fredag 18. desember 2009

Ring the bells: Christmas time is coming!

Warning: if you are a highly oversensitive person, you might want to shy away from some of the following pictures. Mohaha!

We have reached the time for getting into the Christmas spirit, decorating the house, buying gifts and making men from snow and ginger bread dough. I would be doing all this and more "Christmassy" stuff if I were at home.

However, I am not. I am in Uganda. And things are somehow different here. When I look out my window there is no snow, just the sizzling sun drying up the ground, making it red and dusty. When I go on the streets, there are no Christmas lights to be seen. The matatus (taxi-vans), bodas (bicycle-taxis), boda bodas (motorcycle-taxis) and buses are driving crazily around, as they always do. Nevertheless, the increase in people in the streets indicates that something is out of the ordinary. In addition, the occasional Christmas carols booming from some blasted speakers in the barbershops remind me of just what this something is. Even though it feels very different this year, I do actually feel the Christmas spirit some times. I had the strongest sense of Christmas spirit so far this year in a setting I never would have imagined. Take a look; does it give you that "good old-fashioned feeling"?

When I first saw the big bag and heard that there was 80 kilos of freshly slaughtered cow (some parts were still quite warm) in it... well... I was not exactly thrilled. Nevertheless, it turned out to be some good fun. I was laughing so hard someti
mes. The situation was just too strange. Standing in a kitchen with the hind legs of a dead cow in your hands, pulling hard to make it easier to slash, at times fearing to be mutilated by an enormous butchers knife (when there were pieces with too big bones in them, you need to bring out the big knife and chop), while hearing Christmas carols from the PA outside. Surreal, but nice!

It was mostly from outside I got the strong sense of Christmas spirit. However, it wasn't caused by the reggae versions of the familiar Christmas carols. It came when I saw the kids. Their faces were simply glowing. You could see the excitement from a miles distance. Some of them were also taking part in the entertainment, I could recognize the very familiar feeling of being nervous and proud, walking around being pre-occupied, wanting to go through the program one last time before the show. The food; rice, meat and a soda probably caused others' excitement! It might be the only meal of this kind the whole year.

Everywhere I looked, there were excited and grateful faces. There were so many positive feelings at the same time; I was almost overwhelmed by the Christmas spirit. People were kind, open and grateful. Grateful to CRO and grateful to God. It was the first Christmas party I've been to where Jesus got a louder handclap and more cheering than the food and presents combined. Different, but in a very good way. The true Christmas spirit was definitely found in most people in CRO on that hot, sunny, dusty, noisy December day.

I wish you all a lovely Christmas celebration and heaps of Christmas spirit!

lørdag 5. desember 2009

Pallisa road

I think it was the first day I brought my camera to the CRO. When I got home, I saw that one face reappeared in most of the pictures. It was the face of a young boy.
I hadn't really noticed him before, but the following days I started talking a bit to him. He said that he would like to talk to me again, just the two of us. He had something he wanted to tell me. I was very excited that he actually took the initiative and asked me, and I of course said that I'd love to talk to him, anytime. The problem was just that there was no time the following days. After that, he was no longer attending the project daily.

I hadn't talked to him for a while when I found him half-asleep outside our office. He was soaked with sweat and his forehead was burning. It was still early, so the nurse was not yet there. Therefore, I took him away from the hot sun and put him in our office with a wet cloth on his forehead. He lay on the floor of the office for about fifteen minutes, then he started quivering. I was sincerely worried. When I went outside to check if anyone could help me with the boy, I saw that the nurse had come. The boy and I went from the office to the clinic. The nurse said it was malaria. He got some medication, food and water. During the day, the quivering ended and his temperature stabilised. I was no longer worried. I even thought I could get an opportunity to talk to him the next day. I didn't. After that day, I didn't talk to him at all for a long time. In fact, I didn't see him at all for almost a month.

It's always bad when someone you'd like to talk to doesn't show for a whole month, but it's even worse when it's a street child. You can never know if they have someone to watch out for them, or if they're left to themselves in the dark and dangerous nights.

Luckily, he came back after about a month. He was looking quite shabby, but I didn’t really care; he was there. When I saw him he was on his way out, but he promised to come back the next day so that we could talk. He didn't. Two more weeks without a sign of life. The next time I saw him was when we were on a street walk. He was picking coffee beans by the bus park. The second I spotted him, I went to talk to him. He reeked of fuel. His eyes were hazy. We'd come too late today, he'd already taken his first sniff. Nevertheless, he still remembered me and promised to come back to the CRO. He did.

We finally got the opportunity to talk properly. He told me that he'd spent the month he didn't come to the CRO in Kampala with his father. "What about your mother? Is she also in Kampala?” They weren't. He said that he's got two mothers, I asked how that could be possible. “Which one is your birth mum?” He didn't elaborate. He has two mothers and that’s final. One of them lives in Pallisa, a little more than an hour from Mbale. The other one stays in somewhat closer. He doesn't specify, he just points in a direction and says "There." He doesn't live with her. She beat him every day, that's why he ran away and started going to the streets. Now, he's living with a friend in the slum area. One quick look at the boy shows that his shelter isn't all that. His clothes are worn out and filthy. His fingernails are long and black with dirt. His odour is a mixture of sweat, fuel and clothes worn on a daily basis but washed on a monthly basis. He doesn't really want to live where he lives now; he wants to go to the mother in Pallisa. However, he doesn’t have enough money to go there.

He's wondering if it would be ok for him to ask me something. There are two things that he wants so badly. "Number one... I want a CRO uniform."

This poor young man is talking to a girl whose skin colour practically screams; "ATM, cash withdrawal!" and all he's asking for is a shorts and a t-shirt from the CRO, he's not even asking for anything from me personally.

His second request was this one; "And I want to go back to school". He's actually motivated to go back to school. That is really a huge deal considering the fact that he's seventeen and will have to resume primary four.

We lay a plan together on how he'll achieve these two goals. The first thing is that he'll have to keep coming to the CRO. He promised to keep coming throughout December, and in return, I promised to have some private tutoring with him in English, maths and computer. In January, he'll start the rehabilitation class, where he'll be given the CRO uniform. After the rehabilitation class, he'll be off to school. I will do what I can to make sure that the school is in Pallisa, where the non-violent mother lives. The road to Pallisa is long and bumpy. It's not going to be an easy ride. I merely hope we can commence the journey and travel some of the distance together.

søndag 29. november 2009

Days of our lives

In a blog, you're supposed to write about things that might interest others. I haven't written a blog in a long time, I haven't found all that much I think will interest others. However, during the last couple of weeks, we've had quite a few visitors, and I realised that our everyday lives are actually quite exotic and interesting in their eyes. Therefore, I figured it might be just that to others as well, hence, I'll blog about it. I'll take you through an ordinary day here in Mbale.

I get up at about seven; turn on the oven and start preparing scones for breakfast.

Marthe and I eat and chat for a little bit too long every morning and rush a bit through brushing the teeth and, for me, putting my hair up (it's way too hot to wear it down, even though this is the cold season!). We then walk the thirty minutes to CRO. About ten-fifteen strangers greet us every day during these thirty minutes. They're all asking how we are. The weird ting is that almost none start asking until we've passed each other. Moreover, they keep on talking as they walk in the opposite direction, back to back (it's amazing how long you can keep a conversation going while you're walking away from each other, back to back. Marthe once witnessed such a conversation stretching out for about fifty meters!). When we're about halfway to the CRO, we hear shouting from a distance "Silia! Mafhotte!" Some of the kids from the CRO catch up with us and we walk the last bit together.

When we reach the CRO, the doorkeeper, called Mordercai, opens up the gate for us and welcomes us, followed by about five-ten kids who come over and say hi. Then, we're off to morning devotion. It lasts for an hour and contains prayer, worship and a special message from one member of staff (or two, as is the case when Marthe and I are in charge). After the devotion, I teach my class which consists of the children who are about to join P1 (first class in primary school) in numbers. I do so in what is usually the dining, but for the occasion we've put the benches and tables like desks and chairs in a class room, and a portable blackboard is put on one of the tables, then; I try my very best to teach them how to count, but above all how to concentrate. That can truly be challenging sometimes, but it's not easy to stay angry with them. They're just too sweet and lovable!

After class, the kids have porridge (maize flour and water) and I try to make sure they don't make too much of a mess. The kids themselves clean up the mess that they've made before they can play. Oftentimes, I join the kids when they are playing around in the compound, other times I take one kid aside and have private tutoring or counselling. Sometimes, we also just goof around in our office and have fun with a camera.

Then, it's lunchtime. Mmmmm... lunchtime! We eat beans and posho every day, except for when we have visitors; then we get meat. Nevertheless, I actually prefer the posho and beans. It's yummy! In addition, we also get the world's best fresh passion fruit juice! After lunch we train the kids in our groups in various circus games, I'm in charge of the Chinese plates group. They've made me so proud in the presentations the previous week!

When the day in CRO is over, we do some grocery shopping and go home. The way home is pretty much the same as when we're going to the project; many people greet us and make us feel very welcome. When we've reached home, we drop our bags and I sometimes head to Namatala (the slum area) by myself. I go to buy fruit and vegetables for dinner in the marked. It's really a nice trip to take, especially now that people are starting to recognize me, and say Silia, not just Mzungo. I buy lovely avocadoes and tomatoes from Juliet, the mother of a girl in the CRO, and bananas from a woman that only speaks Swahili. I'm always overjoyed when I understand the price she's giving me, and she's always laughing when I don't get it.

After shopping for dinner for the two of us, spending about 1500 UGSX (4,50 NOK), we go home and prepare the food. When the electricity is out, we sit outside and light up our paraffin cooker.

If there's still some spirit left in us after the dishes, we go out our door and into the library and start a disco with our great, African comrades. We do salsa, swing and other fun stuff until we're too tired to keep going.

At that time, Marthe and I retreat to have a little time with each other before going to sleep. We do as Jack Johnson expresses so neatly in "Banana pancakes"- we close the curtains, pretend like there's no world outside. Good night, Uganda!

onsdag 4. november 2009

A step in the right direction

Some time ago, we were at a football match with the CRO-team. They're actually in the top league in Uganda, so it's a good team. In the first half, Marthe and I sat under a roof on one side of the field where all the grown-ups sat. On the other side of the field there was no roof, but a mighty lively gang. The children from the CRO and many other young people were dancing and playing drums and cheering. We decided to go over there for the second half.

As we walked over to the other side, some of "our girls" came running towards us to greet us and make us come and sit with them. We felt very welcome, and this was indeed the more festive side. However, the seats weren't all that. There were just concrete steps with no support for the back or anything. Therefore, I decided to stand up for a bit. I left the girl I'd been devoting most of my attention to in order to stretch my legs for some time.

When I got up and freed my attention, I started noticing things. There weren't only CRO-kids with "God loves me" on their backs surrounding me. Most of the kids were probably still on the streets. Their clothes were ragged and their faces and legs were dirty. Then, I spotted a kid that's been coming to CRO for a while now. Two seconds after he caught my eye, I saw him catch something else. He snatched a bottle from another young boy. The other boy hardly reacted; he just looked up and after the CRO-boy, his eyes hazy and red. There wasn't cola in that cola-bottle. Whether it was glue or airplane-fuel, I'm not sure. Nevertheless, it was probably one of the two.

When I'd spotted the first bottle, they suddenly appeared everywhere. A closed fist against the nose, a bulk under a shirt, bottles... The singing, dancing and drumming all of a sudden got another side to it. Some of the most active dancers and cheerers had an unstable walk and woozy eyes. And the smell. It quickly became piercing. The entire place reeked of glue and fuel.

However, that wasn't the worst part of it. The worst thing was that there was no one there to stop it. No one to take the bottles away or look after the children to keep them from doing these foolish things. The children can't help it. When you're eight years old, there are limits to your long-term thinking. And most of the time, these children don't have anyone to do this thinking for them...

This is where I should have come with a hopeful ending. A bright solution. But right now, I can't see a quick-fix. The only hope for many of them might be to come to the CRO, but even that doesn't necessarily guarantee a change. However, it could be a step in the right diredtion.

A well-earned tribute

I've written a couple of blogs since I came here. They've given an impression of what life is like in Uganda. However, when I thought of what I'd written, I realised that I'd left out a vital part. The thing I assign this tribute to is actually a very big part of my everyday life. Marthe and I have even made a lovely piece of art in honour of this marvellous thing. I am of course, for those who know me, talking about food. But not just any food. I'm talking about the Chapatti!


We started out quite lightly, but as time went on, the most of our garbage consisted of Chapatti-wrappings. Out of curiosity, we decided to count how many we have every month. Therefore, we've made a lovely list that's situated on the door of our living room. We've got pens stuck to the door to make the notation less troublesome. The blue lines are the ones we've bought; the green ones are our own attempts to make the dish (not quite so heavenly).

The fascinating thing about the Chapatti is that it's like the potato; it can be used for anything! Breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, snack, picnics. It's grand anyway! You can have it with cinnamon and sugar, avocado and tomato, banana, Nutella (yes, my dear ones, I've found Nutella!) or you can take it plain.
It's amazing either way. I know this might look very silly compared to many of the other things I've written about. Nevertheless, it's me; a food blog was unavoidable!

lørdag 17. oktober 2009

About the Child Restoration Outreach - CRO

I've been asked what the CRO does a lot of times, and I haven't really been sure what to answer. The CRO does so much, there are so many activities, and I don't even think I know all of them. But even though I don't know all the activities taking place, I think I can sum up what they do and why they do it by leaning on the words from Matthew 25, 35-40.

When the children are hungry, they feed them. When they are thirsty, they give them drink.

When new kids come, they are taken in. Even though they're not in the program, they can stay there and play with the others.

When the children lack clothes, they cloth them

When children fall sick, they care for them at the clinic

And one can wonder: why do they do all this? The explnation can be found in the fact that CRO is a christian organization and what is done to one of His smallest brothers, is done to Him.

Round-ups - street children being fenced in

As I've mentioned earlier, the police are imprisoning street children at the moment. They're having what they call a round-up. Round-ups are measures taken by the police to get children and others off the streets. They do mostly consist of policemen going around beating the children and putting them in prison. According to a friend of mine, the police can take all kids without identification papers to jail. How many children do you think remain if the police get to them? How many children go around with ID papers on them? It's outrageous.

The causes for these round ups vary; the ongoing one is, according to a teacher at the CRO, due to the uprising in Kampala between followers of the Kabaka and the president's men. The government seems to think that the street children and other residents of the streets played a big role in the riot. They find it necessary to take severe action. But it wouldn't suffice to have round-ups in Kampala, oh no. If there was a riot in Kampala that might have involved street children, there's no guarantee that it won't happen elsewhere as well. This has resulted in round-ups in all major cities in Uganda, where many street children wind up being fenced in.

I can see that the intentions of the round-ups are defendable; they're there to get children off the streets. But the results are a bit more problematic. For the kids that don't get off the streets, they only get a beating and jail time, and then, when the round-ups are over, they go back to their ordinary street lives. So the round-ups don't cause any large changes in their lives. But for some, their lives change a bit. Some children may get off the streets, but does that make their lives all that much better?

A life on the streets is not a decent life in any way. A lot of suffering and pain awaits the children that go to the streets, I've seen it myself. And if they felt like they had another choice, I hardly think anyone would choose the street life. This means that the life they left could be even worse, or at least not all that much better, than living on the streets. So I wouldn't say that these children's new situation necessarily count as success stories of the round-ups. The only positive effect in Mbale, as far as I can see, is that it brings new children to the CRO. And that is actually a rather good thing, because it's a step in the direction of education and a brighter future, a future off the streets. But not even that can justify the means of the police. There is nothing that under any circumstances can justify the abuse of children!

søndag 11. oktober 2009

Coping up with new realities

I can't believe that I've only been here for a week. It feels as though I've been here for months. Things are already starting to feel quite normal. But at times, it really strikes me that I'm not yet familiar with the situation. I still can't quite see what's beyond the immediate reality that I experience. This especially applies to the reality of the children I meet at the CRO. When I'm with them, they just laugh and smile and play, like all kids do. I can see that their clothes are very worn and dirty, but all kids soil and tear their clothes. Some of them are sleeping around on the premises, but I don't give it that much thought. I feel quite sleepy myself sometimes, it's nice to lie down in the shades when it's a hot day. And their blinding smiles give the impression that there's not much more to it than that. But their eyes tell a different story.

Their eyes show glimpses of insecurity and despair. When I let myself really see these glimpses, I can't help but think about what causes them. The insecurity of whether they'll get another meal before lunch at CRO the next day or not. Insecurity regarding who to trust these days when the police are monitoring the streets and imprisoning street children, and other adults try to scare them from the streets by abusing them. When these thoughts occur, I get another view on the kids who are sleeping during the day. They're not merely lazy kids, escaping the burning sun. They might be among the many kids who didn't make enough money during the previous day to afford a safe place to sleep, so they had to stay up all night to not be abused. Many kids have bruises and wounds, like all kids, but I can't help but wonder how they got them. Did they just take a wrong step and fall, or did someone else cause them?

The despair in their eyes is probably caused by the fact that they can't find a way out of the current situation. They want to get out so badly, but they need help and they don't quite know which way to turn because they don't know who to trust. But even though these glimpses of despair and insecurity occur, their eyes speak of so much more. Like their smiles, their eyes also tell of the joy of playing, getting positive feedback on what they do and being given a hand to hold. And you can see the hope in their eyes, hope for a better future. Even though they don't know how to get there, they have dreams and aspirations of a better life. A life as a teacher, a pilot, a social worker or a doctor. And I think that one of the reasons they dare to dream, even when they’re in these desperate and truly unbearable situations, is that they believe what it says on the back of the CRO t-shirt; God loves me

Our p(a)lace!

For all who are interested, here's our new home;

Starting from the top left side, you can see the shower, the hallway and our lovely toilet. Then we have the kitchen and the living room.
From the bottom left side, you can see my lovely pictures of my friends and family, Marthe’s room on top in the middle, and my room on the bottom. Then you can see my door (covered with pictures of friends and family) and some more pictures including ones of Team Eckbo (they were actually already in the apartment, can you believe it?!)

The first blog from Uganda!

As I'm writing this blog, Marthe and I are sitting in the living room in our new apartment in Mbale. It's a good thing my fabulous computer has such a good battery, because the electricity has disappeared for the second time since we came last night. But it's all good; we've got matches and paraffin-lamps. And it's not like the temperature drops drastically as it would have in Norway.

I've been in Uganda for four days now, and I'm left with many impressions and experiences. It would take a long time to write them all, but I'll let you in on a couple of them.

African time
Of course I've had some experiences with the African perception of time. Already on the first day, this was portrayed quite clearly. We were supposed to leave our hotel at eight o'clock to go to Jinja and spend the day there. When almost all of us were ready at about ten past eight, the last person came to join us, we thought. And that would really not have been such a big deal, ten minutes isn't too much. But she wasn't coming to join us; she was calmly going to have breakfast! Fascinating :)

Feeling lost
Where am I? Something is tight around my neck, I can hardly move, everything is a white blur... What on earth is going on? Help!
It usually takes a bit longer for my logical sense to wake up than it takes for my physical senses. This resulted in a bit of panic before I managed to awake my reasonable side. Due to loud music from a club nearby, I had put on my iPod the night before and I'd obviously managed to twirl the chord around my neck, during the night I'd also twisted my sleeping-bag to form a sort of stray-jacket and the white blur was simply mine and Kaia's wonderful mosquito-net-castle. Puh!

The people

The hospitality and kindness is striking. Even when it's a more official meeting, like at the head quarters of Stromme, people are still so warm and welcoming. They greet you with a smile and ask how you're doing and they sincerely seem to be happy to meet you. The African perception enables people to take the time to be nice to each other. It’s a very good side-effect that we could really learn from in Norway!

søndag 20. september 2009


When I posted this blog, it was just about 256 hours 'til I'll be leaving Modum, bound for Mbale. It's crazy that the time at Hald is really going towards the end. In many ways, it feels as though it was yesterday the puzzled girl arrived here with no clue of what she had signed up for. At the same time, it feels like I've been here for ages. In this relatively short period of time, Hald has become a home away from home. Even after the week-end I went home to Vikersund, I thought of going to Hald as going "back home". People often say that "home is where your heart is", and I think that might be the case with Hald. With all these amazing people and good things going on, it's no wonder Hald is starting to feel like home =)

So it's no wonder I "jump" every time I realise that something is happening for the last time in a long time. This is for example my very last Sunday at Hald in more than seven months. There's simply not much time left here, meaning that it's starting to look bad for my plans of going horseback-riding for the first time, sleeping outside and becoming a "regular " at the yellow café on the corner in Mandal. But there's really no need to whine, after all, it's merely about 220 days 'til we're back again! Hooray! And those days will probably fly by, filled with wonderful experiences and a lot of good people in Uganda! So, hooray to that as well!

onsdag 9. september 2009

Mbale, here I come (in merely 22 days)!

(Picture from

The tickets are booked, all the vaccinations are done and I've stacked up a seven-month supply of Lariam. The fact that I'll actually be outside of Norway for over half a year, straight, is slowly dawning on me. Sure, I've known that I'd leave in the beginning of October the past six months. But there is a huge difference between knowing the answer when being asked: "What will you be doing next year?" and actually having an idea of how the next year is going to be.

That is an almost impossible question to answer. But I'm pretty sure that's what the
precourse at Hald is supposed to help us with. To give us an idea of how our lives are going to be this year. Through the lessons given here, we get prepared to live in another culture where people have world views that are worlds apart from our own. The "international students" (from Brazil, Peru, Nepal, China, Lao, Thailand, Madagascar, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Cameroun) living at Hald also contribute to our education on this subject.

Some of the things I've learned and experienced at Hald, have shook my nerves a bit regarding the next seven months. But I've definetly been more reassured that my stay in Uganda is going to be a good one after I came here. The slightly queasy, nervous feeling I got when I thought of Uganda, is turning into pure exitement. And a very important reason to this change is my lovely team-partner, Marthe. And, to me, looking at this picture further validates my hopes for a good year!

Marthe and Silje, the "Mbale-mzungos"!