Monday, September 28, 2009

Pictures, oh my

Brad filling in during a lesson with the local SACCO (Savings and Credit CO-OP). Wind blown hair girl is Jaime, our wonderful Eugenite housemate.

Relaxing by the pool on my birthday. The two people in the foreground are Simon, a British friend with a smile that apparently doesn't break cameras and Melissa, the daughter of Simon's fiancee. Also, Rachel, Jaime, and the sun-deficient Brad.

Brad lapping, Jaime slapping and Rachel napping.

Luke: Our field director and 2008 UO grad. Mothers, guard your noisy children.

Eddie, our Ugandan friend, and Brad enjoying the hammock I brought as much as they can before 72 ogling Ugandan children come to watch and, every once and a while just at the moment when you have closed your eyes to take a much needed nap, sneak up and push you so hard our support pole comes into play.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The House

In Fall 2006 I studied abroad in Cairo, Egypt for about 6 months with my good buddy from school Mike Diaz. Either a desire to make things difficult for ourselves or the more conventional poor planning (or a combination thereof) placed me and mike in one of the biggest cities in the world without a clue of where we were going to live. We knew we wanted an apartment, but that was as much as we knew. Luckily for us, we were in contact with a girl from Nevada named Brenna who, as an incoming freshman at the American University, was also searching for a flat to rent. She just so happened to know an Egyptian guy about our age whom she had talked into taking her around to look at apartments, and the two of them agreed to let us tag along. Now, before I continue, I should mention that the study abroad department from our college practically demanded that we try an assimilate with the locals, eat what they eat, talk like they talk, and dress like they dress. This last idea posed a problem for us. Mike and I arrived in Cairo in the middle of an August heat wave wearing local attire: pants and a long sleeve shirt. On the day we set out to scope out flats, temperatures soared to well over 100 degrees, with humidity to boot. Sweating profusely before I even had my shoes tied, I thought about maybe just slipping on some shorts, just for the day, but then I remembered non-assimilation was in fact not an option. Suffer, because they suffer. Swearing under my breath, I stepped out into the noon heat. Within half a block’s walk I was planning to burn my shirt and pants and after a full block I had made a mental note to transfer to a school in Reykjavik. For the next month and a half, the pants and long sleeve shirts stayed in my closet. Screw assimilation, toujours comfort. Fortunately, with the thought of another day of apartment hunting on foot looming ahead of us, we all settled on an apartment rather quickly. One with ac, of course.

The situation when I arrived here in Uganda was quite different. MAPLE already had a house for us new arrivals; I merely had to unpack my gear straight into my room. The house is in many ways much better than I had expected. There is a full kitchen equipped with everything from brand new gas oven/range set shipped direct from Kampala to the older-but-still-functional cockroach population. We have a nice living room with two big chairs and a sofa that is in a constant state of occupation due to the fact that it is the only place where one can access the internet; queues occasionally wrap around the corner. Also in the living room is a dinner table that sees a surprisingly high amount of use, though I am afraid I cannot take much credit for this; my ability to cook only mushroom lasagna, French onion soup , and quesadillas has designated me a resident eater, but I remember to dish out some compliments about the food, which always warrants them. The lone bathroom was a wonderful surprise. An anomaly among the developing world, In Uganda one is actually permitted to flush used paper products, instead of having to throw them in a non-airtight waste bin. (Nor , even, does the person have to cross their fingers every time they flush something they shouldn‘t have in have or suffer rejection, as one person I know did on a daily basis while studying Arabic in Jordan.) The shower works just fine, and the lack of a hot water heater ensures that no one in the house has to wander into a steamy bathroom or try to shave while looking into a foggy mirror. The bedrooms are nice, with big windows to let in the healthy equatorial sun and large, flowing mosquito nets to provide each person with a sense of isolation, even though they are sleeping just across the room from someone else. Brad and I, either because we are so manly and tough or because we smell bad, were given the converted garage to sleep in. It is actually not as bad as you might think. Troglodyte Brad is able to sleep in all hours of the day should he feel compelled because there are no windows. I like it very much because the sounds from the rest of the house are muffled. There are some downsides, however. The metallic garage door and tin roof above us act as perfect conduits for that punishing “equatorial sun,” there are a few strategically placed holes in the ceiling located above our beds that could use some caulking, and cockroaches seem fond of creeping around our room at night until they find a strange place to die. The termite colony that slowly crept up a wall in our room has been knocked down by our housecleaner Eve.

The house is already starting to feel like home. Sure it is a little rough around the edges, but I lived out of a car for almost 5 months. Moreover, it is not so much the quality of the craftsmanship or the number of subwoofers that make a house great to live in, but a number of fun and interesting people to live there with. I know it sounds corny, but its all about the people. My housemates truly are amazing people and the young Ugandans who drop by from time to time provide a local spice to the medley. I shall have no problem living here for five months.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


“Do you guys want to slaughter a chicken tonight?”
“Sure, I guess. Do we need anything?
“Maybe some vegetables.”

Yes we did slaughter a chicken the other night (my second night here), and yes we did eat it, and yes I did take pictures. Luckily, Patrick, my housemate, is a resident pro at chicken preparation, decapitating, boiling, plucking, bone cracking and gutting with the manual dexterity of a concert pianist and the stomach of a menagerie janitor. Pictures will do this evening more justice than words.

