We Met: Joseph #TFBloggers

Joseph's in the background, enjoying the music!

Joseph’s in the background, enjoying the music!

All week we have had two drivers – Joseph and Peter. Joseph has very good English, so we’re able to particularly ask him a lot of questions, and it’s really interesting to see where the cultural differences are, as they negotiate us safely around the incredibly bumpy roads!

He’s been interested to see what we take photos of, says we seem to “love children” (so maybe Ugandan children are more about function?), wonders why we find it strange that live animals are strapped to the back of bicycles, and doesn’t understand why we’d need 3 lanes of traffic going both ways – and why are we always rushing around “being busy”… good questions! I’m not sure he’s keen to live in the UK – just as well I guess!

Meantime, in all the chats about mobile phones, Joseph has one of his own, a Nokia, which rings quite a lot (not too much worry about drive/talk here) – which he says is particularly to keep in contact with his family – who he may not see for 3-4 months at a time (not unusual) – this week he’s been able to stay with them, although he picked up Malaria.. but has been taking injections and carrying on. Joseph also has a Kindle (B&W) – onto which he downloads many books, and also reads lots of information, particularly the BBC news, and he runs a chicken farm and a bricklayer “project” so looks for information to help him learn about that… his latest acquisition is ducks, so he’s reading up on duck husbandry. I asked if he ever went on YouTube for that, but he said mostly books.

The Food So Far: #TFBloggers

So yesterday, on Facebook I put a photo of our meal the evening before “pork and Irish”:


We always know that food will get people talking, and heading off to foreign climes always gives the opportunity to be exposed to other cuisine.

We established pretty early that any restaurant menus are a work of aspiration rather than reality … it comes down to the same choices as we get at our guesthouse each evening:

  • Meat: Chicken, Fish, Pork or Beef
  • Carb: Chips, “Irish”, Rice, Boiled Potato or Chappati

We’re grateful as it means we do get to ring the changes each day – and thankfully as I’m not a great one for whole fish – the choice does include filleted fish. Jay Butcher, who visited Ogongora 18 months ago was surprised to hear that there was pork (less common with a large Muslim population) – but we’ve had it twice (once in the guesthouse & once in the village) … I’m wondering if that’s a sign of success of the PEP process as in the photo below we see that Pastor Pete has 2:

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When we’re in the village, we are treated “royally” – which can actually be quite distressing seeing what the children eat – some kind of porridge made of millet – which may be the only meal that they get all day:

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We, meanwhile, are seated up at the front – and our job is to show appreciation for the food (whilst being aware that any leftovers are available for the villagers) – as this feast is spread out before us:


There has been a big pile of rice each day (served with a bowl), plus some meat, some sauce, and a few other things – below is the infamous ‘goat stew’ we had been warned about – pretty tasty – I’d eat it again (less ‘stringy’ than much of the other meat):

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Simon Martin on Facebook said “In NW Uganda, staple diet is Enya – like brown playdough, made with cassava and millet or sorghum flour” – which I think must be the below (tastes like wet paper, with the consistency of wallpaper paste):

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Yesterday we had the opportunity to watch our dinner being made – in a very hot and smoky hut – spot the chicken’s feet in the pot (and the undeveloped eggs are taken from the slaughtered chicken and eaten also):


We do know that our meals have been pre-paid for but it’s difficult to know that others are watching, but they just seem happy that we’re happy…

And one thing that’s an essential for the food is a bit of a ritual with hand washing … Although we all have handwashing gel, the village has had the importance of handwashing drummed into them, so it’s important that they see us doing it too. Someone comes around with a jug, a bowl and a piece of soap – and we rinse and shake!


Interesting to hear how rice is a growing foodstuff – we’ve had it every day – but before (and maybe it’s just been for us) – more of a use of millet and sorghum.

We Met: Anna #TFBloggers



In our conversation with Nora on Wednesday, we asked whether PEP had improved the position of women in this community, and there was a definite “yes” in reply. Families don’t fight so much – husbands have realised they need to talk to their wives/not drink all the money away. Couples plan together and share ideas, and it’s accepted that all children should go to school – not just the boys… when girls has been seen as just aiming for marriage/housework… but can now aspire for more – including running their own businesses.

Anna is one of those who has benefitted from PEP. She had lost her husband, and was thinking that she would die. Feeling really sick, she went for bloodtests, which returned positive for HIV – she wondered where this could have come from as she has only ever had one husband. Requiring money, she set up a small hotel, but then got sick again and expected to die. The community rejected her, but then came PEP, and she felt that her job was to learn from people, so went back home. If you want to last in Uganda you need to be able to do something with your hands – her brother helped until her strength was back, growing SimSim and Cassava, and bought a goat. Her farm kept growing until she had 15 goats. PEP has given her the income to be able to educate 2 young boys, and although she feels sick again (so please pray for her health), PEP has made life better. She also prays for strength to stay as a widow to ensure that the infection isn’t spread.

