Monthly Archives: September 2010

This is Africa. A public moan.

T.I.A

There are days when it is not all smooth rolling; in fact it is rather more bumpy and potholed. On those days I have to just sit back, bit my tongue and think to myself T.I.A.

This Is Africa. We say that a lot here, especially anytime there is an aberration of the service industry and a reminder, once again, that there is no service industry here. Not one little bit. Take as an example my Sunday. I woke up with the happy intention of going out for a family lunch. We selected a restaurant, one that handsome Husband specifically Did Not Vote for, I might add, and hopped into the car.

Upon arriving we realized that although it was a Sunday, a day customarily reserved for that wonderful North America invention called brunch, breakfast would not be served after 10 am. However, eggs could still be arranged and I settled on an omelette. And how silly was I to choose something so confusing that no one could ever wrap their head around the concept?  I wanted a cheese omelette with tomatoes and onions. Yes, call me picky, I wanted some added zing in my cheese omelette that day, especially since I had prior knowledge of the rubbery and tasteless cheese served in these parts.

I was visited by another waiter, who, like the first, looked bemused. He wanted to verify that I did indeed want a cheese omelette and not a Spanish omelette. Yes, I replied, fearing the worst, cheese, but also with tomatoes and onions.

I got cheese and cheese only. Apparently the extra zing was just too confusing, a mystery that could not be conquered that morning in that kitchen.

In addition there was no salt and pepper, Handsome Husband did not get what he ordered, and the whole lunch, what was intended to be a happy family Sunday lunch, came off feeling like a disaster.

Then: feeling  a trifle sulky I thought a Bloody Mary would be a fine accompaniment to our weekly Sunday Scrabble game. “NOT spicy.” I requested, having experienced the sensation of losing the roof top of my mouth two weeks previously.

Despite asking, I did not manage to get what I wanted for the second time in one day and the roof top of my mouth was once again scalded by spices of a variety not encountered elsewhere.

And what about the time I made the HUGE error of ordering a four cheese pizza at a fashionable pizza establishment? Yes it did have four cheeses. Only it was four times the same cheese, melted and applied to pizza dough only when it resembled the heel of my shoe.

This morning, reading the New Yorker (kindly brought back from the US by a friend) with my coffee, I felt terribly homesick for the Great Shiny West. Imagine this: a Sunday brunch in a restaurant featuring white table cloths, a large airy wall, mammoth windows, lots of green plants. A Bellini would be pleasant and perhaps a Frittata containing Feta from Greece and fresh pesto made with pine nuts. After wards I would go for a walk in a park, listen to some jazz performed on a band stand and finally walk into a gallery to see what is showing. A movie would finish the day nicely, in a large cinema with comfy velvet arm chairs and warm pop corn with just the right amount of salt. The movie would be something that recently visited a festival and would not have the descriptor of Blockbuster attached.

I miss the US, with its energy, its anything can happen and yes we can attitude. I miss the bright optimism and the eagerness to help the customer, an eagerness that I have previously found irritating. But how lovely it would be to hear today, with his chirpy drawl and college stance,

”  Hello! My name is Brad and I will be your waiter today!” “May I help you?” “Is everything to your liking?” “Is there anything else I can offer you?”

But no, this is not to be. I will be fine; I will sit back and breathe. T.I.A.

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Filed under Being brave, Great Big Shiny West

More thoughts on Two Worlds

I have been thinking about my last post A Meeting of Two Worlds and some of the issues it has raised in chatting to people. Living here and experiencing this sort of disparity is unsettling yet we get used to it and see a truth that is somewhat different from what is imagined by those in the West. There is nothing we can do to close this wide gap between us and them and nor should we. There is a type of arrogance in a white and rich person trying to come in and fix the lives of African peasants. Having said that there are areas in which Aid is needed and is most beneficial: Aids research, access to clean water, wells and medicine; anything that can help those who cannot help themselves. But we cannot try and take an entire continent and turn it into the West.

