Small talk with truck drivers

These days when I go jogging in the morning, if a truck is approaching me my strategy is to go to the side of the road, take a few steps into the grass/farm area, turn my back to the road and wait for the truck to pass. This way I minimise the dust blowing up into my face, avoid eye contact and have less chance of engaging in small talk with truck drivers (as much as I am flattered to be asked for my phone number, I’m approaching my mid-40s and I just can’t be bothered with these conversations).

This morning on my return stretch (uphill on a dirt road), I see a truck approaching with about 4 young lads standing in the back and at least 3 young men in the cab. I move over to the side of the road, now stationary, pretty much inside the tall grass at the side of the road, back turned, waiting for the truck to pass but instead it pulls over to where I am, and stops inches behind me! I’m not near any side road, farming destination or dirt to collect so I wonder what the heck they are doing? I turn around and begin to jog past them when the truck driver yells out: “Jody! How are you? Long time! Going for roadwork? How’s Daniel going?”

The driver is Pius, I instantly recognise him: I taught him English 10 years ago when he was in his last year of primary school. This was one pleasant exception when I was happy to engage in small talk (and he didn’t ask me for my phone number!)

Dan diving in for READ for Life

In nine days time Dan will be diving into a crater lake in western Uganda to complete an Olympic-length triathlon. I’m glad it’s him and not me – I can barely complete a 5km jog without stopping!

This is Dan’s first triathlon, actually it’s his first ever long-distance race. He will be swimming 1.5km across a crater lake, then jumping on a bike for 40km and cycling through villages and finishing up with a 10km run around the crater lake, at the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains. 

But he’s not doing all this in vain! He’s doing it for READ for Life. Please show your support for Dan by sponsoring him in the triathlon and making a donation which will go towards our vital literacy work in primary schools in Uganda. Click here to find out more about the triathlon and to sponsor Dan and support the work of READ for Life.

Classroom benefits of an anthill…

Best letter I’ve seen all year! And what new respect I now have for anthills!

Drop Everything And Read! Literally!

There was movement around the city, for the word had passed around, that the team from READ for Life were on their way,
Bearing stories to read aloud and books to give away, we were eager to start festivities for DEAR Day (15th).

Cars were hired, speakers docked, radio airtime booked, school children ready for the stories to begin,
25 schools visited, 2 mobile vehicle teams, market vendors, city dwellers, show appreciation with a grin

The grin turns to a wide smile, hands shoot up, eagerly answering questions posed about the character or plot,
They predict what will happen next, in the classroom, market, village and a prime-time radio spot!

Another DEAR Day passes, edging closer to a reading culture and teachers and families who value a good read.
It might seem like one day a year, and it is according to the calendar, but to us DEAR Day is a mighty big seed!

Dust: in the air, nose, throat…

Like a child who eagerly waits for Christmas to reach, I’m now longing for the end of this long, hot, dusty dry season. My nose and throat is lined with dust; we could easily leave messages for each other using our finger on the dust-covered bench surfaces; I jog with my signature marijuana-leaf bandana around my neck to pull up when passing traffic (or rather when the traffic passes me); and it’s a tug-of-war conversation with Dan each evening to sleep with the glass door open (and screen door shut) or both shut: we differ on our preferred choice: a dusty breeze or stifling hot stillness!  

The dirt road by our house is a runway for trucks carrying dirt for road construction on another part of town. A group of residents nearby have similar conditions to us and they decided to protest – they blocked the road with fallen trees so trucks couldn’t pass and gathered to show their discontent with the dusty road conditions and to appeal to the road contractor to water the road several times a day. Their protest was greeted with police and tear gas, however they have started watering their road. 

Our community hasn’t decided to protest yet. But… we can see clouds in the sky! Hopefully the end is nigh. 

Our dusty route…
I’m really an innocent, harmless jogger!
A porthole window in our house which faces the road – no window shutters so… I covered it with cling film to try and keep some of the dust out!

A partnership in the slow cooker…

It takes about six to twelve months to plan a wedding. Maybe if you are extremely busy and want to seek a sought-after venue, then you could be pushing closer to 18 months or even two years. 

How long do you think it takes to finalise a partnership with an international NGO? Similar timeframe? Well, at this rate I think I would have saved a mint on the wedding dress because at five years into discussions, my early bargain of a wedding dress would have been a steal (but I’m not sure it would still fit me!)

For five years we (READ for Life) have been in discussions with one organisation about becoming a potential partner. This large organisation specialises in education; they work with hundreds (possibly thousands) of schools in Uganda, however they have openly said they don’t personally have the technical expertise to help the teachers and children… enter READ for Life. 

We have had meetings/inspections (that felt potentially worse than OFSTED for all my UK readers). And meetings. And meetings. Presented countless documents and policies. Revised policies. We have repeated the same process again when staff have left their organisation and been replaced by new staff. And again when those new ones left and were replaced also. 

In the latest of an ongoing paperwork chain, I was sent a READ for Life partnership assessment report in draft form. The sender recognised it may be outdated since it was completed by a former staff member who has since left and time has yet again slipped by. Basically this 9-page report discusses how our organisation works and potential risks or dangers of partnering with us. 

