A Travellerspoint blog

Happy Mother's Day!

28 °C

This weekend marked the celebrations of International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day and it made me want to dedicate this wee post to all of the hard working, inspiring, exhausted, self- sacrificing, beautiful mamas out there…

In the local language here, the name for woman and wife are the same; ‘oku’, whereas there is a clear difference between the words for ‘husband’ and ‘man’. Our language teacher tells us that traditionally the woman is considered the family’s/ village’s property and the important part is whether the woman is able to conceive.

More and more, we notice what a lifelong slog it is for women in this culture, particularly more rurally. When Bighair runs early in the morning, he passes many women lugging great bundles of firewood or charcoal on their head. (They might wonder what he is carrying on his head- a haystack?...) Firewood is increasingly scarce, which means the early bird catches the worm when it comes to gathering sticks.
No sticks means no fire, no fire mean no chai, no chai means a hungry household, so this first task at 5.30 am is a vital start to the day.

daily chores

daily chores

A friend was telling me yesterday that if the husband/ man does help with some of the many manual tasks in the home, not only is he is laughed at by the community, but the woman is labeled as ‘lazy’ and incapable.

Coming from a culture that has gone to extremes with equal rights and opportunities, it is striking to us how differently men and women are treated.

As in almost every bleak situation, there are glimmers of hope – and here, it is when men decide to choose a different way for their family, when their own faith and convictions challenge their culture and give them a desire to be involved in childcare, financially empowering their wives and taking on some of the tasks.

Being a mum is of course, wonderful, but I can’t help wondering if some of the joy would be sucked out if I had to wake at 5.30am, had long, physically demanding days, 7 or 8 children under 10 years and not much support from my husband.

These women really are amazing and have a strength that I can’t even comprehend- happy mother’s day to you. xxx

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Posted by africraigs 11:24 Archived in Uganda Comments (1)

Precious jewels, the highest peaks, and some humbling stats

sunny 34 °C

Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, at 5896m, the highest peak on the continent of Africa is one of my ambitions before I kick the bucket one fateful day (and to many, I’m certain, a very sad day). Though a distant second, it was still an incredible sight when I saw the snowy peak for the first time on a visit to Arusha, Tanzania at the beginning of February for a Christian agriculture and appropriate technology conference.

Mt Kilimanjaro attracts lots of tourists to climb the highest free-standing mountain in the world and it is easy to see why. This area of Tanzania is ‘real Africa’. The fabled Serengeti plains are close by with all the big animals. You pass Maasai hanging around everywhere in their long red checked robes and colourful beads.

One of my friends called Hillary (despite the name, he’s a guy) lives in Arusha, so I was looking forward to catching up with him since his time working with Bethany Christian Trust as a volunteer. He has since gotten married and has a 2-month old baby, Michelle. His wife has a great name, she’s called ‘Happy’!, though I suppose it is a name which could be a lot to live up to all the time…
Hillary's fam and me

Hillary's fam and me

Baby Michelle and her Auntie

Baby Michelle and her Auntie

Profile of a Modern African Dad...

Profile of a Modern African Dad...


It was fascinating spending some time as part of Hillary’s family. For me (and most white people I know living and working in Africa who aren’t racist…), one of the ultimate goals is to be accepted as an equal by the local people and I really felt this by Hillary and his family. On most evenings, I spent time round at Hillary’s home eating cooked banana, (matoke) and, if I was lucky, watching a dubbed Philipino soap called Mara Clara afterwards…

Hillary’s mum, visiting from Dar es Salaam to see her granddaughter was keen to visit her family in the village outside of Mosi. Every African has a ‘village home’ which is always out in the sticks over bumpy dirt roads where the pace of life has slowed to a crawl. This is a place where you get a warm welcome but where a modern way of life seems totally out of place.
Hillary photographing his grandparents

Hillary photographing his grandparents


One of the best things about the drive to Mosi from Arusha is the fantastic views of Mt Kilimanjaro from the roadside, something I was very excited about. Sadly, though, the whole peak was shrouded in a big, grey cloud. It was tempting to believe Africa’s highest peak and one of its iconic symbols was not standing over us like a sentinel nearby.

