Monthly Archives: August 2009

Trying to be subtle

I am longing to take photos but it is a tricky one. A person cannot just approach people going about their daily lives, cooking, peeling, sewing, driving, laughing and chasing children and snap photos as if of animals behind a cage in the zoo. What is so exotic and unusual to my eyes is quite normal to the people here and the taking of photographs must be approached with some sensitivity. I am planning on venturing out alone, camera in hand and approaching people with a smile.


In the meantime I have found a fondness for photographing billboards. A lot can be revealed with a billboard and therefore I include a number of scenes of Kampala, billboards included.




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Filed under Photography, Uganda

13 days in Kampala.

3limes is very sorry that we have not been out and about as much as blog writing requires.

I have been tucked away in my classroom trying to figure out what to teach these young’ns when they came traipsing through my door next week. It is a challenge and one that sees me scratching my head and trying to remember what an auxiliary verb is. Yes, I will be teaching grammar. It is the stuff of nightmares.

This past weekend I did manage to leave the books and the country club and move into our new home. It is not the luxurious pad that Trinidad was but it is home and in time and with some careful shopping will be very cozy. I am as happy as a lamb to be unpacked and in a new bed that I can call my own. Trooper and Princess are installed in their bunk bed and seem very happy.

We spent all day Sunday in the shops buying supplies, including boring things like rubbish bins and exciting things like lamps and shades to cover those awful naked bulbs hanging from the ceiling. The hunt for pretty things had us in and out of shops most of the day and I am most impressed with the selection on offer. I had no idea what to expect, but I was leaning more towards the paltry shelves and sad shops scenario. It has been a pleasant surprise. There I was frantically stocking up on deodorant and toothpaste and now I find pretty much anything one would need.  ( Maybe not want, but need.) Yes the shoes are grim and there are no clothes stores to write home about but there is an excellent book shop, plenty of appliances and house wares and lots of deodorant. So here, then, in a nut shell are my first impressions as we hit day 13.

The juxtaposition of wealth and poverty is shocking. Right next to a shiny mall are mud huts with people cooking over charcoal.

There isn’t a huge choice in furniture but there are things available, many things are cheap and anything can be made.

The supermarkets are really well stocked. I have found Nutella, Lindt and feta so I lost those bets.

The city is extremely dusty. Red dust appears all over the floors, the cars and my face all the time.

There are more cars than can fit on the roads. A traffic jam here is amusing. It is literally a jam, with two lanes of cars turning into 8. Everybody thinks there is a way out and no one waits in a line.

There is a brand new highway (with fresh paved concrete, quite the rarity here) that is not “officially” open but enables my drive to work to take 5 rather than 15 minutes. Some entrepreneurs have decided on a system. They sit at the entrance and exit to the highway holding large pieces of wood stabbed with spiky nails flat against the ground. Once the driver drops 500 shillings (25 cents) onto the concrete, the sharp and spiky wood is pulled aside.

The Boda Boda ride is thrilling, cheap and dangerous. I am not a huge fan. They weave around trucks, buses and SUV’s with some skill but I hear the hospitals are full of people with Boda Broken Arms.

Kampala is more expensive than I imagined. Food, all imported items and even private hire taxis (as an alternative to the Boda) are pricey. There is a cinema here (the only one in Uganda) with three screens and it costs $6 to see a film.

There are some decent restaurants here. We seem to have joined a Friday-Thai-night-out sort of club. The Indian food is also very good. One of the biggest malls has a food court but it is not a food court like in the West. As you peruse the restaurants on offer waiters approach with menus. You select what you want from them and then sit down. The waiters bring it to you. This is an example of cheap and plentiful labour. It is really only fast food in that you walk quite quickly past the places you don’t want to eat.

People living on or near the streets wear quite an amusing selection of western clothes. I know that once upon a time they were worn by some kid in Toronto and when too small were dispatched to the nearest charity shop. Now I know where those clothes go. I saw a great Vermont t-shirt, complete with a moose on a little girl yesterday.

There is a growing middle class here. The other day I saw a great lady, sitting proudly side-saddle on her Boda with a fabulous pair of high heeled patent red boots. Quite the sight.

Bicycles are for at least two people.


Filed under Family Stuff, observations, personal, Uganda

Kampala Nights

I don’t sleep well here, not yet anyway. I need my shipping to arrive so that I can have two pillows, one to sleep on and one to put over my head. Either that or I will be investing in a pair of ear plugs.

