Monthly Archives: November 2009

Weekend Escape to the Itchy Lemon


Kampala was getting me down and to avoid the smog, dust, noise and smell of rotting cow horns, I made an impulsive decision to head to Jinja for the night. We decided to stay at an island called The Hairy Lemon, a place I heard spoken of many times. It is a small island about 60km upstream from Jinja and is famous for being very quiet, a great place to Kayak and having an excellent campsite. Paying heed to my inner princess I decided to sleep in a Banda ( a small, basic, concrete house ) rather than camp in a tent. Despite the positive inroads I have made in my relationship with a tent, I have decided that I will only sleep in a tent if there is no alternative. The Hairy Lemon is well known for its vegetarian food and coupled with the fact that I was longing for some silence, I thought this Lemon, hairy or not, would be just the ticket.

The drive was a little over 2 hours. Imagine this distance on a wide and smooth highway in the Shiny West and it could have taken 45 minutes. Much of the drive was pot holed or involved hurtling over rough speed bumps placed at foot long intervals. I spent most of the drive thankful that I was wearing a bra and singing Grease songs at the top of my lungs. I arrived hungry and excited for my mini break.

A small dug out canoe takes visitors from the bank to the island, a ride that is only minutes long, but makes the arrival seems quite romantic. The kids, like wild dogs let off a leash took off at some speed to run and explore the island. The family we were with, who shall for ever after be known as the Super Campers, unloaded their tents and marched up the hill to set up camp. ( They are ALL Trooper with no Princess in sight, hidden or otherwise.) These are friends who always carry snacks, always have the right gear, always have chairs to fold out and sit on. They put me to shame.

Anyway…. The afternoon passed well, despite the barely edible lunch. The vegetarians amongst us, who had, I presumed, been expected, were served food where the meat had quite obviously been pulled out. Husbands napped, wives read, children frolicked in the rapids, it was all calm, quiet and restorative.

Dinner was quite simply inedible. We dined, instead on chocolate and either coke or wine, ( age appropriate, if nothing else) and worried about where we could brush our teeth with no running water around. The toilets were all long drops (exactly as it sounds, it drops a long way down) and strangely, whereas they hadn’t bothered me in the slightest in Bunyoni, here I was irritated. I had left Kampala for some peace and quiet and I was finding the gag inducing toilets and lack of warm showers very annoying. Still, at least I wasn’t in a tent, I thought, as I prepared for bed to the sound of rain pounding the tin roof.

Sometime during the night I began to feel it. The stinging sensation that comes from being bitten by something very very mean. It was not a mosquito as there was no buzzing accompaniment, and mosquitos tend to drift away and then return to munch on a different place. I was being bitten from the top of my thigh, all the way down. In the morning I discovered a dozen large, swollen welts. I am convinced there was a large, hungry Safari Ant in my bed.

Eager not to appear too much like a Princess in front of the Super Campers, I tried hard to smile and laugh about the toilets and joke about how we could always shower at home, but inside I was fuming and dying to return to my little house. The very same house, that I had called boxy and was so intent to escape just 24 hours before.

As we came home, and how sweet home felt, I made a decision. I will not go anywhere for the weekend unless there are flushing toilets and warm showers. I will indulge my inner princess and no longer push her away in shame. I am what I am and I have the itchy thighs to prove it.

2 Comments

Filed under Might be funny, personal, When the rose tint fades

Miss Teacher

I’m on a bit of a mission at work. It has long been a point of fact that I have zero tolerance for any type of bullying. This includes any of that mean talk that kids indulge in, including notes passed in class with petty slanders about the girl in the corner. I believe passionately that no child should have to suffer in silence and if more teachers made it their personal mission to stand up and say no then the frightened victims would finally have someone on their side. Too often educators turn a blind eye to the cruelty of children and teens, stating that it is “just a phase”, “I wouldn’t know what to do”, “it will pass”, “it is all part of natural selection” or God only knows what else.

