About Me

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I teach abroad and continue to pursue the life I was given as if it was my last. Many people think it is. In my spare time, I enjoy lapping up ice cream, reading spy novels, and euthanizing manta rays.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The first two days

Indoor Camping and Down-home Hospitality

“Doc” and Sister Frances were waiting with huge smiles and a simple sign that read Mattew Mulka in pencil. I didn’t correct their spelling. I could have but I didn’t think that would be the prudent move. Not in Uganda. Not this Uganda.

The view from my front porch
Sister Frances and I this morning
Frances was wearing convent-issue blue, a habit on her skull and had a large motherly hug for me, as if I was one of her own  I felt at home right away. Doc would give me a hug before the night was out, too. A nicer man I couldn’t have asked for. He stood 6’2” with a wide, fleshy nose, dark, warm eyes and a huge laugh that revealed a gap between his front teeth; endearing if not modelesque. The two of them escorted me to the embassy vehicle with plenty of seating for the four of us, bags full of snacks, and my luggage. 

The streets were alive with locals walking up and down the shoulder of the streets. We passed huts, dim alleys and raucous night markets on our drive toward the capital. People appeared seemingly out of the darkness into large congregations, making the conversation in the van hard to follow as I scanned the road for menacing danger, women holding baskets of bananas on their heads, and other oddities. It felt as if we were in a new cauldron of humanity and I had a matchbook.

Once we reached town, we got out to get a bite to go at Café Javas, a modern establishment that could have passed for a chic Paris or L.A. juice bar, save the young guards holding automatic rifles in the parking lot. Young couples, distinguished families, and packs of gregarious teenagers sat all around us. Even though I was the only white man in the joint, nobody stared, gawked, scoffed or batted an eyelid.

The center of Kampala, even at 9:30 at night, was a frenzy of commotion. Dusty roads and thousand of pedestrians made their way from corner to shop corner, carrying goods, talking, and moving in and out of traffic without disruption. The road turned from dusty asphalt to red dirt once we were inside the university. 

Kyambogo U. looked the part of a sprawling compound on top of large bluff overlooking one of Kampala’s seven hills. Doc pointed the departments as we drove by.
 “There is the French department, sir…the university chapel, the Business department, the English department, Curriculum Planning, Art Design, Drama department…”
All of the buildings looked like private homes, not university buildings with ivy walls, cedar desks and blackboards. Still, the community was inviting and comforting, much the same as Mr. Drummond was to Arnold and Willis Jackson in those early years of "Different Strokes". 

We took two lefts, passed an open gate as our Toyota rolled down a small clay road, over pot holes and then parked next to a plot of land with two shanty rooms flanking the house I’d be living in for the next ten months.

My security guard, Dan, was dressed in tiger striped sweatpants, a green flannel, and simple sandals. His ivory smile lit up the night, greeting me cordially with a shake of the hand and escorting the three of us into the house. His veins were the size of pipe tubing and his countenance revealed virtue and honesty.

The first thing I noticed were the floors; cement from room to room.  The walls were bare, with beige and olive drapes closed over windows in each of the six rooms. The scent of fresh paint dominated the first moments we cased the place. 

Frances and Doc had gone ahead and bought “food stuffs” for my first couple nights: a loaf bread, rolls, butter, orange juice, a tin of instant coffee, tea, a pineapple and a couple of avocados. While the sister inspected the kitchen, Doc and I set up the mosquito netting onto my bed frame.

There was no running water so Dan took the liberty of heating up stored water from three large plastic containers. Once there was enough for a bath, he poured it into a small basin and let me clean up in the bathtub. Visions of 1988 and our family's bathing ritual in Kobe, Japan ran through my bed as I disrobed and cleaned up after the day of travel. Once I had finished, Dan and I sat and talked for a few minutes before he let me unpack and get ready for bed.

Quick note on Dan: he appeared ready to take a bullet for me. He is from the northwest of Uganda (an area known for rebel violence in the past) and he speaks a different language than Frances or Doc. His wife’s family shares a brick hut behind us while he had his own room with tv that adjoined the house. I didn’t ask why.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Main square at Kyambogo University

I woke up at four to eat my dinner, then passed out until I heard the chirping of birds outside my window at a quarter after nine. Soon, laying in a warm room surrounded by mosquito netting, other sounds emerged. Men’s voices, then laughter, then the occasional automobile, then more voices, until a symphony of an audible world outside my bedroom brought me to my senses. I was in Uganda. Now it was time to see what that really meant...

Walking around campus was an out of body experience. Not only was I the only white man on campus, but I seemed to be the only guy wearing sunglasses, shorts and flip flops. Had I made my first international taboo? Was I in for a stern cultural lecture? Actually NO and NO. I traipsed through the library (more stares, a few smiles), the arts and design building (met an artist who said I was cool), and the main drag on campus (more friendly stares and curious looks).  The place was beautiful, green, lush, full of shade, and just so damn different. It’s hard to put it into words how free and far away it feels. I can’t imagine being dropped off in a nicer place.
Outside the Art and Design building
Path at the edge of campus

Grassy study nook leading up to my house
Soccer field overlooking one of Kampala's 7 hills
The taxi station where boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis) can take you away

On the walk back to the house I heard Sister Frances before I saw her. She was sitting on the porch, blue nunnery gear once again, asking how "Mattew was". 
We proceeded to try to solve the many issues confronting me as I try to blend in: no running water, a toilet that doesn't flush, white geckos climbing on the walls, no bathroom sponges, no internet or phone services, and too many tomatoes in my fridge. By five p.m. I was spent and besides a sponge we had done some damage to the "to do" list. 

Sign outside the Art building on campus

Now I'm listening to a preacher speak to a chapel full of parishioners on campus as I search my house for things to eat. 

1 comment:

  1. MATT! You are awesome. I love this and can't wait to read more! I will live vicariously through you the next few months. Btw, are you Willis or Arnold??!! and you have your very own security guard? whoa. take care!