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


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


*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!'