Thursday, July 29, 2010


WARNING: the following is definitely more of a book than a simple blog entry. Please refrain from embarking on it if you are not well endowed with time and probably a light snack.

Oh my goodness finally! I’ve been trying to write this blog for so long and I keep getting thwarted. The internet in Uganda is very patchy and I couldn’t find a good connection the whole time we were there. I was planning to write as soon as we arrived, cause we made a split second decision to go and I knew many people wouldn’t know where we had gotten to. Then every time I tried to write or upload pictures, the internet would go out or the power would shut off before I could finish. It was very frustrating and a couple of times I spent quite a bit of money and got almost nothing done.
Now I’ve made it to Tanzania, so things are a little better. But so much has happened that I’m a little daunted by the idea of recounting it all. But I really want to, as much for myself as for all those who are following my blog. I don’t keep a journal, so I’m planning to print all these notes out one day and keep them as a memorandum.
Like I said, Bobo and I decided kind of last minute that we would go for a trip. We had been doing a lot of work for Nuru and Bobo was getting annoyed that I started every morning with “What are we doing for Nuru today?” For myself, I had been getting frustrated with the way things always seemed to take longer than I wanted. I only have so much time and when things didn’t get done, I started to feel frustrated. With the generally slow pace of life in Mombasa (they call it “African Time”, but I think it applies to pretty much every tropical region in the world), this was pretty much inevitable. I also started to think about some of the other things I had been planning for this summer. I had been tentatively hoping to visit Uganda and I found out finally that my professor would be in Dar es Salaam on the 18th of July to work on some research. Bobo was the one who suggested we go for a trip, and I was hesitant at first cause there is just so much that I wanted to do for Nuru, and I knew that it wouldn’t happen if we were not there. But on the other hand, I came here to have a holiday too. What’s the fun of working all year so I can come to Africa and work some more and then go back to school? So, the night before our friend Ali was planning to drive to Kampala, we made the decision to hitch a ride with him. We left our chairman in charge and packed up our things, leaving at five in the morning on Saturday the third. We planned to make a round trip through Uganda and into Tanzania via the western side of Lake Victoria. That way we could visit my friends that I worked with in Uganda in 2008 and reach Dar in time to spend some time with my professor. Then we could be back in Mombasa by August to work on a few last things before my departure on the twelfth. So far, things have gone according to plan. I’ve felt pressed for money and time, though, and I still feel acutely that I’m not able to do everything I would like. It’s funny when you’re travelling, cause every time you stay somewhere it feels like so long. If you stay for a weekend in one place, it feels like a lifetime, and the people you meet feel like lifelong friends. But time also seems to go by way to quickly. I can’t believe there’s only like a week left of July!! I was talking with my professor today about how I would like to get a job here so that I could stay here for longer, like maybe a year. He said I should be careful cause once I have job I won’t necessarily have time to do all the things I want. I guess the trick is to get a job I care about and not one that is just a means to an end. He suggested I become a professor and do research over here, the way he does. That way I can spend my time learning about the culture here and immersing myself in it, and I’ll get paid for it too. I guess that’s the idea that drew me here to learn about what he does in TZ. I’ll let you all know how I feel about that life choice after a little more time in Dar.
But I’m definitely rambling. These are just some things that have been on my mind today. But I wanted to tell you guys about some of the great things that we did in Uganda. We had a lot of fun there. So let me get on that.
The trip with Ali was interesting. The highway to Kampala only has two lanes – one for each direction – and there are tons of slow moving trucks carrying petroleum, logs, multiple containers from the port, etc. Most of the cars weave in and out of the trucks and the oncoming traffic. Ali has a lot of experience, but its still quite a hair raising trip. We drove through the night, from five o’clock am on Saturday to 8 am on Sunday when we arrived at the border. Ali left the window open the whole time so he would stay awake, and I froze in the back seat. But I didn’t want to ask him to close it cause Ali staying awake on that highway was more important than me sleeping. When we got to the border, Bobo and I got a room at a guest house so we could have a nap while Ali dealt with the customs officials. I’m not sure if Ali had a nap too or if things just took forever, but we didn’t get across the border until about 3pm. I mean, Bobo and I were across the border by then, but we had to wait and drink Nile Specials for quite a while while we waited. Laurie was waiting to meet us in Kampala, and she was a bit annoyed that we didn’t get there until like six. We called her when we got to our meeting place and she was about ten minutes away. Bobo said “if she knew how much we had waited today, she wouldn’t make us wait” and I said “we were like seven hours late to meet her so I think she’s more than entitled to ten minute of lateness”.
We stayed that night in Laurie’s friend Tom’s family’s village house outside Kampala. It was a beautiful big house with a manicured garden, three bedrooms, a huge kitchen and a generator. There was even a whole separate house for the caretaker and his family. Tom and his sister Maria were cool and we had a great time all hanging out together, except I think they thought Laurie and I were a bit crazy when we went running and cartwheeling all over the lawn and climbing the trees in the yard. Maybe we are a bit crazy.
