Monthly Archives: May 2010

Feet in the mud, full throttle, crunch time.

So one ping pong day leads to another and if I don’t write about it and try to make sense of it all then where does the day lead? My weeks fly by so fast; this year, the most difficult year of my life; is nearly over. The year started last June when I left Trinidad and it will end in a few months when Year 1 comes to a close here in Uganda.

I miss my old life.  Not just the people and the school, my job, our sweet dog, my house;  I also miss living by the sea. At the same time I miss my life in Montreal; my friends, the independence of my own car and a house that spilled onto a sidewalk in the middle of town, where I could walk and meet people and do everything I needed to do within a 2km radius. But I cannot dwell on the past. No, I must look forward and look down at my own two feet walking in Kampala mud.

So let’s attack the present shall we?

Princess is terribly sad to see the end of Maria and the singing nuns. Goodbye, farewell. She says that she wishes it would go on forever and not have to end.  I think she fancies the idea of being an actress as a job, where you actually get paid to go onto the stage every single night.

“For how long?” she asked.

“Normally around 6 months and then they change the cast. Sometimes if you are on a break from making movies or are particularly famous they might do an 8 week run.”

“ Oh I like the 8 week one and and the movie idea much better,” she decided.

Princess  had a date with her 10 year old boyfriend on Saturday night.  Ideally they wished to be dropped off at a restaurant all alone for a couple of hours and then picked up and brought home once it was over. I didn’t fancy the idea of two ten year olds in a restaurant alone and neither did his parents. So the big sisters went along to supervise from a distance. They were given  strict instructions to sit at the “other end of the restaurant.”

I feel like saying Oy vey. What lies in my future when dates are starting at 10?

It is seriously cute though.

Trooper is about to turn 13. “’Nuff said.”

Handsome husband, now that his days featuring in The Sound of Music Meets The Pink Panther are over is going to be looking for a new hobby. I am thinking a sport. Something with rackets.

I am full throttle, missiles launching, speeding towards the end of term. I have the nightmare prospect of completing the Yearbook.  (When will I ever learn to say no?)  I have 120 kids who need to be ready to take an exam and then I need to be ready to mark 120 exams with only 2 days spare to write 120 reports.  I am remembering those days when I used to spend hours drinking Star-bucks and pushing a swing.  Fond memories.

But luckily before we get to that crunch time when teachers all over the world start to snap and look frazzled, we have a long weekend. Music to my ears. I am busy planning a get-away which is a good thing because I think I need something other than school and musicals to write about. And don’t you miss pictures? I do. My camera has only be used these past few weeks to snap yearbook photos of administrative staff lined up looking grim and young athletes throwing themselves over high poles.

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Confession time. I am not one of those.

EXERCISE.

I don’t like it. My favorite form of exercise is lying on a hammock, reading a book.  Leaving the hammock with an enthusiastic stretch and going to mix a Mohito is a great activity. I love walking,especially in a city where you can walk and look and barely notice that you are moving; but parks are good too. I just hate exercise simply for the sake of exercise. Gyms and classes where sweaty bodies jiggle in unison are the worst. I have tried Yoga    ( um, about 15 years ago) and really enjoyed that but it tends to involve time and the usurping of the one family car, ergo, Beauty.

But here it is: confession time. I ran 100 metres of the teacher race at the athletics day and my hip hurt for a scary number of days afterwards. 100 metres! That is not a lot. Trooper came up to afterwards, all sympathy and condescending smile and said:

“Oh don’t worry, not that many people laughed.”

I am out of shape and it is not good. I just want to go out for a walk and not meet a lot of cows and some dare devil Boda drivers. I am surrounded by people who exercise like manic people. There are hacks and bike rides and 10K runs and triathlons; there are yoga retreats and after school squash games and staff soccer games. There is even a super intense Masters Swim Program. Who are these people and why can’t I be like them? They are a different breed and I look at them with some curiosity, akin to Gorilla Trekking perhaps. They never jiggle when they walk, in fact they are all toned in all the right places. I have seen the calf muscles, there is a healthy bulge.

So what to do. There is no point sitting around wishing I was back in Montreal with my dog and those glorious long walks on the mountain. Yet I am doing a lot of that.

