Monday, 31 August 2009

Unwelcome Souvenir

I have brought home many memories and experiences from Uganda. Unfortunately I have also brought home a particularly nasty virus - a flu-like viral infection according to the doctor at the out of hours surgery on Sunday morning. I spent all of yesterday in bed, most of it asleep, with a high temperature, sore throat, aching limbs, nausea and a throbbing head. I don't feel much better today.
The rest of the team are due to land as I write and my close friend will be coming back here for a celebratory cup of tea and a good long chat (or as long as I can manage) to de-brief. I hope that, with feeling so rough and the transition to term time as my husband goes back to school tomorrow, I do not lose the depth of feeling and the strength of the impressions I have returned with and, over the coming weeks, I am able to incorporate them into my life.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Abducted

The Saturday Times' front page this morning showed the face of 11 year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard, found after being abducted as a girl in 1991. She gave birth to two children fathered by her kidnapper. The paper devoted three inside pages to the story.
Last week I met, along with the rest of the team in Uganda, a number of women in Watoto's Living Hope programme. One woman, let's call her Mary, was the same age as one of my close friends. My friend spent quite some time with Mary, they really hit it off together: laughing and joking, hugging and sharing. When my friend was enjoying the first years of secondary school, aged 12, Mary was pregnant with her first child, fathered by a commander in the Lord's Resistance Army. Mary had been abducted, forced to be a soldier and given to this man as his 'wife'. Mary has two more children. Released as the LRA retreated from Uganda, Mary has no family to welcome her home. The men who kidnapped her and the man who made her pregnant will never face justice in this world. Mary is one of countless women in this situation.
I am glad that Jaycee has been set free and I hope and pray that she is able to recover from this traumatic experience. But my heart is sad for all those whom the world will never hear of. I now know about Mary, and the other women in Living Hope, but the war in Uganda lasted for 20 years, all my adult life, and for most of that time I was completely unaware. The LRA are still active in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Sudan, and, of course, wars and atrocities are happening across the world right now, today, of which I am equally unaware.
I am not sure what to do with this because a guilt trip helps no-one. But I do know that it is something I must reflect on and take action about: perhaps by sponsoring a vulnerable woman or child cared for by Watoto; perhaps editing my BBC homepage to display the African news stories alongside the UK headlines; perhaps signing up to a relevant newletter or following an informed blog. While I know that none of these actions will dramatically change the face of the earth, perhaps they will go some way to changing the face of one person from despair to hope.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Coming Home

I am grateful to my husband for picking up the baton yesterday and guest-posting, as those of us on safari spent the day travelling back to Kampala, the first three hours of the journey on rough mud roads. The Murchison Falls, where we stopped briefly, were thunderously awe-insipring and seeing them is an experience I will hold with me for ever.
When we arrived in Kampala, I was given the opportunity to spend a short time at Bulrushes, Watoto's baby home. There were 80 orphan babies being cared for and I was moved by the evident love and affection the staff had for these most vulnerable of children.
From there we went on to the International Medical Centre at Watoto Church so Tim, the trainee curate co-leading our trip, could be checked out for potential malaria. We were enormously relieved when a blood test showed it to be a bacterial infection and he was able to start treatment immediately.
While we were waiting, the weekly Bible Study began. My image of a Bible Study is of a small group of people meeting in someone's front room. This was an entire ex-cinema full to overflowing wit worshipping people, delighting in God's presence. We were drawn in by the music and it was a joy to be part of. As I will not be there on Sunday, it was a special gift for me to join Watoto Central for this and was a perfect end to my trip.
I am now back at home and reunited with my family. The flight made good time but was unable to land so we spent a good while circling South East London in heavy turbulence. When we eventually did land, one set of wheels hit the ground, and then there was a gap, long enough to think, 'shouldn't something else be happening here?', before the other wheels touched the tarmac. The pilot informed us that his partner had 'wrestled with the wind' to bring us down safely.
While I tried to spend some of the flight reflecting on my time away and working through a de-briefing sheet, I was sleepy and distracted. There is so much to think through and I must ensure that I make opportunities in the coming days to take time out to process what I have seen and experienced It is great to see my husband and children and also a wrench to leave most of the team in Uganda as they have three more days before flying home on Monday.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Coming Home

