Thank you…

I have just done a little home work on from where my blog has been read. I am truly humbled. Thank you for reading my blog. It’s amazing to know someone in South Africa, or Norway, Canada, US, France, Nepal, Kenya (could have been me in all fairness), Rwanda, Israel, UK and of course, Uganda has read it. Blown away. Picked up a new phrase today, ‘since Genesis’ – since time began!

Can hear the baby owls in the roof of the house getting excited when the parents bring them food. They have been making much noise of late. Owls are considered a bad omen in Uganda, but I always talk about their excellent hunting abilities and the fact that their flight has relatively zero sound. I always remember a bird man coming to our primary school and talking to us about all the different kinds of birds. He even told us to draw patterns and shapes on a piece of paper, describing them in relation to each other, the finished article was a snake’s head! Alas. Power cut!

Farming in Africa…

Hello,

I think the rainy season may have started in Uganda, temperatures are right down and it now feels like a British summer! Lovely! 🙂

In the last few days I have been helping the Agriculture students transfer some pineapples from one part of the farm to another (currently, the new growth suckers are sitting in an old children’s paddle pool). Tomorrow we plan to show the students how to prune the coffee trees here on site. This has not been straight-forward in terms of the equipment needed, but we have most things. I need to do a quick trip out to town in the morning for a few bits and pieces.

All the men and students are digging the ground getting seeds in ready for the rainy season. I hope to God we can do it, as we have a lot of ground to cover. However, we are using minimal tillage principles in a method called, ‘Farming God’s Way’ that uses biblical principles of sustainable practices. For example, we will be using mulches that preserve the goodness and moisture of the soil.

I will take some pictures of our efforts tomorrow. The fruits of labours may not be seen for a while on the coffee. I am also planning to plant some trees and fruit trees around the coffee, to provide some shade for the growing stems. The soils here are very rich and deep. We also have plentiful supplies of water, which is not always the case in Uganda.

I have been using the farm vehicle too, which is great. I have been trying to map out the farm area, all 17 acres of it, I think I have managed about half to date. I hope it may help for planning in the future.

I have had some visitors since February, and Bob and Roz Arnold arrived back in the UK today (they just sent me a text). Debbie from the Welsh Government is now staying with me until the end of next month, which is great. 🙂

As I write, I can hear the rain again, and it is music to my ears. It really does feel like home. But, I’m not planning on taking the rain back with me, I know the Brits have had enough! Really looking forward to going home.

Updated 14 March: Too much rain for work on farm today. But now have everything for coffee plants work. Will also be planting some more trees when drier. Have been driving lots more today and much more confident driving in town, though I nearly backed over a motorbike earlier…no harm done.

Still alive…

Hi all,

I am still in the land of the living – I am in Mbale at my place of work. Today I measured 42 degrees C in the garden to the house. I set the thermometer on some concrete and it read off the scale. This is pre-rainy season, so the heat is building up quite a bit. It’s easy to feel tired during the day and have problems sleeping at night (even my Ugandan friends have the same issues).

I have been out and about quite a bit, meeting new people and celebrating birthdays. I went to a birthday for a tot (1 years old) last night and discovered I was part of the programme, which included, welcome, introductions, party games, ice-cream, a sermon (or word), prayer, speeches (I gave one), and food! 🙂
It was beautiful and everyone was involved.

Last Tuesday we (Roz and Bob Arnold and Debbie from Wales) drove to the top of the local mountain here, which is called Wananli (I need to check the spelling on that), but that is how it sounds. So, we probably went up by 2000ft. We are already up at some 3000ft.

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Bob and Roz

Bob and Roz

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The air did feel much cooler and we got a lovely breeze up there. I must load some pics. I am always thinking this. Much as I think I should do some more exercise, but its so darn hot.

Kampala…

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Morning.

I have just had a ride across town in taxi across Kampala and arrived at a guest house near St. Pauls Cathedral to meet Bob and Roz Arnold. The views are spectacular from here. I will take some photos and upload them later. Since my email out to friends and family I have received more news about the British weather, I am sorry as it sounds dreadful. Greater London and Surrey also getting quite a knocking I see. Will Britain be able to plant crops for the autumn harvest? Thinking of you all. Photos to follow. xx

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My humble abode...

My humble abode…

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Maria and Lynn, a random meet in Kampala

Maria and Lynn, a random meet in Kampala

Pizza, motorbike rides to communities and LivingStone lecture (written on 1 February 2014)

So I finished the last update like this:

I will tell you about my trips out to the communities and how the organisation I work with is helping people to help themselves and about the lecture I gave at LivingStone University about Public Relations. Just re-reading this again, you will probably ask, but what has she been doing? I will get into that…

Here we go…I am currently listening to Blur, some kind of greatest hits album, ‘love in the 90s, its paradise, on sunny beaches…take your chan-ces…’ Once again, it’s a choice between the borrowed CD radio-cassette player (or depressing BBC World Service on the radio – quite frankly, it’s not part of my Saturday night choice) and the fan. It’s evening, so music won via the CD player. 🙂

Birthday pizza fun

Today, I helped celebrate the kids’ birthdays on the compound here, I think I made about eight pizzas altogether. I have the only oven on-site and it has one oven shelf. I think I started to cook them at about 12.30pm and finished cooking at around 4pm. One of them is 18 tomorrow…and she got a good soaking, the Ugandan tradition on your birthday!:-_

Community villages

I went out to visit some of the communities that BRDC serves towards the end of January. I went with Jonathan, the tree nursery specialist here. We went to two villages:

  1. Bumalema (a lowland area, visited on 22 January)
  2. Naekibolo (towards the mountains, visited on 24 January. This area is wetter and more fertile than the lowlands. They have a longer growing season and cooler climate. I saw vegetable crops growing like sweet potatoes and tomatoes, as well as some more traditional crops).

We visited these two communities as now is the period to prepare seed beds before the rains approach in March.

We arrived at Bumalema on the motorbike and the Self-help women’s group were waiting for us. They were happy to see us and the kids were up close and taking a good look at me.

The women at Bumalema

The women at Bumalema

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The women were having their regular meeting. A register was taken and each business contributed some cash towards a savings pool that serves as a kind of credit union. They do this to put money aside if they wish to re-invest in their business, or for children’s school fees or anything else they may need in the future. The cash is handled by the treasurer, they keep minutes of the meeting as a record and all business accounts are available to see.

Jonathan translated a little for me and I introduced myself and talked a little about my background (including my farming grand-parents and what they farmed) and skills. I told them that I am very pleased to visit them and thanked them for their welcome. They asked about the type of crops grown in the UK, I talked mainly of cereals, rape-seed oil together with vegetables. I don’t know why I didn’t mention potatoes, given my background…but whenever I do talk about the ‘Irish’ (potatoes, as they are called here) people seem surprised that the UK grows so many.

I also explained that I have been working on the BRDC website and that I would like to take their pictures, if they would allow me.

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As usual here, they didn’t mind and were only too happy to be photographed. The women continued with their meeting with Jonathan contributing about the tree nursery. They agreed to go back to the tree nursery after other business had been discussed first.

A point came up about the village well. Everyone had noticed that the water was drying up on a more regular basis. This was a cause for concern and would also affect the tree saplings, if there was no nearby water supply to water the new crop of trees.

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These women had developed the tree nursery under the leadership of Jonathan and they were passionate about keeping it going. The trees grown on the nursery were planted around the village and surrounding areas.

The young trees planted around the tree nursery

Using mulch around the young trees to conserve water in the soil

Using mulch around the young trees to conserve water in the soil

They used seeds provided by BRDC, but, in time, when the trees mature, the villagers will be able to harvest their own seeds from the trees.

As I may have mentioned before, deforestation continues to be a major issue in Uganda and BRDC have just committed to a new target, to plant 10 million trees, with other partners in five years. Most of the problems of deforestation could be solved if people replaced what they cut down. This is simple to say, but do westerners do this? I think not…

It is exactly the same principles, except westerners have more sophisticated forms of carbon, as we process it or extract it e.g. paper, oil, petrol, diesel, plastics…the list goes on and at a gigantic, ravenous rate. Can you imagine Britons planting trees on the side of the A3? You’d probably be arrested for causing a public disturbance! 😉

However, messages are getting through to the people in villages in Uganda and they can plant trees wherever they like (mainly on their own land) to replace what they have used. This is hope. People are responding. And when people see the good results of their labours, they are encouraged. The elders of the villages usually have stories of how they remember their local areas and it usually resembles a story of many more trees. These are a little sad but, it’s a great story to tell the youth and a warning strike for the future generations. The volunteer nursery beds in the communities are tended by old and young together, working side by side on nurturing trees into existence, by God’s gift of creation.

The tree nurseries that we visited have been going for several years, so this is getting towards true sustainable development. Jonathan visits the communities and takes them through the steps for planting, but the villagers do the work. Many laughs are had along the way.

And, the villagers are really keen to do the work!

When we visited the women’s group in Bumalema, the women got up after their meeting and got straight to preparing the seed beds. There was no hanging around about making tea.

 

Within about one hour the seed bed was reinforced by bricks on either side and the seed bed was ready to receive the seeds.

Likewise in Naekibolo, the community group is made up of men, women and children. They managed to prepare two seed beds, plant the seeds and cover with shade within the space of an hour. The tree nursery at this site will hope to contribute 50,000 tree saplings to the 10m target. The nursery was situated in an upland area, with some shade of other trees, enclosed by a low tree hedge. It was planted by the villagers and a man called Bob Arnold, a consultant to BRDC and previous Director. He now does project work for BRDC, funded by the country of Wales, which have strong links with Uganda, particularly Mbale.

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On leaving Naekibolo we were treated to avocadoes’, mangoes and three bunches of sweet bananas, the villagers didn’t want us leaving empty-handed. There must have been 15-20 kgs of fruits on the back of the motorbike coming back to the centre. The Ugandans are a very generous people and very hospitable.

Lecturing others

On the 24 January I also gave a lecture in the morning to LivingStone University students about the origins and my experience of Public Relations. I spoke to a PR colleague in the UK on email about the lecture and she was so happy to help me. I don’t have any PR notes with me from the vocational course I took with the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, so it really was a blessing that she responded. Thanks Heather Yaxley!

...never thought that would happen! ;-)

…never thought that would happen! 😉

Asking the audience about perceptions of PR

During the lecture, I used the example of Edward Bernay’s ‘torches of freedom’ campaign. This campaign enabled the tobacco industry to open up the market of sales of cigarettes to women, based on women’s desire to win total equality with men (1929). The concept was about selling an idea of freedom, not through the normal ‘marketing’ concepts of creating desire of a product.

Freedom of torches campaign

I also spoke about the threat of Avian Influenza to the UK in 2005 and showed the progress of the disease (in bird and human forms) from 2004-2006 in a series of maps, which began in the Far East, up to China and Russia, across Europe and into parts of Africa. The maps illustrated the story so well. I referred to a report picked up by a couple of the major newspapers in the UK with the headline, ‘Mutated bird flu could kill 150m people’. This story overtook all the actual factual news about bird flu progressing through Europe, the story became a potential news story, with some alarming statistics.

 

I used this as example of crisis communications and discussed the messaging used in the response.  This was big news at the time and it was interesting to look at that again in hindsight and not being caught up in it. I remember going from newsroom to newsroom across London for a few days during October 2005.

My concluding remarks were that reputation can build and destroy corporates, so PR people need to act and think fast and keep with the pace. And, no matter what field of study you are in, everyone will have to support the work of public relations in their career. I was asked a couple of good questions about working with stakeholders in poverty reduction and in politically-sensitive environments. I was invited back by one of the communications lecturers to support some seminars, which is great and a privilege.

What is she doing?

Mainly, I have been getting images and copy together for the new BRDC website, attending meetings with partners and showing guests around the centre, evaluating events, attending events (e.g. launch of commitment of all partners to planting 10m trees), visiting communities in which BRDC works to, ‘help people help themselves’, finalising reports, producing flyers and other work as directed by Davis, my boss, as Director of BRDC.

What I am doing next

I will be having CMS visitors from Kampala this coming weekend then visiting Mukono then Kampala and seeing a friend from the UK, as well as meeting Bob and Roz Arnold! My boss will meet us all next week to take us back to Mbale. Davis and I then go to Kenya the following week for a CMS conference, I will get to see some of the people I trained with, as well as CMS CEO Philip Mounstephen (my vicar from my old Church in Streatham) and CMS staff and Judith from TNA, who I met in December.

It is all good, thanks be to God. Since I have tried to upload this to the internet, I have been blessed with a gift from the Manana’s (for cooking pizzas) and heard from Bob Arnold asking if I needed any more supplies from the UK. I haven’t met the Arnolds yet, but they have been an enormous blessing to me, before I left the UK and while I have been here. I am SO excited to finally meet them next week.

Gift from the Manana family

Gift from the Manana family

Ps Apologies for some formatting errors in this blog. I don’t know why they have occurred. I have been trying to correct them for some time, but thought best to publish even with errors, as I am not a website expert!

New Year tidings…I am in Uganda!

Skies above Heathrow, London, 26 November 2013

Skies above Heathrow, London, 26 November 2013

KLM flight to Amsterdam first...

KLM flight to Amsterdam first…

Well. What can I say? You would have expected to see something on this blog by now, wouldn’t you?

Unfortunately, all my best laid plans didn’t take into account that I could have a poor modem signal here on the most popular telecommunications network in Uganda. I have gone some way to making the situation better, so I hope use of this blog will allow me to update you about my adventures, thoughts and initiatives. I really am struck down by the Ugandan beauty of landscapes and people.

The area in which I work and live is called Mbale, close to the border with Kenya. I can see the series of mountains that enfold Mt. Elgon. As you reach up to these lands, you see and feel a different texture – you can feel warm breezes and the soil is often wetter and richer, being in the shadows of higher mountains.

I type this as the power has just come back on, the BBC World Service has just come back, then lost over some other African-speaking station. I’ve just turned on the fan in the radio’s place.

Arrival in Mbale

I have been here for exactly two months now and four more to go. I have settled in very quickly. On arrival, I hit the ground running with full involvement with a couple of events, an open day and a youth conference. These happened before Christmas, as well as some Mission training in Mukono, near Kampala. This involved travelling on the ‘Elgon Flyer’ blue buses, which was an experience to say the least. The buses are comfortable, but can get quite hot in the day. Travelling between Kampala to Mbale takes about 5 + 1/2 hours, with several stops for cool drinks and meat on sticks/chapattis/samosas etc. I haven’t consumed the meat, but the chapattis are good.

Christmas was spent here in Mbale with friends and between Christmas and New Year I stayed with the same friends in Mukono. We stopped at Jinja on the way over, the source of the River Nile. I asked the tour guide how it was deemed the source and he explained that four rivers flowed into Lake Victoria from different basins, including Rwanda, so the Nile is given life from other basins, but its journey starts in Uganda.

Jinja and the Source of the Nile

It was so hot when we visited the ‘Source of the Nile’ that I could have jumped out of the boat into the Nile, but hearing stories about the river snakes really puts you off this desire. When you see the river source you can see what looks like tides meeting. I believe these are where water sources collide and the Nile begins its journey as one source from there.

Food

I have been enjoying the food here in Uganda since arriving, with mangoes being my favourite, followed by simple foods like chapattis and motoke (savoury banana). I can get potatoes and they are just called, ‘Irish’ – my relatives will be proud! Other delights are g-nut sauce, pumpkin and samosas. I have been making my own banana bread, pancakes and fritters. The food is plentiful in Uganda for those that can afford it. Unfortunately, there is still poverty.

Health

I haven’t had any serious ill-health since arriving, just a sore throat which is normal for me. Today, I had lunch at a nice hotel in town, only to come home with a gurgling tummy, how typical. I am continuing to take my anti-malarial tablets in regimented fashion. I do feel the prophylaxis I am taking is keeping me healthy and feel stronger for taking them. When I first arrived in Uganda I felt sleepy for at least 10 days. The heat just saps your strength and energy.

Energy and getting around

I have since started doing the Davina McCall Power 5 workouts, which have helped keep my energy up. Things are so different here. There are parks, but they tend to be for playing football, you can’t just walk anywhere you want, well, you could, but it may be rough terrain, or just too open to the heat. They don’t have walking trails like we do in the UK. I have often walked to town, which is about 2.5 km, not a long distance, but in 30 degree C heat you are flaking out by the time you hit town.

So, I have ventured into Boda boda territory, getting lifts with the motorcycle taxi men. These journeys are cheap and you can ask them to go slow and they do listen. I have caught the Bodas about ten times, only in the last 2 weeks. But, they have made my life easier, as walking from end of town to the other takes up time.

Driving in Africa

I have also driven the Toyota Hilux vehicle for the organisation I work for. This involved some pretty tough off-road driving, when I say ‘off-road’ I mean track driving, so at least I have a path to follow. These were driving up to mountain communities and transporting a machine to compress material for making house-building bricks. My driving skills were challenged, but locals also helped when the vehicle got stuck several times. I also had an issue with the hand-brake jamming. All in all the Toyotas are good vehicles, but Land Rovers who can fault? 😉

Repelling insects

I am great for putting on my insect repellent in the morning, but forget to freshen this up by the afternoon. I have had lots of bites, so I need to keep this in check.

Some other British missionaries just arrived a couple of weeks ago, a lovely family from Oxford. I met them on the CMS training in Hertfordshire back in the summer of 2013, so it is great to see them again. They helped to replenish my supplies of DEET insect repellent. This stuff is seriously toxic and flammable, so I try to apply the chemical broth with a tissue, rather than create spray to inhale. I don’t think it would be good for asthmatics to use the spray.

Climate change

A few days ago while still drafting this, we had no power for an afternoon, evening and through the night. It was storm-like during the day, but it never really came to pass here in Mbale. The temperature went from 31 degrees C to what felt like 23 degrees C in the space of a couple of hours. I even put on a cardigan! This really should be the hot, dry season, but talking with Mbale people, they say the weather is changing. Perhaps odd days like this are linked with climate change?

Changes seem to be very extreme in the UK as we are situated between two weather fronts. I tell people here that we suffer very extreme weather in the UK. I tell them that where rivers meet and it floods, people sometimes have to travel by boats. They can’t imagine it, but some do see the news. I hear the British winter is very wet and stormy (of late), but yet mild.

Food and Farming – Europe vs. Africa

It’s always interesting talking to the Ugandan people about their culture and the European cultures. I often talk about the culture my mother was raised in, in rural Ireland. I think my mother’s up-bringing has similarities to the African way of life, but without the blistering heat, of course. She was born in 1940’s Ireland, with no mechanisation on the farm, there were eight children and my great uncle lived down the road. The neighbours helped each other with the farm work and they did most things by hand. They were cash poor, but always had food (not always the case here). My aunt and uncles left the farm for Canada and the UK to seek work and build a livelihood for themselves. Farm work was something they didn’t want to be involved with. I think there is a similar attitude to farming and agriculture here and we have had the same attitudes to it in Europe. Uganda has the most amazingly rich soils and reserves of minerals. It has two growing seasons. The potato growers that I know in the UK would be in their element here, if only they had all the kit to go with it.

Most farmers here are small subsistence growers. They may have a few acres, but, they grow a mix of everything and will be able to eat something from their land throughout the year, buying other foods in conjunction if they can afford it.

Skyping fun

I have ‘Skyped’ a few times now and it is great, it really is. It’s quite hilarious when the video picture freezes and you still hear friends talking, but their facial expression is caught in a more serious pane, or different train of thought. You can show your living space off too!

A Highlight of the New Year

From my Facebook feed I could see that my friend was going to be playing live on Siren FM, a Lincolnshire radio station on the 2 Jan. I use to listen to his live performances before, in England. So, I thought, why not listen again? It would be great to hear some British music and banter. I stayed up late to listen to the British Psychedelic Folk-Rock Trio (that use to be a duo) of the ‘Fyreflies’. The band were asking for requests on FB, so I requested away. I was not disappointed.

At about 12.45am here (9.45pm GM time), they mentioned ‘a fan’ listening in Uganda. I couldn’t believe it! I was totally made up and let out a yell in celebration of my bold request coming to fruition. The band played their own song called, ‘Mary’. It was strange and quite wonderful to think that I had been remembered by some friendly, familiar Brits, far, far away. I felt closer to home in those few moments, it was also strange to hear a reference to myself here in Uganda, some 4000 miles away. How modern world is it to be listening to your friends speak live on a British radio station and in addition make some reference to you in equator land?

There is so much more to write about and I have drafted much more, but for now, I need to load this up as it has been so long since I posted anything.

I will tell you about my trips out to the communities and how the organisation I work with is helping people to help themselves and about the lecture I gave at LivingStone University about Public Relations. Just re-reading this again, you will probably ask, but what has she been doing? I will get into that…

 

 

 

Preparations are ongoing for my trip to Uganda. I am not working at the moment, which is just as well, as I can’t believe how much there is to do to get ready to go to Africa. I have had lots of injections and now only need Yellow Fever and Rabies shots, then I need to agree a plan for malaria prevention. Malaria is my biggest paranoia in terms of disease risk.

This last week I drafted copy for the first newsletter to explain this whole adventure and my friends, Liz and Laura-Suzanne were great in helping me. Liz edited and proofed the copy, cutting 300 words to fit my concise design. Laura-Suzanne did a photo shoot with me at Coombe Abbey, just on the outskirts of Coventry. You can see two of the three church spires of Coventry from the top of the field. It tried to rain during the shoot, but it held off. Laura-Suzanne had to keep snapping as the sun was shrouded by some heavy, dark clouds, which made some dark images. However, the images taken with flashes of escaped light made dramatic images that look great in the final design, perfectly fitting the theme, ‘Send my roots rain’.

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I am now very excited about going to Uganda, plans for my work in Uganda are firming up. It looks like my work will be a mix of communications and helping practically with things like a youth camp in December.

I haven’t even started my fund-raising yet, but hoping I will have at least the air fare by November! 🙂

I have planned some events for saying goodbye to friends as well as looking forward to celebrating 40th birthdays coming up. My mum will also be celebrating a milestone birthday, but I can’t say which one! I am looking forward to all these special times with family and friends before I go towards the end of November.

Today I picked all the remaining apples from my beautiful apple tree at the bottom of the garden. It’s been a great crop this year. I watered the pear tree that stands beside the apple tree, even though it would have got a good soaking from the rain last night. The fruits on the pear tree are still small and hard, so they need plenty of water to fill out the fruit. I’m hoping this will help. Picking the fruit and tending to the pear tree reminded me of God’s goodness to us and his provision for our needs through creation.

I am looking forward to the apple and blackberry (picked from the bushes on the access lane to my back garden!) creation (pie or crumble), with a helping of custard, or vanilla ice-cream 😉

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