Next week I am being kidnapped and taken to a secret and very “zen” location to try a Yoga class. Let’s see what happens. Maybe this little fish will bite.

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A very cross day in a room full of ping pong balls.

Get ready because I am going to have a full on TEACHER MOAN. Now normally I love my job, really I do. In fact I think I am rather good at it and I have an excellent rapport with teenagers. Most days it all works. But when it is bad it is really awful and today was one of those days. Teenage boys are like pingpong balls. They cannot sit still for very long and even in the middle of a test they can suddenly jump up and knock over a chair or run to me with a hopeless question. So once the test is over, there is nothing else that can be achieved for the rest of the class. My job is simply to contain them until the bell goes and pity the poor girls. I had one young chap today who decided to put his bag on the floor under his desk and rest his pretty head down until the bell went. Clever, I thought, as it was hard to see him under there and when I did finally spot him I was ready to lose it.

One of the spelling words today was Ballistic and I was close to giving them an actual definition. They didn’t like me and I sure as hell didn’t like them. A thin, blue eyed boy who has a little “Another Country” about him; he is very beautiful in a way that is not appreciated by girls now but will be much later; decided to argue with me over whether or not he had correctly answered a question. The answer he had given was stunningly brilliant. Something that displayed such intelligence that could suitably fit into higher education, but in showing off his extraordinary ability to infer religious hyprocrisy in Romeo and Juliet, he had not actually answered the question. He flounced off with a melodramatic turn of his head and said “ Don’t cross me Ms Chesler.”

He then wrote a note on the top of his paper that read “ I cannot lie. So I cannot say I am wrong. But I also cannot say that you are right either.”

I value this boy’s intelligence I wish he would ask further questions instead of just assuming he is right and knows it all.  I need someone out there to save me from the more parochial of topics. I always teach to the higher level and expect the others to catch up. But there are days when this backfires like a giant slap on the face. My test was hard but they still should have done better. Now I know that the majority of boys, all throughout my classes had been thinking about breasts. Maybe, most practically, even about mine.

I stomped into the car at the end of the day and sat crossly all the way home.  I hate it when it doesn’t work.

I teach 6 classes and I am amazed at how each group holds their own shape and character. Each class has between 17 and 21 students. One class is wild. The kids have huge personalities and are the sports stars of the grade. They are very vibrant and passionate, often turning between tears and fury in a day. This class was recently, by all the other exhausted teachers, given a Merit book to encourage some new and calmer behavior. Once they received 50 merits, they would be given a free dress day. This wild class also happens to be my form room and on a wednesday when I have them for a double in the afternoon I always get a headache. Today they got their 50 merits. It only took them close to 3 weeks! So a crazy free dress is ahead.

There is another class that is my clever class.  It is as if someone poured the greatest concentration of brains into one room. That is it. I love them am so sad that the majority will be leaving next year for boarding school. Trooper is in that class. ( Yes, maybe I should write about teaching my own daughter at some point.)

A school is like a mini world. It is a microcosm of politics and love stories and gossip and drama. There is heartbreak and joy, sadness and jest all under one roof and often in one day. Today was a hard one and my patience wore thin. Sometimes I need to remember that they are so so young and not so wise.

Best moment of the day. Repeating this line to my Year 8 ( Grade 7 class ) and they just loved it. The little romantics.

“I mean, that my heart unto yours in knit,

So that but one heart we can make of it.”

( Midsummer’s Night Dream.)

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Blue Sambuca and Brown Croupiers.

After an evening spent watching Trooper performing in her school play we dispatched her to a sleepover and headed out for some drinks at the most popular Irish watering hole in the city. It is not a place I like, but it is one of the only places to go as there is a dearth of bars in this town. At about 11.30 pm when I was having visions of my bed, it was suggested that a trip to the Casino was in store.  Now, I don’t like casinos and I don’t like gambling. I find the whole concept of putting money on the table, only to lose it minutes or even mere seconds later, quite frightening. I like to hold tight to my money and save it all up for holidays in Lamu or shoe shops.  Still, I was out numbered and not wanting to be a sour puss, I am never sour and certainly no puss; I followed along.

