Thursday, February 24, 2005

Get in touch - that's an order!

Hey, Family And Friends, did you know that you can send me text messages to my cell phone for free, online?? Yes, you can! And did you know that I would be PUMPED to get messages from the folks back home every once in a while? Yes, that's right, PUMPED!

Go to, and in the 'Send SMS' box on the left of the page, and beside the number 256 (uganda's country code), you can enter my phone number (78348598) and a message, i will get a text message on my phone.


If you are indeed a family or friend, please make my putting my phone number on the internet worth it; and if you aren't a family or friend please feel free to send NICE messages!

UPDATE - Friday 25th: I woke up this morning to a lovely message on my phone, but I don't know who it's from! So please put your name in there somewhere so i can send you back some good african mojo!

Friday, February 18, 2005

This is why I am proud to be a Canadian.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Grumble grumble grumble vent

Today I had to get some passport photos done (necessary for processing my Ugandan work permit), so I went the fastest/easiest route, which are those automatic photo booth things that give you a strip of four photos. Now the photo booths in Uganda are old crappy booths that have been thrown away by malls and subway station managers in North America and Europe, and so the money-accepting mechanism either doesn't work or cannot be modified for Ugandan cash. So instead, there is a guy standing beside the booth who takes your money and presses the buttons.

So I sit down on the little stool in front of the standard white background, and THEN THE ATTENDANT TELLS ME THAT IT WON'T WORK BECAUSE YOU WON'T BE ABLE TO SEE MY SKIN COLOUR AGAINST THE WHITE BACKGROUND.

It is in these instances where I need to hold myself back from raging against a level of ignorance that the ignorant themselves cannot really be blamed for. BUT REALLY. Should I really need to explain/point out to a grown man that despite being called a "white person" that my skin is NOT ACTUALLY WHITE????

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The word "tuneage" crosses cultural boundaries.

Last night I was on the way to party with my friends Kelly and
Katie. The cab driver's radio was tuned to static, so Kelly asked "Hey, can we get some tuneage?" And want to know what happened next? He actually started to flip around his radio to find some. (Keep in mind why I am amazed: Por ejemplo, when I first arrived in Uganda, and didn't know any better, I asked a boda-boda driver to take me to the Bugolobi Shell (yes, as in the gas station.) I said it 4 or 5 times and he had no idea at all what I was talking about, until I said "Shell Bugolobi". That's right - Shell Bugolobi he knows, Bugolobi Shell, on the other hand, might as well have been on Mars.) So anyway, yeah, tuneage.

In other news, Kelly has written some fabulous blog posts that iterate quite eloquently some of the thoughts/feelings I have written about with less eloquence. She also has posted some interesting links about the upcoming staging of the Vagina Monologues here in Uganda. Unsurprisingly, debates rage. More surprising is the framework Ugandan cultural mores provide for the formation of the ideas being debated

And finally: I am capsizing my sailboat much less often these days.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Things I thought I'd urgently need but that have never come out of their packages or had their tags removed

- A travel/camping mosquito net
- 1 Liter refill of SPF 30 sunblock
- Water purification drops
- Gravol
- Cypro antibiotic tablets, at 8 bucks pop
- Imodium
- 'Safari' shirt, complete with pit zips and lots of pockets and tabs and things
- Zip-off pants/shorts (Okay, i wore these once, but then i decided to NEVER WEAR THEM AGAIN.)
- 'Conservative' (a.k.a. 'shlumpy') skirts and tops, outfits 1-5 of 6
- Mini 'Canada' 2004 calendars, to give as gifts
- Travel cutlery
- Bottles 2 through 6 of insect repellent

And, using absolutely no smooth segway to new topics at all, three recent anecdotes:

Anecdote 1) Last week, my roommate Heather came running out of her classroom (she's a teacher), to find one of the school's support staff beating a puppy with a large stick. Heather yelled at him to stop, and asked him what the hell he was doing. His response: "I am trying to kill it." Why? "It might scare the children." (Pertinent points: no children yet, the schoolday hadn't started; it's a high school; it's a puppy.) Traumatized along with the puppy, Heather discovered the existence of the Ugandan SPCA, and within hours it had been checked by a doctor and had a cast put on its back leg, which had been broken in three places. It lived on our balcony for a day or so before going to a permanent home.

Follow up 1: Heather had the conversations of the support staff translated for her by some of the students. None of them could figure out why she would care, they couldn't beleive that she would touch something as disgusting as a dog, they couldn't beleive she would bring it into her apartment. (Ugandans don't keep pets at all; also apparently dogs were used to terrorize the locals at some point in colonial times.)

Follow up 2: A couple days later it was brought up in conversation that while it was deemed morally obligatory to rescue this dog, we feel no such obligation to do anything similar with the homeless, parentless children we walk past begging on the street every day. (See my post from last week about normalizing various other 'cultural differences' for more examples of this type of thinking. That myself and my peers can identify but not explain, by the way.

Anecdote 2: I finally received business cards today. The phone number on them was just a bunch of random digits, bearing no similarity to the country code, area code, phone number, or number of digits in the actual phone number. Nothing about this shocked me at all. I did, however, insist that simply scratching that out with a pen was not an acceptable option.

Anecdote 3: Honestly, when I first started writing this, I totally had three anecdotes in mind. But in the time it's taken me to write the first two (ten minutes or so?) I have completely forgotten what the third one is. (Mom, this is why I don't "really do something" with writing. Because if it's not on my mind RIGHT NOW it doesn't make it to paper. Or to computer screen.)

mmm okay, not so much an anecdote as an observation: When Ugandan men are trying to hit on you (hello those male co-workers aspiring to Canadian visas, and every taxi driver I've ever had), they start asking you about marriage: if you'd like to get married (in general) sometime soon, if you would marry a Ugandan, how much they themselves want to get married, and OH YEAH that they think I am very nice and oh yes again, what was my level of desire towards the institution of marriage?

Let's just all think about how using that approach would send most single Canadian women under the age of 35 (Am I being ageist? sorry. I myself am under 35 so find it hard to judge if this is ageist or realistic) SCREAMING and running in the opposite direction. Know your audience people. Know your audience.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Oh, Neat!

I'm going on exchange!!

Dispatches from France, the weblog of an American living in France, is hosting a 'secret' expat-blogger gift exchange thingy, that I've just signed up for. I send someone in some other country some stuff from Uganda, and then somebody else (it's a secret who!) sends me stuff from whatever country they're in. Neat, huh? The deadline to sign up is tomorrow (the 10th), so if you want to participate, get on it!

Wonder who I'll get!?

Monday, February 07, 2005

Booky McBookerson: The Recommendations

I don't have a TV, or access to reasonably-priced trashy magazines (yes, I can purchase a Cosmo or a Vanity Fair here, but for the bargain price of about 20 dollars), and so I read a lot of books. A lot. Of books. Lots.

But anyways, many of these books fall into the 'good, but nothing to write home about' category, and quite a few of them are very good, but are not specific to being in Africa, and so don't really make sense to write about here.

And some books are both relevant to this weblog, and are also absolutely amazingly incredible books. And so I am making some recommendations, the first two of which are fairly timely, and the third which is just a book I enjoyed.

1) If you read one non-fiction book this decade, please, for the love of all that good and human, read We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families. It's about the Rwandan genocide, and although its' topic is heavy and horrifying, it's written in a very readable and human way. It's been said that this book should be required reading, and I agree. READ IT. (I don't usually get pushy and admonishing about 'things african', so assume that I'm beings reasonable, mmmkay?)

2) If you can't face a book with a title like that, and you'd prefer a novel, read A Sunday By The Pool in Kigali. That pool (one that I have sat beside while eatinglunch) is at the Mille Collines Hotel in Rwanda, and is the hotel of the movie Hotel Rwanda. The book is a fictionalised account of a Canadian writer living in the hotel during the months of the genocide, and focuses partly on the romance between himself and one of the Rwandese hotel staff. An excellent book.

3) The Last King of Scotland is also a novel, this time about the Idi Amin era in Uganda. A great book for those who have no interest in learning about Africa, and just want a good read; you will probably gain a bit of knowledge about this country I am in whether you like it or not. I found it particularly thrilling to sit on the pool patio of the Grand Imperial Hotel here in Kampala, while reading scenes of Amin's insanity in that very pool. Neato! The title refers to the fact that Amin's nutso-ness led him to believe that he was Scotland's rightful king. Also, he named himself "His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular." Yep, bonkers!!

I've read a few other books about africa that were reviewed/recommended to moderate acclaim, but frankly found them kinda crap.

Do you have books you'd like to recommend? i'm always looking for ideas.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Not sure if

It's about 11:30 p.m., and the sound of at least several hundred people cheering and hollering somewhere in the vicinity of our apartment has just begun. Heather (my roommate) figures that either there's a soccer game, or somebody new just seized power over the government.

That's reasonable.

Sailing lessons these past few weekends have been a really nice, fun change to the monotony of the usual 'lie by the pool/go out for dinner/go to a bar' routine of most weekends. (Wow, that sounded really obnoxious. All I can say is this: that routine actually does get monotonous, and you’ll just have to trust me on that.)

Sailing has provided a really nice excuse to get out of the city, meet new people, do something active, and acquire a new skill. Not that I have so much acquired it, as I have provided a reasonable facsimile of that skill when viewed from a distance. But, I've always been pretty inept when it comes to activities that require me to manipulate my limbs with various pieces of equipment in a coordinated manner. (By using that description I’m trying to include virtually all sports, and possibly driving, although that part is a relatively untested theory.) So, knowing this about myself, and knowing that sailing is an activity that does require limb/equipment coordination, I set my expectations for myself pretty low: don’t be embarrassingly bad, or 100% incompetent, and do decide that it’s okay to need lots of practice to meet the competency level of ‘normal’ people. And, well, I have exceeded my own expectations! I capsized fewer and fewer times on each subsequent day! Each day’s infliction of bruises became progressively milder! And although I came in dead last on Sunday’s race (I think it’s pretty amazing that we could all race on our fourth day of sailing), I came in last in a NOT COMPLETELY embarrassing kind of way! (i.e. I didn’t end up off course, I didn’t crash into anyone, I didn’t capsize. I just went very slow.) And besides, SOMEBODY needs to come in last. Might as well be me!

Sailing also provided me with that stomach-flipping brain-flash where suddenly OMIGOD YOU ARE IN FUCKING AFRICA just randomly bolts through your head out of nowhere and you’re left feeling momentarily nauseous with excitement and nervousness. (You get over it in about 30 seconds and go back to what you are doing.) Suddenly, on Saturday afternoon, sitting in my Laser in a bay of Lake Victoria, watching the sun start to set, that feeling jolted through me. And the main thing I thought afterwards was ‘I haven’t had that feeling in a really long time’. And I’m not sure if it's because my life here has become more boring, or if I’m less excitable, or if I’ve just gotten used to being here. And then I started thinking about this blog, which is more or less representative of what I’m thinking about and noticing, and I thought about how little of what I currently think and write and notice involves “whoa weird strange different Africa” stuff anymore, and that it has become much more of (to me at least) just a ‘regular blog’ that I happen to be writing from this particular place, than a ‘travel blog’, which is more how I originally intended it.

After more than a year, I find it hard to remember that no, I did not always find it normal to see women carrying baskets of bananas on their heads, and toddlers begging for change is not normal to me, or white people aren’t treated with preference or deference by most people they meet in my own country. I can’t believe how quickly I’ve gotten used to so many things that 14 months ago I thought I’d always find strange. And I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that.

Some of the things that now seem innocuous to me now are, in fact, innocuous. (And in this I include the on-the-head portability, the urban livestock, the crazy driving and traffic, the Ugandan food, etc.) But a lot of the things that don’t even strike me as odd anymore are not innocuous at all. The precise division by race of whites, Indians, and Ugandans into managerial, mercantile, and labourer classes for instance. (Obviously there are exceptions to this - there is a small but highly visible portion of the Ugandan population that is very well educated and professionally employed - but on broader, sweeping scales, it is seems to be true.) Or the subservience of wives to husbands. Or the subservience of employees to bosses. Or the grinding grinding poverty that so many people live in. Or the pervasive corruption. Or the almost complete segregation of expats from locals in social situations. Almost none of these things strike me as odd on a day-to-day basis anymore, and I can’t quite figure out what to do about that.