Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Kiss For A Rose

I don't know why it's taken me nearly 4 months to post these photos and text.  I wonder if it's because they capture a simple morning tinged with hope, love and sadness so perfectly, or because I've wanted to keep them close to my heart, like a secret.

But like many memories they need to be shared, not only to keep the light flickering, but the love alive.

********

In September Leo and I were in the UK staying with my family in Suffolk.  Chris was in Uganda, but between us on September 4th we remembered Ella and everything she was and everything she would have been.

Just after dawn broke I got Leo dressed and bundled him into his buggy.  We scooted out the front door with camera and snacks and as I grabbed my coat my lovely mum handed me a soft pink rose from the garden.  I slipped it into the basket and kissed her on the cheek.

It was 7am and a gentle mist rose from the fields surrounding the river, the tide was on its way out and the air was still.  I parked the buggy and Leo followed me carefully across the stones and down the muddy path towards the edge of the river.  We looked out towards the boats as the golden sun struck the river.

I held my son tightly and spoke to him about his beautiful sister, Ella.  On that very day she would have been 4 years old.  I cried, he threw the rose into the water, he splashed, he giggled and the love I have for my two children soared.

I couldn't have painted a more perfect morning had I tried.










Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mr Chomp

For the last 4 days it has been skin scorching, blistering hot.  As the saying goes, 'only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun'. 

Leo has started going to nursery 2 or 3 mornings a week.  I drop him off at 9 and collect him at 11 using that precious time for me and for work.  For 2 hours he shouts, plays, paints, runs and stimulates his body and brain with 25 other children.  At the beginning he showed his complete dislike at being left by throwing a massive wobbly, arching his back and flinging his fists.

However progress has begun to show itself in bright colours and this week (week number 5) he climbed out of his buggy and toddled in, all carefree and bouncy.  He hardly had time to stop for me to kiss him such was his joy, such was his focus on his little friends racing around the garden like wound up toys.  Oh happy, happy days.

Two hours later when I returned to collect him I was greeted with a different scene.  A crying toddler whining 'mummy, mummy' came lurching towards me.  One of the teacher's was hot on his tail looking flustered and worried.  I asked what was the matter, why was he upset........'iowouf02yv90wee0u0wvhwhvwa,' was her reply catching like static between my ears. 

I asked her to repeat herself.

'Sorry but we've just had to tell him off because he's bitten a child.  A third child actually.'

'Err, pardon, how many children?'

'THREE.'

Holy fuc*ing crap.

To make matters worse the 3 children were rounded up and brought over to me for bite inspection.  Leo had spectacularly chomped one little girl on her fleshy upper arm, another girl on her tummy and a little boy on his shoulder blade.  Big teeth imprints, like badges, throbbed on their tender skin.

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreat.  Bloody grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreat. 

He bit me last night as I wrestled his tooth brush from his chunky grasp (I swear it was like wrestling with a gorilla) so I chomped him back, hard.  He cried like a wolf until he heard the owl in the tree outside his window.  He started twit twooing and the bite episode was forgotten in seconds.

I'm blaming a lot of stuff on the weather at the moment, this sun is doing crazy things to us all.  However should Leo continue to bite I'm going to leave him in his cardboard box.  A stint in there for a week should sort him out. 

Mad dog indeed!





Thursday, November 8, 2012

Zahara

Introducing Zahara.  It means, flowering : shining.

There were other names, but Helen had trouble pronouncing them....!

Beautiful Zahara, no longer the baby without a name.



Thursday, November 1, 2012

Baby with no name



I've known Helen for the last 12 months.  She often stops to talk to with us when I'm pushing Leo in his buggy along the roads that crisscross the neighbourhood. She's charming, intelligent, strong of character and inspiring - although she would disagree and say that's the work of god.

She has 3 sons, no husband and toils hard in her garden to grow the food for their plates. We tend to talk about normal things - she tells me of her hopes, her sons, her struggles and the volunteer work that brings her much joy.  She sings to Leo, reaching forward to pinch his cheeks so that he laughs.  He loves it.  She loves him.  I feel like a spare part at a wedding.

Today was no different, until she told me about the baby with no name. 

"I took the bus north to Gulu and then to another town and found the police station. This baby, she was there. The mother had told the police she was going to kill her so they must take the baby away. They said no, but the mother refused to listen and screamed at them. When the police said they would put her in prison for abandoning her daughter she said prison was better than the child. This mother she is the daughter of my eldest sister, my niece, but my sister passed away some few years back and this girl, instead of studying, has been running with boys. She became pregnant at 17 but didn't want the child. It was when my mother called to say the baby had been beaten and that the mother wanted to kill her that I had to go. My mother she's now 86 years and cannot look after one so young.  I reached the police, signed the papers to say she would be in my care and they gave me her hospital records. Three months ago, when she was 7 months, they operated on her to stop a fever. This didn't happen in the hospital, this happened in the village before they took her to hospital.  Eeeeh, many of these people are uneducated and have little money so things are done in a bad way. They took a knife and cut her gums here and here to remove her teeth, and you know that bit that hangs in the back of your mouth? They put a razor blade between a piece of string and tied the string to two sticks and put another stick here to stop her biting.  They held her arms and when she is no longer struggling they put the blade at the back of the mouth and pull the sticks.  Cut, Cut, Cut. I've seen it done to a woman many years ago and that bit, when it falls from the mouth, it jumps. No, we don't know who the father is, it could be any boy, but we are blessed to have her, this baby they wanted to kill. I don't know about girls, I only have sons, but they are helping and we are all praying that she will be fine. She only had some little milk from the mother and she has been sick many times because it wasn't enough.  She finds it hard to eat, maybe because of her mouth, but she is strong and she is a miracle of god.  Her name?  The police said the mother had told them her name but it was bad and after everything that's happened they didn't want me to curse her with it.  So this baby, no, she still doesn't have a name."

********

Later on that morning I had a choice - either continue in the direction of home, or with Helen's story banging like rocks around my head, fork right and go and find her. 

I forked right.

I found her at the house where she does her volunteer work.  We chatted briefly, she thanked god and I raced home.  Hot, sweaty and full of adrenalin I put Leo in his cot for a nap and packed a carrier bag with a large tub of unused formula (Leo's never cared for the stuff) unused bottles, a beaker, little books and a few soft toys.  I knew I wouldn't be gone for more than half an hour so Huzo (he was raking the lawn of rain soaked grass) babysat as I drove to collect Helen before we hurtled up the road to her place.

In a colourful printed dress (handmade by Helen who said it wasn't a very good job) a baby girl of 10 months old suddenly picked up and crawled across the sparse floor towards us.  Helen's house is no bigger than my bedroom.  It's a single room, 5mtrs by 8mtrs with a thin curtain dividing the front half from the back half.  Helen, her 3 teenage sons, a niece (not the baby's mother) and the baby fill this barely furnished living space as one - jumbled across mats on the floor.

She held the baby out towards me and I took her.  Sat on my lap she shrieked at the toys, the brightly coloured elephant with the crinkly ear, the rattle and the small books with chewed up edges.  She wanted them all and she could have them all.  Her tight black hair had been pulled rakishly into twisted braids, sticking from the top of her head like mini quills.  Her large dark eyes surveyed my face, she was curious and took hold of my arm slapping the white contrasting skin against the brown of her own.

Oh my heart.  She was strong and she was alert, but her breathe was catching in her throat.  She squealed, pushed, pulled and crawled.  We prepared the bottle of formula and she took it, kind of, maybe, perhaps not.  I stroked her bumpy plaited head and tried not to imagine the absolute trauma, pain and cruelty inflicted on one so tiny.  A part of me said you must take her, you must give her everything you have and so much more, but the other part recognised with respect everything Helen has done in order to save and protect her.

As I was leaving she asked me what name I thought the baby should have?  I said she needed a beautiful name, a name that would tell people she was strong, a survivor, a woman to be loved and respected.  So she asked me to think of one, a great honour which I feel is way beyond me, because I know that once you pull back the veil that separates you from the world that lies behind it you should not turn your back and walk away, even though we sometimes do.  Instead today my heart made the decision for me when I reached that messy fork in the road.....

Baby with no name, I'm thinking. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cut here and here and remember to insert a camera there

Four weeks ago my body went limp as the anesthetic coursed it's way through, "veins you can drive a train down."  The specialist surgeon slid a scalpel into my tummy button and continued creating another incision into the flesh above and to the left of my pubic line.  Physical scars were revisited as my body went through another hysteroscopy and laparoscopy procedure.  I was lying in theatre back in the UK.  Ironically (as smack in the face ironic) the gentle and charming surgeon/consultant carrying out the intricate work was from Lira, Northern Uganda. 

***

Six months back what niggled as a normal UTI gradually became something more serious.  I had a pain in my lower abdomen which I sort of ignored, though it didn't ignore me.  After more tablets I convinced myself everything was back to normal.  Normal doesn't show itself with gradual stabbing pains, cramps, tender areas full of heat and a swollen stomach tight with hurt (I still surprise myself by how easily I pretend things are fine when they are clearly not - self preservation?) and finally I snapped.  I picked up the phone, dialled numbers, made appointments and whizzed through to Kampala to nip the whole damn episode straight in the bud. 

I needed answers, but my PAP result came back negative.  The pain in my tender abdomen continued to rise and fall like a wave of fire.  I went back for another appointment and gave my symptoms.  Based on my history I knew that the prognosis was unlikely to be reassuring and it was with my head in my hands I accepted the news that I possibly had pelvic inflammatory disease.  Swish, swish, swish went the mop across the floor as I walked slowly into the chaos of Kampala's streets.  I pushed open the door of the building next door and in the dark corridor slid into the brittle plastic chair waiting for my name to be called.

We stood together in the small room and she held me quietly. I last saw her 3.5 years ago when she gave Chris and I the desperate news that I had miscarried at 9 weeks.  Six months before that she had spoken on the phone describing to the Doctor that my waters had broken and we didn't have much time.  We lost our daughter a week after that call.  I reminded her of such sadness, but her face broke into a smile of such enormity when I told her of Leo that I wanted to cry.  The ultrasound was thorough and as she directed the wand over my bloated stomach the pocket of infected fluid fizzed on the screen. 

A prescribed course of strong anti-biotics eventually eased the pain and my stomach gradually began to deflate.  In a dramatic twist of bad luck 12 days later I bled heavily.  Unable to walk tall I stumbled around, chasing after Leo with one arm slung across my middle, holding my stomach, warding off the pain.  I returned to the clinic and this time around the scan showed I had suffered a ruptured ovarian cyst.  It waved, raw looking, straight back at me and there was nothing to be done except ride it out.  Ride it out I did like a pissed, cross, angry and completely sore cowboy and it was then Leo and I hatched a plan.

Hello England!  Leo and I boarded a plane with one of my best friends and her daughter to holiday in the UK for a month.  We'd spoken about it earlier in the summer but due to work commitments and life in general it wasn't a sure thing.  A few months later and we made it happen, arriving just as the incredible Olympics were coming to a close and the nation was buoyant and beautiful.  We landed in London and zoomed through to Suffolk where for 4 weeks Leo and I drank in every single second of family and friend life.  During that time I casually visited my GP to discuss my recent health issues and it was then the light went out.

Days later I sat opposite the specialist, wrapped my arms around my knees and cried.  Leo was with my mum, Chris had arrived in the country moments earlier for the last bit of holiday and the words hysteroscopy and laparoscopy were being directed at me with such seriousness I wanted to dissolve like aspirin.  The specialist touched my arm and said it was necessary and that based on my history this procedure would answer many questions.  Within a week I was lying on a table in a nasty looking hospital gown offering my hand to a masked nurse and trying to answer her daft question about.....I have no idea what. 

Befuddled I came out of the anesthetic and unexpectedly saw the face my sister's nursing friend.  She spoke quietly, told me I was in the recovery room and that I was OK, everything had gone well.  She then switched into professional mode, checking my pulse and carrying out a million other tests before I fell deeply asleep.  Hours later Chris and I held our breath as the surgeon sat describing the internal procedures he had carried out.  He spoke with utter professionalism and sincere trust shone through his dark eyes.  He showed us photographs of my ovaries, my uterus, my scars and other fleshy things that looked positively disgusting. 

"The infection you had has cleared.  The burst cyst has healed.  The dye we injected flowed easily through your tubes. Your ovaries are normal and free moving and your uterus is absolutely clear and fine and will hold another baby.  We know based on your last positive pregnancy and c-section that you were advised not to fall pregnant again, but in my professional opinion and based on the facts we have that is no longer a cause for concern."

At that moment I might have fainted.

***

We did so many brilliant things in the UK and were spoilt rotten by wonderful friends and family who made ridiculous amounts of time for us.  Leo adored the 360 degree change in things to do - he played, ran, giggled, hung with mates, fought, slid on slides, swung on swings and ate more than his eyes could handle.  Chris and I gathered our thoughts and are still floating at a cross-roads of where do we go from here.  Leo is more than we could ever have wished for - do we dare try for another baby, another sibling for our mini Viking?

The procedure carried out on my body was to give me the green light of health, and that's what I got.  Anything more is a bonus.  But who the hell knows, most days I'm just thankful for what I have.  And 4 years down the line that's a bucket load more than I ever dared hope possible.

For everyone I love this says it all  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K57Gd6N2Ngg

Friday, October 12, 2012

'CHICKEN'!!!

The other night Leo woke screeching and screaming like a cave dweller.  I hedged my bets and ignored him. After 10 minutes of incessant wailing I finally went into his room and lifted all 14kgs of him out from his cot and whispered sweet nothings into his shell-like ear.  He stopped shrieking immediately and then said 'CHICKEN' about 100 times.  I ceremoniously dumped him back in his cot and left the room.

It's been a while!


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Behind every successful man...

I'm not sure I remember what my husband actually looks like these days.  He's been away for so long I dare say if he walked in the house right now I'd snap my head back and shout, 'who the hell are you, get out'!  We knew it would be difficult juggling everything during the busy season, but neither of us ever imagined that the lodge (something that was once a pipe dream) would be this busy so quickly.  Having our own business coupled with our baby boy is overwhelming, exhausting, exhilarating and joyous, but the flip side is family time plays like a game of cat and mouse.  When we're together there just never seems to be enough time to sit back and reflect on what we've done over the last two crazy years.  We still have a frightening long way to go, but how, against some truly crappy odds, we've managed to get this far continues to surprise me.

Chris is in Murchison, located 8 hours away from where Leo and I are in Jinja.  It's not wildly far, but without internet access and only a sketchy mobile phone reception he's missing out on the incredible daily changes happening with our son.  Leo is babbling like a brook, excitable words bouncing out of his determined 16 month old mouth; bu (bird) ba (ball) duggah duggah (dog) brrrrrrm brrrrrrrrrrrrrrm (car/moped/truck) baby (head cocked to one side and said everso quietly) kiiiiin (chicken) mamamaa, daddda, fluuuwr (flower) Bo (the dog) OUT and his favourite of all, no, no, no, noooooooo.  He has a habit of thrusting his head forward and grinning broadly like a Cheshire cat when I'm doing work on the computer but I can't get enough of him, unless like today when it rained so heavily he shot outside and rolled around in the mud like a dog.

