the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

Coming and going, ups and downs

on March 8, 2020

I arrived back in Yumbe on Wednesday evening after an eventful few days in Kampala. The immigration office refused to extend my tourist visa as my work visa was being processed. Although I didn’t have all the required original documents with me, colleagues at VSO sent me back to the office to claim my work visa. As VSO is a charity and doesn’t pay from work visas, there was a delay in the issuing process. However, I was the first of all the VSO international volunteers in Uganda to have the  work permit stamped into my passport. I believe others are now following a well trodden path to the immigration office to get their work visas after my success.

The next important job involved updating the registration of my Ugandan SIM card. Mobile phones are absolutely essential in Uganda (and other countries in Africa) because this enables access the internet, WhatsApp for messaging, video and phone calls, social media and most importantly MONEY. I have a mobile money account where VSO deposits my monthly allowance and money to fund the activities I run on the settlement. It is an incredible system whereby it’s possible to withdraw money from kiosks located in even the most remote locations. You can also send money to other people, pay utility bills  and OTT. This is a tax levied on the use of social media and can be paid daily, weekly or monthly depending on frequency of use. I’ve taken to carrying my mobile phone around in my money belt as losing this essential piece of kit would be such a nightmare. However, I’ve since discovered that losing access to the SIM is equally horrific.

My tourist visa expired today and something must have gone wrong with the registration of my work visa as my SIM is not working. My first visit was to the MTN service office in Yumbe where they said re-registering would solve the problem. It took forty-eight hours to get this done the first time, so I’m not confident of a quick result. Now I’m using the internet connection at the hotel to try to resolve the situation. Fortunately, MTN is good at responding to direct messages on Twitter – this is a relief as I obviously can’t contact them by phone. While I’m waiting for a response, I sit in reception at the hotel (the only good place for internet access) and type this post.

The drive back from Kampala to Yumbe was long even with sealed roads most of the way. My driver took a wrong turning at the final stage and we ended up at the border with South Sudan. The photo below shows the crossing point and reinforces the idea that country borders are arbitrary – this view of South Sudan looks exactly the same was the rest of West Nile in Uganda.

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I arrived at my accommodation to find no water and no power. The lack of consistent supply is ongoing in Yumbe. I’m so used to the shortages that I’m now overjoyed to find water and electricity available rather than getting ratty when they’re not. Sleeping without a fan is the worst but it’s amazing how it’s possible to get used to things. I now drip sweat all night as well as all day!

As my departure from Uganda on 1 April 2020 approaches, I’m trying to focus on the memories I will pack to take home. When I was in Guatemala last year, I loved the pat-a-cake sound that echoed from kitchens where tortillas were being shaped. In Uganda, I wake to the sound of sweeping as my landlady tidies the compound each morning.

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And what about this for another sight to behold? Given that it’s International Women’s Day, 8 March 2020, I celebrate this pregnant goat. My friend Tanya first drew my attention to these ladies. How amazing she can stand given that girth! But dear, oh dear, the muck she’s eating.

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And here’s my last photo for this blog post. I was on the settlement on Friday with my colleague doing a vehicular campaign with music and announcements to promote the importance of early childhood development and learning. As soon as families on the settlement hear music, they dance. I love watching them but it’s tinged with sadness. Their lives are so devoid of music that our visit becomes quite an occasion.

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7 responses to “Coming and going, ups and downs

  1. carol1875 says:

    Gosh you need patience and fortitude to do what you are trying to achieve. Well done x

  2. carolcmcgrath says:

    I absolutely love all these posts. What amazing experiences and how stoical you are and patient. XX

  3. Penny Rogers says:

    I love reading your posts, they are all so evocative and perceptive.

  4. jim bates says:

    Hi Gail! Great to hear from you. From this post I’m impressed at how well you are keeping your spirits up and looking at the bright side of things that are obviously not always so sunny. You’re fortitude is astounding and an inspiration to this guy sitting here in the safe security of his home in Minnesota. Thanks for all you are doing. Keep up the wonderful work! I’m thinking of you and saying prayers for you 🙂

  5. Suzanne Goldring says:

    Makes the run on loo roll and kitchen paper here seem utterly trivial! Crazy stockpilers! Not me of course. So impressed with your resilience and cheerfulness.

  6. Jean Marie Vianney HITAYEZU says:

    I like the way you became more resilient.

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