A Travellerspoint blog


A century lived in a day. Visits to local officials, sitting in the cramped sweltering jeep listening to Carissa try to negotiate the return of her bags with Egypt Air and security at Entebbe (is it the baggage people refusing to give the Egypt Air man the luggage or Tariq refusing to pick them up despite the letters? ANd where is Tariq?) Meeting with the social worker, interminable, surreal budget meeting ("how many people can sit around a million schilling table?"), wondering why our project directive seems so opaque to the man who's supposed to be our lead on the ground (who is in fact in Sudan), hot walk to the project to try to get some exercise. John Kamul from the hotel who promises to take me to the Rwenzori hills next time I'm here.

The tension between really describing the truth of the minutaie of the project, which seems like a snarl of eels, the edible ones indistinguishable from the mildly electric, nothing straightforward, nothing as we imagine it might be, everything a sidestep, and knowing that the people who support us have north american lenses. Not trusting my own lenses anymore, not knowing where I filter for the truth of development that the experienced soldiers reassure me of, or where I should be standing up and weeping.

And tonight, the children. The children. THe little ones singing the pragmatic songs of africa. "When you meet and elephant, what do you do? Nothing but PRAY." They drop to their knees, giggling. The big kids telling us their truths, truly trusting us, everyone in tears, everyone drawing us pictures of love such as I've never received before. Two of them drawing pictures of me. Derrick plastered to my side, carefully folding everyone else's love letters to me, to the Canadians.

Six year old Moses' picture, in six pieces, explained to blair. This is a maple leaf. And this is a house. And this a flower. And this is the ugandan flag. And this is a steer. And this is someone chopping. The chopping is a stick figure, with machete, another figure on the ground splashing blood.

I have never felt so much like I don't know what the hell I'm doing in my life. Tonight I sobbed.

Posted by CateinTO 13:23 Comments (4)


Later the same day, which seems impossible -- incredibly full day. After our trek to town and the internet cafe which functions because it has its own generator, but which therefore carries constant construction-level noise, we went back to the project. The kids had a full slate of Entertainments for us.

First, the little kids ran a race, 5 at a time, where they stuck their faces in basins of water, filled their mouths with water, then ran to the other end of the compound and spit the water into empty coke and fanta bottles. They ran back and forth, racing to see who filled his or her bottle first.

While we were watching this, Derrick peeled a mango for me, and kept grinning at the privilege. I gave him my swiss army knife and showed him how to use purell, but I'm sure it was more bacterial onslaught.

I feel like a human swiss army knife right now, since carissa and yarina still don't have their luggage. They're both wearing the single outfits they bought in kampala, yarina a white tshirt with a huge hole in the seam where she tried to rip out a scratchy tag, and carissa a kid's tank top with little elephants on it. They're both filthy and remarkably good natured, considering that they lack clothes, shoes other than flip flops, sunscreen, hats, deet, the video camera, moisturizer -- all of the little luxuries that cushion the culture shock. And here I am, pulling wipes, sunscreen, purell, a knife, instant coffee, extra camera batteries, a raincoat, pens, etc. out of my bag. They were particularly bedraggled on our wandering lost walk today, where it poured on us and people kept directing us to Save the Children when we asked where the Care office was. (No one knows our project, but it's next to Care). This is when the man stopped his car to videotape the phenomenon of us -- I have a great picture of Carissa asking for directions, covered in schmutz thrown up from her flipflops on the muddy road, while being videotaped.

Turns out that our social worker and her intern saw us lost, but just figured we were going to Save the Children, and didn't stop us.

I feel oddly confident about wandering the streets, even lost -- last year I wouldn't have walked, but this year I feel the community is porous. People might not speak english, or know how to help us, but they'll try. I'll try to figure out how to post pics, because the family that let us use their shelter was ... vivid.

As are our kids. After the coke bottle race, we had two hours of performances. First, a nikibasika anthem that someone wrote for us, which they sing standing up with their hands over their hearts. Then heartfelt songs of thanks, and the capper was a long (very long) play with the big kids, depicting the exemplar story of how the kids came to be with us. One of the big girls I hadn't met before (she was away last year) was the "star," the child who started out with a loving mother and daddy, but whose mother then died pitifully. The daddy professed to love her, taking a new wife who vowed to love her. The new wife abused the girl, hitting her with a shoe and loving her new baby -- a real baby, daughter of the cook, who was treated pretty much as a prop, set down on the side of the stage when her scene was done. She bore it well, investigating the water cups that were props from the loving time early in the girl's life. So the new wife beats the girl and won't give her food, and then her daddy dies of AIDS (news delivered by a giggling and self-conscious Brendah). Then she ends up on the street, eating from the rubbish, and a self-annointed "nigga girl." Eventually, after no one helps her, when she can't remember her name or her parents' names or her home village anymore ("I come from the street,") she finds nikibasika, and friends, and a shower, and the Canadians.

The play was far too long -- and the most important thing I've ever seen. It's really the core narrative of our kids, so far -- and making this play, telling their stories, is the work of our new and fabulous social worker, Tina. They've never had a safe place to talk about their histories before.

After the play, more of everything we do -- songs, poetry ("Corruption," intoned Madam Melon), drawing, netball for the girls (I'm awful at it), football for the boys (balls were bought at lunchtime). Posho, beans and greens, which we picked at, reminding them that they give muzungu too much food. Small, tight, full conversations with different kids in turn, reaching into the focus they crave. Answerng questions: "you have 45 years and you are without children? SURE? What is your religion? You don't go to church? They don't let you go to church because you don't have children? Sure?)

("Sure" means "are you kidding?" and is said like shu-ah? with an air of incredulity).

So many images -- Brian weeping with headache and fatigue after a few weeks' bout of malaria that prompted the director and social worker to take him back to his village to see the relatives Just in Case. Bolshie, cheeky mary: "where'd you get that hair," I asked, since she suddenly showed up with extensions, courtesy of the german woman who slips her pocket money but won't give us money for school fees. "A gift from god," she said. "Your red nails too?" I asked. Moses shying away from carissa until she pulled him to her and said "you know I'm always coming back, right?" Brendah and Baptista overwhelmed with the supplies special for them, the budding artists. The children healthy, more confident, more joyful, open -- all so much better, so much hope, so much gratitude. What the money and our support is doing -- it's working the way it's supposed to.

"I don't have children because I was supposed to have all of you," I said to Robina and Docas when they were quizzing me. They smiled their grins, and I remembered what Jimmy said to me when he lost his auntie -- that she was one of his mothers. I feel I am one of their mothers, to each of them, even for a few minutes a year -- they know we're going to keep coming back, that they are in our hearts when we're not here.

Sure? Sure.

Posted by CateinTO 10:53 Comments (3)

10 more minutes

"How many vehicles do we need?" "Two, I have a lot of luggage." "You think we just need one vehicle?" "We need two, I have a lot of bags." "Should I get a second vehicle?" "One isn't enough."

We drove 7 hours, of course, in one vehicle.

This is what it is, where I start to see how much command/control we infuse NA life with even when we don't think we are. We say "I'm in a hurry" and we expect the person behind the desk to interpret that as "stop folding that receipt so meticulously and just hand it over." But here, "I'm in a hurry" is a statement about you, separate from the person you're talking to, not a request for some kind of coordination.

Muzungo learn to slow down or to get very frustrated very quickly.

The ride yesterday was long, dusty, bumpy, Carissa, Yarina and I crammed in the back seat of the tiny suzuki jeep. SLOW HUMPS every 500 metres for about an hour. The perfect other-worldly transition from Kampala city, where we spent far too much time driving around trying to make arrangements with Egypt Air about C&Y's lost luggage, registering at the consulate, visiting my travel agent, buying peanut butter -- requesting "multitasking" that was laughable when Gabriel failed to notice that Carissa was still at the airline and drove away without her. "IF you don't hear me talking, I'm not in the car!" she said.

The journey took us to darkness, part of the time four of us muzungo passed out from gravol while Gabriel drove us around, but awake enough to see the tea plantations (beautiful, and they pay their workers "very badly" according to Gabriel), the dusty villages, a man on a boda boda carrying six living room chairs. Awake enough for me to hang my head out the window like a dog, dust in eyes and reflecting that what felt like it fit last year, social worlds that are what they could be, read as pure poverty now. A little boy running by the side of the road in a shabby, ripped, filthy tshirt that probably was once on the back of a north american grown man.

Realizing that what's to be "feared" about africa isn't the people, but the frailty of the infrastructure. When gabriel skidded over one of the road humps ("it ambushed me") and only managed to right the jeep, realizing that in a road accident, no one would know what to do. This is a country where the concept of paramedics is laughable -- where we passed through the metal detectors at the consulate and we all beeped, but no one tried to figure out why, or looked in the bags we passed around the machine. But three of them were doing their jobs.

Green mountains, dust, and an amazing moment of connection with a family -- two women, 7 or 8 children -- when we got lost walking to the project this morning. Four well fed muzungo, 2 the blondest blondes you might imagine, walking up and saying "I'm lost." No english, and they couldn't tell us where the CARE office was (next door to our project), but laughing uproariously with us as we shared the shelter of their porch, watched a little girl scamper through the mud to place a plastic bucket to catch the rain.

No more time, and so much to say about the kids. "I didn't really think you'd come back, Auntie," whispered abdu. I cried seeing them yesterday as I didn't when I left last year. They're inside me, and I had almost forgotten.

Posted by CateinTO 02:23 Comments (3)

4 mins on internet

The kids screamed and tumbled out of the house, piling on us with hugs yelling AUNTIE. Most amazing moment of my life.

3 mins in internet cafe left, all is perfect, carissa and yarina have no luggage and we got lost walking to the project this morning. A local man in a suit got out of his car and filmed the crazy muzungu lost in the rain.

Life is perfect.

Posted by CateinTO 02:16 Comments (0)

In kampala

(blog site was down)

I’m wakeful and hallucinatorily asleep at the same time.

Last year my flight to Entebbe felt like an adventure in itself — this year, it felt like a plane ride. Partly the slight familiarity of it, and partly that the crowded, overheated BA flights and a rapidfire turnaround at heathrow didn’t have the same air of cool other-wordliness of boarding the more serene, shinier KLM planes. Traveling with Blair also made it more like something I was doing routinely — chatted about life in general, his day in london, work pressures, my lovelife, rather than the more rarefied conversations about What are You going to Africa about. Last year my conversation with the african american prof from syracuse who was going to africa for the first time was an awe-ful stage in the journey itself.

My air of familiarity was reinforced by this being Blair's first trip to africa, although he was the one who figured out which passport line we should be in. $50, fancy stamp, not even a question about why we're in Uganda. Shameful amounts of luggage poured off the belt (the kili trip is a trek in an of itself, complete with camping gear and winter garb).

Gabriel picked us up, and even if I wouldn't have recognized him without his little sign, it felt good to get out of the airport to be greeted by someone we know. The drive into kampala felt interminable, but again, lacking the plunge-impact of last year -- darkness pocked by bars or restaurants, the acrid smell of cooking fires and exhaust, barefoot people walking by the side of the road, erratic swerving of lorries and boda bodas.

Finally at the City Royal hotel, dead on our feet, I had my first sense-memory of what’s different here. My accelerated pace is so visible here, so clear in relation to the soft slow drawls of uganda action. I was reading a text about The Other, and having a conversation about otherness with my online group... and I realized that “Other” for me is partly about race, privilege, etc, but here, it manifests in pace, and having to reframe my initial impatience at “absurdly slow service in hotel” to “people welcoming me by showing me the best they have.” The welcome is the bone, and where I am reminded to fix my gaze. Not on the huge bottle of KILLIT bug spray prominently displayed in my room in case it’s needed.

Posted by CateinTO 19:39 Comments (3)

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