Happy travelling, happy writing


If you love writing, there are so many different types you can try. One is travel writing, where you describe your travels and adventures. Diaries of amazing (or even quite ordinary, but somehow extraordinary) trips are publishable as books. Often writers keep diaries of particular times in their lives because years later they might inform a work of fiction, and be a useful treasure trove of rich detail to draw upon.

My sister Susan is a teacher in Scotland. Last month she accompanied pupils from her school visiting a Ugandan school. Susan and the Head teacher taught some classes, while the pupils on their expedition helped assist with teaching, decorated a school hall and helped with building work on a community centre. With Susan’s permission, I’m sharing some highlights from the travel diary she wrote while she was there. Perhaps I’m biased, but I do think they make a great read.

Much of the day to day school work and sport is not included in these highlights, or their trips to wildlife reserves, but I hope that these short extracts will inspire you to think about keeping a diary like Susan did next time you go somewhere that’s different or special. Or perhaps you’ll decide you’d like to have an adventure of your own. There are plenty of opportunities to experience other cultures and contribute through school exchanges and expeditions.

Happy travelling, and happy writing!

Well here we are in Luwero in Uganda! It was a very tight fit into the minibus for the sixteen of us plus Gabriel, the driver, and our thirty-two suitcases, half of which contained donated clothes and equipment for the school. There were people eating street food, setting up markets with produce, riding around on mopeds, and there were lots of hair salons all full of customers. The earth roads were lined with lush vegetation and banana trees.

The pupils all gave us a big welcome and Gabriel taught me to say “Abaana, mole motwa” which means “hello children” I was introduced to the classes as “teacher Susan”. The children were just gorgeous, too sweet for words, smiling and giving us high fives. They have very limited electricity here and of course there is no air conditioning in the classrooms – instead they leave the windows open to catch the slight, pleasant breeze – but when that breeze drops it gets very hot, very quickly!

I was talking to a girl who was ironing a shirt on a towel in a step, using an iron that had coal embers inside it. The pupils have a very small space to themselves; just a bunk bed in a crowded dormitory with a padlocked box on it, and they wear the key on a string around their neck. Nevertheless they take very good care of their appearance, and stood outside their dormitories polishing their shoes and combing their hair. 

There was thunder, lightning and torrential rain during the night. It was deafening! What did the Ugandans do? They ran outside, filled buckets with water and washed their clothes in the middle of the night! Deborah explained to me later that they prefer to wash their clothes in rainwater because it is much softer than the water from the bore well.

As usual I had my shower in the evening after the heat of the day had died down. The shower has no running water; you fill a basin with water from a container that has to be carried inside after being filled from the water tank. Then you stand in the shower tray and use a plastic jug to wet your hair and body with water from the basin, and use a tiny amount of shampoo to wash your hair. You use the jug to pour more water over you several times until you are all rinsed and clean. Now that I’m used to it, I really like it because it’s so refreshing. It’s the same with the washing up after each meal; we fill the basin in the sink and use soap to wash the dishes, which then go into a rinsing basin and then onto the draining board.

At lunch we had yams – they tasted like a cross between potatoes and roast chestnuts. The food that has been given to us here has been plentiful and generous. It consists of 2 or 3 dishes of noodles, rice, beans or peas. Sometimes there is a meat or fish stew, or chappatis. Everything is cooked on an open fire. Dessert is either pineapple or watermelon. 

Today I helped Bush to make the chappatis – well actually all I did was to roll out the dough that she had already made into circles as we sat outside chatting. Then Bush built up the fire, which is in a shed across from the house, and fried the chappatis one by one in hot oil in a wok; it only took about thirty seconds for each to puff up and turn golden. Cooking here is such hard work. 

This morning we finished decorating the secondary school hall. There were a few finishing touches to be done but mainly we were putting our handprints around the outline of the large heart that some of the pupils had drawn at the back of the hall. After lunch we went to the secondary school for the official opening of the art work in the hall, attended by the Ugandan pupils. The choir sang a couple of songs and of course there was some dancing! Back at the house Bush showed us how she can walk along while balancing a water container on her head. She made it look so easy but none of us could manage it!

It was with very mixed feelings that I awoke on my last morning in Luwero. Although I will be glad to return home to my family, I will be very sad to leave this wonderful place. It really has been the experience of a lifetime. 

This morning we unpacked the cases that we brought with us – we all brought two cases, one containing our own things and the other full of clothes, shoes and toys for the Luwero pupils. These were donated by various churches and individuals around our school area. There were so many items! We divided them into categories and Gabriel got them ready for redistribution to people in the community. I have also donated all of my clothes and so has everyone else in the group, and I gave my head torch to Bush because it helps her with cooking in the hut when it’s dark. I also gave a couple of private gifts. This left me with very empty cases! However Gabriel gave us each two big pineapples and some huge avocados so that filled them a bit.

All too soon it was time to say our goodbyes and we set off along the bumpy earthen road to Luwero town and onwards to Kampala one last time. I just tried to take it all in. The red earth. People cycling with huge bundles of sticks across the back of their bikes. Women walking along balancing high piles of bananas on their heads. Children waving and shouting excitedly as we passed by. Roadside stalls with beautifully displayed fruit. Motorcycles with two, three or four people balanced precariously on them, weaving in and out of the traffic. Markets, full of people and all kinds of products from food to furniture with barbecues and popcorn stalls smelling delicious. Traffic jams in Kampala, most of which our driver, Daniel, expertly managed to avoid. We stopped for an hour at a mall with a restaurant. It felt so European compared to the other places we have been. We sat outside in the warm darkness and had drinks and snacks, with the sky lit up from time to time with distant lightning. 

Both flights went smoothly and I managed to get a good bit of sleep between Entebbe and Amsterdam. When we arrived in Glasgow the Headteacher and I said our goodbyes to the pupils at the baggage collection area and thanked them for doing so well in Uganda. Then we all went through to the arrivals where all of the parents were waiting with a banner to welcome us! Seeing the pupils reunited with their parents made me feel very emotional – the parents have worked so hard to raise money and to support the group.


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