Trigger’s Broom

Although we’ve only had it 6 years, our Land Rover is now almost 20 years old. Apart from a few well documented repairs while we’ve been in Africa, it’s in what could (perhaps generously) be called ‘very original condition’.

All of the overland equipment was fitted before leaving the UK (fuel tanks, fridge, solar panel, rooftent, oil coolers, seats, security, etc) but various previously documented repairs on the road have ensured that we’ve marked our territory as we’ve travelled round Africa – usually with a large oily stain on the track somewhere. 

In addition to a string of bush-welds, repairs and patches to the chassis and brakes, we’ve completely replaced the gearbox, rear cross member, clutch, rear axel and suspension.

A bit like Trigger’s broom (“I’ve had this same broom for 20 years: 17 new heads and 14 new handles in its time“) it’s in very original condition. 

But all these repairs were really just minor inconveniences – although at the time a number of them were fairly buttock-clenching moments. 

I guess the biggest problem has been the rust. Typical British car: used on salt-covered roads throughout winter. 
I was told by a number of people before we left that the chassis was a bit ropey and probably wouldn’t make it. Unfortunately, one of those people was not the guy from Nene Overland who sold me the car when we told him we wanted a vehicle to fit out for an African trip. 

No doubt it’s ultimately up to me to be sure that I’m aware of the condition of the car before buying it, but having spent over £17k on additional equipment with them I had hoped the basic car they sold me would be structurally up to the job. What do I know? The only thing I’m certain of regarding cars is my mechanical incompetence.

Anyway, I’m not bitter about the chunks of rust falling from the chassis; the tinkling of rust settling within the doors every time they’re slammed; the way the rear chassis snapped in the middle of nowhere in The Serengeti; the way the A-Frame sheared in the desert east of Lake Turkana (leaving the rear of the body lurching in the opposite direction to the chassis over every axel-twisting bump); the way the suspension collapsed in northern Namibia (now that really is remote); or the way the step pushed through the rear cross-member when I put my considerable weight on it after it had been fitted to rusty steel that had been filled and painted over. 

Not bitter at all. All part of a learning experience. 

Besides, every time we’ve been stranded somewhere, we’ve ended up meeting some fascinating, generous, welcoming and friendly people who’ve gotten us out of the deep do-do we found ourselves in.
However, when John from the Stitch & Sew workshop in Fort Portal was servicing the car he found some pretty serious holes in a number of places on the chassis. Something more radical than a bit of bush-welding would be needed if we were going to get through the rest of the trip in Africa and have any chance of the car being classed as roadworthy when we get home.

He said we should start by creating a bit more ‘engine room’. Fortunately he has a department specifically to do that… 

No, we hadn’t decided to just jack it up and enter it into some monster-truck races. The time had finally come for a chassis replacement. John and the Stitch & Sew team are the only guys in this part of the world I’d trust to do it. Equally importantly, he had a chassis from a ’98 Station Wagon, it was in good condition and his labour costs are 80% less than the guys back in the UK.

Unfortunately, although John is the main Toyota Service Centre for western Uganda, his hydraulic lifts won’t be delivered for another 8 weeks. Getting the body off would need to be done the old fashioned way. 

A couple of farm-jacks, a few bits of timber and some steel poles. Even the mechanics seemed to be thinking “are you sure you want to watch this…?” 

“…are you really sure..?” 

John seemed calm enough. “Don’t worry Scott, we’ll have your donkey back on the track in 9 days.” 


I don’t think Helene was convinced… 


24 hours later, the cocoon was suspended from the roof of the workshop… 


 …and John was able to find a bit of shady peace from where he could work in peace… 

 I think there’s little doubt that the new chassis is in slightly better condition than the old one – despite it being exactly the same age. 

Once the mechanicals were disconnected and rolled away, the really messy work could begin.  

Don’t you wish you’d patented WD40 – is there anywhere in the world where it’s not the most important tool in every mechanic’s kit? 

We returned to Kasese and left them to it for a few days. By the time we got back everything had been reassembled and the underside of the car was sprayed with Rhino Paint (a thin Waxoil-style protective coating). 


The whole team were very thorough. With so many bolt-on-bits (extra fuel tanks, side rails, tow-bar, differential & steering guards, water tanks, etc) there were hundreds of connections to be made and the final inspection took a couple of hours.  

 We’ve been back on the road for a week now and the car’s driving much better. It will go back to Stitch & Sew for a final check in a day or two – just to make sure nothing’s worked loose but first impressions are that they’ve done a great job.

Total cost to replace the chassis (and replace the windscreen that has been badly split for the last 12 months) 5 million Ugandan shillings. That’s around £1,050 / $1,600. The parts alone would have cost double that at home – and the labour at least double again. 

So, just like Trigger’s Broom our old car is in very original condition. 

I guess at some point I’ll have to replace the rust-ridden, dented, scratched body parts as well. At the moment though every scratch, sun-scorched bit of paintwork, sand-blasted window and dent has a sentimental value and brings back memories of one escapade or another in Namibia, Botswana, Kenya etc.

Kasese Welcome

The patch we had put across the whole top of the tent bag Before we left the car in Entebbe had done a great job and there was no sign of damp or bugs.

