A Travellerspoint blog

Welcome Asher Iain Zawadi!

baby Asher Iain Zawadi

baby Asher Iain Zawadi

I’m writing this through the bleary- eyed, emotional newborn haze of exhaustion, elation, love, soreness, relief and shellshock…
we were (and still are!) == thrilled== to welcome our lovely son,== ==Asher Iain Zawadi==== into the world at 4.08am on Friday 30th August weighing 6.7lbs.
Asher is Hebrew/ Biblical for happy, Iain is a tribute to my late brother and means God is gracious, and Zawadi is Swahili for 'gift'...

Asher Iain

Asher Iain


DSC_0097.jpg

Of course, we can’t help comparing the experience of giving birth in Kenya nearly 3 years ago, and with Uganda’s infant and mother high mortality rate and hearing first-hand too many personal stories, we feel relieved to have been able to have benefited from the amazing NHS system and caring medical staff here in the UK…

Claire the wonderful midwife

Claire the wonderful midwife

Some of the more striking differences was…
pain relief- gas and air- during labour…(thank you Lord), though really I didn't know how to use gas and air seeing as it was my first time, instead I used it as somewhere to clench my teeth. Later on during a minor op by the senior midwife, I did feel the benefits of gas and air when I sucked properly on it and David told me I looked like I was cross-eyed and high.

…the paperwork and accountability when we were moved from the delivery ward on one floor to the recovery ward to ensure that the baby we had brought to the ward was the right one. In Kenya we had heard stories about baby swapping, either from people who couldn’t have children and would pay a nurse to steal a new baby, or from a mother who had a stillborn baby and would pay a nurse to swap it for a live baby on the ward. Thankfully, it would have been pretty obvious if someone had tried to swap Amelie when she was amongst her newborn Kenyan peers…

…Then there was the car-seat ordeal when we were leaving the hospital, a baby can’t leave the hospital unless safely strapped into a car-seat, which meant my sweet friend who had come to pick me up and has a phobia of lifts had to run up and down the 5 storeys to fetch the seat… a far cry from bundling into an old banged-up car and holding the new bundle on my lap whilst bumping down the dust road…

Life in Uganda seems far away at the moment, and hard to comprehend life there in a few months with the 2 little ones. I received an email today with a picture of the girl who helps us, Lilian, who is also due any day, and I can't help wondering and worrying for her delivery and circumstances...

There seems to be so much to squash into the remaining few months in the UK, and the last 7 weeks here have felt like a whirlwind of highs with special times with special people, and the challenges of constant packing and repacking and moving... we are so relieved that Asher waited to arrive when we had at least unpacked in Reading rather than arrive on the M6 (or in Doncaster...)

Amelie has coped well with so many changes in the last few weeks- over 10 different beds, a different culture and now a little brother. She has almost lost her strange Ugan-glish accent and loves all the playparks dotted around and stimulating places and things to do... (and we are enjoying the novelty of cbeebies)...
Lovely big sis

Lovely big sis

Legoland!

Legoland!


growing Burnell clan

growing Burnell clan

Posted by africraigs 12:29 Archived in England Comments (7)

Best (and quirks) of the Brits

oompa loompas, the royal baby, hotpants and strawberries....

sunny 30 °C

There were many things we were looking forward to in our few months in the UK, one was escaping the heat for a bit (especially with the pregnancy), but it seemed the heat followed us back to the UK, and literally as we travelled north in my parents small over-packed fiesta, so did the 30C + heat (combined with standstill traffic and a bored toddler making it a wonderful 7 hour journey up the M6…)

9 of the funny the things that you notice after being out of the country for a while...

1. At the many service stations we visited on the awful journey, we were both struck with how many family units there were, dads spending time with their kids, couples together, dads helping with childcare, dads pushing buggies…

2. After not seeing knees (male or female) for a while, it is strange to see so much white flesh wobbling about- hot pants, mini skirts, playsuits, people are loving the summer sun! It is also strange to realize how much pressure people (especially young girls) feel to have the right ‘look.’ The media isn’t coy about what they believe is the sexiest, cutest look...

3. Adverts on the TV to save abandoned dogs, with the dogs having a voice-over and telling a sob story seems so surreal after being in a place where there is no pet culture and animals are purely functional and often mistreated- text ‘PAWS to 81145 and send a pound a week to save more neglected dogs’ is a world away from the flea and worm infested dogs in our neighbourhod in Arua…! It also seems a bit weird when it seems animals are considered as important as people…

4. Having to explain to Amelie what an ambulance, fire engine, police car and radiator are, and why dogs here look so glossy and are on a lead.

