Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Mystery Date Returns

It’s back. But not wholly satisfying. See for yourself:

Christopher, 28, says:
“When Jackie arrived her voice and beautiful figure calmed me down. She is an open-minded girl who loves to learn from others. She is also tolerant, bold and principled. She would hold my hand and talk while looking at me straight in the eyes. She shares a name (Jackie) with my ex and that brought back some unpleasant memories. We had a good time with my ex till she became pregnant. It turned out that I wasn’t the one responsible!”

Jackie, 20, says:
“I was anxiously looking forward to someone so special and so handsome. And yes, I wasn’t disappointed. Chris is knowledgeable, dark-skinned and handsome; just the kind of guy I was expecting to meet.

“Apart from discussing our personal lives, we spent a long time on our previous relationships. It is an interesting coincidence that I share a name with his former girlfriend, (takes a deep breath). It was quite challenging because he doesn’t have good memories of this previous relationship. I shall have to overturn those memories.

“He will appreciate that there is also a sweet Jackie and that not all girls by the name of Jackie are bad. That certainly requires more quality time spent together.”

The interviewer goes on to ask both of them when the wedding will be held.

It should also be noted that Christopher chose to go out with Jackie, so it’s not like her name was a surprise to him upon meeting her.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Total Bummer

about Grace Paley

I Wish There Were More...

...pretty matatus, like this one. All the other ones I've seen are white, usually with black exhaust coming out the back, obscuring the view and killing me slowly.


I heard on the radio the other day that, on average, women in Uganda have seven children. Seven! The last time the fertility rate in the United States was that high was in 1800.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

How We Really Live

Tuesday evening Stephen Browning, the U.S. Ambassador to Uganda, hosted a cocktail hour for a congressional delegation led by Nita Lowey of New York. J RSVP’d but it was a last-minute decision to attend. Really, I was just in the mood to get dressed up. Also, I had missed the Fourth of July party at the ambassador’s house and I was curious to see the grounds. We drive by his house a few times each day going to and from our house, but you can see very little through the gates. Once, though, we saw a huge turtle walking along the driveway and we sort of hoped we’d see it again at the event, but no luck.

Drinks were served by the pool. The house sits very close to the road, so we had no idea a long set of stairs to the side of the house would bring you to a large back garden with pool and pool house. It was quite lovely. I’m so glad our tax dollars are put to such good use. We arrived about a half hour late to a small crowd gathered by the shallow end. 24 of the people there were associated with the congressional delegation, which included 6 congress people, their family, and aides. The only other name I remember is the Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. from Illinois, but there were also two people from California, another one from New York in addition to Ms. Lowey, and a representative from North Carolina. I didn’t talk to any of them. Everyone else I talked to, though, was on a serious mission to hunt down the congress members and demand money from them for their organization. I’d have had nothing to say to them, really. J chatted with three of them while I was discussing with someone else how to go about finding representation for a novel this person had written. I think I even offered to read his manuscript.

The delegation was in Uganda for two days, one of which was spent traveling to and from Gulu in the north. Then they returned to Kampala, had a fancy cocktail party at the ambassador’s house, and went to sleep in the poshest and most expensive hotel in the country. In her speech Nita expressed how much they enjoyed seeing how people here really live. Keep dreaming, sister, keep dreaming. I wouldn’t even make such lofty claims after five months here.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Beach Party

For the past few years the only live music I’ve seen have been shows in smaller venues in an urban setting. The last large concert I went to outside with all the vendors and space and projection screens and the works was probably in my early college years. I’m not sure I’ve ever been to what would qualify as a pop concert. But this is exactly what I went to last Sunday evening with R. and N.: a Ugandan pop concert on the beach in Entebbe.

How to describe Ugandan pop music? Go to Borders or some such place and find a Putamayo-esque CD to sample—if you have a token world music CD in your collection, kudos for you but don’t feel you need to tell me about it—and listen to all the non-percussion based African music. Does it all sound the same? That’s Ugandan pop music. Okay, I’m being unkind. It’s got a beat. I was able to bop around to it. And all the lyrics were in Luganda so I couldn’t understand a word. It seemed that more than half the performers lip-synced the entire time. The hotter the girl, the skimpier the outfit, the more likely to lip sync.

