Friday, June 20, 2008


I've finally converted my first articles from the Air Uganda inflight magazine into electronic documents. Here's the first one:

Read this document on Scribd: Edison Mugalu

If this isn't working for you, I think you can also read it here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Last Tuesday, Beatrice went into the vet’s for surgery to fix a hernia. I was at a job interview for the initial consultation, but J asked what might have caused it. The vet said it could have been from falling out of a tree or a fight with another animal or from a previous surgery. She found the scars on both cats from when our vet in Uganda had them fixed and found that they were off-center, then conceded it was perhaps likely that the hernia, also off-center, had been caused by this operation. I liked to think that even though Dr. P. was reticent, he was at least somewhat competent.

Bea is recovering nicely and doesn’t seem bothered by the staples in her stomach. Staples look way less comfortable than stitches, but I’ve never been stapled, so what do I know?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Achilles Project

The other night J and I had dinner at our friend’s new restaurant in South Boston. The restaurant is called Persephone and it has a retail space in front with some super hip clothes for sale; altogether it’s known as the Achilles Project. The food was outstanding—and we ate a lot of it, so we should know—but mostly we sat there with our friend totally impressed that he had created this really beautiful place, that he had a vision and he saw it out. If you’re passing through Boston, you should check it out.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Hey, No Bugs

I can't even remember the last bug I saw since I've been back. A couple of days ago, I was standing outside the front door of my parent's house with my mother and she started to complain of mosquitoes. My first thought was, "Mosquitoes? I see one mosquito if I look really hard, I guess." My second thought was, "Who cares? It's not like they can give me malaria."

Monday, June 2, 2008

Culture Shock

I’ve gotten myself into a bit of a pickle. My view is no longer from Kololo. It is now from Boston, where J and I will be living for the foreseeable future. I planned on ending this blog once we left Uganda, but I have dedicated myself to the Africa Reading Challenge and I still have four more books to read and review. So, for the time being, I will share my inevitable culture shock with you while I power through these books. My posts will likely be more intermittent; I suppose it all depends on well I adjust to this new life.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Cats Update

Pictures, as promised.

How our cats traveled:

Bea meets Maya:


Second impressions:

1. Soft fluffy clothes out of the dryer!
2. Soft fluffy toilet paper!
3. I ate oysters last night and I don't even like oysters.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Cat Update

Because you're all dying to know, I'm sure.

We had absolutely no problem getting the cats home. We had all the necessary papers (in quadruplicate) and the officials at Entebbe were amazing (seriously) and in Amsterdam the KLM people let us know the cats were safely on the plane for the next leg and when we got to the States, Customs was a breeze. The cats were less than pleased with the situation, but they're settling in alright now. I think they're going to like their new clumping litter.

I have pictures but have yet to find my camera cord in our massive amounts of luggage. Stay tuned.

(Okay, so the first quarter of the Celtics game is already over, but only because I find everything so distracting and I'm moving kind of slowly because the coffee is wearing off and I am stupid tired. I have to say, after a 14-month break, commercials are not so bad.)


First impressions:

1. Very efficient water pressure. Showering is a true pleasure.
2. Tap water! Drinkable tap water! Brushing my teeth also a pretty amazing experience.
3. Internet: I might just throw up another post right after this. Because I can. And I'll be finished before the first quarter of the Celtics game ends. The Celtics game, which I'm watching on TV. On a television that is flat-screened and 40-inches and high definition.
4. Life is good.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Paper Beads

I've been buying paper beads to bring home as gifts and I thought I had heard they were made out of garbage, so I did a little research. Not garbage so much as recycled paper. (Hey, they do recycle something here and for a good cause beyond saving the planet.) Online all the
stories seem to be about the Bead for Life organization, but it feels like everyone is selling paper beads these days.

Monday, May 19, 2008

How To Get Two Cats Out of Uganda

Anyone know?

It looks so easy on paper…because there doesn’t seem to be anything on paper.

It’s one of those things where you have to know the right questions to ask, but are not sure where you find out which are the right questions. For example, it recently came to our attention that we need an exit permit from some ministry to get the cats out of Uganda. Now we’ve talked to a whole bunch of people about what we need to get the cats out of Uganda, but it was only on, like, the fourth conversation that someone mentioned this exit permit. So unless you know to ask, “Hey, is there some sort of exit permit we need to get from some random ministry (that our vet couldn’t even remember the name of) in Entebbe, for which we also need health certificates?” then I’m not sure how it really comes up. But why would you know to ask that specific question?

