Hi, my name is Mark Purkiss and I am, in my spare time a Cub Scout leader with 3rd Farnham Scout Group. I took part in Surrey Scouts 'Book's for All' project in July last year. Since then, I have continued to build via e-mail and letter writing many friendships with Scouts and Scout leaders in Uganda. As well as the books, a few computers were shipped out.
I have given many Cub Scout computer badge and Scout IT training sessions here in the UK and changing the content slightly I came up with a course that I believed would be suitable. Below is a long but detailed diary of my return visit to Uganda in April this year.
If you build up friendships and with the help of other who have visited Uganda before you it is possible that anyone with the right approach and dedication can as I did travel 'alone' in Uganda.
After visiting Uganda last July I saw a need to train people in simple practical computer knowledge. After a few faxes and planning at Christmas with my host to be, who was here in the UK the idea was hatched. During February and March the finer details were put together and various faxes were sent and received and Eric Goulding, last years team leader helped with arrangements with County and Headquarters
Due to a company benefit I was able to purchase a Standby Ticket at BA staff travel prices. Saving £500! This of course made the whole thing possible!
Below is a brief day by day account of my visit, although as a Scout it was also a personal visit to Iganga, Uganda (The Pearl of Africa)
Tuesday 31st March
Arrived at Gatwick airport very early for the flight and booked it at the BA Staff desk. Along wait began with eventually with only 30 minutes (2230) before take I was on! It had been hard to explain to my host Rev. Fr James Ngobi that I may not get a seat.
8 hours later....
Wednesday 1st April
At about 0900 Uganda time I landed at Entebbe Airport, Uganda! Quickly I passed immigration but at Customs was stopped. With my suitcase well over weight and with many computer bits inside. I thought I would have to part with lots of American dollars in Tax, however I explain when asked why I had a large suitcase. I was a Scout camping in Iganga and had a tent and sleeping bag inside I was allowed to pass.
At 0930 I had cleared the airport. Where was Fr. James? My mind was racing what if this and that. I had little money as Uganda Shillings is a closed currency only available with Uganda. Within 10 mins and after every Taxi driver in Uganda! Had asked me if I want one Fr. James arrived and we were off.
Into Kampala for some money as the private FOREX bureaus give a better rate than the government run airport exchange. With well over 10000shs I was rich ($115) however half my dollars were dated before 1990 and were not accepted and the small notes such as $5 and $10 were not worth changing. We then went looking for a transistor for one of the printers that was broken, round and round we drove eventually we found one and for 2500shs ($2.50approx) we brought it. Now for a printer ribbon, again round and round Kampala. We didn't find one.
It was now midday and having had no sleep on the flight I was getting tired. We began I thought our two hour journey from the capital to Iganga. Fr. James had other ideas and we stopped off at the shipping company yard to settle a dispute still on going from last July. How easy it was to settle with me en tow!
Now we were well on our way and with a quick stop for lunch a 1/4 of chicken on a stick - very nice too! We arrived a little after 1500hrs. I had travelled in a shirt and tie and was by now very hot and very tired. I took a nice cold shower and changed.
I then took a quick look at the computers and some were taken to Fr. James house for me to investigate.
I had arrange for William a Scout I met in July and have been in regular e-mail contact with to camp in Fr. James garden. William was to be a friend for me while my host was not around and also he would learn lots about computers by helping me set the up for the training course. He arrived just as the light was going and we quickly put up my tent which I had brought over for him. The early evening was spent in a local bar enjoying a Nile Special beer!. After supper at 2100 I called it a day and fell into my sleeping bag.
Thursday 2nd April
Fr. James had left for the morning and I woke to find William just finishing washing, I had a cold shower and shave (very nice!) Breakfast had been made for us by Corn, a girl who lives with Fr. James to help with the household Chores. She was in the middle of her exams so Colin, Fr. James's nephew was also helping around the house.
After breakfast I began to sort the computers. Good progress was being made and I was well on my way to achieving the goal of five working computers ready for the course on Friday afternoon. Then disaster the power went of just before lunch. That was it for the day regards power. With only two computers and my laptop from the UK ready we were all praying for the power to be restored quickly. We spent the afternoon cleaning the computer with damp cloths and some special cleaner pads I had. The computers had remained boxed as we had left them last July and 9 months of dust was hard to shift.
By now word had gone around I was in town and the afternoon brought a steady flow of scouts and leaders all of whom I knew from July. Marion's friend Michael called in which saved me finding him to pass on a letter from Marion. He was so happy and can back the same day with a reply for Marion. It was such a joy to him so happy.
At around 1800 Fr. James returned and we went shopping. We stayed in the car and just leant out the window to by Milk and Meat. Drive through shopping! Not possible in the UK!!!