5. How delicious summer berries are, especially with cream

6. All the news about Kate and Wills and the baby prince reminds us about how obsessed the UK media can get about something

7. How strict health and safety rules are (I got barked at today by a man in a high-vis yellow vest for amelie's buggy obstructing an aisle...), and how many people wear helmets when cycling. We also have to explain to Amelie why we can’t hold her at the front of the car when she is tired.

8. How many old people are around- yesterday we saw an old lady whizz past on an electric scooter with a fluffy dog sitting happily in the basket, and it made us do a double take. There is definitely a lot of white hair bobbing around.

9. How refreshing it is to be able to go on a walk as a family and not get hassled...
catbells

catbells

windswept

windswept

I didn’t expect to find so many small, daily things strange, and I’m sure in a few days it will all be boringly normal again, but I wonder how Amelie finds this new culture and all the things which are so different. The other day we were visiting a village carnival with various floats and all sorts of people in fancy dress, including a bunch of orange-faced, green haired oompa lompas, and I watched Amelie’s face of utter bewilderment as she was wondering ===‘is this normal here?’…===

oompaloompa.jpg

Seeing friends and family...
baking with auntie zed

baking with auntie zed


auntie lizzie

auntie lizzie

Posted by africraigs 13:32 Archived in England Tagged lakes people Comments (1)

When Misery came to the house...

What's in a name?...

sunny 27 °C

I can’t exactly say my heart leapt when I saw her… six foot tall and thin, deep voice, big hands, and either the worst luck I’ve known, or a wild imagination for spinning stories- it was Candiru, a lady who had visited us several times before asking for money for various dire scenarios. Candiru literally means ‘misery’ in the local language and unfortunately she lives up to it, with her terrible tales of bus accidents, her children starving, her clothes being stolen and so on.

The Lugbara naming culture is similar to the names in the Bible in that names have power and can describe the situation of the child’s birth. It’s not just in peoples’ names, but also generally in the words spoken (which is why David’s sarcasm often goes down like a lead balloon…)

We also met ‘Breath of death’ (Draza) last week- a teenage boy lying unconscious outside out house, unfortunately also living up to his name-skinny as a skeleton, neglected at home, malnourished.
These confusing situations are so hard to get to the bottom of, or fully understand, or even know the ‘right’ way to respond.

Our Landlord, an older man, was explaining that it is only in recent years that names have become more positive and hopeful, names such as ‘Asianzu’ (peace/ grace) ‘Ayikoru’- (joy) and ‘fetaa’ – (gift) are more common, alongside the 'miserables' and ‘breath of death’s’ around us.

One of the big responsibilities of expecting a baby is choosing their name/s. After causing confusion and amusement with Emma and Craig being boys names here, and people thinking Amelie is Emily, we had been hoping to find a Lugbara name we could use as a middle name, but haven’t had much success- either the names are so depressing, (Feku: ‘give not’- the mother never gave the father enough food, Drajoa- ‘in the death hut’- meaning many children died in the house or 'Inia'- meaning the father only visited the mother at night…) and the more positive ones don’t exactly roll off the tongue. Our language teacher, another Candiru, who thankfully doesn’t live up to her name, has been very patient with me asking for the Lugbara words for ‘hope’ ‘blessing’ ‘wanted’ etc… with disappointingly clunky sounding results.

We realised one of our shortlisted fave girl’s names means ‘food’ tomato’ and ‘millet’ in the local language so we’re back to the drawing board. And then I throw my patriotic husband’s desire for Scottish name into the mix too, and we’re really stuck…

I am writing this in the limbo land of Entebbe, (where Uganda's international airport is situated, waiting for our BA flight on Monday), in between the world of Candiru’s begging at the gate and millet flour and charcoal stoves, and an island of paved roads and snazzy buggies and punctual time keeping…

saying goodbye to all the animals

saying goodbye to all the animals

Our life often feels a bit like that ‘in-between’ place culturally, with our lives in two completely different countries and continents. It is strange enough for David and I as adults, but we worry about how confusing it is for Amelie with her white-blond hair but her love of riding boda-bodas and her Ugandan accent.
Amelie and her beloved dolly

Amelie and her beloved dolly

Posted by africraigs 12:23 Archived in Uganda Comments (3)

Taking the fun out of 'fundraising'

storm 23 °C

The dread had set in weeks before when we received a very formal invitation from one of our favourite Lugbara friends and boda-boda (motorbike taxi) man, Peter. Being hand-delivered to our house at 7am on a Saturday morning, it had already produced less than welcoming feelings from me. However, as in all good African relations, the one-to-one, face-to-face nature of the interaction meant it was very hard to say ‘No’ or decline. Instead, we acted very enthusiastically about it.

