Monthly Archives: October 2010

Some fine art slotted into my party weekend.

Last night I attended an Art Exhibition. It was part of a long litany events that this weekend has planned for me, starting with a surreal but decadent parents only school event that involved dressing up circa James Bond Casino Royal and gambling with chips that didn’t actually involve any real money. So we could have all the thrill of losing money and none of the pain. This event was followed by an impromptu Karaoke circle that saw 40-somethings singing “Every Breath You Take” at the top of our lungs. Those holding the mikes got to feel like real rock stars. The rest of us just bellowed from  slouched positions on the sofa or our swaying dance in the corner of the room. What was remarkable was that for the length of at least one song, maybe two we were all in exactly the same place and moment in time, singing the same song, feeling the same thing. Like going to church must feel, it was strangely unifying and a whole lot of fun.

Saturday I stumbled over to a meeting feeling sort of rough, blamed more on the lack of sleep than the quantity of imbibed drinks, and then had one of those long blissful afternoon naps. By the time I got to the Art Show I was foggy but awake, at least. The Art show was supposed to pre-ceed a costume party ( Halloween is paid a token nod in this part of the world) but being over the age of 25 I can only handle 2, not 3 parties in a weekend and it seemed easier to go out for a quiet dinner than run home, change into a sexy cowgirl, and then hit the party. Talking to strangers takes a lot of effort and dinner with friends was just so pleasant.

Back to the Art Show. It featured the work of 13 Ugandan artists and some pieces were very good and very tempting. There were three artists that I particularly liked, pushing aside the predictable African Women images and African Animals paintings. It is comforting to know that artists are creating, feeling, celebrating and expressing themselves over here. And even better to know that thanks to the organizers of this event, they are selling art and making a living. Being an artist in a country where art is seen as an indulgent bit of fluff on the side cannot be easy.

I love this painting of Masai Warriors and goats. It is by the quite wonderful David Kigozi. I had the fortune to meet and compliment him last night but sadly due to the diminutive quatity of funds in my bank account compared to the  high cost of this painting I left the show without it.

And also without this. I love the Rooster.

 

I am going to start saving for a David Kigozi.

 

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I nearly stepped on a rat and other stories.

Things I nearly stepped on while walking:

A very large dead rat. It was as long as it’s very long tail; it had been driven over and was lying in a pool of its own squelched blood. Its mouth was open and frozen in a rigid expression of silent despair, teeth bared for eternity. As I raised my foot to take a step I looked down and saw it splayed out in its gory splendour. I gasped and grabbed Trooper’s hand, she, stunned herself was hopping on one foot and letting out little sounds of panic. We continued walking, reaching school with beating hearts, wishing we could erase the rat that was now stuck firmly in our mind’s eye.

A dead cat. It had just recently died, I could tell because it had not yet been driven over and squelched by car tires. White, scruffy and wet, it was obviously a stray, with fur that had never been brushed or felt the caress of a stroke. It looked like it was asleep but it must have been hit mid run across the road, probably on its way to grab a scrap of food lying on the other side.

A headless chicken. It was lying in the ditch, dirty, bloody and missing a head. I walked past quickly. Trooper says she is relieved that she is already a vegetarian.

In other more cheerful news:

Exciting things I have done: planned my Halloween costume. I am not one for dressing up but it will be a good party and they won’t let me in unless I am showing some ghoulish spirit. I really am awful at costume parties, being far too vain to throw myself into something horrifyingly unattractive just for the sake of a party. So I have elected to wear a velvet cape dug out of Princess’s special box. I will be royalty of some sort. Not sure Handsome Husband has a clue, especially since I haven’t told him about the party yet.  I am sure something exciting can be found in the special box.

I am still sneaking off to Camp Sweetness. Today we had a pretend birthday party and everyone was a magic candle. Then we all turned into balloons and flew away.

But the best thing of all? Teaching poetry to 14 year olds and the whole room goes quiet. These were the lines:

“I never saw so sweet a face

As that I stood before

My heart has left its dwelling place

And can return no more.”

(First Love by John Clare).

Even the most hardened inmates at Camp Hormone love a good love story. Soft they are, really.

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Struck by limelight

The holiday clothes have been washed, ironed and folded and those Zebra bums are now a sunny memory. So back to school for another 8 weeks. It will be an exciting one…testing, exams, reports, projects but who cares about all that when Princess just got the role of Veruca Salt in the school production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!  Yes, big news here. It is precisely the part she wanted, having always particularly enjoyed imitating old Veruca in her demands for ponies and squirrels. She thinks she has the perfect bossy voice all sorted out and we do too. She has been practicing for years on her sister.

