Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Goodbye 2008

The last day of December 2008. What happened last year? How much of it was I awake for?

Well Christmas has come and gone and it was very nice. We ate beef, after refusing to cough up $200 for a turkey. Emma got a new school bag, one that you wheel along like an air hostess. She had been asking for one for many months. Gloria got Baby Joe, who cries/gurgles/sneezes when you poke him. Katherine got a teething ring. Perhaps she's poking Baby Joe's eyes out in protest at such a lame present.

Best present of all: arrival of Auntie Caroline and Granny Rosemarie on Boxing Day. Certain routines have already been established; G'n'T every evening on the verandah, followed by Snatch, a word game like Scrabble only quicker and more violent.

We are aiming to actually make it to midnight tonight after years of falling asleep at around 10.30 in front of the TV. We are going to KPC all night praise thing. It's 8 o' clock now, though and my lids are already feeling heavy...

See you in 2009 when we get back from Jinja.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Silent night (and morning, and afternoon etc)

Sorry about the long absence. I have been a very busy girl! But it is Christmas Eve, I have just finished stuffing E and G's stockings and I can feel the pace begin to ease up at last.

In no particular order, here is what I've been doing over the last three weeks:
1. Running all over town trying to process a whopping 25 Sweetshop garments (thank you, customers!)
2.Packing and posting Christmas stars all over the globe. We sent one parcel to Japan! (Thank you again!)
3. Completely renovating the side rooms in preparation for Auntie Caroline and Granny Rosemarie's visit (48 hours to go!)
4. Hosting a carols and mince pies evening (could I find mincemeat anywhere in Kampala? yes, but it was very much the 11th hour)
5. Curtailing Baby K's new favourite thing (eating soil from the plant pots!)
6. Staying up past midnight two nights in a row (grumpy and ratty the rest of the week!)
7. Performing poorly at charades (upsetting, as I AM THE QUEEN OF CHARADES. My word was 'nougat'. Difficult!)
8. Attending the annual Cantata at Kampala Pentecostal Church. (200 voice gospel choir, dancers, everything. Doesn't get better than that!)

Happy Christmas everyone.

Monday, 8 December 2008

My eldest daughter is officially a genius

Emma's first school report arrived on Friday. Emma's first school report? She's AT SCHOOL? I had a baby? How did that happen? (I am in a permanent state of shock about the passage of time.)

The good news is that she's learning to read and can sound out 3 letter words. She can also write them down. Like her mother, she finds numbers and problem-solving a bit hard. But it was the 'creative development' section of the report that really set my heart on fire. Listen to this:

"Emma can sit and colour in for long periods of time. She can often be found by the painting easel creating fantastic self portraits." You see? Her art is fantastic, she is fantastic. I knew that already, but don't you agree?

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

New arrival

Helen, who works at my place on Saturday mornings, had a baby girl last night! The tiny one weighed in at a very respectable 3.5kgs. At the time of going to press, the young miss is still nameless, but Helen was considering naming her Daphne after her grandmother, who brought her up. Both Helen's parents passed away when she was a teenager.

This is the post-natal ward at Nsambya hospital:

OK, it is extremely basic - no running water, thirty ladies and their babies crammed together like sardines, one measly fan - but for an extremely basic service, it wasn't bad. For a start, it was spotlessly clean. There were plenty of midwives, all of whom seemed to be getting on with the job. I got told off for flouting visiting hours - also a good sign. Still not sure I'd want to have a baby there myself, and not convinced the £35 price tag is value for money for the average Ugandan. (For a normal delivery that is: a caesarean will set you back £120.)

Monday, 24 November 2008

Aussie dude

Last Sunday was the day of the MTN marathon here in Kampala. I wasn't running this year. I wanted to, but with three tiny nippers and Gandaman away, the logisitics were against me. Plenty of my friends were running, so I took Emma and Glory to watch. Getting to the 7am start was a struggle, but it was worth the sight of thousands of runners take off in their yellow singlets, like a sea of bananas. The crowd were more bemused than enthusiastic, perhaps because jogging has yet to seriously catch on. (When I ran a 5km a few months back, a spectator called out "get a boda!*") I tried to make up for the general coyness with some good shouting and clapping and leaping up-and-down.

It was not like the runs I used to do in Switzerland. Neither the organisers nor the participants appeared to take it completely seriously. The portly stragglers at the back who still hadn't crossed the start-line at 0740; the chap on his bicycle; the relaxed attitude to traffic and crowd control. Then there were the very committed: some runners in slippers, others in bare feet. The muzungus in all the gear, with ipods on their arms. The crowd gasped as they saw a man in his 70s set off for the 21km, and gasped again when he finished in just over 2 hours. The winner of the marathon itself (42km) did it in a staggering 2 hours 17 minutes - Kenyan guy.

Our baby group team, Mums on the Run, all completed the 10km in very respectable times. Well done again, Ros, Kirsteen and Jo! Ruth did a very fast 21km, barely breaking a sweat. But the biggest shout goes out to Monica, who did the 21km a mere 5 months after giving birth. Each one of us felt the lump in our throat as she approached the finish line, and we clapped and cheered ourselves sore.

Here she is about 3/4 of the way round with her pal Dionne and small fry. Watch out behind you!

PS. I meant to post this on Monday, but have had annoying internet problems all week.

*motorbike taxi

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Grumpy trousers

It has been a couple of weeks now since the start of the 'blog more' rule and already I am beginning to flag. What can I tell you? Let's think.

Firstly I have a horrible cold which is making me grumpy and ratty. But it is not as bad as Baby K's, whose nose is a permanent dripping tap, so much so that the skin on her upper lip is red and sore. She doesn't have a temperature, but she looks so sorry and sad I want to take her to the doctor. They would almost certainly not give her anything (apart from concerned eyebrows), but it might make me feel better. My poor baby. Did you know she can crawl and has 2 teeth?

Also the microwave is broken. Of all household appliances this is the one I love the most, and now this infidelity. We eat nothing but re-heated rice* pretty much. How do you re-heat rice without a microwave?

*with bits added

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The mosquito hunter

Gandaman is the mosquito's public enemy number one. He squishes them here, he smacks them there, he splats them here, there and everywhere. In the middle of the night he'll turn the light on, and stalk round the bed, carefully frisking every inch of mosquito net to flush them out. The ones that escape, in return, bite every inch of his bare flesh.

This all works to my advantage. He is the tastier of the two of us, and given a choice, Mr and Mrs Moz always go for the no-extra-cost gourmet menu, i.e him. But he is not here, and Brian and Shirley need to eat, and the chewy old gristle (i.e. me) will have to do.

This is unacceptable. He gets back in eight days.

PS. Back to the deep-fried grasshoppers. I think it's the deep-fried that's the clincher. Isn't everything nicer deep-fried?

Monday, 17 November 2008


..Gandaman went to the North for 9 days to visit the Medair programmes. Lonely Gandalady. Gandalady feeling sorry for herself. However: now I get to indulge in some experimental cookery and read for as long as I like in bed.

..We vaccinated 65 children at baby clinic. My favourite name today was a little boy called "Godlives".

..I ate my first deep-fried grasshopper. It was delicious, similar to roast chicken flavour crisps, give or take a disquieting stringiness. "Hmm," said Emma as she tucked in (Glory was too suspicious). "They are nice and yucky."

Friday, 14 November 2008

The Donut Lady

This is Jennifer. She is The Donut Lady. She sells delicious, squidgy, melting, icing-sugar dusted donuts. So today I brought her with me to school. Parents are invited to assembly on Friday mornings, and coffee is served, but otherwise their hands are sad and empty. Sad, empty hands yearning for delicious, squidgy, melting icing-sugar dusted donuts.

"Ambrosoli, I know it!" she clapped, when I told her where we were going. "I used to work there." As we got to the school gates she said "There I was bitten by a snake!" She showed me a large scar on her leg, just above the ankle. "It was a cobra." I told her she was lucky to be around to tell the tale. Then, hmmm, cobras on school property. Maybe I should tell the head.

Jennifer is only 48 but already a grandmother. She sells donuts to pay for school fees, etc. She has four children, all boys. The youngest one's name is George Bush.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Welcome to my inner life

I've recently finished The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins. As a result I've spent many of my idle moments arguing with him in my head. (RD, I mean, not God.) Gandahusband often catches my lips moving and hands gesturing into thin air, mid 'debate.' He thinks perhaps I have lost my marbles. Perhaps I have? So to lay it to rest, I've decided to commit some of my God Delusion-related responses to blog, probably in several parts* because there is quite a lot of it. The sub-headings that follow aren't quotes: they are just how I've summarised RD's arguments, albeit a bit crudely. I am not as clever as him.

1. There is no God. Scientific evidence tells us so.

I admit, when RD talks about science, he has the upper hand. I am not a scientist, and in the science part of the book (the first few chapters) some - not all - of his arguments are quite convincing. He is right when he talks about biological natural selection and the overwhelming evidence for it. (I'm a theistic evolutionist, by the way, but open to persuasion.) But he also takes his Darwinism very literally and extrapolates it to areas where the scientific evidence is at best weak or questionable. He admits it. In cosmology, as opposed to one big bang, he talks of the 'tantalisingly Darwinian' theory of an explosion of 'multiverses', resulting in mutated 'daughter' universes which are constantly adapting to survive the physics. Or to explain why religion has survived so long, he talks about 'memes': beliefs that are replicated (like genes) through the generations. As I mentioned earlier, he admits the evidence isn't there yet, but the 'tantalisingly Darwinian' comment strongly suggests he wants it to be true. Something you believe to be true without all the facts is a faith position. (RD hates faith.)

2. Scientific evidence is the only kind of evidence that counts.'Evidence' from scripture is only hearsay.

Forensic evidence is not the only admissable evidence in a court of law. There is also witness evidence. The New Testament is witness evidence. Consider this example. Caesar's account of the Gallic War was written 950 years after the actual event, and there are 9-10 existing copies. Scholars don't dispute the historical authenticity of this text. The first extracts of the New Testament appear 30-310 years after the events they describe, and there are 5,000 surviving original Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin and 9,300 others. The life, miracles, and resurrection of Jesus are recounted by the Jewish historian Josephus. Tacitus and Suetonius (Roman historians) also mention him. Even RD concedes he probably existed -but still this kind of evidence doesn't really count. God doesn't exist because we can't see him through the Hubble telescope, stick him under a microscope, grow him in a petri dish, or come up guarenteed in a double-blind randomised control trial. (Incidentally, 90% of the God RD is attacking in the book is the Christian God. Odd position for someone working on the presumption that all religions are the same. Why not share out the vitriol?)

To be continued. You are probably bored by now and I have children to look after.

*I will have have froth-and-bubble posts in between, don't worry

Monday, 10 November 2008

Back in the saddle

I've spent the morning helping out at Hope Clinic. Monday morning is baby clinic: hence immunisations, weighing, cooing over loads of little bundles and the usual tedious paperwork.

It won't be a permanent gig - I'm just holiday cover for Florence the nurse. But it feels nice to be back after a career break of almost 5 years.

After a nervous start I was injection-happy like I'd never been away. Good recovery for a girl who smashed a glass of water and tipped Emma's fried egg down the side of the cooker, both within half and hour of waking up this morning. Butterfingers!

PS In case you're wondering, I am not extracting the poor kid's tooth. I am giving polio drops, yum!

Thursday, 6 November 2008


I think I am coming out of my post-friend induced homesickness. It has been helped greatly by Marie's stated intention to come to Uganda again (here it is, M, a gentle reminder) and the reappearance in Kampala of Little Warthog after her long holiday.

In celebration of her return, Her Wartiness rejected my offer of a jog, and suggested Pilates instead. I agreed, thinking 'it is good to try new things.' That is how I found myself in one of Kampala's smarter cafes last Tuesday, full of enthusiasm and dressed appropriately.

The instructor introduced herself with "Sorry! I am French!". No need to apologise. Then she added, startlingly, "I also 'ave very bad language!". I think what she meant was ' my English is not very good'. (Her English was excellent.)

As it turns out, Pilates is sado-masochistic, humiliating agony. It is also quite similar to ante-natal class: women manipulating plastic balls on mats on the floor, practising loud exhalation. ("SSSSSHHHHHHH.") I couldn't find it in my heart to hate Paschale, the nice instructor, who is obviously an ex-dancer or gymnast and can't help being flexible, but I had federal reserves of un-Christian loathing for my fellow exercisers, especially the ones 10 years older and 10kgs heavier than me who still managed to put their head on their knees.

At least we had a nice latte afterwards, with complementary homemade biscuit, and that in itself is reason to go again.

(Now excuse me while I get into my Radox bath.)

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Ugandan dudes: David K

It's not all doom and gloom here in Ganda. There is quite an art scene going on. We went to a private view the other day: sure enough, the credit-crunch denying mist descended upon us, and we decided to buy some original Ugandan art.
Here is the artist we bought from, David Kigozi, with one of our pictures. We think it's gorgeous and worth every penny. He kindly agreed to be interviewed for this blog.
Hello David. Please tell us about yourself.
I am 32 years old. I have a long-term girlfriend. No kids yet. I rear my kids on canvas!
How is it being an artist in Uganda? Can you make a living from it?
More or less. It is 4 years since my last exhibition, although I have had commissions from the Government of Rwanda. I was also involved in making the CHOGM* monument. Otherwise I have been investing in land.
Who buys your work?
Mainly bazungu. Most Ugandans don't see the value in a canvas painting. They think it's just a piece of cloth! But this perception is changing the more people are able to travel.
Were your family supportive of your decision to become an artist?
I was brought up by my mother who was a single parent, the sixth of seven children. She rented out our house to pay for our education. Yes, she supported me. Three of us ended up going into art. My sister is one of my greatest influences.

What would you do if you weren't an artist?
I'd be an architect or an engineer.

What do you think it would take for Uganda to progress?
If it was truly democratic.

* CHOGM stands for Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. It was held in Kampala a year ago, and the Queen came to visit. It was a HUGE deal here, and people still talk about it.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Political glasses on today

Hooray for Barack!

I didn't watch any of it live sadly, so I stayed glued to Sky News as I queued in Barclays (nemesis bank) for once getting irritated when eventually it was my turn at the teller's. For the 5 mins or so I watched, there was non-stop gush about how wonderful he is. I think he is pretty wonderful too. But it struck me as odd that the gush was almost exclusively along the lines of "I can't believe at last there is a black man in the white house!"

Yes it is significant, for historical and cultural reasons. But the fact he is black (or handsome or slim) doesn't mean he will be a better president for it, any more than being white made George Bush a rubbish president. (He wasn't all rubbish, either; he did some very good things for Africa I think.) Yes he is black. Well-spotted, everyone. But what about the fact he might also be wiser, have a better grasp of world events, more visionary, generally a better candidate for the big job?

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Some excuses and an announcement!

Oh gosh, ummm, yet another very delayed post. I have all manner of excuses, and here they are:
1. I have had a visitor! Marie is a very dear old friend and the sister of Rebecca. We were all at school together, once upon a time. Marie and I have spent days (or weeks? I'm not sure) talking non-stop, late into the night...actually I am hoarse. And tired, in a good way. She left yesterday and I am missing her dreadfully. I can already feel a wave of homesickness coming and the sudden silence is weird. I have some wonderful ex-pat friends, but there is something also wonderful about a friend who knows your history and laughs at your bizarre, dry, untranslatably English jokes.

2. Our electricity got cut off. No red bills or stern phone calls here, just a man with some wire cutters who came - while I was out - and disconnected us, padlocked the mains box and slapped on a note saying "remove this padlock and you will face prison". Or something. We are reconnected now (there was wrangling over the bill, it's a long story); in contrast to the clean efficiency of Mr Wire Cutter, Mr Wire Connector took his sweet, sweet time.

3. I get a bit rattled when anyone says they like what I write. I don't know why this is. It is a bit like stage fright. Ms Mac (hello!) gave me a lovely plug the other day, and while it makes me blush with pride, I also get into a bit of a tizz about how 'the next thing I write will be terrible' and so I don't. Marie gave me some excellent advice on this, that blogging is a bit like practising scales, just do it, it is good for you and it doesn't always have to be perfect. So I will try and blog more.

4. The announcement. Remember the business idea? I have been tinkering away and guess what, we now have website! In case you don't feel like clicking on loads of links, the synopsis is this: I am paying Ugandan ladies to make beautiful clothes for kids which I then sell to you, dear reader. All the profits go to the tailors. You get a lovely item with a handwritten note, and they get a much needed boost to their income. It's like giving to charity with bells on. I must add here that there is NO WAY this idea would have seen the light of day without the help of my friends Clare Benians, Lexi Smith and Simon the tech genius. They get all the credit: THANK YOU.

We are also selling these star wall-hangings (there must be a nippier description than that!)
in Christmas colours. They are really beautiful and selling like hot cakes over here. £5 to you, plus £1 p&p.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Sauda's story

"Praise to the living God. Am Sauda, aged 20, a mother blessed with one lovely daughter named Tracy.
I was born in a poor family. I grew up with my father and step-mother. I was alone, I didn't have a brother or a sister. My step-mother had 6 other children and I was badly mistreated. I only made three years of school. So I escaped to my aunt's house and stayed there for three years. She also mistreated me. She forced me to love men so I could buy myself soap, pants etc."

