An ordinary day in Nyaka.

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.

An outside class before class begins.

Evelyn, my partner in crime.

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!

Dr. Paul DeWeese with a patient.

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.

The beautiful Miss Grace A.

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.)

Apples.. a rare treat in Uganda!

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.

Yum yum yum!

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.)

From dental surgery with Dr. John, Terri & Roger...

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.

...to dental health lessons!

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.

Boys will be boys..the whole world over.

Uganda is beautiful– full of tragedy, joy, hope, and inspirational stories of resilience you almost cannot believe. Wish you were here.

16 thoughts on “An ordinary day in Nyaka.

    • Hi Indigo!! I love your generous heart!! I will hook you up with Kelly Voss, the Director of Development for Nyaka, and she can send you photos — you will lose your mind the kids are so adorable — of the children who need sponsors. Also, they really encourage people to send money instead of stuff that needs to be sent over because a) it’s always good to get it in the country as it helps to stimulate and support the local economy .. and b) it’s SO difficult to transport things to Entebbe .. and then over the awful roads 12 hours in a van to Nyaka, that it’s really an expense for the school. So — thank you from the bottom of my heart for wanting to help! And i’ll have Kelly get in touch with you!! Happy Holidays, beautiful Indigo!!

  1. Another great post Bet-tye. How do they choose the two kids from each grade? Best marks? Looking forward to hearing more about that.

    My favorite photo is the little girl in yellow in the picture of “Dr. Paul DeWeese with a patient”

    • Hi Rosie!! They chose the two children from each grade simply by who was available — and outgoing enough to want to talk to me! (The older girls were really shy, though!) I also took photos of every single child in the pre-school, too, because they are so adorable, you can’t believe it! I love that you noticed that little girl with Dr. Paul … no matter WHAT i did, I couldn’t get her to look away from me … it was hilarious! I even had the nurse from across the room calling her, but she was not about to be dissuaded from her rapt gaze right into the camera. And now it’s my favorite thing about the photo!!

  2. What you said. I remember a summer in Bolivia making adobe bricks for a community center. Trouble was three faiths, in a village with a population of 70, were vying for that feather in their caps. Nothing was built and a coup disbanded our group. I do remember the appeal of coffee (probably Nescafe) in a tin cup with no sugar, no half & half…how quickly we learn to love the very basic. Soup in a shallow tin bowl…the best! Evocative piece, Bet-ty!

    • Tina!! Hi there – So happy to hear from you and I’m so jealous you’ve spent time in Bolivia! I didn’t know that — you Kaupe girls are such adventurers!! I want to hear all about it the next time we’re together .. .hope all is well! Miss you & Happy Thanksgiving!!!

    • Hi Amy! Well, I am going to try to do a final wrap-up of just photos .. but I’ll be happy to send you the full complement if you’d like!! They really are incredibly sweet and utterly irresistible children! Thanks for commenting!!

  3. I miss this village every day and every night. I miss the children, grannies, our staff, the food, and yes goat meat too!. Thank you for sharing this and be blessed as always.
    Your writing and pictures will inspire millions.
    Webale Betty.

    • Well, TJK … I’m not sure about millions … BUT i do know that what you have done there in Nyaka is amazing. And I am just so grateful that I had the opportunity to meet the children, the grannies, Evelyn, Faida — and ALL the beautiful people of the village. Webale to YOU, Jackson, for giving so much!!

  4. let me be the first to buy you a Gin and Tonic when you get home. We can sneak it into the Garden at Brookrun. Maybe Pattie will join us.

    • Farmer Bob — you are SO on!! Now everybody who reads this column knows what a gin & tonic junkie I am … but who cares?? If I have you, Pattie, the g&t, and the garden … I’m a happy, happy girl! thanks for writing!!

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