In Africa, the very personal nature of interactions produces awkward situations almost daily when people ask directly for money or help in various ways. It means that there is a new dilemma to face and another question to ask yourself about the person’s truthfulness, character and actual needs. These are hard to answer in a brief encounter with someone you don’t know well…

Anyway, this invitation was from someone we know and like a lot and was for a fundraising event for Peter’s church St Michael (or St Micheal?, the flyer spelt it both ways…) of Pokea (wherever that is). Peter told us that they were fundraising to buy a piece of land at 20million shillings (£5000).

(Someone was telling us that the cost of having these fundraisers is such that it is hardly worth the money that is raised…, but I was obviously hoping that this wouldn’t be the case for Peter’s fundraiser).
The invitation included the details of the time for starting (12pm) and was stamped with the official St Michael of Pokea rubber stamp. The invitation included 3 signatories and was therefore very official-looking. To be honest, it wasn’t a very ‘inviting’ invitation at all… It definitely looked like an event to be avoided if possible, especially since all it promised was to extract as much cash out of you as it could. We wouldn’t want to miss the fundraiser, though, because of our close friendship with Peter and his brother Charles who was also involved.

Our concerns over an event like this arose from various factors. One big concern is the one of ‘African time’. Events in Africa can go on and on for hours. This can be especially taxing when you are sitting in the heat with little comfort and are pregnant (not me, but Emma) and have to look after an active little girl. We had considered some of these issues and packed some snacks and drinks and toys in our backpack. We also had decided Amelie and Emma would leave after showing face and I would ‘take the hit’ for the family by persevering (I knew that my reward would be increasing in heaven all the while I was sitting there…).

Another fear was the awkwardness of being white and the expectation of having a lot of cash. This might mean we were expected to give more than the common punter and could cause some embarrassment if we had turned up without ‘enough’ money…

On the day, we turned up an hour after the time the invitation indicated, thinking smugly to ourselves that we were keeping good African time. On arrival, we were met by people wearing badges ‘Security’, ‘Welcome’, ‘Protocol’ and others I forget. Someone wearing a ‘Protocol’ badge led us to the registry office. Initially, I had assumed the man’s name was ‘Protocol’, but then realized a number of people were wearing the same badge.
Officious-looking office people registering us

Officious-looking office people registering us

Amelie happily getting registered for fundraising

Amelie happily getting registered for fundraising

In the office, the 2 people behind the desk were shuffling papers and looking quite officious. We were asked how much we wanted to contribute. I was confused, was this already part of the fundraising?

Not knowing how much to give, my mind worked furiously to work out what seemed like an appropriate amount. I offered 5000 shillings for each of us (£1.25). From the man’s reaction, this obviously wasn’t good enough, he had expected a white person to contribute more than that, but he still didn’t give me any clue as to how much… On glancing at the floor, however, I noticed a piece of paper which must have fallen (or been hidden) showing prices for different seats. The seats were graded according to how much was paid on entry. 1000 shillings (25p) for the cheap-o seats, 2000 shillings, 5000 shillings or 10,000 shillings. I then realized we were expected to give at least 10,000 shillings to sit in the privileged section as it wouldn’t be right for a white person to be seen sitting in the cheaper seats…

The plastic chairs of the ‘privileged’ are quite comfortable as they fit your bottom contours quite nicely, especially compared to the wooden benches provided for the riff-raff. We were a row behind the sofas provided for a couple of dog-collared priests and the guest of honour.

Charles met us and chatted for a while, but he had to head off eventually, as he was involved in the organizing of the fundraiser. Peter was also there wearing a ‘Security’ badge.
Charles and Amelie at the Fundraiser

Charles and Amelie at the Fundraiser

We quickly realized that we were going to be sitting around for quite a while before things got moving. There were only a few others around and those who were had wisely brought newspapers and had their heads buried in them (only those in the privileged seating as newspapers are a luxury for most) . It wasn’t all dull, though, sitting there under the UNHCR refugee tent canvass of the specially-built enclosure. A DJ was playing music from a couple of large speakers and one particularly energetic guy was enthusiastically busting some moves in the central section in the blazing hot sun. It was obvious the drinks he had been taking since the morning had dulled his senses to the heat. He was dancing with a huge smile on his sweaty face and was very entertaining. (After a couple of hours, he was carted off by security).

