Thursday, May 17, 2007

For My Husband

In March, my in-laws went on safari in South Africa. Now that I'm on Cape Cod visiting them, I've been able to look at their pictures while J still cannot (it takes forever for one picture to load on Kodakgallery when we try to view albums online in Kampala). Since it's much easier to view photos on the blog, I'm posting these safari photos for his benefit, but they're pretty darn amazing, so everyone else should enjoy them, too.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


As my brother pointed out, my first publication with my new name, which you can check out here:

Thursday, May 10, 2007


I will be back in the States from Saturday, May 12 through Tuesday, May 29 with brief appearances in New York, Boston, Cape Cod, and a not so brief appearance in Maine. If you live in one of those areas and I do not call you, it is because the appearance is too brief and not because I don’t love you. I do.

I have 24 hours of Ambien-filled travel time to work out my response to “So, how is Africa?” Suggestions welcome.

I don’t know how often I will be posting from the road, but feel free to check back often.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Spiderman, Interrupted

Sunday night we skipped the free film festival movies and opted instead to pay to see Spiderman 3 in the mall movie theater. Really really disappointing. Like, cover your eyes embarrassing. But I bet this has never happened to you: 45 minutes into the movie, the power went out. When we lived in J.’s house in the Bukoto neighborhood, the power went out often, at least every other day. It would often be out all night. But, since moving into our new place down the street from the U.S. Ambassador’s house, our power has only gone out once. I’ve gotten used to having power all the time.

You’d think the movie theater would have a generator.

We sat in darkness for about ten minutes before we decided to go out to the lobby and see what the deal was, if the movie was starting or we could get our money back and go home. In the lobby we found lots of other people from the audience milling about, but not anybody who actually worked at the theater. Did we forfeit our collective Ush33,000 and call it a night? Or wait it out? Or track someone from the theater down?

Before a decision could be made, the power came back on, we went back inside, and finished watching an unwatchable movie. I almost wish we had left when we had the chance.


Pictures of the table and chairs and bookcase, as promised. Here they are BEFORE in the unfinished apartment:

And here they are AFTER in the (best) new writing room (ever):

The paint has finally dried in the other half of our apartment. We moved in on Sunday and set up the new living room:

In case you were wondering, we did not paint the birds on the wall; our friend gave us a very thoughtful gift certificate to Blik, a company that makes these wall decorations—we got the restickable kind. Next week the birds could be flying in a different direction.

Monday, May 7, 2007

No Use Crying Over 5,000 Shillings

Wednesday morning P. took me to Ggaba Road where many of the furniture makers have set up shop. I was looking for my writing table. I wanted a slab of wood on four legs, nothing elaborate, nothing fancy. At our first stop they had a six-foot long, light-colored table. Simple, clean, sturdy. We negotiated a price. I hadn’t planned on buying chairs with it because I thought I would get an office chair with an adjustable seat and lumbar support, but I decided to see how much two chairs would be with the table. I thought the price was too high so I told the guy, who was a kid really, maybe 17-years-old, that I would just take the table. Then P. suggested I take a look at the bookcases. Transport being extra, it would be a shame to decide later that we wanted a bookcase and have to pay the transport fee all over again. So I decided what kind of deal I could get on the table, two chairs, AND a bookcase.

P. and I agreed on a price, which P. then brought to the kid. Much arguing ensued. P. and the kid took the price to an older woman sitting in the back. She would not budge either. More arguing ensued. It amounted to a difference of Ush5,000 (about $3). I was about to give in. What was Ush5,000 to me? But then P. turned and told me we were going next door. He felt they were being unreasonable.

I was elated by this move. When my old job sent me to the Stanford Publishing Institute two summers ago, we had a session on negotiating taught by a professor from the Business School. I can’t say I have much experiencing negotiating, which in publishing falls more to the editors and agents than it did to me in my capacity in Marketing. Here I finally have a chance to put the skills learned at this Stanford negotiating session to the test. P. and I had maximum price and we were willing to walk away. I felt very proud.

We went next door (and when I say next door, keep in mind that there are no buildings and that everything is outside) where they had identical furniture. P. and I started bargaining for the same set of furniture: a table, two chairs, and a bookcase. We arrived at the exact same impasse of a USh5,000 difference between what they wanted us to pay and what we wanted to pay. I didn’t see how I could now pay this vendor the extra 5,000 when I wouldn’t pay the other vendor the same amount. I began to get uncomfortable. I couldn’t give in. We would have to walk away again.

