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. 

Choking up at the end…

Family read aloud time is the best family tradition we have implemented – without a doubt!
Tonight we finished Running Wild by Michael Morpurgo. Both Dan and I couldn’t finish it – we were choking up! So Myron read the last few pages aloud to us. We highly recommend it 🙂

I had heard great reviews about Wonder by R.J. Palacio so I thought I would give it a quick read myself before starting it with our family read aloud time (just to make sure it was age appropriate). Yep it is (and also many tears). And… it’s a book that, in my opinion, every human should read.

On a separate note, sorry we’ve been so quiet over these past several months. Since returning from Australia we have been between READ for Life activities, Myron’s school, studying soil and our heads in books or listening to podcasts. We will try and update you with some of the highlights (and lowlights if interesting) over the coming weeks.

Enjoying a temporary life

For the past four months we have been living a beautiful ‘temporary’ life back in our old home town in Australia. We’ve reconnected with family and friends and even met some family members for the first time. We’ve fished, played sport, enjoyed the beach (although an Australian winter is pretty tough for these long-term equator-dwellers), visited rainforests, been to the theatre, ate some pretty delicious food and read some fantastic books (albeit many of those were children’s books). How awesome are public libraries?

The best moments are not necessarily the deep conversations and moments of ‘connection’, however there have been a few of those, but just ‘being’ together with people we love has been so life-giving.

However this ‘temporary’ life hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. We’ve had to work over these few months (got to pay for those grocery and petrol bills…). I’ve picked up a lot of casual teaching work in a few local schools, and that’s possibly been the biggest culture shock of my time here 🙂 The best line I received from a teacher when asking her what strategies I could use for a challenging child in her class was to ‘build relationship with him’, well that’s great for a casual isn’t it!

This temporary limbo life brings with itself the ‘in between’ feeling: can’t put down new roots when they will be uprooted again soon. And difficult to invest in new relationships when we will be jumping on a plane again soon.

But for this week, I’m going to try to fool my brain and continue to enjoy the moments of our temporary existence down under.

Ready or not here we come…

After being ‘locked out’ of Australia and putting our travel plans on hold for one and a half years, we are finally on our way to Australia!

It’s been more than three years since we last visited our friends and family and now the time has finally arrived.

The past month has been slightly hectic (well that’s an understatement). Dan organised the reroofing of our big hut before leaving (what an upheaval and enormous project that was), and of course there’s been lots of handing over meetings, last-minute trainings and Dan has been leading the renovations of a new compound for Myron’s new school to move into while we are away – a mad dash to finish before we leave. 

But we’ve had our goodbyes, which included an incredible acrostic poem/song from the READ for Life/Connect team and cards for both us and our families. 

We are just left with the journey ahead. 

We are excited to see family, friends, the beach and eat lots of cheddar cheese (and prawns) and excited for Myron to create some new memories with our family/friends. It’s been a long time. 

I also want to apologise in advance for… breaking down in tears after visiting a supermarket; freaking out walking past a toy shop, freezing when there is too many choices or being quiet during conversations (when I am secretly just holding myself together). 

Ready or not… hear we come…

Bundle that grass for a strong, new…

Our compound is covered in big bundles of grass. And those big bundles of grass are being re-bundled into little bundles – why? That’s going to be our new roof.

Estimates are we will need about 1200 large bundles of grass for a new roof. We have about 500 (that was two truckloads from the village). While the lads are outside re-bundling, life is still like normal inside. However when the bundles are complete, our current grass roof will be removed and the new one will go up: a little rearranging will be required on the inside, and a few tarpaulins to go around some furniture. The whole process may take about three weeks. Not sure how many of those days we will squeeze into Myron’s bedroom (since he has a floorboard ceiling and our loft-bedroom is directly under the grass roof).

The leaks have slowly been getting bigger in our current roof so… it’s time. And we need to make sure it’s replaced before the next wet season is here.

For those who know our house, it’s going to be an epic job. We literally call our place the ‘big hut’, everyone does, but that’s a slight understatement – it’s a gorgeous double-storey, grass-thatched hut just out of town. And this ‘big hut’ is about to get a makeover.

The ‘large bundles’ of grass waiting to be re-bundled into smaller bundles.
The smaller bundles of grass… soon to be our new roof.

Teaching sacrifices for these tests…

We didn’t have any students sit for mock exams from our nursery teacher training college since we paused it whilst schools have been closed. So thankfully, we didn’t have any student teachers tackle these questions in the mock exams which were set by a national university (mostly be online students). I’m not sure if I personally agree with the answers (or the relevance of the questions to be honest to be a quality early years teacher). But for good humour, here’s a few:

Oh… and this one about poetry for kids is driving me nuts. From a family who has read a poem a day for the past few years… where’s the creativity? The imagery? The description? Where’s the poetry in this?

We want to train teachers who can pass the test, but not teach like the test-answers… the fine balance of creating teachers here.

It comes in threes…

From food poisoning to COVID. Yesterday I was feeling great, went for a walk and then thought this morning: I can handle a short jog. I jogged 5km, then was utterly exhausted for the rest of the day. Was horizontal for most of the day, my fever returned and some small chills, then feeling hot. What is happening?

Just to be safe, Dan tested me for malaria. It didn’t come up straight away, and I’m not sure what happened, but it was put aside and we didn’t look at it until a few hours later. As Dan walked by later… “it’s stuffing positive!” Tested again, and sure enough, I’m positive for malaria.

Four things I’m thankful for:

  • I’m grateful that we had malaria treatment (and rapid tests) in the house. So I started the treatment straight away.
  • I’m grateful for enormous international NGO’s (whom I normally criticise) for subsiding the treatment so it is very affordable.
  • I’m also grateful I’m not on the beach in Kenya feeling MORE sorry for myself with malaria – or even worse, in Kenyan government quarantine for COVID.
  • I’m also very grateful for my husband and Myron for looking after me.