My uncle who works in the wine industry has told me on multiple occasions that old white men are the worst people in the world to take food and drink advice from. Old white men, you see, have a palate that deteriorates faster than any other grouping of human in terms of ability to taste the subtleties and delicacies of what is ingested. I have always believed that, rather than claiming myself exempt from this interesting trend, I was born with an ancient man’s mouth in that all food to me remains void of the interesting nuances food critics and resterateurs like to stretch their vocabulary about. Zucchini is the lone exception, which has so many different tiers and dimensions of badness and boringness I could write a book.

Thus, while I try my hand at explaining Ugandan cuisine, take it with the knowledge that I am as inept at describing food as I am at resolving integrals. But, I am going to give it a throw.

Ugandan food is notoriously bland. So bland, in fact, that I rest easy at night knowing my premature case of White-Man’s-Palate has not prevented me from enjoying anything terribly spectacular. Rice, beans, smashed up plantains and the occasional large grain of sand make up the average Ugandan meal. Starches are called “food” and a bowl of liquid protein on the side is called “sauce,” and little variation in these combinations suggests not so much lack of imagination in the kitchen as a desire by Ugandans to stick with what they know and like. Every meal is “comfortable.” Spicy things might be the Ugandan’s worst nightmare. Fortunately for me a shortage of pizzazz means a lack of agitators, quite unlike Mexican food which requires me to find restaurants strategically located near by a water closet.

Uganda’s Indian population, however, has created a wonderful alternative. Illegally-soft cheese dumplings drenched in a spinach bath, an array of spicy lentil dishes from Chicken Afghani to the sponge like -yet-delicious Mutter Paneer and always reliable Tikka Masala. Moist, flaky garlic naan and butter naan may be employed by the eater for purposes of soaking, pinching, and shoveling, but not with the left hand, of course, which is the traditional wiping hand. Vegetarian Manchurian, be it “dry” or “wet,” is most likely tofu coated with a tender layer of more spices than I knew existed and swimming in or sitting alongside a heavy brown sauce The Stoney Tangarizi ginger beer washes down things nicely and wipes clean the slate for another, but entirely exciting, bite. Absolutely delicious.

Alas, prices reflect this contrast. Local food, palatable but not anything novel, does come with a very write-homeable price, usually about a dollar a meal (though my lunch yesterday, of chippiati and meat sauce, was only about 25 cents). Indian food is considerably more expensive, about five bucks.

A smile is creeping across my face. I do not think I shall starve, here in Uganda.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


The saner people in my organization spent about 18 hours total flying over here to Uganda: 10 hours from Seattle to London, and then another 8 from London to Entebbe, Uganda’s airport. However, those who know me also know that I sometimes like to make things difficult for myself. Here is a rundown of my travel experience getting to Uganda.

Portland to San Francisco, 2 hours
--Person in front of me immediately reclines their seat. They should make it protocol that you cannot recline your seat if the person behind you is over 6 feet tall, unless of course the recliner is more muscular than the reclinee.
--It ended up being OK because one does not need much space to eat their United Airlines peanuts.

San Francisco to Dubai, 15:35 hours
--Emirates from here on out. Rumors heard that the Emirates stewardesses are very pretty are affirmed.
--After a quick viewing of Angels and Demons, my personal monitor in front of me breaks, yet I decide not to move over to the empty seat next to me on the 10% capacity airplane for fear of repercussions.
--Though I had reclined my own seat (I checked to see if the guy behind me was bigger than me, he wasn‘t) , I found that laying forward at an angle and resting my head on fold down tray belonging to the seat next to me was the most comfortable way to get about 20 minutes of sleep.
--Emirates, despite their monitor problem, tops my list for their “no questions asked” policy regarding the consumption of their free alcohol.

Layover in Dubai, 11 hours
--Emirates puts its passengers up in a hotel for free if their layover is over 8 hours. Millennium Airport hotel was nice, and would have taken a picture of it if it were not for the intense humidity that kept steaming up my camera lens.
--Discovery made: Emirates can afford to give out free beer on flights only because they charge $8 per Budweiser at their hotel.
--Met an Ethiopian girl on my way back to the airport in the morning. She is beautiful, runs the only two yoga studios in all of Ethiopia, reads Niall Ferguson, laughs at my jokes and is not interested in marriage.

Dubai to Ethiopia, 4:30 hours
--Entertainment monitor number two breaks, but this time before I get to even watch a movie. I am starting to think that it is just me.
--I detect a faint odor emanating from somewhere behind me. Ah, the person directly behind me has taken his shoes off. I sure hope he is deplaning at our stopover in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia to Dubai, 3 hours
--Just as they are serving our lunch, the odor grows exponentially. I turn my air valve on maximum in hopes of trying to blow the odor away for I am beginning to lose my appetite, but it still gets stronger. As I am cutting my Kofta sausage my right elbow nudges up against something damp. It appears as though the gentleman behind me with the fungus issue has wedged his foot in between my seat and the side of the plane so far that it is intruding on the back third of my armrest.

I arrive in Entebbe, extremely hungry and entirely happy to be off the plane and in Uganda, my home for the next five plus months. Coming up: Chicken-slaughtering, stove-making, and insider accounts of Ugandan police compounds.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


"Uganda truly is the pearl of Africa"

--Sir Winston Churchill, 1907

Welcome everybody to my latest blog effort. Tomorrow I leave for Uganda where I will be working for a microdevelopment organization. The organization, named MAPLE, is posting me up in a house in the town of Mbale for about six months. While I am there, I will do my best keep everybody up to date with the pen(though I am certainly no Theroux) and photograph (you will see proof that I am no Ansel Adams).

Please enjoy, I promise to make this blog better than the last one!