Unfortunately, the first time we opened the bag, the patch peeled off. I guess, with the car parked in one position all the time we were away, the adhesive just deteriorated in the fierce Equatorial sun. In the same way, the constant rise and fall of the sun in the same position has burnt the paint off the driver’s door in an arc.

Still, being at Entebbe Backpackers provides an opportunity to get back into the habit of my favourite food – chips masala (chipped potato in a spicy tomato sauce), Rolex (an omelette rolled into a toasted chapatti – ‘rolled eggs’) and a banana pancake for Helene. 

We’ve had rain whilst in Uganda before, but this time we’ve arrived at the tail-end of their main rainy season. We’ll just have to see what that does to our travel plans over the next month or so. In the meantime, it brings out a whole new series of blooms and flowers to what we’re used to.

This beauty looks like Animal – the drummer from The Muppets – at the end of a particularly exhausting drum solo (no way I could pronounce, or spell what I was told it’s called). 


It’s totally hermaphrodite. The top section is connected by a hinge and closes to pollinate the bottom. If you don’t believe me, go f*** yourself.

On our way to Fort Portal we spent a couple of days at The Backpackers, where we found some more rubberised marquee fabric and contact adhesive to make a new patch for the tent bag. Without it, in the rainy season, the tent and mattress will be soaked every night (it’s working fine so far, thanks for asking). The place was quiet in so far as there were few guests, but busy otherwise as owner John was getting stuck into a building programme.

We helped him move palm trees (to put around the small pool he’s digging)… 

…and repaired our rooftent whilst he took down the trees in the garden to install a new septic tank. Nothing gets wasted. Within 3 hours of the bigger trees being brought down they were being skilfully cut by chainsaw into ‘4×2’ timbers.  

 Barefoot, and with the blade regularly only inches from his toes, after 30 years in construction my Health & Safety head could hardly bear to watch.

We arrived in Fort Portal the following day and camped once more at the YES Hostel, established and run by Carol Adams.  Good job that tent bag is fixed. Rain is definitely on the way.

View from the Penthouse, looking towards the Rwenzori Mountains…  
The main reason for being in Fort Portal was to drop the car at John Wilson’s workshop for the service I’d promised it. Although a Toyota specialist (at this point Land Rover owners are supposed to boo, hiss and spit) he’s done some excellent work for us previously and got us out of a couple of scrapes at short notice. 

All too soon, but eager to arrive, we were on our way back to Kasese to meet with the AmahaWe Uganda team and stay with our friends who run the AWU NGO based in the town. It’s only a small organisation, but does great work with women’s’ cooperative groups, street kids and some vocational training in the Rwenzori mountains between Kasese and the Congo border at Bwera. 

We called Benjamin and asked where we should meet him. ‘We’re behind the Virina Gardens Hotel’ he said ‘We’ll meet you there.

Knowing that Ben could never resist the opportunity for us to buy him a soda, I assumed someone had set up a coffee shop of some sort and he wanted us to try it, although I couldn’t remember anything being there previously. 

We were a bit taken aback when we pulled up. 

The team were getting stuck into day 1 of a 5-day festival (Crusade!) they had organised for the community. Day 1 was focussed on the Youth Group and John (as usual) was on the microphone (as usual) , centre-stage (as usual) with members of one of the 5 gospel choirs they had organised to attend (this one brought in from Congo). 

A brilliant atmosphere and clearly as much fun for the attendees as for our team up on the stage (the stage itself built from salvaged timber by our team of Street Boys).  

 There were well over 2,000 people attending the Youth-themed day 1. 

Day 2 would be aimed at young couples; 3 for professional people (teachers, business people etc); 4 for married couples; 5 for the whole community. Each day at least as well attended as the first.

There’s no doubt the crowd enjoyed themselves. They love the choirs, dance with the bands, pay attention to the sermons, participate in the evangelising and the prayers. The highlight in my mind though was the short, simple drama staged by our team. The parable of the Lion, the Rabbit & the Elephant.

Kids here LOVE parables and LOVE drama. They sat open-mouthed and wide-eyed in silence as it began. 

Jethro, the leader of our Youth activities, told the parable… 

…Benjamin, the Executive Director of AmahaWe Uganda was the elephant (see him in his ‘elephant hide’ costume waving his trunk above his head). 

When the rabbit climbed on his back and tried to eat him (you can’t eat an elephant all in one go) the kids loved it. 

Forget the choirs, sermons, bands, etc. Without doubt, the best crowd reaction of the day… 

Board Stiff…

Where to start? 
Forgive us friends for we have sinned – no ‘confessions’, posts, or updates since Christmas.
We’ve maintained radio-silence for a while because we left the car in Uganda and flew back to the UK for a few months. We didn’t think it wise to broadcast to anyone who saw the car in Entebbe that we were out of the country. No point tempting fate when you’re thousands of miles away and pretty much everything we need to continue our trip is locked in the back of ‘the donkey’.
However, normal service has now been resumed.
We’re back in Uganda and preparing to hit the road again. It’s great to be back but, as always, difficult to be away from family and friends.
The last few months have been hectic: an extended Christmas in Scotland helping Helene’s brother and sister-in-law move into their new ‘But ‘n Ben‘… 


… a frantic couple of months helping my brothers refurbish their house…  

… and, best of all, being around while our daughter Charlotte (Charlie) finalised plans for her wedding to Luke, on the beautiful, snowy slopes of Morzine in the French Alps…  

Charlie and Luke decided they wanted to get married on snowboards – a sport they’d taken up together and something they do every opportunity they get.  

The twist was that they wanted it to be semi-traditional: suits, bridesmaids dresses, a wedding gown specially made to be able to board in. That caused a bit of a stir, standing at fittings in the bridal shop in a snowboard and boots when everyone else turns up with the fancy shoes they’ve chosen to wear on their big day.  

As it turned out, the big day started out pretty informal… 


...Charlie looks beautiful whatever she is  wearing. Once she got on the slopes the dress also looked stunning.  

After many years away from the slopes, Helene took to her skis as if she had a slope in the back garden…  

Some of the rest of our party also looked pretty hard-core…  

…and some just looked sharp…  

I decided to try snowboarding as a surprise for Charlie & Luke.   

While the congregation waited up the mountain for us to arrive, Charlie, Cat (one of her bridesmaids) and I snowboarded across from another mountain.

They were both supremely elegant… 


… after only a few boarding lessons, I was less elegant…  

On the second run of the 4 we boarded to get to the waiting congregation and the Ceremony, I took a fall. Hearing a loud click I was pretty certain I’d badly sprained my ankle. Charlie came to my rescue.  


No way I was going to fail to get Charlie to the Ceremony though so, after a quick sharpener to dull the pain at the next mountain bar (and the one after that), we carried on.   


I couldn’t get in and out of my bindings at each chairlift, but Charlie and Cat strapped me in each time and pushed me off at the top of each slope.
A great day. A really moving speech by Kay, the Celebrant who took the service and some beautiful photographs by Damien, the photographer (who snowboarded backwards on the slopes in front of us all to get the best shots!).
Helene & I couldn’t have asked for a better way to palm Charlie off to (sorry, entrust Charlie to the care of) her new husband Luke. Even signing the register was a bit of a novelty.  

Unfortunately, with my sprained ankle, although I snowboarded the last 3 slopes to the Ceremony my boarding was over for the rest of the week. I managed to walk around town and sun myself in a few of the bars though (stick to what you do best, I say) but just couldn’t get the boot back on.

A week after we got home, the swelling was still pretty severe. I got talked into getting it properly checked out and (while Helene waited in the hospital car park because we didn’t have enough change for the parking fees) I was X-rayed, diagnosed with a double break of my Fibula in the ankle, put into plaster up to my knee and sent out the door in a plaster-cast & on crutches.  


The wedding week was great, but I ended up board stiff.
I seem to remember my (7-years-to-qualify-as-a-doctor) niece telling me while in Morzine that the best thing for a ‘sprain’ like this was “…elevation, a hot water bottle and Ibuprofen“. Thanks Leighanne.
Now our teary farewells are out of the way, bags have been crammed with miscellaneous charity goods, small car spares and Golden Virginia rolling tobacco (last time we saw anything like it was Nairobi and that was kept in a safe! – before that it was Botswana), and we’re back in Africa.
I’ve spent the last month in the UK eating all the things I know we won’t get in Eastern Africa. It’s hardly surprising therefore that my greeting from Frank (the friendly Congolese owner of Entebbe Backpackers) in his huge, headmaster’s, booming, tenor voice, bellowing across the campsite “You are as fat as a baby! Welcome back.
We’ve arrived in rainy season and although the equatorial sun is still fierce, it rains for at least a couple of hours daily. This is not just any old rain. This stuff could saturate steel.
Imagine our surprise (delight!) then when we found that contrary to expectations our leaky old donkey wasn’t full of water. Don’t ask me why not, it normally fills up if we drive past a puddle.
Apprehensively I connected up the batteries. I turned the ignition wondering how on earth I’d get it to a mechanic who could breathe life back into it and get us back on the road after leaving it for so long.

Like trying not to sneeze in a restaurant with a mouthful of food, the Landy gagged a couple of times, braced itself, then let out an almighty blast, spraying food all over the table – She started first time, but only after throwing out an initial plume of oil and water from the exhaust. Like a donkey that kicks, it was a good job no one was standing behind her.  


She seems to be running as sweet as a nut. How good is that!
Even better, the 4 foot square patch we put over the bag of the rooftent 6 months ago has worked like a charm. The Hannibal tent has alway been great but, after 5 years on the roof of the car (2 of them in blazing African sun) the cover recently started to let in water. All we could do was patch it. However, the tent is dry: no bugs, no cobwebs, no mould or damp. A great result.
We’ve spent a couple of days cleaning the car, getting her shipshape and reorganising / refitting everything we’d stashed in the back. Now we’re off to renew our 3rd-Party insurance (I doubt we’ll find COMESA insurance around here), stock up with supplies, then get her across to Fort Portal in Western Uganda where I think I’ll treat her to a full service.


Go on…hit me again!

We’ve just had an update from our website hosting provider and they confirm we’ve had over 9,700 separate people view our little blog and over 67,000 hits.
Wow. Shocked and stunned.

We know one or two diehard pals like Judith or Jack & Irene who check it regularly. And a few other friends who check in once in a while.
But, 9,700 different visitors!
There’s nothing we can say other than THANKS.

To those of you currently travelling in Africa, or planning a trip, we hope you’ve found it useful.

Throughout our own planning period, (and as we regularly changed our plans on the road) we found the blogs of other travellers really helpful.

