Tag Archives: Africa

A soup made of old and new: African and Arabian skies.

Trooper is drowning already. Homework is piling around her, her bed is covered with papers, her desk has no surface, her face has that “what the hell” look about it.

Princess cooks, between bouts of less homework, she has perfected the art of perfect banana bread.

Both are surviving the change. There are well weathered in this “move around and start all over again” malarky, even though they hate it.  They have fit their shoulders around the feel of their new uniform and are learning the ropes of new hallways, the strange jungle of making new friends and the touch of a different morning routine.

Sometimes I wonder how our heads don’t spin out of control with all this change.  We are nomads who have to jump in and adjust, no matter that the smell of the old mingles with the new. Some days I am living a parallel life, I am in my old house listening to African birds and lying under a burnished African sky and I am simultaneously looking out of my window at a desert and an Arabian sunset.

When I enter the cafeteria here at school and hear the musical Arabic voices I am simultaneously back in the Kampala lunch room, with the Ugandan breeze touching the heads of those I know so well.  As I sit in my classroom and tell the students to please stop talking in class and if they must then please only speak English, I am immediatly back in my old classroom telling the girls to stop their chitter chatter, feeling the heat of the windows press on my back and brushing the red dirt off my black skirt.  When I drive past a cleaner-than-thou mosque, resplendant in marble, I am walking through Bukoto market worrying over the Boda driver who nearly knocked me into a ditch.

I am the old me and the new me. the past and the present mingled with memory and tears, hope and fear all at once.

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Kampala: ground and sky

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A Hero’s day and a Safari Swan Song

It is Hero’s day here in Uganda and that means a bonus day off. I assume this day is in honour of real war heros or those who are celebrated for the part they played in the history and freedom of their country. Or perhaps we could take the time to consider all the real heros in this world who selflessly give up mountains of time to dedicate their lives for the well being of complete strangers. Okay I tip my hat to those variety of heros. Done. But to be completely honest with you I feel a bit like a hero at this moment and I am taking this bonus day off as a celebration of myself and all the heroic feats I am accomplishing this week, last week and the two weeks to come.

As you might have noticed there has not been a whole lot of blogging recently. However there has been a whole lot of marking and report writing and yearbook editing and adolescent rearing and photography club exhibition preparing and clothes sorting and sorting through the bureaucracy of car selling.

And there has been this: ( for all Heros deserve their just reward.)

Last week there was another national holiday here and this one was called Martyrs Day. We celebrated it with a day up north on the banks of the wild Nile, sipping wine to the tune of Hippo grunting, jumping into the best pool ever and gazing over the sunbaked stretch of stormy water waiting for the majestic sun to set. It felt a bit sneaky and spoilt driving 4 hours north for 24 hours just because. We wanted the Nile, one last time, and we wanted it with good friends in some luxury. And it delivered. We even squeezed in one last game drive and a squeeze it was. There were 9 of us shoved, sardine like, into a car intended for 7 and the windows had to stay sealed shut due to the extraordinary quantity of Tsetse flies swarming us. More on those later, my tale of martyrdom at the hands of a Tsetse still to come.)

One of the passengers in the car was the UWA ( Uganda Wildlife Authority) Ranger who was there to show us the way and hopefully find us some animals. As is customary for all rangers he came bearing his gun, well slung over his shoulder. Not wanting to be difficult, yet conscious of the small baby who would be sitting next to said gun, and all the other children in the car, I did ask, politely whether it as absolutely necessary for the gun to come along.

“Oh don’t worry Madam, this gun is very friendly!” He replied, big smiles all round.

And friendly it was. It remained cold and unwanted, un touched and nearly forgotten on the floor of the car. Still, a gun, friendly? I smell an oxymoron.

We drove, in the steamy car, shut up like sardines we were, breath pressed against glass, bottoms on laps on chairs, and we peered longingly out of the window looking for animals. This side of Murchison is not known for its Wildlife, it is densely forested with no savannah for cats to bound, hunt and pounce. Still we spotted three giraffes through the trees, one a triangle as it bent, head between legs to drink. Then we saw a group of highly suspicious buffalo who wagged ears and flicked tails worriedly as we stopped to look. Then much excitement as Princess yelled “Reverse the car! I saw something in the grass!” It was a turtle. Yes, a turtle.

Tired and dreaming of a sunset sundowner we turned to go back to the welcoming arms of our lodge. Never mind, we hadn’t been lucky this time.

“One last turn!” The ranger with the friendly gun, called out from the back seat.

So we did. One last turn, just seconds from the gate of the lodge. How could it hurt? Just 5 more minutes of squashed bums.

And then we saw it. And elephant crossing the road right in front of us. I saw his trunk first, then his ears, as he crossed through the foliage on one side and loped over to the other. “ He must be coming back from the river,’ we whispered.

