Category Archives: Uganda

Cases from the Uganda Strange Files.

What have I seen recently?

1. An owl perched on a ledge above the school Bursar’s office. It was asleep but I swear it was still staring at me. It was just fast asleep staring. It was beautiful, all tucked up into itself, furry and tempting to touch. The Ugandans were concerned as apparently an owl is an omen of death. However those of us who do not believe in owl omens were transfixed.

2.  A moth. I killed it, I confess, as it was eating my curtains. I kid you not, within 5 minutes a whole troop of ants appeared out of nowhere, surrounded the dead moth, picked it up and carried it away. Okay I confess I disturbed the parade of the dead moth about half way across the room as it was attracting more ants and it was starting to be ugly. So I swept ants and dead moth into the bin. I hope they are all happy.

3. A police man stopped my car at a security check, opened up the most obvious place I would keep a bomb, the glove compartment, and then proceeded to ask me to buy him lunch.

4. A deluge. It rained so much one night that I literally had to drive through a brand new lake in the morning. The girls asked me to drive “really fast and make a huge splash” but I, always the sensible one, and mindful of the condition of the car I will need to sell really soon, erred on the side of caution and drove really slowly. The water still covered all four tires. Crazy rain. By 4.30pm it was gone.

5. My fridge had been broken for 2 weeks, only staying cold intermittently. I had no idea how to go about fixing a fridge. There is no yellow pages here, no handy number to call. What is a girl with spoilt milk to do? Driving home from the grocery store with Trooper we realized we were just behind a blue pickup truck with the words Mr. Chilly painted in white along the back. Below was the number clearly written for ease of viewing.

“Call it!” I instructed Trooper, trying not to sound as excited as a person who just saw her favourite and much coveted Prada boots on sale.

She did. He stopped to answer the phone. I pulled up alongside his truck, waved frantically at him while he was answering my call.

“Do you fix fridges” I asked in exactly the same tone I would use to ask “are those boots really only $399 and in my size?”

He answered yes. I asked if he was busy right now and he said no.

So he followed me home and fixed my fridge. Easy peasy.

And that is the tale of how I picked up Mr. Chilly on the way home.

TIA.

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The rains have come

The rains have come. The smell is green and deep and musty and the parched yellow grass has already perked up and turned green. In fact the whole garden looks shiny, dark, lush and alive. The change in seasons is welcome as it had become too hot and sticky here. Now it has cooled down to a refreshing degree, I nearly wanted a sweater this morning. There are so few opportunities to feel cool in Kampala.

But every time the rains come there is a small nudge of fear, of worry that something might go wrong. Last year saw the terrible landslide tragedy at Bududa in Eastern Uganda near Mt Elgon. The destruction was a direct consequence of deforestation since there were insufficient trees left to prevent the land from slipping away. The trees are cut down to make charcoal which is then used  for heat and cooking. What alternative do they have? With no electricity and a lack of funds to purchase solar powered panels, charcoal is their means of energy. But the earth suffers and the scars left by the landslides are the proof.

And a less tragic, yet sad all the same, consequence of the rains is the destruction they cause to the mud huts. Mud likes to melt in the rain and when your house is sliding to the ground the only thing for it is to rebuild, and rebuild again.

So while I am breathing in the mulchy goodness and loving the cooler nights a thought must be spared for those whose lives are inconvenienced by the rains.

The earth is angry elsewhere too, as we well know. We are all thinking about Japan. At first we felt relief that this was a First World country with an infra structure prepared for disaster, to a point. Yet the first world comes with First World problems and leaking radiation would be that.

I lived in Japan for 7 years. I normally tell people that I grew up in Japan. When I think of my childhood, it is Tokyo. It is bike rides to school, cherry blossoms crushed under bike wheels, it is the smell of Roppongi, the steam coming from tiny noodle shops, white gloved taxi drivers, orderly, safe, honourable, kind. It is earthquake drills at school where we had to crouch under our desks, it is always wondering if “the Big One would come” it is the Iced Coffee in a thin tin can from a vending machine, it is the smell of the stationary shops.  It is so much more. Japan is deeply rooted in my early memories and my sensual recollections. I am remembering and thinking and hoping. For Japan.

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Filed under observations, Uganda

Nobody died.

It is often very complicated to get the simple things done over here. The frustrations of modern life are magnified by Ugandan bureaucracy and tempers either flare or wine is consumed while mumbling TIA, TIA frequently into the bottle. Here is an example of how to make life so much more complicated then it needs to be.

Handsome Husband needed a police clearance form, something regularly requested by future employers, and this involved a number of visits to a particular police station to collect forms to prove that he is an upstanding member of society with no criminal past lurking in his closet.

It went like this:

First a phone call or two was made to determine where the station was. Not any police station will do. In the end a helpful Ugandan man who has taken many a teacher through this process accompanied him to show him where it was. While there Handsome was handed a form and told that since he is Canadian he would need a letter from his country before the Ugandan police force could do anything for him. He was also told that money would need to be paid into a specific bank account at a specific bank and a receipt collected in proof.

So a trip was made to a bank and to the Canadian Consulate to request a form saying something about him actually being Canadian and not just pretending to be.

Then another trip back to the consul to collect the form and wads of cash were handed over.

Finally back to the police office. This time I went along, just for the fun of it. What you might expect is a proper office with steel cabinets, walls made of wood or concrete, maybe paint and certainly a few chairs in a waiting room.

What you get instead is a plywood corridor with small rooms off to one side. The rooms are furnished with two benches and two desks. The walls are all plywood, not a lick of paint, and I believe I saw a calendar from 2009 thumbtacked to one shaky wall.

Forms must be filled out, one letter must be copied exactly as the one on the grubby  wall, many waiting people are either squeezed onto one bench in the hall way or crouched on the floor.

Then time for finger printing, then you are sent to a small sink with a timid flow of water to rinse off the ink, then another man behind another desk collects even more money.

( I took a few clandestine photos with my iphone.  Don’t tell.)

But we are not done! One week later a visit must be paid to the central Interpol office in Kampala. It is a totally difference experience, in that the building is larger and in a different neighbourhood. But the differences end there. A wait of close to one and a half hours must take place on a bench. And lo and behold once you get to the front of the line it appears that more money must be paid! But no! Not in person. Another visit to that same particular bank ( why do it the first time? Why that would make too much sense!), and a deposit must be paid, a receipt must be grabbed and brought back pronto, creased in palm, put of breath, panting. Could this be the end? Are we done here?

Not quite yet. More waiting. And finally a lady descends some stairs. She is holding a pile of letters. Letters that say that you are a good, decent person, who has not committed a crime, yet. But give us another hour of this process and maybe that will all change. Maybe a crime will happen. here in this very place, something crazy and impatient and bloody.

Yes she has your form in her hand. But no you cannot have it yet. You must have your photo taken and damn it if looks like a mug shot, you are tired, you have had enough.

When the paper is finally handed over, it is carried to the car carefully, like the most precious piece of paper ever carried. It is like gold, only more precious. It’s value cannot be measured in the hours spent, the sweat poured, the money handed over. This piece of paper is proof that you have survived.

Incidentally I required a police clearance in Montreal, once. I went into an office, filled out a form and paid $15. Done. 10 minutes. It was mailed to me once it was ready.

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Filed under Uganda

Tuesday is International Women’s Day

I am particiapting in an exhibition in honour of Women’s Day here in Kampala.

These are the photos I have chosen to celebrate  and honour the women of Uganda.

Last year I wrote about the lives and hardships of women in this country. Sadly the facts I documented are still too relevant. You can find the post here.

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Filed under Photography, Uganda

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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Filed under Family Stuff, Uganda

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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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