The concert began just after nightfall on the shores of Lake Victoria. An elevated stage/thatched-roof hut allowed us a good view of the long line of performers over the course of the evening, even when we were standing in the very back of the audience. There were 1 ½ hip hop performances, which were by far the most enjoyable as far as I was concerned, and the rest fell into this world music category. No one performed more than three songs, which really moved things along. All except for the headlining performance by Iryn. Iryn is gorgeous and has a strong, beautiful voice. She sang much longer than anyone else (and no lip syncing!) and had hot, gyrating, back-up dancers in silver sequined mini skirts and bras.

The bars were plentiful and the snacks…interesting. In the display case we puzzled over these large cake-like balls; when told they were egg rolls, we ordered one (despite being sorely disappointed it was not a doughnut). It was indeed an egg roll: a hardboiled egg rolled inside some sort of fried potato mixture. It weighed about five pounds.

Seriously, though, it’s not as disgusting as it sounds or looks. And we can’t say no one told us what we were getting into.

We were the only white people in attendance save one other guy we saw at what we called the VIP table, simply because it was a table, in the front, with dancing girls. But the table was plastic and perched in spongey grass and it was first come first serve and there were dancing girls all over the place.

At the end of the performances no one ever clapped.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Uganda's Got Some Work to Do

I just became aware of the most recent Failed State Index. Uganda is 15th from the bottom, six places worse than last year, when they were six places worse than the year before.

Burrito Night is the Best Night

If anyone reading this plans on visiting us here in Uganda, let me drop a small hint: pack tortillas. A can of black beans would not be unwelcome either. Salsa, if you’re feeling really ambitious. Those little seasoning packets? They weigh very little and take up practically no space. (We can provide the meat, the cheese, and the guacamole. Also we can make our own salsa and seasonings, so really the important things are tortillas and beans.)

N.’s friend R. recently visited from the States and this is exactly what she did: she brought burrito in a box. Brilliant.

How can we live in a place where you can’t get a decent burrito? Mom, this is how you know we won’t live here forever.

Tortillas and beans, people, that’s all you have to remember before you hop on that plane.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Striking Gold

J and I have discovered the best place in town to get coffee. 1,000 Cups is downtown, which makes it difficult to get to during the week because of traffic, but on Sunday mornings the coast is clear and there’s always a parking space out front.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Pulled Over II

J has now been pulled over by the police four times. I’ve been there for three occasions. N. related this run-in back in May while I was in the States. The most recent stop occurred about a month ago on a Sunday evening. We had dropped P. off at her house and were on our way home via Kira Road. Kira Road has two lanes and we used this opportunity to pass some slower cars, including a pick-up truck loaded with policemen.

We took our next left onto Acacia Avenue and the police truck followed. Not having a siren, they pulled up beside us and motioned J to pull over. The truck pulled up in front of us and two guys got out while the rest watched from the back of the truck bed.

The first time we were pulled over we had two Ugandan real estate agents in the back of the car, driving around to show us apartments. When the cop came to the window, the two guys in back kept chiming in, reading the officer’s name badge and calling him by name. J and I were admittedly sort of pissing ourselves. Why had we been singled out on the busy road (though the answer to that is fairly obvious, I think)? Were all our papers in order? Were we supposed to bribe the guy?? But everything was in order and though the guy lingered we felt no need to line his pockets. Afterwards, the real estate agents told us that by calling the officers by their names lets them know we can report them if they ask for a bribe.

Since then, the officers who have pulled us over have had no visible name tags; the one trick we’ve learned has been useless. The second time we were pulled over we don’t even know if they were actually officers. Two guys on the side of the road with uniforms on, of sorts. Plain khaki trousers, plain khaki shirts. Their vehicle had no identification either. Just two dudes waving people down—were they going to murder us? But it was the middle of the day and we were on a fairly active street in a very nice neighborhood and we were surrounded by embassies. One guy walked the circumference of the car, looking in all the windows. The other guy stood by J’s open window, all smiles, very chatty. How were we today, were we enjoying the Kampala roads, had we been driving in the country long, did we want to buy him some airtime (for his cell phone)? No, J told him, we did not want to. That answer seemed to confound the poor man. Were we sure we did not want to? We were quite sure. He seemed to be asking us with his eyes: you know I’m asking you for a bribe, right? Oh, we did! Okay, then, he let us go.