Our blog was set up as a simple way of passing on some of our experiences and lessons learned.

We’re flattered that so many people have had a look and hope that some of you have managed to find at least something useful or entertaining in it!

One plea from us…
When we had our bags stolen in Uganda we also lost our journal of the last 2 years on the road. In it were MANY contact details of people we met as we travelled. If you get the chance, please send us your contact details again. There’s an email address for us at the top of the ‘Links & Contacts’ page of the blog.

We’d love to hear from you.

Also, apologies to anyone who has left a comment on one of our web pages / posts. For some reason we’re not being notified when these are posted and can’t reply to most of them.

We check the blog so rarely that it may seem like we’re ignoring the posts but, on the contrary, we love to hear from people while we’re away – suddenly getting an email or message after days / weeks without Internet really is a boost.

Anyway, to those of you we know who are reading this, we hope you’ve had a great Christmas and have a wonderful New Year. We hope to see you soon.

To the current overlanders and potential travellers amongst you, you guys know what the anticipation, planning, drama, apprehension, wonder and friendship we have experienced has been like. We hope you enjoy the ups and downs of your travels as much as we have so far.

To those few of you who operate the type of website that likes to try and hack into blogs to dump virus software…


…We hope your next shit’s a hedgehog.
Ho Ho Ho!

Land Rover Shopping Trolley & Stealth Dinosaurs…

Leaving Uganda was tough.

We knew it would be tough because we’ve made so many friends and had such a great time with the Fuel Briquette team that it was hard to drag ourselves away.


The quantity and quality of the briquettes the boys are producing has increased significantly.


However, leaving was made even tougher than anticipated because the Land Rover ‘Death Wobble’ made a dramatic reappearance.

As we left Kasese it repeatedly tried to catapult us off the road as we headed for Entebbe and our flight to Zambia. It seems the local bush-mechanics in Kasese didn’t solve the problem after all.

We suffered a nerve-wracking first 100km of our drive until we crawled to a mechanic we’d found previously in Fort Portal.

Despite it being early Sunday morning and pouring with rain, we caught John and his team catching up with a backlog behind closed doors at the ‘Stitch & Sew’ workshop.


Bizarrely, the workshop is called Stitch & Sew because 15 years ago they started out repairing sewing machines etc. These days they’ve just been appointed as the exclusive workshop franchise for Toyota cars in Western Uganda. And they’re pretty good with Land Rovers.

John road-tested the Landy, stripped the front end down, searched through his Aladdin’s Cave spares store, fitted new stabiliser bushes and had us back on the road to Kampala 3 hours later.

All fixed. Driving sweet as a nut. Total cost (for Sunday labour & parts) £22. It doesn’t get much better than that.

We were originally recommended to John by Carol who owns the YES Hostel in Fort Portal, a place we’d stayed a couple of times. She’s quite a character.


Carol was born in Hawaii. When well into her 40’s she gave up her job in Hawaii as a horse-riding instructor to arrive in Uganda 19 years ago. She arrived with 3 suitcases, no money, but a determination to do something worthwhile for a couple of years.

Over many years, on a shoestring, she has built a hostel, school and hospital as an outreach programme for AIDS-affected children.

What a woman. She runs the place single-handed, staffed with children that have been through her school / hospital programme and who’ve returned to put something back into their community.

Today her Programme cares for up to 300 children & teenagers at any one time.

Despite the sadness every month of burying 3-4 children who cannot be saved, she has a huge number of successes. Perhaps the most prominent of these are pictured on a ‘Trophy Wall’ in her apartment. The wall is made up of photographs of a few dozen children who she saved and educated. They all went on to university and, having graduated as doctors, lawyers, etc now either work throughout Uganda or send money to support the YES project from their careers in the USA, Canada & the UK.

Some of Carol’s stories are heart-breaking. Some are horrific. The vast majority are inspiring. All the money from the hostel and campsite goes to support the programme. If that wasn’t a good enough reason to stay there, the fact that the rooms are £7 per night ought to be. Highly recommended. Please support YES Hostel if you’re passing through.

Once more able to drive at more than 45kph without the car driving like a shopping trolley with a busted wheel, we got to Entebbe 13 hours after leaving Kasese.

With a day to spare before our flight to Zambia we used the free wifi at the backpackers to start an argument with World Nomads Insurance regarding the equipment theft from our car. They say they won’t pay out since the stolen bags were left unattended and weren’t locked in the car boot (the Landy doesn’t have one).

Apparently, as far as World Nomads is concerned, sitting in a garden 10 meters from the vehicle whilst it is guarded by a policeman in full combat uniform, carrying a semi-automatic rifle is the equivalent to abandoning the vehicle.

Why am I surprised?

Top Tip: If you insure with World Nomads NEVER step outside of your car without taking EVERYTHING with you.

It was good to get to Zambia the following day. We’d come back for a couple of weeks R&R with our pals Brad & Ruth who run Maramba River Lodge in Livingstone.

It was also good to see the place in the dry season. When we were last here the river at the camp was full of water.


At this time of year the water level is significantly lower and the river is choked with water hyacinth.


It’s also pretty well stocked with crocs, trying to cool themselves in the 40+ Centigrade temperatures. At the water’s edge they look like lazy dinosaurs…


…on the banks of the camp river they’re much more menacing looking (it’s no wonder they call them ‘Flatdogs’ out here).


