I would like to say that the sun rose on the festival day in Lira but it didn’t! However, the rain gods held off long enough for the festival before the heavens opened on our drive to Masindi. The location for the festival had to be changed the previous night due to politics (they suddenly decided they wanted to charge us for their ground which we thought would set the wrong precedent!). Therefore when we arrived at our new location at 9:30 AM, there was not a child in sight. Regardless of the lack of children, we decided to set up for the competition. We were initially hindered somewhat by the fact that the ground was being used as a driving test center and therefore learner drivers were weaving in and out of cones to practice their vehicle control skills. I’m not sure if it was a driving centre for older drivers given it was called ‘Silver Lining’.
We thought our first team had then arrived, dressed in lovely bright yellow uniforms but it turned out they were local prisoners walking themselves to court. They were not handcuffed but did have a lethargic looking guard with them. One poor prisoner was left behind, maybe it was an escape tactic, but he subsequently chased after the group and they seemed happy to wait for him.Over the course of the morning, 10 primary school teams and one secondary school team filtered into the ground at various time intervals. Lucy, our organised and incredibly efficient festival co-ordinator, somehow got everyone organised and teams managed to play 4 rapid fire games. It was lovely to see the energetic and enthusiastic beaming children we had coached over the past few days putting their new found skills of batting, fielding and teamwork into action. They even managed to remember our names from the previous days and the spirit of cricket was well and truly upheld with friendly handshakes between opposition teams at the end of every game.
It was also lovely to see many coaches from our coaching education session alongside their schools including Betty. Betty is a deaf teacher who uses sign language and lip-reading to communicate. It showed the effectiveness of a skill demonstration at the coach ed day as Betty was able to watch then lead her own coaching sessions without being able to hear the instructions. My limited BSL knowledge consists of signing my name and it was lovely that she brought one of her deaf children, 12 year old David to play in the festival. He thoroughly enjoyed it and was extremely good at asking questions using the whiteboard including a pertinent question which had not been asked before regarding whether male circumcision prevents HIV transmission.
As fortune would have it, a local army band decided to appear in the stands and start practicing their set list. This added to the festival atmosphere and Rob decided to recall his RAF marching days whilst umpiring a rapid fire game whilst the rest of us toe-tapped out of time. It was so raucous at times that the umpires had to gesture to communicate with each other.
TASO arrived and managed to swiftly test 40 school children before unfortunately running out of supplies, all tested were HIV negative. I managed to speak to the TASO counsellor and we are hoping to set up a mentorship programme for our Ugandan ambassadors to gain further HIV knowledge and awareness.
The final was a tight affair with one run separating the teams with Lira Army Primary School becoming the ultimate champions. They enjoyed collecting their brightly coloured T-shirt’s and they will certainly be shining bright tonight.
Onwards we then drove to Masindi for our last stop of the trip. A vocal rendition of a team favourite, Sweet Caroline blared out the speakers as we drove through a village trying to get them unsuccessfully to singalong. Our singing however, must have brought all the baboons out of hiding as we were quickly accompanied on the roadside. Some even had the ‘bare-cheek’ to try and approach our coach, leading to windows being swiftly shut. Given the bumpy roads we experienced on the way to Masindi- our backsides may look like the baboons by the end!
Given the rainy downpour- we approached what we will call a ‘large puddle’ aka swamp in the dirt track (see photo below). Our determined driver Joseph took a running jump and ploughed through, our heads nearly hit the roof of the coach, bottles went flying but we survived, unscathed with a few palpitations experienced by all. Funnily enough, it was our local ambassador Ritah, who is from Masindi (where we were driving through!) who screamed ‘mummy’ as we hit the largest of the potholes! However, it was only our driver Joseph who could save her. We felt safe with his 30 years driving experience- aside from when he bends down looking for his water bottle under the seat whilst driving!
Our project leader Mark temporarily lost his voice and no amount of strepsils or beer helped. I think it was his new tailored-made shirt he got last night that got him overexcited and more flamboyant than usual rather than his enthusiastic coaching and team debriefs.
It has been an amazing trip so far. I have just about recovered from my epic fail on day 1. Mark and I were attempting to demonstrate that boys are not better than girls with a race. On your marks, get set, go – I immediately proceeded to fall head over heels, flat on my face to the amusement of the kids. Mark was a gentleman and waited for me to get back on two feet before resuming our race with myself the triumphant winner, showing the kids that girls can outrun boys.
The week has got better since then and I have just about been able to remain upright despite the slippery fields trying to thwart me. However other team members have also taken various tumbles over rocks and into ditches. We will try better to remain upright for our last few days in Masindi……
Until next time, Mwelaba (farewell)
Written by: Sarah Evans (first time CWB volunteer)