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.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Our mid-year conference in Cairo has been cancelled due to escalating violence in Egypt. A day later and I would have been on a plane headed for the quagmire. While disappointed not to be meeting with colleagues and fellows, it makes sense to avoid the area based upon the number of protests hitting streets all over the city and beyond on Friday.

check out the link:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12307698

for up to date information regarding the situation in Egypt.

Hope for the best,

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Murchison Falls

Hi, just got back from a fantastic 3-day, 2 night tour of Murchison Falls Nat'l Park in the north of Uganda. Some great people and animal sightings for sure. Not pictured but perhaps most indelible were the two hippos outside my tent eating grass for an hour. A few of us were at the bar when we got word. One of the guides asked us whose tent they were circling and it happened to be mine. Well, mine and Ivan's. Ivan was asleep in bed when he heard rustling, opened the zipper and spotted the beast looking right at him. He didn't go out the rest of the night. Six of us watched in awe as the two hippos moved from tent to tent. I got about ten feet away at one point and then one of them turned and faced me. I walked slowly back and resumed my viewing from the weeds.

Additionally, we saw three lions (a mother and two cubs) stalking buffaloes in the tall savanna grass. We followed them to a shady tree where they yawned and sprawled out in the shade. We also got to see giraffe, six white rhinos, scores of elephants in the savanna and along the shores of the Nile, hundreds of hippos, many crocodiles, lots of buffalo, Ugandan kob, waterbuck, a few colobus monkeys, hundreds of baboons, birds galore, and three friendly warthogs, who were the camp pets for the weekend. Again, no leopards. Where are you leopards???

Oh! And the falls itself were spectacular.

Our van's driver Sam escorted nine Americans to and from the Falls. Two Peace Corps volunteers in the east had family visitors. They all came from UP Michigan and Battle Creek. With my dad's background, I had plenty to chat with them about. A volunteer nurse from St. Louis also was on board; she was spending two weeks in a village, caring for the sick and diseased not far from Kampala.
Another van accompanied us the entire way, consisting of a German couple on their honeymoon (Uganda, Mombasa, Kenya, and Dubai was the itinerary), the groom's sister (a volunteer nurse in Uganda), a Med student from Holland, a Norwegian and Swedish duo from Oslo travelling together, and a nurse from Chicago.

Good times.

if you look close enough, you can see two of the three lions under the right side of the tree

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Children and Jerry Cans

I missed the millipedes, moths, the spiders and gnats, and ants, and safari ants, and...well, even the mosquitoes. They are everywhere now that the dry season is here. I sit and read in the grass, flies attack my knee caps. I stand on the patio...ants use my big toe as a snowboarder uses a mogul. Sit on my couch in the evening to read? Mosquitoes and moths surround me.

Meanwhile, outside is a virtual tour of Frogger 2.0. The skies are filtered with bugs and birds. We have three roosters circling the compound now, too: one cock and two females. That cock is mine! It wakes me up every frickin' three hours with the cock-a-doodle-doo. There is a myth that roosters only crow at dawn. Nope, all day. All day and all night if need be. I'm listening to it right now and it's 4:30 in the afternoon.

The bats of Kyambogo have nearly quadrupled overnight. Thousands of them flutter and taunt the locals at dusk, circling the jackfruit trees on the campuses main drag, screaming lungs and venom soaked fangs aimed right at the locusts they prey upon. Where did they come from? And more importantly, how can we get rid of them?

It's warm outside. Mid-eightees with a 30 percent chance of rooster droppings turning to spider bites by the evening. The sun owns my skin, attacking the moles and freckles on my extremities like a Kardashian attacks a male athlete. I drink lots of water at night, rest during the middle of the day, and try to drink as little caffeine as possible before walking around town. Students are starting to mill around campus, registering for classes, checking last semester's grades, inquiring about electives, and attending meetings with their advisors for academic planning.

The police are out, too. They are now prohibiting all bodas from entering campus, forcing me to walk ten to fifteen minutes to pick up a ride. Elections are a month away, el Shabab is supposedly living and breathing all over Kampala, and the acting President and parliament want no hiccups in the run up to February 18th. I'll be calling in sick that day. Sleeping. Or pretending to.

I had a meeting earlier this week about the semester workshops I am to lead. Connie, Dorothy, and Dok were present. It was a game of verbal tag between the latter two, often jockeying for supremacy and air space with which to voice their opinions and enact their vision on both workshops. Dorothy advocates for the literature department, Dok for the students' writing. I offer my opinion when asked, but mainly wonder what it is these people really hope to accomplish in these conferences? The second workshop's theme morphed from a teacher-training workshop on writing to a political advocation of the importance of literature on college campuses. By the way, guys: I'm not a literature professor. Why am I the keynote speaker in this thing if we are going to call on the Minister of Education to pledge his support of Literature funding? Where exactly do I fit in??

I took a walk this morning and shot these photos of local kids going to the well for water. Hope you enjoy them!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Mafia Island

sunset from the boat, awaiting our taxi to the island

shores of Mafia

This trip occurred over a month ago but wanted to post some pics. If you ever want an island to yourself, with plenty of marine life to last you a week, no hassle from locals, no tourist restaurants or touts, a chance to see whale sharks (between Oct. and Feb.) and great scuba diving, come to Mafia Island, Tanzania. 

It's a 15 hour bus ride from Nairobi, a 3 hour matatu ride from Dar es Salaam, a 4 hour boat ride from Nyamisati, and a fifteen minute pontoon ride from the sand shoals off the island. From there it's a 10 minute tuk tuk ride to The Whale Shark lodge, which has eight cabanas overlooking the Indian Ocean, with a friendly staff and excursions off the island. Most people go to Zanzibar. And with good reason. But this post is not about Zanzibar. It's about Mafia, the estranged younger brother of its tourist sibling to the north, who doesn't shower, doesn't wear nail polish, and never has cocktail parties. But his house is earthy, raw, and there's plenty of food in the fridge.
Spanish and Italian travlers I met on the boat from the mainland. We hung.

