Monthly Archives: September 2009

Watch out Boda men!

I have been driving the Beast! It is a pretty hairy experience driving in Kampala, more like an adrenaline filled video game than a mere drive to the store for milk. From both sides Bodas appear with pedestrians and bikes about to topple under the strain of carrying too much charcoal. Out of the blue a bike with sugar cane strapped horizontally across the back will weave between cars and appear in front of me, and just as I swerve to avoid him, I look to my left and see two small children crossing the road. People do not follow rules. There is no zebra crossing or plans to overtake only on the left. It is mayhem, madness and anarchy.

So while I may no longer be riding the Bodas I am still very much aware of their existance.  Watch out Boda man, the Beast is near.

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A chicken, some cows and a very loud disco.

A few more photos, this time various examples of what I see every day.

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This is Ugandan refrigeration. You buy the chicken and kill it when you are ready to eat.

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A small village on the banks of Lake Victoria. The lake is only 30 mins from the centre of Kampala.

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This is the disco which lies directly in front of my front gate. The sounds emanating from this establishment have cost me many hours of precious sleep.

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This photograph was taken right in front of my gate. These cows are just about to walk past the disco in the previous photo. They are a very nonplussed type of animal. Check out the one behind the leader. I think he wanted to smile.

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Signs hanging in front of a small general store.

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Market Day

I finally got out with my camera this weekend and I explored the market near our home. Some people were very nervous about the camera, some suspicious and concerned about my intentions, but many were intrigued by the camera and happy to oblige. The morning was not only spent photographing but also talking to people and seeing them in a whole new light. I have promised to take some photos back next week for them to keep. I imagine there are a number of people there who have never owned a photograph of themselves.







market lady


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A lot of people but not a lot of water.

It was a highly sociable weekend.  Friday we were invited to a large and lavish Jewish New Year party, Saturday we went out on a bar hop and Sunday we spent the afternoon and some of the evening at a wonderful home overlooking Lake Victoria. I have now met people from Israel, Canada, New York, Germany, Denmark, Holland, Austria, England, South Africa, San Francisco, Boston, New Zealand, Australia, Kenya and France. I have met people in public health, the restaurant business, education, policy, water engineers, Unicef, Food and health NGOs, business, construction, art, writers, fitness, pest control, embassies and infectious disease. Most people that we have met are here for only a few years but there are some who arrived over a decade ago and have no plans to leave. The majority of expats here have lived in many places, ranging from Brazil to Namibia to Belize to Rome. Some ( not I)  run and bike and do endless sports, some are content to read by the pool and people watch,  but everyone’s favorite sport is eating, drinking and talking. I have discovered it to be a very sociable place with hours spent getting to know people and talking away the hours. One thing everyone has in common is that they are far away from home and it quickly becomes a unifying fact that bonds us all.

Good thing we were out so much because we have no water. Neither does most of Kampala, it seems. I imagine that soon people will start to smell, or the scent of perfume will just become over powering, as I imagine it must have been in pre-plumbing but post perfumerie Paris. The dishes are piling up, the laundry basket is overflowing, and we have a bucket of water that we have siphoned off the empty house next door that we use to flush the loo. Every few hours one of us optimistically turns on a tap, just to see. The school has water, the club has water, so we do have options for showers, but a home without water is troubling. It has been 5 days.

Last night we lost power. I wanted to laugh but it was not yet funny. Humour needs distance. And clean clothes.

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By the light of the moon

My wish for a day off did not come true. Eid was declared to be on Sunday rather than Monday and all the finger and toe crossing came to nothing in the face of the moon. There is something quite extraordinary about the fact that in this high tech/high speed world some things stay very simple. It is only by looking at the moon that the date of Eid can be ascertained. The city was in a festive mood and celebrations went on late into the night. Far too late in some circumstances.

The disco which lies directly outside our front gate normally has an enthusiastic evening on Friday and Saturday and usually ends by around 10pm. Last night, however they were still going strong at 2am and in between each number the DJ enjoyed grabbing the mike and yelling with glee and fervour at his patrons. It can only be described as torture. As I lay awake, pillow clenched over my head I repeated the mantra over and over again: “Make it stop, make it stop, make it stop.” Eventually I turned on the light and read. There was no fighting it. I did have some violent fantasies concerning the throwing of hand grenades but they only made the pain worse. I hate to be a party pooper but there is nothing more selfish than depriving another of sleep. Especially when she needs to confront various teens in a classroom the next day.

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A bit like a hippo.

This is NOT a pity party so don’t come with any Kleenex or sympathy. It’s just that now and again I like to set aside my very sunny disposition and famous positivism and wallow.

Like a Hippo wallows in the murky muddy water, except for me the water is Kampala and the murky-ness is the things I live without.

Yes it is a GIGANTIC adventure and yes, it is AFRICA and I will get to see a lion but may I please, just for a moment mourn the loss of my washing machine? You see, I am a little bit Trooper and a little bit Princess myself. I like to think that most of the time I am more Trooper than Princess but every so often I look around my self and I feel those Princessy tendencies rising to the surface, like a Hippo in her murky bath.

Many moons ago, in what seems like another life but was actually only 3 months ago, I had a dishwasher, microwave, washing machine, Cuisinart Magimix, Osterizer, and a gorgeous espresso machine. I also had my beloved girl, friends, a TV, the best housekeeper/cook a person could wish for and Cassandra. I had all my furniture and possessions, including paintings, photographs and mementos that reminded me from whence I came; I had wireless internet, a job I loved and a beautiful home. I had a car with a CD player and air-conditioning, a glistening mall and a beach just 30 minutes away.

We arrived here with 7 suitcases and shipped some boxes filled with essentials so basically our life has become somewhat sparse. In time we will have curtains and furniture, we will rebuild the home we left behind but some things will never be the same.

Each night we hand wash our dinner saucepans and plates with cold water (only the showers are fitted with water heaters) all our clothes are hand washed (ok, but not by me), our kitchen is minimal. Living the simple life does make you think. We take for granted so many of our mod-cons, so much of what keeps us ticking each day. It is only when they are taken away that we realize how lucky we were.

But I miss nothing as much as I miss my friends.

Ok. Wallow over.


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Gout, riots and lice. Really?

We have started week 3! Already! Half way through September, we are already starting to plan our half term safari trip.

I have never met a set of better behaved children. The students I teach are all respectful, polite and attentive. There is only one class renown for their big personalities and rowdy tendencies and of course that is my homeroom. (I like it like that!)

Friday I gave my first set of spelling and vocabulary tests. Now that I am teaching the younger years I have implemented the old fashion system of testing.

Best definition for Gout: A disease caught from eating goat.

Best definition for Aquiline: To acquire something by pulling on a line

Best definition for Wince: A very small place.

There is one young chap in year 7 who, when asked to go home and find definitions for the vocabulary words, took it upon himself to make up his own definitions. The above are the results of his ingenuity.

While I was calling out the words for the year 9 spelling test I realized that anyone with a dirty mind might find these words better suited to the set of a porno flick than an English classroom. Lacerating, Abrasive, Desperate, Submissive, Whips, Thrust, Extraordinary Dramatic.

Oh dear.

Many of you may have heard that there were riots in Kampala over the weekend. This is true. Sadly 14 people died during the violent outbreaks and when we woke up Saturday morning the road near our home was littered with the remains of burnt tires. So what was it all about? The King of Buganda was meant to visit part of his Kingdom on Saturday, but it is a contentious place as some argue that it doesn’t really lie within the borders of his Kingdom. When it was suggested by some members of the government that he should not pay this corner of Uganda a visit, riots ensued. Many people were angered by the politicians involvement in what was really a Tribal affair. In the end the visit was cancelled and the rioters calmed down. The main effect that the disturbance had on my life is that my classes dwindled down to almost nothing by Friday after lunch. Worried parents pulled their children out of school in response to advice that it was preferable to remain at home and off the streets. One student’s father had his car torched. We were all a little nervous driving home but we didn’t see anything. During the evening we heard gun shots, but they were probably warning shots fired by the police.

To be truthful I was far more affected by our own little rioters crawling over the scalps of Trooper and Princess. Yes. Lice.

The battle lasted two whole days, the weapons; poison in a bottle and multiple combings.

I think we have won.

