Thursday, May 30, 2013

The place where my dad ran around in diapers!

It's funny how often you are reminded how much your parents rock. They always know what to do in every situation, and know what to say to put things into perspective. For instance, last night talking to my parents made me far less homesick, and put a smile back onto my face, after such a stressful evening being left in Jinja. From across the world they were able to cheer me up in just a few minutes! Parents also think of everything. For example, they packed me a couple of heavy boxes of granola bars, and that was probably the most valuable piece of luggage that I brought! The Clif Bars served as my breakfast before class each morning, and helped me to avoid the hallucinations that often come along with taking one's Malaria pills without food. I wish I had brought more, as they've also been the perfect snack when food is not readily available.

This morning, we woke up at the Backpacker's resort, and I opened my door to find a monkey running across the lawn! It is a really lovely place, overlooking Lake Victoria, and has all of the basic necessities. The facilities were just like the communal bathrooms at most campsites, except there was no hot water. Absolutely no hot water - it was as ice cold as can be! Surprisingly though, aside from the squeals coming from each stall as girls, including myself, tried to wash our hair, the shower was quite refreshing!
 After getting ready, I met the driver, Moses, who was to take me to Kaliro. Jamie wanted to skip the rapids, sleep in, and then meet up for horseback riding in the afternoon, so I went by myself. As I mentioned yesterday, my mom and dad were quite worried about me going by myself, especially since safety is a huge concern out here. I sent them the contact info of both the driver, and Peter at reception, and assured them I'd be extra cautious, and would text them throughout the trip. Peter had recommended this driver personally, and I felt comfortable with him after he greeted me in the morning.

It's now old news, but the drive was gorgeous once again. I understand why they call Uganda the "Pearl of Africa" as it's simply stunning! There was lush greenery on the drive, and through to Kaliro it was tarmac, so very comfortable indeed. There was fresh air blowing through the windows, with the occasional smell of fried chapattis and roasted plantains on the sides of the road. They looked delicious, and I asked Moses if we could stop on the way back to try some!

We arrived in Kaliro far sooner than we had expected, and I immediately got chills. My dad's family was from here, and although I had heard stories and seen a few pictures, it was hard to believe that I was actually there. Kaliro is a small town, with a fairly small central street running through it. The old Jamat Khane has now been converted into a mosque, but it was still pretty magnificent.
My uncle had visited with my grandparents a few years back, so they had sent me some information on where their house and schools were, so that I could visit them while in Kaliro. The house was actually just the second house to the right of the old Khane, and it was still standing! It is quite structurally sound, and is absolutely huge! It's one of the biggest in the town, and has now been converted into three storefronts and two homes at the back!
I approached one of the shopkeepers and told him that this was my grandfather's house, and that my father grew up here. He remembered meeting my grandparents and uncle a few years back, and offered to take me around inside! We walked around, and I tried to picture my dad and his brothers as children, running around the grounds, and how my grandparents must have had their hands full with five young boys in the house!
Around back, I met the shopkeeper's mother, called Muka Mutara Anata. She didn't speak English, but as her son translated for us, I learnt that she remembered all of them! She had lived nearby while they were in this house, and recalled the family living here, immediately naming my grandfather, and his father who had the house built. My great grandfather was apparently known in the town as Bana Dogo, and had a very successful business in Kaliro. She said it was terrible that they had to flee as refugees, and remembered the approximate ages of my dad and uncles when they fled. I took a picture with her, and then as I was leaving, the shopkeeper asked me to give him enough money for a soda. It was a weird request, but I obviously obliged, as he had been so kind to take me inside his home. I sat in the car and just processed the thought that I had just walked around in the place where my dad ran around in diapers so many years ago!
Moses then took me to the school that my dad had attended when he was in Kaliro. The school used to be called C.Parek, but has since been transformed into a teacher's college. Upon entering the administration block, the Vice Principal immediately ushered me into her office, and we chatted for a while. I became really thankful for the "pole pole" lifestyle here, as she simply dropped everything to take me around, just as the Headmaster at Kako Secondary School in Masaka had done the day before!
She apologized that school does not have records from the time it was an elementary school, but did take me to the library to see if perhaps the librarian might know of something.
On our way to the library, she was kind to point out which buildings were from the school's time as C.Parek, and which had been built since then. She was also very excited to hear that I had been teaching in Kigali, and offered me a position at the teacher's college here! I told her that I am not actually a teacher, and have not gone to teacher's college myself, but she was very adamant that I have the skills to succeed, and would be more than welcome to start here. It was very kind of her to offer, and it articulated the tremendous need for qualified teachers in many schools in Africa!
We then drove through the town's main street once more, and started our journey back to Jinja. As promised on the way to Kaliro, Moses stopped on the side of the street at a place which sold "mogo," a personal favourite of mine when we have East African-style barbecues, and something my mom highly recommended I try here if I get a chance! Mogo in English is casava, and at home we prepare it like french fries, sprinkled with salt and chilli pepper. Here, it was a full casava roasted fresh on the side of the road, and when I purchased one, the lady cut it open and salted the middle. She wrapped it up in newspaper and we continued on the road. I tried it after it had cooled down slightly, and let me tell you, the mogo was SO good. I enjoyed it for the rest of the ride home, while ogling at the scenery as per usual.
At the campsite, I met up with Jamie, who had actually gone horseback riding in the morning, as the rapids were apparently too frightening. I was totally fine with this, as it meant we would arrive back in Kampala in time for evening prayers at the beautiful Jamat Khane there! We did a little bit of work at the camp's restaurant, and packed up, ready to go back to Kampala. As soon as we were done packing, it started pouring rain. It was one of the worst storms I've ever seen, but Moses was very comfortable to start our trip to Kampala. There were even some ice pellets hitting the car while we were on the road, but thankfully at that point, Moses pulled off to the side of the road to let the weather calm down slightly.

