Monthly Archives: February 2011

Sleeping in a tent, sunrises and back to school.

 

What a lovely break! My trip to Kenya was a fabulous and inspiring time, the course both proved I was on the right track and at the same time educated and inspired me to go further in my teaching. It was the first face to face course I have taken and hopefully not the last. I think it is imperative that teachers develop professionally, especially if it gives us specific tools to help our students improve.

 

A startling coincidence and proof of a very small world found me at morning tea on the first day of the course. Sitting beside me was the author of an African blog that I read. You should too. She is a teacher,mother, wife, writer and musician and to top it all off a blogger too! And she has lived in Africa all her life. Check her out here.

 

And then I returned and was immediately swept off my feet and into a tent. Camping for two nights beside a most peaceful lake. I cannot stress enough how much I dislike sleeping in a tent. It is claustrophobic, uncomfortable and on this occasion freezing cold, forcing my entire body to cramp up in the position of one who is trying desperately hard to stay warm.

 

However, despite no sleep and fuming with the injustice of a night spent in a tent with fellow campers happily snoring all around me , I must admit that breakfast cooked over an open fire with the sun rising over a lake as still as a mirror is pure magic.  I had two sunrise breakfasts this weekend, and two nights of star gazing. With great company and happy children frolicking in the lake what more could a camper want? Other than a soft bed and a warm duvet.

 

Plus let me not fail to mention that our friends camp in style. We had sushi, Champagne and hot chocolate made from melted Ghiradelli chocolate squares. All well and good.

 

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Popcorn time, Emma Bovary and Elections

Quiet lazy days at home as school is closed for a mid term break. Museveni, fondly known here at M7 has been re elected and so far the streets have been calm and troubles averted. The police and military presence has been thick; last night we saw men in full camouflage garb, flak jackets, operation helmets and guns at the ready lining the streets and circling the roundabouts. There are few cars on the street and the city feels tense yet quiet.

 

We have been profiting from quiet days at home to catch up on reading and movies and some gentle socializing. A friendly BBQ found us sitting round a table on a lovely deck, candle light tucked into hurricane lamps and flowing wine. The children lolled on sofas watching Harry Potter while we talked and talked and talked some more.

 

Then yesterday, pool side at some good friends, sipping frozen Margaritas, I discovered the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Happy children dipped in and out of the pool and we talked and talked some more.

 

I have finished Madame Bovary for the second time. With a separation of 15 years between readings I had forgotten the details, vaguely remembering a rocking horse drawn cab, lots of black ruched taffeta, Emma’s luscious hair and her bumbling and ineffectual husband. I will be teaching the trials of Emma when I return to school and hope the students found it as romantic and exacting as I did. I am convinced they will have read nothing like it before and it will surely push their intellectual buttons.

 

There has been a lot of popcorn and movie time, some old favourites revisited and some new. I watched Toy Story 3 for the first time and shyly hid my tears at the end lest my family think me insane. Out of Africa, in a darkened room on a sunny African afternoon was splendid yet tragically sad. Princess lay on the carpet afterwards and asked why we had watched such a sad film. “ The saddest movie I have ever seen”, she declared. Then Stealing Beauty transported me to the divine Tuscan country side and the idyllic nature of beauty both physical and transient. I adored for the second time Liv Tyler’s wide eyed innocence and that house, my dream house. I rued the day I had lost the sound track, although come to think of it, it was on cassette so where would I play it now anyway?

 

The King’s Speech: had to be seen before the predicted Oscar win that he so deserves. What a fine and tender film. 127 Hours, harrowing and unforgettable but a slice of extraordinary film making and acting. Princess was out at a sleep over, obviously this was not a film for her sweet eyes, but Trooper admitted it was far more terrifying and disturbing than Friday the 13th that she had watched with a friend earlier this week.

 

Tomorrow evening I am setting off on a business trip, as Handsome Husband amusingly referrers to it. It is a spot of Professional Development. I am to be the student for once and am being sent on a course in Nairobi. I will be gone 2 nights and when I return I am going camping. Somehow I have been led astray once again. I have been persuaded to set foot in a tent, less than two months after the last time in Tsavo. How is this possible? I have been bribed with a large campfire and plenty of champagne. I am simply a tart, what can I say?

 

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Report Bad Driving

Today I offer you glimpses from Uganda roads. I laugh when I think about how strict and controlled our rules and attitudes towards the roads are in The Great Shiny West compared with Uganda. The lawlessness here considering the heavy police presence on the streets is pause for thought. Seat belts? Optional. No kids under 12 in the front seat? Funny one. I see plenty of toddlers bouncing around the front seat not even strapped down by a seat belt.  Passengers limited to the number of seats in the truck/car? Again, amusing. The number of passengers is determined by how many can be squeezed in or even on. Basic rules about overtaking on the left? Changing lanes on a round about? Using an indicator? Indiscriminate horn usage? The quantity of black ugly smog expelled from the exhaust? Again, not relevant. The plan is to get from A to B in one piece. Taking a nap in the back of a truck? Good idea! Why not? By the way that is a large pink pig in the last photo.

In other news the Ugandan General Election is taking place today and our fingers are crossed that everything goes smoothly and safely. The roads will certainly be clearer as the majority of Kampala residents have returned to their villages to vote.

Over in the cyber world another election of sorts is taking place and there are only two days left to vote.  Imagine winning in two different continents! This is my only chance to enter the field of world domination since my childhood dreams of ruling the world never materialized.

If you are a fan, either new or have been visiting for ages, and if you have not yet voted please consider doing so before the February 20th deadline.

Here is the link to this year’s Bloggies. Results will be announced March 1st.

Vote here!

