Category Archives: When the rose tint fades

Scenes from a Bahrain Sunday

I have clambered out from beneath a mountain of report writing, exam marking and planning. And now “hello fresh air!” I have a whole week off to breathe.

The winds have been wild; sandstorms blew sand from furthest Arabia into every corner, crevice, nook and cranny. We are sweeping sand and dust away and with it the cold wintery air. I heard from a wise man that the winds signal change and that a new season is around the corner.

I got a bit down, doldrum like. Bahrain was feeling small, dusty, dry and too quiet. I was dreaming of my perfect Sunday; a walk in a frosty park over leaves that used to crunch and past skeleton trees mourning their leaves; of a warm coffee shop with muffled chatter and a book shop with tables piled high, the smell of invited hope and paper. I was dreaming of a friend and a hot pot of tea. A week of time stretches before me and it winks at me with space and possibility. I am strange, alone in my house rather than at my desk, with peace and quiet rather than a classroom that twitters with teens. It tastes bitter sweet to have this time; like a dipped toe in a another’s life. I wish to spend it with friends who pop round for coffees and catch up but they are an ocean away.

So as always, to shake off the cobwebs I went out to find the pretty. Yes the grass is always greener, isn’t it? I know that the walk in the London park would be too cold, the friends would be busy, the books too expensive, the gallery closed. Princess told me, with all her wisdom, that we need to be happy with what we have. Thanks to The Prophet’s Birthday we all had a bonus Sunday off so we headed off to see something different.

Here then are my weekend moments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Martyrdom at the jaws of a Tsetse

Our 24 hours by the Nile was touched with magic, the elephants, the children squealing with glee in the pool, the rose tinted Nile at sunset. But there was also a cloud in this silver time and that was a cloud of Tsetse flies. I am notorious for attracting biting bugs and I am famous for having nasty reactions. But this time takes the cake. There have been stories of fleas, bed bugs and other Tsetses but the beastly attack I suffered this time makes me a true Martyr to the bite.

They must have got me pool side, when I was lapping up rays and laughing in the splash of the jumping beans. At one point I thought there was something trapped inside my suit and biting me ferociously while trying to get out. But no. It or they had bitten me through my suit and only later in the shower did I see the large welts all over my thighs, back and bottom.

All night I raged with the pain of itching. I tossed and turned and prayed for day light. Then I was up at first light and stumbled to the reception of the lodge. I could hardly walk, I was numb and felt poisoned by my chewed flesh.

They fetched a doctor and I was administered a steroid injection and a heady dose of 4 antihistamines. So heady in fact that I spent the next three hours sleeping them off by the pool and getting bitten by more Tsetses. I needed my own special hero to drive my car all the way home.

Why do they love me so?

p.s I have just been informed by WordPress’ handy informer that this post is the 365th post on 3limes. Quite a journey! From Trini tales of Doubles, Maracas and Carnival to Montreal summers, London summers, Kampala days and Ugandan outback stories.

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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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Finding the Pretty.

As you know I don’t have much occasion to see pretty things here in Kampala. So over the past week or so I have been toting my camera around with all good intentions to capture something pretty. I thought the exercise would lift my optimism and get me through these next few days before the Zebra trip.

So here are the results of my search for The Pretty.

Let’s see, shall we?

These giant pots are tumbled over on purpose, in the name of artistic decor. They happen to be situated outside the spa where I go to make my nails look pretty.

This is not a door that leads anywhere. In fact it is the Door to Nowhere. However, I thought it was pleasing to the eye and happens to be located very close to an attractive bar stool where I sat sipping some very pretty chilled white wine.

The things we do when we are bored! For a friendly experiment I tried photographing these flowers through a pair of binoculars.  I found the result quite surreal.

You might not realize it but these birds are wild parrots. They were gorgeous to watch and listen to especially since the garden was exceptionally pretty. I resolved with even greater resolve and determination to find myself a house with a garden. Even a postage stamp garden would do. Who could not be happy with wild parrots cavorting while you sip tea?

Wild and lush, even in pots.  The large one in the middle is a chimney and is perfect for the toasting of marshmallows.