The Mobile Revolution? A Conversation with Ben #TFBloggers

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Ben is the facilitator for the PEP process in Ogongora (and other local villages), so I grabbed the chance for a chat with him yesterday about mobile phone usage, and what it has changed about village life.

It has become quite clear this week that phones are being used in the villages, and have improved the situation in small but significant ways, but phones are expensive, and usually individual villagers have other priorities, particularly education – which is seen as a way out of the poverty cycle.

Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG) provides each pastor with a mobile phone (not a smart phone – the talk function is more important). It does allow the national organization to contact each of their pastors quickly, but most look after around 5 villages, so someone in the village also has responsibility for another phone (otherwise there’s no one to talk to). Ben indicated that the main purpose of the phones is easier communication between the villages, rather than the national office.

Ben, in his work as a facilitator types up a report of progress in the villages on a laptop that PAG have provided him with. He then has to get this printed and post it, as he doesn’t yet have a modem.  If he wants to use the internet it’s a 100km round trip, and then a cost of around 1000UGS (about 25p) per hour for internet usage. If he’s going on church business – e.g. some research that ‘s required (the internet being easier to access than books) he can use the motorbike that’s also been provided, otherwise he has to get public transport, which costs around 10,000UGS each way.

When using the internet it’s mostly for research and emails – and also for banking – which he says greatly increases safety – before he had to cycle around with large quantities of cash in his pocket – now he can bank at the start, and withdraw at location… He knows what Facebook is, but hasn’t used it.

I didn’t get the promised chat with Odiirah yesterday as we all had a nap, but we’ve still got time – and I want to ask her what it’s like in her role as Comms for the Pentecostal Assemblies of God (3rd biggest church in Uganda after Anglican, Catholic)

Church: Ogongoran Style #TFBloggers

So, today, the villagers put on a church service for us … as they said “where 2 or 3 are gathered in his name” – and it was certainly more than that though clearly not as full as a regular service… the nursery school joined us – lots of giggling again! Photos can be found on Facebook (open folder)

We’ve heard many tales of how long African services can be … but this was actually in many ways quite similar to a UK church service – songs, a sermon, a collection, prayers – but also very different … lively songs, clapping [in time ;-)], order of service not required (or even made so far as we could see). The sermon emphasised that everything that we have is a gift from God, so we should look after it and share it well… and be grateful for what we do have – quite emotional to hear this in a village where people clearly have so little.. and reminded me of the Widow’s Mite – we often give out of our ‘excess’, whereas they give out of what they have – which may be coins, or may be food.


The Mobile Revolution? #TFBloggers

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Africa is frequently mentioned as one of the places where mobile phones have revolutionalised life – in a country which was too vast to support the infrastructure of landlines,  the mobile has given connectivity to many who had never had it before. As we’ve driven through the towns, there are mobile advertisements everywhere – especially for mobile banking, and almost every other shop appears to be selling SIM cards and airtime. So what is it really like on the ground? Is there an equal spread of usage?

In the Shops

This morning we stopped off to recharge the data on our wifi dongles, and for the best part of £20 was able to get 3GB of data (bearing in mind that I’ve used more than one each day so far!) and still have 4 more to go.. and Tearfund wants us to be free to share what we feel is important! In the small shop, there was the usual cheery advertisements for mobile phone, and those certainly focused on data … although most we’d seen on the streets seem to focus on ‘talking’ on the phone. In the Orange shop there was quite a pile of dongles available for purchase, and a handful of phones – several of which looked like Smartphones – but aside from a Samsung that looked like a Blackberry, and a Nokia, the others were brands I’d not heard of – signposted ‘made in China’.

The Nokia Asha 305 Smartphone is highlighted as games (first and foremost), a Browser, Facebook, Twitter and Email, a camera, Bluetooth, WiFi, MP3 & FM Radio, plus free maps, and sold as ‘faster and cheaper’ than other devices.  A range of phones specifically for the Ugandan market was in the Organge leaflet – leading on ‘Internet Everywhere’, with a range of simple Android smartphones available. The cheapest phone is ‘Nalongo’ – dual SIM, camera, torch, radio and Facebook – for 69,000 Ugandan Schillings (just over £15 – a lot if you earn about 2000 a day), whilst the most expensive, a Huawei Ascend G300 is 569,000 Sch (about £142) – all with similar enticements as we’d see in the UK.

In the Village

We had an opportunity to speak to Nora this morning to talk about mobile phone usage in Ogongora. She talked about her story, how PEP (the process Tearfund supports through PAG) has helped her discover new possibilities in life, and that she now runs a small hotel. She bought a mobile phone once she had this business, and this has really helped her communication with her brothers and sisters who live far away (previous communication would have been up to 2 week’s walking). Now she is in a position as a woman leader, she is able to help other (younger) women in the village – helping them to sell items in the market – and she has recently enabled her daughter to complete her studies – and has been able to complete all payments because of PEP… and with the phone.

Nora looking at photos of Odiirah's 6 month old on Odiirah's smartphone

Nora looking at photos of Odiirah’s 6 month old on Odiirah’s smartphone

One of the things that mobile phones have become famous for in African countries is the ability to call ahead to markets and find out the prices (either for buying or selling) before deciding which markets to visit – thus allowing  better prices – and the ability to save more money for other plans. Nora doesn’t have the internet on her phone as the 70,000 was hard enough to find. She has to pay for charging on those who provide car batteries for the purpose – around 500 (15p) for a full charge, which lasts only for about 2 days. Because everything is so expensive to use, she’s unable to share the phone with others. The village had tried solar phones which Tearfund had sourced from a company keen to improve technology for those in rural situations, but the solar panel was too small/weak, so they have returned to paying for electricity.

Before Technology

Getting messages around before involved someone going on foot (not even a bicycle) between villages – known as a Mobiliser, which took time (and the messenger usually didn’t feel any urgency to complete his mission). Public health messages came through someone who spoke to the local Pastor to ‘soften things up’, then a government representative would come in. Some have radios, as the batteries are easy to replace and last for 1-2 weeks, so many announcements used to be done on the radio. Posters were placed, sometimes in local languages,  but often in English and then translated (many don’t read anyway) – the message would be changed according to the local audience.

Within the villages now, the church leaders will be sent information, given to their congregations – local leaders will be invited to a meeting, and information will also be read out in church services – with an expectation that the message will continue to be spread by word of mouth (networks of networks!). Note also that phones are used more for talking than for texting, again because of the issue of writing/reading literacy levels.  Announcements of death (there was a funeral today) used to be made via radio, and are more likely to be made via phone… and today, we chose another Pastor to visit in the afternoon – the visit was easily arranged as both our interpreter and the Pastor have mobile phones.

Happy To be Involved in PEP?

We asked if they minded visitors coming, and they indicated that they were more than happy as it gave them an opportunity to share their stories, and they are happy to be photographed, as the pictures will “then be seen in America”. We were curious as to why they thought we were American – apparently they don’t but they use the term for anywhere western – partly influenced by films they have seen (although at 1000 per go, this is mostly the youth – who often manage to visit the local centre about once a week – with a TV/media player), Obama has brought America to their attention – and they see football and gospel music on TV.

Are phones a priority?

For this village, as they make their plans as to what they want to prioritise, although we’ve seen 3-4 people with phones, it’s not seen as a priority at all. The priorities for this village (in order) are:

  1. Church Construction (stronger, larger, able to be used for more activities)
  2. Water (a bore hole site has been identified and funding negotiated)
  3. A health unit (around 3-5 years in the future, with 7 rooms, for ante-natal classes, and basic health, etc.)
  4. Communication (which we think means other than mobile – including the development of a road from Soroti, rather than a dust track!)
  5. Food security (in the face of weather failures, etc.)
  6. Opening a Nursery School (which already exists and meets in the church)

So, tomorrow I hope to talk to Odiirah, our local contact for PAG, as she looks after the communications, has a smart phone, and can tell me more about mobile phone use in the cities – where it’s more common, and where data usage is also growing, with the “kids never off Facebook”…  Katie Harrison also says there is a flourishing culture of Ugandan bloggers, but they are all in the cities. We are, however, next to the University of Mass Communication (looks about as big as our guest house!) so I would like to pop round there and find out what’s on their syllabus! Any questions you might want to add about technology use/attitudes, etc in Uganda?

And – as we seek to share their stories via digital media – don’t forget to check out Tearfund’s page for our trip, including Liz & Dave‘s blogs.. and feel free to tweet us at #TFBloggers!

We Met: Isaiah #TFBloggers

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Isaiah and the War: When the fighting started, rebel forces came and took boys to be soldiers, although many didn’t make it to their destination.  Others were rounded up into camps, which were congested, and because there was no proper hygiene, people were dying fast.  Isaiah has two sisters, along with his Father and Mother – they had come back to the village to look for food, as his Father was getting frustrated at seeing them becoming sick, with nothing to eat, and nothing to sell.

His Father, when taken, had his hands tied behind his back, and was then given another very heavy load to carry on his head. They were tortured, and Isaiah spent two days in the bush hiding as saw no point in going back. With his Father never returning, he worried that he was so young, what could he do?  As the elder brother he was responsible, but that meant being physically present – so he couldn’t go off to work in town. He decided to leave it to God, and started to find laboring work – budgeting on around 2000 Ugandan Schillings a day (about 50p), whilst some days there was no money, and therefore no food. The situation got so bad that the government started sending medical relief, including grains and beans, but no salt, soap or water treatments.

