Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Land of Dashed Hopes

We were told we could get into our apartment Wednesday. Then they said Saturday. Now they say the following Wednesday.

We were supposed to pick up our car Friday afternoon. Then they said Saturday at noon. At 10:30 on Saturday morning, they said 1:00 PM. At 1:00 PM they said 1:30 PM. At 2:30 PM they said Monday.

Why are we not convinced?

Friday, March 30, 2007


When entering the movie theater, get passed over by a metal detector wand.

The Refrigerator

We bought a refrigerator yesterday. Pretty straightforward, right?

We decided to buy a used fridge, since we only need it to work for two years or so and we didn’t see the point in spending all that money on a new one. (A new fridge runs about 750,000 shillings, or a little over $400.) P. drove us to three places: I believe the first was called Fridge World, but when we walked in there were few fridges about. A woman told us they had gotten rid of most of their stock. Then we went to Fridge City, but we could see from the car that they had little selection (their fridges were lined up along the side of the road). If you’ve been picturing some sort of Wal-Mart type warehouses because of their lofty names, think more shanty on a dirt road with refrigerators spilling out of it.

Then we went to a place by the football stadium that was called something like Nasuaga & Bros. Already you can see the difference, right? P. suggested we stick to the Hotpoint brand since it was a brand he had heard of and knew was reliable. One Hotpoint looked pretty good. The other two were covered in dirt and mold on the inside. The people who worked there (oh, and there were many) assured us they could clean them. But J and I decided (through various secret looks, winks, and nods) that we could never ever put food in there that we planned on eating knowing the fridge had at one point looked like that ever in its life. So N. took the Hotpoint and J and I went against P.’s advice (possibly for the first time ever) and bought the Kelvinator 2, which was on the small side, but both were CLEAN.

Then the negotiations started, done mostly by P. in Lugandan, while N. and J occasionally chimed in. I stayed out of it. In general, there was a lot of standing around. At one point we stepped away from negotiations to get the lowdown from P. The guy in charge wanted 580,000 for both fridges. This was a discount of 40,000 schillings—the Hotpoint cost 620,000 and the Kelvinator 600,000, but we were getting a discount for buying two at once. We wanted to pay 550,000. We sent P. back. “So you will only take them at 550,00?” he asked. “Well, no, we’ll pay 580,000, but see if you can get 550,000,” was our response. Can you see what good negotiators we are?

Guess what we paid.

N. took both fridges home because he had space in his empty living room and our apartment next door will hopefully be ready next week and we didn't want to have to move our fridge across town twice. So N. plugs in the oh-so-reliable Hotpoint, only to discover it doesn't work. (We did plug the fridges in at Nasuaga & Bros and cold air did come out of it, but apparently only out of the freezer, which we didn't notice.) So N. had to send his back and they brought him a different one. Not Hotpoint, but it works, it's clean, and it's bigger.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Be Near Me

By Andrew O'Hagan. This book is even better the second time. Look for it in hardcover in June when it comes out from Harcourt.

Particularly loved this passage:

“There’s a way of feeling homesick, not for any house, not for any particular place, but just feeling homesick as a manner of being alive, every day a sense of existing in exile from a place where you might belong. The Germans have a word for it: Heimweh.”

It'd be lazy of me to say this is about a gay priest involved in a sex scandal within the Catholic Church. Plus, it would probably turn you off to reading it. But since I am feeling pretty lazy, I hope this short description and another passage will entice you to pick up the book this summer. I would say it's really about a lonely man who moves to a place where he's not welcome. It's about being a foreigner, not just in the place you live, but to yourself, as well.

See how well O'Hagan describes his characters:

“Everything about Nashe was the opposite of hostile: he wore round tortoise-shell glasses, a succession of green cardigans, he liked booze and was forever shaking his watch at his ear, waiting for time to move on and jokes to improve.”

And this:

“I see Conor reaching into the crowd with a smile as large as the decade that made him. I see the great hope on his face and his readiness to invent the air one might breathe. At night, I sometimes see him driving down to the place where the River Wye runs through a valley in Buckinghamshire. I hear his sacred heart and see his eyes closing as he falls asleep. And I say: be near me. "

Tuesday, Dinner

I realize I’m the unemployed one so I should be figuring out dinner every night and whatnot, but it never really occurred to me this was in the unemployment contract and I’m still getting used to the idea. This morning I finished my book and hung out with the cats. In the late afternoon I met J for a game of tennis and do some work at the bar of Kabira. Internet was down, so I got some writing done.

I had been to the grocery store every day for the past week. I couldn’t bear it again, so I made J go by himself on our way home. We were hungry from the tennis and it was getting late and neither of were inspired or felt like making a big thing out of cooking. J came home with one of those Knorr packets of pasta in a pre-made sauce. Except on this packet, everything was in Italian.