My dream garden.  I can see puppy dogs and fairies.

If your rose tinted glasses fall off and get cracked underfoot, I recommend putting a camera in your bag and making it your mission to find the pretty.

It might just be around the corner.

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I passed a dead dog this morning, entrails spilling onto the dirt road.

There is a madness in the air if you stay too long

and taste the sour regret of days spent waiting

or rather not waiting,

no it is days spent in a sulky acceptance of what is not.

We drive through debris that at first was shocking and now just smells. We have got used to the rotten carcass of dead dog on the side of the road

that we pass each morning

and we don’t like the acceptance of that which should be wrong

Nothing is sterile and clean.

Chaos and muck tucks into my days until I open and close the doors to my small and cosy cocoon. And we learn what life is for millions and how we are the strange ones, not them.

Some stay forever, by choice or not. Perhaps an accident of time took away their freedom to choose. But we are still in the deciding phase, a place that worries away the months until years have passed and it is too late. And we dream of the past, we are wrecked by a nostalgia that eats away at our dreams and waits for us to wake up and say enough! Of the deciding and the regrets and the making of plans. Better instead to roll about in life and let it take you where it will. Like a bumper sticker on a 12 year old’s Facebook page, the place where she is defined and defining, “life is a journey that should end not with a tidy coffin and a discreet burial. No rather it is a messy business that should leave one ruffled, black with skid marks and whispering in a breathless voice, “wow what a ride.””

But it is not a ride. It is a messy, dirty business that involves constant waking and moving and making and forging together of moments until we come out with some fragment of success. Is success the ability to notice the stink of rotten cow or the ability to walk, head high, like a queen in a cesspit that only recognizes pride?  What, after all, is ugliness? What is the need for clean beauty?  Does this place not force a beauty made out of scraps? Can I really live in a place where beauty is placed at the bottom of life’s heap?

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Little Davies and a tale of two worlds.

Little Davies came to spend the day with us today, he is the son of our house keeper and occasionally accompanies her to work. He is a sweet 5 year old boy and the only time he has ever seen a computer, a Nintendo DS or a TV is when he comes over to our house. He lives in a one room tiny house with no electricity, flushing toilet or running water. They pay 7000 USH in rent, that is $3.50 a month. He goes to a school with two teachers and 100 students in a class and today he brought his school reports and work books to show us. The work sheets were where he needed to fill in the correct word,” God is our Creator, Satan is bad, God gave me eyes, I need to bring a Broom to school.”

He learns by rote, copying over and over the same words, the same lines until he has it just right. If he disobeys he gets hit with a stick. Consequently or despite this, he is a well behaved little boy and has a wonderful happy smile. He loves to come over and see us, to flush our toilet and share our Lays crisps and watch a movie on the DVD. He also likes to draw with our coloured pens. Today for his belated birthday present I gave him a huge pack of pens, a thick pad of paper and some blue-tack so he could put his pictures on the wall.

The disparity in our lives could make us feel very uncomfortable but the longer one spends here and sooner we realize that there are certain facts about life that cannot be changed. Guilt has no place here, by the fortune of the colour of my skin I was born a white girl in South Africa and he was born black and poor in Uganda. Yet white man’s guilt exists and it tends to rear its ugly head, more in the impressions people have of us rather than in any misfortune of circumstance or birth.

While Davies was playing in our house, a woman came to my door and asked me for money. She said she needed school fees. True or not, this is a standard line, the truth is in the reasoning that because I am white I am going to help everyone. I told her that I am not a rich mzungu, I am teacher and I cannot help everyone who comes to my door. Being white in Africa leads to a strange mixture of guilt and anger that any one would presume that they can ask us for help merely because of the colour of our skin.

As complicated as this whole business is, in the end it comes down to a happy little boy hopping around our house playing hide and seek with Princess. It is hard not to feel uncomfortable when he leaves to go home to his little shack but the longer I live here the less uncomfortable I feel. This is just the way it is and a smile and a packet of coloured pens can go a long way.