I am guest blogging for Gaynor as she and the team slowly make their way back to Kampala via a gruelling eight hour journey taking in the spectacular Murchison Falls on route. Kampala is apparently rather overwhelming after rural Gulu and a peaceful safari. It will be fascinating to see how each member of the team reacts to their individual experiences of the past two weeks. How will it alter them as they return home to us? I know that Gaynor is very good at reflecting on what it all means to her and I am sure she will return to the subject many times in the next few months. Any blog guests who have enjoyed catching up with news of the team are very welcome to return in the weeks to come. I have three kids who are very excited about meeting Mummy at the airport tomorrow, after our eldest returned safely from his own adventure holiday today.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Simba

We were out late on our drive last night, getting home after dark having been treated to a fabulous sunset over the African Plain, and we were back in our bus again at sunrise, after a breakfast fit for a king.
We had a close encounter with a herd of giraffe yesterday afternoon and, this morning, had the opportunity to stop by a group of elephants, mothers and babies, browsing in the bushes. They eyed us up but decided that we were of little interest and went back to their elephant business.
We had a close-up view of a brown snake eagle, magnificent in his tree-top perch, and later a black kite. We enjoyed the sight of many antelope, storks, bee-eaters, buffalo and pumba - warthogs. Pumba, the name of the laid back warthog in Disney's 'The Lion King', is the Swahili word for warthog, as Timon is for mongoose and Simba for lion. Of course, we were all keen to see a lion, but, having had no luck yesterday afternoon and asking a number of other bus drivers if they had seen 'Simba', we were not optimistic.
We had to stop for a 'comfort' break in the bush and, once we were comfortable, we spent a few minutes enjoying the experience of being out in the gentle, early morning, Ugandan sunshine, seeing the light on Lake Albert and listening to the bird and insect song. Suddenly a jeep passed us, kicking up a dust storm as it raced along the path. Behind, was following a convoy of buses, all travelling at great speed. As we hurried to be seated, our driver span our bus in the dirt, and we set off apace, taking our place in the race. As we hurtled over bumps and ruts, we considered the possibility that the lead car was merely in a hurry to get back to the lodge, but soon enough we saw the buses gathered and there, lying in the grass, was Simba - a beautiful, honey lioness. Clearly aware that she was the centre of attention, she turned her face this way and that, like a red-carpet star in for the paparazzi, and lazily yawned, just to show us her impressive teeth; in case we missed it, she did it again.
By the return drive we were becoming quite used to the wildlife, although I was still enjoying the Orimbi: tiny antelope, so small they are only a snack for a hungry lion -we nicknamed them the 'Pringles'.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Good Gifts

We left Gulu this morning and our team has gone in two separate directions. One group have headed to Kampala to see more of Watoto's work and the rest of us have gone West to see more of Uganda. The road we took was a mud track, made much more interesting by last night's heavy rain. There were a couple of moments when I was mentally calculating how much food we had on board and how long it would last us if we got stuck. This road was even more rural than anything we have yet seen, a few mud huts spaced ten or twenty minutes drive apart. Nothing but grass and woody shrubs to the horizon. I find myself wondering how these people live. Where do they get water? How much food can they grow? How much of the day is taken up with the daily battle to exist, and what do they do with the rest of their time? Every so often I would ask, are we still in the war zone? Yes, we were still in the war zone. And now. And now. The whole of Northern Uganda, as far as the Nile, was under rebel control. Is is terrifying to imagine living in one of these villages, no more than a few huts at times, when a raiding party from the Lord's Resistance Army could surprise you at any moment, burn your homes, kill you, abduct your children, destroy your life. It is easy to see how, even with the very little security they offered, the IDP camps became a place of refuge. And we passed so many camps today, until they became familiar: oh look, there's another.
From this, we have come to Paraa Safari Lodge. Our first sign that we were drawing near the National Park where we will spend two days was three elephants grazing a little way from the road. Once through the Park's entrance we barrelled along through the Savannah exclaiming at our first sight of wild giraffe, more elephants, water buffalo, kob, storks, vultures and warthogs. We have arrived in a glamorous hotel, the pool is just outside the french windows of our room, we have eaten an excellent lunch and we are soon setting off on our first game drive. It is a place to praise God and to marvel at this creation, but it also feels like a massive crunch of gears, such a contrast to the suffering and poverty we have seen. As I focus on God's goodness of this gift to me, I am struggling with an uncomfortable feeling of the inequality of life. Judging by the tiredness we are all expressing, it is, perhaps, a much needed physical and mental break; time to turn our eyes to the goodness and wonder of God himself and away from the works of man.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Redemption

