Saturday, 21 April 2012

Dear Gran..

I just wrote a big long letter to my gran, and realised it was a nice summary of what life is like here in Mbarara, so you out there in blogland might want to read it, too. Have edited out some of the more boring bits that only a grandmother would be interested in!

Dear Gran,

I’ve been thinking of you so wanted to write a letter. I’m sad that when I’m far away I don’t get to see you, but I do think about you often.

Life here in Uganda is lovely, but always harder than life at home. I live in a small town called Mbarara, which is actually the second biggest town in the country after the capital, Kampala. When coming from the UK it’s hard to call it even a town – our first supermarket opened last month, and it’s only as small as a local co-op! Only about a third of the roads are paved, the rest are compact mud and get destroyed in the rainy season. We have two nice restaurants and a hotel with a (sometimes clean) swimming pool, and are only 4 hours from Kampala, which is a big city with everything you could ever want.

Something I like about here, though (on most days!) is that shopping is a lot like I’ve heard it used to be in England, where you had to go to at least three different shops, and the market, to do a weekly shop. I like meeting so many people and going all over town every week, though it certainly is nice now to have the option to go to the supermarket when you’re tired. It’s a lot more expensive though!

Where I live now is a small house on a hill on the edge of town, next to my school where I’m studying for a diploma in counselling. It looks a lot like a small bungalow (much smaller than yours!) and has most of the things you’d find in a house back at home, including a fridge, stove, running water and electricity and a garden. I say we have running water and electricity, but actually both are pretty unreliable – we’re on our third (*edit* now fifth) day now with no water, and I had a bucket bath this morning! Electricity is on about 75% of the time, so we keep candles and torches for those unexpected times when there’s no power. It’s a brick house with a tin roof (which gets loud in the rain!). In fact, about half of the houses here now are made of brick with good roofs. There are still many people living in mud houses, but the town is getting more developed and living conditions are improving for many people.

Even though we have no water, it’s actually the rainy season right now! There’s only two seasons here, not four, and it changes from very dry and hot to very wet and hot in a matter of days. The rainy season was very late this year and we almost had a drought – in fact it got to the point where you had to buy tap water in town. Hopefully we won’t get back to that any time soon. However, the rain here is so powerful that if it’s raining hard you’re stuck wherever you are, unless you have a car. You can’t go outside or you’ll be completely soaked, and no local transport will take you as they won’t work in the rain.

One of my favourite things about living in Mbarara is the motorbike taxis, that we call boda bodas. They are small motorbikes that function as taxis and are a really cheap way to get around. If you’re wearing a skirt (which is often, as it’s more socially appropriate at work and in formal situations) then you need to sit side saddle, like the ladies used to on horses. If you have a good driver then you don’t need to cling on, but it’s always a pretty exciting ride!

I’m now a little way through my two year counselling diploma, which will qualify me to work in the UK if I get certified there. I love studying counselling, and don’t regret leaving science behind as I find I’m much better at working with people than I ever was in the lab. The science comes in really helpful when we study the brain, and as health and hygiene is so important for life here, I’m already well trained in those areas and can include it in my counselling.

When I’m not studying (I’m at school 1 week out of every 4) I’m teaching at a small young women’s project in town. We have a group of four girls who have just finished high school, and they join us to learn life skills and get Bible training. I’m their main teacher, and am responsible for helping them grow into ‘all-rounders’ – people that make good decisions in life and are healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually. We started a month ago, and so far have done courses in baking, knowing yourself including strengths and weaknesses, and knowing who God is and how to have a personal relationship with Him. As you can see, I teach a huge variety of things! They will also learn farming, computer skills and crafts, and soon I will start teaching them to swim.

We are now in the third year of teaching with the project, and our third class of four girls. Each class joins us for 6 months (the other 6 months is planning and fundraising), and we’ve had fantastic success with graduates – all 8 girls who have finished the project have gone on to further education. That’s is far higher than the national average of girls going to university (I haven’t got any statistics, but it seems to be about 30% of girls that go on to further education). They all have plans for their future and when they get married and have children, are skilled at passing on what they’ve learned. In fact, a lot of them haven’t waited, and at least half have started classes at their university to teach what they learned at our project.

Soon I’ll be moving into my own house which is only 15 minutes from where I work – at the moment I live in a volunteer’s house at my counselling school, and it’s really kind of them to have me there but I can’t stay for too long as I’m not a volunteer for them. I have a Ugandan friend who’s soon moving to Germany, and I will get his house. It’s a lovely house, better furnished than where I am now (I’ll have an oven, and a TV!) and even more secure as well.

The rent will be about £100 per month though I will have a housemate, as my income is only about £150 per month. That’s just enough to live on, though it would be lovely to have more to be able to do more for the project. We hope to expand and have more girls each year, but now have no accommodation for more than 4. All of our income comes from people donating from the UK, and my bosses' salary (she's a full-time teacher, as well), but we trust God that soon we will expand.

I know you remember my boyfriend, Brendan (The Irish one!). He’s out here as well, directing the building of a university (in fact, my counselling school will soon be a part of his university). This is the first time we’ve lived in the same country, and it’s taken some adjusting to being around each other so much! He works much longer hours than me, as his project is far bigger so it’s hard to spend time together, but we’re just thankful we’re finally living in the same country. We’re really happy, and I hope you get to meet him again soon.

I hope I’ve given you a good idea what life is like here! I’ll be coming home for a visit in June, so can’t wait to see you then.

With love,

Louise xxxx

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