My alarm either startles me awake, or I get up an hour before it goes off. The determining factor of which way I start my day is complex. If the electricity is on the night before so the fan runs, if the noise outside my window ends before 2 in the morning, if the heat is terrible or only bad, if the mosquitos get inside my net, if I have heartburn from the food, if I have had enough water therefore am up numerous times to go to the bathroom, if my mind is racing ahead to the lessons I will be teaching for the day, if I have a blog in mind I haven’t had time to write…any combination of these can keep me awake. The other option is that I am so exhausted from the long day and the heat that I fall right to sleep and sleep hard as a rock. I never know which kind of night I will have.
Once I am up at 6:30, I dress and pack my bag for the day. It doesn’t take me long to get ready since I take a cold shower the night before in an attempt to be cool long enough to get to sleep. Packing my bag for the day actually takes longer than getting dressed. I carry mosquito wipes, hand sanitizer, tissue to use in the bathroom, sunglasses, sunscreen, baby powder, neck towels, Advil, fuel rod for my phone with cords, Tums, mints, gum, passport, and money. I fill and attach a water bottle to the outside of my bag. Then I get out a 1.5 liter bottle of water and mix it with Crystal Light or an electrolyte powder. Now I am ready to go down to eat breakfast at 7:00. We pack the van at 7:30 with our materials for the day, we load up and are off to the camp.
The ride out is 1 ½ hours. The road is dusty in dry season and muddy in wet. It is bumpy all the time. The driver weaves back and forth in attempt not to hit the biggest bumps. All along the road people walk or ride bikes. It is rural landscape most of the way, with mud huts dotted periodically. You cannot tell where the people are going because there is nothing in sight in either direction. You only know that they have to walk a long way to do anything. Women carry everything on their heads, except the babies on their backs.
We arrive at the school by 9:00 if everything goes according to plan, which is rare. Usually, our conference starts a bit late since we have to wait for the participants to walk to school or ride in a van because of the distance. The rest trickle in as the day goes along, joining in whenever they arrive.
Uche begins with a devotional time in which he uses scriptures of refugees in the Bible. Last year, it was the story of Joseph. This year it is the story of Ruth. Sitting in a room full of refugees makes you acutely aware that you might never have thought of the familiar Bible stories from the perspective of a refugee. Being in the same space, I can see they relate to every word in ways I cannot comprehend. It also challenges me to go back and reread these scriptures with new eyes.
After devotional time, the first hour and a half session begins. It is either one of our team, or one of the Ugandan team. Typically, we teach active learning techniques and strategies, and their team focuses on curriculum and other aspects of the culture that we are not aware of. It is a match, quite literally, made in heaven. We pull out our chart paper, markers, tape, and anything else we need, since they do not have supplies. Once the session is finished we have a health break, where we eat a snack breakfast, usually some type of bread, with tea at about 11:30 or 12.
Next session begins directly after health break. Another topic, more activities most of which are unfamiliar to the teachers. Much of our time here is teaching them. For example, we did a session on phonics, and many didn’t know the letter sounds, nor how to teach them. Many cannot read very well and they had some ah-ha moments with they saw the sound chart. There are not books at the school, so when we read the book of the day each morning they were mesmerized. Between sessions several of them came on their own and got the books to read. This session leads right up to lunch which can be delayed if the cooks have any difficulty finding firewood or fetching water. Sometimes, the next presenter goes ahead and begins while we wait for the food to be finished usually between 2 and 3:00.
At lunch we usually have rice, beans, posho (a maze product the consistency of overcooked grits) and whole fish, chicken or beef and some sauce. We eat with our hands, and wash at a small tank of water nearby. The bathrooms are squatty potties, which is a hole in the ground. They have doors, and concrete floors, so they are nice as squatty potties go. In the heat, it is best to go as quickly as possible, which takes some skill and lots of practice.
After lunch, the sun is the hottest so it is difficult to focus. We usually do all kinds of transition activities and songs. The teachers love them and it gets us all more alert. The classroom is mudded which is where the community came together, chopped up the dirt and added water and then put the mud onto a framework made from sticks. It is amazingly insolated, but in the heat of the day the mud cannot keep the temperature from climbing. The wind whips up from time to time, filling the room with dust. The charts that are taped blow off the walls. Even the lizards come into the room to try to get out of the sun. Goats, ducks, and cows wander around just outside the windows. I wonder how you ever get students to pay attention in this environment. We use string and clothespins we brought to rig up a way to hang posters without tape. They still blow in the wind, but do not come down. The chalk board is plywood that has been painted black. It is rough and does not erase well with the piece of cloth we use. Yet, we plow on with our session which goes from 3:00 to 5:00. This time we broke it into an hour session and an hour make and take so they could create some resources to use with the materials we brought. Glue, tape, scissors, chart paper, markers…it was like Christmas.
At the end of the day, we have afternoon tea, which I cannot drink since it is served hot. We pack all the materials up to carry back with us. We take down all the charts, etc… because if we don’t they will be taken in the night. Paper is a hot commodity as is string and wood. They even take the teacher’s desks into a locked teachers’ room, because they could be used for firewood if chopped up. Imagine having to disassemble your room every night before leaving. A blank slate every single day.
We load up in the van and bounce back to our hotel. We usually arrive around 6:30 and go to eat right away to refill the energy the sun took. Our hotel has a restaurant which serves the same thing every day, or we walk to one around the corner which has more options. There are many foods I do not recognize and usually I avoid those. I am very protective of my digestive tract. I do not have any desire to have traveler’s diarrhea when using a squatty potty in 100-degree heat. I mainly eat rice, beans and chicken. If they have any kind of green vegetable that is cooked I will eat it. I avoid raw veggies because they may have been washed in the water which can be an issue.
Once energy is replenished, we head up to unpack our boxes and repack them for the next day. We prepare our lesson materials ahead of time when we can and then we go item by item to make sure we have everything we need. Sometimes, we leave things behind because we just don’t think about it…like pens, or paper. We are so used to having everything we need at our fingertips it is a challenge to think as if we have NOTHING to start with. By the time we finish it is nearly 11:00.
Once back in my room, I put my feet, which are swollen with the heat, up on the wall for them to go down some. Gravity helps. I make texts and phone calls home. I pray the fan will be working soon. I take the coldest shower possible and go to bed wet with the fan pointed directly on me in case it comes on in the night…which it usually does a few times. The next day we start all over again. We do this for four days in a row, then take Sunday off.
No camp today. I slept in and did my laundry the old-fashioned way. Now, I am sitting in the garden behind the hotel and worshiping with the church around the corner. Their worship is amazing…and loud enough I feel as if I am there. There is a cool breeze because it is early yet and I am in the shade. It is a lovely and much needed break.
Tomorrow we will begin again for the next three days. Same procedure to get ready, but when we arrive at the school the children will be there for the first day of school. Each teacher will get his/her class of around 100 students and we will be there to help them set classroom rules, read books or whatever else they want us to do. We will also deliver the hundreds of pounds of books to the teacher room and show them how to use a card checkout system to share the resources we brought with us. We will only have time to visit two of the schools of the five represented at the conference…because we have to come home sometime! On Thursday we begin our travels in reverse, flying from Arua to Entebbe, then on to Amsterdam and the USA.