In my first months here I felt uncomfortable living side by side with such poverty and I recently spoke to my class about this after our visit to the school. We talked about how we felt visiting a school where nearly none of the kids owned shoes. I explained to my students that the wealthy ones had no need to feel guilty; why should they feel guilt for being fortunate through an accident of birth? The world is not fair and never will be. What is important is to always feel gratitude, be aware and help where we can.

One thing that I didn’t mention in my description of the school was the smell. When the students pressed close and squashed together to watch the dance show that some of their fellow students performed for us there rose an overwhelming stench of unwashed bodies and clothes. Most of Africa lives as Europe did, pre industrial revolution, without electricity and running water. They do not notice the smell, nor do they feel miserable about their circumstances. They are not hungry, nor unhappy. They were all smiling with the joy of being young and playing games with their friends.

So the disparity will stay, the gulf will remain. The lives of a few may change, less people will die of malaria and Aids and more and more will get electricity and running water, but if they want to lift themselves up and improve their lives I really believe it is them and them alone that will do it. They have all the tools; a lush and fertile land, schools, a strong population, imagination and a secure political environment.

In some future posts I want to focus on the middle class here in Uganda. That might present a different side to the coin.

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A meeting of two worlds

Part of our “Camp Hormone goes on Safari” trip involved a visit to a local school situated close to the park. Some preparation was involved in this visit including making an assembly, planning activities to do with the kids and a collection of items to take with us that we could leave behind for the needy. It is a very complicated experience to take 40 wealthy, privileged teens into an environment of 1000 rural, poor as can be children. Despite having many the same age as our group it was startlingly obvious that this was a meeting of two totally different worlds. Did the visit benefit the local school? I would say, in all honestly, not all all. Did the visit benefit our kids? Yes it did, in that it put a mirror up before them and showed them the contrast between their lives and those less fortunate. What is complicated is the deeper question of whether or not this actually changes or affects them.

These children live barefoot, they have tea and only tea for breakfast. They all have over worn and torn clothes and once school is over will collect water, wood and charcoal and help the family with tough and messy chores. They learn at school by rote and are taught with very little imagination or inspiration, those being luxuries they cannot afford. There is little hope of any of them going onto high education, the objective is to educate them to read, write, count and know their history and geography. There are older students with sticks ( prefects, I assume) who hit the younger ones to keep them in tow. Corporal punishment is widely used. They have few interesting supplies at school, only using their mathematical sets, pens and notebooks. When some of our craft supplies, including enticing coloured pens toppled to the ground there was a mini stampede to grab the goods, knocking over a few of our students in the process. The rules are different here: this is a different world.

Here are some photos of the kids that we met that day.

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Filed under Photography, Uganda

In my world we dodge motorbikes on the way to work and watch goats race on the weekend

It has been a bit of a wonky world these past few days. I revelled in the glory of a hot soak in the bath when I got back from Safari with Camp Hormone and then promptly hopped into the kitchen and set to preparing a meal for our first party in the Villa. It was in honour of the birthday of a dear friend, I am forever the Fairy Godmother of Birthdays as my Montreal friends used to say. It was a lovely evening, music, candles, cake and Chilli; good friends, chatting outdoors on the terrace. It was what the Villa is meant for.

The next day I hid my headache under a pretty red scarf and trooped off to the bizarre yet aptly named Royal Ascot Goat Races; a rather strange and lively affair where reluctant goats are pushed by mattresses on wheels around a circular enclosure.

Having the attended the very different Tobago Goat Races where men run at the speed of light holding onto a goat for dear life, I was interested to see how this would compare. In Kampala each goat has a number; people bet money on the goats, the more the people drink, the more money they bet. The goats are really just an excuse to get tarted up in a hat and frock (even some of the gents) and drink free booze under a tent. I am not a huge fan of these types of affairs. I am not one for the over consumption of alcohol, (falling down is not attractive) and after a few hours of small talk in high heels I am bored and fed up. I would far prefer to sit on a balcony with good friends drinking wine. Call me boring. It’s okay. The great thing about Tobago is that everyone sat on benches and ate doubles, there were no tents, no pink champagne; imagine! It really was about the goats!

But I am glad that I attended THE event on Kampala’s social calendar, if only from an anthropologist’s view point. It was fun, brilliantly organized and a fantastic chance for people to rub shoulders, laugh, fall over and generally have fun together. This is a small town and it was easy to bump into a lot of familiar faces over the course of the afternoon. The serious crème de la crème arrived and left by shiny helicopter and the serious revellers stayed overnight taking advantage of the location at a lovely resort. We had left Trooper and Princess in the safe and preferable company of their friends but we still had to collect them when the fun was over.

Since then it has been back to school and my morning walks, dodging matatous (taxi minibus) and boda bodas (motorcycles) has resumed.

( The blue and white vehicle on the left is a Matatou. They rule the roads.)

The other morning I had the wind knocked out of my sails by one super fast matatou that refused to stop. I quickly realized I was going to lose that game of ‘chicken’ and moved out of the way. But a man did walk straight into me, stepping on my newly pedicured big toe.  This morning we had to step over a headless chicken moments after Trooper had slipped and fallen as we were squeezing past a line of cars. It is a hairy but worthwhile experience.

I am ready for October. September has been endless and I am over it. Sorry September but you are dragging.

Next week Princess will pack her tent and head off to the wild and wonderful world of outdoor ed. She is eagerly anticipating 3 days and 2 nights in a tent with her bestest friends, canoeing on a lake and midnight candy feasts.

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Filed under Kampala

An Animal Spectacle

Back from an amazing few days at Murchison falls and the Rhino Sanctuary. Here are some highlights from my trip.

Number of giraffes seen: Too many to count. I love these strangely elegant yet wobbly animals. We were even fortunate to see babies.

Number of pregnant lionesses: 1. She was lying under a tree next to her freshly caught dinner. We parked the buses really close to her and despite her being obviously aware we were there we stayed for ages and watched her magnificence.

Number of Rhinos: 3 seen on foot and really close while trekking at the Rhino Sanctuary.

Elephants: 1 up close and 6 from afar with babies.

Jackals: 3 who were playing tug of war with a fresh carcass while the vultures looked on and licked their lips.

Hippos: It was hippo soup; there is no other way to describe it. We took a boat ride and literally ploughed through a river of hippos. Their beady eyes watch while the other 95% of their luxuriously fat bodies stays cool under water.


Lucky girl I am.

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Filed under Photography, Uganda

3limes has popped out for a bit.

I am presently on safari with 40 inmates of Camp Hormone. Please cross your fingers for me and I promise to return with a story or two and lots of photos.

In the meantime look at this:

This is Murchison Falls and this is where I am. Now imagine 40 14 year olds standing next to me and I am telling them that it wouldn’t be so funny if they fell in.

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Filed under Miss Teacher, Uganda

A Bear Hunt in Camp Sweetness

Perhaps I needed a break from those pesky teens, maybe I just wanted to feel nostalgic for the Beatrix Potter days, I am not sure why, but the other day I found myself perched on a tiny chair reading ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ to 4 year olds. Occasionally I do leave the high school block, also known as Camp Hormone, and venture over to a gentler place, the Primary Block, also known as Camp Sweetness. Over there are the little people who still run around trees and squeal when shown a picture of a ‘Big Scary Bear’, little ones from 2-11 who sharpen pencils, raise their hands and walk in lines. I like to go over and see where it all begins-knowing full well where it is going to end- I think it gives me a good perspective after a day in Camp Hormone and more than anything those big smiles and little hands holding mine make me smile. It is very relaxing after a day marking descriptive essays or finding the hidden metaphor in an obscure poem.

For one hour I spun through a snow storm “Whoo Hoo!” and marched through “Swishy Swashy” grass and tiptoed through a “Dark Cave” hunting the elusive big bear. I was reminded of another era, the Winnipeg Days, when I taught dance to 4 year olds while pregnant with Trooper.

I might do it again next week. But let’s make it our secret… We don’t want the physics and chemistry teachers running over in their free periods.  Camp Sweetness is all mine.

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