News came that I had to open a brick making project tomorrow at 1400 in town. But the computer course was starting at 1500. No problem cycles were arranged for William and I to get into town.
After super again an early night. I seems that this is their normal routine, to eat and then almost straight away everyone turns in for the night. I was so hot I was not sleeping and the African night time is full of wonderful sounds ranging from crickets and grasshoppers to howling wild dogs. How can you sleep!
Friday 3rd April
Up again after Fr. James had left and after what was to become my normal morning routine of a shower and shave followed by breakfast the power was still off. Now we had a problem as we wanted 5 computers to teach with.
No problem and by mid morning power was back and I got a 3rd computer working and loaded with WordPerfect and Dbase123. I was already for the course.
After lunch William and I learnt the cycles were not coming, some people had started to arrive for the course it was not even 1300 so plenty of time. 1400 came and we waited to see if a car would come to collect us for the brick making. No such luck and at 1415 William and I began the 20min walk to the Iganga Scout District Campsite. Neither of us really knew the way but as we got closer the sound of wonderful singing of 'Baden-Powell is our founder' lead us in the right direction it was now 1445 with only 15 mins to my course starting. Oh well never mind I'm on African time now!! ( they don't really keep time!) I made the first few bricks and took some pictures. Fr. James arrived in his car and whisked us off back to his house for the course.
At 1545 we started, my teaching method is one I have adapted from my companies training dept.. It is radical and totally different to any Ugandan teaching practices. For those who have been on Leader One training you will have a bit of an idea of the method but it was much more hands on and doing a task that the didn't know how to do and then evaluate and redo.
We made good progress and changing a few bits on the fly finished ahead of time at about 1745. A good day teaching and it was such a relief to have finally started.
We went drive through shopping again. I brought lots of bottled water for the weekend as I wasn't drinking enough water and I was dehydrated. I can really recommend the Dioralyte powders. Within 20mins, Headache gone, Stomach pains gone!
Again It was supper and off to bed.
Saturday 4th April
Up early and a quick shower, breakfast etc. All the computer's were set up and I had just time to bring another computer on line making 4. They all had names to help identify them when I was assigning exercises. To much amusement from the participants. Elephant, Rat, Cat to name a few.
The course was moving on at such a pace. I had planned lots of time just in case but there was no need. The sun was burning down and the tree we were under was struggling to protect us. At 1130 the power went. We took an early lunch break. But the power was out for the rest of the day. I re arranged the timetable bring forward some theory bits and after moving ourselves under a better tree I continued to instruct topics such as the Internet and how Visa and airline reservation systems work. The course was well on track and we finished early at 1600.
I had learnt there was a Scout camp at one of the town schools, a must for any UK Scout. So after a little convincing Fr. James drove William and I to King of Kings School and Wow! What a surprise for both William and I, lots of old friends were there. Godfrey was so surprised to see me I think he nearly died! He was just so happy, again it was good to see that just a friendly face and a handshake can bring so much happiness. It was now dark and super was ready but I was so hard to leave. I eventually left after Fr. James drove his car right up to where I was. I took the hint but promised to return Sunday evening.
Whilst at the Scout camp power came back, We returned home and the power went off just as I had started to look at another computer!
William had been quiet all day and I was thinking he was just tired but I learnt he had raging tooth ache. Colin had popped into to town to get him some pain killer's, 2 aspirin for 2000shs($2.) I had a bottle of 50 and also some Ibuprofen. I told William he should have asked me, he knew I had a first aid kit!
Super was started by candle light and just as we were finishing the power can back but it was too late to look at any computers. It was like the power was playing hide and seek with me!
Sunday 5th April
Early up, Shower and Breakfast.
Power was on! One of the suggestions from yesterday was the participants should learn how to connect the computers so I just left them all jumbled up on the table and exercise one for the day was to set them up. This they did and we continued with practical lessons on WordPerfect and Dbase123 again we went racing ahead and after lunch my fault finding lesson went well and at 1430 we finished.
I quickly changed in to My Scout Uniform and signed all the Certificates. It was a great thing for a white person to issue a certificate so I arranged for William to take pictures of each person receiving theirs. The three Scouts also received a Scout IT badge as the course content was that of the UK Scout IT badge with some Cub Scout Computer bits mixed in.
After a few speeches, the Ugandan's love their speeches! We cleared the computers away and I went back to the Scout Camp they had known I was coming and had waited 2 hours for me! Lots of people including the Scouts had just waited and waited. I don't like this. I prefer them just to continue, my first visit to the camp had been a surprise and it was so good just to arrive and find the camp just running as normal with no welcome speech etc.
Once back at home I asked Fr. James to show William the Video of our July visit and it was a delight to watch with William and Fr. James who were both in it. Fr. James and I left Colin, Corn and William to watch the remainder and went up to the seminary to have Sunday super with the other priests very nice too.
We returned home just as the Video finished and so we all said goodnight.
Monday 6th April
I awoke later than I had been I was eventually sleeping at night. Shower and Breakfast.
The morning was spent fixing a few computers' but slow progress was made as David and Richard, 2 Scouts arrived to take me out and about to see some Scout projects and their homes. The plan had always been to just spend the afternoon with them! They left and I got a 5th computer operational.
At 1400 David and Richard returned and two cycles were available for William and I and off we went for the afternoon. First to see The pioneers Scout library now swollen with our books from July and on out to Richard's Village by car to see a tree planting project before a welcome soda and biscuit at his house. We returned to Iganga via public taxi and picked up the cycles and then off to David's home to meet his family. Pineapple was served and I was presented with a Chicken. A very great honour, which can not be refused. I named him Fred.
We cycled back home and arrived at about 1830 only one and a half hours late for a Scout meeting but no problem as no one else had yet arrived, good old African time! David and Richard left and 10 mins later everyone else arrived for the meeting!! Fr. James introduced me and then started to talk in the local language, I left then outside. I returned to the computers to try to get another one working but I was unable to, something wrong with the hard disk.
After super once again almost straight off to bed.
Tuesday 7th April
Up again at about 0900 and after ablutions and breakfast I again attempted to get some computers going but alas no such luck.
William and I were off via Waitambogwe Scout group to Bysania Children's home at Mukono, near to Kampala. We took down William's tent as this was to be my home for the night . At just after 1230 Fr. James drove us the 15mins to Waitambogwe. Saying goodbye to Fr. James until Wednesday afternoon Marx the Group Scout leader produced Cycles, one of which was donated by Chris Wilkinson of Northamptonshire Scouts. We saw some books and then embarked on a 4km cycle ride to see a brick making project. Then on to Marx's brother's school for lunch and more books in the school library. It was here the heaven opened and one almighty thunder storm began. Knowing that we had to be in Kampala before 1630 it was important to get back to the Iganga - Jinja road to catch a taxi. With the rain pouring down Marx, a few scouts, William and I cycled like no tomorrow back to the Scout Headquarters to collect our bags and await a taxi. Whilst waiting I present the group with over 75 World membership badges these were brought from money donated from my Cub Pack, 3rd Farnham and a little help from 2nd Hale Cubs.
We were so wet, not one part of me was dry! My legs were wobbly due to the 4km cycle ride back. Then taxi after taxi was full and the rain kept coming down. Eventually as the rain stopped we got a taxi. We arrived in Jinja and changed taxi for Kampala, the taxi's are 14 seater Toyota mini buses and they operate almost like buses really.
We arrived at about 1700 in Kampala the aim was to find British Airways and a FOREX money exchange but it was a public holiday so all was closed. I couldn't even phone the UK as the post office was closed and I was unable to buy a phone card. I need to find availability for the Friday flight because of my standby ticket status. Never mind no problem! We left Kampala and arrived 30 min later at Mukono. An idea was to call in at the local hotel which had a sat phone and call the UK but at 18000shs ($20) No way. Money was low. Anyway if I couldn't get home I'd just have to spend more time in Uganda!!
We took boarder-boarder mopeds (local form of taxi) up the hill to the children's home just as it was getting dark. Phew! It had been one long day and it was such a relief to arrive at the days final destination, but wait still wet from the lunch time drenching the day was not yet over.
I was given such a welcome. William was so happy! I think this was his one wish that I visit his home. I met the director, John from Northern Ireland. The home is sponsored from there. I met all the children including William's brother Richard. I also had a quick look at their computer but was unable to fix the problem but at least confirmed the printer port was broken. I was offered a shower before dinner. Very welcome indeed.
Dinner was good and afterward the Children sang songs and after prayers they all wished everyone goodnight. A very nice Children's home and a lot better than I was expecting for a Boys home in Uganda. I learnt William's teeth were going to be fixed on the 15th of April and the home was going to pay the $100 bill. A relief for me as William was clearly in so much pain and since Saturday was on 3 or 4 aspirin a day.
We didn't need the tent as I was found a bed and also a mosquito net. The room I was staying in had just a mesh for windows and I was a nice night sleep because the room was cooler than at Fr. James house because of this.
The day had been an epic day very tiring but probably the best day.
Wednesday 8th April
William and I awoke late, we were both tired and both slept well. I had another shower in John's house and Breakfast had been saved for us both. After spending nearly 1 hour trying to telephone British Airways in Kampala we gave up and said our farewells.
We walked across the fields back in to Mukono town to the post office where I brought a phone card and called Mum in the UK. Mum was very surprised to hear from me! I explain the problem with BA and asked her to call BA in London. I arranged to call back in 20mins and we sat across the road having a soda. A very relaxing start to the day. I called back and there was good availability for Friday Good, it would have meant a rush back to Iganga and then back into and beyond Mukono to Entebbe if the flight was full in an attempt to get that evening's flight home. We caught a taxi, 1st time. Off back to Jinja where I changed my remaining travellers cheques and met Fr. James at the Sailing Club for lunch. We all had whole Talapia and chips. A slow service and it took two hours to have lunch but very nice.
Fr. James's mother who had been staying in Iganga had been brought into Jinja and was waiting with Colin in the town for us to pick them up and take her home. They had been waiting since 1300 which was the time we started lunch! We picked them up and embarked on along journey to a small village about and hour or so away from Jinja. Fr. James let me drive for a bit, even his Mum commented on how slowly I drove! Looking only 6 feet in front to dodge the pot holes it was slow progress. As the road worsened Fr. James took over and we made good progress arriving at about 1700 at the village. We drop Fr. James's Mum off and Colin showed us his home. Colin, William and I went and cut down some bananas' to eat with my chicken whose time was fast approaching. We left for Iganga and once back on the good road I drove back in to Iganga with more confidence then before. We dropped Colin off at home and dived quickly into town for some more drive by shopping, why can't we do this in the UK.
Once again back into my now normal routine of super and bed.
Thursday 9th April
A routine start to the day and with nothing planned a few computers were looked at but not fixed.
Fred the Chicken was captured and with William and Colin's guidance I ended his life with a quick cut of the knife. I was then shown and helped with the plucking and gutting. It was great to see the youth c doing this job and shows how knowledgeable they are in the ways of survival very much more than the children of the UK.
We did a small bit of shopping and got the photo's developed of Fred's death etc.
In the afternoon we roasted some Ground Nuts for me to take home and I began to pack. My money was getting low again and with a third of my dollars not worth changing I was a little worried I would run out of money. Visa is un-heard of in Uganda. I still had to give Fr. James keep money and I wanted to give William a few thousand to help him.
After supper I packed away all the working computer and crossed the T's and dotted the I's with them. Fr. James opened the Whiskey I had brought whilst I was doing this and a few neat whiskey's were very nice indeed.
I said good night but continued until 2330 to pack. I found $100 of travellers cheques so all my money problems were solved - or were they!
Friday 10th April
A normal start to the day and we were off with me driving to Jinja to see the falls and the Source of the Nile, breezed by the Avonja project where there is now a school renting it.
I continued to drive and at Mukono town we stopped for lunch at a Little Chef equivalent. Fr. James wanted the hotel but William choose this place and as it's his home town he knew the food was good. Fr. James enjoyed it too! I drove on into Kampala where Fr. James took over.
It was Good Friday of course so my money problems were back. Money was now very low as I had left 20000shs in Iganga for William believing I would get more money today. We tried the hotel after hotel for changing travellers cheques. Fr. James was clearly very tired from my visit and the last few days had been long ones. I had asked him and William to wait until 2230 at the airport in case I didn't get on the flight. It meant the day was still quite young at 1500. William was returning back to Iganga as company for Fr. James as they expected to return at about 0100 Saturday morning. Night time travelling is safe but best avoided just in case!
Eventually the Grand Imperial Hotel changed my cheques, I was rich again! (11400shs)
We shopped around for a printer ribbon and found one for 8000shs. Most of the shops were open, it was just the banks and post offices etc. that were closed. We visited some of the tourist sites of Kampala but all three of us were now very tired and so we headed out to the airport, along the way I brought two pineapples and avocado for me to take home!
At about 1900 we stopped off at the Beach Hotel, Entebbe for dinner on the Lake. Very very nice but I think this is where I picked up my only dose of food poisoning.
We left for the Airport and I quickly changed into a shirt and tie, it's BA policy for staff and entitled personal to travel in a shirt etc.
I checked in and so was my baggage, a big step in the stressful hours in the airport for standby traveller's. I went back to Fr. James and William and said my farewells. I gave Fr. James 50000shs which with all the tourist places we visited and lunch and dinner almost cleaned me out. I learnt the hard way about pre 1990 dollars not being accepted. We waited until 2130 when the checking closed before I was issued a boarding pass and that was good enough for me.
And so again another brief farewell. I left Uganda behind for a few months.
Saturday 11th April
I slept on the flight and also relaxed watching the in flight movie. Arriving at Gatwick to a cool 6 degrees and rain was a shock when I left spring was in the air......
I had landed at 0430 UK time and after collecting my car from the long stay I drove home. Arriving home at about 0630. I started up the Washing machine as I had taken enough clothes for my whole trip. I sent an e-mail to William saying I was home and crashed into bed until midday.
A wonderful wonderful time I can not wait to return in August.......