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?