Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Me and Blogging

I'll be busy the next two weeks showing my parents around town, tracking gorillas, and traipsing around Tanzania. Posting will be light, but stay tuned.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Uganda Museum

Last Saturday, J, N., and I ventured to the Uganda Museum, the oldest museum in East Africa. Though the museum lies only five minutes from our apartment and we’ve driven by it a hundred times, for some reason we’d never found it particularly inviting. Perhaps because it’s on such a busy road. Perhaps it’s because the letters on the outside of the building are unevenly spaced. I’m not sure.

The map in the lobby shows three wings to the museum. We decided to start in the middle and then tackle the two side branches afterwards. The center section is a mish-mash of old cars, beer bottles, advertisements for the Malaria Consortium and the National Forestry Authority, and framed vintage posters from the Olympics. I believe this is the “Science & Industry Pavilion.” Very, very strange. Why is there a display of beer? I’m not sure because nothing is really labeled.

Things that are labeled are inadequately so. See “umbilical cord,” below.

The left wing of the museum is really just a hallway. There appeared to be some art hanging on one side, but it was covered up. Back in this area a woman played music for five minutes. Was it only because we were back there? Was she following us?

The right wing proved to be the most interesting. It dealt more with Uganda’s cultural history and things were slightly better labeled.

In all it took about 45 minutes to see everything. Totally worth it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Rachael & Phillip

Saturday’s Mystery Date seemed to me a little sad this week. Rachael, 22, who says “comedy” makes her laugh, maybe needs a little more self-esteem, and Phillip, 34, who somehow got out of the what-makes-you-laugh question, maybe a little less.

“Phillip is such a wonderful guy who really cares. He told me a lot about his life and business. He also told me that he is an actor and he promised to make me an actress.”

Oh, sweetie.

“Sincerely, I don’t think he liked me. At some point he told me he was seriously looking for a girl and mentioned the qualities he wanted. I don’t think I have the qualities. Maybe it was a way of telling me that he was not interested in me.”

Low self-esteem, or just very perceptive and honest with herself.


“I noticed she was difficult to talk to. She answered few of the many questions I asked her. Even then, she would take very long to answer and do so with ‘yes’ and ‘no’ replies. She was not even informed about current affairs and many other important issues. She does not know street names, buildings and important places in town. Therefore our conversation failed to flow and the date became boring…I want a sharp woman who can run my business. She is not that kind of girl. So, in a way she is not very relevant to me. We have nothing in common.”

Doesn’t anyone, aside from Rachael, go into Mystery Date looking for love anymore? Could the problem be the move from Kyoto to Choma? After all, Choma doesn’t have a swing under the stars like Kyoto…

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Book Club

Wednesday morning my new book club met for the first time at my friend M.’s house in Ntinda. M. had created the group with two other Dutch women, whom I had never met before, and they had chosen What is the What by Dave Eggers before I got involved. Having read the book last year, I spent Monday and Tuesday quickly skimming through the story. In my book wrap-up (link) I failed to mention that my hardcover copy of the book, a Christmas present last year from J, was misprinted. When I got to the last 20 pages, I discovered that every other spread of pages was blank. Just when everything was getting all wrapped up! I had no idea what finally happened to the beleaguered Valentino Achek Deng. At the time I considered writing to McSweeney’s to complain and hopefully get a new book, but I had just moved to Uganda. Where would they send the book? When would I actually get it? Plus, just before leaving for Uganda, I had spent some quality email time with a guy from McSweeney’s customer service (Are they big enough to have customer service? It might have just been some guy who worked there – god knows what his real job was.) about how the copy of The Children’s Hospital I had ordered from them had got lost in the mail and how I was leaving soon and they couldn’t resend it to my office since I no longer worked there and they would have to send it to my parent’s house since it would probably arrive after I had left for Uganda. I already had one enormous McSweeney’s hardcover waiting at home for me, I didn’t feel I needed a second. So I never found out what happened.

Fast forward nearly a year and I am sitting in M.’s living room with M., the two Dutch women, and one of their British friends who is visiting from London. Everyone has read exactly two thirds of the book. No one has reached the end. I am destined not to know how this book ends.

However, we still had a lovely conversation about the book. I enjoyed it perhaps more than anyone else, giving it four stars out of five, while the others gave it three or three and a half stars. Not a huge difference, but I still felt myself somewhat distanced from their reactions. The others said they had difficulty getting into the book, while I picked it up and read it straight through, pretty much fascinated the entire time. Even this second time around, I read the first sentence and thought, that’s a fantastic first sentence. “I have no reason not to open the door so I open the door.” Who’s behind the door? What’s he letting in? It’s evocative and symbolic and sets up a lot of questions. But how to account for the difference in responses between me and the other members of my group?

After reading through my 2007 round-up of books, N. remarked that I seemed to have read a lot of books I loved, that I was very enthusiastic about almost all of the books I had read last year. Am I perhaps too generous in my praise of books? In realizing how difficult it is to write my own novel, have I become overly empathetic to other writers, forgiving them their faults, overlooking their inadequacies while I delight—perhaps too much—in their victories of prose and structure?

Next up is On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. We’ll have to wait and see.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Bubbles, Wednesday, 5:00 PM

With Kabira’s Internet on the fritz this week and tired of paying Ush 10,000 for two hours of Internet time at Rwenzori or Crocodile, I’ve taken to frequenting Bubbles O’Leary more often of late, where a soda water costs Ush 1,500 and the Internet is otherwise free.

On Wednesday I arrived in the late afternoon, just as the school next door was letting out for the day and the street was packed with cars as parents retrieved their children. Bubbles’ parking lot, meanwhile, was nearly empty. Inside nearly ever seat was taken on the bench along the perimeter of the room. Each person sat with a computer open in front of them on the small table, next to the requisite Coke or bottle of water that allowed them to sit there, undisturbed, for as long as they wanted.

I found N. at the bar and took the seat next to him. CNN aired on the television overhead, something about Steven Spielberg that quickly disappeared and was replaced by a piece on the Iranian president. I asked N. what it was all about. He wasn’t sure but it was CNN International, meaning it was on a loop, and all the pieces would re-air in about five minutes. “How long have you been here?” I asked N. “Since noon.” It was now nearly five o’clock.

A few minutes later L. stopped by on her way out. “I’ve been here for hours,” she said, “and I’ve only now just noticed you.” Shortly after that M. came in the front door and stopped by to say hello. “I’ve been seeing you all over town recently,” N. said to her. “Using the Internet,” he explained to me. M. eyed the spot L. had just vacated.

When I left Bubbles, N. still sat at the bar, M. had secured the only empty seat along the wall, and the parking lot was full. I waved to P., waiting patiently to drive N. someplace, and pulled out onto the street, where the students still seemed to be getting out of school, and the parents still hadn’t figured out how to drive. Traffic jam.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Travel: Egypt

Yesterday I borrowed The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton from a friend and came across this passage, written by Gustav Flaubert, regarding a trip he took to Egypt in late 1849:

“It is like being hurled while still asleep in to the midst of a Beethoven symphony, with the brasses at their most ear-splitting, the basses rumbling, and the flutes sighing away; each detail reaches out to grip you; it pinches you; and the more you concentrate on it the less you grasp the whole…it is such a bewildering chaos of colours that your poor imagination is dazzled as thought by continuous fireworks as you go about staring at minarets thick with white storks, at tired slaces stretched out in the sun on house terraces, at the patterns of sycamore branches against walls, with camel bells ringing in your ears and great herds of black goats bleating in the streets amid the horses and the donkeys and the pedlars.”

The description, minus the slaves and plus a few cars, seems to me still oddly fitting.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Mystery Date: Masuud & Pamela

A good one this week, people! What exactly does "detoothed" mean? What is "American height" - short or tall? Look what makes Pamela laugh. Amazing.


What makes you laugh? Jokes

The girl was beautiful but not the kind of woman I want for a wife. I am a reserved person who minds what society thinks of me, but she was too bold in dress and behaviour. She looked too easy – like she had met me before. She drunk a lot of booze almost without end! She had no sense of privacy – she told me a lot of things about herself and it seems she has a lot of problems. She has kids and I don’t know why their father refused to marry her.

But there must be something you liked about her?

I said she was beautiful. I was trying to ignore her boldness when she detoothed me, a stranger, without any embarrassment! She asked for airtime from the counter and told the waiter that I would pay! I was annoyed; I could have refused to pay but I chose not to embarrass her. But that was cheap of her. I lost interest and didn’t even ask her for her phone number. But she kept on asking if I was going to call her again for another outing.

You won’t see her again?
I am not interested. Girls who show me too much interest put me off. Whenever the photographer would show up, she would reach out for my hand like we were lovers, ignoring other people in the bar!

How would you want a girl who has fallen for you to show it?
I want a slower, reserved woman who doesn’t come all out at me. There are many ways a woman can show a man without appearing cheap. At least the very first time, don’t show that you are totally overwhelmed.


What do people find attractive about you?
American height
What makes you laugh? Watching a fight

I was surprised because I did not expect my date to be that groomed. The first impression floored me. The guy was okay; the colour I want, the height, the way he speaks and his intelligence. He is a man who would give you pride to walk with along the street. He is courteous, humourous and I think romantic.

