Monday, October 17, 2011

The Things We Do For Love

It is custom here when you receive an invitation to an event that you also receive a copy of the budget for the event. This allows you to decide how you will contribute. Its a bit like a Wedding Registry I suppose, but it applies more generally.
And so it was the case, when George, the long serving guard at the village, issued me with an invitation to one of his (many) son’s graduation. I was given a copy of the budget as well, but George was helpful in that he asked if we could allow him to use the Village van to transport his family to the graduation. With a little advice from Robert Kafeero, I decided to offer George the van, which would be the gift from the village, and I would drive it and supply fuel, my gift. This was all gladly received. Anne and I thought that we could use the time that the family were tied up with the graduation and party to drive on further to Soroti, a place that we have been wanting to go to, and then come back and pick them all up.
So at 8 am, as arranged, we had the bus running ready to go and we met George. First stop was to collect the cakes and the lady who made them. Then back to the start and after a few minutes George was busy trying to get the people at Florence’s (one of his ex wives, not the mother of the graduate) house on to the van. Then we met Fred, the graduate, who was a little flustered. Our bus was nearly loaded, but apparently we had to collect some people from Kakira, just up the road. But Fred was waiting for the other van to come that he had arranged. A bit longer and some terse words between George and Fred and we were dispatched to Kakira, not to collect people but crates of sodas. More waiting there, but sill no sign of Fred and the other bus. Eventually we decided to return to Wairaka and wait for the van on the highway. I did some checking. Knowing that we had a trip of at least 2 hours in front of us, what time was this graduation supposed to start I asked. Midday was the reply, so I suggested to Fred that he leave someone else to worry about the other van, that he get in mine and we hotfoot it out of there. This plan was not well received and so we waited. At 10:30 the van eventually arrived. OK, let’s go I say. Wrong. Back up to Kakira Sugar Mill to collect some people. Why we had to go through several security gates to get these people rather than have them use some of the 2.5 hours they have been waiting to get down to the road is the difference between African and Lilydale logic! Never mind, its not our party I keep telling Anne. (Those who know her will appreciate how hard the lack of punctuality is for Anne) Finally we are underway at 11:10 am - only a little over 3 hours later than expected.
We had several stops along the way to pick up more passengers, some were ready, others not, and also one stop in a small town to buy drinking water. At this stop every window had at least three arms poking in trying to sell various kinds of meat on a stick or other goodies, and it can be very hard to drive off when there are still about 10 stray arms and 80 chicken sticks inside the van, but drive off I did. The road for the first part was familiar, and quite good, then when we branched off onto the Mbale road it became the most pleasant driving experience I have had in Uganda. Great road, less trucks, even a higher speed limit! But that couldn’t last. The final part of the journey was to be over dirt roads. There has been a lot of rain in recent times, and whilst the road was basically dry, the rain had taken its toll and there were many holes and puddles. No problem the van handled them with ease. Until, we came across a bigger hole than the rest. A culvert had collapsed leaving a road that was about ‘1 shoe’ narrower than the width of the bus. First attempt at getting around didn’t work as one wheel was airborne and the other just spun. “Go Back” was the call, but I was aware that “Go Back” could mean the last 40 minutes or so would have to be repeated and then added to on another route. So, with a little careful manipulation of the broken pieces of concrete and a couple of rocks, I filled enough of the hole to get about half way across. The rest would just have to be left to momentum. It worked a treat and I was left with that nice feeling of all the benefit of those 4x4 trips that we have done at church. Thanks Andy! Anne clapped, the others didn’t seem sufficiently impressed to me.
A small part of the waiting crowd
Then just around the corner Fred asks me to stop so that one of the girls can put her gown on before we drive in. Another slightly puzzling request, but its not my party. Finally, at 2:00 pm, with about 8 people in academic gowns and hats, we drive in to discover that this is not a graduation in our sense, but it is a party for Fred. The crowd have been waiting for 2 hours for the guest of honour to arrive. We are instantly the centre of attention. Those with gowns and frocks line up beside the van to make their formal entrance! Anne and I try to hide, plotting our escape. Very soon after the ‘official party’ have made their entrance, Emmanuel, another of George’s sons, who has the microphone beckons for “Mr Ronnie and Anne” to come and take their seats! We are seated on the family side in the second row, looking straight at the people in the cheap seats from the local community. Emmanuel goes through the ‘agenda’ and lists a frighteningly long list of Ministers, politicians and others who are all going to make remarks, between ‘musical interludes’. Given that the remarks are all going to be in the local language, a different one even from that spoken around Wairaka where we live, our resolve to escape is strengthened.

Approaching Mbale with Mt Elgon as backdrop
A stroke of good fortune arose when someone needed something from the van and I had to go and unlock it. That’s me out, now for Anne. She quickly gets the picture that I am not returning to my seat and sneaks out. Emmanuel has noticed and comes to the van to check that we are OK. We reassure him that we are and that we are just going off for a short drive. Unfortunately the delayed start to the trip means that Soroti is too far for us to go, so we decide to head in the other direction to Mbale. We stopped at a small village on the road and grabbed a couple of African donuts and a drink for lunch. The dirt road to Mbale was long and very straight, but quite rough and a lot of side to side driving was needed. It is situated at the foot of Mt Elgon which is a quite spectacular setting.
Mbale was interesting, very different to Jinja. I think it was not as old as Jinja. On the return journey the phone rings, it is Emmanuel. Apparently they are up to the gift giving, and a couple of guests have left theirs in the van. OK, we’ll be back soon. There goes the planned ‘toilet’ stop. But that’s good news, because we remembered it to be well down the agenda.
Fred's graduate friends honoring him
We get back in time for the final remarks from Fred’s fellow graduates. Again we are dragged in to occupy seats front and centre. Then the cake is cut and supper served. The crowd has swelled now - possibly the prospect of food has something to do with that! We eat and then its off to the van. Parties don’t drag on into the night here- electricity costs too much.
Alas, Fred is not making the return journey, so I have lost my guide, and I don’t plan on going back over the washed out culvert in the dark. No worries, I’ve got George.
So we head off and get instruction to turn down another road. It looks dodgy, but my sense of direction tells me its going the right way. Sure enough there are plenty of pot holes and bog holes, but I’m tired and I want to get home so on we plough. Come to a slightly familiar looking village and instructed  to turn left. but its not the road we came on so quickly we stop and directions from the locals are sought. Don’t turn down here they say, just keep following that other road. Now as I said, my sense of direction was happy with it, but I am wondering why Fred didn’t bring us that way if it is shorter. Well he could have. It was no worse that any other sections of the dirt roads that we had been on, nor any better.
George and Fred - with Fred in the gown!
Ah, the highway at last. Phone rings, its Robert Kafeero, wanting to know where we are.Anne explains. A bit later, phone rings again. This time Anne gives it to me. Robert explains that when we get home, call past his place to pick up our supper. “It will be too late to prepare any ‘Mzungu’ food” he says. We arrive at Robert’s place to be greeted by him wearing only a towel and holding a black plastic bag. He has gone to the closest thing to a KFC and got us some roast chicken pieces, chips and salad. I love that guy!
10:30 pm, 14.5 hours, we are finally home. At least everyone appreciated it.

The things we do for love!

What did we learn? Our kids were seriously short changed, but there is a statute of limitations on that that has expired if they have any ideas.

The cake - with exploding candles!

Fred's young half sister, Prossie, who kept us company.

1 comment:

  1. Ohh wow, I was reading that thinking that we missed a graduation party. maybe something we shoulddo for 5 years after? or is that past he statute? What a day you guys had. Love hearing stories. x x