After a wonderful 147 days in Naivasha, it was back to the African Roads as I meandered northwards towards Kenya’s chilly capital of Running – Eldoret.
The cycling started well; after a surprising morning’s effort I made it to bustling Nakuru where I stopped for Kenya’s cycling proficiency – chips, samosa & chapatti. I was also lucky to bump into Wacu Kihara, a wedding & events organiser whom I had met in Naivasha. It was nice to have a final goodbye with her before the off.
I was quite surprised at the start; I’ll admit being slightly anxious pre departure having been off the bicycle for so long. Getting back into my cycling shorts again felt more like stuffing a king-size duvet into a Barbie dolls’ pillow case.
But after Nakuru things started to go downhill; actually they didn’t they went uphill and fast – but you get my point. Everyone had forewarned me about the climbing out of the Great Rift Valley, so in preparation I dug deep into the stash of cake and biscuits that Minalyn (founder of Life Beads Kenya) had so generously loaded me up with.
Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry…
Traffic sped past at the typically crazy East African pace; the Nairobi to Kampala route is very busy. Be prepared to articulated lorries, fuel trucks and 4×4’s speeding past with very little breathing space. And if breathing wasn’t bad enough, as I headed towards the skies I slowly disappeared into a plume of smoke from the Lorries toiling right beside me.
After stopping at a small village, a car passed – out of which a Mzungu (white person) gave a smiling thumbs up. But looking at the car wheel as he passed, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I saw him again. Sure enough, around the next bend their car had unfortunately veered off with the wheel lost into the bush. Two French tourists had been given a duff deal by their Car Hire company – Budget (name says it all). The rear wheel hadn’t been fixed on properly. As they spoke very little English, I assisted for the next 4/5 hours to get them back on the road again – can’t say I did much mechanical magic, but I assumed role of chief communicator with the Car Hire Company and local mechanics. I also ate biscuits.
In an odd twist of co-incidence, the owner of the car (whom had leased the car to Budget) drove past and kindly assisted, much more than seemingly asleep Budget staff.
Tea in Timboroa
They eventually set off, after which for me the climbing continued; steep in places, but otherwise very pleasant with the distant African Plains rolling off the surrounding slopes. By this time I had also made contact with another Pan-African cyclist, Peter Gostelow, who unfortunately had a torrid time in Kapsabet with his laptop, camera and effectively all electrical items stolen from him whilst he tried to distribute mosquito nets to neighbouring villages.
We met the following day over a lunch of Ugali and Githeri in Timboroa, towards the top of a hill (mountain) we’d collectively been climbing from alternative directions.
It was great meeting Pete, a fellow Brit who had recently crossed the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). After a short meet, we parted but I put him in contact with Minalyn & Team in Naivasha; I knew he’d be well looked after there.
The climb continued, which after Timboroa was much easier; gentle up and down sections ensued and soon I peddled into a cold Eldoret before finding a good value lodge on the way out of town (the Kampala side).
I rested for a day letting the body repair before getting back in the Saddle, heading for what Winston Churchill dubbed “The Pearl of Africa” – Destination: Uganda.
The Pearl of Africa
After a very easy $50 border crossing at Malaba, I peddled out of “no man’s land” with a new country, telephone number and currency to deal with; I can’t deny it, I find these moments immensely exciting.
The official languages of Uganda are English & Kiswahili – but as you move towards Kampala, less of the latter is spoken, rather Luganda is the most common language – but everyone speaks good English.
After passing the source of the River Nile at Jinga and getting my first glimpse of Lake Victoria, I headed up and down the hills that weave their way through dense forest and rice fields towards Uganda’s bustling capital, Kampala.
Dust and fumes soon surround you, not to mention an army of Taxis (formerly Matatu’s in Kenya) and a pulsating torrent of Boda Boda’s (formerly Piki Piki’s – Motorbikes).
Jostling for every available space, including pavements, driveways and essentially anything that you could ride on, they swarm to get their fee paying passengers to their destination. I swooped in from one of the 7 hills that this city is famed for; my destination, Ntinda.
A great friend from back home, Susan Kabagambe, had put me in contact with her father, Aston, who has property in Ntinda, an Eastern & up-and-coming suburb of the sprawling city.