Our mobile vet seemed to have everything under control for us as of 4:39 PM last Wednesday, but I have this horrible feeling we’re going to show up at the airport and poor Bea and poor Sarge, all sweet in their little carriers, are going to get turned away – and if they get turned away, I guess that means we get turned away, too, which would not be good. Which would, in fact, be very very bad.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Car Update

Remember yesterday how I said someone was coming to buy our car that afternoon? Dude calls and says, “So, how about I give you 4 million shillings today, take the car, and then I’ll give you the rest of the money in a week and a half after my check matures?”

And we said: how about not.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

In America, Everything is for Sale - How Uganda is Different

On Saturday J and I went to Garden City in search of supplies to carry home the art we purchased here. We purchased vellum at Aristoc to place between the canvases when we roll them up and we needed a tube to place them in, which we thought we might find at the FedEx stand at Uchumi. Two employees sat behind the FedEx counter with a triangular sort of tube standing upright between them.

“Hey, can we buy that tube?” we asked.
“The what?”
“The tube. Right there.” We pointed.
“You want this tube?”
“Yes, can we buy that, please?”
“You cannot buy it.”
“Why not?”
“It’s for shipping.”
“But we just want to buy it off you.”
“It’s only for shipping.”
“We can’t buy it?”
“You’ll have to go to Serena offices and ask.”
“We can buy a tube from the Serena office?”
Big shrug.
“But if we had something to ship in that tube, we could have it?”
“You have something to ship?”
“Yes, but it’s at home. Can we take the tube home and pack it up and then bring it back?” Which was obviously a total lie, except that they believed us.
“Of course. Here you go.” And they handed us the tube. For free.

We wanted to give them money, we really did.

Boda Drivers Beware

With less than one week left in Uganda, I find myself with the overwhelming urge to gently nudge any number of the boda drivers I pass on the road with the bumper of my car. I want to gently nudge them and watch them tumble into a ditch – gently – on the side of the road. I don’t want bloodshed or injuries of any kind; I just want to show them who’s who. Put them in their place – namely, next to their crappy bikes on the ground.

Why do I find them so infuriating? Is it because they appear to show such ownership of the road when their bikes can barely top 25 km/hr? Because they are so unpredictable, with their tendency to signal a turn across oncoming traffic after they’re already halfway through the intersection? Because I feel I often put my life in danger trying to pass them, only to come to a halt in an inexplicable jam a few kilometers on and have them pass me so easily, zooming off into the sunset while I’m stuck behind some twat who can’t figure which lane to be in to turn left (or, somehow more disconcertingly, which lane to turn right)?

And yet I find the winter parkas the boda drivers wear so endearing. Odd.

This isn’t road rage, exactly. The urge to play bumper cars sits quite calmly with me. It just seems like it would be so easy. The boda drivers are just there, in vast numbers, asking for it, with ridiculous things piled behind them – Nile perch the size of deer, mattresses, stacks of chairs, metal containers of milk, jumbles of children without helmets. So maybe it’s a good thing someone is coming to buy our car this afternoon.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Friday, May 9, 2008

Film Festival

The Amakula Film Festival I so enjoyed last year is back. Not sure we'll make it to any films, but somehow it's comforting to know it's there.

Abyssinian Chronicles: Africa Reading Challenge Review (& Book Club)

Our most recent book club pick and boy, could we have picked a worse book? I never, ever would have read past the first fifty pages if I did not feel somewhat beholden to the other women who would gather at my house to discuss it. As it was I managed to read the first 100 pages straight through and then I skimmed another 100 and then I just simply had to give up. I have never been so bored with a book in my life, nor so exasperated, so utterly confused at its existence, so disappointed in a book in long time.

So what is so wrong with this book aside from being utterly boring? First, it’s about 300 pages too long. Isegawa has not just the tendency to be overwordy, but he also feels the need to repeat certain rather absurd words over and over. Like “hydra.” Every problem becomes metaphorically a hydra. Used once it could possibly be construed as somewhat clever, maybe, but after fifty times? It’s just irritating. His parents are the “despots” and his siblings are the “shitters.” Not particularly inspired, even less so after 500 pages, plus it just distances the reader from these relationships. The “shitters” develop no further personalities, no other distinguishing features than to be grouped together in this way.

