My team is awesome. These past four days in Gulu asked them to be ultimately flexible and they were fantastic. I am so lucky and grateful for Ellen, Marina, Kathy and Bree. They have made my “job” as a leader so much easier.
After a hair-raising drive to Gulu on Sunday, Andrew took us for a walk through some of the IDP camps that are still occupied by families. Everyone was game for a walk and no-one complained despite some areas being muddy and others being incredibly smelly. We ate dinner at the hotel and it took 2 hours for our food to come. Apart from the fish having eyes and watching some of us as we ate it, everyone enjoyed their meal.
Monday we had a day with several cups of tea. If you have not read the book “Three Cups of Tea” the basic principle is that for the first cup you are strangers, the second cup you are friends and the third cup you become family. I highly recommend the book! Each time we met with new people, we joke about the cups of tea.
Our day started at the superintendent’s office waiting to get in to see him. We stood outside and looked at plants and bugs until Andrew, our amazing Gulu guide, came out and said “Quickly, go in before he changes his mind! Quickly!” and we scurried in for a very brief meeting where I offered books to his teacher resource centre. He promised to get back to me by the end of the day which he never did. That resource centre consists of chairs and a table where teachers can meet and talk. There are no books.
From there we walked to meet Pastor George. As luck would have it, the pastor drove past us as we were walking and he picked us up. We had a good three cups of tea with this amazing man and then he offered to take us to one of the villages to see his nursery school. It was 15km away but took over an hour to get there on rough roads. Once there we watched the nursery school teachers, learned new rhymes that we are now all chanting on a random basis, and we walked through the fields and tall grasses to meet people in the community to learn how they live. It was a hot day but no-one complained.
We stopped for rolex on our way to our next meetings which is cabbage, onion and egg fried together and rolled in a chapatti. We ended our day at two more schools having meetings and tours. We even sat in on a chemistry lesson at St Patrick’s Secondary School. Another bumpy road to Obiya West and lots of joking about hitting our heads on the van but lots of laughter all the way back to our hotel.
After our dinner that night Andrew took us on yet another walk but the afternoon had brought a massive rainstorm and our shoes were considerably muddier than before. We were sure that one of us would end up sitting in the mud but we all managed to make it back with dirty feet but clean clothes.
Tuesday was the most challenging day. The team spent a couple hours just waiting in the van as I negotiated with Reverend Charles to release our books. He and I met, we went to meet the acting head of the diocese who was presenting at another hotel, we talked, we negotiated, they whispered, they called others and finally the books were released to Niteo. Then the physical work began. For the next 5 hours two rooms full of books were cleared out and taken to pastor George, Obiya West and St Patrick’s. We would load up the van as full as it would go, a few would pile in on top of the books to help unload and then the van would come back to refill again. The main room of the resource centre was great. The books were a bit dusty but they came straight off the shelves and into the van.
The second room was a whole different matter. The roof had leaked, spiders had infested the boxes, rats had made nests and there was a lot of mold. We would lift boxes and the bottom would drop out scattering all the moldy decomposing books onto our feet. We would go to lift another box and rather large spiders would come crawling over the side. They weren’t deadly spiders, just like our daddy-long-legs but about 5 times bigger. They always shocked us when they suddenly appeared. We were filthy and famished by the end of the day. Apart from my mother’s nut loaf we had not eaten (although Bree and Marina did manage to get a serving of posho and beans while the rest of the team was delivering books!)
Wednesday we went to the vocational school to clear out the books that had been stored there and once again the cups of tea with headmaster Everet and Reverend Charles began. Both men were reluctant to give us the books and the team had to sit in the office very quietly as I negotiated the release of the books. We had success but it was a long and delicate process.
Marina took charge of the moving of these books as she knew what textbooks belonged to which grade. Andrew, Cris (another wonderful national who spent two days helping us), and Marina spent two hours sorting and delivering books to St Patrick’s, Obiya Primary, and Creamland Secondary.
Meanwhile, Ellen, Kathy, Bree and I presented a women’s health workshop to 30 young women at the vocational school. For two hours we talked about reproduction, menstruation, HIV AIDS, and how to stay safe. It was amazing! Ellen imitated sperm, I had underwear around my knees as I showed the women how to use the re-useable pads from Days for Girls, Bree squared her shoulders to Kathy and told her firmly, “NO! I don’t want to have sex with you.” Grace, the counselor at the school, was amazing and the girls were obviously very comfortable with her. She translated and got right into the conversation. She even used a piece of chalk to represent a part of the male anatomy and showed how to properly put on a condom. There were lots of laughs and the girls were great. We built such a great relationship that one girl came to talk to us afterwards because she is HIV positive. Powerful stuff.
Then our trip home included two live chickens that John bought as a gift for his family. They were in the back with Bree.
Sandwiched between two days of 5 hours driving on a nasty road, our three full days in Gulu were packed. It was challenging both physically and emotionally but we got so much accomplished. We had some incredible laughs where the locals thought the munu had gone insane but they were great emotional releases. We now randomly put our hands into a fist and wiggle, we spread our arms and say “hello!”, we can’t say “serve” without a fit of giggles and we chant:
“On my way to school….”
“I saw a butterfly.”
“A butterfly? How wonderful! Thank you for the news!”
Thank you Kathy, Marina, Ellen and Bree for being so awesome!