We were thanked today for leaving the comfort of our beds to come all this way to be bitten by mosquitos, which is why we have to take Malarone. Each day we breakfast together and the conversation often includes a discussion of the crazy Malarone inspired dreams we are all having, from scaling the Eiffel Tower to get closer to God, shooting fish with self generated lightning and chasing high on drugs youth around Staines.

This morning we were thrilled dedicate the house which we have built and to meet again with the builders, in praise and thanks to God. I cannot imagine a building project in the UK beginning with prayer and ending with worship. We were touched by the prayers and appreciation of the local building team and moved by the words of our Watoto guide, brought up himself in a Watoto home, that a home like this had changed his life and would change the lives of a new generation of Ugandan children, future leaders, people of influence, maybe the next president. It is indeed an honour to leave a tangible sign of our presence and of our tiny part in rebuilding this nation. I hope one day to return to Labora village and see the family living in the house we have built, as some of those on the team have been able to visit the family in the house in Bbira built in 2007.

After lunch, we visted Living Hope, Watoto's ministry to women. Here in Gulu there are many women who were abducted as children and given to LRA soldiers as "wives". They have not only been forced to commit atrocities against their families and villages but also to bear children, either by other abducted soldiers or by LRA commanders, even Kony himself. Hving escaped or been released at the end of the war, they have often not been accepted into their communities and they are stigmatised. Having suffered so much, they are left without sense of worth, purpose or hope. Here they are given counselling, adult literacy, trained in sewing and business practice, and provided with a monthly supplementary food parcel. They are loved and valued and supported. They are restored to be the women God created them to be and to the future he has planned for them, plans to prosper them and not to harm them.

Today I have spoken to a man whose parents were burned at the hands of the LRA, he has struggled since his teenage years, as a child head of household, to put his younger siblings through school. I have spoken to the foster mother of three children who were born in the bush, children of abducted child soldiers, and two AIDS orphans. I have heard of children who are rejected by their own families, unable to come to terms with the horrific acts they have been forced to commit. And I have seen the church of Jesus Christ in power and love bring hope and redemption and new life.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Church