When the war is over Isaiah comes back, builds a hut, does some gardening – without tools or oxen, this was done with his hands.  High on his priority list, however, was how to get his father’s bones back to the plot of land, as it wasn’t right to see him lying elsewhere.  A coffin is about 70,000 Schillings (about £15.50), so he planted and sold cassava, borrowed a bike (well, we’ve seen what they carry on those), and went to purchase the coffin, and organized food for those who would help build the hole. The family was crying as  it was the first time they had seen a dead body in the family. Isaiah prayed and completed his O-Levels.  He planned and planted more crops so have enough for them and for the future, but life was still very hard. He doesn’t like to talk about it too often, as he often finds himself crying, and still dreams about the time.

He still looks after family , although 8 years ago he met Sara, and they have 4 children. They met whilst he was visiting an uncle in another village – where she lived – this was after the camps. He was inspired to look after the future of his family, and has now become a pastor.

#BigRead13: Day 15: Story (#TFBloggers, #LentPhotos, @40Acts)

The first day we arrived in Ogongora, the kids were a little afraid of us … by the end of our second day – they trusted us more and wanted to join in the fun with us (especially having their picture taken) – and we trusted them more with our gadgets! So #lentphotos today on Trusting:

#LentPhotos #Trusting

#LentPhotos #Trusting

#BigRead13 Thoughts

As we move onto The Horse and His Boy this kind of line appeared from then onwards:

“Child,’ said the Lion, ‘I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.”

and this really seemed to chime with John 21: 22

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

and just to be clear, I don’t have acres of Bible/Theology knowledge – I joined the dots by doing searches on various Bible sites online!

As someone who is interested in stories, particularly other people’s stories (why would I be out in Uganda otherwise!), it’s an interesting conundrum … but then I’ve been told part of my “skillset” is a journalistic/reportage style so a good fit for this kind of job – with the skills that God gave me. It makes sense to me as we focus on our own stories, concern ourselves with the well-being of others, but we don’t refuse to do x, because “they” have refused to do y – we have to make our own choices independent of the choices that others have made – but in following Jesus, we take care of others. As the thinking point and the prayer indicate – it’s when we become so nosy we’re not concerned with our own discipleship (e.g. wearing ourselves out in Ministry because we want to ‘fix’ someone else’s story) – but that our responsibility (a word we’re hearing a lot this week as it’s given back to the rural communities – who were waiting for someone else to come along with a ‘fix’) is to give the best stories that we can do the world through our own actions (people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care).


Today, James Catford of the Bible Society suggests we seek to share the Bible with someone, particularly by focusing on your own story – which bits you love/find particularly helpful etc. He also makes reference to the Poverty and Justice Bible created in 2008 – with over 2000 references to eradicating poverty in the Bible (slightly more than some other issues that seem to concern much of church discussion time) – with the most in Psalms and the Gospel of Matthew.

One really interesting comment we’ve heard over the past couple of days is the inspiration that those in the village of Ogongora took from the Bible passages on the loaves and the fishes – if Jesus would feed so many from so little – so also can then – they can turn their harvest into some to eat/some to sell/some to plant, and gradually move on from a subsistence lifestyle to something approaching ‘pleasant’ was how it was described today!

Brain Draper: Lent 40

Oh, hah – well this just socks you in the eyes again – I have spent many years like this, although have started to rely on some others – but every time people disappoint (as they will) we have to take another risk … a risk worth thinking about taking I think today indicates:

Nevertheless, it’s fair to say that the way we live reflects the level of trust we invest in God, and in each other. Shane’s resolution reminds me that I often seek security before God’s kingdom (Matthew 6) – trying not to rely too much on anyone, including God, just in case.

The people in Ogongora have many reasons not to trust others, because of civil war, poverty, etc, but they put huge trust in God, and the organisations that God has sent to support them.


I managed to do 10 minutes of this before breakfast, and in many ways the silence in the car (unable to do anything but look out the window/chat .. travel sickness is not a great affliction here!) has offered extra time. Ugandans just take longer at everything, take time together, chill out a lot more – and in chatting to our driver Joseph, he can’t understand why people would want to live in the UK – all looks too frantic – all looking for ‘stuff’ – he’s not too far wrong!


We’ve also been talking about the power of community today – though people are trying to better themselves personally, they are also concerned that their neighbours benefit too. Seems to be little need for padlocks, etc… so maybe they wouldn’t need this:

Lent challenge today: Look at joining or setting up a Neighbourhood Watch scheme ourwatch.org.uk@N_Watch

And just because I like this bit from @pamjweb

When I think of God, I often have a picture in my mind of sitting in the palm of his hand.  That to me feels like a safe and secure place – very much what Spencer gives the image of here.  Jesus’ focus is entirely on what he is holding.  I like that.