Thank you to all my readers. Drive safe.

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I love mannequins

And I am not talking about an epic 80’s movie, I mean the real deal. I constantly pass mannequins as we are driving and sadly I cannot stop traffic to take photos. But occasionally I do snap a few and they always make me smile. Remind me to publish a book of mannequins around the world one day.

 

 

 

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Eyes wide open

I could put up a lot of photos of Kampala and sometimes I do but I also enjoy the challenge of trying to capture what I see with words. On any drive there is a tableau of pictures spread for the taking if one simply keeps eyes wide open.  A drive in Kampala is therefore never dull and even on the most frustrating days there is, for an observer such as myself, poetry on the streets.

Having just dropped Trooper off at a pool party we drove through a neighbourhood inhabited by foreign diplomats and wealthy Ugandans. It is wealthy and yet no houses are visible, since they are hidden behind large metal gates. Before entry is permitted an armed guard, usually a privately employed police officer comes out barring a large AK47 to give us the once over. Driving away we notice other guards carrying guns, either outside of the large residences or walking to and fro to work. The huge police presence here is something we quickly take for granted but every now and again we remark on how many guns we see on a daily basis. Kampala is very safe, generally, but there lies beneath the surface a frisson of instability and it is the heavy police presence that keeps things from snapping and turning mad with violent chaos. This is a country that knows well the price of such violence and they have taken measures to keep themselves safe.

And we drive on, past bare chested men digging deep trenches into the red soil. Fibre optic cables are being laid, a sign of modernism creeping in, slowly but surely. Yet mere metres away people live without running water in a capital city. Access to clean water and health care are basic necessities that the majority hardly dream of. Cables are laid by hand, the soil dug with sweat and strength; bricks laid one by ones, roads fixed inch by inch by hand, this is a place where everything that can be done by hand is done so. Slowly, painstakingly, with bare arms and sweat.

We pass a woman, an enormous basket of bananas resting on her head. She walks with posture that would make a cat walk model jealous yet she is unaware of posture. She has been carrying on her head since she was knee high, this is not a new skill.

A baby lies naked in the mud while his mother fills a Jerry Can from a slow tap, grey sacks filled to splitting with blackest dusty charcoal lie next to him. Two children race another who rolls an abandoned bicycle tire with a stick, women gossip next to wooden planks that shelf pineapples and lettuce. A mother bathes her child with water in a bucket, another slaps clothes against a wooden frame and hangs them to dry and capture more dust.

Then we turn and home is in sight. More guards, more guns and another woman carrying bananas with poise and a determination to sell. We pass a Boda Boda carrying a family of four, the smallest child sits in front of the driver holding onto the handle bars, the wind whipping his short cropped hair. A group of men sit on the grass before a gate chewing sugar cane and talking in earnest.

In a simple 10 minute drive a world is open, but it is not my world. I am the observer, always watching, reading, imagining, wondering.  Eyes wide open I see but can never really know. I am forever the Other.

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Filed under Kampala, Uganda

To be a boy

Valentine’s Day in Camp Hormone and we are letting the kids dress in pink and red. More importantly we are trying to encourage no ‘dissing’ for at least one day.

“One day.” I asked. “ Just give me one day of no dissing, in the name of love can we try one day?”

“ I am not sure that will be possible, Miss.”

“ Why?!” I am dumbfounded. Am I asking the impossible?

Apparently To Diss is simply part of the fabric of being a teenage boy. It is strangely their means of communication. Putting each other down is what they do. I asked if they realize how much it can hurt and they replied that they all know it is in jest. But I know that not to be true. There are the brave ones who brush it off yet go home, hurt and live in silent anger at the cruel words they hear all day. Others defend themselves by dissing back. And worst of all what do they say? What is the most popular insult? It is to laugh at they way someone looks, their acne, their size, their weight, their hair.

It distresses me no end. If only it could stop, for one day. The ones that refused my challenge were not even the greatest dissers in the class. They were the ones who needed to have words at their disposal,  as their weapons to fight back. No one likes it but still they persist.

It is so hard to be a teenage boy. The bravado they need to wear atop of their uniforms all day must grow weak at times. They can never be vulnerable, must always be on guard, ready to be judged, watched and insulted. Some really don’t care. Their self confidence bubbles over, yet these are the rare few.

Many times people think of the stresses of being a girl, the pressures and fears, the struggles; being a boy is just as hard. And often they don’t have friends to talk to in the same way as girls do, they often can’t share what it really feels like to be a boy.

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Thinking about Water

 

 

I have been thinking about water. It is a basic necessity, something most of us take for granted and never think twice about. When we leave Kampala and enter the Great Shiny West, one of the strangest things at first is the ability to turn on the tap and drink the water. Over there in the land of Evian, Perrier and Badoit people  often choose not to the drink the tap water, asking instead for a pricy bottle of imported water. I hear that in some New York establishments there even exists a Water Sommelier.  From the ridiculous to the sublime I watch young girls carry heavy water with such grace.

 

We buy water in large bottles and have a water dispenser in the kitchen, not only for drinking but also for filling kettles, cooking rice and vegetables and occasionally even washing fruit. It is not an extravagance but a necessity and I miss the ease of simply turning a tap. And yet how lucky we are. Each afternoon as we drive home from school the sun catches the brilliant yellow of the Jerry Cans that are carried by young girls. They walk to a pipe that runs along a long hill and take turns to fill and carry their water home for the evening and the next day. This water will suffice for washing themselves, their clothes, the dishes; for cooking and drinking. And it still needs to be boiled once they get it home.

 

Puts a dripping tap in London into perspective.

 

 

 

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Filed under Great Big Shiny West, Kampala, Photography