Elephants are attracted to the camp at this time of year due to the dry conditions that make most of the region parched.

They arrive, totally silently, like stealth-dinosaurs, at any time of the day. Most of the time they arrive singly or in pairs.


Once in a while they arrive, just as silently, in a herd.
View from The Penthouse:


It doesn’t get much better than sitting with a cold beer watching the elephants enjoy the succulent buffet of water hyacinth that’s choking the the sluggish water.


These elephants are far from tame but they have little fear of people. They’re intimidating but not particularly pushy or aggressive. They’re pretty much fearless and so much in command of their surroundings that they’re oblivious to any obstacles in the path to food. When they cross the river they’re in the camp itself. Wandering around our tent concerns them much less than it does me…


Our camp kitchen is of particular interest. There was nothing to eat in it, but the trees around it must have appeared particularly succulent.


After an hour or so of them surrounding our tent Brad decided he couldn’t let them just wander around and knock everything about. You can’t just wave arms wildly and shout to scare these big beasts away. Guns are needed.

The sound of machine-gun chatter filled the air as the elephants were driven away from our tent.

Nothing to worry the WWF with though – one of the machine guns fired paintballs, the other fired a few live volleys into the air just to add to the orchestra.


Elephant spotting was pretty much How we occupied ourselves on a typical day at Maramba – although not all the elephants we spotted were huge.


Our return visit to Livingstone was kept to a very lazy tempo. Actually bone-idle really. We hardly left the camp, venturing into town only to buy one or two supplies and to try and catch the steam train (owned & restored by the artist David Shepherd)…


…as it whistled past a couple of times a week.


It was odd travelling without the car. It was odd not being in the rooftent. It was particularly odd not having to ferret around catering for ourselves. It felt like a holiday – I hadn’t realised how much we needed one.

I love hard work…

…I could watch people do it all day.

Our last week in Kasese started, as usual, with car trouble.

Last week had been the break-in and getting the lock repaired so that we could shut the door. This week it was ‘Death Wobble’.

It sounds bad. It feels just as bad. Anything over 50kph, when turning the steering wheel even slightly left and the whole front of the car goes into a tank-slapper. The steering wheel jumped out of my grip as if the wheels were square and the front of the car started dancing across the road, out of control until the speed dropped below 30kph.

On these roads (potholed, rutted, littered with axel-crushing speed humps and flooded with lunatic drivers) it’s like playing Chicken with every vehicle coming the other way.

Death wobble can be caused by a number of problems (stabiliser bushes, track-rods, swivel-ball joints, etc). None of them something I wanted to tackle myself.

We found a local mechanic and he had his team set to work.


In the meantime, we had work to do down at the new AWU library. The UK team had thankfully allowed us to relocate the street-boys Fuel Briquette project within the library yard (better security, better working environment, good for community involvement, etc) and that meant we needed to get some additional shelter and storage facilities built quickly.

We needed drying racks for the briquettes as they come out of the press and shelter for the boys to work (from the sun 70% of the day and torrential rain the other 30%).

The team are expected to make around 1,500 Fuel Briquettes a week and they need to dry for around 5 days before they can be sold. Space is at a premium in the library grounds so heavy-duty stacking would be needed.

The AWU NGO team had generously approved a budget to get the project off the ground and we didn’t want to waste it hiring contractors to build what we needed. Jethro (one of the evangelists in the team) and I decided we could do it ourselves – actually I think I bullied Jethro into it, but he proved to be an absolute star

Highly detailed material schedules, programmes and Technical Design Drawings were commissioned from our specialist design team.


And we set to work.

Half the battle here is getting the materials. There’s no B&Q or Home Depot. All wood here comes as 11ft long, rough 6-inch wide planks or logs, straight from the forest.

Actually, ‘straight’ is the last thing they are.

If you want any other sizes you collect the 11ft (3.5m) planks, have half a dozen of them transported on the back of a bicycle (yes, bicycle) to a carpenter and he cuts them into 2×2, 2×4, 2×1 etc.

Hammers, nails, saws, squares, roofing materials, etc involve another treasure hunt. The nearest thing we could find to a spirit-level was an App on my iPhone.


The perimeter wall had been raised a couple of feet for additional security and, by the end of the first day, we’d had most of the materials delivered. The first of the frames was measured, cut and assembled before we were rained off.


Day 2 was all about attaching the 2nd frame (so that we’d have 10 drying racks in total) and sinking the whole thing into footings so that it wouldn’t topple.


Hot, sweaty, heavy manual labour. After 30 years behind a desk it came as a bit of a shock to the system.

Mind you, I did spend a fair amount of time with my eyes closed. In a previous existence (seemingly a lifetime ago) construction management was my business. Health & Safety took up much of our time (and money). As the MD it was me who would have been ultimately criminally liable for any major incidents or accidents. Here, things are done a little differently.

Fortunately Jethro is a skilled carpenter and knew exactly what he was doing. He’s also a heck of a lot more limber than me – and a great deal lighter and smaller. Some tasks were thankfully better suited to his build than mine…


While all this ‘Tool Time’ man’s-work was going on in the yard, outside the compound, over a couple of days, the signwriter had marked out the perimeter wall, chalked in the design and started painting.


Not an easy task. Much of the time was spent dodging the fierce heat and the stair-rod rainstorms that threatened to wash everything away as fast as it hit the wall.


And dodging the kids. Every activity around here draws a crowd – especially when Mzungus are involved.


By the time our last day drew to a close, we’d got the roof onto the drying racks…


…and put up the framework for the work-shelter.


It was disappointing that we couldn’t be there to get the last of the roof sheets and rainwater collection fitted, but we had a plane to catch and Jethro would get it done over the following week.

At least the sign on the outside wall was complete. Over the last 7 days the attention from the local kids has been constant. Most of the time it’s been pretty entertaining, but they’re intrigued by the car and are always crawling all over it, playing with anything they can reach. They may have stolen our petrol cap and radio aerial, peeled some of the stickers off the car and scratched their names into the bodywork, but they seem to like the building signage.


Big Game in Uganda?

We’ve been in Uganda almost three months and it seems to have flown by.

Much of that time has been spent with the Amaha We Uganda team in the Kasese District, the southern section of the Rwenzori Mountains.


It really is a beautiful region but so difficult to capture the saw-tooth nature of the multiple parallel mountain ranges and valleys. Most of the higher ranges are usually obscured by either low cloud (meaning it’s raining heavily), heat haze (meaning it’s about to rain heavily) or mist (meaning it’s just finished raining heavily). In between the rainstorms it’s mighty hot and humid.

There’s no Big Game where we’re staying between the Congo border and Kasese, although Queen Elizabeth National Park, about 40km away, has it’s share.

But there are a multitude of colourful smaller beasts.


In Kasese town though the Big Game is everywhere. The locals never seen to get bored with it (although I have to say it’s of no interest at all to me) and they crowd the pavements in a desperate attempt just to get a peek through a door or window.


This ‘Big Game’ was Arsenal. The Ugandans are nuts about football and the most popular entertainment at the weekend is the English Premier League, which they watch on live feeds from Sky Satellite TV.

Everyone here is a Man United, Arsenal, Chelsea or Liverpool fan. and they watch with a religious fervour.

Not my cup of tea. Our last 2 weeks in Uganda were taken up with more strenuous activities than sitting around watching footy.

We had a few more day-trips to meet women’s Co-op groups: still raving and singing about how their lives have changed since the Fuel Briquette project got going.


And we visited a local bridge that has been treacherously damaged by the floods (another problem caused by mountain deforestation and soil erosion).


The bridge is the only river crossing for 4 villages and around 1,500 people. They must walk 7km downstream to use this bridge. The upstream bridge has been washed away completely. Then, young or old, healthy or infirm, they walk another 6km to get to the local market, clinic or hospital in Kagando.

A round trip of about 26km. Most people do the trip on foot. Even if One or two of them can afford to hire a Boda-Boda (taxi-bike) it has its challenges


We also spent quite a while at Amaha We Uganda’s Good Samaritan Centre.

IMG_3357.JPGHere, 5 days a week for a 3 month period, around 25 youngsters begin to learn a trade. Under the guidance of 4 specialist teachers some are just picking up the basics of hairdressing…


…others are in groups learning knitting, tailoring or shoe-making (cobblers – no really, its true!).


Most of our time however has been spent knocking the new AWU library into shape before the team can occupy their new offices and the Community Centre can be opened to the public.


Yes, that’s right… me doing manual labour! Who’d have thunk it?

Three days of hard graft later and the yard is prepared for a small building project we have planned…


…the library building is ready for its final coat of render…


…and the outside wall is getting a coat of paint ready for the signwriter…


We’ve got one week left here then we’re booked on a flight to Zambia to see a couple of pals.

It’s going to be pretty manic before we go.

Fuel From the Fields…

No sign of our stolen goods turning up so we threw ourselves into helping to complete the build of the new Amaha We Uganda (AWU) community library in Kasese.

We’ve got a new team of lads making AWU Fuel Briquettes who will be based in the library yard. To promote the project we’ve been training the team and writing & distributing literature to local school teachers, Government officials, church & community leaders.

The Fuel Briquettes are designed to replace firewood and wood-charcoal. They’re made from a mixture of charcoal dust (made from maize cobs, sugarcane waste or coffee husks), mixed with pulped paper and bound in a mulch with cassava porridge. The mulch is then compressed in a timber press / piston kit, formed into ‘donut’ shapes and then dried for a week or so.

Once dry, the briquettes are burnt instead of wood-charcoal or firewood. If we can get 3,000 customers to use them it will save in the region of 17,000 trees from being cut each year.

Equally importantly the briquettes are about 20% more efficient than wood charcoal (55% more than firewood), cheaper than both (pound for pound), produce about 15% more heat and, being virtually smoke free, give off only a fraction of the carcinogenic fumes of other fuels.

Over 1.8 million women & children die every year in Africa from poor health due to fire smoke.

We’ve called the briquette product ‘Fuel From the Fields’ since the majority of it’s components are salvaged Biomass waste.

In itself that started another project: how to make the charcoal we needed (it defeats the objective if we use waste wood-charcoal).

Thanks to MIT in the USA for their advice on this.

We bought an oil drum and had it adapted into a simple charcoal kiln.

We scrounged some waste maize cobs from local farmers and loaded the drum with layers of dried leaves and cobs.

A small fire was set under the drum in order to burn through the holes in the base.

A lot of smoke is produced through the ‘chimney’ created in the centre of the drum.

After about 50 minutes of slow burning the smoke turns very yellow. This is the point at which the water vapour being given off by the smouldering cobs is exhausted and toxic gasses are produced (the same ones that would be inhaled normally by women cooking with firewood).

At this point the gasses are lit with a torch at the top of the barrel to destroy them rather than pump them into the atmosphere.

Although the gasses are burning, none of the material in the barrel is actually on fire – most important.

After a further 10 minutes the barrel is sealed by dropping it of the brick stand, covering the base with soil, putting on the lid and also covering it with soil.


The point of this is to starve the fire of oxygen. If the fire is left too long, all that the barrel will contain is ash. The maize cobs are then pyrolized ie the barrel then ‘cooks’ the cobs without oxygen or flame for 3-5 hours.

The result is about 30% of the volume of the barrel turns to charcoal (or at least it did after our first 3 pretty unsuccessful experiments).

Charcoal based cooking fuel from biomass waste – Fuel From the Fields.


Next up we’ll be building drying racks for the briquettes, a shelter for the boys to work, clearing the yard and painting the library.


Scumbags & Keyhole Surgery:

I’m so far behind on my blog that it’s gone beyond the point of being funny.
We’ve been in Uganda now for 3 months and it’s been interesting, welcoming, rewarding, friendly, hospitable, challenging, frustrating and great fun.
Most of it anyway.
Our days have been filled working with the Amaha We Uganda team. Helene’s Fuel Briquette project has been a tremendous success amongst the AWU Women’s Cooperative groups.

We’ve heard from over 400 women & children how this has significantly changed their lives.

Our focus over the last few weeks has been to try and really launch the Fuel Briquette operation in Kasese Town itself and to get the library construction project completed.

We get spoiled in the UK, if you need something you just trot down to the local hardware store and buy it – or you shout at the builder and tell him to get more men / get his finger out.
It’s impressive what people here can achieve with few resources and little money. They can produce something useful out of pieces of what we would regard as junk.

They are tremendously ingenious and impressively hard working. But sometimes, when you’re trying to put a plan together to a tight programme, it’s like herding cats!

We did get some time out. Judith flew in from the UK and we had a week with her in Jinja & Murchison Falls before she also spent time with us on AWU projects in The Rwenzori.

So what I should be doing now is putting up some pictures of our visit to Murchison Falls.

Even better than the National Park, was the time we spent at Ziwa where early one morning we were fortunate to spend 3 hours with a Ranger walking through the bush…

…during which time we came across 10 rhino.

A really wonderful experience and a rare privilege to be able to get so close to these fearsome animals.
Showing you more pictures like this is what I should be doing…

But I won’t, because 4 days ago some scumbag broke into our car and stole a couple of bags.

One was a plastic cool bag. I hope the rat-fink who lifted it is feeling pretty pleased with himself that he got away with half a bottle of Sweet Chilli sauce, one third of a jar of mayonnaise (a rare luxury out here) a handful of mini-Snickers Bars (Helene is distraught) and 6 ice- bricks to keep the bag cool.

I don’t know how the scumbag saw the bag in the dark, on the floor behind the seats, but the punk obviously thought it was too good to resist.

The creep must have know what he was doing because we were only sitting 10 meters away in the garden of a hotel having a drink.
The car was in the hotel car park, which was patrolled by a local police officer, in full uniform, with a rifle (most likely without bullets though).

If I sound bitter about the toe-rag who did this it’s because it’s so out of character for the experience we have had here in Uganda.

Unfortunately the miserable little bugger who broke the door lock and stole our mayonnaise also walked off with my satchel containing our iPad, my glasses, a bunch of electrical components and our journal of the last 18 months’ travel.

Worse still, having spent the last 3 weeks researching and collecting data for a number of Amaha We Uganda projects out here, the festering little leach also walked off with all of our paperwork, data, reports and presentation information.


So, instead of having a bunch of pics to show you of us with the Rhinos, or at Murchison Falls, all we’ve really got are shots of the local locksmith trying to repair the car door lock (there’s nowhere within 200km that a new one can be bought).

And pictures of us spending hours at the police station making statements.

It’s not so much the value of the equipment (we’ve been on the road for 18 months and don’t have receipts so it’s not insured) it’s the inconvenience of now having nothing to work on.

Worse, it’s the loss of our travel journal and all the hard work that has gone into the AWU programme research.

We work with some of the Street Kids here and they’re putting the word out that there’s a 500,000 Shilling reward for their return (about 5 month’s wages).

You never know, something may turn up.

For now anyway, our posts may be a little lacking due to all the pictures we’ve lost on the machine and the fact that we haven’t had wifi to be able to back anything up for the last 2 weeks – I feel a bit of a dunce about that.

Regardless of whether or not I’d backed things up though, the journal can’t be replaced.

But then, neither can the memories we’ve accumulated.

However, some great news. The budget and report we sent to the Amaha We Uganda team in the UK has been approved (despite us losing most of the data to back it up). We are enormously grateful to them for their good faith in us and their generosity.

As a result the project in Kasese to launch Fuel briquettes commercially (and raise invaluable funds locally for the team in the ground here) will get off the ground next week.

