Those of you who have been around and reading the Post for the last three years may remember that in 2000 I took myself off to Africa for the second half of my Gap year.
I spent two months working in central Tanzania, and travelled a little bit. In the process I got soundly addicted to Africa. Then, in my first week at university, I met Fiona who had just returned from eight months in Uganda, with an addiction possibly in excess of my own. After telling anybody who wanted to hear - and quite a lot who didn't - all about our African adventures, we decided - after last summer spent in mundane money-earning jobs - that we needed to go back.
So we've spent the last year planning and plotting. We worked out that we had two months in which we could travel, between Fi's graduation from St Andrews and beginning clinical studies in Manchester, and we knew that we wanted to visit Kamuronko (her village) and Kilimatinde (my village) and do a little bit of work along the way. We also decided that the best way to fit in working and travelling in that space of time was to do it all under our own steam. It was at this point that having 'connections' became helpful!
One of my mum's friends works as a missionary doctor in Mbale, Uganda, so we emailed her and said: 'Hi, you know my mum, can we come and work with you?' Jan said we could, so we got to work. Going to Kilimatinde went out of the window as getting from Uganda to Tanzania takes enough time and complications, without trying to get to a small village slap in the middle of the country in a short space of time. Instead, we decided that we'd go and take a look at Rwanda: it was a country we were both intrigued to visit, one to which we could get easily - the road links across the border from Uganda are good and straightforward - and which we could see quite a bit of in a short space of time. We arranged to go and work with Dr White for about six weeks, and then to travel - definitely to Kamuronko and Kabale, its nearest town, and Rwanda, and then anywhere else we fancied and could get to! We booked flights, got ourselves jabbed all over again, dug out our yellow-fever certificates, got visas and left.
It has to be said that when we left we weren't particularly clear on what we were going to do in Mbale while we were with Jan. Fi was quite keen do learn a bit more about interesting medical things (the girl wrote her dissertation on malaria), and I was up to do pretty much whatever was needed as long as it wasn't preaching in church!
We arrived at Entebbe airport, armed with about three items of clothing, enough books for three weeks travel (we planned to borrow Jan's books in Mbale) and a pile of bits and pieces Jan had asked us to bring - if anyone had opened my rucksack I would have looked like a high-class drug trafficker, although I did have a bit of paper to wave featuring Jan's medical registration number and requests for various things. Jan met us at the airport, and took us to some friends of hers to collapse in a big heap while she ran around Kampala doing all the things you can only do in the capital city, before driving us up to Mbale that evening.
At this point I got some impressive first day jitters. In three years of wanting to go back to Africa I had forgotten what it could look like on a first impression: the sprawl of Kampala, the mass of people living and working almost on top of each other, the unkemptness of the cities. I began to wonder if I had really loved living in Tanzania so much, whether my 'want to be anywhere but here' reaction on arrival in Kilimatinde had really faded after the first few days or just got lost in the wonders of seeing the Ngorogoro Crater, Zanzibar, and the safari hotspots of Southern Africa.