So on this Sunday evening last month, an officer comes up to the window, again all smiles. We know they have seen a car full of white people and they want to see if they can get any money out of us. We also know that we will never give them any money unless threatened with our lives. That night was misty and the officers wore ponchos over their uniforms, so once again we could not see if any of them wore a nametag for us to use to our advantage.

The officer wanted to be friends! This was just a friendly pullover, he told us. Just wanted to make sure everything was okay. Is everything okay? Oh yes, everything is okay. All four of us waved and smiled and assured him that we appreciated such a thoughtful reason for pulling us over. We waited for the bribe request, whether in the form of airtime or dinner or something new we had never heard before, but it never came. Eventually he just let us go.

We drove up the hill in the falling darkness.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Sarge's Little Adventure

Yesterday morning I was on my way to Kabira to internet and Bea followed me up to the car. “Where’s Sarge?” I said and Bea ran over to the wall running along the edge of our property. I heard a meow from the other side. There’s a small grate near the bottom corner and I looked through this and there was Sarge, on the wrong side, seemingly stuck. “Come back the way you came,” I told her and took off. I figured she needed to figure this one out for herself.

I came back a couple hours later and there was no sign of Sarge, no meowing from the other side of the wall, so I went inside and did some work. Bea slept on the desk next to me and we whiled away the afternoon. Around 4:00 PM it seemed strange that we hadn’t seen Sarge all day, so Bea and I went back to the wall and called for her. After a few minutes I heard Sarge’s meow. Bea pawed at the grate and said, “Meow,” very concerned and I was like, “Dude, I know,” and Bea was like, “Meow,” and I was like, “I’m on it.”

I walked around to our front gate and out to the road. A man sat outside the house next door. I explained the situation.

“You think you have a cat inside?”
“I know I have a cat inside. I saw her.”
“And you want to go inside?”
“Yes, please.”
“Oh, yes! I saw a cat this morning. The dog was chasing the cat.”
“You have a dog?”
“Yes, the dog chased the cat. It was very funny. They run, run, run.”
“You have a dog?”
“But the dog could not catch your cat.”
“Can I just pop inside and get her?”
“It is a white cat?”
“Yes. I know she’s in there. If I could just go get her…”
“And you want to go inside?” He thought about this. “Yes, the dog was chasing the cat this morning. What do you think? She wants to go inside.”
I turned and there was another man standing across the street. He considered me. “There is a cat?”
“Yes, my cat has been stuck in there all day. She doesn’t know how to get out.”
He sort of shrugged. I looked back to the first man.
“So you want to go inside,” he said, again. He grinned at me.
“Let me go inside and see if she is really there.”
I waited outside the gate. He came back.
“The cat is really there!” He sounded surprised.

I walked down to the very bottom of the yard where Sarge cowered in the drainage grate. She was covered in dirt and burrs and spotted with some sort of yellow substance that I hoped wasn’t pee. I picked her up and held on tight. The man escorted us out and Sarge was terrified of him. She was also scared of the cars that passed as we headed down the road back to our place. She scratched and clawed and left me covered in muddy paw prints. But then there was Bea waiting in the yard for us and everyone calmed down. “Meow,” Bea said and I was like, “Tell me about it.” Then I locked Sarge in the house while Bea licked her back to health and that night they both slept like kittens.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


So the other day when I got pulled over and I thought the officer was inspecting the jugs of water I had in the back, I believe he was actually inspecting our insurance sticker on the back window, as it expired the following day.

Having no idea how to renew the insurance we had it off until the day after it expired, at which point P. warned us not to take the car out and promptly took care of business for us. He dropped off our new sticker Thursday morning and we are now insured for one year, which cost us a whopping $20.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Bahai Temple

Friday afternoon, I drove with N.’s parents in search of theBahai Temple, which we had heard was a thing to see on a hill. To get there you take the left-hand turn just before Kabira Country Club. Now, I often drop J off at work and then go straight to Kabira to use the Internet, drink some coffee, eat some muffins, and often hit a traffic jam just before I get to the Club as there are so many cars coming in and out of that left-hand turn. This made me think it was a major sort road, what with so many people using it and all. Turns out, the pavement quickly disintegrates into ginormous potholes (nothing new there, right?), but then it quickly disintegrates into a dirt road. A dirt road with gullies running down the middle and branching out all over the places, ruts so deep I thought the under carriage of our car would drag on the ground, ditches four feet deep running along the edge, and always, always, the potholes. It was a serious drive.

