Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Quite possibly the boringest post ever

I'm going to sound really dorky when i say this, but i think it's pretty neat how the ads at the top of this page always relate to what I've written in the most recent post. Those Google folks are pretty smart!

It's occured to me that the content of my weblog would probably lead people to believe that I spend all my time either doing very western-oriented stuff (like going to relatively new movies, or out for chinese food), or very touristy stuff (like safaris and rafting). I wonder if I'm giving the impression that Kampala is very westernized? Or if I'm just doing the western stuff? While some of this is true, it isn't really representative of my day-to-day life here, and I can't help wondering if i've been misrepresenting myself in an effort to report the 'events' in my life here. So, boring as it may be, i've decided to describe a 'typical day' for me in Kampala.

Okay, so where I live is admittedly pretty western-y, except that I live with Actual Ugandans. I live in an area a bit out of the city center called Kansanga. Kansanga has a pretty high concentration of three things: very poor people, very rich people, and bars and restaurants. (These sprung up in the days when crime in Kampala was really bad, and it wasn't safe for people to go into Kampala for night life. Kampala is a very safe city now, but Kansanga has remained a nightlife destination.) Kansanga also a thriving roadside market, but i try to avert my eyes as i walk through it, since a primary activity there is chopping the heads off of live chickens, or hacking chunks of meat off the 1/2 goat carcasses that hanging from metal hooks. On the plus side, you can get a pineapple for 40 cents, or a 'rolex' (a chapati and egg rolled up) or roasted bananas or maize, or for contrast, some airtime for your cell phone, so that's all good.

I live in a bungalow with a 60-year old Ugandan woman names Alice. I came to be living with her because she is a member of U****, where i work. She is single (she is officially married but has been separated from her husband for over 20 years) and owns and operates Nina Interiors, one of Uganda's higher-end furniture stores. At her prices, she caters mainly to the embassy/hotel/government official/expat markets. She's pretty inspiring - its hard for a woman to own her own business here, never mind achieving the level of success that she has. Officially living in the house are myself and Alice, as well as a housegirl (Penina) and askari aka guard/gardener/guy-who-does-the-laundry (Sabid), who both live in a small outbuilding within Alice's compound. (Anybody with even a bit of money lives in a compound bordered by high walls topped with either spikes, barbed wire, or broken glass. The askari's main duty is to open and close the large metal doors to let people in and out. Windows are bar-covered. Security is a big deal here.) In addition to the four of us, currently also living there is a 'niece' (when everyone is an 'auntie' its hard to know if she's really a 'niece') and Alice's daughter Nina, who is visiting from London. The house can best be visualized by imagining what an upper-middle-class grandma's house in Canada would look like. That's right - lots of rose and beige coloured florals, and lace doilies.

I wake up in the morning, stumble out of bed and across the house, turn on the water heater from a switch on the wall, and then flop back into bed to wait the 30 minutes it takes for the water to heat up. I shower, get dressed etc etc. No real hardships in this house, although I am looking forward to returning home though to a shower head i don't need to hold onto - attaching it to a wall is such a great invention! I go out to the dining table, where Penina has put boiling water into a thermos, tea bags, instant coffee, sugar, and a mug and a plate of either a pineapple or paw-paw (like a cross between papaya and melon) on the table. I eat breakfast and go to work.

I walk about ten minutes down the road to the main street, Ggaba Road. In addition to the compound walls, along the way there is a grove of mango trees, and this empty lot where there's usually cows grazing. I generally walk past a couple of piles of burning garbage along the side of the road, and the odd man picking through the piles of garbage that haven't been set on fire yet. Without the benefit of garbage collection, that really is the best waste-disposal option, but it's pretty gross to breathe in everyday. It's also probably one of the chief reasons that blowing your nose produces a black-filled kleenex (How's that for pleasant? Thought you'd all want to know!) When i get closer to Ggaba rd, there's a small row of huts/shacks selling fruit, a barber that appears to be open 24-hours, and an open-air workshop of guys making furniture. Every day for months, the small children hanging about are thrilled to see me, and start shrieking 'mzungu! mzungu!' and waving and pointing. Its funny -when adults do it, i throw pointy objects at them with my eyes, but its the cutest thing ever when small barefoot children do the same thing. Despite seeing me at least once a day for 4 months, the novelty hasn't seemed to have worn off! Across from the little shops is Kansanga Senior School, where is where all the high-school students wait around in their light-blue and white uniforms waiting for school to start. Sometimes the students will be singing and dancing and drumming, and the little kids will listen from outside the fence, dancing away.

When I get to Ggaba road, i wave hello to the boda-boda drivers, and exchange greetings with Bosco, the boda-boda driver who drives me home most often. I cross the road and wait in front of a tailoring shop (Made to yor satisfacshun! With yor partisipashun!) for a matatu to come by (which they do about every minute or so.) When i see one approaching, i give a little waist-level wave to let them know that i want to get on, they stop, i squish in, and it drives into Kampala Town, letting people off and on as they request it along the way. (The trip costs 300 shillings - about 20 cents.) When the matatu arrives at the matatu park, i disembark and fight my way through the parked matatus and yelling conductors towards the stairs that lead out of the valley-like parking area. I generally walk a block or two away from the matatu park before i get on a boda-boda - the traffic around there kind of makes me nervous! There's hundreds of bodas waiting around, so they're easy to find. I try to pick ones that don't look like they're falling apart too much, and that have a driver who doesn't look drunk, and who is preferably wearing a helmet, cause i figure that means that safety is an issue that has at least crossed their mind. I tell 'em where my office is, and they either quote me the 'real price' (1000 shilings) or try to rip me off, in which case i tell them i'm not a tourist, i know the real price, and then they look sheepish and tell me to hop on.

When i get to work, i basically sit at computer all day, chat with my co-workers while i try not to notice that it takes about 3 hours between "Can you photocopy this for me?" and it actually being photocopied. A few times a week I meet friends for lunch, since our offices are all in the same area of town. My work day is a faily typical one, but with cultural misunderstandings and linguistic confusion thrown in for good measure. (I.e. Did you know that a spinster is anyone unmarried? Or that mentorship program participants expect their mentors to hand over all their information about suppliers and finances, and get upset when they don't? Or that 'hmmm' means 'yes', regardless of the tone it is spoken in? Or that you should always pronounce the letter 'g' as a hard g when its meant to be soft, or as a soft g when its meant to be hard i.e. tarjet market; or that the letter 'r' is actually pronounced the same as the letter 'l'?)

After work, I either go to the gym at the Grand Imperial hotel, get groceries at the Shoprite (although i officially have all my meals included in my rent, and i'm pretty sick of Ugandan food, so i mostly cook for myself when i'm at home now,) or from market stalls in the matatu park, or I go over to a friends' house and then out for dinner or drinks. To get home, i either take a matatu to Kansanga and then a boda-boda up the road to my house, since its usually dark out by the time i battle traffic out of the city. Traffic here is brutal - at least 50% of the vehicles on the road are matatus, and the drivers are the worst drivers ever, so traffic is much worse than it needs to be. Add this to the potholes that slow things to a crawl, and transport takes a while. If i go to the gym, or leave the office late, i take a special-hire car (a taxi). Since there's no cab companies, you just have to meet a driver you like and get his cell number, and call him directly. I have a few i call, but my favourite is Joseph, who says that 'travelling his hobby', and has never once told me he loves me and can i help him move to Canada?

I get home, either eat the ugandan food that Penina has prepared (usually rice or matoke, goat stew, potatoes, and some wedges of avocado), or i cook myself something as fast as i can while Penina stares intently, since she is under orders to 'watch deanna and learn how to make western food', then i watch a little TV while Alice falls asleep with a bottle of beer resting on her stomach, and go to bed. Oh yeah, except for the days (at least once a week) when the power goes out, and then I eat bread or a mango or whatever and go to bed.

And that's my day!