A Travellerspoint blog

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)

Last Minute . Com

Graduation!

Our certificates!

Our certificates!

I remember a few years ago on a long haul night flight I indulged myself in 3 cheesy chick flicks back -to –back (obviously pre-amelie, there would be no chance anymore…) and after watching 6 hours of beautiful faces, perfect teeth and glossy hair, I subconsciously assumed that the face, or at least hair, in the artificially lit plane bathroom mirror would maybe resemble Jennifer Aniston or some other beauty… I literally jumped back with a fright at the pale, tired face that stared back…

Yesterday we completed, or ‘graduated’, from our 6 month DTS.
Relieved? Yep.
Tired? Yep.
Looking forward to living in a bigger home without Amelie being urinated on by our neighbour’s kid on a daily basis…? definitely yep.

But in some ways the DTS has been like the reality check in the aeroplane mirror, realising that there are many more areas of weakness in me that I wasn’t aware of.
Don’t get me wrong, there has been lots of encouragement in the last 6 months, but also it has been a place of being humbled and having various securities and comforts (and necessities?) stripped away.

Preparing for the graduation ceremony in the last few days was an interesting cross – cultural experience, the eleventh hour seems a popular hour, which adds adrenaline to the occasion, if nothing else. It seems that there are several vital ingredients for a celebration in this culture…

1. meat
2. speeches (the more the merrier)
3. an order of service and an MC (with the impression that there will only be one speech and it will be short and sweet)
4. dancing

Acholi traditional wedding dance

Acholi traditional wedding dance

A few weeks ago we went to Amelie’s friend’s 2nd birthday party. All of the above were demonstrated for the celebration, and the speech was a sermon directed at the bunch of 2 year olds sitting quietly on the mat under the tree (Amelie has still to learn from her African friends how to sit still and quiet for long periods of time)…

birthday cake (no meat in sight)

birthday cake (no meat in sight)

We were probably culturally insensitive for Amelie’s 2nd birthday party last week with none of the above for the celebration (unless musical bumps counts as dancing). I’d go for cake rather than meat any day though.

We, (well, mainly I), continue to make cultural blunders probably on a daily basis. Yesterday was no exception. Our friend Charles, (who is the most careful motorbike driver in town and therefore gets most of our business) dropped me at the small supermarket and was reading the newspaper headlines on display whilst waiting, ‘Which one do you want?’ I ask Charles, thinking it is a token of appreciation that he does not smoke weed and drive. ‘No, it is okay’ he replies looking at the loaf of bread I have picked out. Then it dawns on me, why would someone choose a newspaper when they could buy a loaf of bread for the same amount. ‘Er, would you like bread instead?’ I mumble sheepishly, his face lights up, of course he would.

It was a small reminder of how little I understand the survival mindset and although we have completed this 6 month training, there is still A LOT to learn…

Safest Boda driver in town...

Safest Boda driver in town...


and God promised we would survive our DTS...

and God promised we would survive our DTS...


Posted by africraigs 01:59 Comments (4)

Running together

sunny 27 °C

As a night person, it is not natural for me to be getting up at 6:15 for a morning run, but in Africa, this is probably the best time be out. The sun isn't too hot and there are less people to stare at you.

I sort-of enjoy running and sort of don't. I like it to keep fit and wake up my sleepy mind. It helps me sort my thoughts out and I have some of my best ideas while running. But it is hard and a little dull, and is more like an endurance test which only really feels good once you are finished. Scientifically, it realeases happy hormones, so it helps deal with my depressive tendancies...

There are some nice runs around the YWAM base. One of them is a loop en-route to the Congo border along a yellow-ochre dirt road. It is quite special to be pounding the road of a remote African village at 6:30 am. It is also very special for anyone who is just emerging from their sleep and seeing a long-haired white man sweating while huffing and puffing. It is common to see people be walking about with a small neem twig in their mouths which acts as a toothbrush. It is antiseptic and antibacterial and is horribly bitter. I am quite an unusual sight and so I am the cause of interesting reactions. One of most common is for people to stop in their tracks and stare. This is annoying. I feel like a freak-show (no comments, please). Even more annoying is when children start calling out "Mundu" over and over again. In time, this chanting becomes like a sing-song. There is no place to hide, everyone knows a Mundu is passing by and so there is a bigger chance for more people to spot me and stare. Since people have noticed me, a lot will greet me. The other day, I ran for an hour and 20 minutes and was greeted over 200 times...! This is a little different to running alongside the seaside in Musselburgh. A more comical reaction is for people to start running alongside me. The other day, an old lady of about 60 started running behind with a big smile while calling out in Lughbara. Quite discouragingly, she was catching up...
Village I run by

Village I run by


Curious kids fascinated by the mundu

Curious kids fascinated by the mundu


In my philisophical moods, I feel that my running can be an example to others who will be inspired. That is why it is encouraging to see others copying me by running alongside me when I am out. I always feel that the best way to be a teacher to others is by being an example, words can just be fluff.

Emma mentioned that I was able to visit my dying Auntie Mo while in the UK, in the last blog. Sadly, it was my last time to see her as she since passed away. Her funeral is on Thursday 15th November. Aunt Mo (on the right) and wee Amelie

Aunt Mo (on the right) and wee Amelie

Aunt Me and I at my sister Lizzie's wedding last year

Aunt Me and I at my sister Lizzie's wedding last year

I wish I could be there to share with the rest of the family. Instead, though, I am running the Kampala half-marathon on the 25th of November in her memory.
Kampala International Marathon
I am investigating ways in which I could raise money for the the Southern General hospital in Glasgow who looked after her for her last weeks. It was the same hospital in which she was born. The running I am doing is helping to train for this.

As I have also mentioned, running is like an endurance test. As I write this blog, we are in the final week of our YWAM DTS course here which has lasted for 6 months. This course has definitely felt like an endurance test, though at times we have wondered whether we would actually persevere... Thank God we have made it through! It has been a tough time for us all as a family!

I have uploaded a few photos showing my time in the UK at the wedding.
Ethiopian airways flight back to Uganda

Ethiopian airways flight back to Uganda


The beautiful St Brelade church in Jersey where Mary and Martin married

The beautiful St Brelade church in Jersey where Mary and Martin married


Mary, Martin and Martin's Aunt

Mary, Martin and Martin's Aunt

Martin and me all dressed and ready for the inevitable

Martin and me all dressed and ready for the inevitable

Posted by africraigs 11:49 Archived in Uganda Comments (2)

The bright side of life...

Courses of life

Sociology

One of the more surprising aspects of my ‘outreach’ schedule is tutoring a 16- year- old English missionary kid for his English and Sociology GCSEs. Today, in Sociology, we were talking about 'life courses' and significant events that impact and change someone’s life. As I looked at the list in the textbook, I realized how several of these key life events are happening in some way to our family…

tiny nephew Isaac

tiny nephew Isaac

Birth:

My little tiny beautiful 5lb nephew, Isaac, was born at the weekend, Amelie’s first cousin. We met him today via skype, (the first of many skype dates I hope..) There is something almost awe-inspiring and fragile about new life, and of course I am biased, but tiny delicate Isaac in a oversized stripey baby-grow was no exception!


Sickness

Then nearing the other end of the course of life, David’s sweet auntie Morag, an unassuming and easy-going lady in her 60s, was diagnosed with lung cancer a few weeks ago, and within weeks it has spread from the lungs to the liver and now to the throat. Unless a miracle happens, she is nearing her last days and we are very sad to say goodbye.
Auntie Mo second from left

Auntie Mo second from left


Auntie Mo's jewellery

Auntie Mo's jewellery

Wedding

...on a brighter note, David will be the best man tomorrow to his Ugandan friend, Martin’s, wedding. Martin is a unique guy, he has determination and drive and has really fought against the odds to seize opportunites, and make something of himself.
David and Martin (5 years ago)

David and Martin (5 years ago)


His manner is quite different from the Lugbura tribe around us in Arua- much more direct and blunt (sometime even a bit offensive..) Martin is marrying a girl from Jersey, UK, and they kindly enabled David to attend the wedding, which can also mean he can say goodbye to the aunt whilst in the UK for his whirlwind trip.

Needless- to- say, this has been one of the hardest weeks for me so far, feeling every one of the 8307 miles from some of the people we dearly love and are at different stages in their ‘courses of life.’

In Arua, we see and hear mainly about 2 life events: birth and death. Just the other day I was visiting the hospital with our friend Peter, and he pointed to a bed and said ‘that was where my sister died this year’ in a normal, unemotional voice. ‘what?!’ ‘when?!’ ‘how?!’ tumbled out my questions. But I suppose death is much more part of life here.

I guess when it boils down to it, that is what it is all about: life and death. I heard some good teaching recently about ‘perspective’ and having a positive and Godly perspective, and it has really challenged me on my own perspective towards life, my life, other people’s lives, how I see people and their situations… Much easier said than done, especially when it comes to praising not bad mouthing, noticing the beauty within the ugliness and letting the good thoughts go round and round my mind, rather than the worries, and so this is my ongoing daily challenge...

'Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me [Jesus], what you heard and saw and realized.'

Posted by africraigs 11:41 Archived in Uganda Comments (1)

The back of beyond

then further...

semi-overcast 27 °C

I have returned from the boondocks for a week now and my stomach seems to be settling after a month of eating food which I wasn’t used to eating so much and so often. It’s not that the food was bad, just that in Arua, we are able to supplement our African diet of heavy starchy foods with a bit more variety that is more palatable to me (like fruit or bread). The only really ‘bad’ meal was our last meal consisting of bushrat which stank badly because it was off – the evidence was the presence of little white grubs. Bushrat (which isn’t actually a rat) and antelope meat are the more common meats to be found in Lobone (pronounced Low-bo-neh), indicating how much forest and wilderness surrounds the place.
DSC_0509.jpg
I have no stamp in my passport to prove I have been to another country, the newest country in the world. The border post closest to Lobone is the most sketchy I have ever past through. Wooden poles across the road are the only evidence of crossing a border at all. At the South Sudanese border 'control', we found lovely healthy bushes of marijauna growing.
Old anti-aircraft gun at sketchy border post

Old anti-aircraft gun at sketchy border post

Rusted machine gun at border post

Rusted machine gun at border post

Travelling carefully

Travelling carefully

Not carefully enough...

Not carefully enough...


Lobone is a unique village. It nestles in a beautiful location surrounded by picturesque, forested mountains. Its remoteness and difficult access made it a refuge for many south Sudanese fleeing the war and there were many thousands of refugees at one time. The population of the area was 60,000 in its heyday. Now, there must be around 5,000 or so people.
Scenery around Lobone

Scenery around Lobone


It is really strange to be in a place that has had so much recent history of turbulence. The YWAM base is close to a concrete bunker built to escape the Arab army as well as abandoned metallic structures used as hospitals to treat refugees given by the Norwegian People’s Aid. I found bayonet knives in peoples’ homesteads used as tools. Hearing landmines being cleared in nearby northern Uganda increased my sense of excitement/thrill… As well as the Sudanese civil war, this area was a hideout and playground for Joseph Kony, the crazed leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Abandoned War Hospitals

Abandoned War Hospitals


This small place in South Sudan is definitely the most remote and draining experience of my life so far despite growing up in one of the most isolated countries in the world in Congo DR as well as staying in Kenya and Malawi for significant periods. When Emma and I visited the town where I grew up in Congo in 2008, a place surrounded by rainforest, there was a huge mobile phone mast. In Lobone, a phone is virtually useless, apart from the presence of several bamboo sticks which act as telephone ‘boxes’. Only be placing your phone on top of such a stick allows you to use it.
Phone 'box'

Phone 'box'

Benjamin peruses Lobone town centre

Benjamin peruses Lobone town centre


I hope the few photographs will give a taste of the place, the views, typical housing and how tricky it is to travel in and out of.
Kids around and about

Kids around and about

Grinding maize

Grinding maize

Sunset after the rain

Sunset after the rain

Hoes outside a Lobone home

Hoes outside a Lobone home

Typical wee homestead

Typical wee homestead

Doors were made of old USA donated tin cans

Doors were made of old USA donated tin cans


More will follow…

Posted by africraigs 10:11 Comments (4)

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