And then, finally, the guy said okay. He would come down on the price. I repeated the amount. He shook his head, yes. I shook his hand and again repeated the price. Everyone smiled. I paid the man.

I walked over to where P. was arranging transport with the man with the pick-up truck. “Madam!” the man I had just given my money to called over to me. I walked back over. “You have not given me enough,” he said.

“That’s the amount we agreed upon,” I said.

“No, we have miscalculated. You must give us another 5,000.” He took out his cell phone and started entering in the price of each piece of furniture into the calculator function. He showed me the screen.

“Yes,” I said, “but you said you would give me a discount. We agreed on the amount.”

“We miscalculated. See?” He showed me the cell phone again. “We miscalculated. It is another 5,000.”

I called P. over. Another heated argument. It was never about the Ush5,000. It was the principle of the thing—the fact that he was trying to go back on his word, yes. But there also seems to be a tacit agreement that white ex-pats pay more than Ugandans. It’s always part of the negotiation process, trying to figure out how much a Ugandan would pay and then seeing how close we can get to that. Having P. there helps us get a better deal, definitely. But I still had the feeling these guys saw a white lady and thought they could milk me. Except that the first vendor had let me walk away with very little argument, so maybe I was wrong.

I don’t know what P. said, but soon enough we were able to walk away without paying anything more. We loaded the truck and left.

When we got back to the apartment, the driver and another guy unloaded the furniture. Transport was Ush12,000 and I planned on tipping each of the two guys Ush1,000-2,000. But I only had a 20,000 note. I had a 10,000 but no change. I scoured the apartment but couldn’t come up with anything. P. had no small change either. There was nothing else to do: I gave the two guys the 20,000—about 5,000 too much.

Pics of the new furniture tk shortly. Promise.

Family Reunion

Not this past weekend but the one before, we had a third kitten in the house. Aunt Bea and Sarge’s brother, Koozi, stayed with us. Koozi is taller and lankier; he spent the weekend totally housing his sisters. The first day was all whines and cries from our two girls, even when they instigated the attacks. But as the weekend progressed, Koozi went a little easier on them, everybody eventually got quite friendly with each other and Koozi even taught them a few tricks.

Getting cozy:

Sarge took notes on this one (Bea is still not much of a climber):

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Film Festival Update

The Best Things About the Film Festival
1. It’s free
2. A beer costs about $1
3. You can bring that $1 beer with you into the theater
4. The candy guy outside sells candy for $.05/piece

The Worst Things About the Film Festival
1. The candy is really terrible
2. The seats are quite uncomfortable

J, N., and I only made it to two movies last night: the 9:00PM showing of United 93, immediately followed by Monty Python and the Holy Grail. My exact words after United 93: I am intensely sad. There was about 30 seconds of black screen and then Monty Python started up. No intermission of any sort. I suppose it helped us forget how sad we were, but it was a strange mix of movies.

A Sad Saturday

There is no Mystery Date in today’s The New Vision. I can only leave you with an excerpt from the Dr Love column by Hilary Bainemigisha:

“I was stuck in a traffic jam when this gorgeous woman approached me with a CHOGM [Commonwealth Head of Government Meeting, to take place in Uganda in November] smile, asking if I could help her do something on her car…So I parked and followed her bouncing bums to a 2000 model VW Golf.

The problem was that the car’s battery was down and she wanted to jump-start the engine, but did not know how and did not want to trust ‘anybody’ with her car. To her amazement, I cranked the beauty into life and came out a ‘thank you very much’ richer.

So, she was not a con-woman after all, but a peace loving citizen like you and me, except that she was not smart enough. Smart not in clothes, but wit—and that was why we never exchanged business cards.

If ladies are going to drive cars only men used to drive, they must learn the survival instincts that come as a package for all drivers.

There is nothing unladylike about a female changing a tyre…Modernity has evolved into a system where work and roles have to cut across gender prescription.

Women used to cook for us, but go to hotels and tell me if most cooks are not male. In the army, there are female field commanders. Cab (taxi) drivers do not have to be male. Even in sports, football, boxing, netball and car rallies stopped being gender-exclusive long time ago.

When I grew up, the system did not allow me to enter our kitchen. But today, I cannot demarcate my house into go and no-go areas for either sex.