White means rich and white means Aid. (Why help yourself if there is an aid agency around the corner to prop you up?) It is a very complicated situation and one that leads to much head scratching.

In other big observations this week:

Nobody owns anything. Ownership is a foreign concept and one that can lead down the slippery slope towards theft. Most people I know have been robbed, whether on the street, in their car, at home or by a housekeeper. Everyday week a new story comes out of someone who had a necklace ripped off their neck while driving with an open window or a family who was robbed while sleeping, mists of chloroform sprayed around each room to stop anyone awaking. One teacher this week was pulled from her car, punched in the face and had her bag pulled off her arm. The justification is that if you have more than me I can just take what is yours. Life is unfair and unequal so the balance should be readdressed, however illegally. Morals don’t stand tall when one person is driving a car that could feed an entire family for a life time.

We didn’t buy Davies the football that he wants more than anything because it will break his heart when it is stolen from him.

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Hell is a cockroach

A cockroach jumped on me twice. The first time I was at the club, it was pouring with rain and everyone was huddled inside by the bar, wet towels in piles by our feet. Children shivered in damp bathing suits waiting for the sun to come back out and grown ups sipped beer and munched on guacomole and chips. All of a sudden I felt something on my leg. At first I thought I must have brushed against the strap of a raffia pool bag, but when I looked down I saw the horrid truth. It was a huge black roach crawling up my shin. Yes I screamed and shook my leg and pointed and made a spectacle out of myself, but I don’t care. Because there was a cockroach on MY leg. As I frantically shook my leg it came off and started to run, very quickly along the wall of the bar, still too close to my feet. Finally a bemused waiter came to sweep it away into the rain where it would battle against the sharp rain drops for it life. I would have preferred it killed, dead, squashed, eliminated, but that’s just me.

Then this past Tuesday night I was standing behind Trooper who sat, texting like mad into her cell phone, with a large white towel wrapped around her damp freshly washed hair. I offered to comb it out and braid it and just I I whipped that towel off her head I felt something hit my chest. At first I thought it was a moth, the speed with which it has slapped into me and then taken off seemed moth-like. I screamed and jumped and acted a little freaked out until, out of the corner of my eye I spotted it. The roach was running along the arm of the sofa, inches from me and it was enormous, ugly and brown. At this point the jumping and screaming and scratching at my chest intensifed somewhat. Dinner was a mess, I couldn’t eat until it was dead and despite handsome and heroic handsome spraying cancer causing roach killing spray all over the place we couldn’t find it. Then it ran across the room. right under the coffee table, then under a chair and finally with more spray and squealing ( there were four girls there that night) the roach took one last gasp and stopped. A broom was brought into the sweep in outside.

Okay. You might laugh and call me hysterical. You might point fingers and ask how I can cope in Africa, but every one has their room 101 and that is mine. I cannot handle a roach.

To tell you the truth I think I may be mildly traumatized, I keep thinking there is something crawiling on me. Often it is just a stray hair that has fallen out, but my skin is crawling never the less. This morning two dead roaches, lying on the backs greeted me when I came down stairs. Must have been all that roach spray.

Just writing this has made my itch.

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A simple list


I have not been feeling happy. So to knock the blues on the head I have decided to try the old fashioned approach and twist my head the other way.

Happiness is:

An excellent cup of coffee, not filter, not instant, real expresso.

A day at the beach. Any beach, even it is cold, windy and the waves are cross. But even better if it hot and empty.

Slowing waking up and realizing there is a soft princess in bed curled up beside me.

A breakfast buffet in a 5 star hotel.

New shoes.

Seeing a daughter looking beautiful and excited as she heads out to a party

Toblerone

Eating outside, al fresco

A good book and nothing else to do than read it.

Fresh, unopened juicy magazine filled to the brim with pictures, articles, stories. Think New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Oprah.

A snow day , everything closed, a guilt free day at home.

Bottle of chilled white wine, good friend, no work tomorrow.

Dark cinema, film that envelops, comfortable chairs, popcorn and M&Ms.

Sushi with my sisterhood

Taking a fantastic photo.

The smell of puppy paws, crushed digestives and milk.