Our day began with worship at Watoto Gulu. I do not mean 'worship' as a synonym for 'service' but I mean worship of a style and exuberance which would make the powers of darkness tremble. We waited outside the packed building as the first service ended and then re-filled both the church and the overflow room - probably 800 people attended the church today. The sheer power and joy of the worship blew my mind and I began to understand how, in such a place, signs and wonders might flow.
The preacher spoke with passion and conviction, and I was amazed how God could speak right into my heart and right into my own personal situation even in another continent. My spirit was also fired up to see all that God will do in Gulu. I am beginning to glimpse, out of the corner of my eye, something of what church, in every possible sense, could be.
After lunch we went to visit an Internally Displaced People's Camp. As a result of Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army's brutal war on his own people, thousands of Acholi people were no longer safe to live in their villages and were moved into these camps where the Ugandan Army had a better chance of keeping them safe. Now the war is over, many people have moved back to their villages but there are many who have not. They have nowhere to go. And while the government traces their relatives or secures land for them to build on, they remain in the camps. We were allowed to enter one abandoned hut. A space barely larger than my kitchen, a mud floor with mud walls, would have been home to a family of five. A family like mine. Living, eating, sleeping, growing up. The people we met have been in this camp for twenty years. Many of them were born there and know no other life. The children, whose families cannot afford the $2 to send them to a Ugandan state school, were dressed in rags. One played with a bicycle tyre, another with a locust tied to her wrist by a string. I saw no other toys. They followed us around the camp, both intrigued and wary, much more guarded than the children of the Watoto villages. As we left, the children begged an empty water bottle from us to sell for a few coins. I cannot count the amount of bottles we have discarded this week.
Yet they did seem happy, highly amused by my attempts to speak Acholi and Colin's antics, they had a vast amount of open space to play in and crowds of friends. While my own family is vastly more materially wealthy, I wonder if we are so much more vastly content.
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at the Laroo Boarding Primary School for War Affected Children. Here, child soldiers resume their education and are given counselling and rehabilitation. We were told of their need to come to terms with and forgive themselves for all that they have been forced to do, and also of the difficulties their families and communities have in accepting them back and learning to trust again. It was hard to hold back the tears as I could not escape the thought of my own sons.
God is speaking to me about so much on this trip and I am having trouble processing it all; but one thing has shone out and inspired me above all, and that is the meaning of Church. Not, as I said above, the Sunday service, or even the people and community but the Church that Jesus said he would build on Peter the Rock, the Church against which the Gates of Hell will not prevail. In such a place as this, ripped apart by the evil works of one man, where the devil has been to steal and kill and destroy, the Church has risen up in prayer and faith and worship, has housed the orphans, brought dignity to the women and loved the child soldiers. My prayer today is that I will not lose this vision on my return to the UK and will play my part in his Church.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Painting in colour

We finished the house yesterday and so had an easy start to the day compared to our 6:45 breakfast of the last three days: our bus did not leave until 10am.
We had the whole day to play with the children and we took a variety of things to entertain them. Our carefully constructed sashes, for sports-team identification, were quickly redesigned and by the end of the day most faces were crowned with brightly coloured headbands. We also took colouring and the children enjoyed having their names written out to fill in the letters; we began to find our artistic leanings: I discovered a gift for drawing cats and Tom got into a groove of open plan houses.
In groups of four to a house, we had lunch cooked for us by the house mothers and were treated to a feast prepared in a five-foot-square kitchen in a charcoal stove. My group were presented with fried bananas, flat breads, rice, chicken, meat stew, peas, cabbage, matoke (a kind of cooked mashed banana dish), peanut sauce and, to our amazement and delight, roast potatoes. All this for a family of eight and four guests. Tom was keen to acquire some Acholi and asked the words for various dishes: peas, bananas, potatoes. His attention turned to the water, what was the name in Acholi? Piie! (pee!) It was with difficulty that the four of us maintained politely straight faces.
After lunch, while the guys kicked a ball around with the children, some of us were painting faces. A butterfly theme soon emerged and we were all surrounded by a pressing mass of bodies and elbows were jogged as the children crowded in to be next in line. It was a joy to touch their faces and to offer something colourful to their lives. I am no great painter and feel the pressure easily, our group host was keen for us to leave on time and, with so many queueing, I was working fast so my butterflies lacked a certain artistic flair. However, every time a child was handed the mirror to inspect my handiwork, their face transformed from concentration to delight and while my efforts were no great works of art, I was assured byt the grins that they were good enough.
The children were fascinated with our cameras and sunglasses, overjoyed with the balloons and balls we gave, eager to hold our hands and to be carried and many of us found that one or two individuals had crept into a special place in our hearts. We were thanked time and again for coming to help, bless, build for and love them and yet it was us who were truly blessed.