A boy, who can cook, do laundry, cultivate, tend to livestock, navigate computers and find his way easily around relationships is an all rounder with success printed all over his face.

So, ladies who do not know how to jump-start your cars, return next week when you know what lies in your car’s bonnet and what it does.

Do not allow your mechanic to give you a seat and a soda when he is working on your car. Be there with him asking why he is doing what he is doing.

You may not take me seriously now but when you grow wiser, you will look for my number and thank me.”

Hilary makes some fair arguments, to be sure. I agree that women should know how to change a tire and jump start their car. But I don't believe every male driver in this country knows how do both of those things. Frankly, they hardly know how to drive at all. And I don't think it's fair to judge a woman's whole intelligence on whether or not she can do them. Maybe the particular female Hilary ran into was too busy learning from her mechanic because she was studying to become a doctor, or running a bank, or something else that only men used to be allowed to do.

Friday, May 4, 2007

What Happened With the Bin-It Guy

I started my saga with the Bin-It guy last Thursday (see An Africa Day). Here’s the rest of the story, if you're interested:

On Friday I continued to wait all day for the guy to come with the contract. We had many phone calls. Finally, late in the afternoon, he calls to tell me he is on Ridgeway Drive but he cannot find our place. I give him directions for the fourth time. They go something like this and I think they are very clear (I could not think of a way to make them clearer):

Turn onto Ridgeway Drive at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence. After about 100 meters you will pass a residence with a huge green wall marked Plot 8. Take your next right. You will see a black gate. Go through this gate and you will be in our parking lot. Call me from there and I will come up and find you.

The Bin-It guy calls again. He is on Ridgeway. He cannot find our place. I repeat the directions. He calls back. Still no luck. I repeat the directions, three times. By the end I am yelling. I tell him I will go out to the road and stand in front of the gate.

I go out to the road. Soon a car pulls up with four men inside. The man in the passenger seat tells me I do not live on Ridgeway Drive. I tell him my address is indeed Plot 11 Ridgeway Drive.

“This is not Ridgeway,” he says.

“Then what is it?”

He says something I cannot understand. The Bin-It guy gets out of the backseat with the contract. “Do not worry about it,” the Bin-It guy says, all smiles, though the man in the front seat is clearly irritated with me. Funny, I am quite irritated myself.

I fill out the contract, but in my rush to get out to the road, I forgot to bring the money and I am now quite a distance from my apartment. “No problem,” Bin-It guy tells me. “We will come back tomorrow to get it.” I know this is a bad idea, but I am quite angry and do not want to deal anymore. Besides, I figure at least they know where we live now.

“Do you pick up trash from anyone else here?” I ask.

“Nearly everyone,” he answers.

Confusion ensues.

I let it go and ask for the special bags we need to leave our garbage in. He hands me three orange garbage bags from the back seat of his car. We have signed up for the silver collection service, which allows us three bags each pick-up, with pick-ups on Mondays and Fridays. I ask where we need to leave the garbage and he tells me it should be left outside the gate early in the morning. It is unclear how I get my three new bags to use each time. It also does not seem convenient that we will have to bring our bags outside the gate twice a week—it’s not exactly right outside our door. But I am so frustrated, I do not pursue any of these details. They need to come back the next day anyway and I am hoping J will be around for back-up. I had been so proud of myself for finally handling something on my own, but I have by this point given up all pretext of being capable. I need J.

It is now Saturday. Bin-It guy has told me he will come back for payment by 11:00AM. J and N. go to Kabira to play tennis. I want to use the internet and work out myself, but must sit around the house for a third day waiting for the garbage man. 11:00AM passes—no surprise there.

J comes home and we go out for lunch close by. I keep my phone out so if Bin-It guy calls to say he is there, we can hop in the car and rush home to meet him. He does not call.

I call in the early afternoon to see what his deal is. No answer.

I call an hour later. He answers and hangs up without a word.

I decide J must call on Monday. I become convinced this has something to do with my gender and that if J handles things, there will be no problem. J is busy on Monday and doesn’t get around to it. Tuesday is a national holiday and we assume no one at Bin-It is working.