I met Moses, a cousin, and was shown to the house where Akiki (wife of Moses) had very kindly prepared food; I was immensely grateful. Aston was collecting Jimmy (Susan’s brother) from the airport, so I rested before catching up with the family the following day.
Over the next few days we toured the city and I, very slowly, got my head around the geography of Kampala.
Kampala is a safe, bustling city that can get very dusty during dry spells. Unlike the rest of Uganda, the roads are poorly maintained and pot-holed with Boda’s & Taxis bouncing around like a Safari on the Giants Causeway. The centre is well developed with smart hotels, shopping centres and, much to my delight, a Nandos! Sadly it didn’t live up to the hype I had placed on it, but not to worry, I was soon introduced to Centenary Park – a fantastic open space in the centre of town complete with a Pizzeria, BBQ Lounge, Indian and, to be honest, most food types you’d ever need. You are Welcome Sebo (Sir in Luganda).
After a week of website updates, blogs, photo editing and relaxing in the park, I was introduced to Jennifer (daughter to a cousin of Aston) who works with Child Fund (hope you’re keeping up with the family links…Ugandan families are…how do I put it, sizeable!).
Dwelling Places, Mutundwe
I hadn’t anticipated working at a project in Uganda, but after getting a great feel for Kampala, Jennifer very kindly put me with Chris Opio, the Child Rescue co-ordinator at Dwelling Places based in Mutundwe, a southern suburb of Kampala.
Dwelling Places, founded in 2002 by Rita Nkemba, is a street child rehabilitation organisation that is currently in care of over 300 children. Some have a home at TRH (the transitional rehabilitation home), whilst the majority have been resettled into families where Dwelling Places takes care of education and financial support to ensure the resettlement and development is handled appropriately.
Medical care is co-ordinated through the onsite clinic/Health Centre and the organisation has in excess of 60 staff, the majority of whom are local volunteers from Kampala.
After gratefully being given the tour by Chris, I asked how I could help Dwelling Places.
Chris explained that all their current filing is paper based. With so many children on file, this is becoming hard to handle. Documents, photos and all the information relevant to the child, including health records, are manually recorded on paper and held in the “Records” room.
Management are of course very aware that should there be a fire, or records stolen, a lot of key, if not critical information would be lost. Not only that, as the organisation grows with teams sharing information across offices, a more suitable solution involving data backup needed to be installed. Dwelling Places is a UK Registered Charity with a small, but very dedicated team working out of a Card shop in Glasgow…so if they too could get access, even better.
So I set to work and assumed my new voluntary position sharing a desk opposite the rather glamorous, Ruthie Ayesiga; time to build a Web Based Database.
Dwelling Places already has a reasonably reliable (although quite expensive) Internet connection, so a Web Based solution would be applicable. I could backup the database and by it being Internet Based, the solution would ensure all who needed access, could gain access from wherever in the city, country or World they were. Of course, if the Internet was disconnected the information would not be available; but it was worth the compromise.
But as I set to work, the internal Network in the office started to falter…so it was time to put my junior “Networking” hat on.
A Wireless Network had recently been generously donated, but most computers remained on a “legacy” wired network whereby their computers were connected by a cable. These connections had, over time, started to break and after taking a brief look into the ceiling to see cables wrapped around all manner of angles, it soon became apparent why.
Ruthie and I reset the configuration on the Wireless Network and Better Life Cycle bought 8 USB Wireless Adaptors & 3 PCI (internal) Wireless Adaptors. Don’t worry, I’m not going to get technical on you – but this essentially means that the desktop computers would have something inside them providing connection to the network, whereas the laptops had a small “Dongle” that they could plug in and be connected.
If the database was going to be used correctly, the folks who are so generous with their time would need a reliable connection; so networking was sure to be a worthwhile investment.
A day “Out of the Office”
After being at Dwelling Places for a few weeks, I was delighted to learn that a sponsor had donated money with the aim for all staff & volunteers to collectively join en-mass and head down to Entebbe for a day or fun & relaxation.
I was told to arrive early at the office as we’d be leaving promptly. But this is Africa; I was early, but the same cannot be said for 95% of the rest! We eventually got organised an hour or so later and loaded into cars and busses before cruising down to the botanical Gardens on the calm shores of Lake Victoria at Entebbe.
