Monday, 7 March 2011

Two Years On - And Our Final Blog Post

Since we got back to the UK (in June 2010) we've been meaning to do a final blog-post to update you on our last few weeks in Uganda, and on what we've been doing since we got home. I know it's a bit late, but things have been very hectic since we got back to Liverpool.

The last few weeks in Uganda were pretty busy as we had our friends Craig and Marianne over to visit us, as well as exams to write, invigilate and mark, a flat to pack up, and lots of loose ends to tie up before we left Mbarara.

It was lovely to see Marianne and Craig, who made it over to Uganda despite all the flight disruptions caused by Eyjafjallaj√∂kull deciding to erupt and BA staff deciding to go on strike.  We travelled to Lake Bunyonyi, Kalinzu forest (to try and see chimpanzees), Queen Elizabeth National Park and Lake Mburo National Park, as well as spending a few days in Mbarara.

With Herbert and the Herb-Mobile on the way to QENP
Our trip to Kalinzu forest was not as successful as we'd hoped, as the chimps led us on a mighty trek through the forest and didn't even come and say hello! I managed to fall head-first into a ravine, although miraculously, I didn't break anything ( I knew my extra padding would come in useful one day!).
Queen Elizabeth National Park was fantastic as per usual - we even saw a leopard, but didn't manage to get any photos as it was dusk at the time. We saw tree climbing lions, and a pride of lionesses with cubs in the savanna, which was amazing.

Lake Mburo was great, and we managed to persuade Herbert (our friend and driver) to come quad biking with us, which he absolutely loved.
Quad Biking with Herbert

After an enjoyable day's quad biking, we set off on our journey back to Mbarara. On the road out of the National Park, we came to a massive puddle. Herbert was worried that our 4x4 would get stuck in the puddle, so he waded through the puddle (nearly up to waist height) and thought it would be okay for the vehicle.....unfortunately the vehicle had other ideas, and got stuck in the middle of the puddle! This caused much hilarility for the nearby villagers, who came out to try and help us, to no avail. Eventually, after about an hour and a half (and Jason falling over in the puddle) we had to be towed out of the puddle by a UWA vehicle.

The villagers tried to help us
Pondering what to do!
During the time that Craig and Marianne spent with us in Mbarara, Jason's colleagues from the Institute of Computer Science threw a farewell party for him at the Lakeview Hotel.  It was quite informal, and (thankfully) speeches were kept to a minimum - it was great to see how much Jason's colleagues appreciated the work he had done for the department. There was a really nice buffet, lots of beer and soda, and dancing afterwards. A good time was had by all!

Jason receiving a gift from Theodora Twongyirwe, Director of ICS
Jason and I at the ICS Farewell Party

Jason and Evarist enjoying the party

Our next 'goodbye party' was organised by the Pharmacy Department and Faculty of Medicine, and held at the Agip Motel in town. It was a lovely evening, and I was touched by the effort people from my department had made to organise it. More gifts were given to us, including several more wall plaques and some very unusual cow-horn drinks coasters. Unfortunately, I didn't get any photos of the dinner as our camera had given up the ghost by this point!

The final party we had before we left Mbarara was organised by ourselves, to say thanks to all the wonderful people we met during our time in Uganda. We invited colleagues, friends from the area, and fellow VSO volunteers from our 'Cluster'. My colleague Lawrence and his wife Kate had kindly given me a bolt of brightly coloured African fabric as a leaving present, and arranged for their tailor to make me a traditional outfit for the party.

Me with Lawrence and Kate in the traditional outfit they kindly had made for me
We had a goat-roast (the goat was thankfully already slaughtered and chopped up before it arrived at our compound!), and asked the 'Mzungus' to bring a side dish each. We spent all afternoon making chapattis by hand, as well as vegetable kebabs and lots of guacamole from the huge avocados available in Uganda. Jason had to go to a 'Pork Joint' to buy some pork, as the men who were coming to cook the goat were muslim and wouldn't cook pork (luckily, Shivaun had another barbecue we could borrow to cook the pork on). We thought we had far too much food, but it all got eaten.

The meaty BBQ
Anyone Hungry?!
Jason with Christine (one of his students)
After the food, we all moved inside the flat (the Ugandans were freezing sitting outside!). Our VSO friend Shivaun, who also lives in town, had baked us a spectacular chocolate cake - complete with sparklers. We also introduced the Ugandans to barbecued bananas, with melted chocolate inside (not sure what people made of them though!).

We got presented with even more gifts, and it was pretty emotional saying goodbye to all our friends and colleagues.

Jason with the plaque presented to him by his students, Martin and Phaisal

Lawrence liked the book we gave him
Christine gave Jason and I a Hat and Bag made from Banana Leaves
Jason with the ICS Guys
 A couple of days after our party, we reluctanlty left Mbarara and set off on our journey to Kampala. We said our goodbyes to the wonderful staff at VSO Uganda, and headed to the police station to do 'fingerprints' to prove we had committed no crimes during our time in Uganda (I somehow doubt the efficacy of this though, due to the smudging of fingerprints, and the lack of computerised records!).  Our flight plans were changed slightly, due to the British Airways strike, so we ended up flying home with KLM.

I felt numb when we left Uganda - really sad to be leaving everyone there, but looking forward to seeing family and friends back in the UK. We had to change planes in Amsterdam - it was so surreal to be in Europe again...I couldn't remember how to use a self-service restaurant, and was slightly overwhelmed by the choice of things to eat and drink (and the extortionate prices!).

We were met at Heathrow by my wonderful parents, who came armed with a bag of treatsize Cadbury's chocolate bars for the car journey home....yummy! It was nice, if a bit bizarre, to be back in the UK, and we spent a couple of days in Northampton before going back up to Liverpool. We had some really upsetting news a few days after we got home - my lovely Gran passed away, at the age of 97. We managed to see her in hospital a couple of days before she died, and she went peacefully.

My Gran, Cecilia Windram, at our Wedding in Feb 2009
 Obviously, our first couple of weeks back in the UK were pretty stressful. Along with the upset of losing my Gran, we both had new jobs to start. Jason had been lucky enough to land a job as a Deployment Consultant with iSoft, via a phone interview, which started the Monday after we arrived home. I started work as a Locum Pharmacist a week after we got back. In hindsight, we should have given ourselves a couple of weeks to settle in before we started working, but we were stony-broke so didn't really have a lot of choice! It was very strange to be back at work, and after a few days, our time in Uganda seemed like a distant dream. We soon realised that most people weren't particularly interested in what we'd been doing in Uganda, which we found quite disheartening.

Life carried on as normal for a while, and then we had some more horrible news in October. Jason's Dad, Ron, got rushed into hospital and passed away a couple of days later. It was a terrible shock for everyone, especially as Ron was still relatively young at 64. It's still difficult for everyone to come to terms with.
Jason's Dad, Ron, at our Wedding
We've been back in Liverpool for nine months now, and we are so glad that we took the plunge and went to Uganda with VSO. It's certainly given us both a different outlook on life and broadened our horizons. Although life in Uganda for us could be frustrating at times, we miss it a lot. Life back in the UK is so hectic, and there seems to be so little time to get things done. Everyone has such busy lives, and meeting up with friends, and even family members, can take months of planning. We feel a lot more tired after a days work here, but are enjoying our new jobs on the whole. Gone are the days of a two-minute walk across the road to work - Jason frequently works away in Barrow-in-Furness, which is a two-hour drive away.

One thing that has struck me, as a pharmacist, since we got back is how ungrateful people in this country are about the health-care they receive. Doctors and hospital care are free of charge to everyone, as are all drugs for the majority of people (apart from people who work, who have to pay £7.20 per prescription item). But I hear people complain every day that the health-service is terrible in this country, and I have been sorely tempted on many occasions to give people a piece of my mind and remind them that many people in the world do not have access to even the most basic healthcare - but I think it would go in one ear and out the other!

We miss Uganda so much, and the friends we made there. We still keep in touch with some of our old colleagues, and are hoping to go back to Uganda for a holiday early next year.

We would definitely tell anybody who gets the chance to do something like we did to JUST GO FOR IT!! It's so easy to make excuses not to do it, and it is a daunting thing to do, but at least we will not spend the rest of our lives regretting not doing it. 

We have the most amazing memories of Uganda, and those are absolutely priceless.