The temple’s well-maintained driveway was a welcome change; it climbs steeply up Kikaya Hill to where the temple sits at the top. The temple itself is a nine-sided structure with a dome on top. The structure, both inside and out, is simple in construction and relatively unadorned—there are stain glass windows, but even these are quite simple in style. There are 7 ½ Bahai temples in the world, all of them with nine doors and circular in shape. They’ll tell you there’s one on each continent, but they don’t have one on Antarctica and I leave you to do the math. Uganda’s temple was the second built in 1962. The religion itself is only about 150 years old.

The grounds surrounding the temple were much more impressive. They extend for acres, are immaculately maintained, and there’s a terrific view of the city (not as nice as the view from Kololo, of course). I’d show you, but I forgot my camera and I’m not driving back there any time soon. It’s worth the trip once, but I was underwhelmed.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Gallery Tour

Yesterday morning I joined the Community Liason Officer at the U.S. Embassy for a gallery tour with a local artist, Edison Mugalu. Almost every day I drive Kira Road past a sprawling market. From the road you can see T-shirts hanging on the side of shacks, shoes stacked on the ground, produce and meat, cloth and kitchenwares for sale by many different vendors. We turned into this market and went back behind the first row of buildings down a narrow mud lane to Edison’s studio, called Mona Arts, which he shares with another artist, Anwar Sadat.

A black metal fence encloses a small packed dirt yard. Edison and Anwar have painted murals along the fence in bright colors. One of Edison’s projects is painting murals on the walls of the slums around Kampala in an effort to build appreciation of art among all Ugandans and to beautify these areas in what ways he can.

The studio itself has been painted orange and inside the low-ceilinged concrete structure, a mixture of Edison’s and Anwar’s art hangs on the walls and is stacked along the walls. Edison shows me a scrapbook of articles that have been written about him. Glancing through the pieces, I notice that he was born in 1983 and that he is self-taught. He has been included in the East African Art Biennale and in the current issue of African Woman there is a three-page article about him.

Edison’s paintings seem to me a more sophisticated version of the traditional art we have seen in all the tourists traps. The subjects and style are similar—African women and fisherman for the most part—but Edison uses a lot more texture and his colors seem stronger. My photos of his art are not fantastic, but here are a couple of examples:

We made a brief stop at the French and German Cultural Society, where the director hails from Kassel and has instituted a monthly meeting for artists and displays local artists on a rotating basis. Right now they a few pieces up by Peter Otim:

Edison has also told us about a street art fair he participated in at the end of May where they painted potholes. The Cultural Society has some of these displayed in their courtyard:

From there we went to Peter Otim Designs, which just downstairs from the Iguana Bar, which J and I have frequented while lamenting that the gallery is not open at night. The gallery represents many other artists aside from Peter Otim, including, of course, Edison Mugalu and Anwar Sadat (as did all the galleries we visited). Then it was on to Tulifanya Gallery, which seems to be one of the more popular galleries in the city.

I really liked the work of Sane, this piece not as much as one the director of the German Cultural Society had in her office, but it shows his style:

And if I’m remembering correctly, these are by an artist named Sekasiko:

After a sandwich in the restaurant out front (with shockingly fast service), we drove to the Sheraton. I had never been in the Sheraton before, but have heard that before the arrival of the Serena and Emin Pasha, both very popular and upscale hotels, the Sheraton was the place to stay. It looks rather dingy from the outside, so I expected little and was surprised to find the lobby modern and clean and fresh in appearance. The gallery in the lobby is part of AidChild, meaning a portion of sales goes to supporting orphans with HIV/AIDS. Many of the artists represented here were the same as we had seen at the previous galleries.

Nommo Gallery was our last stop. The walls were in a need of a paint job, but their off-color, flaking appearance made the paintings themselves seem all the more vibrant. The current exhibition included many artists we hadn’t seen yet and a number of different styles. It was the first time I had seen any African artist use watercolor. Also the first place we had seen represent a female artist.

The larger painting in this photo is by Maria Naita and the watercolors by Joseph Mugisha.

Not sure of these artists, but some more examples from Nommo: