Tag Archives: police


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.


Filed under Kampala

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.



Filed under 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

Safari Journal Day 2: Police station drama and Safari drive

We woke up stiff and bruised but optimistic. We were ready to finally start our vacation and we knew that once the police and car towing was dealt with, the worst would be over.

Until you have spent 31/2 hours in a remote Uganda police station, you have not really been to Africa. The room was dusty and it smelt like ancient body odour. The calender that was stuck, slanted to the wall, read September and the paint had peeled and faded to some shade that may once have resembled yellow. The window was splattered with suicidal mosquitos and the roof was made of tin. The phone numbers of all the police officers were chalked onto the walls. Sitting amidst this was a traffic officer wearing the crispest and whitest suit you can imagine. To protect the seat of his super white pants he sat upon a handkerchief and with tongue in his cheek, like a school boy concentrating on his penmanship , he carefully wrote down what had happened. He was polite, yet slow and we waited patiently for the report to be filed. The commanding officer who had been on the scene the night before had the key to the car and we had to wait some hours before he arrived to hand it to us. The towing truck that was arriving , at great expense, from Kampala, would need that key to deliver the car back home and the car would not be released until the report was correctly filed and paid for. So there were steps to follow and no amount of wishing, pleading or hoping would speed this situation up.

The men responsible for the electricity pole that I had unfortunately hit turned up to get their compensation and we discovered that despite paying for the police report it would not be handed to us until the car was officially inspected in Kampala. Email addresses were exchanged with fingers crossed in hope that we would eventually see the report and once the midday sun was starting to roast us, and we thought we had seen quite enough of Kihihi police station for one life time, we were finally allowed to go. Dave, the hardy and patient manager of the wilderness lodge where we were staying picked us up and drove us away.

The lodge is a tented yet exquisite set of structures nestled amongst the trees on the banks of the Ishasha River. We were presented with an oasis of calm and serenity after the past 20 hours of scary and painful hell. Within minutes we could feel our troubles and the memories of the Kihihi police station melt away. It is called a wilderness camp for good reason and with 25 staff for 20 guests, every need is met and catered for. The sound of birds and running river accompanied our delicious lunch, eaten outside, with fine linens and china. The Princess Camper within me beamed. This was perfect. We were the only guests and once lunch was over it was only the four of us, with Dave, who piled into the Safari truck. By 4pm we were driving through the park looking, as far as the eye could see, at fig trees, savannah, Kob, Water Buck, Warthog, Buffalo, Topi, Eagles and the almighty elephant.

Ishasha is famous for its tree climbing lions. They hunt at night and sleep all day in the thick branches of the fig tree. There are only 28 lions spread over  the 18,000 hectares of the park and it is sheer luck to see them. The park is only a few kilometers from the Congo and often the lions wander over there and can’t be seen for many weeks. At one point on the drive we stopped by a river that shall forever, in my memory, be known as Hippo Soup. The Congo was near enough to wade to, were it not for the large and cumbersome Hippos wallowing within it.

We couldn’t find any lions despite some long drives around the favorite fig trees. Still, when we drove back into the camp, were were happy, lucky and spoilt.

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Filed under Travel, Uganda

Losing my Boda Boda virginity, heros and Interpol.

My husband is my hero. He gets out of bed before us and Birkenstock raised high above his head, he searches the bathrooms for roaches. As soon as I hear the crunch, I know I am safe. Then we all get up, peel away the mosquito nets and get ready to start our day. He also searches the apartment before we enter, checking if it is roach safe. This, in my mind, is the definition of love.


Today I went to the police station to complete my security check. This is to ensure that I am safe to teach children and that I have no murky criminal past. All the new teachers squeezed into the school bus with some trepidation, fearing that this might take some time. I quickly discovered that Ugandans have a somewhat different sense of time and efficiency than the Trinis. It is a welcome change. However the experience was not without its particular version of charm.

When we arrived we first parked on a football pitch where lots of sweet children came running up to look at the white people. Then we realized we were in the police training center and got back into the bus to climb further up the hill. Once we parked, yet again, we had some difficulty locating the correct building. They all looked pretty shabby, and rather non-police-like but what did I know? We were finally directed to a creaky staircase than ran outside next to a collection of mud huts with people washing clothes and children chasing a tire. I thought that maybe this was police housing, but I never found out. Once inside we followed the signs for Interpol which were hand written and stuck beside arrows all along the hall way. I was dying to take a photo but didn’t want to get into any trouble with the Uganda authorities. Not yet, anyway.

Once we found the correct room we were asked to fill out a few forms, hand in some photos, pay 12,000 shillings ( $6) and write a letter stating that we were of good moral standing. Then we were fingerprinted, each finger twice but the thumbs only once. I was directed to a bathroom that resembled a Turkish prison ( in my imagination) to wash our hands with a bar of blue soap.


That was it! Done. Back in the bus and back to school before schedule. We find out on Friday if Interpol has anything on us.


The afternoon was spent furniture and appliance shopping downtown. We are moving out of the cockroach palace into a new two bedroom house in a few days and we need to buy essential items such as beds and a fridge. Everything has to be paid for in cash so it takes some time to withdraw all the funds. The fridges here are small, the ovens are also mini and are attached to a gas tank, the beds are fitted with firm foam mattresses. It was an unusual but very friendly shopping experience but the best part was the journey home. This is when I lost my Boda virginity. A Boda Boda is a motorcyle and they are all over the streets, being the easiest and cheapest form of transport. My eldest daughter who I will from this point forth call Trooper ( in contrast to her younger sister who we shall call Princess) climbed onto the Boda between her dad and the driver. I got my very own Boda.  (Princess was not with us, thank God!) Without helmets and with my stomach in my mouth we set off. “Be careful This is my first time!” I yelled into the driver’s ear.


It was thrilling, a little scary, but we all arrived safe and sound. Two Bodas. Three passengers. Cost 3500 shillings. ($1.75). A bargain and a cheaper thrill than a roller coaster.



Now I am writing this in the dark. There is a power strike brought on by a ferocious rain storm. I am dripping, my jeans are dripping, but at least I am no longer dusty.


Photos will be forthcoming but will take patience and some high speed internet.




Filed under Uganda

Chasing a Lemon

Our brand new used car is a lemon. We are leasing it from a man with gold teeth, it has no seat belts and the other night we couldn’t turn the alarm off.

It’s bad enough to drive a Nissan Almira, the most stolen car in Trinidad but when you are driving it at night while the car alarm is blaring, it is positively embarrassing.  The first time we drove past the police they ignored us. They just drove on by pretending that a stolen car was not screeching past.   The second time I stifled a giggle as I couldn’t believe our luck but this one flashed his lights and turned around. At this point my hero, the husband put his foot on the pedal and sped up. I had no idea the police were chasing us and couldn’t understood why he was driving like a mad man. I kept asking him to take the corners maybe at 35 instead of 60?  Luckily as the police caught up with us our alarm mysteriously stopped.  Getting stopped by the police in Trinidad would not be fun. Even if it was a case of car alarm malfunction they would relish the thought of finding something to stop us for. An expat stopped by the cops? That might make the papers.  

When you need them the police never come.  In fact I have heard on many occasions stories of the police spotted driving, beer bottle in hand. People often overtake the police on the highway and the police are notorious for confiscating drugs and keeping a bit for themselves. The irony of an expat family of four being stopped at midnight by the cops would be lost on them. But not on us. 

Phew. Newspaper fame averted.



Filed under Family Stuff, Trinidad & Tobago