Oh my! Are you describing an angel?
Hold on; I am still telling you: He told me he has a son and other men would have hidden it to get what they want first. So he is truthful. He is also a gentleman. I noticed he felt uncomfortable holding hands

But there must be something that he did wrong!
Nothing. I liked everything I saw. He did everything I wanted.

Would you marry him?

If he asked? Yes.

What if he didn’t ask, what would you do to draw his attention?
I am a very bold person, so I would tell him my feelings. I have ever done it. Am I not a human being? I can never be ashamed of my feelings; they are natural.

What if you asked him and he said no?
Once I have said it, I keep on trying – especially when I know he doesn’t have another girl, till I lose hope. But he would have to be a very stubborn and stone-hearted man to resist me.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Nathan's Birthday

We had a bbq for Nathan's birthday a few weeks ago, just getting to posting these pictures now. Doesn't everyone look adorable? Adorable.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Super Bowl

When we arrived at Just Kicking at 1:30 AM for the highlights from the previous Patriots’ Super Bowl, we were the only group in the bar. We claimed a group of couches directly in front of the large screen projector and ordered a few beers (Red Bull equivalent had previously been consumed in the parking lot). Shortly before kick-off we were joined by another group of about six Americans. The bartender settled in for a long night with his own small television on which he watched alternately skiing and nudie pictures flashed in stills on the screen (different channels, I’m assuming).

No Super Bowl commercials for us. Instead ESPN International showed the same commercials they’ve been showing ever since we started watching American football games in the middle of the night three months ago—“In Their Words,” which features sound bites from aging world sports celebrities either giving advice to aspiring athletes or reminiscing about the glory days (they only have about a dozen in rotation and ESPN seems to favor some over others); an NBA/ESPN commercial featuring Celtics players in an RV watching Hoosiers; and a montage of great soccer goals spanning the last thirty years. Rewind, repeat.

By the end of the game we were too forlorn, too tired, too at loose ends with the world—surely the moon had drifted off course or the sun was about to implode, how else could the Patriots have lost?—to do more than nod our heads at our companions in farewell and pile into the dark Escudo, alone in the empty parking lot before sunrise.

When your team loses a big game, you take some comfort in collective misery. A whole sports nation in mourning together. Each person’s tragedy unique, yes, but softened by a public’s common response. The sound muted, the colors subdued, life on pause. On our drive home we passed people on the street in their nice clothes, walking along the quiet roadsides in the early morning darkness. “They’re going to work,” J said. And I thought, how lucky they are not to feel this way AND damn them for not understanding. There were no muted sounds, no dimming of the brightness, no softening of the colors.

It dawned on me, not for the first time, that this was all our fault. If only we hadn’t been in Uganda, the Patriots would have won. The same way that if we hadn’t been in Uganda the Red Sox would have lost the World Series. Because I wanted to be there for the Red Sox win. Because I wanted to be home for the Patriots loss. The point is, when you’re a sports fan living far removed from your team, you can’t win.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Why It's Impossible to Sleep Late in Uganda, and a Sad, Sad Day for New Englanders the World Over

1. Cats. Having arrived home at 6:30 AM after watching the Super Bowl (pictures, full re-cap tomorrow) we feed the cats and let them outside, bypassing our usual need for one person to wake up early and take care of them. We think we are golden for a nice long stretch of sleep before Joan shows up at noon and J has to go to work. At 8:30 Sarge starts meowing. She climbs up the outer gate and sits on the ledge of the small upper window looking into our bedroom. She sees us in there. She wants to be in there. And she has no problem letting us know it. For what seems like hours. I get up and let her in, thinking she’s after her favorite napping spot under the bed. But oh no, she wants to play. Play and meow. I entertain her while J sleeps, knowing I am being too indulgent but too tired to care.

2. Construction. Someone’s got their hands on some power tools. No more simple ripping apart of stones by hand, there is now full on buzzing and whirring, along with the standard hammering of the tin roofs.

3. Trash. It’s always the trash with me, isn’t it? I’m not sure I ever even concluded the garbage saga for my faithful readers. Long story short: we now separately pay two guys to collect our trash. Simon comes knocking at 10:00 AM. Persistently. I get up and bring him the trash.

4. The road. If it’s not garbage, it’s the roads. I’m a broken record, I know. I should probably read the Cormac McCarthy book—can the horror of his road match the horror of the roads in Kampala? I’m interested to see. So they’re actually repaving the road below our apartment. They started two weeks ago or so. That means they should finish by June or July. Even though they’ve smoothed out most of the potholes, there still seem to be enough for passing trucks to hit, rattle around in, wake us up, and then be on their way. This time I’m up for good.

Pats lose. We get no sleep. Everyone’s cranky today.