Entering the casino felt as I imagined a morgue to feel. Albeit one decorated in the style of an Egyptian pyramid. So maybe an ancient Egyptian morgue. It was ice cold both in temperature and mood; the room was brightly lit with a bar against one wall serving free drinks ( as they should since they were taking all our money anyway); large tables with bored looking people took up the remainder of the room. A team of all female croupiers dressed in brown costumes looked bored but competent as they cut cards and dealt. There was one other smaller room where a high stakes Poker game was underway. I hid in the larger room.

This was only the third casino of my life. The first was a large, brightly lit and bustling place, Vegas style, in the heart of Lisbon. We went there as a drunken group during a wedding weekend. I have few memories of the event as I was far too tipsy to count my money let alone intentionally lose it.

The second was a sad and dismal second floor casino in Winnipeg in the middle of winter, mid week. There was nothing glamorous about it. I remember the people all looked grey, bored and rather grubby as if they had been there too long and were starting to blend in with the dreary furniture. We lost $60 and it broke my heart. I swore I would never go again, especially as those days I had to teach three sets of ballet lessons to 5 year olds to earn that princely sum.

Yet here I was entering the casino for the third time. Handsome husband likes the black jack and knows how so I just sat and watched aghast as time and time again that nasty lady in the brown pants suit got closer to 21 than us. How could she repeatedly win? Why was she so lucky?  In the end I walked away and tucked back a few free shots of Sambuca. It was blue and tasted of terrible cough mixture.

There was a man who kept throwing chips at the roulette table and the brown clad woman just kept taking them away. Despite the fact that it was far from crowded I was shocked that so many Ugandans had that much wealth to throw away. We were the only white people there, I had expected a larger expat contingent.

The saddest thing about the whole event was not losing money ( we ended up $100 ahead thanks to HH’s luck), it was was the depressing mood of the place. Everyone just looked so bored. It wasn’t even fun, it was all rather desperate and lonely.

I am not going back. My thrills lie elsewhere, not sure where yet, but elsewhere.

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I passed a dead dog this morning, entrails spilling onto the dirt road.

There is a madness in the air if you stay too long

and taste the sour regret of days spent waiting

or rather not waiting,

no it is days spent in a sulky acceptance of what is not.

We drive through debris that at first was shocking and now just smells. We have got used to the rotten carcass of dead dog on the side of the road

that we pass each morning

and we don’t like the acceptance of that which should be wrong

Nothing is sterile and clean.

Chaos and muck tucks into my days until I open and close the doors to my small and cosy cocoon. And we learn what life is for millions and how we are the strange ones, not them.

Some stay forever, by choice or not. Perhaps an accident of time took away their freedom to choose. But we are still in the deciding phase, a place that worries away the months until years have passed and it is too late. And we dream of the past, we are wrecked by a nostalgia that eats away at our dreams and waits for us to wake up and say enough! Of the deciding and the regrets and the making of plans. Better instead to roll about in life and let it take you where it will. Like a bumper sticker on a 12 year old’s Facebook page, the place where she is defined and defining, “life is a journey that should end not with a tidy coffin and a discreet burial. No rather it is a messy business that should leave one ruffled, black with skid marks and whispering in a breathless voice, “wow what a ride.””

But it is not a ride. It is a messy, dirty business that involves constant waking and moving and making and forging together of moments until we come out with some fragment of success. Is success the ability to notice the stink of rotten cow or the ability to walk, head high, like a queen in a cesspit that only recognizes pride?  What, after all, is ugliness? What is the need for clean beauty?  Does this place not force a beauty made out of scraps? Can I really live in a place where beauty is placed at the bottom of life’s heap?

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The Sound of Music hits Kampala.

I absolutely loved seeing Princess on stage. She was focused and excellent in her role. But most importantly she was so obviously having an absolute ball. It is just fabulous to see such joy and obvious delight in doing something. She has discovered how much she loves the stage; not just the performing part but also the camaraderie, the practices, the costumes, and the back stage tension. Even when I think she is fall down tired she still wants to get up and do it all again and she learnt so much about responsibility, commitment, listening and sharing through all this. Now she really understands what a team is.

This is why it is so important to teach the arts. Imagine how many children go through 12 years of school without an opportunity to go on stage, even in a non speaking role, there are so many skills taught in being in the theatre. Skills applicable to life, more so than an algorithm. Not that I am not saying one should cut any other subjects for the arts, but cutting the arts to save money says a lot about priorities.