A couple of older men were posted at one of the entrances to control people coming in and out. They had made an effort to look the part and had suitable uniforms and long sticks, although their uniforms made me think of the Brownies… After taking their photograph, one of the guards asked me for money. Again, I was confused, wondering if this was all part of the fundraising too or if it was someone taking the event too personally…Oversized Brownie Guards

Oversized Brownie Guards

Things started getting going around 3:30, a little later than the programme stated. The crowd started to thicken and the MC had started to prattle on in Lugbara. There had also already been a couple of rounds of an offering basket, one of the times brought round by the friendly drunk guy himself. I realized that at a fundraiser, there are many opportunities to give in the offering basket. An unwritten rule is that you need a lot of small change, handfuls of 100 and 200 shilling coins (2.5p and 5p). I also realized quickly that I definitely didn’t have enough.
The dreaded offering basket coming round again...

The dreaded offering basket coming round again...

The MC’s role is to imaginatively keep the energy of giving going… He has various games or stories he plays. For example, the MC tells us we need to give to apologise to the priest for starting late. (not our fault, I was thinking…) The basket comes round, the music plays and everyone gives…Next time, we have give to greet the guest of honour, so the basket goes around again.One of my favourite ‘games’ was offering money to rescue children from ‘prison’ being held there by the MC.
A lady watches helplessly as the children are imprisoned by the MC

A lady watches helplessly as the children are imprisoned by the MC

A horrible looking backpack was auctioned off. Money was also raised for a shirt and a pair of trousers which were then given to the priest.

I was excited to see people carrying local harps and drums and learn that we would be asked to vote on the different choirs represented. My natural guess was that the choirs would sing and play their local instruments and we would have the chance to give money to the choir we liked the best. Sadly, I was disappointed. Although the choirs had all their instruments with them, no one made any music, instead people gave money to vote on the best choir without even having heard them.

One aspect of the fundraising that I couldn’t related to was that of boasting how much you are giving or pledge to give (easy to forget how much you pledged, once the event is over, though, isn’t it?). Over the course of the afternoon, people would get up, go over to the mic and tell everyone how much he/she was giving. For that, they received a rapturous applause. It seemed to me that people were trying to out-give and out-boast each other. This system wouldn’t go down at all well in the UK, I was thinking…

I liked the little old lady’s announcement, though. In the midst of all the big money, she stepped up to the mic to let everyone know she was giving 1000 shillings (25p).

Nearing the end of the day, I was starting to get into the swing of things. I would shake my booty and dance up to put my money in the basket like the rest of the pulsating crowd, though I was still very aware of being the only white face around.
The crowd dancing and giving

The crowd dancing and giving

Thankfully, all the effort of feeling awkward at different stages of the afternoon was not without it’s reward as food was brought out for everyone to enjoy whatever their seating class… The traditional Lugbara food called ‘enyasa’ (translated ‘mush’ in our Lugbara dictionary) took 4 men to carry in the huge pot.

I lined up to be served and felt I deserved a bit of nourishment following a long and tiring afternoon. I had survived a new cultural experience and managed to leave with a few shillings in my pocket to help me get home.

Posted by africraigs 05:56 Archived in Uganda Comments (1)

Magic, Malaria and Death

Common themes...

sunny 30 °C

We have been very grateful to God that Amelie is better after 2 bouts of malaria in the last couple of months. One of my biggest fears of being out in the middle of Africa are the very real dangers of life. I was reading a statistic the other day which showed that death from traffic accidents are almost 10x more prevelant in Uganda than the UK. We heard that 2 American Peace Corps volunteers were killed when a truck ploughed into them in the high street recently! Malaria is another huge danger. Mosquitoes are so tiny but frighten me a lot. Their whiny noise is extremely annoying and despite all we do to keep the house free of them, they seem to find their way in. Amelie often has small red marks on her skin which she scratches avidly. Last week, one of our night guards – Rashid, was not around because he had to travel to the other side of the country because of the news his older brother (I think his name is Rabid...) was deathly ill. When he arrived, his brother was so ill with malaria, his eyes were vacant and he wasn’t moving. Doctors had run out of medicine for him and there was no money for medicine. Rashid organized selling of the family cow to pay for medicines and started him on the road to recovery. Rashid yesterday told us his brother is improving, thank God.
Amelie lion-hair teases the kitten. She has thankfully bounced back from malaria

