Monthly Archives: November 2010

A little quiz to help you on your way

How do you know that you are living in Kampala? And not London or Montreal? Or even Trinidad?

Let’s do a quiz.

You are walking along the road and you trip. Not realizing what caused you to fall, it is early and there was no Baileys in the morning coffee, you look down and see one of the following.

a)     A discarded rum bottle, empty and left to roll inconveniently into the path of pedestrian traffic

b)    A baby goat, sleeping and unaware that his mother has climbed the grassy bank to chomp on some grass

c)     A greasy half eaten slouvaki roll

d)    A huge chunk of ice that has been spat out from under the wheel of a passing car.

You are awoken early in the morning by a strange sound. You have no idea what it is until you lift you head up from under the pillow and remember where you live.

a)     A pack of cats fighting over a pile of flying fish that leapt with no rhyme or reason out of the water and landed in an unfortunate pile in the garden behind the house.

b)    The clanging of metal pots and pans joined with the serenading of a boisterous and horny rooster from the garden next door. Simultaneously there is the distance echo of some China men singing early morning Lionel Richie Karaoke.

c)     The squeaking and lurching of 20 buses that have all arrived at the bus stop at exactly the same time, angering the cold, shivering, commuters who have been waiting for that one bus for the past 42 minutes.

d)    A huge chunk of ice slipping of the roof and crashing onto the roof of your car.

It is a Friday night and you feel like going out for dinner. What do the restaurants have to offer?

a)     A healthy assortment of Chinese, American and Indian. Or, if you like, all the choices under the same roof and possibly rolled into a warm and buttery thick slab of pastry. Either way, everything would be eaten with a chaser of rum and a very loud thumping soundtrack.

b)    Indian, Thai, Indian, Indian and some Pizza. The service will be painfully slow and the waitress will visit your table 4 times in the first 30 minutes before you even order. Once because she didn’t understand the order, once to verify what kind of Gin you want, once for the ice that you had asked for the first time and once more to tell you that there is no Gin and the ice machine is broken.

c)     Anything your heart desires, for a price.

d)    A cosy warm bistro featuring the imaginative creation of one young trendy dude, considered the “latest thing.” His hair will be spiky, the cafe will be warm and feature alternative music and mildly out of focus black and white photographs. There will be just as many people having a cigarette outside in the snow as there are drinking good wine at the bar waiting for a table, ‘cause they don’t take reservations.

Time to go grocery shopping. What do you find?

a)     Hot spices, plenty plenty hot sauce, Amos Chocolate chip cookies, Ribena and Mangos. And rum.

b)    Nearly everything but you will have to go to 4 different stores. One for the eggs with the yellow, not white yolks, one for skimmed milk, one for whole milk, one for cheese, one for chick peas, one for fruit. Oh it goes on and on and on.

c)     Anything your heart desires, for a price.

d)    Everything, in supermarkets with super wide aisles. The music will be muzac but the cheese and bread is good. You will bump into many people you know.

It is Sunday and you have plans for a great day out. What do you do?

a)      Beach. Body surfing in the waves, bake and shark for lunch, Carib beer and friends to lime with. You will go home sticky with salt and sand, sun burnt and happy.

b)      A day spent by the pool with some scrabble on the side.

c)       Well you have the option of the latest offering at a world renown museum, a walk in the park, a bike ride on a Boris Bike, lunch with friends, a stroll by the river or a lazy day at home with a pile of newspapers and some good food. It will be bloody cold.

d)      Skiing, tobogganing, ice skating, movie, brunch, walk the dog on the mountain or home with newspapers and good food. It will be seriously bloody cold.

 

How did you do?

Mostly a)s and you are in Trinidad.

Mostly b)s and you are in Kampala.

Mostly c)s and you are in London

Mostly d)s and you are in Montreal.

 

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Filed under Great Big Shiny West, La belle ville, Trinidad & Tobago, Uganda

Another bit of fun? Why not…

Procrastination is always one of my favourite things to do and guess what I found? Another pleasant waste of time.  Play along if you wish.

Favourite time of day

I don’t get to enjoy my favorite time of day very often because I have to wake up too early and teach the teens but I love after midnight when the house is quiet and I can pad around and write, read, talk on the phone. I love the night, the dark. Unfortunately I am in bed long before midnight these days. So on a school day I would have to say that I love climbing under crisp, freshly washed sheets to read a book and enjoy the sensation of a day well lived.

Where and when did you meet the love of your life?

Dahab, Egypt 1992. We are still married and he is still handsome. See here for the full and rather romantic story.

What three words would your friends from outside the blogging world use to describe you?

Honest, loyal, funny and Fairy Godmother of birthdays.

What country would you like to visit and why?

Argentina. The people are beautiful, the music is beautiful and I have always wanted to learn to Tango.

What’s your favourite dish to cook?

Lasagna and brownies. They are my specialty, and my friends have come to expect and depend on them.

Salt or sugar?

Sugar, in the form of chocolate. Preferably Toblerone. I have a long and complicated relationship with Toblerone. The only thing that might get in the way of our relationship is Crème Brule. Which is cream and sugar with more sugar on top.

What are your favourite make up and beauty items?

Not long ago I  unpacked my bathroom and having spent a good long year in a Shoebox with no shelves to display my “spa” I am now shocked to see how many products I actually have. I might have a problem here that I had hidden in boxes and bags! So my favorite things are hard to choose but here is my effort:  OPI nails ( I like We’ll Always have Paris),  Bare Minerals powder foundation, Estee Launder moisturizer, Shu Uemura eye liners and Diptych perfume. Oh and I am recently addicted to Morocco Hair Oil.

What are your favourite flowers?

Orchids. I just adore how they look and how stubborn they are to grow and love.

What are your worst vices?

Can I publish that here? There are parents and teachers and students reading! Okay, I’ll find one or two. The odd cigarette, but only after dark with red wine ( I have my rules), Impatience, Handbags, hating exercise.

At what time of your life were you happiest and why?

Hardest question of them all. I believe that life is like a pearl necklace and we collect perfect moments as pearls as we move through time. I have had extraordinary moments of joy which may arise in a pretty dark period. I was very happy when I was 22 and traveling, having my babies, beach days in Trinidad, vacations just the four of us, my 40th birthday party in Montreal, surrounded by my sisterhood, this past summer in London, driving in the passenger seat of a 1973 VW orange Beetle through the Manitoba prairies, laughing in the Trini Sin room with good friends. When I am with the people I love in beautiful surroundings I am happy.

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Filed under personal

A special season. More Green than Red.

Some places have real seasons like Winter or Spring, or best of all, Autumn with its comforting crunch and startling blue skies set perfectly against a crimson leaf or two.

Here we get rain, or no rain. But the most thrilling and disturbing season of all is Grasshopper Season. It started today like the apocalypse with hoards of grasshoppers flying into my class room, or, when I shut the windows, sticking to the window panes. I had one fly up my skirt, one hit my face and one hop around my desk. I had one student who sadly discovered he has a Grasshopper Phobia and had to return home to sort out what he is to do for the next month. Yes month. For close to 40 days we will be swarmed with flying green creatures, the sports field will be hopping, literally and a cloud of birds will swoop through the skies, hungry for green flesh.

To some this is a pest issue, windshield wipers will get stuck, dead or petrified green bugs will lie on the floor. For others, this is a season of delicious treats for here in Uganda people love to eat the hoppers. Driving downtown cars can conveniently pass through a crowd of vendors ready to open their Tupperware bowls and serve you bags of green or brown crunch. Some people erect tents with lights to capture the critters, all the better to catch and fry.

While some are feeling the first nips of Jack Frost, hearing that Chestnut Song over and over on replay, or fighting through tinsel in the line ups for Mince Pies, I am getting attacked by Grasshoppers.

How did I end up here? Did I fly though a green whirlwind vortex?

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Filed under Being brave, Uganda

Choosing what I want to see

I confess I am not terribly engaged with current events here in Uganda. I am not political; I am not saving the world, working for VSO or an NGO. I am a teacher living a predominantly expat life style here in Kampala. I have nothing to apologize for, this is just the way it has worked and how I choose to live. I am aware, very aware of my surroundings and perhaps if I were more engaged with the reality around me I would not be able to live here, as I do. It is a hard place, rife with corruption and people living a hand to mouth existence. So I leave all the newspaper reading to Handsome Husband and I stick to my IB literature texts.

Obviously I am aware that there is an election looming, it is impossible not be aware of the congestion during the political rallies, the posters everywhere, the game people play guessing the date. The latest is February 18th. Some people are worried; some say nothing will change while some say nothing should change. I am staying detached; to live otherwise would be too difficult for me. Not for everyone, just for me. It is very tricky to teach your children that we live in a democracy where an election may very well be a foregone conclusion.  There are issues associated with this that I cannot discuss here, there are students I teach who are personally connected to the people who hold the reins of power here, so I will not write about it.

What I will write about is the funnier side to living in Uganda. Funny for some.

Like the teacher who can no longer use her printer because a mouse crawled in and died. Only after she could no longer ignore the disgusting smell did she figure out what had happened.

Or the small droplet of mouse poo I found on my desk when I came into school today. Maybe I will choose to live in denial and pretend that it was a scrap of black eraser flake. Yes, that works, it must be that.

Or the mysterious hole in our garden that we really hope has nothing to do with a snake.

Or the sweet baby gecko that lives next to my tooth brush.

Or the fact that a Boda Boda crashed into the car and broke the rear light.

Or the dog I pass everyday whose nipples are scraping the red dust as she walks.

No instead I will focus on the gorgeous red light that makes me up every morning, the sun breaking through in a haze of pink optimism; or the chatterbox bird that has a long story to tell each morning while I drink my coffee. I will think about those Vervet Monkeys that hop around while we rehearse the pantomime, leaping from tree to tree and cackling to each other as we stand outside during the warm and sudden sunset.  It will be the tiny children who carry their Jerry Cans filled with water, without complaint, laughing with each other while barefoot they run home to help their mother’s with the chores.

These are the images I will keep in my mind. Not the mouse poo, dead mice or elections.

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Filed under When the rose tint fades

Ambitious projects for the remainder of the year.

Time is skipping on by, winged chariot and all and there are things I really must do before 2011 rolls round and I am hit with that awful sense of zero accomplishment. Is there a word for that? I will make one up: under-accomplishment. There.

Perhaps if I write a list, put it up here in the most public of places then it will be more likely to happen, owing to the shame and name rule.  So here it is: my short list of big things to do.

1.     I must buy a spare bed. We have guests arriving from the far away Land of Oz and there is nowhere, presently for them to sleep.

2.     Buy Christmas gifts, easier said than done if you live within money throwing distance to a glorious temple of commerce, otherwise known as a Mall. Here the options include African crafts, handmade tree decorations, Wildlife Photography books and some lovely material to wrap around one’s waist.

3.     Invite people over to dinner. Why is this so hard to do? I can teach a room full of Camp Hormone inmates, co-direct a pantomime, drive a car through scary pot holes…but invite people over to my house to eat? Not.

4.     Throw things away. I hate clutter and there is a scary pile that has appeared on my desk. Not entirely sure where it came from, but there it lies, taunting me, and I need to head into the red room and sort it all out. Soon.

5.     Find a costume for Veruca Salt. Apparently she needs some sort of fur wrap. Likely one that. More head scratching needed.

6.     Gather all the wires, for all the electrical paraphernalia we have, including USB cables, chargers, TV wires, other black or grey wires that have no name and sort-them-out. I am being taken over by wires.

7.     Go out on another photo walk-about-trip.  The last time I did this it was very successful, although somewhat tiring considering the number of times I had to ask people if I could take their photograph and explain who I was and why I wanted their picture and promise that I wouldn’t use it in any untoward way. I think it is time for another walk about. Each time I feel more fully engaged with the place that I live rather than seeing it through fleeting and rushed moments while either walking to school or driving around.

8.  Bake a cake. When I lived in Montreal I was a true baker, often pulling treasures out of the oven 2 to 3 times a week. It has been a while since the warm scent of fresh cake wafted through my home and it is time.

9.   Read something other than a prescribed IB text. I have two books by my bed I am aching to get into. I need to make the time to start them as I have a small window of opportunity before the next IB text rolls around.

10.  Lie in my hammock. Just once.

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Filed under personal

Good manners

Living in a place which is so culturally different can lead to some unfortunate lapses in manners. No one explains what the rules are, I at least was never presented a neatly bound guide to Ugandan manners and customs, and so how am I to know when I inadvertently commit a faux pas?

Our guard and gardener, Steve, a wonderful gentle soul who lives on our property and works for us approached us two weeks ago deeply distraught. His father had unexpectedly died and he needed to leave immediately to attend to his family and the burial. While most of us would have just written a note and left town, he waited all day to get our permission before leaving. I thought this was disturbing but apparently this is that way things are done so of course I just sent him off with a wave and my condolences. He assured us he would return in three days. He only returned five days later, with explanations of a dead phone battery. This is understandable as there is no electricity in the village and therefore nowhere to charge the phone. It didn’t explain where he was but I left it at that, presuming his family had needed him more than us.

Then this past week a collection envelope was passed around school to collect money for our receptionist whose father had died. The same week another colleague lost her mother-in-law but no envelope was passed around. I decided it was time to investigate. The rules are thus: if the person who has died is like your ‘king’ or you are the ‘king ‘to them then collection is taken to raise funds to the equivalent of half their salary. Having a ‘king’ relationship is a monetary one; either you support that person or they support you.  Where I come from no money is collected on the occasion of a death, often a donation is made to a chosen charity and flowers and a sympathy card are considered polite. Unfortunately it turns out Steve had huge expenses associated with the death of his father and perhaps the reason he waited before we left was to collect some money from us. But we never knew. Only yesterday did I remedy the situation by giving him an envelope of money, two weeks late.

Other things I have learnt concerning Ugandan customs this week: it is considered the height of impoliteness for a woman to show her knees. Breasts no problem, but knees are a serious offence. Wives are generally (and this does apply more to rural rather than city dwellers) not supposed to look their husband directly in the eye. When someone leaves your home it is considered polite to give them “a push down the road”, meaning to walk someone part way along the road. This implies that they are always welcome to return and you are reluctant to say goodbye.

I wonder how often I have offended people by not being aware of rules and customs; hopefully if I have done so it is with the understanding that I was ignorant and not rude.

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Filed under Uganda

The Glove Compartment Post

I have written the post about Cake, and the one about scary Kampala Night Driving, there is the one about Dead Dogs and even about Search Engines but have I written about Glove Compartments? I think it is time.

Since the awful bombs that hit Kampala on the eve of the World Cup Final on July 11th, leaving over 70 dead, Kampala has seen a wave of stepped up security. At first this meant long queues to get into the malls while every inch of the car was checked and mirrors were run along the under carriage.  Beepers were run along our bodies every time we entered a supermarket and all bags were vigorously checked. Now as time has passed there is a perfunctory check of the bags, a quick glance with a beeper in hand and the lines of cars waiting to enter public parking lots has diminished. But the strangest thing of all is that the full car check, including the opening of the trunk/boot and the peering into the back seats has been replaced with a quick check into the glove compartment. No matter where we are going or who the guard is or how many times we have been there before it is always the same routine. We are asked politely if they may check our car, doors are unlocked and opened and the glove compartment is opened and given a cursory glance. It has become comic. Once, handsome Husband said out loud that if he were to hide a bomb it certainly wouldn’t be in there. I don’t think the security guard got his sense of humour as he looked at us as if were quite serious. You could actually see the thoughts running along his forehead.

The scary thing of all this is that this false security is doing nothing except teaching people where not to hide their bombs. It is a thin Band-Aid being applied onto a potentially volatile situation.

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Filed under Kampala