We fall asleep in the guest house at the Nyaka AIDS Orphans School in Uganda to the singing of women cleaning up after supper, the soft footfalls of the guard at the school perambulating the house, and the sounds of animals rustling around (hopefully outside), getting ready to sleep.
We wake up to the crowing of roosters, the lowing of cows, and the sound of wood being chopped for the fires that will heat your water for Nescafe. (Alas, in this country that produces gorgeous coffee, good luck getting any brewed in your cup. I think they’re saving it all for Starbucks.) As you get up, wrap up your mosquito netting for the day and make your bed, you’ll hear the earliest students outside in the schoolyard, singing and laughing.
Generally speaking, we get up at about 7 a.m. (Jennifer and I are always the last ones out of bed) and have breakfast of bread, tea, bananas and hard-boiled eggs. I’ve craftily taught Evelyn, our sweet cook how to make toast over the fire, in exchange for which I always sneak her some appalling treat like a Twix bar or cookies, which she loves. Then at 8 a.m., it’s off to work we go!
That means the doctors and dentist, with their assistants, start seeing some of the dozens of women and children who sit patiently waiting for hours to be seen in Nyaka’s new Mummy Drayton School Clinic. Jennifer, Nyaka’s Country Director, goes to manage the thousands of details and emails involved in corralling us, managing the grannies’ program, running the Kampala office, and keeping in touch with Jackson, the founder of Nyaka, & Kelly, the development guru, in the States.
I have my assignments, too: to interview 2 students from each grade, write their bios, and take their photos – so maybe somebody in America will be inspired to sponsor a $250 annual scholarship for each of them. (I’m more or less the designated photographer on the trip, since my new Canon T2i takes high-resolution photos – so I’m really glad I uncharacteristically read the instruction manual on the plane ride here.)
I’m also working with the young kids to draw pictures of what makes them happy – to send out as Christmas/Hanukkah cards. This is harder than it sounds, because the children take every assignment very seriously and they treasure each crayon; to get them to use lots of colors entails at least four hearty encouragements. I wondered why so many of the little ones were drawing buses – until I densely came to the realization that a trip in a vehicle is an unimaginable treat when you have to walk about one to three hours to school and back every day.
Lunch is at 1:30 or so – by which time we’re starving for the meal of yams, greens, potatoes, cabbage, beans, rice and pineapple Evelyn makes over a wood fire. You can forget about soda and beer –it’s water or nothing. And likewise, forget dessert. There’s apparently a one-kilo limit on buying sugar, which isn’t for sale in Nyaka anyhow– there are no stores here. (But no, somehow I am not losing weight–which is totally unfair, so don’t even ask.)
After lunch, it’s back to the clinic from 2:30 til 5:30 for the doctors and dentist …while Jennifer and I go to the library and try desperately to get on the internet, inevitably laughing ourselves sick at the frustration. At the shank of the evening, all nine of us collect back at the guest house and instead of cocktails, we have snack hour –which, trust me, comes nowhere close to the satisfaction of a gin & tonic.
As the light wanes over the beautiful green hills, roosters idiotically start crowing again, cows bellow in their wooden stalls, and we gather around looking at our photos of the day and talking about everything under the sun. After an 8:30 dinner of some new & delicious version of beans, greens, rice and a meat dish (that I assiduously avoid in fear of it being goat), we jockey for dibs on the jerrican of hot water for our basin-baths, and tumble into bed. Jennifer and I, roommates extraordinaire, always stay up the latest telling each other our life stories and have to smother our laughs so we don’t wake the others.
Then as another Nyaka day dawns, we wake up and start all over again. Which reminds me that one of the most mystifying things about travel is how quickly the unfamiliar and exotic become your new normal. I find that simultaneously wonderful and kinda sad –as it reveals both how quickly you can adapt to even the most unusual circumstances, and how artificial are the cultural constructs that divide us.
Uganda is beautiful– full of tragedy, joy, hope, and inspirational stories of resilience you almost cannot believe. Wish you were here.