Joyce Meng's Blog

Day #1 - Arriving in Kampala

December 22, 2009

I managed to avert near disaster by arriving at Heathrow three hours before my scheduled departure. Given the surge of holiday travel and resentment over the cancelled strike, the British Airways departure hall has descended into a maddening chaos. It took me more than two hours to drop off my baggage, perhaps the slowest “fast drop off” I’ve ever experienced. Flying tends not to agree with me so I’m hoping to sleep through the entire eight hour journey. Having feasted the night prior on a traditional British Christmas dinner at Rhodes House, my stomach still feels uncomfortably bloated, but I forced myself to swallow a sandwich as the malaria pills I’m taking – doxycycline – causes unpleasant stomach pains if not taken with food. One would expect that being a relatively frequent flyer would dull one’s distaste of flying. In my case, however, this has certainly proven true!

I found Joanita, Jia, and Iria relatively quickly – I’ve corresponded so much through Skype with Joanita that I immediately recognized her voice before anything else. Jia was loaded with so much professional camera equipment . Coupled with my own pocket camcorder, trusted digital camera, and large camcorder I picked up from the daughter of Joanita’s sister who resides in the suburbs outside of London, we’ll certainly have much flexibility in the tools we work with! Thankfully, I found the flight rather uneventful – uncomfortable, but bearable.

We arrived at Entebbe around 1 AM. What a surprise to discover that so many people came to greet us and take us back to the Peace School! Joanita’s brothers, sisters, and elderly mother came, along with a van filled with alumni of the Peace School and lots of little ones who currently reside on campus. The children are absolutely adorable – inquisitive, excitable, and so eager to make friends with all of us. I also met Amina, one of the first graduates of the Peace School who is now a first year undergraduate studying law. Joanita truly has such a large and loving family! I’ve never experienced before such a welcoming, grandiose reception!

We drove to Kampala, and I had a chance to catch up with Iria, Joanita’s colleague from the University of Richmond and member of the Peace School Task Force. Unlike at home where pervasive light pollution prevents the sky from completely darkening, here, a complete darkness blankets the town, leaving the stars ever so much brighter. Jia, as a true professional, kept on shooting video footage. If she continues in the same way that she has started, we’ll certainly have a very complete video and photo record for all of you!

We arrived at the Peace School about 20 minutes later, and a huge contingent came to greet us, many of them boarding students of the school or alumni who have returned for their summer break. I met Irene (Natsume Ivy) who we sponsored on Givology, along with four girls and four boys from the original class that started on Joanita’s porch nearly 15 years ago – the same porch that we crossed to enter her children home. The alumni clearly adore her, and view their time at the Peace School as one of their happiest and most significant memories.

Too often missing the first critical years of primary school can set a child back permanently as he or she finds herself perpetually behind. The foundations set by the Peace School – that education is the greatest gift and hard work eventually pays off – are evident in the aspirations of these children. When we all gathered in the living room, despite the late hour, Joanita asked each to the children to introduce himself or herself and to share his or her goals. Amina wants to be a lawyer, Aisha a neurosurgeon, Mariam a doctor, Zamu a journalist, Elijah an engineer…and the list continues. And somehow, these dreams aren’t just pie in the sky aspirations – each of these children has been studying hard and preparing as much as they can. As in the case of Amina, many of them are very much along their way, despite a humble background.

The Peace School doesn’t turn away students who can’t afford to pay tuition fees. In the case of orphans or children from families too poor to provide any monetary remuneration, the Peace School provides not just free tuition, but housing, clothing, food, and school supplies. In effect, these children become part of the Peace School family community, live on premises, and contribute to the work of the household and the school. No wonder so many children came to greet us!

The house we are staying at is delightful – located right at the school, the home is very colorful and cheery filled with pictures of the family and the children. Joanita grew up in this very house – I must imagine the joy of being able to come home once again after more than a decade abroad in the United States! The little ones (Irene, Shareen, Shanelle, Natasha) sang us a greeting song that was so adorable that would melt the heart of even the unkindest personality. By now, it was 4 AM in the morning – way past everyone’s bedtime as the household rises very early – yet everyone remained so cheerful and accommodating. The family had prepared a large meal for us in welcome. Although none of us felt like we could eat very much, polite decorum dictated that we had at least o same the rice, noodles, curried potatoes and cabbage, and chicken.

I took a shower (though probably didn’t get all the shampoo residue from my hair successfully out as showering from a basin/bucket is unfamiliar territory for me), figured out the intricacies of sleeping under a mosquito net (in appearance, it feels like sleeping under a very dainty canopy bed), and promptly fell asleep as the rooster started crowing. Ironically, our end of the day marked the Bbaale household’s start of the day!

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