Tag Archives: Kampala

Kampala: ground and sky

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ha!

Police here are notorious for stopping cars for no apparent reason and doing random driving license checks. Both myself and Handsome have been in the unlucky position of being stopped, whether for a license check, a dirty windshield wiper, talking on a cell phone and once Handsome was even stopped and asked for a ride!

I had not been stopped or ages and the last time I had my Canadian driving permit which, really, you should not drive with here after the first 3 months. So yesterday when I was pulled over and asked for my license I could see the smug look in her eyes. She was sure she was going to see a foreign permit and get some cash out of me. A 20,000 shilling note left on the passenger seat normally sorts out all sorts of problems. But this time I smiled, showed her my shiny Ugandan Driving License and waited. I detected a faint glimmer of disappointment in her eyes and then she said: “ok, have a good day.”

“Thank you”, I beamed and drove off.

Leaping over those hurdles to get that permit was so worth it.

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Occupational Hazard

We pass this sign everyday on the way to school and it drives Princess and Trooper crazy. It’s the apostrophes; they cannot comprehend how Alfredo can have a dine out or even be dining out with all those apostrophes in the wrong place.

That would be the problem of having an English Teacher as a mother.

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My Kampala Weekend

Kampala Sunday Family.  Photo taken during my Mother’s Day walk.

Oh what a lovely weekend. It all started with a rare highly successful Friday. It is an extraordinary feat when everything goes to plan here, something to be celebrated and talked about amongst friends. I  left school midday to attempt the herculean task of ticking a few items off my “things to do list” including some banking, an issue with a tragically faulty iphone and computer , a birthday gift, a photo to be printed, some minor grocery shopping and the pinning up of Car For Sale posters in all the appropriate places. All got accomplished in good time and moreover extra things not even on the list got ticked off too.  A rare glowing moment here in Kampala.

Friday evening was spent in the company of dear friends, outside on a deck, moonlight straining between oversized fat leaves, and the sweet smell of Lady of the Night flowers wafting over us like gentle silk on our shoulders.  We ate, we debated loudly, and we laughed. We struggled with issues that come by us all too often living in Africa.  We debated the concept of happiness and how possible it is to be happy and yet stuck in the mire of poverty. How do we read those smiling faces running up the hill to fetch water each night? Can a person be truly happy if they cannot plan for tomorrow? If they live an existence that is hand to mouth and rooted in the today and only the today? Can one be happy if they have no access to health care and the threat of death and infanticide is  always around every corner? Is the West responsible and what can be done? Heady issues but ones that live with every day and it is a good dinner party when we actually debate what we cannot solve.

Saturday and my luck turned. I was back at the computer shop fixing my still broken computer and money was bleeding from my wallet. I was forced to drive right down town, into the nether regions of congested Kampala and to a place that I have never ventured by myself in the car. It was stretching the boundaries of my bravery so I did what is only possible in the great country of Uganda. I hailed down a Boda driver and paid him to drive to the scary place so that I could follow him. I did exactly the same thing on the way out of the maze of downtown streets and good thing too or I might have found myself half way to Entebbe Airport.  I also pulled another great Ugandan trick and rather than risking another drive back downtown to retrieve said computer, I had it delivered to me by the technician on a Boda Boda. It is so easy to be a princess here.

Saturday night and a prospective car buyer was followed by a delicious Thai meal.

And Sunday: Mother’s Day found me enjoying a manicure, a brunch with my daughters and an afternoon of friendship, champagne and sushi pool side.

And then it all went fish faced Sunday night when my computer broke again.

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Kampala and the sisterhood

Kampala. I love it green, and raining, the water mirrors the day. We are slowly coming to an end, a term is ending and a break is nigh. We are hopping on a jet plane and heading to Bahrain to explore and see and find and learn. We will find a house, a school, maybe a job. We will start the slow move from one life to another as we imagine where we’ll be next year. No rain, just dry, no green, just desert, no children carrying water and majestic woman wearing bananas atop their heads, something new and different instead.

The Parrots and Hammerheads call to one another in the tree outside my window and I wonder what the sounds of the future will be. Will a call to prayer take over the bird calls?

I had a night or two recently that were different, one an evening of French folk, chic with their perfectly placed scarf, chain or glasses, the kisses and laughter better in French. There was good taste in the air with language and culture tying threads around the crowd.

Another a night of girls; talking, musing, wondering, hoping. I was the oldest, the only one married, the one who was meant to have some wisdom tucked between the folds of experience. We talked by candlelight of choice, hope and compromise and I sensed real friendship, the kind girls have whether they are 13 or 32.

And I thought of my sisterhood and how I miss it. One or two nights a year is not enough. Then I thought of all the wonderful women I have fallen in love with and then had to leave. I could never survive the highs and lows without the women. I build walls around my heart and say “no more!” And then I do it all again, the love, the wistful nights wishing we could all live happily in a commune of wine and candlelight.

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Escaping Camp Hormone

It has been a troubling week in Camp Hormone, the gossip mongers have been hurtful, the facebook chat rooms full. There are weeks when I have my overdose of teens, living with one at home and a multitude at work. They are strange and worrisome creatures and there is no handbook, just trial and error, a lot of patience and masses of consistency and consequence.