Once I am awoken by some noise, the buzzing of a mosquito, the coughing of a husband, I am awake and there is nothing I can do about it. I simply lie there listening to the sounds of the night. I am of the opinion that one of the main disadvantages to marriage is the sharing of sleep. If one person sleeps badly the other does too. In Trinidad we had one of those incredible bowling ball beds (so called because if a bowling ball were rolled next to you, you would not feel it. I have no idea who thought that anyone would be bowling on a bed at night, but there you have it.) In any case, the bed was amazing and my sleep was good. The mattress we have now is called orthopedic, translation: hard as hell foam that is like sleeping on the floor and therefore good for your back. I will get used to it in time but what may take longer are the sounds of the night.

It is so tempting in these first weeks to think back to our previous life and compare. I don’t vocalize these thoughts as I am intent on staying positive and making sure everyone is up beat and cheerful most of the time. We are not keen on complaining and morose behaviour is discouraged. Did you hear that Princess?

However, I cannot help, while lying awake for hours at night, but to compare the sounds of a Trini night to one in Kampala. Nights in Trinidad were accompanied by a chorus of frogs, high pitched chirping tiny frogs that went on and on and on. Crickets played their part too. Mostly the sounds were drowned out by the white noise of the air conditioner. It was a pleasant atmosphere in which to sleep.

A Kampala night, in our new house where our bed lies under a open window, is a whole different story. There is a loud African disco that play quite intriguing African music until about 10pm. Then the dogs start. It seems every dog in Kampala conducts some massive conversation back and forth between the hills. It reminds me of the scene in 101 Dalmatians when the dogs invent a help line over the country side.

In addition to the dogs we live very close to a Mosque. Need I say more? The Mosques here are not synchronized so often we can hear the calls to prayer overlapping in stereo, some from afar and one very near. I am pleased to say that the voice calling the Muslims to awake is far gentler than those in Indonesia that seem to scream “GET UP YOU LAZY LOT AND START TO PRAY!!!!!”  This foghorn projects a slightly different tone. More of the: “OK. Time to roll over, get up and come over to pray.” As you can see I have had the occasion to listen carefully to all the intonations.

Then the birds start and at about the same time, the Roosters. It is still not light yet but the animals think it is wise to get a head start.  Once the dawn breaks the smell of burning charcoal wafts into our room as people in the mud and brick houses all around us begin to cook breakfast.

By the time my alarm goes off I am finally fast asleep.


Filed under Uganda

Finally a photographic glimpse.

Here are a few photos taken on my work to work.



The wall on the left with the barbed wire is the school wall. Behind those walls is a very large compound with classrooms, buildings, pool and other delights found in a place of learning.



On the left you can see mud huts, on the right a typical Boda Boda driver.



This is what lies behind those walls. Notice the view of Kampala in the distance.




This is the scene we walk past daily. 



This is the oasis, otherwise known as the country club where we go to relax and wash off the red dust.

And now off to a meeting. Yipee.


Filed under Photography, Uganda

I did come here to work, you know.

I have survived my first two days at my new job. Starting at a new school is strange because there are all sorts of comparisons that float around the head. For a start this campus is big and fancy but we don’t have a computerized attendance or grade keeping system. That is partly because this is Africa and partly because it is a growing school and these things will come. Many of the teachers are from Uganda and they love to touch and hug each other. There is a lot of laughter in the air. No one is very happy to be working two weeks before the students start but I am relieved to have the time since I will be teaching all sorts of texts that I have never taught before!

I am eternally grateful to have a husband who is out on the Boda Boda shopping for furniture and organizing our house while I am here at work trying to wrap my head around a totally different way of doing things. At some point he will have to sit down and do some work too but it is a relief to have him holding down the fort, house, kids and all.

So since I have come to Uganda to work I thought I would take this opportunity to introduce you to some of the books I will be teaching this year. In a somewhat random and rambling style here, in a nutshell, is the way my school year is shaping up.

Lots of Poetry and short reading pieces (that come from a book suited to the English year 7-9 curriculum).

Some rather scary looking grammar and spelling material that I hope to make fun (!).


Diary of Anne Frank

Animal Farm

Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah

The Tempest

Midsummer’s Night Dream

Dr Faustus by Marlowe

Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian

Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera

I am going to have to sit on my brand new sofa and get reading.

I have also discovered that I am going to be a year 7 ( grade 6) homeroom teacher and I will be taking them on a two day sailing trip this year.

I will be teaching Trooper ( year 8, grade 7) but I won’t be anything to do with her homeroom,.