 

When I was 11 and 12 and one of the only English girls at my predominantly American girl’s school in Japan, I was bullied. Rude things about me were written in soap on the bathroom wall, my pencil case was thrust down the toilet to a chorus of laughing girls and the entire time no one did anything about it. Even my own mother said at one point “ Well did you do anything to provoke them?”

 

I feel no shame in the fact that I was bullied. Occasionally I search for reasons why it was me that was relentlessly picked on and I come up with the idea that perhaps I was different from the others. I spoke with a different accent, I wasn’t allowed to wear make up or go to see movies like Endless Love or Blue Lagoon. I spoke off the cuff, tried too hard to have friends…. I have no idea what combination of facts led to me being the IT girl for those girl’s nasty behaviour. I do know that while I was pinned down at a sleep over and rubbed all over with lip sticks that stained my pajamas, that there was nothing I could do to stop it.

 

The other day in PSHE ( personal, social and health education) I combined both Year 7 ( grade 6 ) classes to discuss this very subject. I told them that I would not tolerate any unkindness of any sort and that what they might deem funny could, in fact, be very painful to the person involved. I also told them about the importance of the bystander and witness and how powerful a role that person plays in stopping the meanness. I explained that I knew how hard it was to be a snitch and tell on someone and for that reason they could, at any time, drop a note on my desk explaining anything they had seen.

 

Bullying is not rife in my school by any means. It is a small school where every one knows each other and I don’t believe that any one of my students is particularly cruel. However, things do happen as I was soon to find out. I handed out sheets of paper to all 40 students and asked them to anonymously write down anything they had seen or done. Reading these notes later made me quite sad. One boy was pushed into the gym shower where three other boys turned the tap on soaking his clothes. One person confessed to breaking into a few lockers. Someone else explained how they had passed mean notes in class. Simply the act of writing these facts down helped to make these 11 year olds realize the little cruelties they were inflicting on their classmates.

 

Since that PSHE class I now have a reputation for being a fighter for all students who feel excluded. My door is always open to any one who feels slighted and they all know that I will always be on their side. Just the other day I received  note from a sweet young girl who is certain that none of the girls in her class like her. She wrote a litany of examples of times that she was excluded or sniggered at. I will invite all the girls involved into my class room for a chat next week. Once they realize that some one is watching, someone who refuses to stand by and allow meanness to exist, maybe they will think twice.

 

I am not a fool and I know too well that girls between the ages of 11 and 15 can be extremely unkind. I also know that I cannot change this fact, but I can let the victims know that some one has their back. I will not stand by and do nothing, at the very least for those kids who have the bad luck to be the chosen targets.

 

5 Comments

Filed under Miss Teacher

The Official Top Ten List of Why it is Cool to Live in Africa.

Perhaps I have been a little harsh on Kampala, always dwelling on the bizarre, the strange, the smelly or the inconvenient. Maybe I have written too much about what I miss or lack or crave, So I have decided to write aTop 10 list of the Best Things About Living in Africa. It is time to readdress the balance. So here, dear readers is the official positive spin. (Trooper, Princess and Handsome Husband were all consulted in the making of this list.)

10. Excellent fruit and vegetables. They grow everything here and the pineapples are particularly exceptional, and fresh all year round.

9.We are always surprised. Going for a simple drive to the supermarket can turn into quite the adventure. You have no idea what will appear around the next corner, but I assure you, it will be surprising.

8. Full time inexpensive help, We have a fine woman who comes to our home each day to hand wash our clothes. iron our sheets and mop our floors. This is a cheap but lovely luxury. For a bit more money we could also have another fine lady come over and cook our meals. This might happen in the near future, if I have my way.

7. There is no need to ever do any sort of manual labour. Ever. Need a shelf drilled to the wall? No problem. Need a pair of bedside tables to be custom built? No problem. Need your house painted? No problem. Need a tailor? Done. Anything can be done and the price is always low.

6. Excellent free education for both Princess and Trooper. Courtesy of yours truly who walks into that fine institution and teaches every single day. Perks of the job baby!

5. Wonderful weather. It is really the best climate a person could wish for . It is never too hot, never too cold, yet cool in the evenings and warm enough to lie by the pool on a Sunday afternoon.