I text Chris the other night, 'behind every successful man is an even greater woman exhausted woman'.  Fortunately he knows which side his bread is buttered, replying that he was exhausted having watched me get him there.  High sarcasm indeed.

Come home soon Mr......we miss you madly.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Billboard 'Rage'

I always get annoyed when driving past billboard's like this.  Can't think why......... !?


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pop went the mango

Three days ago I noticed a little spot on Leo's chest. 

The spot looked like a third nipple - which wouldn't be a surprise seeing that Chris sports a discreet third one (at a friend's wedding once the seating plan had Scaramanga written in big letters just.for.him).

Then upon yesterday's inspection the spot looked a bit angrier, so I dotted on some savlon and expected it to fade away.  It didn't.

I checked this morning and although the skin remained red, the head of the spot was a little pointier and darker.  Before Chris left for Kampala I asked if he thought if could be anything other than a spot?  He was really helpful, said he wasn't sure, then jumped in the car and buggered off.

Typically Leo wasn't bothered, but by lunchtime I'd had enough so asked Madrin (our cleaner) what she thought?  Her reply, 'there's something alive in there,' made me run my hands through my hair a million times.

So I sat on the back steps in the blazing sun and held Leo's arms as Madrin used a hankerchief to squeeze the pointy spot.  Squeeze she did and out popped a wriggly mango worm which I quickly and manically rubbed to death with a stone.

Leo barely made a sound and as I stared at the hole in his chest he shoved me away before charging off across the garden, spot free, mango free, born free :)

Friday, June 15, 2012

'I am that drunk, homeless 10 year old....'

My brilliant mate, Nic, whose a mother to two young boys sent me this link yesterday afternoon.  I fucking love it, especially the comment about, 'leaving the house looking like a drunk, homeless 10 year old'!!!

THAT IS ME.......although I try to palm off that 'particular look' as living in the Developing World without having access to anything remotely fashionable, let alone clean.

And for those young, childless, travelling friends of mine who watch with raised eyebrows and don't yet seem to understand the concept of me putting the gurning, toddling, noisy baby first?  This sets the rubbery record straight!

To All Parents From A Non-Parent

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Window of Love

The.wheels.ground.to.a.halt.recently. 

Leo was as sick as a baby with a filthy cold, exploding teeth, a forehead hot as charcoal, large, red rimmed eyes, weak arms and inactive legs.  Our bed sheets, smelling of baby wee, hadn't been changed and had I known in advance I'd have invested in a bin liner and goggles because day five had him barking hard after every meal and spraying me with vomit.  Thankfully Chris was around for a few days and we played the exhausting game of parent tag, 'you hold the baby and I'll make lunch', 'you hold the baby, I need the loo', 'you hold the baby 'cause I've got to reply to emails', 'you hold the baby, you hold the baby, you hold the baby'.  'Ohhhhhhhhhh bloody hell, when is this illness going to end......'

In those few precious hours last Friday morning I sat watching Leo as he lay splayed across me, asleep, in our bed.  He wheezed like an old man and his small chest heaved with each rattly breathe and although unsure, I knew deep down I was giving him absolutely everything his tiny body craved to help him battle the fever burning down his body.  During those quiet hours I held him close and drank him in without interruption - no phones, no emails, no talking, no chasing time, no chores, no finding things to fill the time, no nothing - just him and me, a moment caught in time.  I studied his beautiful face, his curled fingers, his prefect toes and his narrow tummy as he exhaled the humid air from his lungs.  I touched his hair, the long wispy blond strands that poke over his ears and look out of place against the tufty bits on the back of his head.  

I realised that one silent morning the absolute love I feel for him is unlike any other emotion or feeling I know.  When he threw up all over me and I dropped everything on to the kitchen floor, including myself and our filthy clothes, he waddled over and crawled into my lap, circling his arms around my neck.  Leaning his tiny heaving body against mine I knew, as I held him tight, that a mother's love is a bond that cannot be broken.  When time stands still and gives you that window, fling it wide, because the sea of love that greets you on the other side is utterly breathtaking.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Solar WHAT?

I took a work call this afternoon from a local tour operator:-

T.O - 'Hello, I'm calling to find out if it's possible to see the solar eclipse from your place in Murchison in November 2013?'

Me (WTF) - 'I'm sorry, can you repeat that?'

T.O - 'Yes, if I book clients to stay with you in November 2013 will they see the solar eclipse?'

Me (stifling a little laugh) - 'Maybe, but it will depend on the weather.  Do you know what a solar eclipse is?'

T.O - 'Of course I do, it happens in Novembers.'

Me - fall on floor and die laughing.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Rum & Raisin

Cadbury's Rum & Raisin - a chocolate bar that can be considered a meal and a drink...non?  

Chris gets back tomorrow after spending two weeks in Murchison.....I reckon he'll be amazed at what his son's now doing - walking like a jolly sailor, flashing his toothy grin, waving at the moon - and by what passes as a meal these days.

Footnote - before you ring social services I'd like to confirm that Leo eats healthy and nutritional meals that are ridiculously fresh and pretty delicious.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"YOU SHOULD BE GUARDING MY HOUSE NOT EATING MY MANGOES"

Our next door neighbour roared those very words this afternoon when he arrived home to find his security guard sat up a mango tree eating the ripe fruit!

A quick scuffle ensued whereupon the neighbour (a large Ugandan man) slapped the guard around the face demanding to know why he wasn't doing his job properly?  He expected him to be guarding his house, patrolling the garden or opening the gates when he honked his horn, NOT lazing around eating HIS mangoes. 

He shouted that he was a thief so the security guard cocked his gun.......ohhhhhhh yes sirrreee, it all goes on in our neighbourhood!!

The neighbour told him not to be so stupid and moved the gun out of the way.  At this point a couple of security guards who were passing (as you can imagine a large crowd had gathered outside the driveway) strode in, grabbed the young guy by the arm and shoved him onto the road telling him to go home.

Haven't a clue what happened next as Leo and I casually moved away from the hedge and went inside to eat mangoes biscuits ;)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Love US

After we lost Ella, Chris and I carefully created a playlist of music that captured every emotion and feeling we were enveloped in - words from songs that lifted our spirits, caused tears to run rivers, made us smile shyly and had us buried in the necks of one another.

We titled it Love US and on the evening of Ella's first anniversary it played through tiny speakers via the MP3 player on the bonnet of our car.  We drank the night away with friends on our piece of land on the river Nile and each song seemed to reflect our dreams and sadness perfectly.

Chris is away in Murchison and Leo is sleeping soundly in his room, splayed out under his mosquito net like a 1 year old whose spent the whole day on the go-go-go.  And whilst the tiny and noisy insects sing their night chorus I've got Love US playing in the background. 

Even now it remains a beautiful album for the soul.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Monkey See, Monkey Do

We got back from Murchison yesterday evening all tired, grubby and happy.  Leo had an incredible trip and was walking on his own like an East End barrow boy throughout the bar, elephant grass and over pebbles.  We took him on a game drive and he promptly fell asleep but woke later to see giraffe, warthog and buffalo.  He pointed to the buffalo and made the noise, 'moooooo'.  Kinda right.