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Lost on the way to the equator.

How many times in your life can you text the following words to a friend as a means of apology for being 4 hours late for brunch?

“We got lost on the way to the equator.”

It is a 75km trip from the centre of Kampala to the equator, a simple white line drawn across a highway and lined with arts and craft shops and a café. There is the classic signpost, perfect for that “facebook shot” that everyone loves to see. Plus there is something quite cool about knowing that you are standing at the centre of the earth.  We thought it would be a fun drive out of town, something simple that would get us back for our late brunch at 2.30. How wrong we were. We learnt some valuable lessons last Sunday as we lost our way.

  1. When looking for Masaka road, first buy a decent map.
  2. Promptly ignore said map and ask for directions. Many times. When asking for directions the phrasing is very important. If you ask “is the equator this way?” the answer will always be yes. I think it is considered impolite to say no to a stranger.
  3. There is no concept of sign posting in Uganda. It is therefore perfectly easy to get lost.
  4. Allow double the time. 75km on a Canadian smooth-as-a-pebble highway. Driving at 120km in a car that doesn’t rattle is a completely different 75km to a pot holed, red, dusty and muddy road lined with slow moving trucks.
  5. Once you realize that you have driven over 100km in the wrong direction, it is best to turn back and call it a day. When you are driving with a very determined husband whose sole ambition was to go to the equator then nothing will stop you.
  6. Papyrus swamps are green.
  7. People who have just purchased fish attach them to the front bumper of their car. I can only imagine that this is to reduce the scent of raw fish inside the car.
  8. Food takes just as long to arrive south of the equator.
  9. A Ugandan traffic jam turns 2 lanes into 8.
  10. Gas is expensive. The beast likes gas.
  11. 75km can turn into 300km. Easy.



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Buckets, cows and tomatoes.

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How much can you fit on the back of a bicycle?

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Fridge clinic, photocopy shop, stationary…all conveniently located next door to each other.

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This is not a joke. A cow really was just standing in the centre of the round-about, just in front of the enticing large drink promotion.

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Building materials? Clothes? Buckets?


The most beautifully displayed tomatoes. This stand was found miles outside of kampala when we got lost on the way to equator. ( That story is coming soon.)

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Kampala snips.

Well I survived week one of school, although week one was really only 3 days, but in my books that is still a long week. Between tricky names getting stuck in my throat and walks to and from the library to check out text books I managed to get to know a few students and learn the ropes. As I mentioned before I am teaching years 7-9 which translates as grades 6-8 and those little year 7 boys are tiny! It is a sharp contrast to the 16-18 year olds I have been teaching for the past 2 years. Those little guys take ages to copy anything down, need everything to be explained slowly and most often twice but they are not yet cynical and their innocence is pleasing.

The only views of Kampala I have had this week have been through the windows of the Beast as we travel between home and school. One thing I have observed is how busy everyone is. While traveling in India I often remarked that a lot of people, in particular men, squatted around for much of the day chewing, spitting and talking with each other. I imagined that in a city with a growing population such as Kampala I would see similar displays of languid behaviour. The Boda drivers do their share of nothing while waiting for customers but on the whole what I have witnessed is a hive of activity. Early in the morning people are carrying water on their heads, pushing bikes loaded with bananas up hills, washing clothes, firing bricks and a lot of digging. Everywhere I look someone is digging a hole.

This city is growing. It has only been the capital since 1962 and at that time was built over 7 hills. It now stretches over 21 hills and counting.

Here are some fun and fast facts about Kampala.

The name comes from the animal, Impala, which happily grazed on these hills and were happily hunted by chiefs and kings. With a little Lugana thrown in (the local language) the city soon became known as Kampala.

There are many mosques here. (With loud speakers.) It turns out Islam arrived here before any Christian Missionaries. So I guess they got here first.

Kampala is only 32 km to the equator but the reason it has a reasonable temperature is because it is 1200 meters high. (That is 4000 feet for you Americans.)

Kampala is home to only 1 of 7 Baha’i temples in the world. It is know as the Mother Temple of Africa. 3limes will bring you more on that when we visit the temple in the coming weeks.

More fun facts, photos and cutting edge visions from the window of a Beast, coming soon!

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