We fed the kitties and then I sent J off to cook while I played with the kitties inour room. Actually, I had messed up the pad thai packet the night before and J didn’t trust me with the Italian Knorr. (And don't get the idea that we're making lots of packeted food, it's seriously just been these two nights and the pad thai actually came highly recommended to us even though it was the most disgusting thing we had maybe ever tasted. We would have thrown it out, but every time I even think about throwing food out here, I think of that scene in Dirty Dancing when Baby asks that their leftover dinner be sent to Ethiopia. That, and the abundant poverty here. Also, in our defense, we don't have a fully stocked kitchen since we're not in our own place yet and why buy everything now if we're just going to have to move again?) In a minute J called from the kitchen for help. “What do you think this says?” he asked. We looked at the back of the packet together. Ten years ago I knew a little bit of Spanish. J studied French for the past two years. Reading Italian should be no problem.

My first reading through I was pretty sure we weren’t eating dinner that night. I couldn’t understand a thing.

We took it more slowly.

There were three steps. We figured the first one out pretty darn well. Boil 500 mL of water if you were using a pan 24 cm in diameter and 450 mL if you were using a smaller pan. I retrieved a 500 mL empty bottle of water to use for measuring and we were good to go on Step 1.

Step 2 proved slightly more problematic. We understood we were to cook the pasta for about 10 minutes over medium heat. “Does it say anything about stirring occasionally?” J asked from where he stood at the stove, stirring occasionally. There were a number of words we could not decipher. I shrugged. “Does it say whether to cook with a lid or without?” The picture next to Step 2 showed a pan without a lid on it. “Without,” I said.

Step 3 used quite a lot of words for what essentially boiled down to (for us) was: enjoy and serve, though we probably got that first part wrong, since wouldn’t it make more sense to say, serve and enjoy?

Anyway, it was edible. Certianly not as bad as the pad thai.

Monday, at the Office

I don't want to be one of those bloggers who's always writing about her cats, so this will be it for a while.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Saturday afternoon J, N., and I went to a football game. P. was supposed to come with us, but he got stuck in Jinja with some stupid Americans who wanted to bungee jump at the source of the Nile.

The U-20 Ugandan Cranes were playing South Africa in the stadium downtown. Place was hectic. And smelly. And hot. By the time we actually made it from the cab to the stadium, I was pretty much ready to turn around and go home. We came upon a couple entrances which seemed to be mob scenes of one guy standing in front of a small opening and letting a few people in here and there. It appeared as though he was like a bouncer who only lets the hot girls in at clubs. Did everyone have tickets? And if so, why couldn’t they all get in? And if they didn’t have tickets, why did they think this guy was going to let them in? J asked someone what the deal was. He sent us around to the other side of the stadium and we assumed it was because we were Muzungus (white people). The entrance on the other side was much quieter and (surprise!) more expensive.

We go in through an opening not all Americans would be able to fit through. A guy asks for our tickets. He tells us our seats are not available right now but will be at halftime. (We’re actually quite late as we were told the game started at 4 when it really started at 3:30. Very few things start on time here, the exceptions being football games and movies, the latter we discovered actually start early. Last weekend we went to see Music and Lyrics (not a movie we would normally see but it was the best option available). It was supposed to start at 7:15; when we came into the theater at 7:10, the had fully started, even the credits were through.) The guy points to passageway with a railing connecting to portions of the stadium and tells us we’ll have to stand up there. We were pretty doubtful we were going to get seats at halftime, and with good reason. We didn’t.

But the view was great and it was a good game in which Uganda seemed to dominate, though no goals scored before we left a little early in order to avoid the crush.

Next time we want to sit on the opposite side of the field. Though it’s in the sun, they look like they have more fun over there. On the expensive side of the stadium, it’s very quiet.


Alleygators, ingeniously named, but not yet “internationally reknown” like Crocodile’s,

is part bowling alley, part sports bar. The night we ventured out to disco bowl, India was playing Sri Lanka in the cricket World Cup. When the Indian men the in the joint cheered for a particularly good play, you could trick yourself into thinking they were appreciating your spare.

I didn’t participate in the first round because I was wearing flip-flops and the proprietor implied it would not be okay for me to play in them. But upon seeing our neighbors play actually barefoot, I joined in for the second round and, for the record, I won.

See how good I am?