It will be quite the thespian half term as Princess is also returning to the National Theatre of Uganda stage to perform as Clever Mouse in this year’s Pantomime. Pantomime here is a tradition that, I hear, goes back a very long way. Last year was our first experience and it was like nothing I have ever seen before, combining humour with Kampala inside jokes, throwing pies into the face of the old timers and bringing on a load of school kids in costumes to deflect from all the bawdy jokes. Grown men, known to all as respectable members of Kampala expat society don robes and play the Dame, the same people are laughed at year after year. It is quite a cosy event in a nudge, nudge say no more kind of way. Every year tons of people vie for positions in the cast. We don’t have snow, tinsel and mad rushes at the shops Christmas Eve. This is our big chance at Christmas Spirit.

Trooper also cleverly got a part, brushing away the hoards of competition ( no joke) to take the role of Bossy Mouse. Yours Truly has been officially roped into the role of Co-director. I have no talent in saying no and I believe it might actually be fun.

So the next 8 weeks will be all limelight and gloss.


 

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Another trip into the Wild

It really is quite magnificent to get into a car and drive across Uganda to see both wild animals and extraordinary wild open spaces. To look across the wide savannah and say “ This is Africa”, to have to stop the car because a family of elephants is crossing, to spot 10 lions as the sun is just going down and they are heading out to hunt; all this is very special and makes us feel lucky. One morning looking at the view of grazing zebra, topi and waterbuck, Trooper exclaimed “ I am so lucky to live in Africa!”  Sitting on a boat crossing the Kazinga channel in Queen Elizabeth National Park with a baby hippo to our right and a crocodile to our left, elephants sloshing in the water in front, buffalo sitting in the mud, Princess sighed “I have the best life!”

These are the moments we cherish, when we look at our kids, who have been uprooted from their lives, friends and family to live in a far away small African country, and they are happy and grateful for the exciting moments they get to experience.

The trip was particularly special because we got to share it all with our very first visitor to Uganda, we are calling her The Queen. She pulled out her coordinated white and olive wardrobe with appropriate adventure spirit and brushed gold hoops and with her usual style and aplomb proceeded to love Uganda. Having travelled over most of Kenya the stakes were high; we had to show her a very good time to ensure that she’d return. I think in this regard we succeeded.

Highlights of the trip?

Certainly the smile of Princesses’ face as a family of Banded Mongoose visited our breakfast table.

The impossible to see lions perched on a cliff where they were happily blended into their background. Trooper spotted them and had the boat reverse so we could all peer through binoculars at the lioness and her two cubs.

The two week old baby hippo who was smaller than her mother’s head.

The sing alongs during the 7.5 hour car journey.

The baby zebra prancing through the sun dappled grass.

The lime green poisonous snake that came to visit us pool side only to be shooed away by a very helpful member of staff.

Sitting in a camouflaged “hide” with my family quietly spying on Zebras.

Being woken up at night by the sucking noise of a family of Bush-babies. We shone a torch towards the netted windows of our tree house and caught the frightened look of enormous eyes before it scampered away.

It never gets dull.


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Quiet Please

I have been let out of Camp Hormone, albeit briefly for a week’s respite. I am so happy that I can take a whole week off and come back refreshed and hopefully a more inspiring teacher. We can’t leave our performing switch turned to on all the time, and we are performers really, standing up and talking in front of a lot of seated people, though I expect real performers, the ones who people pay to see, have lots more people paying attention. I have often said that the only way to teach kids anything is to keep them awake. Bored kids learn nothing. It is a like a dam enters their brain and stops up the memory hole; everything you say goes in one ear and out their nostrils unless they are entertained. And with a population reared on You-tube and Dora the Explorer they demand a lot from their classrooms. We need to keep moving.

So I am a little tired but have that warm feeling of satisfaction. Now I feel like being very very quiet. Its all been a bit noisy for the past 8 weeks. I hope the kids all have a good rest too, they deserve it.

And the cherry on this plum pie is that my mother, shall we call her, The Queen, is here for a visit. It is the very first time that any one has been to see our lives here and I can’t tell you how amazing it is to show her around school, take her to the Villa, point out our Sunday Scrabble table and the pool I don’t visit enough. Trooper said it was as if both her worlds had collided. It is all quite strange but wonderful. Tomorrow we take off to see beautiful Uganda, land of no smog, enormous skies, wild smells, buzzing heat and exotic animals.

So not only do I get a week off, I get a week off in the wilds. I have a plan to try and limit the animal photos. I’m sure you are bored of those. Maybe I’ll see if I can find something else.

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Thanksgiving Uganda Style

 

The leaves might not be turning and the ski is an equatorial blue rather than the crisp blue of a Canadian autumn but we still decided to honour and celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving. I love this holiday; the fact that everyone celebrates it despite religion, race, creed or wherever you sit on the poverty/wealth scale.  Gathering loved ones together and giving pause to say thank you is a worthwhile tradition that is distinctly North American. With its connection to the harvest, the Canadian date is 6 weeks ahead of the US festivities since we are all so cold up there and the ground is turning to ice under our feet as we pluck the Turkeys.  It marks the fall and comes in a comfortable point between Labour Day and its celebratory sadness of the last of summer days and the roar and giggle of Halloween eve where children wrapped in coats that cover their cleverly chosen costumes chase the promise of pillow cases filled with candy.

Of course traditions being what they are a Turkey is expected on one’s Thanksgiving table. Last year there was no Thanksgiving celebration given that the shoe box was too small to accommodate our little foursome plus friends and so there were no worried glances and thoughts over where to find a Turkey in Kampala. I told Handsome Husband that this was one for his capable hands with me being a vegetarian and all.

First stop, the butcher favoured by French expats and other picky meat eaters. It turns out they do not stock Turkey until November (for the Americans) through December (for Christmas.) This is when he came up with one of his, shall we say, special ideas. With a look of boyish glee and over ripe enthusiasm he presented the idea to me one afternoon as we drove home from one of my rare hair appointments.

“So, I have a plan!”

“Really? What is it?” I have to admit I had thoughts of a great date night, maybe dinner, drinks, and a chance to show off my new coiffed hair. I had no idea what was coming.

“Since it is impossible to buy a dead turkey we are going to buy a live one, let it walk around the garden for a few days and then on Sunday morning we’ll kill it! Steve (our gardener and guard) will help!’

Silence.

“Princess is so excited. She says she is going to give it a name.”

Silence. Shocked, stunned silence.

“So what do you think?” he asked, a little nervously, this time, obviously sort of worried by my silence and the aghast look of shock on my face.

“I think that is the stupidest idea I have ever heard. So let me get this right. We are going to have PET turkey for a few days, name her, ( how does Gertrude sound?) and then come Sunday we are going to all sit down and carve and eat her? Really? Have you forgotten that you have one vegetarian wife and one vegetarian daughter?”

“Well that is the way it is done in Africa. That is real life! I thought it would be a great lesson for the girls.”

Maybe not.

Taking his beautiful idea away with him and hiding it well beneath his pride, Handsome Husband came up with plan 2. We were going to have Roast Chicken for Thanksgiving. When one of our invited Canadian guests got wind of that idea she promptly came up with a revelation. She has a Turkey guy! She offered to call him and sort us out a turkey once and for all. A turkey with no name.

The turkey was delivered in 4 bags. Heavy bags dripping with blood. How can one turkey come in 4 bags? What went wrong? Alarmed phone calls were dispatched; the Turkey Guy was called and promptly reprimanded and within two hours a new turkey in one bag was sitting in our fridge.

Handsome Husband attended to this Turkey like a new born baby, checking on it, basting it and eventually dousing it with Bourbon. Five hours later the turkey came out, crispy and golden in all its glory. Being a vegetarian I cannot attest to its succulent delights but I hear that it was very good. I am just so grateful that I never got to know her.

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Come walk with me


So let’s start at the very beginning. This is very a small shop that I pass at the start of my walk. Notice the gorgeous early morning light, the men making their early morning deliveries.

Blue skies, billboards, traffic.

This is the Boda Boda stand. Every morning they see me walking and every morning they offer me a ride.  Boda drivers sit and wait for customers on corners just like this all over Kampala.

And I as brave the traffic and the nasty blue and white Matatous ( taxis) I look wistfully about for a pavement, a sidewalk, a scrap of concrete to call my own.

A fruit stand is being set up, getting ready for the day.

Here is the Traffic Police Woman. Everyone is scared of her power and her uncanny ability to keep her uniform sparkling white despite all this red dust.

I’m not sure what time Sahid opens up for business. I have never seen him. I fear his beard trimming days might be over.

A patient and non-nonplussed Trooper waits as I lag behind snapping photos with my iphone. This is the spot that Handsome Husband calls The Soup. There is no logic to the movement of traffic in this spot; it is a war of metal and wheels.

Matoke. Sold any time. This is the busy market corner that seems to never sleep. No matter what time of day, Matoke is being sold.

Now were are getting to the worst bit of the walk. This is the last leg ( excuse the pun but I do worry about losing a leg on a daily basis) and the hairiest part of the walk. Not only do we have no sidewalk but we have a deep ditch; the thought of falling keeps me on my toes.  Cars here drive fast and I have no doubt whatsoever that they would knock me into the ditch without a second’s thought.

Fanta, jerry can, ditch…

Minutes away, the walk is almost over.

I never walk if it has rained over night; the red dust will be mud and my chances of slipping into a putrid ditch would double.  Despite the traffic, the speed, the ditch, and the smell I have grown to love my walk. Ear phones in and 25 minutes later I arrive at school.

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