Friday, 21 August 2009

The International Language

The lads on our team were challenged to a football match yesterday by the builders so we began the day with an International Football game. Our team went out all guns blazing and fairly quickly scored a goal. The opposition soon followed it, but this was quickly disallowed as it was off-side. Now, I have little understanding of football, but I am pretty sure you are not allowed to score a goal if you are standing next to it when the ball is passed to you. However the heat soon sapped the strength of the English but they battled on to achieve a 3-3 draw. Tim, our spiritual leader, quickly progressed from yesterday's nicknames of 'Timmy No-Trowels' and 'Timmy No-Trousers' (due to a mishearing of his first nickname and not to any inappropriate behaviour on his part) to 'Timmy No-Goals' as he failed to score on any of his opportunities.
The conversation revolved around football for most of the day and I was quickly written off due to my lack of fervent support for any Premiership Club. It is not the first time I have failed to speak the language of football and, as I saw how it enabled English and Ugandan to converse freely, I wondered if I would be better applying myself to learning to understand the game and culture better. Perhaps I should chose a club to follow? However, as the guys got to know each other better they began to discuss the merits of various players whose names were wholly unfamiliar to me and I realized how out of my depth I would be.
Later in the day a rubber snake, brought along by the man who is now exaggeratedly infamous for wrestling a mamba on the last St Saviours' mission to Uganda, was placed carefully by a pile of bricks. A member of our team then feigned discovery, battered the unwitting, if unreal, reptile over the head and threw it away. The builders were genuinely terrified, a couple running to a safe distance and they were only tempted out when the snake was stretched to double its length by two giggling Brits. Still cautious, a few were willing to hold it and, as it was accepted as a child's toy, peals of laughter followed and they all gathered for a closer look. 'It looks just like a snake,' commented the supervisor, 'a real one.' Exactly.
My Acholi pronunciation is good enough now for me to say 'How are you?' with confidence and usually to receive a grin and an Acholi response. After greeting Mama Margaret this morning and asking how she was, she returned the question. 'Oh,' I grimaced, 'I am too hot!' Instantly I was convicted of the utter wrongness of my reply. How could I stand there, in this woman's home, she who had so little, was bringing up eight homeless children, had strangers traipsing through her house to use the toilet for three days, was enduring the same heat and was still smiling and welcoming, how could I stand there and complain that I was hot. 'I am good,' I grinned. Life is good and I would do well to remember that.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Bubbles

We are all just a little bit tireder today, the sun has shone a little bit hotter and the work has felt that little bit harder. Having said that, the house has continued to rise, to the tune of cheerful shouts of 'Machenga!' as we call for more mortar. We were up scaffolding today and the bricks have reached the tops of the windows and doors, both inside and out, and I am, if I do say myself, I becoming more proficient at laying the bricks right. Every course laid must be checked: sometimes they are tweaked a little, sometimes they are taken out and relaid, and, just occasionally, the local labourer I am working alongside will not adjust them at all and pronounce my handiwork 'Mabae' - Good! I am also beginning to develop the skill of flicking the machenga at the gaps so that it fills and sticks although, of course, if I try to demonstrate this to anyone invariably it flops to the floor.
Our visits to the bathroom in one of the houses in the completed and inhabited cluster are gradually increasing my vocabulary and I have been inspired to use the voice recorder on my mobile phone to capture the native accent. This produced uproarious laughter, a group of curious children and a hug from Mama Margaret. I have been able to untangle some of the confusion I was in as Margaret had taught me the response to some of the phrases and I was lost as to which was which. I have got 'How are you?' so well that when I speak to someone I haven't met before, they know what I am saying and reply. This, however, makes a very short conversation and I have to revert to English to continue.
After lunch we took some little bottles of bubbles to the children and were rewarded by the sight of dozens of little ones running round in the sun blowing and chasing and laughing. One quiet girl caught my notice and I gave a bottle to her. She was shy and unsmiling and I blew some bubbles for her which she watched with large, patient eyes. I held the wand before her lips, encouraged her to blow and a stream of bubbles burst forth, followed by a slight upturn of her lips. She led me to her home where her mother, happily amused by my faltering attempts to communicate in her language, invited me in to sit with her and talk. Mary, the little girl, sat motionless on my lap and I was introduced to her older sister as well as the other children of her house, her Watoto family. Mama Christine told me of her eight children in the Watoto home and her six grown-up children in Gulu and how Jesus gives her power for each day. I would love to have more opportunity to learn from this woman of God some of the wisdom of her years.
As I left the building site I tried out my phrase from yesterday: I'm coming back. David, another builder, who is patient with my attempts to learn, taught me the word for 'tomorrow', so I will say (time, internet connection and God willing):
Abii dwogo diki!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

I'm back!

If I thought the route into Gulu yesterday was rural, I have discovered a whole new meaning today. We left the town and drove along a red dirt road past endless grass and trees, dotted every so often with clusters of mudhuts, or pairs or singles. As we drove we passed a steady stream of people, some on bikes but most on foot, many with loads carried on their heads, the women often with small children strapped to their backs. We were miles from any kind of settlement and I wondered how long it would take them to reach their destination and how long it would take them to get home.
We also passed an Internally Displaced People's camp, a remnant from the bitter and brutal war between the Government and rebel forces that has ravaged this region, where so many of these huts were crammed together in row upon row, the reasoning being that the Ugandan forces could ensure the security of these Acholi villagers if they all lived in the same place. Security being a fairly loosely applied word.
After receiving the approval of a guard armed with a spear, we were allowed into the Watoto Village of Labora to begin our work to house eight children whose lives have been upended by the civil war.
With the gracious and patient help of the Ugandan builders we have managed about a dozen courses of bricks, good progress by all accounts. It has been hot and tiring work but thrilling to be labouring in a tangible way to further God's kingdom and to bless and home his children.
I have made attempts to learn a few words in the local language, to the amusement and delight of my tutors. Each time I think I have grasped a phrase they quickly teach me a new one causing me instantly to forget the first. I think I greet someone with 'how are you?" and reply that I am ok, as well as say goodbye, ask someone their name and say "I'm back" which is useful for our frequent trips to the house who have generously allowed us to use their toilet!

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Uganda

The starry sky outside is different to the one under which I normally sleep; the frogs and cicadas are keeping up a evening chorus and a bat just just flown into the dining room.
It is hard to believe that only 48 hours ago I was at Heathrow Airport. We had an eight hour flight on which I grabbed a few hours sleep. My friend couldn't sleep at all so, at 4 in the morning, she was reading me crossword clues and, in a dreamy, almost hallucinatory state, the words just floated out of the recesses of my brain.
On landing at Entebbe airport we continued our journey by mini-bus. Everything about this country looks different, so brightly coloured: the red earth, the bright clothes, cerise painted shops, the lush green banana trees. In our guest house we were able to have breakfast and from there we went on to Watoto Church in central Kampala for orientation. Then on to change money and to have lunch. After that we drove to Bbria village to see the work of Watoto first hand.
The village consists of clusters of 10 houses, each lived in by 8 orphans and a house-mother: a family. There is both a primary and secondary school. The children were on summer camp, enjoying themselves out on the sports pitches and I was able to chat with a house-mother, mum to eight 11-15 year olds. Like any mums meeting, we talked over how noisy kids can be, how hard it is to listen to so many voices, how rules are important yet it is important to be flexible.
Back at the guest house we gratefully at our meal, had our devotions and were quick to bed - it had been a long twenty-four hours.
Today we drove to Gulu, in the North, once the heartland of Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army. Now there is peace and the region is gradually being restored. As soon as we were out of Kampala we could see how rural Uganda really is: mud huts in small groups, occasionally alone, scattered in the bush, mile upon mile of a single concrete road, so much improved upon the mud path which the team travelled on two years ago.
We are now settled in a beautiful guest house and tomorrow we begin our small part in the the rebuilding of this nation.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Hello, Bye Bye

Crazy Uncle Michael is visiting us from the States, has bought us a web-cam so we can Skype and has been teaching the children how to use Movie Maker:
video
Lots of fun!

I'll be back at the end of August.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Three Days to go

I was at Boots this morning, moments after it opened, to get a couple of last minute things for my trip to Uganda.
I am nervous and excited. I will miss my husband and children; my eldest is off on his first holiday without the family and I won't be here to make sure that all his packing goes smoothly (although I'm sure my husband and mother-in-law will do and excellent job!) I am wondering how I will cope with hard physical work in the humid sunshine, biting insects and local food and what the God of all surprises has in store for me.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Gardening

I am very blessed to have friends who will help me in the garden. We tackled an unruly bramble and cleared and new flower-bed ready for planting.
I find my garden overwhelming at times and I see all that needs doing and seldom enjoy what is blooming. My raised beds have been a learning experience and I have plenty of ideas about how I will plant them differently, and hopefully better, next year. But they have provided some colourful produce.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Mid-August blues

