December 15 2009 - Of Ugandan Buses and BA
It is always wise to have someone local with you when you try to find a bus at a Ugandan bus park.
You may find the name you are looking for on a bus or a minibus, but that doesnt guarantee that it will be going within the next hour and a half if it isnt full.
This morning I left Gulu for Kitgum which is in a remote part of the country, near Sudan. My visit was in part to see for myself the 40 foot container which had left Nailsea school months before, crammed with furniture, computers, books, footballs, etc. on a long journey by sea and land to a needy part of a link diocese.
Its journey had become a prolonged saga. Tomorrow I would see that it had arrived safely.
A seat in the front of the bus 'For the Mzungu' can be a doubtful privilege. Space is tight, the gear box gets hot, and as ever you are surrounded by piles of luggage. An added extra on this journey was the text message I received just as the bus was leaving to inform me that British Airways staff had voted to strike over Christmas. So here I was travelling to the farthest point of my trip and unable to get back to Entebbe in time to get a plane before the strike. The thought of Christmas by myself in Kampala was not an enticing proposition!
There was little I could do except savour the journey. I noticed how much change had come to this part of Uganda since the LRA had finally ceased harassing the population with abductions and ambush. The countryside showed signs of cultivation for the first time in 20 years and villages were being rebuilt.
Mangoes and Monitors
The journey was uneventful; a few stops for roadside sellers to surround the bus. You could have anything at this time of year as long as it was mangoes. A comfort stop (in the bushes); and my first sight of a monitor lizard ambling slowly across the dusty road.
We arrived more or less on time. I looked around for my host but he had been delayed. I have learnt that something unexpected will usually happen to resolve the situation. This time I was taken by a stranger to the shop that sells everything; a small store by the bus park owned by Lampton a key lay member of the local church. I spent an enjoyable half hour, refreshed by a Coke and talking to the customers. My lift arrived I was deposited in a modest hotel which had the advantage of being in by the market place, so sitting on the verandah was never without interest. In the evening I was joined by diocesan staff for a tasty goat currie
The Christmas Container
The next day was container viewing day. It had been packed with such a wealth of school equipment that opening it up had been like discovering an Alladins cave. Most of the equipment was to be used by The Rev Jabuloni Issoke Memorial College. This is run by the Diocese of Kitgum to provide secondary education for those who would not otherwise be able to afford it; many are orphans or in child headed families, the result of years of conflict. I spent an enjoyable time with representatives of the school who had interrupted their Christmas holiday; students, teachers, ancillary staff, and governors. Most of the furniture had been unpacked and some was being used at the time of my visit by members of a day workshop. The books were being sorted to be used appropriately. Everything had survived the epic journey. After a tour of the school we reached the container which fitted in remarkably comfortably in its surroundings near the Cathedral and next to the Counselling Centre built with funds from Bristol. Photographs were taken and we were joined by Salome and the Child Care staff in the Counselling Centre before eating together.
Thanks to Bristol West!
It was agreed that this is probably now one of the best equipped schools in the North of Uganda. and there is immense gratitude for all we have been able to do through this imaginative project.