Amelie lion-hair teases the kitten. She has thankfully bounced back from malaria


Because of the huge problem of malaria and its threat, I am very keen on promoting the use of the natural medicine Artemesia. It is a plant which is very powerful against malaria and is used for those with HIV/AIDS as well due to its immune boosting capabilities. Currently, I have 5 fragile plants growing in the coolest areas of my garden as they are very sensitive to dry spells and heat. It is one of the ideas that I have of combating some of the incredible problems of poverty we run into on regularly here.
Photo of Rosalia with bunches of Artemesia in Kenya with REAP 2010

Photo of Rosalia with bunches of Artemesia in Kenya with REAP 2010


The reality of death is an accepted and celebrated part of life here. A Peace Corps volunteer nurse working in the referral hospital in Arua says that in the West, we live with the expectation of life, whereas people in Africa live with the expectation of death. These two completely different perspectives explains a lot about the way that life is approached.

Eunice, our Lugbara language tells us that people don’t care so much for a person when they are very sick, but when someone dies, everyone gives a lot of money and makes a big song and dance. She gives us a vivid picture of funeral culture. It would be a fascinating cultural experience to see, but I think it may be overwhelming. On Wednesday, she had been to the funeral of a prominent lady in the community. She stayed with the body overnight as is the custom and was exhausted at school the next day. Eunice tells us that someone who dies needs to be smeared by volunteers, covering the body in shea butter and closing the eyes and mouth. Anyone attending the home of the dead person is expected to mourn very loudly. If they are too quiet, people may become suspicious and think that they are a wizard and killed the person. In fact, she tells us that people approaching the house where the body is laid may be beaten soundly over the head with a stick to induce loud cries and to share in the pain. Some people are seen to run backwards and forwards across the compound crying out how much they miss seeing the person walking from that direction or the other. It really sounds very different to a sedate Edinburgh funeral where very little noise is heard…

Another recent occurrence took place a few kilometers down a dirt track through a eucalyptus plantation (a place where you will be mugged at night) in a teacher training college. The road is one of my favourite running routes as it is quieter and so there are less people staring or shouting remarks, though still enough to make me upset. There are also one or two Ugandan runners using the track (seeing a runner is rare but encouraging). It is slightly unnerving, then, when we hear the news last week of 2 deaths and 2 serious injuries after an attempted robbery at the school. According to the reports, a group of men attempted to break into the school dormitory to steal a bike padlocked to the bed rail. The theft was bungled and the robber stabbed the bike’s owner (a math student). In the ensuing brawl, students performed mob justice on the thief, stamping on him, beating him using rocks and chairs. He was crushed to bits. It is always a wonder to me why anyone attempts to steal anything in Uganda when this is the common result of someone who is caught in the act…

Eunice, as a good teacher and even better story-teller, was telling us that she caught 3 boys doing magic at school. What? Maybe David Blaine had been on a school visit recently. It seems an unbelievable story, and something she has never come across before with kids. She tells us that a boy was causing a stir because by taking some of the children’s pocket money in his fist and flexing it, spitting on it and whirling his arm round several times, he was able to conjure up more money…! By doing so, the back of his hand would bleed, but quickly the bleeding would stop. He supposedly had learnt this trick from his father who sent them out to buy from the shops without money. He had taught more children to do the trick and they were also showing off their magic powers causing a real stir in the classroom. The boys were brought before Eunice who told them in her very African way that they were possessed by demons and she was going to take them to the church for praying and casting out of the demons. She was going to pray that fire would be sent from heaven on them if they didn’t stop their weird behaviour. The next day, Friday, the boys surprisingly didn’t turn up at school…
Advert for Traditional Healer... some magic potions brewed here

Advert for Traditional Healer... some magic potions brewed here


Yesterday, her story was about how people bring bodies out from the grave supernaturally, then walk them along the road to be eaten at home. She acted it out to dramatise the story, arms swinging listlessly, eyes vacant, head bobbing. Again, it’s a crazy story, but one we have heard of before. We were even told that dead people can be brought from the grave to work in the field at night. When the day breaks, the field has been ploughed and ready for planting! In the West, we think of zombies only in movies, here, they are not considered ficticious. It makes me wonder how people here view zombie films especially horror films about supernatural things.

These stories illustrate how much more the supernatural is so close to the surface and part of everyday life in the culture. It also reminds me that in Africa, there is never a day passes without at least learning something new and outrageous!

Here are some normal-life photos around and about our area with no death or magic in sight (well, that's from my naive western perspective...):
DSC_0163.jpgDSC_0157.jpgWomen are often the packhorses

Women are often the packhorses

Girl grumpily sells vegetables at roadside

Girl grumpily sells vegetables at roadside

Posted by africraigs 09:47 Archived in Uganda Comments (1)

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