Meanwhile, on Monday afternoon, a man passes by and sees a bag of our garbage sitting on our front deck. He knocks on the door. When I go out, he tells me that he will pick our garbage up each morning from our front deck for a monthly fee. He says he did this for the last person to live here. I tell him I will have to let him know. I try to explain that I have signed a contract with another service but there is a possibility I can get out of it, seeing as though I have not paid them yet and they don’t seem to want my money. This is not fully understood, but the man takes my one bag that is sitting out and I figure I can always just pay him for the one bag if need be. He tells me he is a guard and will be around and I tell him I will see him later and let him know if we would like to use his services. It certainly seems more convenient to have our trash picked up right outside the house than to have to bring it out to the gate.

It is Friday again; it has been a week since I have signed the Bin-It contract and I have not heard a peep out of them. I have not paid them a cent, they have not picked up a single bag for us. I can’t imagine that they will ever call me back and I am hoping the mysterious man from Monday will return today so I can negotiate a deal with him. I might be able to figure this out on my own after all…

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Today's Cultural Lesson

On the way back from the farm on Sunday, P. stopped at the tombs of four Buganda kings. There are 52 Buganda tribes in Uganda, and their king has become a figurehead, along with a Buganda parliament based in Kampala, though it also does not have any power. The tombs are one of the major tourist attractions in Kampala - which I think says a lot about what an exciting place Kampala is to visit. (Nice to live in, but there really aren't too many sites.)

Traditionally each Buganda king would establish his own palace and when he died, he would be buried there. In the 19th century, for a reason I can’t remember at the moment, and now the past four kings have been buried here in this hut, the second largest thatch-roofed hut in the world:

Surrounding the hut are a number of smaller dwellings where the wives of the king used to live. P.’s neighbor with five wives has got nothing on the kings who can have, like, 50. If one of the wives died, one of her unmarried sisters or cousins or aunts or whoever would come to take her place. If she only had married female relatives, they were off the hook and would just have to come for a few days to pay their respects. The widows of the last king still live around the palace and take care of it.

Inside the hut, there are four mounds behind a fence of spears, with pictures of each of the kings. The bodies are not buried directly under these mounds. Buganda kings do not “die,” they “get lost in the forest.” The first two Buganda kings – hundreds of years ago – actually did get lost in the forest. Their bodies were never found. In the hut, there is a curtain made of backcloth – a leathery hide made from the bark of a tree. Behind the curtain is the figurative forest. When the bodies were buried, a hole was dug thirteen feet deep in front of the curtain and then a tunnel dug backwards so the bodies would actually rest behind the curtain, or in the forest. Which I think is a rather nice tradition.

Four Hours. Two Weeks. Same Dif.

In the on-going saga of getting into the second half of our apartment, over the weekend they scraped the still-wet paint and repainted with a different blend that would supposedly dry faster. It’s Thursday and still sticky, except in the front room. I just talked to the painter and the building manager guy and they said the painter used two different kinds of paint: one that dried in a normal amount of time (used in the front room) and one with paraffin in it, which was drying much slower (all the other rooms). Don’t ask me why.

Film Festival

The Amakula Kampala International Film Festival starts tonight. It’s possible that I will watch four movies tomorrow (and call it research for my novel). I’d watch more but I have a lunch date. The festival offers a nice mix of contemporary African films and older films from the rest of the world, many of them with an African theme.

The films will be shown in the National Theater, which I’ve been meaning to check out. Best of all, everything’s free.

Friday’s line-up: Michael Winterbottom’s In This World, Catch a Fire with Tim Robbins, United 93, and the late-night special Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which—shockingly—I have never seen.

I tried to plan out the rest of the weekend, but there’s just too much to choose from! I have to take it day-by-day.

Plus, the paint might actually be dry in the second apartment on Saturday. Ha.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Cultural Differences

We read one of two newspapers here, depending on what’s available. Our preference is The Daily Monitor, which seems to be a little bit more liberal (but is actually more poorly written). Our second choice is The New Vision. However, The New Vision is a must on Saturdays because they have an “Intimacy” section, which always includes the column “Mystery Date,” in which the paper sends two people out on a blind date and then interviews each person afterwards. Here is an excerpt from last week’s from the guy’s, Herbert’s, perspective (typos, grammatical errors theirs, not mine):

“Anxiety gripped me as my heart pumped in anticipation…While I waited, anxiety hit me again and raised my pulse rate…When I set my eyes on her my breath was taken away. She enveloped me in a warm bare hug. It was like a reunion of long time friends marked by instant attraction…I enjoyed every bit of it with deep passion…I admired the beauty of her glowing eyes as she looked at me. I plan to write her a love poem The beauty that lies within and I told her about it. I shall then take her out to a quiet environment and recite it sweetly to her while gazing straight in her eyes…”

They are often this dramatic, but last week’s date was sort of disappointing in comparison to others I’ve read.

