About Me

My photo
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 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. 

No comments:

Post a Comment