Our electricity went out earlier so I'm using the inverter to stay online but the laptop battery is fading fast.  The photo below was taken late on Saturday afternoon after we cleared a bank of vegetation that was strangling trees and blocking the view across the Nile and into the National Park.  A troop of Vervet monkey's came to investigate and to catch insects.  Leo dragged Chris off to check some of them out. 



That'll be the Vervet's ignoring those two then.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Poker Face

Early tomorrow morning we're leaving for Murchison.  We're not close to having packed a thing for ourselves but the old 'hunk of junk' cruiser is laden down with wooden planks, food supplies, building materials, plants and young trees.  We should be sorting things into bags right this minute, but Chris has nipped off to play POKER!?  YES, YOU DID READ THAT CORRECTLY!   The last time Leo and I did this journey it was Christmas and he was just nine months old.  It was daunting then, but in retrospect, nit-picking easy because he was little, quiet (ish) and barely moving anything more than his chubby arms.  Now he's charging around on two feet, roaring like a lion, is suddenly picky about food (one track sausage mind) and absolutely hates to wear a hat.  So here I am at 9:30pm on a Thursday night with a husband on the town wearing his poker face and me slinging all manner of things into a bag.....oh yeah, you can bet your bottom dollar whose grubby bag I'm not packing ;)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

According to African legend.............


............the bearer of a fertility doll will give birth to a beautiful baby 24 inches tall.

Baby news is dappling our shoulders like falling rain. 

Over the past twelve months this special news has been bouncing from the mouths of excited friends and bursting through our computer screen in a mass of delighted words.  Some are first time mothers who are enveloped in optimism, shiny faces and big plans.  Others are a little tired at the edges, expecting their second or third baby and at this stage they acknowledge the twinges and flips of life inside like it were only yesterday.  A handful share their news quietly, ever so gently they have lost this dream before and now hold tightly to the slippery handrail of hope.  I recognise their footfalls in my sleep.

For many, number 12 is the magic week to reach before the official announcement is made.  Silently I wait.  Like an experienced swimmer diving in deep and reaching for the opposite end of the pool I kick off every extra week until eighteen more have passed.  Stay safe precious baby.  Keep warm and secure inside your pool of fluid.  Week thirty rolls over and I rise cleanly for air, for I know that to get beyond 30 gives your baby the greatest chance of life should he arrive early.  I drop again and hold my breath for the final push.  Reach 38 baby, because by then it's a cert, your every tiny organ is ready and pumping.  Even mine. 

When you have loved so hard and lost so completely you understand both sides of the pregnancy coin.  I can relate to the sheer joy and happiness of a clean and trouble free pregnancy, for I too was that women before I lost Ella.  But throw me that coin again so I can turn it over, because just as easily and tenderly I am able to relate to the difficult and painful journey walked by thousands of women and men carrying heartache and fragments of hope in the face of miscarriage, stillbirth, infertility and broken dreams.  Over time I have searched other women's blogs and read their precious stories.  In person I have shared cups of tea, or spoken tenderly on the phone and then listened, as grief, despair, sadness and anger has given fractured voices complete release.  

We are bound by the most natural desire to love, nurture and cherish and for most women motherhood is the next rung on the rickety ladder of life.  For some it's simple, you have a plan and a few months later you're 5 weeks pregnant and sail on through to 40.  Crushingly for more women than you dare imagine it's not that easy.  She may already have one or more children but due to previous complications has been unable to carry since.  She may be pumped full of fertility drugs and on her 3rd hopeful round of treatment.  She may have miscarried before and now has two healthy children.  She may have loved and lost and is unsure of whether to put herself and her partner though everything again.  She may have left it too late and berates herself when her period arrives every month without fail.  She may be falling apart as the first anniversary of her stillborn baby approaches.  She may have lost decades ago but you wouldn't know. 

A silent army of strong, courageous and inspirational women - mother's that have lost, or women simply unable to conceive - stand shoulder to shoulder across the globe.  They share sadness, hope, love and anguish - emotions that are branded deep onto your heart and into your soul after the loss of a child, or from the continual pain of an empty womb.  Until I fought my own private war I never knew such resilient women existed, because until you live on the flip side and start looking with your eyes open why would you?  After three and a half years of shared experiences and finally becoming a mother to my son, I am vastly more compassionate, respectful and sensitive than I ever was before.  I still have days when the wheels wobble hard, but I watch and learn from others how to play those difficult cards, because the older we get the more unpredictable life becomes.

Through these choppy waters I continue to hold my breath for girlfriends near and far as they jump through the first, second and third trimester hoops of their delicate pregnancies.  And just as carefully I sit, holding out for the courageous women who need extra time, space and soft, gentle words....for they are the brave, caught in a war they never signed up for.  As the quote says, 'to be forewarned is to be forearmed; to be prepared is half the victory.'  I'm not certain you can ever be truly prepared for every journey, but with love, hope and a surprising amount of inner courage - as I envisage being the other half of victory - you can give any fight and any battle a damn good go. 

With Chris so often away, and especially with living half way around the world from home, it's always good to feel that someone, somewhere has got my back. And no matter what happens down that road, I've got yours.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

And then he was 1

Leo's colourful, thoughtful and carefully written birthday cards remain on the bookcase and slotted into the frame of the mirror hanging from the wall above.  I asked Chris if we should take all thirty two of them down because Mr #1 has been strutting around all big and noisy for nearly a month now, but he smiled and said no.  I was secretly pleased.  Pleased that he too thought it the most natural thing in the world to keep our baby boy's cards up for as long as possible.  (I don't think the same time frame applies to cards as it does to taking a Christmas tree down within the first week of January does it?!)

We relished sharing Leo's 1st birthday with our great friend Lesley who travelled over from the UK to spend the week with us.  During that time they created a beautiful new language together consisting of the word, 'duggah, duggah.'  He would spin off across the garden dragging her with him chuntering, 'duggah, duggah' at high speed.  Even though he currently reaches just above her knees, like any good woman she would obey without question.  On his birthday we gathered in bed and wonderful presents sent from near and far were opened....typically tacky wrapping paper and empty boxes were the highlight.  Later we ate porridge, nibbled chocolate, drank tea and sat in the porch as the burning sun heated the day.  A birthday lunch was enjoyed at a restaurant in town where the birthday boy surprised us all by tucking into Chris's chicken phad thai before washing it down with beer.  He also had a poo.  We spent a memorable afternoon with special friends decorating birthday cakes and sitting on the edge of a family pool overlooking the Nile.  Magically as darkness fell we saw a shooting star and wished hard.

The next day a large group of friends and children gathered at our piece of land on the river to continue celebrating Leo being 1 (very much like the Queen, Leo's birthday covered two full days).  We grazed on snacks and the 'Hungry Caterpillar' cake that had been decorated the day before made his debut, however a shark Lesley carved from a watermelon (for a laugh we'd googled 'watermelon sculptures') very nearly stole Caterpillar's thunder so we shoved him off to a separate table.  Friends chatted, we lazed on blankets, crisps were munched, beer flowed and special presents were given ie: a fanatical-disco-playing-plastic-beach-buggy is stepped on regularly and cursed!  A friend's daughter quietly asked when were we going to eat cake, so to the cake we raced.  With Leo on my lap and Chris by my side I thanked everyone for coming to celebrate with us, for their valued friendship and for their support during the last few years.  I spoke of how our roaring lion had altered our lives considerably and how it meant so much to be able to host his party at a place where Ella's memory is most alive.  Symbolically her tree stood tall and strong nearby and a pink balloon hanging from a ribbon dangled in the breeze.

