Oli otya from Uganda! Manchester student’s incredible journey of earthquakes and prayer freestyling

By Robert Stalker, writing in Uganda

A talented Manchester Metropolitan engineering student who jetted off to Uganda for a once in a lifetime opportunity has adjusted to his new life in the country since arriving earlier this month.

MM previously reported here that 20-year-old Robert Stalker will spend the next six months in the town of Nkokonjeru after beating dozens of candidates to clinch the top prize from Engineers Without Borders.

The eager student invited us to follow his exploits and in his first column, tells us how he is determined to help the coffee farmers in the small farming town…


I arrived at the Rural Agency for Sustainable Development (RASD) compound at 7.30pm local time and after leaving my Kirkham home the previous day at 4.30pm I was relieved to have finally got there!

We pulled up into a small restaurant and presented in front of me was a towering plate of potatoes, rice, noodles, cabbage, mutoka and more as well as three side bowls containing sauces, one with beans, one with chicken and the final with beef.

The food was extremely tasty and I was informed that I was to finish everything so I sat tight and thought of all the training I had done watching Man vs. Food… however this time food won.

When we hit the capital Kampala it was crazy. Boda boda bikes flying in between cars carrying stacks of items on the back, the constant sound of car horns and the sheer amount of people made it a sight to see.

Coming out of the bustling city, we drove through rural areas heading to Nkokonjeru and children would wave at me as we drove past with some even running after the car.

I heard people shouting to me: ‘bye musungo’, meaning ‘bye white man’. I was told this was a common way of them greeting Westerners, and not to worry!

When entering RASD, I was greeted by Ignitius and his family, and after a lovely meal from his wife I headed to bed. To say I was in need of sleep after my journey here would be an understatement!

Believe it or not, I was woken in the night by my first experience of an earthquake which was the first in Uganda in over seven years… what a welcome!

Ignitius met me at 9am where I was briefed on my first assignment to research into coffee wilt disease, the effects of which are ruining coffee farmer crops.

On my second day I met with the local farmers to talk about the disease which I was very excited about. As I woke in the morning I found the power was out, so it was good that I would be out in the field all morning.

We walked about 45 minutes to the first coffee farm overlooking some of the area’s beautiful landscapes, however the heat was getting to me.

The first farmer I met did not speak any English so I said ‘oli otya’, meaning ‘how are you?’. He laughed and I guessed I spoke Ugandan with just a little ‘northern twang’.

He showed me what the disease had done to his harvest and told me how it was bringing poverty to him and his family. He once had five acres of land to grow coffee on. Now he only had three.

I learnt that saying you are from England means you must like football. I am not a football fan but told people I live in Manchester and support Manchester United which seemed to make people feel at ease speaking to me.

A farmer called Livingston had the same problems with the coffee wilt disease and the effects were just the same. He then took me on to see his wet processing machine for coffee. This was a project which Engineers Without Borders and RASD had been working on previously.

Livingston informed me that it is a blessing when somebody visits his home for the first time so I had to visit his house to bless the family.

I sat on his couch and was told I must say a prayer for the family. I didn’t have a clue what to say but in the end I did some freestyling and said: “Dear Lord, we thank you for bringing us together here today, to let us meet one another from different parts of the globe, may you be looking down on us always, Amen.” 

Luckily it went down well.

To follow Robert on his travels, click here. MM will further update you on Robert’s travels soon – watch this space.

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