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Published: March 29th 2009
First of all apologies for the lack of blog action over the last several months ... no excuse other than my own inertia and writer's block. I went to Northen Uganda recently for work and had time in the evenings as there wasn't much to do at the hotel other than work out ways to block out loud music and not think about snakes.
When I first arrived in Uganda over a year ago (did I mention that I’ve been here for over a year already???) we were told that this area was strictly out of bounds for VSO volunteers due to LRA (Lords Resistance Army) activity. However things have relaxed a lot over the last year and as long as we’re sensible and let the program office know where and when we’re going it’s ok. So I volunteered to do some excel training with staff at the clinics at Pader and Gulu, and have a nosey round to see what money from our UK donors is being spent on.
As the journey here by road takes most of a day and is subject to the vaguaries of public transport I decided to take what I thought was
the wussy option and fly. I’m glad I heard the story about the Eagle Air plane which was hit by a bird and crashed, killing all passengers, after my journey rather than before. When I arrived at the airport there was no sign of my flight on the departures board but I was told to wait for announcements - 2 cups of coffee later my fellow passengers started herding towards the check in desk so I dutifully followed. My luggage turned out to be about 10 kilos over the 15 kilo limit but as the flight was only half full the lovely lady in charge didn’t bat an eyelid. I need to lose my obsession with bringing at least 3 pairs of shoes on every trip and why did I think I needed an umbrella when it’s boiling hot here and hasn’t rained for days!!!
We were due to fly at 11.30 and in true Ugandan style we actually took off at about 12.30 - after being asked to check that our luggage was all there and being given water, juice and a bun. At this stage a large gin and a valium would have been more welcome ...
especially as I ended up in the seat behind the pilot (grey haired and looked healthy) and so could see and hear all of the instruments. I swear that the plane - which was like a minibus with wings - creaked as we taxied off . Even more disconcertingly I’m sure I heard something very like ‘Stop Thinking’ from the dashboard, or whatever it is on an aeroplane, when I adopted my customary head in hands position at take off.
We got a really good aerial view of Kampala and the big lake which sits in the middle of Uganda and of course ‘miles and miles of bloody Africa’. I thought something really bad was happening as we came in to land as I couldn’t see any sign of a landing strip but hurrah we landed safely! My legs were a bit wobbly as I stumbled off the plane and I almost forgot to collect my luggage - I was so pleased to see Charlotte and Charles who had come to collect me. All of the other passengers were being collected or dropped off in big posh 4 x 4 trucks as is standard for most NGOs ... in
true IMF style I had a knackered looking Peugeot 305 which is the only taxi in Pader!
I had a lovely warm welcome at the Pader clinic and staff house, including lunch made every day by Grace who is in the picture wearing a fairly racey T-shirt! A lot of people moan about Ugandan food as it can be a bit bland but everything she made was really delicious and obviously done with love. The admin office at the Pader clinic, which also serves as a consulting room for the clinical officer, is a very pleasant place to work as the traditional design makes it very cool even at the hottest part of the day. There are a few distractions - a pair of lizards who live in the roof spend the day racing around which is quite noisy and a chicken keeps trying to come in. And one day there was a bush fire scarily near to the grass roofed building - Fiona was decidedly anxious especially as the wind kept changing direction. I was more excited about the huge number of kites which were wheeling around above the fire - all of the rodents were running out
of the fire zone and I think all of the birds were looking forward to a binge of b-b-q rat!
Pader town is quite different to anywhere else that I’ve been in Uganda - it’s the smallest town I’ve stayed in and people here seem uncharacteristically unfriendly towards strangers. My view may have been coloured by Charlotte’s warning that we shouldn’t go out of the hotel after dark and that she had heard gunfire at night. Apparently although LRA activities aren’t affecting this area anymore a lot of people still have their weapons from the war and it wouldn’t take much for things to take a nasty turn. Fortunately our hotel was within a very secure compound and was pretty comfortable - especially as there were showers! I was spared the dried fish and groundnut sauce which Fiona and Pete (other VSO volunteers) had for their first meal and the food was pretty good. No matoke hurrah hurrah.
The drive from Pader to Gulu was pretty uneventful - as there hasn’t been much rain recently the road was fine and there was relatively little traffic until we got to the outskirts of Gulu, when we started getting passed
by NGO 4 x 4s. Gulu was a bit of a shock after being in quiet Pader - loads of traffic and people and definitely quite dirty and smelly. The town is the main stopping off point between Kampala and South Sudan so we saw a lot of UN and other NGO vehicles. Our hotel was pretty comfortable, complete with hot showers and chilled Nile beer which made Pete and Fiona very happy! It was a bit noisy as Saturday night is party night but I slept pretty well.
We ate in a fabulous restaurant called the Kope Cafe - really funky decor with murals all over the walls and comfy sofas to sit on. And they were playing music dvds - had some fascinating conversations with the clinic staff about Westlife (Shane was generally the favourite, especially after I told them about fat Brian doing the dirty on Kerry Katona), Britney, Beyonce etc. I was very excited about having a menu to choose from - in Pader we got what we were given and couldn’t really tell what it was as we ate in the dark!
I slept really badly on my last night as it was
International Women's Day (no comments please Chas McShane!) and the band which the hotel had put on to celebrate didn't stop until 4am. So getting up at 6am to get the Post Bus wasn't fun, especially as I got bitten to death by mossies. Having failed to get a ticket on Saturday I pitched up at the Post Office at 6.30 am to buy a ticket - I’m not at my best first thing in the morning and really didn’t want to have to deal with the possible disappointment of having to go on a ‘death bus’. We left after about 40 minutes, following prayers led by a german nun. The journey was fine -I even slept for 2 hours - and I was back in time for a late lunch and three hour long catch-up gossip with Duncan, followed by a welcome home trip to the Wine Garage.
I hope you enjoy the pictures!
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