Since this performance is amateur dramatics, it is a KADS production ( Kampala Amateur Dramatics) there are all sorts of characters taking part. It is amazing how many people give up time, learn lines, suffer stress, worry…all because they just love the theatre. These are special people and they are all addicted. There are students, teachers, Ugandan university students, mothers, business men and housewives there. They are a motley crew joined by this thing they have in common. After spending an insane amount of time together, in most cases they take off their make up on the last night, say goodbye and barely see other again. ‘Till the next time.

One of the reasons Kampala has such a strong Amateur Dramatics scene must be the type of people that find themselves here. There are a lot of Brits, it was founded by Brits  and the British has a very strong attachment to the theatre; at school they all had plenty of opportunity to act and even more so in university. Theatre lovers who miss the cultural scene back home have transplanted the floorboards to Kampala! An unlikely yet fitting home.

Handsome Husband is the most unlikely person you would ever find signing up for something like this. I am the trained Drama person ( although I have terrible stage fright) but there he is, (and he must have wanted to at some level ‘cause he never does anything he doesn’t want to do ) walking on a stage, with lashings of make up to age him significantly, and saying his 9 lines.  This is the first time he has ever been on stage and I think he likes it. The funniest thing is that his role is the one that tells Von Trapp he must leave and join the army; it is a small role that rolls a punch. Instead of the sombre moment it is meant to be, this turns out to be the comic relief in the play when he fails miserably in his German accent and instead sounds exactly like Inspector Clouseau. For one moment this play became a scene from the Pink Panther and then too quickly it was over and we were back in the Alps. The audience laughed, I wept, it was too too funny. I think he was great and I am proud of him for hamming it up.


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Being sociable

I don’t often feel at all sociable, in fact I generally exist between school and shoe box, only going out when I feel obliged to or sense the need to shake off some unhealthy cobwebs. I find the longer I hide at home the less tempted I am to go out and actually talk to people, don’t I talk to people all day long?  Honestly, after a day battling with puberty, I rarely have the energy to do more than shower, cook and tuck myself up with a good book. However it has been a very sociable couple of weeks here in the land of 3limes.

Some recent highlights:

Trooper and her best friend made home made pizza ( including the dough) for a group of us. It was a perfect sunday evening of wine, friendship and laughter.

A dinner party, Mexican style where we sat under the stars and  ate guacamole and drank tequila Mohitos. The group was a happy clan of UN employees, a couple of teachers, some business people. We had 4 Canadians, 1 Brit and a Kenyan.

A visit to the home of The Beautiful Ones who live on the banks of lake vic, where children dip in the pool or shoot bows and arrows.  I love an alfresco dinner party, especially one that features good food, French Cheese and an international mix of people including Canadians, French, American, Brits and a recently adopted Ugandan baby.

Then  one of those evenings where everyone who was anyone was in attendance. It was the opening of an art show and old timers mixed with journalists, expats and wealthy art buying Ugandans. The evening left me a bit cold, lost even, wondering where in the grand scheme of things, I fit in.  Frequently a feeling of not quite fitting in settles on my skin. Not sure how to wash it off.

A ladies night featuring 20 or so women, some expats, some long term residents and some who were born and raised here. It was a lovely evening in a beautiful home with a generous and amusing host. Again, we ate under the stars at little tables dotted around the garden with the warmth of a cluster of candles. I am again, inspired to move to a house with a garden so we too can entertain under the stars.

Rather than squeezing 9 people into the shoe box so we can eat pizza on our laps. Yes this was another feature of the sociable week.

A night in with no Trooper or Princess is always a highlight. This one was dedicated to laughter as handsome husband and I began the Gavin and Stacy marathon, a witty and irreverent English sitcom that makes me laugh; out loud and often. Having no TV here, we rely on DVD box sets and we have now worked our way through the entire series of Entourage, Californication, Torchwood and now Gavin and Stacy.

Finally a rather bizarre evening was spent at the Casino. Yes, there is a casino here, more than one in fact. Isn’t a casino in the poorest continent rather an anachronism? This one deserves its own post so more on that later.

Tonight is opening night for Maria, singing nuns and tea with jam and bread. Tomorrow night I will be going out to see it. Very excited.


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