There will be a lot of sweat put in over the coming month so please support this project, justify our faith in the team here and (to pay back some of the money they have sent us) make a donation at Amaha We Uganda.

Mud-slinging Rocket Scientists & Witch Doctors

There’s a difference between ‘need’ and ‘want’. Families may want a television, but they need efficient, environmentally sound, faster, cheaper, less health-damaging ways of cooking (which may take up around 6 hours of the typical day).

Women here don’t mind getting their hands dirty.

If something here needs doing, get on with it. If you need something at home and you can’t afford to buy it, find a way to make it.

So, an afternoon of learning how to make rocket-stoves was scheduled.

That meant starting with a pile of clay, mud & anthill that had been hammered together brutally over the previous 2-3 days.


The mud was mixed with a little dried grass / banana leaves to add some fibre.


Next, a mould was required. Nothing sophisticated here. A banana pole will do.


Cut the pole in 2 pieces (these girls can handle a knife!).


Then, as usually happens when a bunch of women get together, the mud-slinging starts.

Oops – did I say that out loud?


The banana pole is used as a ‘former’ to create a hole in the side of the stove through which air will be drawn into the bottom if the fire-grate. The hole from the banana pole doesn’t go all the way through the base of the fire as air is only drawn in through one narrow opening on one side.

Mud is thrown with some venom at the pole, to ensure it is well compacted.


Then, 3 short metal bars are placed on top of the bottom pole and the other half of the cut pole is stood on top of them. The metal bars will set into the mud and make the grate of the fire. The second (vertical) banana pole is used to mould the centre of the fire.


The banana leaves are wrapped round the poles to ensure the poles can be removed later without damaging the mud shape.

Time for a bit more mud-slinging girls.


Margaret (the woman in the blue skirt) is the main instructor within this team of rowdy jokers. For some years now she has been a preacher at the church in Kajwenge village. She’s a bright, articulate, friendly but fairly sober woman.

That wasn’t always the case (sober, at least). As she is happy to explain, until she became involved with the church she was one of the area’s main manufacturers of ‘moonshine’ or any other booze she could make from what she grew in her garden, and a rather well known Witch-Doctor!

Actually, digressing slightly, I had to go to the local hospital recently. Nothing to do with the spider bite – which has healed now, after about 3 months – but because I went down with a fever and shivering fits for a couple of days. No idea what it was – I went for a malaria test but that came up negative. However, I may now be the only Mzungu to be registered as a patient at Kagando hospital in the mountains. Tribal background is a major cultural and social factor here. I wasn’t sure what to enter on the form.


There are many wards at Kagando (basic, and very large) but space is at a premium. The Out-Patients Department is literally that – Out, as in ‘outside’.


That said, I think I’d rather be out in the fresh air – some of the treatment rooms have seen better days.


Amazing what some treatment actually costs. A self-test malaria kit from a pharmacy will cost about £4 ($6.50). They are notorious for giving false-positive and / or false-negative readings. The way I look at that is, if the test only gives an accurate result 90% of the time why use it!

In contrast, I spent about 2 hours at Kagando Hospital. I was interviewed, admitted as a patient, given a patient file, interviewed (no issues), had my blood-pressure taken (fine), weighed (that made them laugh), and had bloods taken for proper physical analysis by a lab technician (negative).

Total cost, £1.50 ($2.50).

Top Tip: Unless you really are somewhere extraordinarily remote, forget about self-test malaria kits. They’re next to useless and almost any village clinic / hospital will do a better job for a small fee. Also, give them a donation as a thank-you.

Anyway, back to the mud-slinging Rocket Scientists…

Once the correct amount of mud has been slung, start shaping the stove.


Then remove the top banana pole and start to level the top.


The metal bars that form the grate of the fire are at the bottom of the hole, on top of the remaining banana pole.

Smooth the outside of the fire body and the inside of the fire well.


It’s thirsty work, 30 degrees in the shade and 87% humidity.


Make three ‘sausages’ of clay and mould them into the top of the fire as a pot stand.


Continue smoothing the fire surface with a wet knife blade and leaves. Leave the bottom banana pole in place until the clay has dried, or the fire will collapse.

Test the pot stand for size. Stand back, admire your work and continue clowning around.


When the latecomers arrive, tell them how much fun you’ve had, how easy it was, and what they’ve missed.


The clay stove should be made on a hessian mat or a tarpaulin so that it can be moved. Don’t move it yet, it will break. Cover it to protect it from the weather and leave it to partially dry for 3-4 days. Then, using a stick, make a couple of holes in the side to increase the draw of the fire, lift it and put it somewhere warm to dry for a further week.

Finally, mix a small amount of paste made from Casava or potato leaves and water and rub it into the outside surfaces to seal the clay.

Your Rocket Stove is ready to use.


The girls made 2 stoves, and had a good laugh, over a 3-hour period one afternoon. There is such demand for them (they’re cleaner, quicker, safer and use 50% less fuel than traditional fires) that the women’s co-op group in Bwera had made a bunch of them and are selling them to others.


It’s been a great month working with the Amaha We Uganda team in Kasese and ‘The Mountains of The Moon’. Next, back to Entebbe to collect our pal Judith who’s joining us from the UK for 3 weeks. A chance to relax with her on the banks of The Nile and try walking with Dinosaurs.