Hillary’s granddad was an especially affable character and full of life. His snow-white hair matched the colour of the mountain peak he lived under and his bright-white teeth would go nicely in a Colgate ad. He showed his teeth often while laughing and sharing stories in Kiswahili. His land is full of volcanic rock spewed up in the distant past by Mt Kili and he had to do a lot of lifting and moving of boulders to make the land farmable.
Hillary and his grandpa

Hillary and his grandpa


On the return journey, the sky around the mountain peaks started to clear, thankfully, and it was incredible to clearly view the pointed peak of Mawenzi Summit, one of the peaks of Mt Kilimanjaro. A little later, alongside the road, and what I had been wishing for, emerged at last! It is beautiful and impressive!
Mawenzi Summit as the clouds clear

Mawenzi Summit as the clouds clear


Mt Kilimanjaro seen from a sunflower field

Mt Kilimanjaro seen from a sunflower field

Mt Kili poses behind me posing

Mt Kili poses behind me posing


The silhouette of an acacia beneath Mt Kilimanjaro

The silhouette of an acacia beneath Mt Kilimanjaro


In the car, Hillary’s mum explained that Kilimanjaro means ‘impossible journey’ or something similar in Kichagga, the language of the Chagga who live around the mountain. They believed it was inaccessible and so stayed away from it.

On the Arusha-Mosi route, another road leads off to the airport and to a special mine. Tanzanite (as the name alludes) is a precious stone only found in Tanzania. It is more rare than diamonds. Some of Hillary’s family in Arusha (and Hillary’s family seemed to pop up everywhere in Arusha) are involved in buying and selling of tanzanite and seem to be very well off in the process! The hotel I stayed in, for instance, Charity hotel (why so-named, I had no idea and forgot to ask) is owned by Hillary’s great uncle who is also building another hotel (there seem to be plenty of people passing through Arusha,). Hillary himself gave this new hotel its name, but I completely forget what it is – it is a combination of children’s names in the family, but the name didn’t particularly roll off the tongue… Charity hotel is plusher than the hotel I had originally booked into at $25 a night, but Hillary insisted I stayed in his great-uncle’s hotel at the same cost. I felt a bit embarrassed to do that, but I appreciated Hillary’s kindness. This same great-uncle met me in the hotel lobby convinced I had contacts to help him buy a second-hand helicopter from the UK. Thanks to friends on facebook who discovered you could pick one out of ebay for £75,000.
Quality controlling the tanzanite

Quality controlling the tanzanite

Tanzanite jewels

Tanzanite jewels

There were tortoises roaming on the hotel ground

There were tortoises roaming on the hotel ground


Though seeing Hillary and his family was a great side-dish, the main purpose for visiting Arusha was to attend an agriculture and appropriate technology ‘symposium’ (whatever that means) run by ECHO (Educational Concern for Hunger Organisation). Emma and I had been to ECHO’s base in Florida at the end of 2009 before heading to Kenya and had some of the best experiences of our married life there. There are many interesting and lovely people associated with ECHO and the conference was a good time to re-connect with old friends and make some new ones. Our old REAP boss was in attendance and was even sharing at one of the main morning sessions on how to use the Bible to motivate people to be good stewards of their God-given resources.
Dr Roger of REAP speaking

Dr Roger of REAP speaking


The conference was a great place to be with among the energy of like-minded agriculture and development people and to be re-motivated about why I want to do what I want to do…

One of the most inspirational sessions was a session led by Stan Doerr, the head of ECHO. He provided statistics and a somber picture for the need for an organisation like ECHO to exist and for the need of agricultural development work amongst the least-advantaged peoples. Here are a few ‘facts’.
- The American State of Iowa produces more maize than the whole continent of Africa!
- There is a good chance that we are going into another Global Food Crisis which greatly affects the poor. In a Global Food Crisis, prices of foods spike and a high percentage of income is spent on food. For example, in 2012, the price of sorghum in South Sudan increased by 220%!
- In 2006, before the Food Crisis, an average person in the USA spent 9.8% of income on food, while in Tanzania, the figure was 71%.
- Worldwide, there are 2 billion people suffering from nutrient deficiencies
- 177 million children are affected by chronic malnutrition.
- 3.5-5 million children are dying each year from causes related to malnutrition.
- Malnutrition is expected to significantly increase in sub-Saharan Africa in the next 30 years.
- One episode of severe malnutrition in an under 5 child’s life can impact their cognitive ability for life!
- “Agriculture development is the most effective way to combat poverty and to pull (developing populations) up into a higher level of food security” Warren Buffet
- 7/10 people around the world depend on agriculture for food and income.

Another highlight for me was hearing from Roland Bunch, author of the classic development book “Two Ears of Corn”. I had first read an article taken from this book while I was at uni and it was the first time I had ever considered appropriate responses to peoples’ needs in the developing nations. It was a completely new way of thinking for me.
Me and Roland Bunch

Me and Roland Bunch


At the ECHO conference, I felt I was part of a big family and quickly made friends. It was disappointing we were all travelling to distant destinations scattered all over East Africa including South Sudan, Ethiopia and Mozambique.
ECHO conference certificates

ECHO conference certificates


Tanzanians speak excellent Kiswahili so I used this to my advantage by asking Hillary how to say certain phrases. It helped that most of his family didn’t know English, so I used my poor Kiswahili and found it improving quickly. I always enjoy talking in Kiswahili having spoken it as a child in Congo and so it is one of my favourite languages (despite my struggles to speak it…).

However, there was a big downside in jogging my small brain to recall and learn new Kiswahili words. On returning to Arua and my Lugbara lessons with our excellent teacher Eunice, I could hardly speak a word, and any understanding of the language had vanished…

A few weeks back and Lugbara is starting to stick a little bit. Some words are playing round my mind as I go about the day which is a good sign. Our afternoons sessions with Eunice are a real killer, though, as, being the dry season, the temperature can top 35 degrees. All the animals are lying stretched out on the cooler cement floor and I feel like doing the same. As Eunice tells her cultural stories or asks us how to say something in Lugbara, I can find myself going cross-eyed and feeling my eyelids drop. I have to fight the impulse to nod my head and fall asleep. It’s very obvious and I am keen to learn, so I have tried chewing coffee beans to stimulate my brain and keep me awake. Power horse, an energy drink, seems to be doing the trick and is now my new tipple of choice during Lugbara lessons.
Power horse to get me through the day

Power horse to get me through the day

Trying not to fall asleep in the heat

Trying not to fall asleep in the heat

Posted by africraigs 01:06 Archived in Tanzania Comments (2)

See-through curtains, ancestral spirits and a table at last

sunny 31 °C

Two weeks ago we were sitting shivering in a cold basement in Nairobi wrapped in sweaters and borrowed socks at some of the best training I have ever attended. We had been encouraged to attend an ‘Africa Based Orientation’ and really, it couldn’t have come a day too soon…

We were very grateful to have a superb Kenyan speaker, who had the amazing, and probably rare, skill to critique his own culture, yet remain proudly Kenyan. He was a great resource to ask questions about things that have baffled, frustrated and annoyed us over our time in East Africa.

One of the highlights was the talk about rites of passage (birth, naming, initiation, death, burial), which are present to some extent in all cultures, and can tell you so much about a peoples worldview, priorities and belief systems. So much of our frustrations 2 years ago in Kenya when Amelie was born clicked into place, and I only wish we’d had the cultural ‘heads up’ then!

The week that followed the conference gave plenty of scope to put my newfound knowledge into practice… David was away at an Agricultural conference, leaving me realising that being a single mum in Africa isn’t much fun. I realised how much I rely on Bighair’s cultural sensitivity mixed with diplomacy and assertiveness, which I am pretty hopeless with. I tried to pick up our 4-foot oval dining table which we had ordered, only to discover a massive 6 foot dark wood rectangle which the shopkeeper’s tried to convince me I had ordered. After sawing a few feet off the table and benches, the furniture was delivered to our home by motorbike and for the first time in 10 months we are enjoying eating around a dining table rather than hunched over a coffee table with Amelie running about.
our table arrives!

our table arrives!

Next came the curtain saga, as David was away, I had hoped that I could put up curtains in the bathroom for a sense of privacy, our Congolese tailor friend had used our lining for her clothes she was making to sell and so gave us see-through curtains back, claiming there was not enough lining.
Understanding some of the worldview did not make either situation any less frustrating, but at least helped to understand possible reasons why.

Whilst David was away, Amelie’s sleeping was terrible, so when he returned we decided to get stuck into some strict ‘sleep training’ to regain some precious hours of our own in the evening. The first night was, as to be expected, rough, Amelie howled for what felt like ages. The most distressed of us all was our night watchman. Our language teacher told us that you do not leave a child to cry, especially for a long period of time, as it believed by the Lugbara tribe that unless the child is sick, ancestral spirits are coming out of the wailing child and trying to communicate.

It seems like a tightrope balance with daily decisions about respecting a different worldview but also keeping personal sanity. We are glad to say that we are now all enjoying more sleep, and there are no ancestral spirits disturbing us in the nights.

Another cultural faux pas- sitting amidst Daddy's dirty pants

Another cultural faux pas- sitting amidst Daddy's dirty pants

Posted by africraigs 01:21 Comments (1)

A new year, a new language, more confusion

Why can't everyone speak English?

sunny 30 °C

Learning a new language and culture is like discovering a new world, opening your eyes and mind to completely amazing and strange ideas, some shocking, some fascinating, most unexpected.
Since the beginning of the new year, we have a new teacher, Eunice, who is hoping to make us into fluent Lugbara speakers within a few months… Lugbara is the local tribe in Arua, one of the 10 largest tribes in Uganda (out of a total of 34 ethnicities). The Lugbara are a tribe descended from Nigeria to settle here. Their territory extends around Arua and into the Democratic Republic of Congo, so families have been split by the arbitrary political boundaries drawn by the Europeans in Berlin in 1884.
Disconcertingly, we seem to be a source of great amusement for most of the ex-pats when we tell them we are taking this time to study Lugbara. “Good luck”, they tell us. They then go on to tell you a story of someone who has been attempting the language for many years and haven’t gotten very far. Some compare the language to Chinese, saying it is one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn. It is quite depressing hearing this, obviously… Additionally, having grown up in Congo and learning Swahili there, having lived in Malawi and Kenya and trying to learn the languages there, while being exposed to various other African languages, it is frustrating to have to start at zero like a baby once again….those languages are nothing like Lugbara!
Most whites don’t even bother to learn Lugbara especially since this tribe is only one of 5 in the close vicinity of one another. For example, the Alur are settled on the outskirts of Arua town. Their language is close to the Luo language which we were learning in Kenya. To make it even worse, there are sub-sections of the Lugbara tribe with variations in the way words are said. Whoopee to learning a difficult language which is only spoken by a few and which is nothing like any other language we have ever heard!
Eunice, in action, confusing us

Eunice, in action, confusing us


Eunice is a good teacher, though, having patience with us as we sit on the veranda trying to repeat what on earth she has just said. As a Lugbara, she is also good at turning up late, demonstrating how a Lugbara should act. As Lilian, another Lugbara who works for us says, “Lugbaras is not following time, ha!” and laughs out loud. So, anyway, she is almost an hour late today, but since we live in Africa, you never know what may have happened. It could be a relative has just died and she has to go to the funeral.
Despite the issue of time-keeping, which especially bothers Emma, Eunice has been effective at moving us on in the language. Emma and I already feel more confident using some simple phrases and greetings. For example, I was particularly proud when I asked for 10 eggs the other day in the local wooden duka close to our home. “Ife mani augbe mundri”. The word for egg 'augbe' is spoken as though you are swallowing an egg...

One of the problems of learning Lugbara is that the same words can mean completely different things. So, for instance, the word for sauce, “tibi”, is the same word for ‘beard’, just with a different tone. Emma wonders if this has anything to do with someone’s long beard dragging in their gravy once upon a time. There are other examples, though the best so far is the word ‘ago’, which if intonated differently, can either mean ‘husband’ or ‘pumpkin’. A phrase like ‘my beautiful fiancée’ can also come across as ‘my beautiful warthog’, so any wannabe suitors need to be pretty careful in this town…

Emma also uses a lot of imagination when it comes to remembering the Lugbara phrases or words. So, for instance, the word for peanuts is ‘funo’ (foon-oh). Emma thinks of little peanuts bouncing around and having a lot of fun. It can be a bit of a tentative or weird link at times. She is constantly whispering to me how I can remember a word. Awupi (A-whoopee) is the word for Aunt on your dad’s side. Obviously, this conjures up thoughts of playing a trick with my Auntie Barbara with a whoopee cushion…’Fetaa’ (feta) means gift and so it is remembered by thinking of giving someone a gift of cheese. I often wish I had had Emma as a study partner for my IGCSE or IB exams in Holland as I would not have spent so many lost hours staring blankly at walls trying to cram boring information into my struggling mind.

Alongside Emma's visual mind, we are also discovering that Lugbara is quite a visual language. The word for ‘fingers’, for example, is ‘hand-children’. This also works for ‘toes’ (foot children). The word for door translates directly as ‘house-mouth’. The floor is the ‘house-stomach’. Today, we learnt that veranda is the ‘joeti’ or ‘house buttocks’!! You can’t make this stuff up, eh? It’s great!

Onomatopoeia is often used as well in the language. 'Kulukulu' (koo-loo-koo-loo) is the name for a turkey and on hearing the sound a turkey makes the other day when passing a homestead, I really thought it described it well. Barking is ‘agbo-agbo’, crying is 'owu- owu' (oh-woo) and laughing is 'ogu- ogu' (oh-goo). I can’t remember any of these sound words properly and instead guess by making any noise that I think would fit. It unfortunately doesn’t work. One of our favourite onomatopoeiatic words is the word for butterfly ‘alapapa’, just like the sound of little wings beating!

Language can also be an intimate doorway into the culture. We couldn’t believe t, when Eunice explained the word for ‘girl’ is made up of 2 words in Lugbara, ‘za’ meaning ‘meat’ and ‘mva’ meaning ‘child’! 'Meat-child!' Girls have been seen as great little earners in a family by providing a dowry of up to 20 head of cattle and 15 goats and extras like bows and arrows and hoes.

However, so many of the traditions have been changing here as the pressure of our Western culture pervades and invades. Loin cloths have been out since the 1950s or 60s (Maybe this is a good thing. I can’t see the Craig family sauntering down the road semi-nude in Arua, and it would make an embarrassing family photo). Instead, though, everyone is wearing second-hand Western clothes. Out is the tradition to remove your 6 front teeth using only a hammer and some herbs to encourage healing of your mouth afterwards (I’m also thankful this is not practised anymore), and marking the skin by cuts with a razor in adolescence is now stopped. However, as Eunice explained, the rather exaggerated buttocks size in women is still favoured by the culture, especially if the buttocks also jiggles while walking.

All-in-all, though pretty tiring, it is really interesting learning the language and culture. It definitely does show how very different we Westerners are (especially compared to the recent past) and so will help us understand how to approach people more effectively. We are hoping knowledge of the language can help us build relationships and get alongside people better (until we meet others from the next tribe along who don’t have a clue what we are saying…).
Eunice, Lilian and all of us outside on the 'house-buttocks' in the 'house-mouth'

Eunice, Lilian and all of us outside on the 'house-buttocks' in the 'house-mouth'


Amelie in the jokoni

Amelie in the jokoni

Posted by africraigs 08:57 Archived in Uganda Comments (3)

5 Things I wish we'd known about holidaying in Africa...

27 °C

They say that good things often come in threes...

and this week has brought a new house, a new cat and a new dog… however, it isn’t all good: the lively puppy has fleas and the cat is heavily pregnant & hungry for smelly small fish, and our toddler is yet to learn (and distinguish) appropriate actions to cats and dogs. I now know appreciate the saying ‘fighting like cats and dogs’ after watching the vicious interaction between our new pets.

The last few weeks have felt like a whirlwind, my parents very kindly gifted me with a plane ticket to the UK to briefly visit my beautiful newborn nephew, Isaac. It was a great time to go as the said new house needed lots of renovation prior to moving in, so it was good to be away whilst the house was uninhabitable! It was also very convenient because we had just finished the 6 month YWAM course. On a less practical note, Amelie briefly experienced some of the best parts of a British Christmas- beautiful lights, tasty food, chocolate coins, dark and cosy at 4pm, Christmas music, pretty trees, and most importantly, she renewed her closeness and memories with family. Our trip entailed jumping on and off East Coast trains from Reading to Sheffield to Glasgow and seeing various family members, who were thrilled to see their first grandchild/niece (and maybe mildly pleased to see me too)..

Granny's birthday

Granny's birthday


beautiful new mama

beautiful new mama


music with Uncle Mat

music with Uncle Mat


First Haircut with Oma

First Haircut with Oma

Christmas in the UK is a very different occasion to in Uganda, we look forward to seeing what Tuesday brings here in Arua!

Surreal Christmas in Africa

Surreal Christmas in Africa


giraffe painting

giraffe painting

The day we left for the UK, we watched David run a half marathon to raise money for his late aunt’s hospital ward. A marathon in Africa is a fascinating cultural experience and the elite athletes were incredible… The route was very hilly, so that was David's excuse for doing the race in the same time as his 62 year-old mother runs the half, in 2 hours...
elite runner...

elite runner...

After the run, David went off to Kisumu, west Kenya, to try and track down a trunk of useful resources that we had left in our old house. He didn’t have much success with the trunk, but he enjoyed a whirlwind of catching up with old friends and seeing the REAP (Rural Extension with Africa’s Poor) demonstration farm that he used to help work on two years ago.

Then David was reunited in Entebbe (Uganda’s International Airport) with an extra suitcase of goodies from the UK and his pasty (and more porky) girls.
You don’t always imagine airport towns to make great holiday destinations (think Luton, Heathrow, Glasgow Prestwick) but we were pleasantly surprised with our wee break.
soaking up the sun

soaking up the sun


wild monkeys

wild monkeys

We learnt a few things about holidaying in Africa:

1) Botanical Gardens can have cobras… (wild)
2) Despite being places to preserve nature, Botanical Gardens will kill creatures (very glad though, seeming as the cobra was near us)
3) Camels are fierce creatures and love to bite toddlers sitting on their parents’ shoulders
4) White man on his own equals a target for prostitutes to hit on (BigHair was only a 100 metres away from me and Amelie, but that is considered far enough I guess)

grumpy camel

grumpy camel

As our break came to an end, we were delighted to hear that a couple could give us (and our stuff) a lift back up to Arua- saving us lugging all our stuff on the 8 hour hot bus journey…


Crazy Car Thief...

But the 5th thing we learnt about holidaying in Africa is that plans change quickly and we shouldn't get our hopes up…
Their car was broken into and completely wrecked the night before we were due to leave, the cases were chucked out and they obviously started going through the UK goodies case… crazily the thief took curtain wire, but bypassed the lindt truffles and lees tablet… very annoying for our new curtain-less house, but great news for our night time snacks!

Posted by africraigs 07:54 Archived in Uganda Comments (0)

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