Monday, September 26, 2011

Come Walk With Us

In the morning, before the sun gets too crazy hot, I strap Leo into his buggy and we head off for a walk around the neighbourhood.  We've lived in this this part of town for nearly 8 years, before then we spent 12 mad and slightly drunken months living in a banda at a campsite overlooking the swirling eddies of the river Nile below.

Why did we move from such a sensational location?  To be honest our one room accommodation (and adjacent long drop toilet) literally hung off a muddy bank.  And it was after one colossal storm that saw us swinging through the front door above a huge drop off that we called it a day (our livers were to thank us too) and searched for an alternative abode in town.

The following photos give a brief insight into the area where we live.  Many of the houses are lived in by large Ugandan families whose children run, laugh and play around the unkempt gardens, as do their animals.  Chris, Leo and I live in our rented house with Ugandan neighbours either side and behind us.  Several expats tend to reside on another side of town close to the famous Jinja Golf Course that curves down to the Source of the Nile, where cattle and goats graze on the verges with wild abandon. 

Interestingly Uganda has a large Indian population.  During Idi Amin's reign he ordered their expulsion and they were given 90 days to leave.  When Museveni, the current president, came to power in 1986 he invited the Indians back.  Many of them still retained their land and house titles which meant they could return to where they were living before.  Several families live in large and ornate houses and depending on the time of day the smell of curry and incense can be caught on the wind.

We're probably 15 minutes by foot from town and there's often a constant flow of traffic going past our front gate.  Chickens pick at the insects by the driveway and people wander past the high green hedge bordering the garden where the Karamojong ladies bend to collect fallen sticks and tie them in bundles before placing them on their heads.  Piki Piki's (local motorbike taxi's) putt up and down the road.  Stray dogs encourage late night barking and Leo and I are usually awake to hear the Islamic call to prayer at 5am.....that's when I crash my head back into the pillows and dream of more sleep!  Local hotels often have weekend discos but on the whole mid week entertainment is thankfully kept to a minimum.

In the late afternoon we may go for a second walk, taking a slightly longer route.  Some of the roads are pot holed and there aren't any pavements.  The askari's (night watchmen) pass us on their way to work, nodding a greeting and waving at Leo.  Children fall out of school around this time and shriek and squeal at the 'big white baby' and we may stop at the dukas (local shops) to buy popcorn or bananas. 

And if it's raining?  Hmmm, we're fair weather walkers in this house and the rain in the tropics falls so heavily we take the soft option.............and stay in.

Getting ready to roll....

Swinging a left out of our drive

A Pakistani family live in this wonderful house which is currently being painted

One of local high schools in the area

The lady sitting beneath the tree is making chapatis, she also serves sweet tea

The bright blue container sells fruit, vegetables and household items, ie little bags of washing powder

Many of the houses in the area are of this style

The roadside 'dukas' where we get popcorn - you can also get a haircut should you wish

 A pretty good stretch of road without a single pothole

The sign says it all

During the Second World War Jinja was the Uganda Centre for the King's African Rifles.  The Jinja War Cemetary contains 1 burial for the First World War and 178 buriels and commemorations of the Second World War.  The cemetary is situated on the road behind our house.

One of the headstones in memory of the fallen

Through the gate in our driveway looking out across the road


Thanks for joining us ;)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A wobble

Chris came back for two days and has gone again. 

Leo adored seeing him, I loved having him around and we fell into being a family with such ease that I bite my lip when I remember what our life was like before.  The days away from each other are difficult now we have a baby (we always knew they would be and we were prepared) but this week in particular I've struggled with having to wave goodbye. 

I only have to look at Leo and am overwhelmed by this surge of love for him, but sometimes I feel completely out of my depth at the enormous responsibility involved in taking care of him on my own.  He is so precious, so little and so dependant on me that I still find myself gazing at him in disbelief.  And just sometimes the absolute fear of loosing him, having lost before, strikes firmly at my heart.

