Friday, June 29, 2007

Cape Town

I am out the door at 4:30 AM tomorrow. Happy early Fourth of July. See you all on the 5th.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

For All You Would-Be Tourists, Who Don't Want to Feel Like Tourists

One of the best parts of actually living in a foreign city, as opposed to just visiting, is when you start to feel like you’re learning all the little secrets. Last weekend we discovered bagels and Philadelphia cream cheese at Ranchers, the meat store. They're certainly no worse than the frozen Lenders things I ate as a kid.

Saturday evening I was telling a friend about our find and she said you can get even better bagels Friday afternoons at a produce stand in Kisementi. Will wonders never cease.

The Larva Room

AKA my writing room. I was too embarrassed to write about this before, thinking you might pass some sort of judgment on my housekeeping abilities, or worse, Jo.’s, but the truth is my office has bugs, not just bugs, but pre-bugs.

Shortly after I returned from my trip to the States last month, I went into my office one morning to get back to work on the novel after a three week break. I opened the curtains. I plugged in my computer (the battery now lasts about five minutes before dying), and, as usually happens when I first sit down to write, I stared off into space. Or rather, I looked around the room, thinking about one thing or another, until my eyes settled on the base of the curtain where I saw something gray clinging to the fabric. Was it a hairball of cat fur? I got up from my seat to take a closer look.

Oh, how I wish it had been a hairball. Instead I found a cocoon.

I opened the curtain a little wider. There was another cocoon. And another. Six on one half of the curtain, two on the other.

I was utterly skeeved out. As one friend noted, don’t they just open up into pretty butterflies? Okay, yes, but eight hairy cocoons holding dark slimy budding creatures inside my little sanctuary are not pretty creatures. It means my room is dirty. And moist. Because don’t cocoons like dark, dirty, moist places?

I texted J in a panic. In his response he seemed infinitely more calm than I thought he had the right to be; he told me to get out the bug spray, the rubber gloves, and a whole lot of paper towel. Which, feeling only slightly absurd, I did.

I check the curtains daily. The cocoons have not returned—at least not on the fabric. I found a small one this morning on the runner track the curtains hang from. I know you’d all like to see pictures, but it’s just too gross for me to document. I’m embarrassed by the cocoons.

The other morning while I was brushing my teeth, J called me out of the bathroom. “Do you want to see something gross?” Obviously I don’t want to see something gross, but it’s impossible to turn this question down. As soon as I said, “No,” I was running out of the bathroom before J could destroy whatever it was and I lost my chance to see. I found him studying something on the wall of—where else—my office. There were small little specks of bug clustered in the middle of the wall. At first I took them for the tiny little ants that we occasionally see on our deck devouring a dead cockroach (our apartment is awesome, really), and so I asked, “What are they eating?”

“They’re not ants,” J answered. “They’re larvae.”

And indeed they weren’t moving and eating like the little ants do, they were little tiny larvae that would soon erupt into I don’t want to know what.

The rest of the walls were clear, but when I came home later that afternoon, two more larvae spots had sprung to life on the opposite wall.

Now the whole room requires a routine check for living things of any kind. I just hope my writing flourishes so well in that room.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


J and I know we SHOULD be traveling on the weekends, seeing the countryside and whatnot, giving you all something exciting to read, but each weekend we come up with another excuse and end up on our front deck at dusk with a glass of wine or a cocktail, grilling meat.

Can you blame us?

I’m heading to Cape Town this weekend, so J will be BBQing by himself and heading to the Ambassador’s Fourth of July part without me.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Letter to the New Vision

Dear New Vision,

I look forward to your Mystery Date feature every Saturday and have been greatly disappointed these last few weeks not to find it in your newspaper. The apprehension each person brings to the evening, the great feeling with which each one relates getting to know the other, how they enjoy Kyoto’s comfortable atmosphere—these are the highlights of your “Intimate” section, not anything Dr. Love has to say.

The swing under the stars! Oh, how I miss the swing under the stars. Please say you’ll bring Mystery Date back.

Hannah Harlow

Friday, June 22, 2007

Quiz Night Highlights

Last night we had plans to go to Bubbles, the Irish ex-pat bar, for quiz night and were very disappointed to discover it only happens every other Thursday and this week was an off-week. So we went to Fat Boyz for Mexican food and, thanks to a Tusker promotion, for every three beers we ordered, we got one free. Then we discovered Tusker was also sponsoring quiz night at Fat Boyz. Very fortuitous.

Round one covered general knowledge, which we won, thank you very much (though helped in part by our waiter on the one or two questions that required knowledge of Uganda’s historical figures). Tusker T-shirts, hats, bags, and beers all around, including a bag to the waiter, which made him very happy.

Round two covered science and nature. One of the questions we got wrong: What is the most affordable way to treat a cold or flu? We answered: rest or sleep. Pretty darn cheap! But the answer was boiled water. Huh? I don’t know. We didn’t get an explanation. But we came in second that round. No prizes.