There are a few potential risks or dangers of partnering with READ for Life to train teachers in primary schools which I really must share (and if you thought red-tape hadn’t reached Uganda, then you were wrong):

  1. “Modern Slavery and Child Safeguarding are not incorporated into the supply chain function.” – this basically means that the store where we buy photocopying paper and pens from doesn’t have an Anti-Trafficking or Child Protection Policy. Do you know any stationery shops that have these policies in place? 
  2. “Organisational assets are not engraved or tagged” – if I’m going to ask an organisation to train teachers and help to lift the standard of reading in primary schools, I’m certainly going to be inspecting their staff desks to check if READ for Life is engraved on those tables. That’s going to have an incredible impact on our work with teachers! And of course writing on the tables will prevent theft – no one would ever steal an item with someone’s name written on it. 
  3. And finally, we don’t have a ‘Procurement Department’. For an organisation which hires 8 staff members and their main commodity is their knowledge and skills (human resources), we were still expected to have a whole department dedicated to procurement. 

I made my comments to the document in track changes (as respectfully as I could for a potential partner). And during a follow-up phone conversation, I bantered with the country education manager and asked should I expect to receive the MOU in November this year for our partnership. He laughed and said hopefully in March. 

And ironically, the discussions of partnership were for a very specific 5-year-program and those 5-years are almost over… 

What we do… and ‘Gift of Reading’

Just in case you missed the memo and thought this blog was only about rainbows, unicorns, funny phone answering machine messages, roads falling apart and eating white ants – you aren’t wrong (well you just missed one fraction of it). Here’s a short clip of where we spent a lot of our time and what READ for Life does (1m and 26 sec).

And after hearing a short clip about our work, you might like to buy the ‘Gift of Reading’ this Christmas – it’s a Christmas card to give to someone else in their honour at the same time as supporting our work here. Click on this link to buy the Gift of Reading this Christmas. You will be emailed a pdf of a Christmas card to print and give.

A rhyming automatic surprise

Dan and I recently applied for visitor visas to Tanzania for a trip we are planning early next year. I received a confirmation email straight away, and the visa followed a couple of days later. Dan, however, didn’t receive any confirmation email even though the money came out of our account. We emailed Tanzania Immigration services, however we didn’t receive any replies. Dan later tried to call the phone number listed for Tanzania Immigration, however instead of a helpful Immigration officer on the other end, he heard a recorded voice message stating that the immigration department hadn’t paid their bills, so our call won’t go through.

“Sorry, your call is not through, for the callee has not paid the fee.”

Birthday messages from your ‘daughters and sons’

It was Dan’s birthday earlier this month. We had a pretty low-key family birthday celebration, however what crowned the day was a collection of handmade birthday cards/messages by our neighbour’s children. These children all call Dan ‘dad/father’, and they call themselves his ‘daughter’ or ‘son’. None of these children have a father living with them. It’s a beautiful gesture, but also a sobering reminder of how these children are crying out for a father-figure in their lives.

You couldn’t make this up!

When I give feedback to teachers, I always love to say a few things that I really liked about the teaching/lesson before I suggest a few areas of improvement.

I have just returned from a three-day trip to Arua with my colleague, Beatrice, for a meeting with one of our partner organisations. So let me start with a few things that I liked about our time away: 

The positive parts: 

  • We travelled with public transport and reserved the front seat of the van. Win! And… I got to wear a seatbelt! 
  • I had some great chats with my colleague. 
  • There was a jerrycan of water in my room to make up for no running water
  • My phone was fully charged when we had no power, so I had a flash light in our room. 
  • We had the foresight on the second night to order dinner and then ‘relax’ in our rooms so even when dinner took two and a half hours to cook, it didn’t bother us.
  • During the nine-hour meeting we had with our partner organisation I had a well-placed position and whilst I hoped it looked like I was taking down notes, I wrote ten emails, a reading assessment, a summary reading report, sample report card comments and had countless Whatsapp conversations. 
  • I bought a head-scarf for the return journey so my hair wouldn’t be in a knotted mess for only 2000 shillings (80c). I paid no attention to the design and when I got home Dan pointed out it was a marijuana leaf print. Oops!
  • I bought a jar of local honey for 6,000 shillings ($2.50). 
  • Spoiler alert (linked to a negative comment) I witnessed some pretty incredible creativity and ‘fix-it’ solutions to the road we were travelling on. 
  • The hotel/restaurant menu which was particularly humorous: I did pass on the ‘chicken bugger’ and the beef stroganoff made with goat. 
  • Being able to listen to six podcasts on a longer than anticipated journey.

What could have been better: 

  • The quality of the road construction which washed away along our journey. 
  • The solution to repairing the road that was washed away: let’s just dump dirt and rocks in that big empty hole and then we can drive across… and when it sinks a bit, just add more dirt. Repeat. 
  • The estimated five-hour journey which took nine and a half hours. 
  • The greeting I received at our gate in Gulu – a truck slipped and broke the entrance of our driveway/drainage area.