There are politics buried in this book, but they are so few and far between, so in fact buried in the mundane details that fill much of the book, that they might as well not be there at all. But these details, I imagine, are what drew interest to the book in the first place. A grandfather involved in village politics. An aunt working with the NRM to build an underground opposition to Amin. The terror of living during the Amin regime. Okay, these are interesting. And yet they seem to fill less than 50 pages of this overly immense book.

My other huge problem is with perspective. Why is this a first person narration? How does our narrator know all the details of his father’s life before the narrator was born? Or anyone’s? He’s somehow completely omniscient and there’s no explanation for it. Very irritating.

There’s very little to like in this book and I keep coming back to the question of why something like this would get published and I keep thinking about this article I read recently by David Kaiza in the East African newspaper (which I’ve linked to before and may not be available online all that much longer). In explaining the success of Abyssinian Chronicles, he said, “African literature typecast, exiled to the realms of the phantasmagorical.” Okay, I’m not actually sure where the phantasmagorical comes in Abyssinian Chronicles—maybe I just didn’t make it that far or maybe this is somehow supposed to explain the narrator’s omniscient nature—but it’s the idea that the only African literature to get published has to fit a model. It has to be about African dictators or what the Western world understands to be the African experience. It’s the best explanation I can come up with why Isegawa’s book got picked up in the first place.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Ndali Lodge

The Fort Portal area was one of the last places in Uganda I wanted to visit before J and I move back to the States at the end of this month (aside from Queen Elizabeth National Park and the tree-climbing lions in Ishasha, which will have to wait for another lifetime). A friend told us we must stay at Ndali Lodge and so, without doing any further research, we booked a room and drove out for the weekend.

Ndali Lodge lies just south of Fort Portal amongst the Kasenda Crater Lakes. It sits on the rim of Lake Nyinambuga—the back of the main building looks down over the lake, while the other side of the lodge looks out over another lake in the distance and, further off, the Rwenzori Mountains, which were perpetually shrouded in the clouds, except early in the morning:

There’s plenty to do in this area—we took an hour and a half walk around Lake Nyinambuga, chimp tracking in Kibale Forest is close by, and there are other, longer hikes around the lakes that you can take—but perhaps the most pleasant thing about Ndali Lodge is the complete lack of expectations that you do anything all. Reading a book by the pool or overlooking the lake all day long, day after day, would seem the most normal thing in the world here. It’s quiet, there’s an extensive bar, and a host of dogs to sleep at your feet and keep you company. The dogs are also nice company on a walk; one accompanied us, coming bounding out of the underbrush when we were halfway around the lake and taking us completely by surprise.

For being in the middle of nowhere, Ndali Lodge is a very civilized sort of place. It is run by Aubrey, grandson of the original owner (there’s a nice history of the place on the web site), and his girlfriend, Claire. At night these two preside over a four-course dinner, served at one long communal table. The food is superb – the best lasagna I’ve had in Uganda, the only ceviche I’ve seen in Uganda, the best salad I’ve had in a year – and afterwards coffee and tea (grown on the lodge’s farm and also fantastic) and whiskey is served by the bar, where guests, having become friendly over dinner, sit together and chat amiably sometimes late into the night. Aubrey mentioned that he wanted guests to feel like they were staying in someone’s home and I think he achieves a nice balance of familiarity and service.

And did I mention how friggin awesome their dogs are?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Ndali Lodge Preview

I realize I haven’t posted many pictures lately and because I’ll have too many to post when I write about the lovely Ndali Lodge, I’ll give you a couple here as a preview.


It’s funny. I woke up early Sunday morning and went out onto the porch of our little cottage at Ndali Lodge where we spent the weekend (more on that later) to read while I waited for our absurdly good coffee to be delivered at 8:00 AM. That morning I finished Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (I finished it weeping, no weeping – again, more on that later) only to find J and myself later in the day on an epic and depressing road adventure of our own. It was the day of the road.

After arriving at Ndali on Friday afternoon, Saturday we passed by the car and saw that we had a flat tire. We put on the spare (and when I say “we” I mean the four lovely men who work at Ndali) and on Sunday morning J and I drove into Fort Portal on our way back to Kampala to patch up the tire. They found the nail and fixed the puncture and put the tire back on the car. Good to go.

Two hours later we were on the side of the road with the same flat tire. We put the spare back on and drove forty kilometers to Mubende. Here they found a second nail – had it been there all along or was it a brand new nail? – and we were told we needed a new tube inside the tire. An hour later we were back on the road and moving right along.

We felt confident about the car and let me tell you why. Last week J took the car in to get fully serviced in anticipation of selling our car in the next couple of weeks. Among other things we fixed the passenger side door handle so you no longer need to roll down the window and open the door from the outside to let yourself out; we reattached the speaker wires on the driver’s side; we had the radiator sealed so it no longer leaked fluid and overheated.

So when we ended up on the side of the road – again – with the front of the car smoking just outside of Mityana and only about 50 kilometers from Kampala, it was a bit of a surprise. The sealant on the radiator had busted open and the radiator was as dry as a bone. We sat on the ground and waited for the car to cool off. (We had some cooling off to do ourselves.) Eight hours later (it should have taken five hours, tops) we arrived back home to two whacked-out cats who were not altogether pleased with us for leaving them alone inside for two days.

Now, who wants to buy our car?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

West With the Night by Beryl Markham: Review

Disclaimer: I read this a few months ago now and I seem to have misplaced my copy of the book, so I’m going off memory here.

As I said before, my parents brought this book when they came to visit and left it behind. Neither of them could stop talking about it, so I picked it up right away and was pleasantly surprised. This is one of those books that I found baffling—for two different reasons. First, that I had never heard of it before. It’s just too good of a book. Everyone should know about it. And not just those who have an interest in Africa. Second, I was baffled by the writing. It’s just too good. And it’s not fair. How can this woman excel at everything she does? How can she raise thoroughbred horses single-handedly, as a teenager, and then become this pioneering woman by flying planes in the 1930s, and then write as beautifully as she does?

Beryl Markham was raised by her father in Nairobi at the turn of the century. She grew up on a farm, befriending hearty, faithful animals who would follow her anywhere and strong, honorable Masaai warriors, who take her hunting and who would risk their own lives to save hers. A Masaai boy is her best friend and later in life becomes something like her servant, a constant companion, completely devoted. Written in an era when the British in East Africa were kings, there are moments like this that make you feel the complications of the times and how things have changed. Markham loved and respected her best friend and yet to her it was so normal that he woke her each morning with a tray of tea, that he cleaned and maintained her plane, that he seemed to cater to her every need.

The middle part of the book Markham devotes to her teenage years as a horse breeder. After a few years of drought, her father sold the farm in Nairobi and moved to South America. He gave the 17-year-old a choice, to go with him or to stay in Kenya on her own. Having lived in Africa since she was a child, it was in her blood to stay. Her love for the land and for the people is deeply felt.

The last, and perhaps most exciting, part of the book is left to flying. Markham was the first woman to complete a solo flight across the Atlantic going from East to West. (Her destination was New York but she crashed the plane in Canada — and obviously lived to tell about it.) Prior to this, though, her flying — like most things in her life — is built on friendships. What fascinates is not the small details of flying, delivering goods to remote areas of the country or even tracking elephants for safaris (actual hunting safaris, to kill the elephants for their tusks), but the rescue of a fellow pilot in the Serengeti and the motherly advice from the man who taught her to fly.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Shoddy, Shoddy

Last night J and I went out for Thai food at the Metropole Hotel on Acacia Avenue. We planned on eating on their deck, under the stars, overlooking the golf course, only to find upon arrival that the deck was under construction. How, after having been open less than six months, do they already need to completely redo their deck?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Africa Reading Challenge: List

For the Africa Reading Challenge I’m supposed to have six books about Africa on this list. I can promise I will read six books about Africa by the end of the year, no problem, but I can’t really promise what they will be. The first two are definite. The last four are probablies.

1. West With the Wind by Beryl Markham — Review forthcoming.
2. Abyssinian Chronicles by Moses Isegawa — Our next book club pick, currently a quarter of the way through.
3. Scribbling the Cat by Alexandra Fuller — I read Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight years ago and loved it. Always meant to read this, too.
4. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe — It seems sort of shameful that I haven’t read this yet. Interesting recent article on this book and this author by David Kaiza from the East African here.
5. Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee — Loved Disgrace, have been meaning to read this for a while.
6. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch

Also considering King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild, A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul, Emma’s War, and others. Tried reading The Poisonwood Bible but just found it too tedious.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Kiwani the Movie

A few months ago, I was sitting in the lounge in Kabira using the Internet in the midst of a film set. Kiwani, a Ugandan film, which debuted in Kampala recently.

J found this still online, but I didn’t make it into the shot. But I was there, people, I was there.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


I heard about Fahreed’s used bookstore only recently, though it’s been open since late 2006. It’s located in the Ntinda shopping complex on Old Kiira Road; a second, larger shop has apparently opened more recently in Nakawa, though I have yet to visit it. Like the Bookend, Fahreed’s also imports used books from England; unlike the Bookend, it does not buy books back. It has a larger selection of titles—thriller, chick lit, and general fiction is lumped into together, and there are also cookbooks, health and fitness books, textbooks, encyclopedias, children’s titles, as well as some old VHS movies. Hardcover fiction runs for Ush 10,000 and paperbacks for Ush 5,000. The setting is not as attractive as the Bookend, nor is as much care taken in displaying the titles. Fiction books are stacked three deep on the shelves, making two-thirds of the store’s stock very difficult to see. Be prepared to dig. Also, the titles did not appear to be arranged alphabetically by author when I was there, so again: be prepared to dig.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Bookend

I’ve been meaning to write about the Bookend for months now and Uganda Insomniac beat me to it. It’s also mentioned on Jackfruity, though my Internet connection isn't good enough to find the exact links to either right now. I had coffee with the proprietress, Karen, the other day for an article I’m writing about literary Kampala and she said there was an obvious increase in sales after the Insomniac post. (The Insomniac also seems to have won just about every award given out at the Uganda Best of Blogs Awards.)

Located next to the Surgery and Rocks & Roses on Acacia Avenue, the Bookend is a lovely place to stop if you're looking for something new to read (or waiting for a doctor's appointment). You can buy used books for 6,000 shillings and sell books for 3,000 shillings. A good selection, too. (In the past couple of months I’ve picked up books by David Mitchell, Edward O. Wilson, Garrison Keillor, Philip Pullman, and J.R.R. Tolkien.) Karen travels to England twice a year to replenish her stock and most afternoons you can find her sitting on the porch of her kiosk, drinking coffee and talking books with customers. Not a bad life.

I’ve also found out about a couple more used bookstores around town I’ll be checking out in the next couple of days.

Monday, April 14, 2008

More Murchison: Fat Crocs, Dead Hippos

On our morning game drive, the best thing we saw was a pride of lions: 2 adult females and 8 cubs.

Which shouldn’t overshadow the stunning vistas, the giraffes and water buffalo, etc…but it sort of does. Murchison is a beautiful place.

In the afternoon, we took a boat ride down the Nile to the base of the falls. On the way we passed about 25 crocodiles piled on the bank and two of them were the fattest things I had ever seen, as though they had just eaten a buffalo or maybe a Cooper Mini. These pictures are not the best, but hopefully you can get an idea:

In the foamy waters just below the falls, a dead hippo floated belly up. I reached for my camera and paused, asking V, “Is it too morbid to take a picture?” And then we looked down the length of the boat at all the other passengers lined up at the railing, snapping away, and we shrugged and joined the crowd.

So as not to end on a sad note, I’ll leave you with this picture of a mother and baby monkey, resting on the roof of S’s room at the Nile Safari Lodge. (Noisy little suckers, especially at night when you’re sleeping under a tin roof and the monkeys are jumping down from the branches above you.)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Murchison Falls, Take 2

The first time I went to Murchison Falls, last July, I was sick and trying to be a good sport about it—if you ask J, I’m sure he’d say I failed miserably; but hopefully if you asked N or S they would say I didn’t do too bad a job. This time, traveling with V and S, (J stayed home to work—someday I hope you will be reading a blog of J’s year doing cool things while I slave away in an office somewhere) I felt totally healthy and we traveled in style.

Doing some last minute planning, I called up my friends at GeoLodges (same owners as Rainforest Lodge) and they put together a nice package for us. Last Wednesday a driver, Karim, picked us up at home at 7:00 AM. In the same size van that eight of us had packed into for the Red Chilli trip, the three of us now rode on the beautifully paved road to Hoima—the miserable road we had taken last June is now, apparently, completely impassable. After Hoima, though, the road turns to packed dirt for the remaining two to three hours and admittedly it gets fairly tedious.

We stopped in Masindi for lunch, Masindi of some Hemingway fame. He is said to have stayed at the Masindi Hotel. This is the story the Bradt guide tells: In January 1954 Hemingway and his fourth wife Mary Walsh crashed their Cessna in Murchison Falls. In the process Mary cracked some ribs and Hemingway dislocated his shoulder. They spent the night on the shores of the Nile and were rescued the following morning by a boat going to Butiaba, a lakeside village 8km from the Masindi road. From their the two charted a flight to Entebbe. “On take-off, however, the plane lifted, bumped back down, crashed, and burst into flames. Mary and the pilot escaped through a window. Hemingway, too bulky to fit through the window and unable to use his dislocated arm, battered open the buckled door with his head, to emerge with bleeding skull and a rash of blistering burns.” Then they spent a few days recovering in the Masindi Hotel. As it turned out, Hemingway also had a collapsed intestine, a ruptured liver and kidney, two crushed vertebrae, temporary loss of vision in one eye, impaired hearing, and a fractured skull. These injuries caused him to miss the ceremony for the Nobel Prize (he won the Prize for Literature that year).

Anyway, next stop Murchison Falls, followed by the Nile Safari Lodge.

In my next post: crocodiles the size of small cars, dead hippos, baby monkeys. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The End of Love

Mystery Date: once a portrait of young dreamers looking for love, once filled with anticipation and over-dramatized emotions, now a business opportunity, now filled with indifference.

Two Saturdays ago I bought the New Vision seeking the latest Mystery Date column after a long hiatus and I was disappointed. Week after week the column is now the same, the couples have become a cliché: a singer or some other performer looking for publicity, already married or seriously involved, meeting a producer or promoter, or worse, someone actually looking for a relationship who is left humiliated, if charitably not on the date, then certainly on the page. What was once rather comical—how half of the couple would suddenly drop the information of their marital status into the interview—has become merely sad, tiresome, if no less unfathomable.

I can’t help thinking this turn coincides with the move from Kyoto to Choma restaurant. Choma, after all, lacks a swing under the stars. Perhaps this is why the New Vision no longer carries a photo of the couple together on the date. Now it merely has two mug shot-like images of each person at the top of the column.

Take, for example, Julius and Stella, from the March 22 issue. Julius is a videographer; Stella an artiste. Stella has a boyfriend; Julius is married. Stella’s summary amounted to this: “When I told him I was an artiste, he was happy because he is a promoter. He said we could make good money since he knows the trade well.” Julius said, “We exchanged greetings and I realized she was familiar. I had seen her on stage, singing. She said she liked me and I was happy to meet her because, as a promoter, I can benefit from her talent.”

The mystery has been removed from mystery date. Is it really so hard to find two people looking for love? Two people who want nothing more out of the endeavor than the chance to meet someone special? Shame on you, New Vision, for turning Mystery Date into such a farce.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Other Kind of Africa Day

V and S flew home to Idaho yesterday and J and I sat around watching Friday Night Lights (the TV show, not the movie) having no idea what else to do with ourselves now that the house was empty again. This morning I dusted off my desk and now Sarge is napping next to the computer, resting her head on half the keyboard, occasionally opening one eye when I reach for the delete or return keys and disturb her nap. How easily we fall back into our routines—and how much more gratefully so after a long break. What had once become commonplace, almost boring, now seems delightful again. One day I am watching a family of lions dozing in the shade of a tree, the next I am back at my desk writing a novel (this might not sound like heaven to everyone, but it is to me). It’s enough to make a girl feel downright content.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

An Africa Day

I have posts, I do. The Internet at Kabira is down. Bubbles' gate was closed and supposedly there's another entrance, but I couldn't find it. Now I'm at Protea and my pictures won't post, I assume because the connection here is so bad. Tomorrow I'm heading to Murchison Falls with V and S. Probably won't be able to post again until next week.

Am I making excuses? Hell, yes, I'm making excuses. If I'm going to have an Africa Day, so are you.

Sipi Falls

About a week after my parents left, my friends V and S arrived from Idaho. We spent the first few days poking around Kampala and sitting by the pool at Kabira. Their first weekend in Uganda coincided with N’s last weekend and we wanted to get out of the city and into the country to see something new. It also happened to be Easter, a four-day weekend in Uganda. Little did we realize everyone goes away and because we started planning quite late, most of the hotels and lodges we called were already booked. We managed to get a night at Lacam Lodge out at Sipi Falls in eastern Uganda, close to Mt. Elgon and the Kenyan border.

Sipi Falls from the Lacam Lodge:

The hut V and I shared with views out over the valley:

In the morning we hiked to the base of the falls.

Lacam Lodge was so comfortable, the view so peaceful, that we endeavored to stay another night in the vicinity. We reserved beds at the Crow’s Nest, a campsite with bandas recommended in the Lonely Planet, but when we arrived there in the late afternoon, we discovered the restaurant had burned down a few months prior. With no place to really hang out, staying there became less appealing. Instead we drove back down to Mbale, in the shadow of the hills (and supposedly Mt. Elgon, though it was so cloudy the whole time we never saw it), and stayed at the Landmark Inn, a big, rundown but still charming, old house run by an Indian family who makes fantastic food.

We drove back to Kampala on Easter Sunday in a torrential downpour that never let up. We stopped in Jinja for lunch—Mexican food at the Palmtree Hotel, which is never disappointing when compared to your only other option for Mexican food at Fat Boys—and to show V and S the source of the Nile,

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Lake Manyara

We spent two days on the Serengeti (and one afternoon by the Serena’s pool overlooking the Serengeti plains). We dropped J off at the Serengeti airport because he had to leave us a day early to attend a meeting in Ethiopia for work.

John drove us back through Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area to Lake Manyara National Park, bordered on one side by the Rift Valley. We arrived late in the afternoon and, though we were tired of the car, decided to do a game drive then instead of waking up quite early in the morning for one.

Lake Manyara is famed for its tree-climbing lions and John seemed determined to find us one. Our morning drive through the Serengeti had been almost fruitless. We saw few animals and there were few in attendance at Lake Manyara as well. A sleepy day, I suppose. John drove furiously around the park, looking, looking, but we saw no tree-climbing lions.

Just as we were heading out of the park, however, we did have a close encounter with some elephants. When J lived in South Africa, his family came to visit and they went on safari. They have a story of making an elephant very angry and coming close to be trampled. There is a fabled video of the experience, which has been dubbed “When Elephants Attacked,” though J’s brother had misplaced it the last time we visited and I have never seen it. Nonetheless it has made me wary of elephants wandering too close, so when John stopped the car next to three big, male elephants and it became clear they wanted to cross the road just where we were parked, it made me a little nervous.

The first one passed just in back of our car, the second a little closer. The third elephant made it very clear he wanted to cross exactly where we were parked and I could tell he did not intend to alter his course in the least. I was so uncomfortable with the situation I sat down in my seat and decided not to watch. My parents seemed not to be concerned in the least. Without starting the car, John opened his door and began to push the car forward with his foot. The elephant passed at our back without any upset.

And that was our excitement for the day. When we arrived at the Serena hotel just outside Lake Manyara’s park boundaries, it had begun to rain and already turned dark. I woke up the next morning, showered, packed, and still had a few minutes before meeting my parents for breakfast. I realized there was a large curtain in the back of the room I hadn’t opened and I was pleasantly surprised to find the most astonishingly beautiful view.

And that was the end of our safari.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Serengeti

“[The Serengeti Plains] are endless and they are empty, but the are as warm with life as the waters of a tropic sea. They are webbed with the paths of eland and wildebeest and Thompson’s gazelle and their hollows and valleys are trampled by thousands of zebra. I have seen a herd of buffalo invade the pastures under the occasional thorn tree groves and, now and then, the whimsically fashioned figure of a plodding rhino has moved along the horizon like a grey boulder come t life and adventure bound. There are no roads. There are no villages, no towns, no telegraph. There is nothing, as far as you can see, or walk, or ride, except grass and rocks and a few trees and the animals that live there.”—Beryl Markham, West With the Wind

The Serengeti meets Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area at the Serengeti’s southeast border. Along the dirt road lies Oldupai Gorge. You might know this as Olduvai Gorge, the spot where Louis and Mary Leaky discovered some of man’s oldest fossils, including hominid footprints estimated to be 3.7 million years old preserved by layers of volcanic ash. Apparently the white man who found the gorge asked locals what they called the area and they answered Oldupai, but he heard Olduvai and that was the name that went in the books. We stopped in at the small museum at the site of the gorge and for a quick lecture before getting back in the car – here’s the car, by the way –

and heading into the Serengeti. Even before we passed through the gate, we came across three lions sleeping by the side of the road.

We picnicked and hit the road again, driving all afternoon. (You never get used to bumpy roads.) Late in the afternoon a cluster of cars caught our attention. Our guide, John, said, “Maybe it is something special,” and pulled up closer. Whispers of “leopard” reached our ears from the heads that stuck out the roofs of the cars in front of us. We searched and we searched with our binoculars but could see nothing amongst the branches of the sausage tree, except, well, sausages. Finally J spotted the spots, because J spotted everything first. It was the most well-hidden leopard, perhaps ever. There were spots amongst the leaves, but no head, no tail. After a few minutes we pulled away, but before we got very far John received a call on his radio. The leopard was on the move. By the time we got back it had repositioned itself on the branch so we could see its head and its tail. It lounged without notice of the line of vehicles before it, its head resting on its front paws, back legs dangling thirty feet above ground. It was my birthday.

What else we saw:
Leopard, lions, elephants, buffalo, hippos, wildebeest, gazelle, hartebeest, zebra, giraffe, topi, impala, crocodile, monitor lizard, dik dik…

Monday, March 24, 2008

Ngorongoro Crater

Sorry for the silence. I have more visitors in town and I have been showing them around Kampala, traveling a little bit, and not spending much time on the Internet. I have a nice backlog of stories to share and hopefully from here on out posting will be more regular. Now, to pick up where I left off, we flew with my parents from Entebbe to Mt. Kilimanjaro airport in Tanzania on March 1…

I used the Let’s Go travel agency at Garden City to book our safari in Tanzania. Everything went fairly smoothly until the day a couple of weeks ago I went to pick up our airline tickets and final itinerary. V, the woman I worked with, informed me our Air Uganda flight time had been changed and we would now be arriving at 2:45 PM. It’s a three and a half hour drive to Ngorongoro Crater and the park gates close at 6:00 PM sharp. So let’s do the math. After going through immigration and picking up our luggage, we would hope to be out of the airport to meet our driver by 3:00, at the earliest and assuming our flight is actually on time, and then drive really fast (according to V) and make it to the park in time. Now, I don’t know about you, but my third grade math teacher would have told me that it would be impossible to make it to the park in time even if we didn’t have to pass through immigration and pick up our luggage. And, considering the roads in Uganda and assuming Tanzania’s were not much different, I really didn’t want to put our lives in danger by driving really fast.

I told V I was very uncomfortable with the situation. I asked for alternatives. She insisted it would be fine. I asked to speak to her manager. Instead we emailed her colleague in Tanzania…who also insisted it would be fine. Now that the trip is over, I can see that they were probably right. It probably would have been fine. The Kilimanjaro airport was a breeze. The roads in Tanzania are nothing like the roads in Uganda. The road to Ngorongoro was a dream, a highway to heaven, yes, but also made of heaven. Thank you to the people of Japan who paid for that road and arranged for it to be installed. Could you please come to Uganda and build a road to Bwindi? But I know myself. I know that with that schedule and knowing nothing of the airport or the roads of the reliability of Air Uganda arriving on time, I would have been a nervous wreck. I would have literally given myself a migraine worrying if we were going to make it in time.

Because when I asked V if, hypothetically, we arrived at the gates at 6:05 and they wouldn’t let us in, what then, she had no answer for me. Seriously, silence. We sleep in the car? We drive back to Arusha and shell out another couple of hundred dollars for a hotel room when we’re already paying for the hotel room in Ngorongoro? You can see this wasn’t really an option, right? Because V made me feel like a really neurotic, really problematic American. And maybe I am.

Eventually, when I was near tears and J accompanied me to the office to speak to V, we arranged to spend our first night at the Mountain View Lodge just outside of Arusha. It’s run by Serena, as all were all our hotels that week, and it was lovely. No stress, just an afternoon drinking Kilimanjaro beer and playing cribbage. I was pleased with the outcome.

The following morning we left early for the three and a half hour drive to Ngorongoro Crater and spent the afternoon driving through its interior. Ngorongoro Crater is a collapsed volcano, 20 kilometers in diameter, with animals passing in and out. A soda lake, Lake Magadi, lies on one side and, as my dad liked to say, it was “filthy with flamingos.” (I don't have a picture of the flamingos for you because they were really too far away to get a good photo.)

We caught three enormous male lions napping along the side of the road. A black rhinocerous wandered across the landscape in the distance. A herd of elephants gathered at the base of the crater, though we could only see them through binoculars. Hyenas—though mangy and mostly pretty unattractive—have endearing round ears. Ngorongoro is a stunning location with more animals than you can shake a stick at all gathering in this small little area. Really amazing. Here’s the view from the Serena lodge:

What we saw:
Zebra, wildebeest, Thompson’s gazelle, black rhino, lions, hyena, elephant (though only at a great distance), eland, buffalo, and lots of birds, including ostrich, flamingo (about 1 million of them), Crowned Crane (Uganda’s national bird), heron, pelican, black crake, and a number of others whose names I didn’t write down.