"From there someone persuaded me to come to Kampala to work as a housegirl. I was 10 years old. I found work with a lady who had 5 children. She sold bananas and sweet potatoes to make a living. One day, the neighbour asked my boss if I could work at their place for a day? She said OK. The neighbour - a woman - escorted me upstairs to the bedroom and left me alone. When she left the room, a man came from behind the door. He turned out the light. I started to shout but no body would help me. I cried and cried but nobody would help me. The man raped me, I was 13 years old."

"I went back to our house but I was so weak. I slept the whole day. I told my boss I was sick. After some time I still felt weak, I didn't see my monthly period for three months. My boss took me to the doctor who told me I was pregnant. My boss asked me about the man, but I feared to tell her so she chased me away and told me to go back to my parents. But my parents had already rejected me."

"I went to a friend who took me to her grandmother. The old woman gave me local herbs for drinking and bathing for abortion. I even took some tablets. But the abortion refused. After some months I gave birth in that house because I had no money for the hospital. I stayed in that situation for three months. Then the old lady died and I was chased off that plot. I went back to my friend's place. The Lord blessed me and I got work washing and cleaning, for a Kenyan, then an Indian, then Beatrice [a Medair colleague]."

"After two years, I was told to leave as there was no money to pay, Beatrice was looking after too many relatives. I started to suffer alot with my daughter. So one evening as I was going to the market I met a born-again Christian, preaching. At that time I was a Muslim. He told me that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and to come to him, all who are carrying heavy loads and I will give you rest. I was heavy loaded in my life, and no-one can help me, only Jesus. So when they called people, I ran freely and confessed salvation without anybody forcing me. From that day I started going to church and they prayed for me. After this time I met Liz."

"Before I had nothing to eat with my daughter, she was not being schooled and we could not pay rent. But I praise God for his many miracles, now we have everything that was lacking. I thank him so much."

Ugandan Dudes: a new series

Everyone meet Sauda. She looks after my children. It's because of her that I can write this. I can hear Katherine gurgling and giggling in the background, and her laughing along. I owe her my time and my sanity. The girls are besotted with her, and she is definitely their favourite over moany old Mum. I don't mind. Even when the girls are otherwise occupied, I love having Sauda in the house. Her sunny disposition brightens up my grumpiest moments.

We took Sauda on full-time two months ago. She is the reason I have not been posting much -suddenly I had lots of time on my hands, and not much to do. Aside from a bit of clothing business work - more on that later - I've been shopping, visiting friends, drinking some lattes. (Roughing it in Africa, see?) Not much story in that.

Sauda's story is something else. Harrowing and humbling, I asked if she'd mind me writing it up so that people all over the world could see it? (That was my best explanation of 'the internet'.) She said she didn't mind.

I was expecting to interview her, but she arrived at work this morning with an exercise book, the first 10 pages or so covered in Biro. She had got a friend to write it for her. So while I will edit it for length and a little for clarity, the next post will be Sauda's, as much as possible, in her own words.

Friday, 10 October 2008

re: RE

In this brave new world they call 'school', apart from the driving, the uniform, the homework etc, I have also discovered the bored housewife's home from home, the PTA. I normally hate things like the PTA; there's nothing like an earnest discussion on social events that makes me want to chew gum and heckle from the back row. But in the absence of very much to do in Kampala - rather you do stuff, but it tends to be the same stuff over and over again - I started going to these meetings as welcome distraction and to make some more friends. I am a (slightly) bored housewife myself, after all.

Imagine my surpise then, when both meetings strayed from the original agenda ("The role of class rep" and "The British Curriculum" yawn) and turned very interesting. We talked a bit about the thorny issues around how you teach history and geography in an international school, and then it was a matter of time before we were handling the hottest of hot potatoes: religious education.

I wasn't paying attention 100 per cent,but this is what I remember. UK schools are meant to offer religious education of some sort, without bias towards any one religion, unless you are a designated faith school. Parents have the right to withdraw their children from all RE lessons. OK then. At Ambrosoli (Emma's school) it is not taught at all. While that should make life easy for everyone, actually it doesn't really. An example. Last year, Diwalli and Hannukah got coverage (in fact Ambrosoli is meticulous about covering every international event..Song Khran, anyone?) but the 'Christmas' play was about....different hats. Happy holidays, everyone! (There was a nativity play, but only after considerable parental lobbying and then only out of school hours.)

I am a Christian. Of course I want Emma to be taught about Christianity. However, it was a conscious decision not to send her to a faith school (and I could do a separate post on the reasons why.) So in choosing Ambrosoli, it was never my expectation that Christianity would be taught pre-eminently in RE lessons. But to have no religious education at all? Nor can anyone answer precisely why this is case.

If the head teacher or the board were made up of prosletysing atheists a la Richard Dawkins, who argue that religious instruction is a form of child abuse, it would depress me but at least it would be a clear position. What riles me is the impression that they want to steer clear of the whole issue for risk of offending people. When did we all get so sensitive?

I love the challenge of defending what I believe, and I like being challenged in return. It would be almost impossible to come up with a religious education curriculum that everyone is happy with, but life's like that sometimes. Let it at least follow some honest debate; debate that wouldn't even be allowed in many countries around the world.

To give them credit where it's due, the lack of RE at Ambrosoli has been recognised as problematic by the board, and a questionnaire was sent round last year to all the parents about the kind of religious education they'd like to see, if any. It's a start, though like many an initiative, at risk of being quietly shelved in case the results don't lead to neat and easily implementable solutions.

In my new role as Head of the Awkward Squad, I look forward to bringing it up again and again...

Friday, 3 October 2008

A moan about school.

No posts for a long time, sorry. For once I am not entirely to blame: Blogger repeatedly refused to recognise my name and password. I mean, not recognise me? Moi? After all these years? That hurts. There is also something fishy going on with google and gmail and whatever. Blogger teccies I am not happy, if ever you read me..

I digress.

I have also been consumed with momentous things, like Emma's first day at big school. I felt pretty emotional, as if the credits were rolling on the Baby And Toddler Years. No time for wistfulness, though, as quick as a flash we're into the years of The School Run. Why did no-one tell me about this? The military timetable from 6.30am. The fights. We have four before we leave the house: 1) Eating breakfast, 2) getting dressed 3) brushing teeth 4) brushing hair. In the car we have fight number 5) listening to the radio. I have banned listening to the radio, as it is unsuitable for children. Constant Mr LoverLover Man, I wanna love you tonight type pop tunes, as well as some Heimlich manoeuvre explicit adverts. An example. "Are you sensuous? Passionate? Then maybe you should consider Ohhh! Condoms!" Did I mention this is 0730 on a work day? Emma always wants to listen to it and gets annoyed when turn it off, purse my lips, and tighten my corset.

Home schooling is looking more attractive.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

How to get from A to B

Leave Geneva 2.55pm, Egypt Air to Cairo. "May I have a seat belt for the baby please? The plane is about to take off," I ask. A reasonable question. "We don't have one." says Mahmoud, a kind-looking member of the all-male flight crew, looking worried. "Just hold the baby really, really close!" I reel Katherine to my chest and breathe.

There is no telly. No film. Some rather piercing Arabic music on the headset. We have a bag of snacks, 2 children's magazines, a pack of crayons (which I will discover don't work on the shiny magazine paper), a pack of Animal Snap and four hours til we touch down in Cairo. The minutes tick past. God, help me.

7pm Touchdown in boiling hot Cairo. "May we have our pram please? We did ask if we could have it in Cairo," asks Gandaman. "Ya, ya!" says jovial Cairo air official. "Why is your baby sucking her thumb???!!"

9pm. Gandaman meets us in a cafe (Cairo airport - good facilities, FYI) looking thunderous. "We got the pram," he said. "And this." He holds up one of my McLaren Techno Classic's wheels, which has been completely severed. A small argument ensues about whether we should try and claim damages. This time I win, citing age of pram, pre-existing decreptitude, whiney tired children, whiney tired wife and the immenent gate closure of our next connection. The McLaren is abandoned in Cairo Airport, gate 9. A sad moment: Emma was wheeled home from hospital in this (now) knackered pram when she was born.

10pm depart Cairo. More kind staff, one man in particular who wings a seat for me at the front. And a bassinette! I could kiss him.

3.45 am arrive Entebbe, feeling faint and headachy and desperate to lie in a comfy bed. I have spent the last few days wondering if my brain made the journey along with my limbs.

At least some people found it very comfortable:

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Gandalady goes a bit scary.

Snake dead.
K's bum cured (partially).
England tomorrow.
Switzerland in one week's time.

If that all sounds very focussed, it's because all day I have been VERY. FOCUSSED. on packing. So focussed that I can't really string a sentence together.

See you in two weeks.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Get me a stiff drink NOW

There is a snake on my property.

We've not met him in person, 'Mr Snake' (for I'm trying to pretend I am not screaming inside for the sake of the children), but we know where he lives - in a hole in the garage floor. He made us aware of his presence by leaving some of his skin behind. Sweet! If it weren't for Eva's beady eyes, I'd still be thinking it was a bit of plastic.

Rigid with fear, I called my mate K to tell her the momentous news. "Oh, it's probably only a mamba," she drawled dismissively. She didn't know you don't say things like only a mamba to someone as snakephobic as me. You say 'only a really large worm', the kind that sheds its skin, etc etc. "They don't attack anyone," she continued reassuringly. "It's the cobras you need to watch out for. They killed a 5 foot one outside my classroom the other day." Yay, cobras too.
Anyway, I thought mambas - the green, deadly poisonous ones - were aggressive snakes, that did attack. I also thought they lived in trees. Why the heck did it think it would be more comfortable in my garage/utility room? Damn snake.

Still, despite the icy cold terror gripping my heart (E keeps telling me it's fine, it's daylight, Mr Snake is sleeping), I don't like much the idea of killing him. I will never be a vegetarian, am pretty unsentimental about animals generally (K has some cute black Lab puppies that she is desperate for me to take and every week I say 'no'), but suffocating old snakey with parrafin seems pretty rough. But then one snake into a house full of toddlers doesn't go.

I've done the only acceptable thing in the circumstances and made it someone else's problem. The pest people come at 3.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

What I did on my summer holidays

Days 1-3 we went to the spectacular Mihingo Lodge , in Lake Mburo national park. Luxury safari tents with thatched rooves overlooking savannah as far as the eye can see. Even the loo has a full-length window, as the only other prying eyes will be antelope or if you're really lucky, leopards. (Hooneymooners take note: the most romantic place I've been in my entire life. Less romantic with small people in tow.) Gandaman got scared by a buffalo snorting at him on his after-dark walk, Gandagrandad had a close encounter with a crocodile, all of which added to the excitement.
5 stars.

Days 4-5 expectations dramatically curtailed with visit to here , which Gandagranny noted would be a good place to committ suicide. Dark, damp and gloomy, yellow water issuing from the taps, threadbare bedcovers - all at a trigger-pulling 200 bucks a night. After an hour waiting for our sad, tiny sandwiches to arrive, I got on my mobile to the smart place up the road to see if they had any cancellations. But when the manager got wind of our chagrin, the charm offensive he mounted was so effective - drinks bought, little sweets left on the threadbare bedcovers - we caved. The Gandagrandparents took it all in their stride. Throughout the holiday, as long as the Scrabble was close at hand they were pretty happy. On a more sinister note, our friends called us later to warn us not to pay by VISA at Malaria Lodge as this is where they'd had their identities stolen. So people, resist the urge.
No stars.

Days 5-9 a very welcome upturn in the shape of Ndali lodge. Built on a breathtakingly beautiful ridge between two crater lakes. Took some much-needed, child-free long walks. Visited the brilliant, v inspiring vanilla farm. Developed a nightly gin and tonic habit. Spent many hours in the swimming pool with Emma and Gloria. (E and G in fact would have happily spent the entire trip in a concrete bunker, as long as there was a swimming pool.)
4 and a half stars.

We had some pretty good animal spotting. Antelope (impala, topi, bush buck, water buck, but no eland.) Elephants (hard to miss and therefore always a winner with toddlers.) Hippos and crocs we have already mentioned. Hyenas, a personal favourite, and worth the 5.30 start. Lions, cool, but quite far away. Any attempted photos would have just shown grass. No leopards, though and everyone knows they are the coolest of all. Lots of lovely birds: I have a soft spot for Mr Blingin' here.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

To my mum and dad, with love xx

John: Hellowsy!

Angela: Hellowsy!

John: How is your good self?

Angela: Grand!

John: We're eating AFRICAN FOOD! This yellow stuff is called matoekey!

Angela: What?

John: MA-TOE-KEEEYY! It is like a LARGE BA-NAAA-NA! (dramatic pause) I say, did this chicken die of malnutrition?

Angela: What?

John: I think this chicken died of MAL-NUU-TRITION!!!

(much falling about with laughter from J and A)

Angela: I like the baked beans. Very tasty!

John: I say, Rob, will you order me a beer? Most kind.

(beer arrives. appreciative glugging.)

John: This Friday your mother and I will have been married forty-six years!! (looks at A.) Your good health, pet!

Angela: Your good health!

Back from safari

Hello again! I've just been on safari with my parents. It was a blast. Full disclosure in the pipeline, but after 10 days of bumpy roads and stalking big game, I need a shower to wash the tonne of dust off my person.

Gandaman and Gandagranny went chimp trekking and look what they saw!

The next day, they saw the whole family:

Thursday, 17 July 2008

A cheeky request

I have been preoccupied by my baby's bottom.

Obviously because it is round and perfect and delightful, but it also has eczema and I have run out of ideas how to treat it. Friends, agony aunts, health visitors, dermatologists - over to you.

I am pretty sure it is eczema and not common or garden nappy rash because my usual tricks (airtime and Sudocrem) haven't worked. The rash is not spotty, either, but uniform patches of dry, red skin. I have tried pretty much every cream now: petroleum jelly, E45, something that looks and smells like Metanium Ointment but it's a South African brand and the instructions are in Afrikaans. (It might even be oil paint - who knows?) I have stopped using all Johnson's products as they make her go dry and flaky all over. I put olive oil in the bath: when she comes out I want to put her in the oven with onions and some garlic.

The only thing that seems to 'cure' it - it's only temporary - is sticking her in disposable nappies. I hate doing this. Disposable nappies are twice the price as they are back home, hideous for the environment wherever you are in the world but even more so in a country where rubbish is collected and then dumped somewhere convenient where little kids pick through it for anything they can use. Or eat. (She still uses a disposable at night, though - something's got to give.) I have looked all over Kampala in vain for non-bio detergent, in the belief that it's what I wash them in that's the problem. Then my friend told me yesterday that the bio/non-bio distinction is a bit of a con anyway.

Very reluctantly I have started using steroid cream to try and crack this thing. But in the long term I know it's a bad idea - thins the skin, discolouration, etc. I don't want to give up the nappies - they cost £270 and were barely used with E and G, and I want value for money.

Any suggestions? No remedy too wacky for consideration. To all the homeopaths, hippies and herbalists I've offended in the past, I apologise.

I'm all ears.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Born on the 4th of July

This is a message to my BEST FRIEND who had a baby yesterday.

Dearest BBH
Am aching to see you, be with you, squeal with you about the 'birth story', ooh and ahhh and pinch the small cheeks of the tiny young chap, sit on your bed, fuss round you, make tea, change a nappy (even), bore you with tips, tire you with gossip, and generally jump for joy at such a happy event. I am jumping for joy, just in Ganda; tremors can be felt throughout the land. If I were home all of you would be under a small mountain of flowers, chocolates, cuddly toys and the odd How to Make Your Infant Sleep manual. I can't do any of the above, but here is something for now:

Big love to the proud daddy. Miss you. xxx

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

My favourite bank (again.)

It's not been a great week. The big reason being yesterday's post, but add to that tropical tummy trouble, Gloria splitting her head open on the shower attachment* and the car breaking down outside the local brothel and you could say Kampala is losing its shine.

Whenever I'm down, though, there's nothing that lifts my spirits like a bit of Barclays bashing. Hello, corporate spies!

My brother recently sent me through some info about Katine, a sub-county of Soroti district, where The Guardian is sponsoring various health, education, watsan and livelihoods programmes. "It starts with a village", goes the lofty strapline. The Katine projects are run by AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation), who, to give credit where it's due, seem like dudes. But it is all funded in partnership with...Barclays Bank! BB are matching them pound for pound in donations. Barclays who charge £5 on every withdrawal once your balance goes under £50 (£50 pcm being the average wage here in Ganda.) They should make their money back in no time by squeezing the very people The Graun wants to help! FYI, my local branch also scores pretty high in Basic Incompetence. I needed to withdraw a couple of million shillings the other day to pay for our holiday, and after a lot of waiting around and flustered tapping on the computer, I was informed sheepishly they had ran out of money. Well done!

I feel better already.

*Gloria is fine. She is a bit accident-prone. She will have a scar on her hairline, but only a tiny one.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Another tragedy

My friend Monica gave birth to a beautiful baby just before midnight on Tuesday. She sent round a joyful text giving the vital statistics: little girl, 3.75kg, 52cm long. The beep of my phone woke me up. I grunted happily to Rob and poked him with the news. A grunt from him, happy sounding. Then we went back to sleep.

At 7.30am the next morning I replied: "Congratulations! Well done! Girls rock!" Or something. At 8am, or thereabouts, I got another text from another friend. "Hello baby group. I have some very bad news. There were some complications and Monica's baby has died. Please don't send any more messages right now. See you all later this morning." I was numb with shock.

Lots of tears at baby group. We had all been so excited about this new arrival. It was Monica's first baby, and she had been hungry for all the intel about nappies, breastfeeding, sleep, birth, hospitals. We had loved dishing it out. We had spent a very enjoyable morning with a latte and a cinnamon roll, while I gave her my Katherine birth story. The past few days I have been racking my brains, trying to remember what I said. Had I given Monica a false impression of the risks involved?

On Saturday Monica and Dave invited our baby group to a reunion. It was enormously gracious of them given the magnitude of their loss, that they could acknowledge our grief and bewilderment. It turns out little Mazhira (it means 'light' in Hebrew) died of meconium asphyxiation. Dave showed photos, and we passed round a paper with her footprints on. She was a pretty little thing, and she had big feet. They are on their way to Australia as I write this, to bury her in a cemetary just walking distance from their house. I can't imagine the pain they must be in.

Monica and Dave both said they were comforted by the knowledge that others were sharing their grief with them. Please remember them in your prayers.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Yessir, that's my baby!

Baby Katherine is 10 weeks and 2 days old. She is chubbing up nicely, although I have no idea what she weighs. (Getting her weighed means a drive across town, on doddery, unreliable old scales. And by the third kid it's all a bit less urgent anyway.) She doesn't cry much. She loves milk. She doesn't seem to mind being manhandled by her big sisters. She is still sleeping through the night, 7 til 7, which I can't quite believe. (If it's any consolation, Gloria still wakes us up 2 or 3 times.) I love snuggling into her round belly and big cheeks. Rubbing her with baby oil after her bath is a gorgeously delicious treat. Ahhh. Makes me almost want to have another one....*

*no way. not really. sigh. well, maybe. actually: no. er..

Sunday, 8 June 2008


Ugandans don't say something 'is painful'; they say 'it is paining me'.

My start-up is paining me.

Following some very useful customer feedback, I have been trying to get East African fabric. Uganda has not yielded much so far, at least not of the right quality for children's clothes. You can, however, get lovely soft Kikoy fabric from Kenya. Baby K having no passport, I figured the best thing would be to get my contacts (hi Phyllis) to buy the stuff and post it. This has led to much paining.

My package got stuck in the post office. FYI, if MI6 need a new office, they could do worse than move to Kampala main post office. It makes rabbit warrens look like palaces of minimalism. Package located, they wouldn't release it until I had paid duty on it, which FYI was sixty percent of the value of the fabric inside. Coughing up the tax bill involved a morning of utterly needless standing around in the Crane bank. (It was Charles, a friend of mine, who did the standing around: I sat in the pouring rain in the car park opposite jiggling baby.)

I don't have a problem with taxes. But sixty per cent duty is eye-wateringly high, I'd say. How can anyone turn a profit with that kind of tax burden? If there were decent roads and shiny new schools springing up here and there I'd mind a lot less. So where is the money going? Answers on a postcard..

At least now I have these babies:

shorts, wrap skirts, towelling-lined bathrobes coming soon

PS Happy Birthday Mama xxxxxx

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Good, bad, whatever

There is no water coming out of my taps. There is no water coming out of anyone's taps. There is no mains water in Kampala today. BAD.

I have been to a fabulous hairdresser's! Despite the weakest of briefs, she gave me really rather a nice new barnet. GOOD.

It is raining torrentially, ironic given water shortage. Good for the garden but rubbish for the toddlers. BAD.

The torrential rain has started flowing down the Internet antenna on the roof onto the electrics. VERY BAD.

My nine week old baby now sleeps through the night. BRILLLLLIIANNNT!!!!!
Don't hate me.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Battle of wills

Sometimes - ok, most of the time - I wish my children were like the Von Trapps, who wore uniforms, stood to attention and came when whistled for. (Until of course Maria comes along and ruins everything.) It's a case of the terrible twos and the feisty fours...

Scenario 1: Getting Dressed. E insists on wearing clothes 2 sizes too small for her, garments that would be perfectly acceptable on an 18 month old, but on her make her look like a teenager on a bad Saturday night. G changes her costume about 4 times a day, but her preference is nudity.

Scenario 2: I'm bored. Every afternoon around 4pm, after Glory's nap and Emma's "rest time" (fat chance), the cry resounds "what now, Mummy?" Indeed. For it is about now that I too have run out of ideas, we have done colouring, made cards, played on the swing, read stories and avoided anything that involves anything like exceptional creativity and mess (painting, basically.) 4pm is when I frantically phone round everyone I know in Kampala (I am terrible at forward planning) asking if we can come, have tea and trash their house. These days it is more difficult as everyone disappears over the summer. If we don't leave the house there is about an hour of wailing, breast-beating and general naughtiness. And that's just me, ha! ha!

Scenario 3. I'm tired. Emma has given up her nap, but by the third day of no daytime sleep she gets to around 6pm and completely crashes wherever she is: on the floor, standing up, she doesn't discriminate. The safest strategy is just to get her into bed, fully dressed if need be, and retreat noiselessly. Wake her accidentally, and she cries loudly and inconsolably for ages...then decides she would like to stay up late after all.

Help me, Captain. (Don't listen to the nun.)

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Things I wish I'd done before moving to Uganda:

1. Done a car maintenance course.

Cars. Doncha love em? Big, expensive hunks of metal, destined to go wrong. And so it goes with our useless Japanese tonka toy Rav 4.

For weeks we have been having battery trouble. Well, the battery terminals to be precise, get furred up or judder loose every time you go over a pothole (which is often.) So now, were you to ask me 'what do you never leave the house without?', I would answer wallet; phone; water; snacks; nappy; wipes; spare babygro; number 10 spanner; wire brush. I am getting good at whipping the bonnet up, scrutinising the engine as if I have an idea what I'm looking at, scrubbing furiously at the acid fur and then fiddling with the spanner, unsure whether the thing has been tightened or in fact loosened further. We have applied vaseline to the affected area - snigger - poured boiling water on said terminals and rammed bits of tin foil/copper wire/chocolate wrapping to try and get the thing to spark.

On Monday I will be on the blower to the smiley-but-makes-me-wait-in-all-day mechanic.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Blogger's Block

Hello, I promised I would write properly and so I shall.

What's been going on down Ganda way? Well quite a lot of mundane stuff, the sort of thing that goes on in middle-class homes all over the world. Which is probably why I haven't written about it. I've changed a lot of nappies, done a lot of breastfeeding, drank lots of cups of tea, drank even more glasses of water, had other mums over with their children and compared developmental notes, commented on the weather, been shopping. I've also swanned around in my 4x4, told my staff what to do, removed gekko droppings from the kitchen sink, forgotten to get fuel for the generator, visited various international schools, spoken Luganda badly, led an Alpha discussion group, visited a tailoring school in the slums, not seen the neighbours and felt guilty about it, drank more tea, ordered some kikoys from Nairobi, been frightened by an excel spreadsheet, got lost in a very rough area of Kampala (also frightening), discussed theology over lunch, made heavy inroads into our stash of Swiss chocolate, listened to my fantastic iopd shuffle (thanks bro), received an exciting parcel from America (thanks sis), read Private Eye, watched several episodes of Lost (still don't get it), wiped Gloria's nose, laughed by the pool (but didn't get in), held K as she was given 3 injections by a nervous nurse, spoken crossly to the builder, raged against Barclays, raged against our dodgy electrics, but rejoiced at the regrading of the road. I've written emails, stared into space, missed my friends, wished I were in Zanzibar, wished I were in damp, misty Dorset, but not really wished I were in rip-off miserable London.

Business as usual. We're OK.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

In all her Glory

Will write something proper soon. Busy busy.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Chop, chop

Gloria and Emma have had their hair cut. They both sat quietly and compliantly for the hairdresser, no need for the usual blackmail with sweeties and ice cream. It was over in minutes.