When walking to Kabira, beware of goats.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Scooter, Or How Not to Buy a Car

P., our driver, picked us up at 11:00 A.M. We were hungover. When we arrived at the car lot, it wasn’t open. P. spoke to a guy who seemed to work there and he told us we could call the owner and he would maybe come down and show us some cars. Thankfully P. placed the call for us as we were in no position to even understand what was going on, or rather, if asking the owner to come down was a conceivable thing to do. If it were just me, I would have said, darn, the place is closed, let’s go home (seeing that picking up a bacon, egg, and cheese on an everything bagel is not an option).

The guy on the phone told P. he would send someone down. The guard let us in and we sat in the shade with the guy who seemed to work there. We watched the goats.

The owner called P. again. P. reiterated that we were waiting. P. put the other guy who worked there on the phone and told him we could start looking around.

Going into it we were set on either a station wagon or a Rav 4. P. suggested that Toyotas were really the only way to go because parts were easy to get and they had good resale value. The lot only dealt with Japanese imports. We found a couple station wagon Corollas that looked good and a couple Rav 4s. Meanwhile, it’s about 110 degrees in the sun and we are baking. Just when we decide we can’t stand it anymore and start to head back to the shade, an Indian dude arrives to sell us a car. So we stay in the sun.

Turns out a couple of the cars we had our eye on were in the portion of the lot of sold cars. There was only one station wagon Corolla that was really an option for us and it was white and pretty banged up. J. was having trouble with the idea of owning a white car. The Rav 4s turned out to be way out of our price range and the guy was not budging on price. We’re taking laps around the lot, J. and I feel like we might pass out or die at any second, and I’m certain I’m going to be burned to crisp when everything is all said and done.

And then we passed the Suzuki Escudo. (Though until we left the lot and I asked J for clarification, I thought it was called a Suzuki Scooter, due to the various accents involved in the transaction, and I thought that was a pretty terrible name for a car.) Seeing the car was sort of like when I found my wedding dress: I knew it was right as soon as I laid eyes on it. P. stopped in front of it and said, what about this one? It was quite the turnaround after all the Toyotas. We pretty much would have bought anything P. recommended even if it was a mini Cooper, which could conceivably fall into one of the larger potholes here and not be able to get out.

To be honest, all the cars looked pretty banged up. They take off all the metal decals and hubcaps and the radio—basically anything removable—and then put everything back on once it’s sold. It’s a 1992 with only 47K kilometers and if I understood correctly it was recently imported from Japan, like two weeks ago. J managed to bargain the dude down 500,000 shillings, which is sadly a lot less than it sounds, but still a couple hundred bucks. J looked to me, I gave him the sign, and we told the dude we would take it.

Could we take it for a test drive? The dude laughed at us. Could we start the car up to see how it ran? The dude didn’t have the key. Could we at least sit in the car? The car was locked and again, he didn’t have the key.

We could be buying an absolute lemon, but isn’t it cute?

Friday, March 23, 2007


Because you're dying to see more of this so-called country club we belong to: Kabira's web site.

More Tusker, Please

In order to get beer here, it helps to bring back empty bottles. If you buy full beers without corresponding empties, it costs more. I remember it working this way when I lived in Mexico, too. This seems very simple to me, why don’t we do this in the States? Instead of rewarding people for bringing in their cans and bottles, why not penalize them for not bringing them in? Al Gore, get on it.

I wasn’t really sure how this worked, so I walked into the store with my empties, put them in my basket and started my shopping. A man came running after me and told me I needed to get a receipt. I asked him where to go. He said he would take the empties for me and bring me the receipt. I was grateful to him, but I wanted to know where to go so that next time I would not make the same mistake. No, he said, I’ll get you your receipt, please keep shopping. So I smiled, and shopped.

The six empties I had were for Tusker beer; when I went to replace them, the store only had five Tuskers on the shelf. Could I apply an empty Tusker bottle to a full bottle of, say, Nile (Nile is a bad example because their bottles are bigger, but I can’t think of another African beer at the moment)? Meanwhile the man who had run off to get me my receipt came back and I explained about the five Tuskers. He said he would find a sixth. The lady at the register rang me up. The man came back; he could not find a sixth. My question about getting a sixth of a different kind of beer seemed too complicated. The lady at the register re-rang me up, now only charging me for five Tuskers.

But was I getting gipped out of my sixth empty? Since it amounted to the equivalent of 60 cents, I decided to let it go.

Then the man who had been helping me the empties handed me my shopping bags and leaned in conspiratorially and said, “Would you like to take a bottle back?” Was he breaking the rules for me? I couldn’t tell. I nodded, yes, I sure did want that bottle back. He slipped me an empty Tusker, I thanked him, and left before anyone could ask any questions.

Today's Thing I Do Differently Now That I Live in Africa

On the treadmill, run in kilometers/hour. This amounts to me knowing that 5K is about 3.1 miles and multiplying/dividing from there. The machine asked me how much I weigh in kilograms. I told it I didn’t know.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Today's Thing Done Different Now That I Live in Africa

Shower sitting down.

That Smell

I don’t think I’m being rude when I point out that a number of Ugandans have bad body odor. (There was a column in the Sunday section of The Daily Monitor newspaper called “Full Woman” addressing just this problem, along with how to maintain nice legs (lotion, exercise, healthy eating, and a positive attitude - has "Full Woman" been watching Oprah?) and the worst pick-up lines (like "Will you be my frog?").)

Sometimes when someone passes and you look up and there’s no one really about, no one to really pin the odor to, you get to thinking that maybe it’s you that smells that bad. Maybe it’s so hot and you’ve been sweating so much your deodorant has worn off. Maybe everyone begins to smell this way once you’ve been living here long enough.

Aunt Bea and Sarge

Meet Beatrice (Aunt Bea) and Sargent (Sarge). Our new kittens. We're getting them from a couple who works at the U.S. embassy. They're holding on to the cute little guys until we move into our apartment next week.


On Sunday we joined the Kabira Country Club. It was the ex-pat thing to do. I struggled with it much less than J, but then again, I’m new here and still having found memories of being a member of the North Andover Country Club back in the day and J has already spent two months hanging out at Kabira. Already I can see that they can be annoying. On my first day there, which was in fact my second day in the country, I was sitting at the bar by myself using the wireless Internet while J and N. were at some meetings. I had two Styrofoam cups in front of me from the coffee J. and I had brought in with us earlier that morning. The coffee had been nearly finished when we arrived and since then I had ordered a couple of bottles of water and lunch. A manager-looking guy walks up to me and asks, “Is this your first time here?” I thought he was going to kick me out for not staying in the hotel or belonging to the club. I nodded and gave my most charming smile. “We do not allow outside eatings here,” he says. Meanwhile, I’m not really sure what he is talking about. “But it’s your first time here, right?” Since I’ve already said yes, I continue to nod politely and smile. Finally he points at the Styrofoam cups. “No outside eatings can be brought in,” he says again. I explain that the cups were empty when we came in and I wasn’t able to find a trashcan. “It’s your first time,” he says, “so I understand, but you can’t bring in outside eatings.” To which I’m thinking, "You guys are really really anal, but I’m impressed you noticed it was my first day."

This didn’t actually bother me too much in general—I was just happy they didn’t kick me out. Things that did bother me: They wouldn’t even consider waiving the joining fee, which is in addition to the annual fee, after J had stayed there for two months and given them a considerable amount of business; they charge for towels.

We played tennis yesterday. When we arrived a guy strung the net up for us and then stuck around to be our ball boy. I’m not complaining about having a ball boy, but we had no idea how much this guy cost or if we simply supposed to figure out how much to tip him or what. We stopped for a water break about a half hour into our “game,” (turns out I suck at tennis; J is quite good) and J asked our ball boy how much he got paid. We both heard him say 30,000 Shillings. This is about $20 US. Neither of us said anything and we went back to playing, both of us with a small stone in our guts. I was thinking we would never be able to play tennis again. This last half hour rally would be our last. I mean, we pay Kabira all this money to join and then we’re expected to pay that much money on top of it just to play a lousy game of tennis? Because how do you tell a guy, no, thanks, we don’t need a ball boy, we’re (seemingly) rich ex-pats out for a jolly game of tennis and this is how you make your living running around for us, but we don’t need you?

Soooo, it turns out our ball boy said he makes 3,000 Shillings or $2 US. Total relief to know there is tennis to be had. S. and C. are planning a tennis round robin the week before their wedding and my goal is to not be an embarrassment OR a liability.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The View from Kololo

Here it is. Literally, the view from Kololo. Specifically, from our apartment, which is in the Kololo neighborhood of Kampala, atop one of the city's seven hills.

And here, the view from my soon-to-be "writing room:"

Our apartment is part of a complex that used to house the employees of the national electric company. We don’t actually get to move into our apartment until March 28 (fingers crossed) because apparently there are some pipes that need to be moved from the outside of the wall in the bathroom to inside the wall in the bathroom. But very soon this will be our view. You can see downtown and farther on and to the left, part of Lake Victoria.

There are maybe 10 different complexes of four 1-bedroom apartments. We have two connected 1-bedrooms in the complex called Keats:

This is where we're staying now with J. (not my J) and his "house boy" Mark, who does our laundry and cleans our muddy boots after we get drunk at the Irish pub on Friday nights, and N. until N. can get into his apartment, which is right above ours in the complex called Shakespeare: