The travelling teachers, Jesus and Peter Crouch
10.04.2011 - 17.04.2011 25 °C
Leaving Stringer for his last week in Zanzibar, I jetted off to BULA Children's Home, Kampala. Unlike our mess of a flight to Zanzibar, I made it seamlessly to Entebbe airport, even arriving 15 minutes ahead of schedule! Despite getting a little lost on the way, I was given a warm welcome by the kids upon arrival. Unknown to me, there is another volunteer here too. David, a Kiwi, has shown me the ropes and explained the day-to-day running of the home. It's great to have a bit of company too!
For those who don't know, BULA is an orphanage for children coming from an incredibly tough background. They were taken by Stephen Luutu, the Project Director, from their previous orphanage, where the children were badly mistreated and often beaten. Since being moved to the safer and more caring environment of BULA, the lives of these amazing children are slowly being turned around. Stephen, and the two other Uncles, Dan and John, are remarkable individuals, who have dedicated their lives to being the caring figures the children need. The kids' enthusiasm and boundless energy is unbelievable - I simply cannot keep up with them! There are currently 13 children here and another 14 due to come home from boarding school next weekend. And I thought that 13 of them in a house was crowded!
Our daily routine as a volunteer involves helping the children get ready for school, assisting the completion of homework and playing games. We also help out at the local Primary School in Mengo on a daily basis. Now, I envisaged teaching would be difficult. But imagine my trepidation when I was told that I would be teaching English to 11 and 12 year olds, with just half an hour to prepare for a whole topic. Oh, and did I mention there are over 100 kids in a class?
It really is a challenge. When introduced to the class, I was met with rapturous applause. It was a surreal yet heartwarming experience. However, it was then time to teach. Armed with a text book and a piece of chalk, I stumbled through the explanation of how to debate. Thinking on my feet, I asked to children to have a mini debate with the person sitting next to them about whether school uniform is bad or good. I was met by a wall of blank faces staring back at me. Due to the size of the class, they are taught in a command-response fashion, so my idea to get kids talking and thinking was an entirely new prospect for them. Group work is a no go, as students sit four to a bench, and the racket of 100 people talking in a hot, cramped classroom would be unbearable.
I have become accustomed to this over the week and have found some strategies to combat it. When there are children falling asleep in my class, though, I do become ever so slightly disheartened! The teachers themselves aren't much help in all honesty, sauntering off to drink their sweet tea while we sweat away for two hours. They seem to think both David and I are both teachers and know how to teach Maths and English alike - little do they know that he's an accountant and I've only just left school myself! Even helping with the homework is tough. For example, can anyone else tell me the life cycle of a mosquito?!
With it being the exam period, it's even tougher to engage the kids in class, which is fair enough. But when the children actually write on each others exam papers, you do wonder just how valid the exams are!
At home and school, the diet consists mainly of posho and beans. For those who don't know what posho is, imagine a stodgy ball of white rice-like food, but without the flavour. The kids, though, have this everyday for breakfast, lunch and dinner! In all honesty, it isn't too bad, and we are occasionally treated to rice, vegetables and ciapatti. And the upside of going to school is the sweet tea. I'm not entirely sure what goes in it, but it tastes as though honey is somehow infused with the tealeaves to give it a remarkably sweet taste.
Part of our daily routine also involves a game of football in the evening, on the tiny, paved area at the front of the house. And there's none of the old 'jumpers for goalposts' rubbish. At BULA, we use a solitary brick as a goal - I've had to improve my shooting! One night, we played on the grassy area just outside the gates. There were a couple of goats spectating, the kids played either barefoot or in flip-flops on an uneven surface of bricks, rocks & mud, and a fire smouldered away on the pitch. At least it's better than the pitch at Wembley...
On Friday, David and I decided to venture into Kampala. Now, Nairobi was manic, but nothing compared to this. Boba bodas and matatus come storming past on the tight streets, which pedestrians are forced to walk on due to the lack of any pavements. From here, we took a matatu to nearby Entebbe, a quiet town that sits on the shore of Lake Victoria. Before heading to the lake, though, we needed food. We ate gigantic dishes of goat with noodles and rice. I have nothing against posho and beans, but it was nice to have a change!
With our stomachs full, we waddled down to the shore of Lake Victoria. We saw a sign for the beach, and continued down the hill. Despite being the largest tropical lake in the world, it is rather uninspiring. 'Beach' is a loosely used term for the thin strip of muddy sand that runs into the lake, which cannot be swum in due to microscopic snails which cause illness.
On our return to Kampala, David and I stumbled across Owino market, which we just happened to be looking for! It's at least five times the size of Arusha market and is a marvellous, messy maze of food, stacks of material and dozing shopkeepers. Sticking out like a sore thumb as we ducked and weaved our way through the narrow crevasses, we were affectionately referred to as "Jesus" and "Peter Crouch".
Having spent the majority of the day on our feet, we felt we deserved a couple of beers. The first bar we saw was, coincidentally, a Liverpool supporters bar, with posters adorning the walls. I felt right at home! Then the news came on the TV and everybody fell quiet, transfixed by the events unfolding.
Over the past week, the opposition have begun a 'Walk to Work' campaign, as they are unhappy at rising prices. President Musevini has ruled this to be supposed violent protesting, so he has ordered his troops to bundle protestors into the back of police vans. Not only this, but the police launch tear gas at civilians who attempt to protect Dr Besigye, the leader of the opposition. Add to this the doubling of student tuition fees, and there are plenty of unhappy people in Uganda at the moment. When a student escaped the grasp of a police officer by running away, the noise in the bar was deafening, as everybody cheered the pictures on the TV. As has been the case most nights though, a scheduled powercut by the government brought the news to an abrupt end.
With our day out completed, the weekend consisted of many games of football, reading and fetching water from the well. The water supply had run out at the orphanage, so off we went to the well in Mengo to fetch water. Once again, shouts of "mzungu" could be heard everywhere. On the Saturday evening, the kids launched into an impromptu drumming session. The unbridled joy on their faces as they sang and played the drums was a really special moment.
The last action of a fun-packed first week took place at a first floor bar, up an almost vertical set of stairs. David and I went with Uncles John and Dan to watch Liverpool vs Arsenal. With 97 minutes on the clock, all the Arsenal fans erupted as Van Perie's penalty seemed to have won them the game, until Dirk Kuyt scored a 101st minute equaliser! Certainly one of the most bizarre places I've ever watched football, and one of the craziest finishes to a match!
I cannot believe that my first week here has gone so quickly. It's already been a brilliant, if rather challenging experience, but I still have another week left. Let's see what surprises the next seven days have in store for me!