Tag Archives: life

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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Wrapping friends up into a soft soft ball.

Reading the FT yesterday morning, as I am wont to do on my Saturdays, I read this article by Susie Boyt, a columnist I follow closely and enjoy immensely. There are people we read in the press that we falsely believe we know by virtue of reading their online persona each week. But I feel certain if Susie and I met for tea at Fortnum’s’ we’d have plenty to talk about. The staff would be tapping their heels and waiting by the doors to close and we’d still be chatting about the length of dresses, fluffy cakes, life changing books and the essence of what makes a good friend.

Today she writes about friendship and her words rang a true bell. I am one of those people for whom friends are on the A list, the cake rather than the icing. Friends for me sit in the very centre of my life rather than dancing around the periphery. One of the tragedies of an expat existence is that you are always far from friends, dear ones, with whom you would like a daily existence, a regular phone chat, a weekly coffee rather than a day or two every year or two.

The hardship of being so far from friends in one thing but the other sadness wells from the fact of having to say goodbye to new and wonderful friendships so frequently. With each move, I say “No.” I will not join my heart to another, I will not fall in love with a new friend, I will not get too close. And then, because we are human, we do. And then comes another goodbye. But with each move there are less goodbyes, once bitten twice shy. I am wary of too much love, these days.

This summer I will be going home to Canada after a break of two years. I will be, once again, with my sisterhood, but I am carving up time into portions to spend with them. Is this the way to live friendship?  Have a choice? They have all got their lives, they are busy and here I fly in, swoop down into their lives from my life far away and demand time with them, while I can only afford a day or two.

Like oil and water the true friends float up to the surface and make each moment one to cherish. But I keep collecting these wonderful friends and if I were to make a friendship map of the world they would be scattered like chicken pox scars on a child’s back.

I have had friends leave me, like a scorned lover and it hurts as much as ending a love affair would. There are 5 times in my life that I have been dropped like hot coal into the fire, and each time it is because I have inadvertently hurt someone too sensitive to have perspective. I argue with myself that these were never true friends, that I was mistaken, had it wrong, all along. If they would end our friendship over a silly slight, what were they to me? Still it hurts, because I never knew.

We collect people as we go through our chapters, and the more moves we make the more we collect, carefully, wrap in the softest of memories and carry in our pockets. Sometimes I long for my white picket fence and my friend round the corner, always there, living with me my days and me with hers.

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Give you my sweet soul dreams

 

There is some music that follows you through different chapters. Or some music that when you hear it is sharply poignant of a particular time.

Recently I have been listening to one of my favorite all time albums, Goodbye Jumbo by World Party. It takes me back to a time, to a place soft with the taste of regret wrapped in hope and now it is following me again, like a warm hand keeping me safe.

 

I have had a strange time of it lately, too strange to wrap words around and yet too strange to write about anything else. There are times in life when everything changes, or tilts, and life and the way you see things is never the same again. The older you get, the more moments like this you have and yet they are so very few. Giving birth, losing a parent, having an accident, these are events that somehow shift you internally and leave things unbalanced for a time, as if the pinball machine has tilted and is not yet right.  And I wonder as I walk the aisles of the grocery store, how many other people who appear normal on the outside have tiny fissures cracking on the inside. But through it all comes a taste of change, of the chrysalis unravelling and something new being born.

 

And so my sweet soul dreams follow me in the car, tipping over sloping hills, catching the golden light as it bounces on the lush green. Kampala is sexy green at the moment, fertile and fecund land, mulched earth and dripping wet gigantic leaves. Everything is sprouting, growing and changing.

 

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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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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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Filed under Miss Teacher

Oh for a 20ft container across an ocean

We have been here 19 months, lived in two houses and are well into our second year at school. Yet my dearest possessions remain in storage in Montreal. When we left Trinidad, having no clue, really, where we were headed, we decided to store the majority of our things and hold the rest in storage until it was time to bring them over. They are still there and I am kicking myself for packing our few boxes so badly. Many times a week I shout “Damn! That is in storage!” while I hunt for a favourite book, cake tin, pie tin, spoon or scarf. I packed enough for a year, thinking that beyond that we would be reunited with all our worldly possessions. It has not quite worked out the way I wanted; the cost of bringing that beloved containerfrom Montreal across the Atlantic, down the Indian and over land  to Kampala is very steep. While I cannot rest easy and feel settled or home without my essential objets d’amour, the cost can be perceived to be an extravagance.  I think as we grow older our collection tells the tale of our life. I am highly sentimental and being far from places and people I love has placed many of my possessions on a pinnacle. Am I wrong to want the evidence of my life around me?

Saddest of all is that once, if ever, they do arrive, Princess will be too old to play with the toys we have stored. We have robbed her of these last few years of playfulness. She often muses on what she would play if her things were about her. Dolls feature highly, as does a certain Playmobil Castle. She daydreams of sitting on her floor surrounded by tiny plastic treasure. I daydream of books, a lime green sofa, paintings on my wall, photographs. Trooper in her most matter of fact manner, wants for nothing. With a good book and a bed, a laptop and some music she is as content as she should be. Likewise Handsome Husband misses nothing in that 20 ft container.

How different we all are.

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