDMENT - Having said lots of lovely things about everyone, Ian seems to have missed out. Our friendship developed quickly as we share the love of sarcasm and would take great pride in teasing each other. But beneath the laughter and jokes (mine were funnier) we understand each other and I know our paths will cross for a long time to come. We loved having him as the honorary male of the group. My aim is to infiltrate his ipod with some non-UK music, wish me luck.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Food Glorious Food . . . kind of

I didn't really know what to expect when it came to food in Uganda. Having been to other African countries I could guess so wasn't feeling too positive. But was pleasantly surprised . . . when I saw the restaurants. Sorry Uganda but your local food is, um, yeah.

One of the favourites is matoke, a special type of banana which is steamed and mashed. It's hard to describe what it tastes like. Oh I know. Nothing.

Bunches of bananas line the streets

Each day we would eat lunch at the babies home, a meal prepared by the lovely cook Rose. The menu would slightly vary but matoke is a staple as is posho which is maize flour cooked with water to make something resembling porridge. Accompaniments would include ground nut sauce, kale or spinach and potatoes. Rose makes the most amazing roast potatoes - we all looked forward to Wednesdays!

Lunch time!

When we were feeling lazy, hungover or wanting a break from steamed bananas, we would venture to one of the local stalls to get a rolex. The making of a rolex is best not watched if you have hygiene issues with food! Eggs, tomato and onion (cabbage is optional) is mixed in a plastic cup (clean cup is optional) and poured onto a hot plate set at the temperature of the sun. We liked to think that the hotter the better i.e. the hotter the more germs it will kill. Then a chapati is put on top and rolled up. There are various myths about the origin of the name rolex. The most common and most likely is that it sounds like rolled eggs. Original!

Best served with Coca-Cola - additional way to kill the germs

The supermarket is always entertaining as names and packaging of some products can be original!
You could put this out for breakfast in the morning

And at the races, you can get a hotdog Ugandan style . . .

But some of the best meals have been in the local restaurants around town. I was amazed at the variety - Mexian, Thai, Greek, Turkish, Chinese, Italian, anything you fancy really. Or we would often visit the local eating establishments for a beer and a quick bite. You get an extensive menu with lots of options but realistically they only have 2 meals - sausage & chips or chicken & chips. But we made the mistake once of eating while it was still daylight. Never again. Only eat when you can't see what you're eating. You have been warned.

Our local was the Cathedral Bar, funnily enough it was next to a cathedral

The gang having a well earned beer

One of the favourite haunts was New York Kitchen who serve the best macaroni & cheese and BLT bagels. But it has one drawback . . .

Ready to order at New York Kitchen but what's that smell?

Ah, that would be the car fumes.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

You have how many suitcases?

When I decided to go to Uganda I was overwhelmed with the generous donations from friends, family, companies and complete strangers. It was definitely not something I expected and I think it was because people identified with Child's i Foundation as a charity and knew that everything they would donate to me would get safely into the hands of the charity.

After 6 months of collecting and filling my flat with socks, clothes, toys, bibs and shoes, my suitcases were tightly packed and being carted to the airport. Thanks to Emirates I was lucky enough to have 60 kgs and using unreliable scales at home
I thought a few extra kilos might just get through. Which check-in person wouldn't allow it when they knew I would be going over to help babies? It might just happen that I mention it when checking in . . . surely can't hurt.

Too much?

Approaching the counter with a smile and warm greeting Phil (my flat mate) and I start loading the suitcases onto the scales. Smugly handed over the letter from Emirates when she reminds me that the limit of 30kgs per person. And the total weight is . . . 83kgs! The scales at home are definitely destined for the rubbish bin. Back to the chairs next to check-in where the over-packers are banished to. As Phil stuffs as much as possible into my hand luggage, we decide on the most important things to take. Socks, check. Bibs, check. 100 top country songs for kids, maybe not.

Arriving at Malaika, the next step was unpacking, sorting and working out where 1000 pairs of socks were going to go!

Geoffrey and Vicky help with unpacking

We had more than enough socks and knitwear for the babies home and the crisis centre and I wanted to make sure we could help out in other ways. After speaking to our social workers I discovered that the local hospitals are in desperate need of warm clothing. A lot of babies and children are abandoned at hospitals and we often receive calls from the hospital social workers when this occurs so any assistance we can give them is much appreciated. I loaded up the car and Mary, our social worker, and I set out to visit the local hospitals in the Kampala area.

Mary, ready to brave the Kampala traffic

One of the main hospitals has an average of 100 babies born there A DAY! Resources are limited and there are malnutrition wards where there are babies and young children who are suffering severe malnutrition for various reasons. All of the hospitals were so appreciative of the socks and clothing as their little babies need to be kept as warm as possible. Such little things over here make an enormous difference. This will definitely be something I will do again when I return to Kampala.

Richard, the social worker from Mengo Hospital.
From his big grin you can see how much
this means to him and the hospital

The best way to say thank you for the donations is to show some photos of our beautiful babies . Luckily the bubs are so photogenic!

One take wonder!
Only needed to take 1 photo!

Very happy to be in his Oobi socks

Always better to be matching!

New jumper and new tooth!

Hats are always a popular form of entertainment!

Mmm, am I doing something wrong?

The older boys LOVED reading

Bounce, bounce, bounce.
Thanks Kristen and Rhett!

We have a lot of premmie babies.
Early Birds clothing was perfect for these tiny ones

Cheeky Little Soles shoes, so cute!

Leather bibs from Cheeky Little Soles
Best invention ever!

And saves on washing!

Modelling the Elmo look

There are no other words but THANK YOU.