Leo turning 1 has been the largest milestone of my life and the relief I felt in the run up to his birthday was overwhelming.  I have loved, sheltered and protected him for 12 complete months and like any new and wide-eyed mother a tsunami of emotion - love, pride, happiness, stress, heartache, tiredness, despair, anguish, joy, honour, adoration - has devoured me 24-7.  He is our gift, our pot of gold and by return he threw us a lifeline and navigated us back to shore.

My cup of love for my son overfloweth.





 








Monday, April 23, 2012

A whinge

I've already prepared the dog food of meat, bones and rice - it's lingering in the dented African cooking pan on the stove.  And now the dullness of contemplating what to cook for my own dinner is anything but thrilling.  Will I eat before 9:30pm?  Eugh. The aroma in the kitchen is awful, the washing up stands in piles and I just can't be bothered.  Chris is in Murchison and the mobile network's crap, or to put it another way neither of his phones are working and it's one of the most frustrating things to deal with.  Like any thoughtful man he's too-pig-stubborn-busy to use someone else's to ring to see how we are.  Just sometimes I want that life of 9-5.  Of having central heating, of having a washing machine, of having a fitted shower room, of having a delicious cafe that I can push Leo in his buggy to, of having girlfriends who will chat on contract phones long into the night, of having a monthly pay cheque, of having a husband who walks through the door and takes you in his arms and holds you tight.  Of having that same husband whisper into your hair, 'everything's ok.' 

FUCKING HELL. 

I'll have a beer and a packet of soft Indian snacks instead then.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

New Look Me, New Look You?

Hello Blogger Site.........WTF you playing at?!

I logged in earlier and was hoodwinked into changing the layout of my blog. You too hey?  So I faffed around for far too long and this is the new look I'm sporting.  Like a scratchy jumper I'm not sure I'm fully comfortable with it, but as my mother would say when I was younger, 'you'll grow to like it.'  She also happened to be dead wrong about me and coffee. 

Nervously I tip-toed around and tried a couple of the Dynamic View templates but they seemed too tumblr-esq and began to give me a headache.  I've chosen Awesome Inc rather than a Watermark, Simple, Ethereal or Travel design.  Who knew there was so much choice on Blogger to distract you with on a cool Saturday night in the tropics.

It's not a simple transition.  With these new changes being cast I've lost the main sunset photo I took whilst in Zambia a few years ago.  The title text is too long for the image and I haven't been able to tweak it right.  My clever friend Bobby who created the template (amongst other great things) for Murchison in 20 minutes because he had some spare time on his hands would have fixed it in seconds.  How I wish my brain and hands worked that way.  I blame it all on Leo.

So as the ball sits in my court I'm going to ponder the lack of photo and contemplate the colours I've chosen.  Like a wonky haircut it may just work or I might have to grab a pair of sharp scissors and tidy it up a bit.  Anyone else out there changing their blog format successfully?  And if you've managed to sort out the photo bit (or know how to change it without shoving your head in the screen) please do let me know.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Happy Birthday Leo

Leo is 1 year old today!!

I have a head full of words but just not enough time in which to write them because you're having a nap and we're busy getting things ready for your big day.  And tomorrow there will be even more celebrations with friends aplenty and an incredible cake. 

WOW, you are loved and cherished by so many - the joy and happiness your arrival has brought to others is immeasurable......tears have already fallen when I think about the honour and pride I feel at being your mother.  You are the shining star in our lives.

Happy Birthday to our baby boy, we absolutely love and adore you  XxX

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

When love is brutally lost and gently gained

I see her dancing in the heat haze that shimmers on top of the jagged tarmac road.  She's there sometimes when Leo's chubby finger's reach out to grab at a toy I imagine is held tightly in her small yet slender hand.  When evening closes down around us she rides in on the Night Time Jasmine that seeps through the open windows and fills the room with its intoxicating scent.  It's then that I breathe her in.  In the mornings as we roll around in bed with Leo I picture her giggling and tugging at her brother's nappy, which he currently loathes to have changed.  She makes him laugh and gurgle the beautiful laugh that lives inside every young baby like a series of perfect bubbles.

Ella, Leo's older sister, would be 3 and a half years old. 


Baby Footprints Caught In Time
Ella's were taken by the hospital on the night she was born at 26 weeks and Leo's 2 months after he arrived (swinging from me in a sling) when I had his soles painted orange and pressed onto a tile

****************

Only very occasionally now do I get swiped by an emotion that rocks the foundations upon which I stand.  The walls begin to crumble and the floor cracks and sways.  But I'm quick these days, quicker than I ever was before and I can usually harness the feeling of sadness or anger before it gets to do any lasting damage.  And for that I thank time and for what came with it, a slip of hope.  When we were reeling from the raw loss of Ella and I shouted at Chris to tell me how he appeared to be, 'sort of coping' (as I was raging against every minute of every day) he said with a look of sorrow, 'time doesn't heal George, you just learn over time to live with the pain'. 

In the beginning, when your body is being smashed by a chain against every pillar in every land there is nothing anyone can say or do to stop the heavy tears from falling like oil and the searing pain from blistering your heart.  As you scream for your precious baby l.i.f.e seems utterly worthless.  The complete sadness, emptiness and hopelessness I battled with sliced my spine like a butcher's knife from my scalp to my heel.  The hole of despair I dropped into was deep and dark.  I didn't see it at first, but thankfully for us both Chris was right.  It took a crippling amount of time but slowly I began to ride my blown-to-pieces heart alongside that of a life I was picking my way through, and after months of anguish and hurt a tiny pocket of hope appeared on the horizon.

****************

Leo Phoenix will turn one year old on Friday 30th March 2012.  One whole year ago Chris was preparing to leave Uganda for England and I was there waiting for him like a large ship laden down with the most precious of cargo.  Our beautiful Leo roared into our lives at 14:20 on Wednesday 30th March 2011 and he has embraced the world at full tilt since.  We are in absolute awe of him.  I am not the woman I was before I lost my first child and the small wisp of life that followed just months after her, but I am now settled into the familiar skin that Leo likes to lick and rub and the frame he swings off.  I still carry my own private heartache and not a day goes by when I don't think of my precious daughter, but I smile a hell of a lot more now and love even harder. 

My precious son who tumbles under the bright African sky has taught me that.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Samosa blow out

I've discovered a multitude of factors can often hinder when it comes to preparing a nourishing and healthy meal for you baby, time being one of them.

The other day I swung into the Indian run fuel station to get diesel and popped into the shop to buy a couple of their large and freshly made vegetable samosas.  Ten minutes later and back at home I bit the corner off one and spooned out the potato, carrot and green bean filling and fed it to Leo for his lunch.

He's munched on a samosa before, but this time he filled his cheeks happily before chowing it down like sweet nectar.  I moved on to the next one and he did the same so I let him gnaw on the pastry.  He was as happy as a clam.  Ten hours later I woke to hear him wailing in his cot.  I waited, hoping he'd fall back to sleep.  He didn't.  By the light of my head torch (because the power was off) I opened the door to his room and had the air blown out of me by a wall of stench. 

I beamed down into his cot to be met by a visual that has haunted me since.  He had emptied hell into his nappy which in turn had escaped up and out of his babygro.  I momentarily froze before getting down to the business of cleaning his filthy little body and cot.  When you live in a malaria zone there's no such luxury as taking your time, you have to think fast and move like lightning - neither of which I'm good at, especially gone 11:30pm. 

He struggled, he screamed and at one point I'm convinced he tried to bite my nose.  Eventually I calmed him down and after an hour gently put him back to bed.  At 6:30am the same War Cry pierced my ears, shattering my sleep.  The power was back and as I raced into his room it was as though someone had hit replay, except for the fact I was one step ahead of myself.  This time I turned on the shower and dunked him in his plastic baby bath.

Leo's poor little (hmmmm, you've seen the photos from the previous post ;) tummy quickly recovered and he was back on form right in time for breakfast.  Based on that awful night I'm avoiding giving him anything other than porridge until he's at least 12 years of age. 

If you have a baby/toddler food story that you wish to share, or would like to advise me on what I must avoid based on your own experience please let me know.  I'm absolutely all ears and no, in case you're wondering I haven't visited that particular fuel station since.  Gulp.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

KONY2012......update

So here's the thing, our ropey internet remains unable to play the KONY2012 documentary.  On Tuesday I left the YouTube link to download and after 5hrs it had still only managed to eat into 12 of 30 minutes of film.  I was frustrated but not surprised, this is how things roll over here.  I hit replay and was left with a static stop-start-stop screening.  After 10 long minutes I had to admit defeat and switch it off.

Invisible Children have created a social media phenomenon.  From what I saw the editing is slick and the visuals appeal to a young and techno savvy generation.  With more than a staggering 100 million views it goes without saying that KONY2012 has become the most viral video of all time.  More people than I would ever have thought possible are now aware of one of the most brutal rebel groups in Africa.

The critics have been out with their knives whilst the supporters are flying the flag for the huge awareness the campaign has generated.  As the saying goes, 'there is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.'  However I do believe with what has been said by many, that Invisible Children have oversimplified a complicated geopolitical struggle.  From reading articles on the debate they also failed to criticise the Ugandan Government and lets not forget, as many of my friends have discussed, Uganda now has oil which throws a barrow load of questions up into the air - is the US involvement a smokescreen for bigger things?

It's one thing to talk about KONY2012 globally, but what about the local people on the ground?  Out of interest I chatted with our Ugandan cleaner Madrin and asked if she had heard anyone talking about Joseph Kony on the radio or in the paper?  She looked at me oddly and said 'eh no, what has happened?'  I told her about the film and her response was a shrug of the shoulders followed by, 'but why?  Uganda is safe now.' 

I asked Huzo our young Ugandan gardener what he'd heard on the streets or in the clubs and he told me he hadn't heard anything and anyway at the weekend he had been with friends watching the Manchester United game.  Joshua our Ugandan night watchman was confused - I don't think he's ever seen a computer let alone YouTube.  He rattled on about how the LRA were no longer here, that Ugandan's are proud people and no one likes to live in the past.

Invisible Children's documentary remains a hot topic and whether it achieves its goal of having Kony arrested and tried by the International Criminal Court before the end of 2012 remains to be seen.  On the flip side here is something absolutely worth watching, The Thing That Happend.  It's a beautiful piece of storytelling that highlights how hopeful the people in the north of Uganda are - this  is one film (after a while of waiting on a poor internet) I have been able to watch and for that I am thankful. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

KONY2012......

*I published this late last night unaware that it was the incomplete version.  I have since edited and re-posted and remain hopeful that our internet provider enables me to watch the movie before the week is out*

Before I lived in Uganda I had never heard of Joseph Kony and I wasn't aware of the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army).  Once we settled here we read and spoke with people who educated us about an army that had been rampaging in northern Uganda for over 17 years.  The LRA started out trying to achieve autonomy for the Acholi tribal region, but over the course of time ended up victimising, enslaving and murdering the very people they were trying to help.  Their ideology was loosely based on an interpretation of the 10 Commandments which came to twist violently from 'thou shalt not fornicate' to, 'thou shalt abduct, rape and sexually enslave school girls at whim.'

This week the KONY2012 documentary exploded across the internet via Facebook and Twitter and has been watched by over 60 million people and still the number of hits is rising.  The film made by Invisible Children has brought huge focus on to Uganda with international celebrities and President Obama placing their support behind the viral campaign.  This is a campaign that in the word's of its makers aims to make Joseph Kony (leader of the LRA) 'famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.'

I haven't been able to watch the 30 minute documentary beyond the first 3 minutes due to our dreadful internet connection.  I tried downloading it (something that takes about 2 hrs) so I could replay it later in the day but so far it hasn't worked.  Instead I've updated myself by reading Blogger's posts, viewer's comments, articles from the BBC website and followed links from one web page to another.  All have differed greatly and significantly in opinion.  There are those who support the campaign to bring Kony down and those who feel that Invisible Children have oversimplified a complicated geopolitical struggle.

A dvd sits on our bookcase called 'Discover The Unseen'.  It was given to us some years ago by our friend Maddy who crossed paths with the three American guys from Invisible Children in 2003. She was working in Gulu, a town in northern Uganda that at night became a refuge for children escaping the terror being unleashed on their communities by the LRA.  These children were known as the Night Commuters and at night thousands of them would leave their homes in the bush and walk for miles to the nearest town.  Verandas, shop doorways, side streets, school classrooms and taxi parks became a temporary refuge as they fled the abduction, sexual abuse and physical attacks on their villages by the rebels.

Maddy worked with groups of Night Commuters during 2002-03 and used art and compassion to help bring many of these broken children back from the brink.  She assisted the directors from Invisible Children with footage for 'Discover The Unseen' giving them access to areas that would have been otherwise impossible for them to film and enabled stark interviews with several young children.  What was supposed to be a one night pit stop in Gulu ended up being the creative back bone behind Invisible Children's film making.  A charity was born and with it a story about Uganda's northern children was told.

The film was powerful and  emotionally charged.  It slammed home the atrocities of a violent war that was happening in a corner of the African Continent that many people in the West knew very little about.  However the ending was a visual that didn't sit comfortably.  A colourful map symbolised a pretty and happy village, a safe community that would grow out of the funds donated by you when you hosted your student party and got friends to dig deep.  They anticipated raising $US800,000 in 5 months, but it was vague, too vague and didn't explain how such vast sums of money would be used and to what affect.

Fast forward to 2012.  Since 2006 most LRA groups have moved out of Uganda and relocated to South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic where they continue to kill, rape and abduct.  Peace talks with the LRA to end the violence have failed, most notably in Juba in 2008 when Kony refused to sign the Juba peace accords.  So where does that leave Uganda's Kony victims now?  Post conflict the people of the north are recovering.  Children are going to school, people have moved out of the IDP camps, are tending their crops and communities are healing.  The work by local organisations and charities on the ground to rehabilitate families and children is significant and proves that Uganda and her people are really able to help themselves without the interference of the West.

Earlier today I spoke on the phone with Maddy about KONY2012.  She also hasn't seen it (she too lives in Uganda with poor internet) but has discussed with friends to gauge an opinion.  Maddy is one of the most passionate and opinionated women I know and to disagree with her is to poke a stick into a hornet's nest.  She spoke of 'Discover The Unseen' and how we still know very little about where the money donated by the charity was ever spent and of course what will the millions of dollars from this recent campaign go towards?  We discussed how Lonely Planet voted Uganda the # 1 tourist destination of 2012 and now?  Plus instead of focusing on Uganda she wanted to know why the hell these guys weren't taking their cameras deep into the jungles of DRC to film the horrific atrocities being carried out by the LRA there?