We had a wonderful day of dancing, sport and games. Fun ensued; I had my hands tied behind my back for football (which made me even worse than my normal awful), took part in tugs or war whilst others took part in a multitude of competitive, but fun sports.
Dwelling Places try to hold such an event annually for all the staff to “release” and get time away from the “Office”. As with any organisation of this size, it was nice and important for everyone to integrate; naturally often people stick and focus on their area and job during the standard routine of the week.
Email & Web Hosting S.O.S
As development on the database continued, I was given access to help administer the email and Web Hosting accounts. For those not familiar, Web Hosting is the process of taking the files that make up a website and putting them somewhere so that a domain name (e.g. www.dwellingplaces.org) can find it. There is normally a small fee for Web Hosting, but Dwelling Places were currently paying a lot of money for it. In addition, they were also paying a “considerable” fee for an Email Service – so, in a cost cutting exercise, I set about moving their emails over to Google Apps.
Google Apps is a great service that provides 10 mailboxes (email addresses) for free – in addition to shared calendars, documents and other useful business and communication tools.
Migration from an existing provider is possible, with a bit of work. Unfortunately however, Dwelling Places had 11 email accounts (and needed more), but Google Apps now only provide 10 (for free). Despite contacting Google sales and other resellers, it wasn’t possible to increase the limit.
When it was launched, Google Apps used to offer 200 free accounts– but this was soon reduced to 100, 50, 25 and now 10. A shame for Dwelling Places – but Google Apps is very, very good…and free, so I can’t complain.
To get around the limitation I registered an additional domain name (www.dwellingplaces.org.uk) and setup Google Apps there too, assisting the UK Administrators and Child Sponsorship team based in Glasgow.
Soon all emails were all migrated over and the Website was moved to the Hosting Dan & I provide for Better Life Cycle projects. The contract with the existing provider was terminated and so began a monthly saving for Dwelling Places.
Better Life Cycle funds were also used to repair broken laptops, purchase new laptop batteries (power is erratic so having decent backup is particularly useful), mice (the computer type), fix various wirings and put the correct plugs (three pin) on the end of an endless assortment of power adaptors.
On the latter point, Africa has a rather amusing, but sadly very dangerous habit of stripping the wires, putting a pencil into the earth socket and then squeezing the bare wires into the socket. I couldn’t have that on my conscience, so I spent a few days as Kenny the Electrician making things a little more “compliant”!
After removing all the legacy cables from the ceiling/attic and coiling them up for recycling, I gave a presentation on the new Child Database.
It went well; positive feedback and a multitude of suggestions for enhancements, perfect. I had already made it clear that whilst I might only be in the office for a few months, my commitment for Dwelling Places will last long into the future. We hoped to establish a “co-ordination team” and collectively work on enhancements as time progresses.
The current, initial version of the database is fully operational and handles the basic information; over time tighter integration with Google Apps will be developed for the storage and management of documents, photos, records and essentially any related materials.
The difficult part…again…
After coffee in the sunshine and a lunch of my favourite Ugandan meal with the team, Matooke (cooked plantain banana) & G-Nut sauce, soon came the moment that I really don’t enjoy.
After getting to know everyone, making new friends and feeling settled in Kampala, it was time to pack my life back into my panniers and roll down [up] the hill towards Fort Portal in Western Uganda, en-route to Rwanda.
I’m so lucky to be doing what I do; I relish the freedom, exercise and meeting new people. But leaving behind all the wonderful people I meet is, I can assure you, harder than it seems.
The Story of my time in Kampala
Dwelling Places and the team of wonderful people (most of whom are volunteers), Susan’s Family and all the connected members I had got to know over my time in Kampala were so wonderfully hospitable, friendly and accommodating. Before I arrived in Uganda I was repeatedly told the people are “very nice”. Upon leaving, it’s perhaps difficult to imagine a people any nicer.
For them the daily life goes on; for me, the journey and adventure continues. I never say goodbye, only “until next time”. For all those whom I met in Kampala, I most sincerely hope that’s true.
Mwebale nyo, abantu ba Uganda abalungi [Luganda: Thank you very much, beautiful people of Uganda]
To be continued…