Round three covered entertainment, mostly of the East African variety. We got three out of ten right, which certainly won us no prizes.

Round four was sports. Think (not American) football, tennis, and the site of the 1964 Olympics, which was Tokyo, but we guessed Rome because really, we couldn’t remember. Do you know which famous football player started a football camp in Senegal? It's not Pele. We didn’t win this round and didn’t stick around to find out how badly we lost.

Quiz night is hard for Americans in Commonwealth countries. Not surprisingly, this garners us little sympathy save from our fellow Americans.

The Worst Lunch

N.’s friend, S., arrived a few weeks ago to work here for the summer with N. and J. We used the opportunity to go out for Ugandan food, as I had only had it once but still hadn’t tried matooke, a dish made from mashed plantains eaten at most every Ugandan meal. We went to Ekitoobero, a much more formal restaurant than most Ugandan food establishments, but, well, easy.

We arrived at 12:20 on a Wednesday. The waitress came over to take our drink order.
Us: I think we’re ready to order our food, too, whenever you’re ready.
Waitress: I can’t take your order for another twenty minutes.
Us: Why not?
Waitress: The food is not ready yet.
Us: The food won’t be ready for twenty minutes? Or you can’t take our order for twenty minutes?
Waitress: The food is not ready yet.
Us: It’s 12:30. When do you normally start serving lunch?
Waitress: The food is not ready yet.
Us: But can’t you take our order now and then bring us the food in twenty minutes when it’s ready.
A shrug indicated her consent. We were pretty sure we would not be eating for a very long time.

We ordered. And we waited. The sun came out. We finished our drinks. We waited. It grew quite hot. The table was outside on an incline and I could not get comfortable since I felt like I was falling backwards and there was no back to the bench we were on to lean against. There was no sign of our waitress. It was past 1:00. We continued to wait. We searched for our waitress, but there was no sign of anyone who worked there.

Finally the food arrived around 1:30. The way it works is, you order your starches and then you order your “sauce,” which can be chicken, beef, goat, fish, or beans. They don’t scrimp on the starches. I ordered matooke, sweet potato, and chipati (a fried, flat bread) for my starches, and chicken for my sauce. We also order g-nut (groundnut, like peanut) sauce for the table for some flavoring since the matooke is quite bland. There was an enormous amount of food on the table, but I essentially ate only my starches with g-nut sauce (not terrible really, but not great either) because I could only wrest one measly piece of chicken off the bone.

The waitress cleared the plates and brought us dishes of pineapple and watermelon. A nice touch, we thought. The bill came. The total was unbelievable. More than what dinner at one of the most expensive restaurants in the city cost us the night before. They’d charged us for the fruit – nice indeed. They’d overcharged us for our meals. We argued with the waitress and eventually got the bill reduced. But the one other time I’d had Ugandan food and had essentially the same amount of food, it had cost about 1000 shillings per person. This time it cost about 30,000 shillings per person.

We left lunch two hours after we arrived, sunburned, irritable, and a lot poorer than we expected to be. We learned the hard way not to take the easy way out at Ekitoobera.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Jo. arrived this morning while I was eating breakfast. She peered into my bowl.

“Is that mayonnaise?” she asked.

Yogurt and granola. It will never be the same again.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The End of Mystery Date?

For three weeks running there has been no Mystery Date column in The New Vision. It’s breaking my heart.

In lieu of that, I leave you with a Father’s Day message from that same paper.

“We Also Deserve Gifts” by Hilary Bainemigisha, aka Dr. Love
“We, fathers, are wonderful people, too little is understood about us because most poets pay tribute to mothers. But we are a necessary engine behind the movement of children from our groins, to the womb, and finally, to the tomb. We pay the bills, preserve the family energy and image, protect, provide and police our little empires. We are perhaps the reason why the family kept together as a unit, respectful and successful; why you did not drop out of school to start your journey to self destruction and why your mother no longer remembers her maiden name…I am talking about responsible dads who have realized that it is increasingly difficult to be a dad these days…Our forefathers sowed in fertile land, but we have to really work hard to get our seeds past female goalkeepers…Our grandies had to be picked from drinking parties to be told that their wife has delivers and the would reply: ‘Which one? The fourth or the second?’ Today, you have to be there in the labour ward massaging her back and wondering how devastated your favourite body part will be thereafter…Most of the privileges that came with being a father have gone! We cannot marry as we please, our voices are no longer the final word in the home and we cannot beat anyone for it – not even your child – it breaks the law! Men are marrying our daughters without paying dowry, our wives leave us when we become broke and the children are dying before we do. In our inner soul, we cry, we fear, we hunger and we thirst. Perhaps the only worry you are likely to notice is thirst. Otherwise, we have to wear fur that deceives you that the monkey does not sweat. In public, we act warrior and…what did the president say? A Revolutionary cannot get devastated. Lastly…No, there is no lastly, just bring my gifts, it is our day.”