The real treat in last week’s “Intimacy” section was an interview with Pastor William Muwanguzi and his wife, Pastor Athina Muwanguzi. They have been married for five years. Here are some of the choice snippets:

What would you do if you caught her in adultery?
Since our marriage is based on a Christian background, I would follow scriptures not emotions. But I do not believe she can do it. Surely, what would Athina look for in another man? I think I would have detected such queer behaviour in her before.
What have you learnt in marriage?
That man and woman are interdependent. Much as a man needs a woman; no woman can live happily without a man.
Do you like it when she kneels to greet or give you something?*
Of course. I do. Every man would want his wife to be submissive. However, I never force her to do anything.

*It is a common practice for women to kneel when greeting a man, though much less so in urban areas. I have not actually seen it done.

Would you leave if you found out that he was going out with another woman?
That would not be wise. The right thing is to show him where he went wrong and encourage him to change. Secondly, a satisfied man rarely meanders. Is such a thing happens, you revisit love notes and make sure love is back on the right track. But I do not believe a pastor can do that.
When he annoys you, how long does it take you to make up?
I always make efforts to make up whether it is him or me in the wrong. Above all, a woman is expected to submit to her husband.
What is the secret in him?
First of all, he is my best friend. Secondly, he behaves as if he is my father. I believe that is what every woman would want in a man.

I’m not writing this post to get all angry feminist bitchy on you, though of course reading stuff like this in the paper gets me worked up. I understand that I’m coming at such gender issues from a Western perspective and there’s little I can do or say here to change thousands of years of tradition. I actually do enjoy, on some level, finding interviews like this not just because it’s a fascinating cultural study, but also because it helps me to better understand why people cheer at me when I drive down the road, why the Bin-It guy won’t take me seriously by ever actually showing up, why our landlord and the car dealership guy and the refrigerator guy and every other guy will only speak to J when I’m standing right there and seem a little surprised if I deign to ask a question. This goes both ways: When Jo. did our laundry the other day, it rained in the afternoon and she had to take the clothes off the line while they were still wet. J and I together re-hung the damp clothes the next morning. There were two guys cutting grass behind our apartment and gave J some questioning looks. I suppose it’s not often they see a man doing laundry.

J has tried to tell me that I can’t take The New Vision too seriously. That the views expressed therein are not necessarily representative of the majority. Still, I find it a little frightening that both pastors interviewed are teaching and encouraging their congregations to follow such views.

But, you know, I don’t really like to argue with my husband. I’m sure he’s right.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Out at the Farm

Sunday morning P. drove us out to his farm. He owns a few plots of land; the two he drove us to were passed on to him by his uncle and he grows potatoes, bananas, and beans there. P. drove us about 30 kilometers outside the city. It was sunny, but too early to be hot. It felt nice to get out of the city.

First we met P.’s pig and chickens and their chicks, then we headed into the potato field where they were growing mostly sweet potatoes (which are white on the inside here).

Afterwards we went to the house and met P.’s dad and some other relatives. P. has 28 brothers and sisters. His father has three wives, not an uncommon occurrence among the tribes in Uganda and elsewhere in East Africa. P. told us his neighbor had five wives and 60 children. A terrifying prospect for me to even consider giving birth to an average of 12 kids, but so it goes.

Next we drove up the road to another plot of land. On the way we stopped for gonja, which is roasted banana and delicious. At the second plot of land, P. grew mostly beans. The area was slightly more populated – you could see kids practicing their corner kicks nearby.

The weird thing when we showed up at the second plot was that we were introduced to P.’s uncle and he was wearing a Bennington shirt, where I got my MFA. How did a Bennington shirt end up in Africa? This reminds me that on the drive we also passed two separate guys on bikes, one in a Tedy Bruschi Patriots jersey and the other in a Troy Brown Patriots jersey. J and N. both had their minds on the draft and took it as a good omen.

Not sure if you can see the Bennington logo in this picture:

P. has banana trees on both plots, though many of them won’t be ready to harvest for a number of years still. However, he did give us an almost ripe bunch to take home. On the drive back we also stopped at an avocado stand and picked up 19 avocados for about five cents each. Here are J and N. with our loot; it’s like they caught a big fish, but really they did no work at all: