These years Christmas is low key.
Four weeks ago I went back to work and landed myself in East Africa, Uganda to be exact. My work even took me to the north of the country, in Arua. When I arrived I knew that I will be spending the holidays away from home, that’s why I made connections to the only Ugandan friend I have … Silvester.
Sil and I worked for a year in Palestine. Living in Gaza for the whole of two thousand and sixteen, and I got to know his family. From the many stories we shared hanging around the house, for the lack of places to go that is not banned and the lack of other expats who do not have the same security restrictions as us, I got to know them as if we’ve met.
So when I arrived in Uganda, the second day, I met Martha, his beautiful wife and the latest addition to his brood of three boys – Michael. The little tot is special to me … he’s the namesake of my dad and both were born on the feast day of St. Michael September 29, eighty-three years apart.
It has been decided much later that I will be spending the whole Christmas break in their house and with his family in Kampala.
In the outskirts of Kampala is where the Kasozi is raising their family. The house is exactly how he described it and from the photos, he had shown when he broke ground.
Coming over though was a bit of a challenge, having driven long hours from Arua that day, I was eager to just get to their home. We set off quite late than normal because of some last minute paper works before the office is officially closed for the holidays. We lost three hours from the usual six-morning rendezvous, we set off at nine and there were near mishaps along the way plus the mandatory lunch and shopping. We reached the city center at the peak of the traffic of Kampala and being the last to be dropped off I reached Martha’s home at ten that night.
I’ve been on the road for over thirteen hours. Felt like I traveled from Manila to Doha all over again 😳.
The house is over the hills, overlooking south Kampala and across other hills. Rough road and uphill I was just happy our driver was game despite the late hours.
The morning after
Martha welcomed me despite the time and showed me where I will be sleeping in the next two weeks – I am roomies with the boys VJ and Mattie, three and two years old sleepyheads. When they woke up they wondered who is there sleeping in what used to be empty bed across their room.
Sweet boys, I woke up with being addressed as Aunty followed by “how are you?” Two sets of eyes wondering who this muzungo is … the white-skinned aunty (although I am more brown than white 👩🏻🦱).
The boys born a year apart are like twins. They wore similar clothes when we go out and copy each other all the time. But more than that they are frenemies. Always someone is crying and calling for mommy but when they are in good terms they are the image of bliss. A sweetheart if you ask me until one bites the other 🤭.
Good thing mom has the patience of a saint. Never saw her angry, stern yes but not angry nor frustrated. Wondering how some parents react when one and worst three are acting up together making a riot. Waiting to see what Michael is like when he turns two … it would be a noisy house over Seguku hills.
I am thankful for this experience, an immersion I didn’t plan. In the Philippines, to experience 101 hospitality one needs to be invited to live in a Filipino house, rich or poor the experience will be profound. Same as I have here although I imposed my visit I am experiencing a holiday like no other.
Happy to meet Silvester and Martha’s family including their immediate extended family. It is truly wonderful to live a life like a local even though I am muzungo.
It will be hard to leave but will soon do before I overstay my welcome, but actually to return to work up north.
I like to take the car when I travel to and from Kampala from my home in Arua, almost 500 kilometers away. When alone in the car with the driver I get to see everything and take photos all I want, like this highway in front of me.
The bridge in front of me is the sign I am almost home after a little over six hours in the road. Two more and I will finally be at the comfort of it.
Meantime, I enjoyed watching the clouds in front of me and marvel at the blue skies that welcome me back in the north of Uganda.
Seriously, how can you not love doing development work when you see your team braving the midday sun to reach people in their homes. Not going for lunch until all are seen and given the time to share their stories.
It has been cold in Arua in the past couple of weeks, well okay for over a month now and for someone coming from the tropics its welcome season. I had enough of the hot weather that a little bed weather is all I need to enjoy my weekends in my house.
With the heavy downpour looming I am anticipating a nice soup for dinner or a chilly night covered with a blanket and a nice grilled sandwich while watching marathon movie of John Wick.
Since I moved into the new house, one I can call my own until the end of my engagement here in Uganda, I started to enjoy my evenings.
For over a week now, I stopped going home late. One because I am done with my acting roles as head of the base and logistics support and two I lost the privilege of having a night driver at my disposal, so I have to take the daily driver to go home. I take offense in the beginning, but that was petty. I can live with it, I mean without a driver I could ask to buy me eggs and bring me to the supermarket after work. I have to be creative, so I don’t offend people and still enjoy the bliss of being chauffeured to get my groceries once in a while.
As a result, I get to enjoy my house even more. I sit in the balcony with a glass of wine or a cup of espresso and enjoy the blue sky until the sun sets in. Or prepare dinner that cost nothing and eat in front of the tv. And sleep whenever and however I like.
It’s my no stress strategy. Looking at the positive in a negative situation because I know that my issues are nothing compared to the many that I meet every day in the settlement.
I am finally alone in the guest house.
No more housemate for me until the new recruits start coming. So I’ll take advantage of my “me time” while trying to catch up with all my backlogs.
You see the being alone thing comes with a big responsibility that I didn’t ask for. But it sort of like dropped on my lap like a hot potato. The difference is I cannot throw the potato on another person lap because there’s no one else here.
You must be wondering what I am blabbering about. Well, for contexts I will tell you about my week.
For a long time, the mission is struggling to find solutions to make work easy for the program. First, the support team is supposed to do that but something must be blocking them from doing a smooth job despite all the necessary supports provided.
So, before the holidays, the boss finally accepted that the problem is not the lack of capacity, but the lack of integrity of the people themselves, those that were asked to provide support to all the projects in the base. I will not go into so much into detail because I may land my ass in jail for libel or worst I’ll be sent home for this blog.
Fast forward to last week, the person handling the case ended his mission. He had no one else to hand over some of his responsibility to but me – the last one standing in the base out of three. Well, actually I knew they will leave before me, I signed a 12-month contract and theirs was just a quarter of that.
The first one left two weeks prior and it was just as good as being alone but that’s for another letter.
With my colleague leaving I grew another head to put a hat on and started to do some base management. Which I never did before because as many know I am a field person — I like to be out in the sun and shuffling from location to location visiting people.
The field person is the first head, the original head until I arrived here because I was told immediately to do project management at the same time. So the second head grew almost overnight until I hand it over the person we selected last week. I hope she checks out well so I’ll be on my merry technical way.
So back to the original thread of the story.
With the third head, I was suddenly tasked to handle sensitive documents which were for the naive of me didn’t think much of it. But when the document was not well received and signed by the person I used to work with I was confused with the reaction of the higher being that be.
First, it was not my job to handle such a sensitive document when dealing with staffs. Two there was no anticipation on the part of the person responsible and of course if she hasn’t thought of it how will I know it, I am not in Human Resources for a reason. And the lady has the balls to confirm what I already know that I was tricked – because a crook, is a crook, is a crook, that’s all the explanation I needed to make me feel good.
The worst is not that. The person I though supports my debacle further drilled in my incompetence, and a third person did the same. Made me think … are they kidding me? Because it felt like I am the only one who doesn’t know what to do in a situation like that.
I cried a little. Self-pity crept in. And I am ready to throw in the towel because it was clear I cannot do someone else’s job.
Then I am angry. The woman which I thought has balls actually has none. The boss whose always siding with her may also have less of it and the third one is as clueless as me.
I decided to keep the third head realizing that after talking to a very dear friend – there is no one who can do this here and I am ready to take it on until the new person arrives or feel guilty if you know something worst happen. It will be a lot of work for me, but I am not new to hard work and dealing with complicated people so bring it on!
After a good night sleep, I am better.
Today is another day. For the whole morning now I am still trying to find my motivation to open my work computer and get something done, cutting down my backlogs and start fresh on Monday.
Until the next letter. Looking forward to your reply.