I have no idea what he’s talking about at the end there and while many of the things Dr. Love mentions don’t exactly stir much sympathy in me, I will take this opportunity to say: I love you, Dad. Thanks for doing all those dishes, for running around with me on the soccer field and the mountain, for watching bad movies on Sunday afternoons - you make a mean peanut butter and bacon sandwich - and too many other things to name here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Karen, This One's For You

The one picture I got before my camera died at N.'s play. We were very excited about the beers and the fact that we could drink them in our seats.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


On career day in seventh grade, I opted for the session with the heart surgeon. He showed us a video of an open-heart surgery. I thought it was fantastic. For the next few years, I decided I would be a heart surgeon.

This morning the vet came to the house to tie our kittens’ tubes. Not in love with the idea of surgery being performed on my writing table, I asked if there was another alternative. The vet said he could take the two kittens away and bring them back when it was all over - i.e. our house or his. J and I discussed it and felt better about one of us being there with the kittens rather than sending them away. So I cleared off my table and held each of the kittens when their turn came to go under the knife.

I’m not sure where the heart surgeon in me has got to, but I couldn’t watch.

As I write this, it’s been a long afternoon. They can’t seem to settle down and sleep. They’ve been wandering back and forth across the apartment on unsteady legs, falling over every few steps and in the process breaking my heart repeatedly. They seem to be looking for something; I suppose they want their brains back working normally. Or their ovaries?

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Worst Blogger

That’d be me. Last Thursday we went to the opening of N.’s musical, “Hope,” to which I brought my camera so I could take pictures to show all my faithful readers. Only, I forgot to charge the battery. You will have to go to N.’s blog and take a look at the photos his friend took (who was sitting right next to me, so it would have been the same view anyway).

The musical was fantastic, and N. fantastic in it. Put on by the Kampala Amateur Drama Society, it told the story of Hope, a young Ugandan woman who has just spent the past few years at a Midwestern American university. She returns to her village with a (white) friend/potential love interest, played by N., and a number of other international aid workers she has recruited to help build, among other things, a well and a new school. The play perfectly captured many of the customs both good and bad peculiar to each of the races represented, in ways funny and touching.

It was a light-hearted rendition, the crowd was into it, and you could see the actors relax and start to enjoy themselves as the night went on. I particularly enjoyed N.’s portrayals of a cow and a cowboy, in addition to his more formal role as your run-of-the-mill, clueless Muzungu.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

While I Was Away

J didn’t want to worry me, so he didn’t tell me until we were in the car on the way home from the airport last Wednesday that our car got broken into while I was away. He had parked it in the parking lot at his office, where there were no guards, a problem they have since fixed. Our window levers, sideview mirrors, and anything else not bolted down were taken.

So J got everything bolted down. And had our license plate number etched into every conceivable scrap of metal that could be removed.

Notice the metal thing holding our sideview mirror in and the plate number etched on the bottom.

Here you can see these plastic covers are bolted down. (The etching should be just visible, too.)

Also, J had new locks installed. This is like a bicycle lock and, so I’m told, harder to break into.

For some reason, the thieves decided not to take our crappy stereo or our fuzzy dice with the American flag on them that N. gave to us.

Or, I suppose, the car itself.

It’s funny, because normally I’m the bad luck charm when it comes to things being stolen. I always imagined I would be the one this would happen to.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Love Letter to America

Welcome back to me. As this is a blog about Uganda, posts from the States somehow didn’t feel right. In two and a half weeks I crammed a lot of people and places into my trip. Not at all focusing on those people or places, here are some things I discovered:

Things I Didn’t Realized I Missed Until I Got Back to the States
1. Vitamin Water—The white one, lemonade flavored. So good.
2. Veggie Chips from Whole Foods—The carrots are like candy.
3. Whole Foods—A true wonderland.
4. 250 Channels and Nothing On—This is just not true when your parents have HBO On Demand, and when you can download Lost from iTunes, and when it’s Red Sox season.
5. Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches—140 calories of tasty goodness in a variety of flavors. Makes you believe in frozen yogurt again.

Things I Knew I Missed and, It Turns Out, for Good Reason
1. The Red Sox—Youklis batting .340? Dice-K and Papelbon? For the first time since, like, 1946 more than 11 games up in their division? We picked the wrong season to leave the country.
2. Bagels—If you are ever in the Portland, Maine, area, you should head into South Portland and find the Scratch Baking Co. in Willard Square. They’re not “real” bagels, but they’re freakin’ delicious bagels.
3. The Sunday New York Times—more so when there’s an acrostic.
4. Starbucks—I know it’s expensive and I know they’re a big ol’ chain, but they make really tasty drinks.