In the very recent words of Victor Ochen, director of African Youth Initiative Network, 'Campaigning on killing one man and that’s the end is not enough. To me even a bullet isn’t good enough for Kony, killing him alone will not be enough. There are many people who are caught up in this war. Every war has its own victims. We should be looking at ways to support victims not just in Uganda but all other countries affected. As far as I know Invisible Children are invisible on the ground and in communities. They have good access to international media but they have no connection with the community they claim to represent.' 

I may be sliding off the KONY2012 scale because I'm still to watch the documentary (and I will when the internet allows) but I've witnessed in touching distance a woman and child in Kampala with their lips and ears hacked off and I'm living here in Uganda in the eye of a media storm surrounded by people with a voice.  Often in the West we interfere above and beyond what is wanted by the people on the ground, but there are always two sides to any international debate.  For example look at how the West interfered with Afghanistan and Iraq and as Syria screams for outside help to stop the mindless killings the West sits on the sidelines. 

So what is right, what is wrong?  It's a complex question, but I agree that Joseph Kony needs to be brought to justice and made accountable for the horrendous atrocities that he and his army have committed over the years.  But does Uganda or indeed Africa need the help of a negative social media campaign created by a Western charity to do that?  No, I don't think so.  As before, the people of the north have already shown that with courage and stability they can independently rebuild their own lives plus that of their communities. 

What you need to know right now is that peace currently reigns in Uganda and long may it continue.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A pig wearing flippers

My mum has been staying with us for the past week.  It's been heavenly, though coupled with an 11 month old baby gnawing my legs off it's been chaos too.

Chris is hosting the annual Murchison Falls Fishing Competition at the lodge (largest Nile Perch caught was a massive 75kg) so mum, Leo and I have played in the sunshine, eaten avocados, drunk tea, put the world to rights and I've had a delicious night out with the girls. 

She left for Entebbe airport this evening as a wild storm roared in off Lake Victoria.  Leo and I huddled in the porch waving and shouting goodbye as the taxi sloshed it's way down the road like a small boat on high seas.  The house feels empty with her gone and I know Leo will want to waddle into the spare room in the morning (hanging off my fingers like a baby chimp) trying to seek her out. 

Earlier in the day, before the storm broke, we spent the morning at our piece of land on the River Nile planting trees and generally sweating like tourists in the hot and humid heat.  On the short drive back to Jinja town we passed this guy on a moped carrying something on the back of it.  In the words of my mother, 'whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat the hell is that??  It looks like a giant pig wearing flippers.' 

Shockingly it's a great big fish with it's head chopped off.  Proof that you don't need to sit in a boat for hours in Murchison to catch 'the big one!'

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Heart You

Chris had hoped to make it back today, but he's so close to finishing the rooms, his accounts and looking after clients that it would be c-r-a-z-y for him to come back for just two days (at least that's what I told him in a very matter of fact kind of way) so he'll be back next week.  When he asked if I was sure I said of course!  You know in your heart it's the right thing to do, but it doesn't always stop the brave-face mask from slipping and catching you square on the chin. 

So Leo and I spent his 1st Valentine's day together (except when I nipped out for a friend's birthday lunch) and then this evening we ate a take-away curry with girlfriend's whose partner's are on a raft trip in South Sudan.  We were like a coven of spurned lovers and Leo loved it.  This was his second late night beyond his bedtime in the past 5 months and he milked it.  He wore his all in one babygro, stuffed naan bread into his mouth, rocked to music and swung from the arms of every gorgeous lady in the room.

We got home an hour ago and as I was putting clothes and toys away I received a text from Chris,

'The only consolation is in addition to my heart, a little piece of me is there with you.  Love us XXXX'

I've just gone to check and our cupid is crashed out, man down in his cot.  He's his daddy all over. 

Happy Valentine.  May love reach you all - no matter the distance.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Hot to the touch

It was early.  He sat in his cot like a crumpled old man, his big blue eyes staring up at me as tears streamed down his face.  He was crying, not a loud scream, but a pained whimpering.  I reached for him and immediately felt the heat of his little burning body radiating through his babygro onto my hands.  I had read that you’ll know the difference between a warm baby and a hot baby from touch alone and it’s absolutely true, you do.  Leo’s head, chest, back, arms, knees, hands and the palms of his feet were cooking and as he lay in my arms I felt a fear rising up.  I was alone, my baby was sick and the likelihood it could be malaria was high.

I rang a friend who reassured me that it would be ok and that I could carry out the malaria test on my own, but she was happy to drive over and help if I wanted her to.  In the back of my mind I’ve known there would come a time when I’d have to do this.  I placed the phone down, gathered the malaria testing kit from the 1st aid basket and prepared myself for having to hurt Leo in order to find out if he had malaria or not. 

I stripped off his clothes and sat with him on the floor as he writhed and rolled his head.  I removed the sharp pin from the packaging, swabbed his hand and pricked the tip of his ring finger.  There didn’t seem enough blood so I tried again, harder, and this time a small plume of red rose to the surface.  He moaned pitifully and tried to slide his sweating fingers from mine.  My heart clenched.  I held his bleeding finger over the larger of the two holes on the plastic control panel and squeezed.  It was messy, but I managed and then dropped the buffer solution into the second hole.  The next 15 minutes of waiting was agonising….

Eventually one single line appeared on the control panel window indicating a negative result.  I lay slumped on the floor with my burning baby.  I had the drugs ready in case it was malaria and I knew what to do had the result been positive, but thank god it wasn’t.  The relief was acute but I was still frightened knowing that his little body was housing a massive fire and that I was responsible for putting it out.  The fever spiked and dropped rapidly over the next 24 hours.  When he wasn’t asleep I nursed him and when the time was right I slid neurofen into his bird like mouth.  I did another malaria test at 4am by the light of a head torch because there wasn’t any power - this one was also negative.  Our bed became his haven and I made it as cool and as comfortable underneath that mosquito net as best I could.

The following afternoon I took him to the doctor who checked his wheezing body and confirmed he had a virus.  There was nothing to do but ride it out.  He had been suffering with a head cold for 3 weeks previously and this seemed to be the final chapter in what was my first experience of him being horribly poorly since he was born.  Worryingly the next day his back and chest were speckled with a light pink rash and having contacted the doctor, this time by phone, she said his symptoms suggested a viral rash which was really nothing to be concerned about.  To finish she asked if he had an appetite and I was about to say no and put him in the car and drive straight over when he leaned across me, grabbed a samosa from my plate and placed it firmly in his mouth.  The tide had turned, he was on the mend. 

It is now 2 weeks since Leo was sick and he has bounced back like the atom bomb, all noisy and full of strength.  I had been scared and frightened of what I would do should he became ill in the topics (especially with malaria being such a monster) but instincts kick in and you find yourself drawing on your inner resolve and turning a potentially dreadful situation completely around.  Typically Chris returned 6 days later to a very happy and very healthy baby boy and I think secretly wondered what all the fuss was about….. :) 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

It fits like a glove....for a hat

Like a pair of favourite gloves there's something deeply comforting about pulling on a well-worn hat. 

About twelve years ago Chris and I drove to Cornwall in our old VW camper van and bummed around the beautiful coastline.  It was a surprisingly hot summer and I'd packed hardly anything appropriate so whilst there I got myself a hat and a pair of shorts...I loved them equally and as is the way I still have them.  On a g-o-o-d day I can squeeze into the shorts, and the hat?  The hat's always sat snugly on my (scarily large) head and it would take Mother Nature at her absolute worst to get so close as to flick the brim.