Gelato.

A class of kids that looks up at you, in silence, and you know that they are all there and they get it.

Seeing your kids smile and laugh in the company of really good friends.

Having a good friend where you can invite yourself over for tea and stay for dinner.

Getting 3 facebook messages from ex students on the day that Salinger died to say they were thinking of me.

A sunday with no rain.

Dancing to a little Bob.

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Safari Day 4: Tsetse flies and Crater lakes

I am covered with the painful bites of Tsetse flies. The irony is that, while they used to cause the dangerous Sleeping Disease, now they prevent any chance of sleep while I am up most of the night with the sensation of legs on fire. Sleeplessness has forced me to reflect on the past few days.

While Sunday December the 13th was surely one of the worst days of my life, December 15th was one of the best. What was remarkable and moving about the experience of seeing both lions and elephants up close and in the wild was that there was an eye to eye connection between us. We were the only car and therefore only humans for miles around and as we approached the tree the male lion looked at us directly. He knew we were there. We knew that he knew and we knew that we had disturbed him, not a lot, but enough to make him get down from the tree.  Once he was down and let out an irritated roar that seemed to express irritation that his nap had been interrupted, one of the females watched us. At one point she looked me straight in the eye. I imagine she was saying “yes, I know I am beautiful and extraordinary, now leave me alone to sleep.”

Elephants cannot see well and the large male that approached the car ahead of the others knew we were there but couldn’t actually see us until he came close. At that point he stood and looked directly at us. I cannot express in words the feeling of looking into the eyes of a wild animal, who not only acknowledges you, but knows that you are no real danger to him. All the animals that we passed on our two safari drives were extremely curious and stood and observed us in pretty much the same way that we were observing them. On more than one occasion there was a direct eye to eye connection. Yet none were as powerful as the moments that passed between us and the elephant and between us and the lions.

The most disturbing thing about our car crash, more so even than the two thousand dollars it will take to fix the problem, was the attitude of the people who came to watch the aftermath of the crash. My girls are only 9 and 12, yet they have seen a side of human behaviour that many people never witness.. I can’t help but imagine how it would have been in Canada, where I know that people would have run over to help, offered us assistance and probably even invited us into their homes. Men would have eagerly rushed over to see what they could do and would have grouped together to push the car  over to its rightful stance. There would have been no discussion of money, only concern for our well being. I know that many will say , well what can you expect when these people have nothing and they regard you, due to the colour of your skin, as richer than they can ever hope to be?  Well I reply that in that case something is rotten in the state of our relationship with each other. When the inequality between people is such a divider that it stops us from seeing each other as members of the same human race, I despair. Those people had no compassion. They had been taught, somewhere down the line, that we deserve none. Yet how many people in the Great Shiny West, who have never stepped foot on this continent are more than happy to open up their wallets and show compassion by helping poor Africans in need?

We are nothing more than a walking dollar sign to them and it might be the prevalence of aid that has turned these people into victims with no pride.

We left the Wilderness Lodge at about 10 am once our driver arrived to take us to our next stop, the Ndali lodge. The drive was in the region of about 4 hours north through Queen Elizabeth Park, a little more since we needed to stop at a garage to have the brake pads attended to. To approach the lodge it is necessary to climb up a steep mountain past villages where men and women sat chatting beside large piles of drying corn and past boys pushing heavy bicycles laden with matoke. ( This is a member of the banana family and the staple food of all Ugandans.)  Finally we reached the very top where the lodge sits on a ridge, one side facing a crystal clear crater lake, where we sat and enjoyed some lunch, and the other side, where the cottages face, an undulating valley of lakes, mountains, tiny villages the size of dots, and finally in the misty distance the sharp peaks of the Rwenzori mountains. The stunning contrast between the two views had me flitting between the two, camera in hand for the first hour of our visit. Like a soft patchwork blanket in shades of green the valleys are spread like a feast below the little infinity pool. It was a scene of calm bliss.

This is a region famous for its crater lakes. These were formed eons ago by volcanos and today they look like silver pot holes from a distance. I have longed believed that there is nothing more soothing to the soul than the ability to look as far as the eyes can see. Nothing obstructs this fabulous view and the changing lights helps the view transform, especially in the hour before sunset. Much of that hour was spent in the piping hot bath, complete with window and view, that I gratefully climbed into at around 6pm. I love a good hot bath, and a bath with a view is one of the joys of life.


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Safari Journal Day 1: Bad luck and flipping cars

Maybe it was because it was the 13th, maybe it was because we hit a bird as we were leaving Kampala (“ that is a bad sign,” my husband said when the crow flew into our windscreen as we drove across the equator), maybe it was simply bad luck. One minute we were driving along, happily singing and laughing and 30 seconds later we were climbing out of a heap of mangled metal, wondering what on earth had happened.

The day did not start well. After weeks of anticipation and excitement, we awoke at 6:15 am bright eyed and bushy tailed ready for an early departure for Ishasha, the southern tip of Queen Elizabeth Game Park, over 9 hours west of Kampala. Unfortunately the gods had other plans in store, as we were to find out when the Beast would not start.

“The Beast has died,” I explained to two forlorn looking daughters.

“We need to find another way to get there.”


Various texts to friends and panicked phone calls to car rental offices later ( there is very little one can do at 7 am on a Sunday morning in Kampala) we found a solution. A driver would transport us for the entire week for the royal sum of $700 US.

At this point, with cries of “you should never have bought that bloody car!” hurled across the kitchen, a divorce seemed more likely than paying a driver that much money. With tempers flared and tears springing from eyes the trip was looking very grim and very expensive.

Luckily a friend appeared at the 11th hour with an offer to lend us his car.

“My Hero” I wrote in a thank you text to him as we finally drove out of our gate 3 hours later than planned.

It all went so well. We loved the car, so much better than our crappy Beast, traffic was minimal and we were making good time. We had a packed lunch and snacks aplenty, songs were sung and everything was looking splendid. Shortly after the half way point where we stopped for gas and a highly unpleasant visit to the pit toilets behind the petrol station, I offered to take the wheel.

7 hours into the journey the roads had become treacherous. We climbed up a steep and rocky incline where we were presented with a stunning view of a valley below. The villages we passed were remote and the people we passed kept holding out their hands and shouting “Money!” as we drove pass. The contrast between the bitter attitude of the locals who saw us as simply a ticket to free money and the stunning view was shocking. We discussed at the length the disparity between their desire for a charity handout and our belief that these people with fertile farmland in which to grow food, schools in which to become educated and all limbs secure in which to work were more than capable to make their own money and not look to the rare white foreigner as their meal ticket.

4 km before the town of Kihihi we were all laughing in the car at the sound of the name. Didn’t it sound just so much like a giggle? Within seconds ( and I have played this moment back over and over in my mind with no ability to remember a thing) the car had spun out of control. One second we were laughing and driving, the next second the car had careened across the road, driven wildly out of control towards a house and finally      had tipped over. After we climbed out of the front of the car, where the windscreen had been, I realized I had hit an electricity pole, narrowly averted a house and some chickens and had flipped next to a thorny patch of green. The car lay on its side, steaming, dripping and groaning. Broken glass litered the ground, apples were strewn everywhere and the girls were white and shaking. Both girls were fine, but Trooper had a nasty cut on her elbow that was bleeding and what appeared to be a sprained wrist. We were all alive.

Moments later a crowd appeared and over the next hour and a half the crowd grew and moved closer. I am convinced that nothing quite as exciting had ever happened in that small village. Bodas appeared, cars parked and people came out to gawp. When it was time to turn the car over, in order to assess the damage, no one would help without an offer of money. The onlookers were more concerned with whether or not they could get their hands on the apples then finding out if we were okay. It was the most disgusting display of humanity.

In the end, the car was able to be driven to the police station and we got a ride to a nearby hotel. Shaken, we assessed our bruises and prepared for bed, knowing that the next morning we would be back at the tin roofed police station to file a report. The car would need to be towed back to Kampala, we would need to hire a driver to take us home and we were looking at spending some time in bureaucratic hell.


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