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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.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Around Kampala

I looked out the window and saw the storm, ancient, apocalyptic, and foreboding. Clouds were the color of charcoal, skirting over lake Victoria, across munyonyo bay and towards lush, green and defenseless kampala. It was earlier in the morning that I had had a plan…go to the market, buy slippers, drink coffee, grade papers, take a ride to khaddafi’s mosque…then relax. but the storm dictated its own schedule. 

The power went out before the first drops of rain hit my iron roof, a quarter to twelve. Winds hurtled towards ggaba, then kabalagala, rose up over the hills of muyenga and kansanga and then down into the valley and center of the capital. By the time the eye hit banda and kyambogo, the sky was nearly pitch black. my drapes flowed like robes of Saudi princes, shutters snapped open and shut as I searched the drawers for the matches.

I lit a candle and continued reading. I was nearly finished and had been furiously anticipating the climax of the latest novel, hoping to get through it and still leave the afternoon free. The wax dripped off the wick and onto the coffee table as I strained to focus on the pages in front of me. Outside, a torrential downpour mixed with wind gusts, thunderclaps and falling branches distracted. as i looked out the window i saw a student taking refuge on my patio, smiling appreciatively at my hospitality. The gutter overflowed, spewing mud, random twigs and cascading rain water into a large swirling pool the color of french open clay. Cranes and hawks squawked, heading for refuge in the foliage of the mango tree. church music stopped. cars got off the road.

this went on for a good ninety minutes, as i stretched out on the couch and kept reading. 

After it was over, the skies remained grey. The power was still off. thus began the almost daily ritual of campus drying itself off. 

by 1:30, The familiar purr of boda engines signaled life had returned to normal and it was okay to go out and do stuff. So I did.

i had a brief chat with a student as i ate lunch in the center of town once it was safe to travel. nangos is a downstairs pizzeria and coffee shop off kampala road. Jared dropped me there so I could get some lunch and finish my book. I spoke with alex for a few minutes before resuming my lunch and dipping into a few more essays. he was getting ready for work and had heard i was at a table outside. the job was paying his tuition and giving him money for food. 

I walked back to garden city shopping center after my meal. It was still reasonably calm and cool in the city and traffic was at a minimum. I walked past men selling phone credit and newspapers, past closed bookstores, gas stations and a dominoes pizza. A woman held her baby on a strap, the newborn clutching her mother’s neck as her fading orange heels clomped down the cement sidewalk. i sidestepped puddles of mud, hungry vendors, bodas, and boys on bicycles. vultures with beaks the size of pilons congregated on a willow tree in the middle of the street, occasionally soaring above the two- story mechanic shop toward a pile of garbage and empty water bottles. 

i've managed to see more of the city this week. i saw port bell and miami beach, home of bell brewery and the most depressing harbor since "goonies". rumor had it a cargo ship allowed tourists the unique opportunity of an overnight boat trip to tanzania. i inquired at the boat launch early tuesday morning. Outside security, four men and two women were playing cards in a circle, hunched over a spot of driftwood, furiously focused on the next man's play. they immediately dropped what they were doing when they saw me, sweating and smiling, asking to see about a ship for mwanza. 
"mzungu. you are welcome..."
"where do the boats launch?"
"Green portable down on the left by the water. talk to the man inside. you are welcome. boda must wait outside."

while jared sat on his ride and kept watch, i went to case the joint. the smell of hay, urine, farm animals and the lake was pungent. i passed the customs office and immigration. two goats playfully tussled in the weeds, running at and then away from one another. a chain link fence ran the entire side of the port. off in the distance were metal factories and the brewery,  sasquatch sized savannah grasses and the smell of a distant beach. closer by, two tug boats were anchored onto a rickety dock. there was a crew on one of them, dressed in matching blue work clothes, idly staring at me as i waved. it must've been nearing ninety and it wasn't yet 10 a.m.

"NO chance."
"No chance?" I repeated.
"not much business these days and we never know when the boats come in. sometimes it's once a month. sometimes none. you can't plan on it."
"Mm," I said. 
An apparent dead end. One of my favorite travel writers, paul theroux, had taken the trip across lake victoria ten years ago. i thought i might do the same. 
"you can call mr. ogiya every week if you are looking to go later this year or next winter. but i can't promise you anything. we unload cargo, reload it, then the crew turns around. there is no schedule. you see it's not for people like you..."
"Mm," i repeated. "Who is this mr. ogiya?"

I thanked mr. ogiya for his time and took down his number. 

later in the week, i took a boda south to munyonyo and speke resort, a sprawling lakeside hotel 40 minutes from campus. it had a dominican, cuban vibe going as we neared the coast, lots of dingy bars, palm trees, rustic huts, and people sitting on their chairs watching cars go by. no baseball but plenty of soccer fields outside every primary school we passed. the air was cooler too...almost, dare i say, chilly. but no, this is east africa. and i am still not cold. never. not once in two months. 

on friday, i finally poked my head into church and a 45 minute catholic mass at midday. besides fouling up communion (wine-soaked hosts anyone?) and nearly snapping my ankle as i knelt on a two-by-four, i remembered the service quite nicely. stand, sit, kneel, pray, listen, nod, stand, sing, kneel, stand, pay, receive, pray, and exit. i couldn't understand much of what the priest was saying. his accent was thick and perhaps from the north. i heard him mention something about opening up your toilet to thine neighbor and then muted laughter...i smiled and looked around. most people were watching me, not him. 

it'll be two months wednesday since i arrived. one fifth of the way through this odyssey. seems like a lot. i still have so much to see and do and teach and learn. it's kind of overwhelming. but i am upbeat about the prospects of a new week. 

i've also learned to make rice, boil potatoes and carrots. dinners are shaping up nicely. i also have aspirations to host some sort of a thanksgiving turkey outside my place if i can manage to coerce esther at the guest house to cater the thing. i am currently looking for butcher shops around kampala that sell turkeys. stuffing could be a whole 'nother challenge. 

peace in the middle east

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