4. The proximity of extraordinary places to visit whether for a long weekend or an extended trip. There is the best wildlife in the world virtually on our doorstep.

3. Decent restaurants, a movie cinema and high speed internet . Inexpensive fresh roses sit on my dining room table every day, my furniture is handmade and there is a decent bookshop. The supermarkets are full of wine and nutella, what more do we really need?

2. A good social life and plenty to do. If we wanted to we could be out all the time. There is a robust group of expats from all over the world ready at a drop of a hat to drink Beaujolais Nouveau, toast Haggis, dance at a ball, raise money for a worthwhile cause or simply meet for a good Thai meal. There are always people to meet and they are people that you would never, in the course of a regular life back home, run into contact with. Often when I watch my girls around the pool I think to myself that with their friends they resemble a mini United Nations.

1. And the number one reason why it is cool to live in Africa? Everyday we are forced to question the way we see the world. Our preconceived notions are constantly thrown into the air and we never stop learning.

5 Comments

Filed under observations, Uganda

Spotted on the streets of Kampala

Things recently spotted on a Boda Boda:

A family of four, all tucked neatly behind the driver. That makes five.

A woman breast-feeding while riding a Boda Boda, neatly zipping between a truck and another truck.

Two chickens, alive, tied to the handle bars.

A goat, very much alive, and not very happy, tied by the legs, upside down and hanging from the back of a Boda.

Recent viewings from the window of The Beast:

Very sharply dressed traffic policeman. They were dressed all in crisp, pressed white; held a whistle and a wooden palette with which they were directing traffic. I say, who needs traffic lights if these people dare to get themselves between one dusty truck and another? With a wave and the occasional beep on a whistle these fine men and women rule the roads.

Dead dogs and plenty of them. I have taken to wondering, each time I see a dog sleeping, if he is actually alive, or very much dead. It is not a question I enjoy posing as we speed over the pot holes.

Fish hanging from the fenders of cars. They are attached by string to the metal bar on the front. It seems this is the choice way to carry fish home and I imagine it reduces the fishy smell in the car but it certainly may add an aroma of smog to the taste of the fish. This is not an uncommon site yet one that leaves me bemused every time.

Many shops called Obama. There is an Obama Grocery, an Obama Hairdresser, and Obama Restaurant and an Obama Fruit Shop. Do you think he has any idea?

Downtown in the centre of Kampala where you would find the worst traffic jams there are men who walk between the cars selling a assortment of things that would defy the imagination. When was the last time that, sitting in your car, you suddenly realized you needed a wall map, or a pair of shoes, or a game of Scrabble or even a steering wheel cover? Mosquito zappers, board games, carpets and rain coats are offered beside cell phone car chargers, phone airtime, sneakers and peanuts. It is best to put up your window if you prefer not to shop since any one of these objects may be pushed into the car and dangled under your nose.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Might be funny, observations, Uganda

A city slicker in a tent.

Where have I been? Well dear internets I, lover of high heels, imported cheese and lip gloss, was camping. I cannot remember the last time I slept in a tent but I think it was the 80s. Last week I slept in a tent for two nights, and to be perfectly honest with you I found it a trifle claustrophobic. If and when I decide to buy a tent it will be a 6 man tent and I shall be very happy in it all alone, or perhaps with just one another. I found the whole plastic, hot, sleeping bag, not being able to stand thing very stifling. However I should not dwell on the negative but instead turn my head towards the new skills I have learnt.

I am a city slicker. I have never pitched a tent (this one was actually pitched for me by the previous camper), I have never planted nor grown anything, I don’t know the difference between a spider bite and a mosquito bite, I have no clue how to build a camp fire (although I can toast a mean marshmallow), I am lost with practicalities concerned with the wilderness. I never went to camp.

These gaping holes in my knowledge are slowly being revealed here in Africa where every second person knows how to pitch a tent, and live the life of Crusoe.  I have heard that there is nothing quite like sleeping in a tent on safari when you can feel the hippos push against the ropes of the tent as they are grazing and it is becoming clear that I will have to attune myself to tent life if I am to properly enjoy the full safari experience. I have few skills that would make me very popular on a camping trip. Yet there I was, leading a team of 18 11 year olds onto a sailing and camping adventure.  And I survived! These are some of the skills that I picked up:

  • When cooking scrambled eggs for 23 people, 46 eggs are needed. It is not advisable to cook this as one large batch, but rather scramble 6 eggs at a time.
  • Never be shy to rely on a child for help. When it came time to take down the tent I hadn’t a clue how to fit that large plastic green thing into that tiny green bag. Multiple girls, far more experienced than I, came running to my rescue. It was a wonderful case of “teach the teacher.”
  • Wet wood will never light a fire. Neither will damp wood. However, with many tiny broken pieces of wood you may have a chance.
  • Carry plenty of Band-Aids.  There are all sorts of unimaginable ways of cutting one’s self on a camping trip.
  • Luckily we had a club house with kitchen so no cooking over a Bunsen burner was needed.  What I realized very quickly is that there is no reason for bad food or bad coffee on a camping trip. A French Press is indeed portable.
  • When leaving a sleeping bag to air out during the day, it is advisable to bring that sleeping bag into the tent before it gets dark. I was bemused as to why my pillow and bag were damp when it hadn’t rained and then I learnt about Dew. It is not just for mornings.
  • Upon arriving from a camping trip with 18 children it is a fabulous idea to take off the very next morning for a deserted island on Lake Victoria with a good friend and plenty of wine.

Recovery  was quite splendid.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Miss Teacher

The world is much better in high heels

 

I miss my heels. When I lived in Trinidad, I wore heels everyday to work, teetering joyfully on them along the road, down clip-pity clop hall ways all the way to my classroom where I kicked them under my desk and taught barefoot. My room was air-conditioned so I was never hot, nor sticky and less frizzy (unless there was a rare power cut and then I turned into the wild witch of 207.) Now I have turned into one of those women who wears somewhat pretty clothes but with… Birkinstocks. Yes. I said it. I know who you are and you can pick your jaw up off the floor. One good friend in Montreal, after showing her my brand new and second pair, exclaimed “one is an exception but two is a problem.”  “Now,” she said, “ you have turned into one of them.

I have worn heels exactly twice in 8 weeks and it was agony every time. The walk from my class room to the staff room involves staircases, long walks past plants and seemingly miles of hard stone floor. My room is cold tile. There is no chance of a tootsie touching that floor.

No. Until I discover the eternal quest, that of the search for the comfortable yet pretty shoe, I will keep wearing my Birkies. I recently purchased my third pair on line;  they are black patent and you over there please take you hand off your forehead. It is ok. I am still me. Yet not wearing the cute dresses, any more. You see the only clothes that go with Birkies are long skirts, comfortable tops….   Where is the glamour?

Get me to Top Shop. Quick.

Leave a comment

Filed under I miss shopping., personal

Been busy with my faithful Canon. Shutterbug I am.

mosaic nov 09

2 Comments

Filed under Photography

Making decisions, making a list

It is hard to know if a decision is the right one. Some are small such as:

‘Should I wear/buy this dress or that one?’

‘What do I want people in shiny big cities to send me for Christmakah?’

“Should I have really spent my  paltry end of year teaching bonus on a Mac or should I instead have invested it for my old age?’ ( I don’t give enough thought to the fact that one day I will be old and unemployable.)

Some are really big such as:

‘ Should we move to Uganda?’

‘Should we take our dog?’

‘Should we adopt Casanova?’

‘Should we buy the Beast?’

‘Should we open a business?’

I feel we have had a significant amount of big decisions to make recently. Far more than we would have if we had taken the other route and continued with our lives and status quo in Montreal, 3 years ago.

So how do we make a decision? Guts mainly? I think if you cannot decide something you need to lie very still and listen. Which voice is louder? The yes or the no side? It may take a long time to tune out the noise and really listen but I do believe this is the only way.

I am tired of the big ones, although they do keep the heart beating and ward off any comforting signs of boredom. It would be perfectly pleasant to chill out for a while. However, there are more coming; and they do not involve dresses or shoes, sadly.

On a happier note, I have a few small and fun little conundrums to solve. I am compiling my  Xmas list of what I want friendly and cheerful bestowers of goodie boxes to send. It is an interesting challenge. The items must weigh next to nothing and be small. They have to be quite inexpensive. ( Despite jewels fitting into category #1, they get swiped off the list with #2. ).

So:  small, light and cheap.

Thus far I have got as far as lip gloss and Yogi tea bags.

The mind hums.


2 Comments

Filed under I have no idea where to put this, personal

A cure for the grumps.

Yesterday was a most frustrating day. I suddenly felt trapped, overwhelmed and generally in need of a Starbucks, a decent shoe shop and a group of girl friends all piled into a living room, wine and laughter a- plenty. I know there will be days like this, I am aware that my rose tinted glasses may smudge now and again, I just need to distract myself until the ennui passes.

My extremely patient husband offered an excellent distraction by way of a drive around the neighbourhood. Between work, the grocery stores and home, I haven’t let myself out of the cage much recently. And this drive was an eye opener. When I lived in Trinidad one of the greatest frustrations was my inability to walk anywhere. I was car bound, and (and here it is: confession time) I was a total wimp about driving there so really I was house bound and dependant on rides. Terrible.  Anyway here my frustrations are similar in that Kampala is not a walking city. Whenever we want to go out, we need to take the Beast.  Anyone from the burbs will be familiar with this concept, but as a true inner city girl, this hurts.

So back to the point. Yesterday I carried my bad mood into the car and as we drove around and observed life around us, the mood slowly started to slip off. Mere minutes from our house, life is very non urban. In fact, it closely resembles an African village and it is easy to see how anyone who has made the move from the country side to Kampala could feel instantly at home.  It emphasizes my previous point about Kampala being a place of two cities.

Turning left outside our gates the road continued on its bumpy route for a very long way. So long in fact that we needed to turn the Beast around rather than continue and risk getting lost.  Without pause there were small shops, stalls and many children lining the road, alongside sleeping dogs and the odd bemused looking horned cow. The little girls here, who mainly wear the clothes that children in the Big West neither want nor fit, were by and large attired in what seemed to be old party frocks. The clothes that we saved so lovingly for that special occasion are now mud splattered yet happily worn by smiling children who yell “Hello Muzungu!” to each and every foreigner that drives past.

By the time I got home, I felt refreshingly alive and freed from the dusty cobwebs of my grumpy mood. I was reminded that I live in Africa, and no matter how cross I may get, I love the fact that each and every day an eye opening world exists right outside my gate.

1 Comment

Filed under observations, Uganda, When the rose tint fades

The little things

It is the little things that make us crestfallen. The real little tragedies are the things that were just ever so close.

Like the time we were just about to press play on a marathon night of Entourage and the power just went out. And then when I thought “ No problem we can play it on my Macbook!” we couldn’t get the DVD out of the machine. ‘Cause the power was off.

Or imagine the power going off in the middle of an urgent MSN tween chat with your best friend in the world! Tragic! ( Try explaining Ugandan power supply to a 12 year old at a time like that.)

These are the little things that matter so much.

How about the time I decided to have a rare after school nap and just as my head made contact with the pillow the electric saw and Mr. Mosque started their duet.

One time I arrived at the club excited for my latte ( please don’t even whisper Starbucks, I will hear you) and the expresso machine was broken. Just then, and only then.

I was crushed.

Chocolate doesn’t taste the same here. The Cadbury we get is either made in South Africa or Kenya and who would know geography can alter the taste of chocolate so much? It is not even the same food! Only 2 kinds taste similar and when you want a chocolate bar as a matter of some urgency and those two kinds are not available for love, money or wishes; it is truly, deeply sad.

(By the way many things taste different. Funnily the Alpen tastes of cinnamon.)

Right now I sit here very disappointed. Just a highly strung bundle of wants. Could someone please send over a Tall Non Fat Extra Foam Latte and a large yellow Toblerone?  Pronto.


3 Comments

Filed under When the rose tint fades