The change from the US to British system is a little confusing. You simply need to add a year. So instead of going into grade 4 Princess is starting year 5.

Tonight we are going to try out the only cinema in Kampala. More on that and hopefully some photos coming a little later.


Filed under Miss Teacher, Uganda

From a child’s perspective

It is always rather different from a child’s perspective and it is easy to forget that they are seeing and hearing everything for the first time. Last night both my Trooper and Princess had a melt down.  It is an overwhelming experience for me so I can hardly imagine how they really feel. Most 9 year old expats, especially those working for large organizations or embassies would have been swept into an air conditioned car and driven from the airport to a large leafy breezy home without a slum in site. There is a district here called Kololo and that is exactly that. Then they would be chauffeured from home to country club to school and back again.


In sharp contrast my little princess has been walking through pot holes, past ditches filled with a grey and murky sludge, and past the most extraordinary array of smells. Uganda refrigeration seems to favour keeping the chickens alive and well in coops along the street. There is a huge sensory assault every moment and the combination of culture shock and home sickness is quite intense. She complains of having a pain in her chest all the time. Trooper on the other hand seems to take things in her stride but yesterday after the 4th Boda Boda drive and seeing poor children sitting in the centre of the street, seemingly alone, the sense of being overwhelmed hit her hard.


On the other hand they have met great people and when they are in the pool they are more than happy.


The milkshakes go down a treat too.


Filed under Uganda

Losing my Boda Boda virginity, heros and Interpol.

My husband is my hero. He gets out of bed before us and Birkenstock raised high above his head, he searches the bathrooms for roaches. As soon as I hear the crunch, I know I am safe. Then we all get up, peel away the mosquito nets and get ready to start our day. He also searches the apartment before we enter, checking if it is roach safe. This, in my mind, is the definition of love.


Today I went to the police station to complete my security check. This is to ensure that I am safe to teach children and that I have no murky criminal past. All the new teachers squeezed into the school bus with some trepidation, fearing that this might take some time. I quickly discovered that Ugandans have a somewhat different sense of time and efficiency than the Trinis. It is a welcome change. However the experience was not without its particular version of charm.

When we arrived we first parked on a football pitch where lots of sweet children came running up to look at the white people. Then we realized we were in the police training center and got back into the bus to climb further up the hill. Once we parked, yet again, we had some difficulty locating the correct building. They all looked pretty shabby, and rather non-police-like but what did I know? We were finally directed to a creaky staircase than ran outside next to a collection of mud huts with people washing clothes and children chasing a tire. I thought that maybe this was police housing, but I never found out. Once inside we followed the signs for Interpol which were hand written and stuck beside arrows all along the hall way. I was dying to take a photo but didn’t want to get into any trouble with the Uganda authorities. Not yet, anyway.

Once we found the correct room we were asked to fill out a few forms, hand in some photos, pay 12,000 shillings ( $6) and write a letter stating that we were of good moral standing. Then we were fingerprinted, each finger twice but the thumbs only once. I was directed to a bathroom that resembled a Turkish prison ( in my imagination) to wash our hands with a bar of blue soap.


That was it! Done. Back in the bus and back to school before schedule. We find out on Friday if Interpol has anything on us.


The afternoon was spent furniture and appliance shopping downtown. We are moving out of the cockroach palace into a new two bedroom house in a few days and we need to buy essential items such as beds and a fridge. Everything has to be paid for in cash so it takes some time to withdraw all the funds. The fridges here are small, the ovens are also mini and are attached to a gas tank, the beds are fitted with firm foam mattresses. It was an unusual but very friendly shopping experience but the best part was the journey home. This is when I lost my Boda virginity. A Boda Boda is a motorcyle and they are all over the streets, being the easiest and cheapest form of transport. My eldest daughter who I will from this point forth call Trooper ( in contrast to her younger sister who we shall call Princess) climbed onto the Boda between her dad and the driver. I got my very own Boda.  (Princess was not with us, thank God!) Without helmets and with my stomach in my mouth we set off. “Be careful This is my first time!” I yelled into the driver’s ear.


It was thrilling, a little scary, but we all arrived safe and sound. Two Bodas. Three passengers. Cost 3500 shillings. ($1.75). A bargain and a cheaper thrill than a roller coaster.



Now I am writing this in the dark. There is a power strike brought on by a ferocious rain storm. I am dripping, my jeans are dripping, but at least I am no longer dusty.


Photos will be forthcoming but will take patience and some high speed internet.




Filed under Uganda