Whilst looking through some photos earlier I realised that my hat's accommpanied me on all manner of adventures.  As the saying goes, 'if these walls could talk'......without a shadow of a doubt the same could be said for my faded old hat and those dang swirly blue and white shorts:)

On our honeymoon in Zanzibar 2004

On a trail in Uganda

In Uganda - Lake Victoria in the background

In Zambia having caught (!) this mighty Tiger fish 

Travelling in our truck 2008

On the Nile in Murchison trying (and eventually succeeding) in spotting the elusive Shoebill

Taking part in a charity cycle marathon 2006 - this was taken before I set off ;)

Being taken for a swim in the Nile

By far the most exciting adventure of my life to date - my son, Leo

Thursday, January 19, 2012

When dinner tastes this good who needs a plate

What do you call a woman who eats her dinner out of the frying pan whilst standing at the stove in a pair of joggers and a knackered t-shirt?

A slovenly woman?  

Correct, and scarily I am that woman

Chris has been gone way too long................................

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Never a dull moment

Leo and I have colds and it's 100% not fun.  Not one bit.  We're both cranky, and coupled with the fact he's crawling and bumping into everything is making it a million times worse.  There's no off switch to his runny nose and it's leaking over me, my t-shirts and the furniture.  'Boo- bloody-hooo' I hear  you yell, 'at least you're warm'. 

Well yes, we are, but sometimes that's even worse.  At least when you have a cold in a freezing climate you can snuggle down under your duvet, get cosy in a big jumper and drink delicious mugs of hot chocolate dripping with marshmallows.  Here we're eating nasty biscuits by a brand called Mangi (more like Manky) and drinking tepid water.

Every cloud and all that rubbish....so a couple of things have made me smile in the last 24 hours and I thought I'd share them with you. I'm generous to a fault when I'm suffering. 

Death in Africa is spoken of very differently to how we speak of it in the West.  Here it's a way of life - you're born and then you die and somewhere in the middle you live your life.  Peter, who we're putting through college, works at the weekends on a piece of land we have downstream of Jinja.  I saw him the other day and we were chatting about families, football and school.  He told me his grandmother was sick and was being looked after by his mother. 

'I'm so sorry to hear that, do you know what is the cause of her sickness?'

'Errrr, no, she's just v-e-r-y old and is sick from being old, because this is what happens when you get old.'

'How old is she?'

'Old.'

Then yesterday I received a text from Peter:- 

"Hi Georgie, my grandmum has finally died!  Peter."


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Yesterday was all about the humour.  A bit later I received a handwritten letter from a young woman who I've never met, but she would like a job.  The letter says, word for word:-

To, THE MANAGER MARKSON HOTEL

Re:  APPLICATION FOR A JOB AS A COOKER

I here by submit my application to your office for the above mentioned post.  I am a ugandan by nationality, Emuganda by tribe aged 25 years.  I have experience for two years because I was working some where.  I will be greatfull if my request meets your kindly considaration.

Thanks

your kindly
Namato Peace


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What more can I say, enjoy your hot chocolate!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Christmas at Murchison River Lodge 2011

Having skidded sideways into 2012 at 140mph one would hope by now to have found the absolute obvious.  The brakes.

With our sweaty heads snapped back, hair framed like a bubble of dirty candyfloss, sunglasses smeared from greasy fingers and a chunky baby strapped tightly into his car seat (his peg teeth gnashing like a turtle) we look like a feral family straight out of Mad Max.  We remain foot heavy on the pedal whilst pulling a couple of wide-boy doughnuts in the murram driveway before tearing off in a cloud of dust.  As we bend into January every which way there appear to be no brakes with Mel Gibson at the wheel.

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Our Christmas trip to Murchison was magical, priceless, special, hectic, crazy and exhausting!  The car was rammed with gear - if Leo had been any bigger odds-on he'd have been in the passenger seat and I'd have been left behind.  The journey north reminded me of why I love Africa.  Vast skies, hot and dusty roads, windows down, cows with big horns picking at strands of bleached grass, children running alongside the car hoping for sweets or a simple wave, bicycles laden with locally grown produce, women balancing litres and litres of precious water carefully on their heads, battered cars carrying families from nowhere to somewhere and the long dirt, red, road taking you deeper and deeper into Murchison Falls National Park.

My breath evaporated out of my mouth as Chris walked me around the lodge and camp - in 18 months everything had changed beyond belief.  Leo sat squarely on my hip mesmerized by the Rock Agama lizards, their orange and black scaly skin worn like a suit of armour.  We wandered the campsite with the ridiculously brilliant shower and toilet block, and dipped beneath groups of spindly trees framing the grass with dappled shade.  The family cottage is beautiful, with 3 more nearing completion.  The furniture is created out of old railway sleepers enticing you to lie down with the intention of never, ever getting up again and the view from the veranda is of wild bush housing a plethora of birdlife.  The simple yet dramatic bar and restaurant blew me right back to the car park.  The vast thatched roof, made up of individual grasses slashed into small steps, hangs like a big fringe providing cooling shade and respite from the glaring ball of sun high above.

I kissed Chris for a long time and didn't cry.  Instead I stood full of pride and drunk in the incredible view out across the river Nile and over the wild green lands of Murchison Falls National Park.  Africa at her finest. 

Those precious hours now float like a dream around my head, because the following 7 days saw us race about like unfit athletes, huffing and puffing in the heat, as we prepared the lodge for guests and visitors from near and far.  We rearranged furniture, chopped thorny branches from eye level, hung electric blue parking signs, fitted a solar heater, placed old animal skulls in strategic places, strung mosquito nets the size of circus tents on sanded poles, text home to find out the cooking time for a 4.8kg turkey (!) screwed decorative gourds to walls, put candles in old wine bottles, hunted down missing lanterns and sat with local staff to discuss the arrival times of guests, bed linen, rubbish collection, laundry, stocking the bar, roasting potatoes and to make sure there was always enough beer.

David, the proud young barman/waiter told me in one heart stopping sentence, 'I am trying my level best and I wont let you down'. 

Most nights we fell into bed in the manager's house by midnight, with a sleeping Leo spaced out in his cot beside us.  And most nights he woke at 3am.  In this instance I would haul him from under mosquito nets into our bed so his crying wouldn't, 'wake the guests or have them think there's a wild animal in the camp Georgie!'  This was easy enough until the night a bat flew in through the opened door and clung to the net right next to my HEAD.  There was no mistaking the wild noise I made as I screeched at Chris to, 'fucking well do something!!!'  Leo took to the bush like Harrison Ford to Indiana Jones.  He roared his approval to everyone and relished in playing with the Christmas present wrapping paper over any toys, except for a plastic water bottle or my dirty flip flops.  He cut a top tooth with little fuss.  He developed a love of dodgy sausages and in the afternoons sat happily in a cooling bucket of water though by early evening showed his complete disapproval at having to be manhandled into a baby gro.

We had guests from Christmas Day to New Years Day and a smattering have stayed since.  We served, cooked, talked, laughed and made a note of all the things we still need to do.  As you can imagine the list is endless and Chris left this morning with more building materials to try and finish the family cottages with.  I'm being hounded to get the website online and it's coming (albeit slowly) but in the meantime to promote what we're doing and to give guests and agents an idea of the accommodation and location I've created a Murchison River Lodge Facebook Page.  I'd love for you to have a look.

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And that, thank god, is us embracing 2012.........full on, sun battered and knackered.  I wish you a belated Happy New Year and yes, since you ask, my name is Tina Turner and I'm off to Thunder Dome.