To make it harder I'm missing my family and friends more than usual.  I crave their advice, help and knowledge in helping me to charter these unknown baby waters.  I hold dear their humour, their wit and their stories via email and skype at how difficult, yet magical, parenthood really is and their safe and loving reassurances that we're doing ok over here. 

In light of the above I messaged a dear friend last night and explained that I was having a wobble.  I told her Chris was away and that I've been experiencing huge happiness and waves of sadness coupled with the fear of loosing Leo like we lost Ella.  She understands better than anyone having suffered a tragic loss of her own before having a baby boy only recently.  As such her reply about our babies filled my soul and made me cry as I held onto Leo tightly.

'I truly know how you feel and although I know how lucky we are, there are times I don't trust that he (her son) wont be taken away.  And when your husband isn't around to make you feel secure and tell you it'll be ok, it's hard to shake the bad thoughts.  But we will be ok and the boys came into our lives at the right times and to help us heal so they must be here to stay.'

Tomorrow is another day, and with it comes renewed strength and for that I am always grateful.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Elephant Advice

I read this on another blogger's site, (Stalled at 12) it's brilliant:

A zoologist friend mailed me some literature from a preserve I'm interested in.

A healthy 4000 pound elephant can run 33 miles per hour for 12 minutes.

One of the suggestions in the preserve's visitor packet:



You'll be pleased to hear I've sent this detailed information on to Chris as the Ugandan Wildlife Authority have never published anything so specific. 

It could mean the difference between life and death for our guests in that wild and unpredictable bush - especially if they go 'Eli Spotting' in impractical footware. 

Though the other thing to remember is to make sure you're able to outrun the friends you're with ;)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Daring to Bite The Bullet

Leo's sleeping right now.  He's tucked up in our bed underneath his blue blanket (it's one that Chris bought for him when we were in the UK) with the large mosquito net securely tied at the corners.  He may sleep for 30 minutes or crash out, like a man down, for a few hours. Our god-daughter, Kya, is also staying so it's been an evening of stories, a movie, sausage and chips, ice-cream and washing body moisturiser our of her white blond hair!  With both little people out for the count I'm taking what I can and typing like Elton John on the piano.  Damn fast.

Chris left for Murchison at 7am this morning in our old green land cruiser which was laden down with materials for the lodge construction - cement, water tank, hose, steel and rope all tied on.  It resembled a big ship on the high seas as he backed out of the drive and onto the bumpy road for the long drive north.  He hopes to be back next Tuesday, but it could be Thursday.....we've learnt to be flexible, but it's hard and he misses Leo tremendously when he's away.

I've not been up to Murchison since last year, but from the photos I've seen and based on the intense grilling I give Chris after every visit it's looking beautiful.  The campsite and safari tents are finished, as is the bar/restaurant and kitchen.  They're cracking on with the rooms, I imagine they'll be ready in a few more weeks.  Over 6 years ago, when he exchanged money for the 20 acre piece of land, it was wild African bush - you couldn't walk without slicing your limbs on the sky high elephant grass and twisted thorny trees.  Hippo tracks were visible (and still are) and a wild buffalo was a regular visitor.  The view from the high bank out across the river Nile was jaw dropping - elephants, water buck, pods of hippos, crocodiles and birds of all descriptions could be seen at the water's edge and of course there was a sunset to die for. 

We began developing 18 months ago and the idea was to keep as much of the wild bush as possible and to build amongst it, keeping it real.  The campsite is at the back of the property, off the dirt road, and the rooms are along the ridge of a naturally shallow 'amphitheatre'.  Overlooking the water and facing upstream sits the bar/restaurant with it's heavily terraced and much admired thatched roof.  Whilst pregnant and back in the UK the roof fell over during a horrendous storm.  It was kept from me (Chris is no fool) and when I eventually saw the photos I thought it was some awful joke.  But.No.It.Wasn't.  I shant tell you about the 2 workmen who dived for cover under the sleeper furniture as it came crashing down around their ears....  Fortunately we hadn't paid the contractor his final installment, so in no time it was put back up and the footings replaced.

Our original dream was to live in Murchison and run the lodge, but that was before Leo arrived on the scene.  Malaria is a big risk in Uganda, even more so up north.  As it is very few of us take any anti-malarials, but as day turns to night we spray legs and arms, we cover up by wearing jeans or trousers, we sleep under a treated mosquito net and we make sure doors are closed and windows are shut.  Prevention is better than cure.  But for ease of worry we have malaria test kits and we know the drugs to take should the blood test give us a positive result.  But at the moment with Leo only 5 half months old we don't feel we can live as a family there, not when the medical facilities are so far away and especially not when we have a choice.

So with this thought ringing in our ears and with Leo and I living in Jinja, we've decided to bite the bullet (decision made over a dinner of roasted vegetables, a pork joint and beer) and open this dream of ours, 'M.urchison River Lodge'. We could keep putting it off, but we're running out of money again and the threadbare purse strings are carrying thin air so it's time to be bold and take the bull by the horns.  It's a big leap of faith and we're nervous of having bitten off something so big that we may choke, but with the help of creative friends and great local staff we may just be on the cusp of starting something quite magical.  And it's Leo, our little lion, who we have to thank for this sense of self belief.

Him and several cold beers......!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ruby Shoes

The majority of my shoes are flip flops.  They have tired soles and imprints where my big toe presses down at the front and where my heavy heel rests at the back - not a good look by any stretch of the imagination.  They are the footwear of choice for living in a country where what you put on your feet, let alone on your back, often isn't given a second glance.

But like most women I have one pair of shoes that make me want to throw caution to the wind, hitch up my skirt, mess up my hair and slick on the lipstick.  They're my red LK Bennet wedges, a shoe that's completely impractical and as such they go everywhere I travel.  I got them in a sale in Covent Garden over 10 years ago at a time when Chris simultaneously managed to buy two pairs of Birkinstocks and shockingly only paid for one.

These shoes have carried me through mud, along a beach, across an uneven croquet lawn and over many a pot holed road.  They've seen me twist, twirl and sway on the back of too much wine.  They've lifted me high into the night as bands have rocked bars and parties have been attended.  They encourage me to walk tall and to stretch out my stubborn calves (and if the following morning is ever anything to go by then walking itself is a complete impossibility).

They are the sort of shoes that bring a smile to the face, like that of a trusted and much loved friend - someone who has seen you through the worst times and the good times - and on a rainy day they have the magic to make you feel a million bucks.


About 7 years ago my mum posted me a parcel and inside was a Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris cd.  The note read, 'Darling, not your 'cup of tea' I know, but listen to track 6.  I always think of you and so does Poddo.  All my love xxxx'

Love and Happiness

here's a wishing well
here's a penny for
any thought it is
that makes you smile
every diamond dream
everything that brings
love and happiness
to your life

here's a rabbit's foot
take it when you go
so you'll always know
you're safe from harm
wear your ruby shoes
when you're far away
so you'll always stay
home in your heart

you will always have a lucky star
that shines because of what you are
even in the deepest dark
because your aim is true
and if I could only have one wish
darling, then it would be this
love and happiness for you

here's a spinning wheel
use it once you've learned
there's a way to turn
the straw to gold
here's a rosary
count on every bead
with a prayer to keep
the hope that you hold

you will always have a lucky star
that shines because of what you are
even in the deepest dark
because your aim is true
and if I could only have one wish
darling, then it would be this
love and happiness for you


Tomorrow it will be three years since we lost our darling baby daughter Ella.  Three years on I remember that day as clearly as cut glass and not a day goes by when I don't think of her and wish upon a star.  But this year's anniversary is so very different, this year we have our 22 week old heart shaped baby to fit into the heart shaped hole left by Ella.  And in the words of Mr Knopfler and Ms Harris the hope that we have held onto over the last 12 months has given us Leo and more love and happiness than we could ever have asked for.

And as we light a candle in memory of Ella tomorrow night I may just slip on my favourite ruby shoes......X