It's a while until September, but it feels ominously close. This is because I leave on Sunday for a two-week trip to Uganda and return just a couple of days before my husband goes back to school. Last week I was away helping to look after my mum as she recovers from surgery so this week I am trying to do all the little bits and bobs of admin, gardening, housework etc. All in all, it isn't making for a relaxed August!
My mind is like my bread-machine. The 'dough' of next year's 'curriculum' is rising, occasionally 'knocked-back' by some note-making or the search for a handwriting book. Last year I had a 'Grand Schedule' that I was happy with, I wrote my children start of year letters and we set to with gusto. This year, the plan feels stale, I know I won't be ready, either practically or mentally, on September 1st and I feel ragged and uninspired. I have tried getting the children to free-write about what they would like to do but it just seemed to produce answers I thought that they thought I wanted to hear! Once idea is a project on Shakespeare, incorporating making puppets to act out a play, probably 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. I don't know the first thing about how to make puppets and my stomach knots with anxiety, despite me knowing that this is something we can learn together - a central tenet of my Home Ed philosophy. I cannot quite let go of the need to be a little bit in control, one step ahead of the children. I want to be a loud and proud radical unschooler, if only because I know futility of coercion and the joy of self-motivated learning, but still I crave a time-table, targets and tick-boxes - it feels a little bit safer.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Snake in the grass

While we were staying at my mum's, my little girl came rushing in to the house, 'Mummy, mummy, there's a snake in the garden!' I followed her out quickly, half-expecting to find a hose-pipe, a long stick or a big worm. However, she was both right and truthful and there was, indeed, a snake in the garden. It had, apparently 'rustled' out of a small bush. It may not have been much compared to the kind of rattlers my California resident brother sees regularly on hikes, but I was impressed. I checked it for the diamond pattern which would indicate it was an adder and therefore venomous and, assured that it was only a harmless grass snake, proceeded to get some photos. As soon as we retreated to the other end of the garden it slithered out of its ineffectual hiding place and into a shrub. I saw it later, bathing in the pond, but did not catch a glimpse of it again. No doubt its quiet idyll of garden and pond was somewhat disrupted by the presence of three energetic and cork-boat-building children. I expect it has breathed a sigh of relief and, hopefully, is enjoying its once again child-free home.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

New Knee

My mother has had pain walking since at least last October. She had two operations earlier this year and on Thursday she had a total knee replacement. My husband, the children and I are now staying with her for a week to help her along the road to recovery. The kids are being kept entertained with Monopoly and I am following my mother around with painkillers and nagging her to use both her crutches.
She has to sit down and rest a lot, which is giving me plenty of opportunity for thrusting hand-fulls of black-and-white photos at her and saying, 'Do you know who this is?'
I'll be back next week.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Great-great grandmother Sarah

I am still following a personal rabbit-trail into my family history. Having learned the name of my paternal grandmother's father, I did an internet search and discovered that my father's cousin in Canada has researched that part of the family and collated some old family photos. This one shows my father as a little baby, with his mother (my grandmother), her father and his mother: my great great grandmother. Her name is Sarah and she was born in 1862.I keep staring at this picture, although I'm not sure what I'm looking for. Some clue to who I am perhaps?
Sarah was born just 109 years before me. With a similar gap, I will have great-great grandchildren living before the end of this century. This gives a new clarity my feelings on the issues facing our world, my world: terrorism, rogue nuclear states, climate change, limited resources, increasing pollution, genetic engineering. It has become clear to me how, without realising, I have not bothered to care much about these issues, the future seems hazy and uncertain, too frightening to think about perhaps, and certainly not my problem.
Sarah lost a son in World War I and lived through almost all of World War II, and yet, when she was my age, Queen Victoria was still on the throne. I wonder how the future looked to her then and whether the Great War seemed like the end of the world? How distant my life is to hers and how different my great-grandchildrens' will be to mine. It seems very important to me now to be purposeful in what I pass on.