And then another and another and another. And they just kept coming, one after the other until the road before us was grey with massive elephant, the wonder of it filling the space before us. Some smaller, and even babies, clustered in the comfort of their mothers and some enormous, old grandfathers grandmothers, the great, the old, the brave returning from their Nile bath. There must have been 50 elephants passing in front of us, this was the greatest elephant sighting so far in Uganda, and this, my safari swan song.

Then a maternal beast, shoving the bottom of her baby with her trunk come out from the trees and spotted us. She turned, lifted one thick foot as if to charge, raised her trunk in anger and flapped her enormous flag like ears.

“Reverse, Now!” called out our ranger. “She is not pleased.”

And so we did. For a bit before we felt brave enough to approach a little closer, again, after a time. One more, than another crossed before us. One with a “fifth leg” as the children called it, I thought “ oh the trunk of the one behind is between that one’s legs!”

But it wasn’t. He was just a little frisky. The ranger laughed and called it his “Roucka!” The girls giggled.  The boys blushed.

And then home to our lodge, filled to the brim with the magic of what we had seen.

And time to watch the sunset from the porch of our tent, perched over the Nile so the water was the music of our night.

Oh Africa. Oh Africa.

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Africa, time passing, movies and leopards: or what is in the mind when you are sick.

I hate being sick, I mean really hate it. I can’t see the pleasure in lying in bed and waiting until it passes and just knowing that the world is going on out there while you are not. Because you are stuck, waiting and frozen in time. I hate it.

Especially when my mind is so full of the many things I have to prepare to do before we leave. Because that won’t change, time won’t hold on just because I am sick in bed.

My mind is very full, too full to sleep and full of wonder and worry; the very things that make up a move. And I feel the sharp strange taste of nostalgia and regret and sadness and excitement all at the same time.

Moving breaks my heart but it also breaks new ground and that is life, no? That is what the destination is all about, enjoying the journey, finding the surprise. I think life is like a safari, you never know exactly what you will see, but you know it is all out there if you keep your eyes wide open, peer and look and always, always scan the horizon.

I never saw a leopard. And I always said I wouldn’t leave until I did see one. I have been on countless safari drives, even once in the park with the MOST leopards in Kenya, but still I didn’t see one. I scanned the trees for that tell tale hanging tail, I hoped and wished, but still no leopard. I have a friend who has seen three. One up close, right by the car, looking at her with wild cat eyes.

But I did see a cheetah walking away, and lions, lots and lots of lions, in trees, walking, sleeping, grooming.

So I will have to come back for the leopard, I imagine. Maybe that is the trick of the gods to get me back, to tell me that me and Africa are not done, finished quite yet.

Lots of time to think while sick in bed. And make lists in the head and on scraps of paper lying about, backs of credit card bills and envelopes. I have lists littering my mind and house now. They will all come together and be done, when they must.

And one good thing about lying in bed, under the weather, poorly, feeling sorry for myself, is that I watched 3 movies. Good ones, too.

The American, with Mr. Clooney, always dashing and silent with his sideways smile and his dark hooded eyes. Beautifully shot, lovely Italy, sad but good, obviously was a book once, the story feels like it was written and not just composed on a story board.

Conviction with Hilary Swank based on a real story. Also good, meaty, brother and sister loyalty and faith and love with a solid dose of  hating the evil justice system. Good old American good vs wrong story and of course we all know who wins those . No one makes a film where good triumphs so absolutely like the Americans.

And finally a film that is hard to place, to put my finger on, but beautiful and pulsing with life and questions and beauty and wonder and failings and love. It’s called Mammouth. See it . Tell me what you think. It is one to discuss and pick apart over a glass of wine or two, or three.

Except I still feel sick so no wine for me, not yet. Wait till this African bug passes. Like everything else.

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It’s a First World Problem

This is what I call those problems that we are so lucky to have. Now and again we can push aside the guilt and just have a good old fashioned whinge and moan over a first world problem. Oh woe is me.

Problem # 1:

I changed the SIM card in my iphone to a Bahraini SIM when we went over for our visit and when we got back the thingy that is supposed to spring open when you stick a silver pin in ( and yes I still have the original one that came in the box)  didn’t work. So I couldn’t use my phone. Stuck with no iphone. For a whole week I was back to the cheapest Nokia on the market, known here as a Katoche, and I was all cross thumbs trying to figure out and remember old school texting. I hated it but what I hated more was the thought that if I broke my phone getting the SIM out I would have no phone when I moved. So I decided I need to suck it up and live with Nokia for the foreseeable future. But oh I did miss it so.

Then a very nice man at the very expensive Apple shop here in Kampala (his new name is now Hero) fixed it and I am happily reunited with my beautiful phone once again.

Moral of the story: Once you go iphone there is no going back. Spoilt for life.

Problem # 2:

Do I buy the 24 inch or 27 inch? Does size really matter?

Problem #3:

I found a roll of Kenyan Shillings and headed down to the back to change them, having no real idea of their value in Ugandan shillings. The highest note here is 50,000 which is about $25 or close enough. Strange, I know when you are familiar with $100 bills and 50 pound notes. So when I changed my money I was given such a thick wad of notes that I couldn’t close my wallet.  First and only time I have ever felt like a drug dealer.

Problem # 4:

I have given up on fresh milk. There have been one too many incidents of lumpy cottage cheese poured into my morning coffee and I am now Long Life all the way.

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Hello Bahrain

I am in Bahrain, land of turquoise seas, long smooth highways, giant posters of the King,, men in white dresses, women black as crows, shiny shops, large malls, soft beaches, high glitz, desert sands and fast cars. I am constantly amazed by my surreal life; I visit here for 10 days, a place that could not be more opposite than Kampala and then I must return to my former life for 55 days. I am here to chose a house, a school, to look, see and learn and yet I must still go back to the pot holed roads of Kampala and the African skies before I can really call Bahrain home. So I am living an in between existence this week and it feels most odd.

I wonder how I will feel when Africa is no longer mine, and I see no green nor hear no birds. Will I settle in quickly to this island that feels both modern and ancient all at once? I look out of the window as we speed along highways and bridges and imagine how it will be see wealth rather than poverty as my daily view.

Yesterday we went to a large shiny mall. It was the ultimate Great Shiny West experience and standing before 35 choices of red lipstick I froze. This was too much choice. I didn’t know what to do. The palace of cold marble, glossy metal and smooth escalators was overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong; I will be happy to live mere minutes from anything I could possibly need; it will just take some getting used to. I am sure one frustration will be passed onto another.

Everybody smiles and says they love living here. Men drink coffee or juice alone, women glide in their back robes with inches of sparkle peeping out, the make up is thick, the girth is often wide, the children splash and laugh and shout, the life of the carefree.

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Easter eggs and Dodo brains

We are nearly there: The flight takes off tomorrow afternoon and before long we will be one family again, in the same place, sharing the same hug. I love the closure of end of term: asking where everybody is going, hearing the exciting travel plans. One friend is going to run the Two Oceans Run in Cape Town; another is going Gorilla Trekking, another to a wedding on the beach, another welcoming family and showing off Uganda. And we are going to see where our new life will be and put some footprints in Bahraini sand.

I promise to take my camera and bring back some photos to share.

Just for the fun of the things and because it is the end of term and there is that wonderful feeling of my desk looking a bit tidier than usual I thought we should have a little visit with the search engines.  How are you all ending up here chez 3limes?

peeing chimps

Those people who are planning on spending some time chimp trekking in Kibale might just experience the joy of being peed on by a chimp. For the very lucky folk, the chimps come down off the trees and sit quietly in a circle picking lice out of each other’s hair. But for us we had the special joy of craning our necks way high to stare at dark shadows in the tree tops and enjoying the spectacularly frequent splashes of pee. They pee, a lot and all the time. The amount is akin to having a large bucket dropped from a great height over and over again.

tree that spread her roots by the river is?

I think you are the same poetic lovely who searched for twisted tree roots. I think we should meet, hug trees, lay down by the roots and have a picnic. I picture a large willow tree that leans precariously yet determinedly towards a running brook. The water is dappled with broken sun light, the poet Rupert Brooke has flung himself upon a field nearby and is tousling his lover’s mane in his bare, strong hands.

dodo brain

That would be me. I am the one who owns the dodo brain, so welcome, come in and take a look. The evidence is clear. I very nearly forgot my niece’s birthday today thinking the 21st is a date more apt for a birthday than the 20th, though after 11 years I should have known. I slipped up and forgot it was my class assembly and only found out an hour before we were due to go on stage. I owed them a lot of chocolate after that performance. I lost my passport while all the time it was sitting on a book beside my bed, I went out for dinner last night with my bag and wallet, phone and lipstick and not one cent of money. I pride myself on holding it all together and keeping my memory intact. But recently the hard drive has been full up there and things have been leaking out. See now, I can hardly remember all the other mistakes I have made and I am sure there are plenty. So if you were looking for the brain belonging to the long deceased Dodo bird then you might want to go to google images. Here it is all dodo brains and worry.

Ta ta for now, holiday people. Enjoy those Easter eggs. We have Neuhaus eggs in our fridge which is a treat from the Great Shiny West and one that exceeds excitement.  In the land where chocolate tastes of sour milk even a Cadbury cream egg would have made us jump but Neuhaus? A box of delightfully wrapped coloured mini eggs?

Too much fun.

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Filed under Family Stuff, Great Big Shiny West, 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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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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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