8 meter whale shark coming to scare the crap out of us.

Enzo and gf at dinner after our whale shark trip. From Napoli, It.

Whale Shark Lodge owner, Marco, drinking with buddies after hours.

Marco's kids awaiting our return from the whale shark adventure.

Sunset from the lodge.

Pork, rice, and beers after a long day on the Indian Ocean.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Back For More

I’m back in Kampala. Back off the frigid cold winds of Chicago, the gray, dank, raw mornings of the Puget Sound, the fantastic winter wonderland of Whistler. I’m back from the biting dawn of historic Istanbul, with cold winds from the Bosphorus and frumpy, Greco-roman men hulking toward the nearest hardware shop. I stepped off the plane in Entebbe last Sunday morning and immediately realized – again – that weather would be no worry for the next five months. I wouldn’t have to search for gloves or mittens or wool or fleece until September at the earliest. I smelled the vegetation and the grass and the life all around me. Immediately.

In Kyambogo, I arrived to an overcast, silent Sunday; my bags were filled with electronics and literature and music from the three weeks in the first world. It took me a few minutes to realize where I was. I took a walk after eating, smelling the orchids and wild flowers, watching the crimson and orange butterflies fluttering from mango tree to hibiscus and then back to mango. I waved at the shouts of mzungu from the local boys, swinging off jackfruit trees, desperately idle and patiently waiting for an excuse to run wild on the streets. In the sky there were cranes and eagles and kingfishers. The wind drew lazy breezes across the porch; sweeping me from intoxication to numbness as I flung the crust from beneath my eyelids. I had slept seven hours the past 72, nursing cracked ribs from a snowboarding spill the week before.

Nobody was around. Dan’s iron door was bolted and locked. Students were upcountry, in villages, at home, in bed; they would return soon for their second semester. But for now, it was a ghost town.

On Monday morning, I woke up early and boiled water in preparation for my bath and coffee. Routine. Our Literature department meeting was scheduled for ten a.m.

While I was gone, there had been changes. The main street’s ditches on campus were dug up and then cemented. A tarmac sidewalk had been set and dried. Mounds of red dirt lined both sides of the road. And no one was burning plastic. My doing? I imagine it was just coincidence.

Dr. Okaka was seated in the secretary’s chair in the Lit Department office upstairs from mine. He shook my hand and immediately went into his main holiday anecdote: his laptop was stolen. Stolen from his locked car five minutes after he'd gone into buy groceries. No trace. No clues. No hope. He was trying to recover files and documents and work from the past semester. The look of dispair on his face and the wrinkles on his forehead revealed the aging process. I wondered how old he really was. Today, it seemed more than three weeks before.

 I was the first teacher to arrive for the meeting. I saw Patrick limp across the courtyard holding a black bag in his right hand. Was he going somewhere? He never returned. Sister Frances was still recovering from a stomach operation. Also a no show.  Benon, my office mate, showed up twenty minutes late, still 4’4”, grinning at my appearance, warmly offering a happy new year greeting when our hands met. Chris, the stout poet/scholar was wearing a bright yellow tee shirt with President Museveni’s mug on the breast pocket: campaigning even at work. His black stubble wore gray off his chin, plump forearms with massive hands massaging his chin once the conversation turned from vacation to politics. Dr. Kumanajara arrived a few moments later, smiling sweetly and taking place in the seat next to me. There were six cramped chairs lined against the wall in the office and once everyone had arrived, the temperature rose considerably.

Dr. Okaka and I seem to have an unspoken understanding. He has lived in America and he understands our culture. Whenever chitchat moves contentiously toward disagreement, he will peer over at me and smile, as if to say “We both know the truth, but let’s let them continue anyway.” It’s not as if the others are ignorant or misguided. In fact, sometimes I have no idea what the conversation is about. I think Dok thinks I do and acknowledges my silence as disagreement. Far from it.
After tea, chapatti and biscuits were served, we divvied up the workload. Once again, the restrictions on curriculum precluded my ability to teacher train anyone this semester. However, the meeting was a victory in comparison to the previous semester. I am to share a creative writing class with Dr. Kumanjara and spearhead an effort to open a Writing Center on campus. The second objective will be my primary focus for the next five months. I have no physical center to use, no promise of a classroom, and no assistant to share my load. It will be entirely up to me. Any suggestions are welcomed. 

“Let me know if you want to meet to discuss the Creative Writing class. I'll be here all week,” I suggested, once the proceedings were over. 
Dr. Kumanjara looked at me kindly and spoke slowly. “Yes, but not this week. Perhaps next week.”


I took a long walk yesterday to read my book and eat some dinner, ending up sauntering past frothy, mosquito-ridden ponds with milky green palm trees and elephant grass up to my ankles. I watched thousands of bats circle the sky at dusk, shrieking and crying above me as I constantly checked my back. Thank God I had received my rabies shots. No attack, however. I moved down towards the cricket pitch, where two teenage girls were throwing their sticks up at a sullen mango tree, hoping to wrest one of its pulpy, green prizes from the foliage above. No luck. I snapped a photo of them and moved on.

I forgot how beautiful this place is. I forgot how much there is to see here. Even in the quiet, away from the tempest of the center of Kampala, bereft of semester stress, teaching duties and office politics, the beauty is right out in front of me. Every day. I was kicking myself for not taking these walks every evening.