We arrived in Kampala at a reasonable time, but were absolutely shocked by the rush hour traffic! It was an absolute nightmare, and it took us about an hour to navigate through a small part of the city. I had called Mukhisaheb (the leader of the congregation in Kampala) in the afternoon to let him know I was coming to Kampala in the evening, and he was incredibly kind. He told me to let him know which hotel we were staying at once we arrived, gave me some names of hotels to check out, and then said that he would send a driver from the Kampala JK transport committee to pick me up. Jamie and I decided that we would hang out at the Kampala Serena tonight, getting some work done in the luxurious atmosphere, so we thought that the driver could drop him off to the Serena, while I quickly went to prayers, before getting dropped back off to the Serena. However, plans don't always work out, especially if you don't have reservations at a place to stay! Moses took us to a hotel, which was out of price range, so we ventured back into the traffic, with a mission to arrive at a Lonely Planet-recommended budget hotel, in the city centre. It took us about 25 minutes to drive one block down the road to the hotel, and I saw that Khane time was nearing, so I called Mukhisaheb to let him know I'd be staying there. Moses then dropped us off, and we said goodbye. It seems as though there are many budget travellers in East Africa presently, so the place was completely full. I texted Mukhisaheb, and although he was already at Khane, he assured me that the driver was on his way to pick us up, and that Jamie could come too, and that they would help us find a place to stay after prayers.

We sat at a cafe for a little while before a member of the transport committee, named Shiraz, and the driver, Mohammed, arrived to pick us up. Of course, it took forever to make it through the traffic, and unfortunately by the time we arrived at Khane, the official prayers were over! It was an incredible building though, and Shiraz Uncle urged me to go inside to check it out and say my own silent prayers, before meeting the leaders of the congregation. Mohammed took Jamie to the Khane canteen (it's so cool that this Jamat Khane has a canteen!) and introduced him to some young Ismailis who bought him some food and sat down with him.
I went upstairs and was astonished. First of all, I felt extremely underdressed, as I was wearing my travelling clothes from the day, and we didn't get a chance to dress up as was planned when we arrived in Kampala. Second of all, however, I was astonished at how huge the prayer hall was! The size of the congregation in Kampala, as I later learned, is approximately 2,000. Therefore, the space must accommodate everyone! I said my prayers, and then was ushered up to the front by a volunteer, who said that Mukhianima (the female head of the congregation, and wife of Mukhisaheb) wanted to meet me. Her daughter actually attends my Jamat Khane back home, and although we've never met (as I've been away at school when she's around for school, and she goes away during the breaks when I'm home) she knows my parents very well, who are actually Mukhisaheb/Mukhianima at our congregation in Halton! The Mukhianima in Kampala was therefore very excited to meet me, and she told me to walk around the grounds to see everything inside the gates, and then meet her back upstairs.

The Khane grounds were gorgeous. The main building itself is a masterpiece, built in the 1960's and a pride of the entire city. It is surrounded by numerous adjacent buildings, including a gymnasium, a school for religious classes, a conference centre for institutional work, a canteen, a social hall, and a library! These are all surrounded by a huge garden, with lots of benches and walkways for people to spend time in when they need a break from the hectic nature of the city. I am not going to lie, I'm quite jealous of the members of the congregation here, who get to attend such a wonderful house of prayer on a regular basis! I'm really glad that I was able to come here and see it though. :)
I met Mukhianima upstairs, and she told me that her and Mukhisaheb wanted to take Jamie and I out after their meetings post prayers. Before sending us off with members of the volunteer corps and transport committee to take us to find a hotel, she walked us around the grounds herself, pointing out some of the features of the Khane, and how what various elements are used for. We then made our way to the car, and four volunteers took us around to find a hotel within our price range! It was so very kind of them, and after trying two fully booked hotels, we found one, and they actually bargained for our rooms! They even arranged for a taxi for us for the next morning, when we would be heading to the next town to fly out from Uganda. Everything was all set for us in an instant! We were very grateful to have them all taking such good care of us - again I'm so thankful for that automatic Ismaili bond that we have around the world!

Mukhisaheb then came to meet us, and he and Mukhianima took us to an Indian restaurant that sells famous Pani Puris. I had told Mukhianima that we had been eating a lot of rice and beans all trip, and she wanted to treat us to something very different. We ate so much, and it was all very delicious! We had some lovely conversations, and before leaving, they bought us some sweets, which were also amazing. They then dropped us off to the hotel, and brought a package for me to bring to their daughter in Oakville. I might have to buy an extra suitcase, as I had not packed lightly initially, but with this parcel, my shopping, and the reality that it's always harder to pack as compactly as one does when heading away somewhere, it's going to be super difficult to get all of this home!

It was the least I could do though, as they were such lovely people, taking such great care of us, and demonstrated how fortunate we are to have access to a generous jamat worldwide. What a wonderful day overall: so many new experiences, such wonderfully kind people, and such a lucky opportunity to visit my dad's birthplace!

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