All this would have been great only mummy was absent, the hairdresser in question was 4 years old and the result was....jaw-dropping. On one side, Glory looked like a normal toddler: on the other, her hair had been all but hacked away apart from the fringe and rat's tail at the back. Think East Germany. Think Limahl from Kajagoogoo, those of you over thirty. Emma got away slightly better with some thatchwork at the fringe - the same fringe I've been growing out for months.

Don't ask for photos. I am traumatised.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Business update...

Remember the business idea? Well even though I've been slacking of late , it is very much still on.

We have sold our first item, to belgianwaffle no less. After some nail-biting weeks of thinking that our parcel had not arrived, and that we would be cobbling together complaints procedures depressingly early in our operational life, it turns out that the dress arrived, well on time and that the small customer in question is very satisfied, if a bit chilly. Eva and I got very, very excited when we heard such feedback. A month or so ago we sent some stock back to the UK and we'll see how that does too.

I had a bit of a dip in enthusiasm after scouring Kampala's textile shops and finding very little in the way of nice, quality fabrics. (Unless teflon-coated lime and black tiger stripes is your thing, and more power to you if so, you would like it here.) I went in search of some Ugandan-woven stuff, at a place called the Textiles Development Agency, but all the weavers had been laid off as there was not enough work. More on this another time. Just as I had written Kampala off and was preparing to go to Nairobi to get some decent material, I took special K into town (her first visit) and came across a new shop with some pretty stuff in it. So we are back in business. Expect more photos soon.

(Nor can I write this without giving a big shout to my friend and now business partner Clarey B. Thanks to her we have a logo, a brand name and a website in the pipeline, and without her time, committment and general enthusiasm, this whole thing would surely have hit the buffers.)

PS this green spotty number is one of ours. Send me a note if you want one.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

The future's bright, the future'

As mentioned in a previous post, the Scho's have now finished their breeding bonanza.* Three children is just dandy, now the shop is shut. While a little boy would have been very exciting and rather novel, baby K is such a cutie it's already hard to imagine the world without her.

As far as oestrogen-heavy families goes, it seems we're not alone. Just in Ganda, our friends L&F have 3 girls, B&D 4 girls (and 1 boy), E&L 2 girls, S&F 2 girls, I&J 2 girls 1 boy. Back home the record stands at C&M's 5 girls (and 1 on the way, sex unknown), but the pattern continues.

Where are all the men children? Is there something in the water?

*still, it's dangerous to make pronouncements like this. As my friend Dan puts it, "the stork is always listening."

Friday, 11 April 2008

In which the terrible reality of life in Africa hits home

OK. This post is not going to be blogging-lite. If you want blogging-lite, click away now. Normal service (rabbits, Katherine etc) will be resumed soon, but you can't live here and meet Ugandans without at some point brushing against the desperate misery that so many of them face. As I said: not blogging-lite today.

Remember the neighbours? From time to time I have visited them. I bring bits of food and homemade playdough for the gangs of kids which seems to go down a storm, especially as not many of them speak English. A while back we exchanged mobile numbers. (An aside: no-one does landlines here. You guys are so backward in this regard.) They have always welcomed me into their home. Sometimes we've prayed or read the Bible together. No-one has a job or much in the way of schooling. No-one has ever asked me for money either. A surprise -and very humbling.

When K was born, Pastor Rashid asked if they could come and visit. So last Wednesday, a little troupe of 4 adults and 2 children, all looking immaculately smart turned up at our gate. We sat on the balcony, drank sodas and ate chocolate brownies while they cooed over the new baby. They gave me a gift: a Pepsi Cola T shirt and a cook book from the 80s entitled "Fresh ways with soups and stews." I re-iterate - none of these people has a job or anything like a regular income. Baby Israel, who I saw being born, was looking very healthy and huge for a 3-month-old. Baby Simon, 7 months old, was climbing all over his mother and seemed fine. When I asked how he was, I was told "he is diarating." (Ugandan English, and a neater way of saying, "he has diarrhoea.") I didn't probe: he really looked fine. Just the week before I'd gone to the doctor with one of our guards and his baby daughter, worried that she was "diarating", only to be told that up to 10 loose stools a day is normal for a breast-fed baby. (Shows how long I've been out of the nursing game. But it was reassuring to be told, anyway.)

The next evening, quite late, I got a phonecall at home in the middle of a leaving party for a Medair colleague. It was one of the neighbours, telling me that Simon had died. I was stunned.
At first I panicked. Just the day before we had all been sitting around my week-old baby. Could she have caught something life-threatening? By the morning I was more rational. We went over to see Simon's mother in their tiny shack. Simon was there, under a blanket on the floor. He looked beautiful and peaceful. His mother was distraught. "My heart is hurting," she said. This lady is an orphan herself. We all cried. They buried him that day, in a town about 60km away.

Rob bumped into Pastor Rashid later that week. Apparently, they had taken Simon to a local clinic. The doctor there assumed he had malaria and injected him with quinine. Very soon they noticed that he was having a bad reaction to the drug, so they got in a taxi to Nsambya hospital, but by the time they got there it was too late.

Did he have malaria? He might have done. Diarrhoea is one of many possible symptoms. Many places can't afford expensive microscopy, and even if they could, the clinical conditions aren't great for effective diagnosis. Blind treatment is the only option for many people, and malaria is a killer. But quinine is also a nasty drug; it has horrible side effects and (I have a good source for this) should never be given by injection. More likely, he just had diarrhoea and would have got through with clean water and a couple of oral rehydration sachets. We'll never know.

His memorial service is tomorrow, under the tree by the shack where they live.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Hard Labour: the Afterbirth Rated 12. Contains more gory detail.

starring Gandalady, Gandahusband, Katherine. co-starring Frau and Mrs Midwife. Supporting cast: other midwives. Another special appearance from The Man from Accounts.

I am wheeled by Gandahusband, Frau and Mrs to Private Room no. 1. Baby - who we think might be called Dorothy but are not sure yet - has her first feed which she seems to enjoy very much. I am tired but very pleased with the new bundle and relieved it is all over.

Frau and Mrs feel my tummy and check my BP which is low. I am bleeding alot, but they think all will be well. They each give me a friendly squeeze, complete bits of paperwork and prepare to go home. I send Gandahusband on his way, and soon it is just me and the small, pink person. She is wearing a vest, a sleepsuit and a blanket. The temperature is ambient to warm. I am happy in a T shirt and a sheet.

I lie awake all night, due to after-pains, adrenalin and copious amounts of bleeding. The midwives on duty are not very troubled by this.

3am. I stagger into the corridor. "May I have some more pads please?" I croak. "And a new sheet?" A midwife returns at a leisurely pace with the pads. "No sheets. Sorry." She is about to leave when she sees the baby. "This baby is not wearing A HAT!" she exclaims. "Er.. it's OK," I reply. "It's not cold. I'm British!" I quip, as if this should explain everything.

"This is Africa!" says the midwife. On this continent the baby wears a hat whatever the weather, lady.

She starts rummaging through my bag and digs out a black vest of mine and a muslin, and then wraps the baby up in these extra layers, fashioning a kind of head covering out of the folds. Reverend Mother from The Sound of Music. It rather suits her, even if she is being cooked alive.
3.30am I text R to bring sheets from home, and remove the extra layers.

Sheets delivered, I stare at the ceiling until 6am, occasionally getting up to change them etc. No one disturbs me. 6.30am. I would love a cup of tea.

7am. I really would love a cup of tea.

7.30am. Do I get breakfast?

8am. I'm hungry. And I am gasping for a brew.

8.30am If I don't get a cup of tea I will cry. I stagger into the corridor. "Er...can I get a cup of tea please?" I say to anyone who will listen.

A midwife wanders over and looks in the room. "This baby is COLD!" she exclaims, and starts fussing over the baby with layers again. I clench my jaw. A chef arrives with a mug of hot, sugary milk and two tiny sausages wrapped in a paper napkin: better than nothing.

9am. Gandahusband arrives with latte and pastries. Heaven. We start planning our escape.

10am. The man from accounts again, ever conscientious. Fill in this form please.

More forms. Then a visit from Ugandan obstetrician who is wearing a pink shirt and we have a nice chat. He is happy for us to go.

11.30am We are heading for the exit, already sweltering in the tropical heat. "Stop!" cries one of the midwives. "You must be accompanied by a nurse!" The nurse comes. Again, the horror: "where is the baby's hat?" goes the cry. "No hat." I say. Don't go there sister.

We get home. E and G fall over themselves to cuddle and poke Katherine (for she is no longer Dorothy.) By the afternoon it has turned chilly and is pouring with rain. I dig out a pink beanie hat and put it on the baby.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Hard Labour (rated 15. contains blood and guts, and some bad language)

starring Gandalady, Gandahusband, Katherine. Co-starring Frau and Mrs Midwife. Special appearance from The Man from Accounts.

A True Story.

Tuesday. Twinges all morning, but didn't get excited by this as twinges were by now pretty commonplace. After a nice lunch and a lie down with E and G I thought they might be getting regular or regularish. I started recording the times on my shopping notepad: beans, loo roll, 14:23, 14:35, 14:44. Every ten mins. Yes! I texted Frau Midwife (for she is German) and started doing brisk circuits of the garden.

Frau Midwife calls me. "I can't come right now," she says. "One of my children [she has 8] is very sick and vomiting everywhere. Let me get Mrs Midwife [for she is British] to see you instead." I continue my circuit training until friend Suzanne comes and we walk up a very steep nearby hill and drink passion juice at the bar on the top.

We get home. Twinging definitely stronger. Mrs Midwife arrives. "There's no hurry!" I tell her brightly, as she walks in the door. "You could have waited another....GAAAAAHHH!" Suddenly interrupted by an unmistakeable and very painful contraction. She examines me - 3 cms. We go to hospital, Rob, myself, Mrs Midwife and a large, purple birthing ball. In his excitement, R drives past the front entrance.

"I can never remember which floor the maternity floor is!" chats Mrs Midwife, clutching the birthing ball. "Anyway, I don't like this place and never refer my mothers here anyway."

We by-pass lots of tutting, officious looking nurses, aggrieved that we haven't stopped to complete the necessary paperwork, and head straight for the delivery suite. The Man from Accounts at least has the boldness to follow us in and collar Rob about paying the bill. By this time I am having strong contractions, and would give the man my last penny just to make him go away.

I clamber into a flappy blue hospital gown and haul myself onto the bed. There is no adjustable backrest. Hence the ball comes with me onto the bed, covered with a sheet, and I lie draped on it for the next 4 hours or so.

Frau Midwife arrives, chewing gum. Frau and Mrs Midwife are delighted to see each other. How is the little one? How's everything going? Would you like a Coke?, etc.

Another exam. 6 or 7 cm. "I can feel the membranes," says Mrs. "If we rupture them, that would speed things up." Do it please. "What shall we use?" says Frau. "Hmm," says Mrs, and goes off to hunt for a suitable implement. She returns with a long, steel pair of scissors.

"WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH THAT?" I shriek. Mrs reassures me that I won't feel anything. She has a go, then gives up. "I don't think these membranes were meant to be ruptured," she says sadly. "We need an amniohook!" says Frau. "I've got one at home," replies Mrs.

Meanwhile, a nurse comes in to ask us to move the car. We have parked in the CEO's spot. R suggests we do it later.

Pain relief please, I say. Frau leaves the room and returns with some gas and air - at last some useful equipment. Ahhhhh. I go on a short journey to la-la land. Lovely Ugandan Obstetrician arrives and snaps on a pair of gloves. Time to push. Then: a power cut. "Has anyone got a torch?" flaps Frau. R moves laptop (we were listening to music on it) and holds the screen behind LUO so thus illuminated, he can catch the baby, who is out in less than a minute.

A few nurses come and go as baby (for she is not yet named) is weighed, the cord clamped, etc. I am helped onto a trolley and wheeled to a room, accompanied by a tiny, wailing blue bundle. "When is this baby going to be dressed?" says one of the nurses. It is to become a familiar refrain...

story continues in Hard Labour: the Afterbirth

Coming Soon!


Here she is: Katherine Dorothy Schofield. Born 26th March 2008, 23 mins past midnight. We're not sure who she looks like. But she is rather lovely, don't you think?

Friday, 21 March 2008

Guess the mystery object!

I know. It looks like a loaf of bread. But it is in fact, one of these:

an emergency home delivery kit! Just in case I don't make it to the hospital in time. It's been fascinating studying its contents, and I'm not the only one to have had a nosey - see the tiny hands?

Not that baby has given me the slightest indication that s/he is about to come out. Although I have a week til my due date, I am getting a bit crazed with impatience. I have never had a late baby before - Emma arrived on her due date like a Swiss train, and Gloria was 8 days early. There is a first time for everything I suppose. I could always give myself an appendectomy with the instruments if I get that bored.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

The mongoose strikes again.

Sally rabbit.

That's all I can bear to write on the matter.

Does anyone have a recipe for slow-roasted mongoose? I don't care if they're endangered.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Creaming the fat off the poor

I am in a rage about Big Banks - no need to name names, that would be indelicate. Not long ago the British press were huffing and puffing about the BBs lining their pockets from overdraft fees and the like. But gutting as it is to have to fork out 30 quid every time you get paid late and the direct debits go out, I see some sort of reasoning behind why banks penalise you for spending cash that isn't yours. (I still think £30 is too steep.)

If you think that's being ripped off though, try this for size. At my bank - which, as I said, shall remain nameless, I don't want a reputation as an agitator - they charge you every time you withdraw money over the counter (60p), each time you make a withdrawal if your balance is under £150 (£5) and each time you use the ATM (1p.) I would grind my teeth a bit then forget about it this issue if it weren't for the fact that £5 to a moderately-off Ugandan is two days wages. And you haven't even gone overdrawn, remember: this is still your money.

Not that you'd've heard of them anyway....

Friday, 7 March 2008

Look at my baby

A pregancy update has been requested. Here it is.
- I have 3 weeks exactly to go til my due date
- I am booked into Kampala International Hospital, less than 5 mins drive away
- I have had an appointment with the very chatty German midwife. We bump into each other at the pizza restaurant quite a lot too, where she sometimes gives me a quick feel
- don't know the sex
- don't know what we'll call him or her either
- any suggestions?
- not having contractions or anything exciting like that
- baby is head down at last, after spending ages hammock-style or 'transverse'. Very happy it's moved as transverse = automatic caesarean
-although I do strain my abdominals during a vigorous game of Duck Duck Goose
- i am fantasising about sleeping on my front
- i am hoping there is a spare canister of Entonox lying around at IHK
- this is the last addition to the Schofield tribe

I think that covers it.

Huge excited thank you to everyone who wants a dress. I need these measurments: bust (circumference), waist (circ), hips (circ), shoulder to waist, shoulder to knee (or mid-calf, depending on the length you want) and shoulder strap (back to front.)
Please tell me fabric you like and delivery address too. If you can tell me before tomorrow (8th)early afternoon then I can probably get your dress in our friend's suitcase when they go back on 14th March.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Two totally unconnected stories


Thanks so much for your encouragement. I'm sorry to have been away for a few days, but in case you were thinking this business idea was a case of all mouth and no trousers, have a look at this.

Eva made these dresses and Lexie the Excellent took these photos. It took her an entire morning in sweltering heat, and all she wanted in return was a few glasses of water. I supplied the gorgeous supermodels. Like what you see? Let me know. We have some friends going back to the UK on 14th March so your order could be fulfilled in record time.

OK, enough sales schpiel (at least for 5 minutes.) Did you know UB40 have just performed here in Kampala? Did you know that not many international pop bands manage the African circuit? It made the front page of the national newspaper. They mentioned in their report that

"Security personnel, comprising mostly of hulking bouncers were left with no choice but to use stun guns in order to prevent silver section ticket holders from surging over the stage barrier."
Stagedivers. That'll teach yer.

Name 3 UB40 hits and I'll give you an ice cream.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Down to business.

Everyone, this is Eva. Eva has three children, Trevor (8), Trisha (5) and Terry (1 and a half.) Eva works in 'our' house, and has done for 6 years. She's seen us Medair types come and go. She cooks, cleans, looks after my kids, and has become totally indispensable within a matter of weeks.

She's also a very talented seamstress and can make anything you ask her. But this is the scandalous part - she's stuck being a cleaner because in Uganda, any old job is worth holding on to because even rubbish jobs are for the lucky few. Eva is the only breadwinner in her family (and here supporting the extended family is the norm), she travels an hour and a half to work (one way), leaving well before the sun comes up.

So here's my idea. I want Eva to make pretty little girls' dresses that I can sell to people back home. I am thinking of smart, sweet, playful designs, but not ethnic. Think Boden catalogue, not safari scenes. As they get made, I will post photos of them, either here, or I'll give Eva her own flickr site. If you like what you see, give me an email with your darling's measurements and we'll take it from there.

The big vision is this: a team of tailors, processing regular orders from the UK and beyond, not just dresses either. Apprenticeship posts for the Jordan House kids, some of whom are reaching school leaving age and need a trade. All managed by Ugandans, leaving me to do the UK sales and marketing side of things from home when we go back. The profits will go straight to the tailors, with some left over to grow the business. All the cash risk will be ours, and we don't expect (personally) to make any money from it.

What's in it for you? Well, a pretty frock for starters, and a warm glow that your money is making a huge difference to someone's life. One £25 dress equals an average monthly rent or a term and a half's school fees here.

Comments most welcome on this one, especially from any entrepreneurial types. (My only business credential is watching Dragon's Den, but perhaps I should keep that quiet.)

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Change the record

Sigh. It's not all delivering-babies-in-bush-hospitals. 80 per cent of the time it's dealing-with-inconvenience. (Did I mention that things can be very inconvenient here?) For example: I have had no internet access for 4 days. This is a bit gutting when broadband is twice as expensive as back home. (Do you remember me saying how expensive it was?) The problem, it turned out, was my rubbish, back-of-a-lorry extension lead had short-circuited the LAN cable. (Did I mention the poor quality electrical products? But notice I used the acronym LAN with convincing authority.)

If it's not t'internet, it's the leaking sewage pipe, dripping sink, faulty immersion heater - the plumber and I are best mates now - did I mention that everything is a bit gerry-built?

I think I did.

I also think being pregnant for a hundred years is making me cranky.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Glorious Gloria turns two!

Yes, it was Glorymouse's birthday on Jan 11th. We had a fantastic party, but unfortunately the photos from it contained too much nudity - hey, we're in the tropics ok? - and I didn't want to end up on a police register.
There was frolicking in the garden. There were loads of other children. There was splashing in the paddling pool (hence the nudity.) And I made a half-decent, unsaggy cake for once, though I did have to sandwich 2 flat halves together to make it a reasonable size. (The moral of this story is: the size of the cake tin does matter.)
Glory got a wodge of lovely presents...and the best present of all she gave us, by deciding to pottytrain herself a week before her birthday. Clever mouse!

Monday, 28 January 2008

My visit to the hospital - the revised version

Originally I had it in mind to blog about my tour of Kampala's International Hospital. "Bit basic after Switzerland, but OK!" would have been the general tone and message. But I'm not going to write about that anymore, because I've discovered since then that - surprise, surprise - 'basic' in Uganda is a very relative term.

This story needs a bit of background. Since I wrote about the Medair neighbours, I've been visiting them on and off. I've got to know one 'family' in particular. When I say family, I mean a pastor, a married couple, two widows and three children. They all live in a shack the size of a small-double bedroom. The pastor converted from Islam to Christianity, and has suffered a lot of rejection as a result. Most of the others have Muslim names, but are also Christians. None of them has a job. There is no electricity, no running water and they share a latrine with the rest of the 'village'. (Still, the men in particular always look immaculately turned out, and there is always a pristinely-ironed shirt hanging from a nail on the inside wall.) Zira (married to Nicholas) and I hit it off straight away by dint of us both being heavily pregnant.

On Friday I got a text message from the pastor. "Praze the Lord. How r yu. Zira not fine" it said. I called straight back. "The baby is imminent," he said. He was not panicking.
Panicking, I drove round to their place and got her in the car. "Er...where are we going?" I asked. She directed me - between strong contractions - to the local maternity home.

The midwife in charge - late 40s, scary-looking - directed us to the delivery room at the back. There was an iron bed, a foam mattress covered with a blue plastic sheet, a wooden cot covered in woolly blankets, and a metal bucket with 2 pairs of forceps inside. It was a tiny space. The scary midwife came and talked to me. "We need 40 thousand shillings for the delivery," she said (about £15) "2 thousand for the plastic sheet."

I stayed outside while the midwife examined Zira. "Relax." I heard her say, sternly. Then, shouting: "COME ON. RELAX." I'd never heard a Ugandan shout until now. It was absurdly funny if not at all relaxing. It seems stroppy midwives are a global phenomenon. From the examination, she still had a way to go, so I said I'd come back later. I spent the next couple of hours buying odds and ends for the barbecue we were meant to be having that evening.

I re-appeared about 4 o clock with a carton of juice. There was no baby yet and Zira was on the dirty floor obviously in a lot of pain. "They can cut it out of me now!" she moaned. Pain relief was not an option. A younger, less scary midwife was spoon-feeding her Lucozade. "Auntie," she told me, "she needs strength for the pushing." I hung around like a bit of a lemon, rubbing her back from time to time. Then all of a sudden she was back on the plastic sheet, and in about 2 minutes I heard some crying and tiny toes wriggling at the end of the bed. A little boy. The midwife clattered around with the forceps and tied up his cord with the end of a plastic glove. Then she wrapped him up in about 4 blankets and put him in the cot. It was about 35 degrees outside - I was already melting in my cotton trousers. I didn't say anything as I was still feeling like a bit of an intruder. And I was a bit overcome.

"It's a little boy, Zira, he's beautiful!" I gushed. Zira looked knackered. "Can I get you anything?" I would have got her anything she wanted at that point - blame the hormones again. She paused. "I would like a Coca-Cola." A Coke. No problem.

I drove her home the next day. She was embarrassingly grateful for the £15. The thing that humbles me most about this family is that they have never asked me for anything, ever. I sat in their shack while everyone cooed over the baby - he doesn't have a name yet. "I'd better go," I said, as I felt a bit awkward and was a bit pushed for time.
"Wait, Madam," said the pastor. "We would like to bless you. We will do it in our language." They stretched out their hands and prayed for me. Then I said goodbye. On the way home I did indeed feel very blessed, but mostly grateful that it had all gone according to plan. It was not the sort of facililty that could have coped with anything at all untoward.

(Of course, there is still a lot more basic than that. Just when I thought I had a good story to tell, my friend Jenny told me how the same day, she had delivered her friend's baby herself in the corridor at Mulago hospital and had to ask other labouring mother's to spare a razor blade so she could cut the cord.)

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

A Mongoose Ate Our Rabbit

Poor Fraser.

At about 9.30pm a couple of weeks ago, Hannington the guard* knocked on the window while we were curled up on the sofa watching a DVD.** "I heard the rabbit crying," he said. "Come and look."

I slipped on my crocs*** and went outside. There was Fraser, motionless, under the Hibiscus bush.
"How did he get out?" I wondered. I had put him in his hutch myself.
I went to investigate.
The clever bunny (or perhaps a small child) had worried a hole in the chicken wire at the front, through which he had escaped. Obviously my carefully-placed cabbage leaves weren't doing it for him, nor his all-you-can-eat buffet that is our garden during the day.
"A wild animal got him," said Hannington. "Small. Brown. Long tail."
It sounded like a mongoose, but only because I can't think of any other creature that matches the description and would be interested in killing rabbits. I baulked at how we would break the news to Emma and Gloria in the morning.

Shortly after the kids wake up around 6am, Rob did the necessary. Emma came straight out of the bathroom after hearing the sorry tale.
"Mummy. I need to tell you something, Fraser died in the night," she tells me matter-of-factly.

After church we have a rabbit funeral. Fraser is buried under the hibiscus bush where he fell, and where he spent many hours evading my attempts to catch him. We talked about death, and God and sparrows falling to the ground, etc. We said a prayer. But not a tear was shed; Emma mentioning that she was "a bit sad" was as emotional as it got. He was never the friendliest of rabbits; rather contemptous of our attempts to cuddle and stroke him, sniffy about the cabbage.

We have a new rabbit now. Her name is Sally, although she might be a boy. She is black and white, and unlike Fraser, loves being held on her back, paws in the air like a baby, having her tummy tickled. No mongoose is getting their teeth into her. (The hole has been fixed.)

*Hannington can make anything from a picture. He made the hutch. He specialises in lamps. The man is a genius.
**Boston Legal. A slightly lame US lawyer show.
*** Ugly, but so comfortable!

Monday, 21 January 2008

An update!

Sincere apologies for the delay, and a big thank you for all the emails to check we're OK. Since moving to our new place getting internet access has been difficult, especially as we've been without wheels. But things are looking up: not only do we have a nice, shiny new motor, but we're getting the Internet installed at home. It's about the only service that's twice the price of the same thing back home, but worth it I reckon. At 30 weeks pregnant it's an effort getting from the bedroom to the kitchen, let alone navigating the cratars that mash up the road between house and office.

We've had quite a few adventures since I last wrote. Expect posts coming soon with the following titles:
- When Kampala ran out of fuel
- My visit to the international hospital
- Glorious Gloria turns two
- How about this for a business?
- A mongoose ate our rabbit

They are all true stories. (Sadly, yes.)