The next day we went to Nkozi, a village two hours south of Kampala, which is home to the Uganda Martyrs University and the Edirisa Gardens. Edirisa is the organization that I worked for for three months in 2008, and for which Laurie continues to work. I had never been to the Edirisa Gardens before so I got to see it for the first time. They run a small bar and kitchen there, and they have a studio where they record interviews, radio shows and music and put it all together on high-tech computers. Laurie has a desk there where she does most of her research and article-writing for Studio Edirisa. They’re on facebook if you want to check them out. Laurie has a small one-room apartment there with an extra single bed that Bobo and I shared for a few days. She also has a small stove and she cooked for us a lot. Thanks again for that, Laurie!
The weekend after arriving in Nkozi, we planned a trip to the Ssese Islands in Lake Victoria. We hitched a ride on the back of a pickup truck down to Bucedde (Buccade? Bucacedde?) Anyway, we took a ferry from there to Kalangala Island (I remember that name cause Bobo had a great time saying Kalangala over and over, and then when we triend to get him to say Kabalagala, he kept saying Kablagala. That probably doesn’t make sense, but just trust me, it was funny). Bobo was terrified of the boat ride over cause we swayed a little, and there were no qualified lifeguards on board. Then we missed the last Matatu so we had to take a crazy hour long ride across the island on the back of motorbikes on the dirt road in the dark. Poor Laurie bruised up her butt sitting behind me cause she hit the bar at th back of the sea every time we went over a bump.
We stayed at this campground called Hornbill which had a great little beach and a bunch of little wooden huts that you could rent for the night. The place was run by these crazy Germans who smoked and drank a lot. The man especially. He showed us some old newspapers detailing his arrest and imprisonment on charges of drug possession, and his wife told us he’d been in and out of jail in South Africa as well for the 20 years that they lived there. Apparently she has a jail bag which she keeps ready for him with all the things he’ll need with him if he gets arrested. He kept telling Bobo and I “No sex on the bar” and suggested that we were in some kind of exploitative sugar-mama and beach boy sort of relationship. He also waxed eloquent about Laurie’s chest. They were very friendly people, but quite eccentric. Maybe that’s what happens if you live on a tiny island in the middle of Africa for too long.
We also went swimming in the lake there, which was gorgeous. It’s like swimming in a clear, salt-free ocean. Even Bobo came in. I guess we should all get tested for whatever that parasite is that lives in Lake Victoria. Remind me to do that when I get home. Bobo and I played some soccer on the beach and I lost, so I had to buy him a Brazil jersey. He loves Brazil. When I got too tired and when to lie in the sun, Bobo started playing with some local kids and taught them a few skills.
On the second day, we were looking for some local food in the village and we followed this crowd down to the water where they had discovered the body of a boy who had gone missing two days before. The story was that the canoe the two of them had been bringing charcoal in from the mainland had capsized. One boy made it back and the other one never showed up. Until two days later, anyway. We didn’t go close enough to see him in the water, but many people did. People who knew him I guess, or maybe just people with morbid curiosity. Like people who stand around watching a house burn down. They brought him wrapped up on the ferry the next morning. The same one we took.
After the Ssese Islands, we packed up and went down to Kabale where I used to stay. It was really awesome to see all my friends there again. I took Bobo out to Lake Bunyonyi where we swam and sun bathed and stayed in my old mud hut. We canoed around in a dugout canoe, and I showed Bobo how to paddle it. He had a great time, and I think some of his fear of water went away. Its hard to be scared at Lake Bunyonyi cause it’s so beautiful there. In fact I forgot how much I liked it there, and I really wish I had had more time. I would really like to go back and stay for longer another time.
On our last night in Kabale, we all went out to the old club, Match and Mix, where we used to go in 2008, and to a new club in town called Pine. Laurie and Comfort had even come down from Nkozi and we all danced together like we used to. It was really fun.
The next morning, Bobo and I left early for Tanzania. The journey was a bit crazy. Travelling itself has been a bit stressful overall during the last month, for me because I hate getting overcharged and given the wrong information, which I often am as a white person, and for Bobo cause he’s not used to journeys being so unplanned. Getting into a town you don’t know and trying to figure out where to go from there and the best way to get where you want to be when you don’t know the language or the prices or anything is not something Bobo had ever done, and it was definitely straining. But we got to see and do a lot of awesome stuff because of it, so I’m not focusing on that. Plus Bobo got a chance to see what it’s like to be a foreigner. If he ever comes to visit me in Canada maybe he’ll be a little more prepared.
And troubles or no troubles, we made it to Dar es Salaam and met up with my professor Vinay Kamat, a Medical Anthropologist who does research on Malaria and other illnesses in the rural areas around Dar. That brings me to where I started. I certainly have some adventures in Dar to recount, but I think those will have to wait for another blog. This one is plenty long, as I am quite sure you’ll agree.
As always, thanks for reading and I hope you are all enjoying your summers.
Till next time