But I cannot discuss Camp Hormone here; my gag order is in full effect so instead I will tell you about my other life. Do I have another one? Yes, I found it on Saturday night dancing to Salsa in uncomfortable high heels with no Tequila. (I was driving and being sensible. Always sensible.)  I find myself going out so much more now that I am high heeled up and single (well single and married, if that makes any sense at all.) I went out five nights in a row which is a record, really. I am not sure I have not that this decade, though it is only 3 months old.

This past week I have attended an Irish themed dinner party, complete with very interesting Irish folk and a superb Baileys and Mint Chocolate Chip Ice-cream milkshake, a Murder Mystery Dinner where I was given the role of Brash and Aggressive American ( no risk of type casting there then) and featured a divine Pear Martini, a decadent Indian meal, a girls’ night out under the stars, a birthday dinner with my girls and a heavenly molten chocolate dessert, a tea party with pink champagne instead of tea and a hilarious one year old who cleaned the chocolate cake off everyone’s plate and the afore mentioned salsa dancing.  The dancing was fun and long overdue and I was having a great time dancing with the bodacious Latino ladies until a pile of my students walked in and balked.

Nothing like a 17 year old at 1:00 am on a Saturday night to make you feel old.

Camp Hormone. Can’t escape the inmates.

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Being brave, driving, finding snails and the pretty.

I am not writing enough. Perhaps I am in less of a reflective mood and more of a get on with it and cope mood. We are trudging along here with out our Handsome. He is happy over there in our future home; he has survived one sand storm and multiple temptations in the shopping department. He has a car now and is installed in a small and sweet apartment on the beach. And us? Well we have been keeping ourselves sane with homework, Thai food, the occasional Margarita and plenty of cutting out of paper fish. ( Poisson d’avril, ladies and gentleman, will soon be upon us.)

I am being terribly brave and driving all over the place. As one or two of you may know I am very frightened of driving in Kampala, and Handsome Husband did very nearly ALL the driving when he was here. Now it is me behind the wheel and it is amazing what happens when you take away the element of choice. We just have to cope. The bumps, the pot holes, the crazy boda boda drivers, the maniacs who think you can just cut someone off, the pedestrians who assume we will stop or slow down, the nonsensical  magic roundabouts, the lack of traffic lights, I am fighting fierce and doing it all.

Do I have anything else to tell you?

We had a giant snail walking up our wall. Here it is:

And sometime next week I will be another year older. I have purchased myself a lovely birthday present, quite a feat to find something I am so excited about in Kampala and it has been hidden away in Trooper’s room to be pulled out on my birthday. I can’t tell you what it is, because we are pretending it is a surprise.

But it is pretty and we all need pretty things now and again.

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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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Transitions

I was terribly spoilt living with Handsome Husband. Since he had the car and the flexible work hours he did all the grocery shopping, all the hard labour ( collecting portable gas for the stove, charcoal for the live in help), all the car maintenance, all the bureaucracy  ( car insurance, bill payments, banking), and all the driving. Now it is my job and quite frankly I feel a little daunted by the task. The last time we were separated for any considerable length of time was in Montreal when he left for Trinidad, 5 months before us. But that was easy compared to this. I was in my home, with my comforts, my friends, my easy routine, my grocery store I could walk to, my on line banking, my smooth roads.

Now, plenty of people do it. I know a fabulously brave woman who moved to Kampala as a single mother of two children, works full time and has recently adopted a third child. I am not in her league of braveness but perhaps I am braver than I think. I had been regretting my lack of independence in Kampala and now I will get it back in spades. How often do married people ever get a chance to live alone? A couple tends to grow dependant on each other and a separation helps us to stretch our independent muscles and go it alone. I have a rare chance to experience the independent single life, (although without all its benefits.) Most people, unless they marry a soldier in the oversees forces, barely have a day or two alone. And here I get three whole months.

Still I will miss him. And worry. What sort of cosmic miss-timing sends a person to Bahrain to start a new job the day before Martial Law is declared?

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Whose world I am living in anyway?

Handsome Husband has left. He left his three sad girls in a Kampala house on a rainy day and flew off into the skies over to a country that is up in arms, cross, angry and full of hatred, fear and the expectation of change. I have no opinion on the troubles in Bahrain, I am not equipped to judge. I do know one thing though, a visit to Uganda would throw some perspective into the mix. They might realize that their lives aren’t that bad, that protesting and halting an economy might damage the good they don’t know they have. Just a thought.

So since I am here and he is there I am going to focus on what I am here to do. Teach. After all I am only staying here, husbandless for the next three months, honing my survivior skills, selling a car, lovely handmade and personally designed furniture ( I thought I was staying longer so I invested….) so that my self and my two girls may finish up the school year.

So time for a Miss Teacher post.

Look what delightful reading matter I am teaching, all at the same time. It is a wonder I don’t get very confused or at least have some very odd dreams.

Madame Bovary

Midsummer’s Night Dream

Much Ado About Nothing

Romeo and Juliet

Medea

I know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Quite the mixed bag, I say. And when I am not swimming in the seas of Alabama, Rouen, Athens or Verona I have my head stuck in the sand and the sand is all full of Mad Men. I am actually living many worlds, my days are spent with the above, I particularly like having conversations in my head with Emma, ( come on pull yourself together! ) or Hero ( don’t take him back! He called you a “stale!”) or Medea ( you go girl! He ripped you off! He ripped out your heart!) or Romeo ( Don’t do it! Don’t kill Tybalt it won’t end well!) or young Maya ( sit up straight and be quiet. It will all be fine in the end.)

My nights are spent with Don Draper.

I live in many a world.

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