One afternoon I accidentally bumped into K while I was walking home from Ljubljana´s old town. My dear friend K used to be my co-worker and we have not seen each other for a while now, because I was busy finishing my University thesis and I just had the presentation a couple of days ago. I celebrated the success (got the best note btw., woohoo!) in Prague and was already getting ready for my trip to NYC which was a gift from my parents (thanks again!). So, I meet K in the old town and we started one of those typical conversations you usually do with someone whom you have not seen long time – you know, something like “Hey K, how have you been, what have you been up to, oh we need to grab a coffee sometime soon!”. She replies with similar questions and mentions she is searching for flight tickets to Uganda. I immediately think of gorillas, jungle, snakes and papayas for breakfast, but she interrupts my dreaming with saying: “Yeah, I´m going to Uganda and “nobody” want to come with me – do you want to come?” I bet she just said that, but I instinctively replied: “Why not!”.
So, my thesis was finished, there was no sign of a steady job, I still had some savings on the bank account and there was nothing keeping me at home. I guess K still did not believe me completely, we said goodbye and about 10 minutes later I sat in my 37 m² big (small?) rented apartment and surfed the internet. Searching for flight tickets to Kampala of course! One hour and a glass of wine later I called K and said: “I´m going! Under one condition.” I already had my NYC ticket in the pocket so I thought it would be a great idea if I just book the flight to Kampala on the same day I would be coming back to Munich from NYC. This way I would save myself the drive from Munich to Ljubljana. K was okay with the dates and another hour and one more glass of wine later we were printing out the plane tickets!
Okay so we had the plan, but the plan had to be executed at one point. And that was no easy thing to do! First I packed a middle sized suitcase for NYC, after all I am a woman and I did not intend to run around New York in the same trousers for 5 days in a row. So, one suitcase for that. Then I pulled out my dear 42 litres Salewa backpack which is my silent travel companion since 2007 and filed it with flip-flops, couple of T-shirts, long sleeve shirts with buttons (you know, following the standard principle of layering clothes), swimsuit (why did I do that?), all purpose sarong, rain jacket and one warm pullover. After landing from NYC I walked to the car at the airport garage, switched the luggage, changed my clothes and put on the hiking shoes – 15 minutes later I sat with K in the airport bar and successfully fought my jet lag away with excitement over the following weeks in Africa. But first, we had to go to Amsterdam. A short flight later, we locked the backpacks in the airport locker and hit the city centre. Pretty tired but in a good mood we returned to the airport in the middle of the night and waited for the early morning flight. No clue how the flight was, I guess I slept the whole was down, until we landed. First shock – the 40C late in the evening and the second one, well the cultural one. I set my feet in 3 continents and showed my passport in 4 countries in the last 48 hours – I stopped counting the hours since I last slept in a real bed. Well, we were finally here, in the middle of Africa. First things first, we went for a cold beer! We could not resist it, it was just so hot ;).
SO, WHY UGANDA?
So, why did we even go to Uganda? K got an invitation from a Slovenian missionary Danilo Lisjak (whom she knows personally), to help with making architectural plans for a new girls boarding school in a small village of Atede, near Gulu in the north of Uganda. K had already enough experience with similar projects in Kongo and she did not hesitate long to accept the invitation. As I am kind of in the similar industry I was very keen on joining the project. After a 7 hour drive from Kampala we laid down our backpacks in the missionary house in Gulu and surprised Dailo with all kinds of Slovenian culinary delicacies, which made him very happy – especially the sausages ;). The following days we were exploring the surroundings and spent our days visiting schools, churches and hospitals and of course, we measured out the land lot and prepared computer drawn plans for the new buildings. Danilo made sure we also had lots of fun, contributed to the relaxed atmosphere and shared some of his precious experiences from the last years he spent in this part of the world with us.
Danilo has been living in Africa for more than 20 years now, the last 8 he has settled in Uganda, in the northern part where only a decade ago the war ended. When he first came here, he was surrounded by an overgrown plot which he later on started to take care of. After years of effort and cooperation with diverse organisations and with the help from donations, signs of success are beginning to show – a church, primary school, kindergarten and facilities in the rectory. The unrenovated church in 2010 is seen on the photos below.
It was extremely hot and from time to time we were bitten by an unknown insect while walking around in the high grass trying to measure the land (okay okay it was not all that awful ;)), sometimes we “sketched” some ideas with small sticks to the ground, laptop was breathing slowly because the electrical power was often gone – but in the end, we made it! The plans were there! Well, most of the credits takes my blond namesake K ;).
Ministry of Foreign Affairs has accepted the project for “BOARDING SCHOOL FOR GIRLS IN ATEDE; GULU; UGANDA” in 2011 and promised a 2-year financial help. In cooperation with Slovenian Missionary Centre the school was successfully built.
(Text and photo is taken from the page http://www.missio.si/projekti)
Wherever we went, large groups of smiling kids with white teeth, who were not exactly shy, were showing much interest in coming close to us. In a broken English they would at least say the usual „hello, how are you“ and then ran away shouting „muzungu, muzungu!“. For some reason they never get bored of this game and so we had no choice but to find it funny also :). The word „muzungu“ is used to describe a white person, a non-african, a non-ugandan. Even more funny were the questions if we were sisters – because we have the same name. Like someone would actually name both kids the same?! So, we tried to explain it to them, that it would even be very unlikely for us to be sisters, as one has blue eyes and blond hair and the other is much darker compared to the first one. But no, for them we are all the same, we are all muzugu, hair and eye colour doesn´t matter.
Funny kids were checking us out also at our temporary home and we hung out together at the backyard playing, doing hair, blowing up balloons and reading books. Ipad, what is that again? With all that action it was sometimes hard to decide who was the bigger attraction for whom. They to us or we to them? Once again these are the moments we remember the most – spoken language as the key of communication and understanding became completely irrelevant and just by showing hands, making funny intuitive sounds and gestures, we were able to understand each other. ´For a moment I felt like an Italian tourist who knows no English but travels all around the world without any problems!
Sunday. Church day. I would not really know how it feels to wake up on a „Sunday church“ morning – because I am, well, kind of an atheist. But this post is not about my religious beliefs and the fact me being an atheist does not mean I don´t have interest in religions, quite the opposite. I´ve been to many churches before, as well as mosques and temples and somehow I like the fact that I´m always the outside observer and I thank Danilo again at this point, to let me take part at this Sunday church visit – it was a great experience! All that singing and dancing and more singing – much different than at home, not to mention the stunning colourful dresses!
Surrounded by smiling kids and optimistic people in the post-war era, we found the city really exciting and kind of different. Everywhere something was being built, renovated or had at least a big sign it was going to be renovated. Such and such projects, volunteers and experts from all over the world, they all tried to make it a better place again. Just a normal day in Gulu – we visited so many construction sites and took a look inside so many schools, boarding schools, hospitals and other official buildings that we almost lost track where we all were. There were so many NGO´s in the town and for a while we stepped into their everyday world, went for dinners with them and exchanged experience from different working fields over a couple of cold beers in the evening. It did feel like I could do that for a year or so, but this time we only had a couple of weeks.
Schools, schools everywhere. It seems like, only children would be living here. Schools stand, schools are being built – and I guess it´s a great thing! We visited one of the girls schools and peeked inside a classroom just in the time when math was on the schedule. Without problems the class was interrupted and we were standing in fornt of a giggling class of girls in red-pink uniforms. I silently hoped nobody will ask me to explain soemthing about math because that really was not my favourite subject! Luckily we didn´t have to ha ha ;). Girls had their backpacks under the table, one pencil and paper on the table, the desks were a bit more worn out and the walls might need some new colour. The girls didn´t differ after which has the new iphone, but after whose shirt is more white and who has more hole sin the school uniform. After all they were facing similar problems as the kids in Europe, just in a whole different level. We did not see any bored faces in the classroom and this is probably one of the major differences compared to our schools – here, the school is still a privilege and not a right! But we were more concentrated on the interesting architectural solutions of the ventilation problems than in the holes in their uniforms!
School kitchens, eating rooms, sleeping rooms, washing rooms and courtyards where sharp knives are lying around but nobody gets the idea to play with them!
Hospitals – luckily we did not have to go into one for the medical care, we just visited them to see how they are built. But I must say the visit was very calming since we saw they were really good! If something was to happen, we would not worry going in to one of those, there would just be no family member waiting for us to come out days and night sleeping outside ;).
For all this building and renewing one needs bricks! And looots of it. So, we took a look at how they make it locally. Very interesting!
“What, the car broke down?!” Well, no worries my friend, mechanical shops are everywhere and I´m sure they will be happy to repair whatever went wrong ;).
We had a great time in Gulu – it was part work part fun, but honestly we had also fun at working, except on those few occasions where the power was out and we were not sure if we saved our projects in time. Danilo took care of us like we were family members and seemed happy to have us there. We even made Lilly (the cook) to make a special type of potatoes after a Slovenian recipe for us, but I think she still does not understand why did we have to put so much onions inside :). So many new impressions and new acquaintances, it would have been impossible to have the same experience if there was not for Danilo who knows his way around – thank you again for all! I hear that a very well known Slovenian traveller who is also a guide at his travel company has been bringing his groups to Danilo for a couple of hours in the last few years – whoever might read this and go there, say hello to Danilo for me and remember to bring him some fine stuff from the homeland, did I mention he loves sausages?!
Our trip was far from over – in the next weeks we left Gulu and continued the way towards Murchinson Falls NP, Kampala, Fort Portal and Ndali Kasenda lakes, from where we went on to Bunyoni lake and hiked a volcano in Kisoro, where we stood with one leg in Uganda, with one in Kongo, we stretched one arm into Rwanda and took an amazing photo with the other hand! One crazy trip that was so much more than just a travel trip – it was an awesome life unforgettable experience!
More about the rest of the trip is coming up soon – until then, here is a little photo introduction 🙂